Chapter 1:

Past

Alive


3 years ago.Bookmark here

"W-what do yo-u mean I can't get pregnant?" She furrowed her brows, the doctor's statement was harder to swallow than she thought. That's not what she wanted to hear. A larger hand tightened their hold on hers, calming her a bit from the clear panic she was about to get into.Bookmark here

"Now don't misunderstand. I'm not saying you can't get pregnant, I'm just saying the results are out and it's getting harder for you to continue." She tried to make it seem positive when it wasn't. At least to her ears it wasn't.Bookmark here

"That's not what you said before!" All the composure she had turned into a frenzy. If her husband wasn't quick to put her in place, she wouldn't be surprised if she pounced on her and became a creature she didn't want to become. They were giving her the same excuse each time she came here but now it changed. She glanced at his hand gripping on her shoulders, his standing figure pulling her back. The familiar words "A-L-I-V-E" tattooed on his knuckles to his now wrinkled black dress shirt and lastly his face. His slightly messy dark hair, sideburns and thin stubbles.Bookmark here

"Calm down Anna." William used his other hand to return the fallen chair back to where it belonged, letting it plop down. He also took a seat next to her. His fingers slithered from across her shoulders, elbows, down to her fingers, interlocking them with his.Bookmark here

"Let me do the speaking." His tone was soft and gentle, patting her hand. He was speaking to her as if she was a child that needed comfort which she did. This lady just didn't understand how important this was to her... How much impact it has in her life.Bookmark here

William turned to the startled lady and engaged her in a medical conversation. "Please excuse my wife. She is very sensitive right now. You said her infertility showed she might have an endometriosis although another doctor sai-"Bookmark here

Everything they said was muted out by her thoughts. So she can't have children? When all she could think off for four years was about having children? How long was she meant to try? How many times was she supposed to force intercourse just to regulate her ovulation? How many programs was she supposed to do before the fruits of her efforts showed? How many times will they lie to her? This... an overwhelming feeling of devastation hit her when she finally realised the truth she'd been avoiding. She clung into hope that there may be a way with the underlined possibility her doctors always opened up but... she can't do this anymore. She was tired. How can she continue when she gets beaten every time? She started with the strongest will in the world yet she was now a mere shell of what she was. Infertility took the very meaning of life from her and she didn't know what to do.Bookmark here

The ride back was different. She wasn't stuck in her own dark thoughts like before but instead, she kept babbling about issues that held no relevance nor did she care about. All she wanted was to hide the fact she was tortured by what the doctor said. To minimise her pain as much as possible. If she said it out loud, she would feel better, right?Bookmark here

"It's not like the world would end if we didn't have children." It was true but being forced to accept it was difficult because it wasn't a choice for her.Bookmark here

She skipped towards her husband joyfully and twirled around before her ankle twisted awkwardly, slamming her down on top of the soft cushion of the couch. The accident didn't bother her in the slightest. She smiled at William and "sexily" tried to seduce him using her eyebrows. Her fingers made waves to bring him over to her. "Time to make love."Bookmark here

Anna didn't know why she was coming up with creative ways to say 'let's give up'...She didn't know why she was making excuses to feel better but she knew one thing, it wasn't working. "I don't have to be on birth control like other women."Bookmark here

William stopped watching television to look over her from his left shoulder. "Again?"Bookmark here

"Yes, it's the time of the month," she joked.Bookmark here

Her own husband's lips quirked at the double implications.Bookmark here

"I mean we-we weeeren't that desperate or anything." She stammered, finding it difficult to control her voice. Five years of trying just to say she wasn't desperate. What a joke.Bookmark here

"Don't you want little Williams running around in the house?" Anna raised her right palm for her jaws to lean on, the smile never left her face.Bookmark here

He cringed.Bookmark here

"Imagine h-h-ow free w-we would be." The words kept falling out as she tried to keep herself together. "No more financial worries."Bookmark here

"Who says this anymore? Little William? Little Anna too? Don't make me throw up."Bookmark here

The smile broke into giggles then laughter at her husband's reaction. That face was Oscar worthy! He usually was so placid so she wondered what happened there. William didn't seem amused but she was dying. "You are reading too much of those romance novels."Bookmark here

