And Other Stories



"Mom, what's out there?" Izzy inclined her head towards the door for emphasis.

Her mom sighed and then reached out a hand to tousle her hair. Izzy hugged her, and tried not to think about how hard she tensed up before relaxing again. That didn't mean anything. The way her mother squeezed her like always, that did.

They pulled apart again, and then Izzy fixed her mother with an expectant look. That hadn't been an answer. Her mom sighed again, this time a touch exasperated. "Like I've told you before, Izzy. It's still dangerous."

Izzy shook her head. "That's not what I mean. I know that. Mom, of course I know that." Her mother looked away, and Izzy deflated. When she looked back, Izzy continued. "Sorry. But what I want to know is what else is out there? Not just what used to be."

"Honey... That's not exactly..." Her mother started to rock on her heels, staring up at the door for a few moments. The heavy thing really stuck out against the ceiling.

Izzy frowned. "It can't be all bad. You've said we aren't going to be cooped up in here forever. There's the broadcasts. So there has to be stuff out there, still. Not all just..." The things. Izzy didn't know what to call the things. 'Monsters' didn't feel right. Her parents didn't like to talk about them. She just tapped her palm with one of the arms she wasn't meant to have.

Her mom made a face at that. "I don't know, Izzy. None of us do. It's a scary thing to think about."

"But I mean the not scary parts! The good things. Mom, I'm sorry if I'm bothering you, I just... I really want to know."

"I understand, sweetie. But that is the scarier part. Wondering what good things aren't there anymore, are gone or won't come back. All the stuff I want you to see. Everything I wish I could enjoy with you, and dad. It's tough to think about that." She bent down a bit, and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "We have to stay safe. I have to protect you. And it hurts, Izzy, that I can't give you all the things I wish I could have. That I wish I still could. Things are going to be very different, and I don't want your heart aching on top of mine. I don't want to promise you things I can't ever give you. You're big enough that you can understand that, right?"

Izzy pouted. She wanted to hear about it anyways. Even if it was only guesses, even if it wouldn't come true, she just... She sighed, and ran her tongue against her back row of teeth. She didn't want to hurt her mom. "Okay. I understand, mom. But it's okay. Even if..." Izzy faltered, and then had to pop her knuckles before she continued. "Even if we're down here forever, I'll be happy. I'm happy now. I have you and dad." She pointed behind her towards their big bed, where he was currently taking a nap, with one of her extra arms. They weren't good for much else, with how they just ended in points. "That's all I need. But there must be so much out there! It's exciting just to think about. So much to see! Real live animals, and places so big they don't have walls or a ceiling, and giant plants, and... Other people to meet! Maybe some other people like me." Izzy grinned, and posed faux-proudly with her extra arms waving at her sides, hands still ready to sign.

"Izzy, you're such an admirable little girl. Maybe you can try to imagine things f—" She was cut off by a metallic rattle above them, and fell silent. Izzy eyes widened, and they shared a nervous glance when the rattling happened again. Her mother switched to signing. "Back towards the bed. Slowly."

Izzy's fingertips started to tingle, and she clutched them to her chest. But one brushed against her throat, and she started to shiver. The slits on her shoulders flared as she took deep breaths to try and stay calm. She felt rooted in place, staring up at the door. Her mind was suddenly full of awful thoughts of the thing that had opened the door years ago. She had thought it was someone coming to save them, and ran out to see and it pounced on her first. And now she couldn't move. Was it going to happen again? Or would it ignore her now?

Her mother hefted her up, and she held on tightly as they tiptoed over towards the bed. She was set down on the bed, and didn't want to let go, but knew she had to. She quietly scooched over to her dad, gently tapping him on the shoulder. There was another metallic sound, and she cringed. She shook his shoulder a little, and that roused him. He blinked his eyes open, blearily, and she pointed to the hatch. That was enough to make things clear, and he sat up and pulled her into his lap. She was glad for his arms holding her protectively, even if it meant they couldn't talk.

She looked over, and her mom had the gun that had killed the last thing. Or made it stop moving long enough to dump in the incinerator, at least. Izzy massaged at the marks on her neck. Not being able to breathe hadn't killed her, after all. The slits in her neck flared harder just at the memory of those agonizing minutes as everywhere had burned. If that wasn't enough, even when she had only just been infected... infested... whatever it was... What could be? Or were the things done changing? Was she? Was she really any different?

Her dad squeezed her tighter and she let all the thoughts fade away. She just tried to lose herself in his reassuring presence. She could feel his heart beating, a soothing, entrancing rhythm. She shut her eyes, and let herself fade into the warm, red haze.

When she woke up, it had been an hour since the last noise. The thing hadn't been smart enough to open the door, or even start to, much less defeat their improvised lock barring the wheel from turning. It got bored of smacking into it, and wandered off. Like most of them, but the exceptions loomed large in everyone's mind.

Izzy's thoughts drifted back to where they had gone before she dozed off. Why was she different? Was she going to... She shook her head to herself. She wasn't going to hurt her family, she was sure. She placed one of her arms' little point in her palm, rubbing her fingers on the smooth glossy finish of it. Like one big fingernail, but the plating ran all the way to her torso, with only little gaps at the joints. It wasn't so nasty. It wasn't even sharp enough to poke holes in her shirts, she had to cut them out with scissors. She wasn't monstrous, just different.

She couldn't be the only one. There would be others, probably not hiding away like her but up there on the surface. What kind of place would they be building, she could hardly imagine. She glanced towards her parents. Would they have a place? And... The world they wanted to put back together. Would it accept her?

She flopped back down on the bed, splaying out her eight limbs, and let her mind wander. If she could imagine a beautiful, happy world they could all fit into... Then other people could do it too. And they could all work together to bring it about. She wanted to prepare now, since who knew when they would finally get the chance.