Once again she burst out in laughter for calling her out like that.Bookmark here

She became silent. Wondering what William thought of the nonsense she was sprouting. Was he ashamed that she acted like this? Making light of a situation he cared about? Mocking him?Bookmark here

"Anna." She didn't move her head at all. She merely looked at his side view from the front mirror. He never once looked away from the steering wheel.Bookmark here

The corner of his lips lifted up and he switched position to heave himself up into his knees. "Come here, let's make those little "Williams" and "Anna" that you want." He hugged her in-between and pulled her over the couch causing her to squeal."Bookmark here

"Cry. Just cry," he muttered, taking a turn.Bookmark here

As if those were the magical words, the tears flowed.Bookmark here

After a while, she fell ill. Appalling pale, sweaty, snooty and red from fever. She didn't go to work, cook or even move a muscle out of her body. Talking had turned into a task she hated. It took force from her husband to get her out of bed to go to the toilet or eat. Until one evening, he took her on a drive with him and she wondered where they were going.Bookmark here

"It's a secret." For the first time in a long time, William seemed too excited. To the point it was suspicious but she didn't have the energy to question him. That was a mistake because she couldn't hide her surprise when she stopped in an orphanage full of beautiful, lovable children.Bookmark here

"What is this?" A huge smile made its way on her face as she directed it to William. A squeal came out next. "Why are we here?"Bookmark here

She was one minute away from jumping up and down in happiness. There were kids who stopped playing within the orphanage playground to stare at her while others just continued what they were doing previously without a hitch.Bookmark here

"Please stop looking at them like you are shopping for a designer bag." William smirked when her jaw fell at his remark.Bookmark here

"Rude!" Sometimes she wanted to slap him and go to court for it.Bookmark here

William uncrossed his arm to lay them on top of her head, tucking in a fallen strand. "Now, don't go over exerting yourself. You are still sick aren't you."Bookmark here

Anna won't deny she felt better. A marathon would have been an ideal sport to get rid of all this energy she was feeling but she took his advice to heed. He was saying that for her own good.Bookmark here

"Now let's go look for a child to adopt." It was merely a few words but they made her the happiest person on earth from them.Bookmark here

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After filling up the adoption questionnaire, the head of the orphanage, Rachael, was kind enough to let them see some of the children. She broke one of the sacred rules after seeing how passionate they were about it.Bookmark here

"William! William! William!" Anna chortled with so much joy while jogging, holding a boy in her arms in protection from the wind. She made a quick straight dash, from the outside to the inside of the orphanage, and stopped a few metres ahead of William discussing something with Rachael. Standing there all sweaty, dirty and with the widest grin she could muster, she held out the boy from around the armpits. "I want him as my son."Bookmark here

The boy grabbed his frog bucket hat down to hide his face from any eye witness, which were only two. William noted how extremely gross looking this child was. Soil was seeking refugees underneath his finger tips. Patches of soot were stretching as far as the skin, some more detectable than others. Clothes were unrecognised that he spent seconds deciding what colour they originally were. The yellow hat was the sole item that didn't seem tainted at all. For a doctor who had to be sanitised, clean and hygienic all the time, this was literally a crime for him to even look at. Did his wife really want this child?Bookmark here

William remained silent, his chin left his palm as he contemplated what to do. Rachael, on the other side of the reception table, shook her head.Bookmark here

"I wouldn't suggest taking this one." Rachael rolled her eyes, letting out a defeated sigh. "All my previous clients couldn't take him because of the other two noisy kids."Bookmark here

Rachael shuddered in remembrance. At that, both Anna and William stared at her in question. However, Anna already loved this boy so much she didn't care. She wanted, no, needed him.Bookmark here

"I won't go anywhere without Alex or Daniel!" The young boy stubbornly argued, sinking his hat deeper as if to hide something. Not that he needed since mud did a great job in covering it.Bookmark here

"So you mean it's buy one get two free?" William tilted his head to Rachael to check if he understood the situation.Bookmark here

"William!" Anna chided. He raised his hands in surrender.Bookmark here

"Almost. They come in packages these days," Rachael humorously replied.Bookmark here

"Not you too." Anna let out a sigh as Rachael as well raised her hands as if they prepared this skit beforehand.Bookmark here

Anna returned her attention back to the boy who introduced himself as Max. She frowned, a bit worried over this declaration. William wouldn't take more than one and she knew it. Having one child was already mindful but two more? That's over her's and William's capabilities especially since she never experienced what it's like to live with an actual child. She wouldn't mind since she already searched everything she needed to know about taking care of one. Sure, her research was for babies, no older than three, but she was confident it would work out. It's William who will be against it.Bookmark here

She put him down when he started flailing his legs around. Alex and Daniel... She knew who they were. The two older boys that were watching her like a hawk from the sidelines when she befriended Max over playing sand castle and doing monkey bars. Max informed her how they were his brothers. She knew they weren't related... at least one of them isn't, but she didn't want to break their bond. It hurt her heart to know there were many children abandoned or somehow lost their parents. Many of these children's connections were with each other.Bookmark here

Anna caught sight of the way Max's attention diverted the moment she put him down. She followed his head direction by looking backwards. At the entrance corner were two heads, one blond and the other brunette. Although the moment they saw her, they pulled their head back to hide. She almost cracked up laughing at how funny but cute it was. Anna turned to her husband, who also seemed to be in a trance before his eyes locked with hers. A small smile seemed to stretch on her face as she interlocked her hands together. She walked towards him pleading, making him raise an eyebrow at her bizarre behaviour. He straightened his back, dropping his hand on his side almost in preparation.Bookmark here

"Please William! Please!" She begged, shaking her arms. "Let's take three children!"Bookmark here

William stared at her in silence for a good minute before he nodded. "Okay."Bookmark here

"I know! It's absurd! Believe me I- eh?" She did a double take, confused, dropping her act. Did he just agree? Who the hell is he and what did he do to William? "What? Why?"Bookmark here

Should she really be arguing? She might as well take this glorious chance while she can. She tipped toed, because he was way taller, to kiss him on his cheeks. "Thanks sweetheart."Bookmark here

She shyly held her hands behind her back, a bright smile overtook her. "I love you."Bookmark here

William's fingertips trailed his cheeks, turning to Rachael to ask for the legal transfer, unused to public affection. His hand never left his cheeks.Bookmark here

"Are you sure?" Rachael seemed to have her doubts. Her experienced eyes and the brief exchange told her that he wasn't the type to go against his own decisions. "You seem like a young couple and taking three on your first try doesn't seem like a good idea."Bookmark here

"I'm sure. I would rather take a happy wife than a depressed one any day."Bookmark here

The process of the documents was an excruciating long one. Six months of waiting and finalising the decision. After that pain and suffering, all three kids stood in their two story house entrance. She descended down the staircase near the door in a hurry, wiping her dress for any wrinkles and sniffing to check if the smell of food still lingered. She wanted to look perfect so she changed into a modest long sleeves blue dress and had her brown hair tied in a ponytail. William was already waiting by the door. She took in their appearance. They were so different that she was genuinely surprised they loved each other so much that they refused to be apart.Bookmark here

"Hello Alex." She stopped in front of him in greeting.Bookmark here

The oldest was Alex, he's nine years old. He had tanned skin with shaggy brown hair resting on his shoulders. His eyes were more slanted, filled with honey iris. His thin lips had a permanent scowl on his face as if he was displeased with everything. He wore a sleeveless black shirt, knee length shorts.Bookmark here

Anna genuinely thought he and Max were real brothers as they looked the closest to each other.Bookmark here

"Tch." He looked away from her, hands in his pockets, not even bothering to greet her. She can tell he would be the most difficult one to deal with but she smiled nonetheless.Bookmark here

She took a step to the right to see the second oldest, Daniel, who was also nine. "Good to have you here Daniel."Bookmark here

Now Daniel was definitely the more obvious adopted son. He had the fairest skin tone and lightest shade of blonde hair she had ever seen. It was wavy, parted in the middle, reaching his cheeks. His eyes were more round and cerulean, lips more pronounced. He was the strangest of the three since he wore a blazer, vest, a ribbon tie, a white shirt underneath followed by a classic knee length dress pants. A pair of white socks that brought more attention to his leather, formal shoes. She has come to the conclusion that whoever his former foster parents were, they were filthy rich because everything he wore were custom made.Bookmark here

"The pleasure is all mine Mrs. Anna." He politely greeted.Bookmark here

Oh, she couldn't forget the way he was so mannered, well spoken... he was almost perfect that it made her worried there might be a side she wasn't seeing. Why would his foster parents let go of him when they adopted him at birth and only sent him back after seven years? But that was a discussion she wanted to bring up when they were more comfortable with each other.Bookmark here

She took another step towards the youngest, kneeling down to reach his short height. Max was only six years old, never having been adopted before. The child was swaying his head left and right, humming before he stopped when she reached him. A grin in happiness was all it took to make her inwardly gush.Bookmark here

"Aw Max, we are now officially family." Anna gave out a hand for him to shake and he took it eagerly, almost swinging her arm around.Bookmark here

Max's hair was straight with a few strands flying here and there in different directions, his eyes round and brown, matching his hair. He wore similar clothes to Alex, seemingly as if he is imitating his style.Bookmark here

"Un-h," he gave an unintelligible reply, his ears red in embarrassment but the smile was there. He was shy now that he was here but she knew how talkative he can be.Bookmark here

She squatted up to stand and motioned them to come inside. "Please come in. I made lunch for everyone."Bookmark here

Those were her happy days but now... now she didn't know what went wrong.Bookmark here

Present dayBookmark here

Keys of note resounded in her room, the melodic, mellow tune danced in harmony with strings. She woke up, tired hand stretched out to her drawer, patting for her phone. She peeked an eye open when she couldn't find it and the moment she realised it was a call, she sprung up, picking up the phone to see the contact name; The Principal. Her body flopped down as she answered the phone.Bookmark here

"Hello? Anna Walter is speaking. How can I help you Mr. Jefferson." She tried to sound enthusiastic like she didn't just wake up. Faking pleasantries was so tough, especially with this man.Bookmark here

"I'm sure you already know why I'm calling," his disembodied voice replied sarcastically. "Alex has been caught bullying his classmates again. I have already informed you what would happen if it continued. I have no choice but to expel him."Bookmark here

She pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. This was the second school expelling him and she really didn't want to move the kids anymore. "I'll come over on Sunday to discuss this issue with you in detail Mr. Jefferson, until then, please give me a chance to adjust to this decision."Bookmark here

That was her way of dumping all her problems on another day as she gave Alex another chance to explain what happened.Bookmark here

"I'm not backing down from this but we can meet on Sunday over his expulsion." She winced when he hung up on her without letting her finish. She hated that man.Bookmark here

Anna brought the phone away from her ear and typed on the keyboard for messages. She checked on William Walter. Her gaze lingered for a few minutes on the pile of texts before she dropped her hand to her side. Unread messages for three month now. He hasn't been checking any of her texts.Bookmark here

She rose her hand again, lowering the brightness quickly before light, fast taps glided across the screen. The words "I miss you" were erased as fast as they came. She once again froze for a moment, her fingers typed again when she thought of something. "Alex seems to have gotten in trouble, I-" she aggressively clicked at 'x' until nothing was there. "Are you cheating on me..." She sighed in frustration, deleting everything.Bookmark here

"When are you coming home?" That was sent and she didn't hesitate to fling the phone back to the top drawer. She grabbed the blanket and covered herself back. The engine sound of the air conditioner lured her back to sleep. It almost succeeded if a strange thumping sound didn't alert her. Did someone fall? All of the kids should be at school. She groaned in frustration as she dropped her feet down to her slippers and strided out of the room towards the hallway. It was eerily quiet so she switched the light on. Small footprints discoloured the ceramic tiles, heading towards the boy's room. The size was enough to tell her it was Max as he had the smallest feet. Anna didn't follow the toes direction but went down the stairs to find leads on when it began. She passed by the living room, further down to the dead end, where the kitchen lay. Her jaw dropped.Bookmark here

The kitchen was messy. The white rectangular table in the middle where she placed a jar of water and another jar of apple juice, for the kids to personally pour on one of the four, upside down cups that surrounded the tray, was knocked down to the ground, leaving glass littering everywhere. The five chairs were in different directions, some on it's back while others on it's front. The table cloth soaked from water and juice spilled. Her well organised counter that she had previously washed plates and pots where gone, also on the ground. Did she sleep through all that and didn't hear a single sound? She didn't take a step in, the sharp blades of knives were warning her.Bookmark here

There were a bunch of weird substances on the cabinets and fridge that she wasn't even going to question where they came from. The backdoor leading to the backyard had the keys hanging on the lock. Her youngest footprints circled around that area the most before it started its journey up stairs.Bookmark here

A prominent emotion was building up in her chest when she took in what her kitchen became. Not a single nook or canny was missed from this mess.Bookmark here

"Max!" She exploded, no longer walking with caution but stomping up the stairs to scold the youngest. It didn't take long for her to reach the top and into the one of the three rooms this house had to offer.Bookmark here

The boy was sitting alone near the entrance, playing lego with himself. His two other brothers were missing. Just seeing their own clean and neat room while her kitchen was like a jungle had her shout. "Come here."Bookmark here

He stood immediately and rushed to her side. She knelt on her knees to reach his full height and tried to control her anger, to give him time to explain himself before she beat him. "How many times have I told you not to make a mess out of the house?"Bookmark here

"What mess?" he asked slowly, looking at her innocently. There wasn't a hint of fear in his posture.Bookmark here

"The one in the kitchen," Anna reminded, her arms crossed and her face twisted in frightening seriousness.Bookmark here

"That... a monster came in through the backdoor and made a mess," he replied as if the explanation made absolute sense. She felt her patience waning thin.Bookmark here

"Is this how you're going to lie? I know you did it!" she barked, startling him. Small prickles of tears started to form at the corner of his eyes. "You were doing so well lately that I thought I could trust you not to make a mess anymore but it seems my trust was unfounded."Bookmark here

"B-But it's true! I'm not lying," he wailed, wiping his tears away and stared at her doe-eyed. His lips quivering and he bit down on them to resist.Bookmark here

"Give me your hands," she raised her hands.Bookmark here

"Mommy-"Bookmark here

"Give. Me. Your. Hands." Her sternness made him raise his hands up and she smacked it without hesitation.Bookmark here

"What are the rules of my house?"Bookmark here

"We will keep the house clean if we can help it," he rehearsed the line back, tears flowing down soundlessly this time. She smacked his hand again.Bookmark here

"And what did you do?"Bookmark here

"I made a mess." He frowned when her repeated smacks finally stopped. She sighed in defeat now that he understood the reason why.Bookmark here

"Good, you are grounded for the next two weeks and you will help me clean that mess when I'm ready." She usually doesn't discipline him like this everytime there is a mess as boys will always be messy but that wasn't a simple 'mess', he destroyed her tools! He should be glad she was too tired to do anything but hit his hands. Her composure was breaking apart lately and she was afraid of what she was capable of doing if she didn't remind herself he was a child.Bookmark here

"Mommy are you okay? Are you sick?" he suddenly asked and it almost caught her off guard.Bookmark here

"Why are you asking?" She found his question odd since nobody had noticed her deteriorating health. Was he perceptive or did he mean something else entirely?Bookmark here

"Your hits aren't as strong as they used to be." If she wasn't infuriated, she would have laughed. Before she had a chance to answer, two small figures crawled out from underneath one of the bunker beds, causing her to glare at their approach. They were home as well?Bookmark here

Daniel was beside Max, he seemed frightened by her while Alex was in front of them both, his hand in a defensive stance. He was angry. "I told you Anna hit Max when we were not looking."Bookmark here

Daniel checked Max's hand in apprehension. His voice was meek, almost uncertain. "Do you hit Max when we are not here?"Bookmark here

"I'm disciplining him," Anna corrected, not denying it. She only hit Max behind their backs because she was tired of Alex interfering with her parenting during her first year. Out of all three children, she still struggled to deal with Alex. "I know it's not the best metho-"Bookmark here

"How dare you hit Max. You said we could trust you!" Alex scoffed, looking betrayed as he grabbed a confused Max, who asked what's going on.Bookmark here

"Of course you can trust me. I'm not having fun hitting him." Anna didn't understand why she felt the need to explain but she was worried they might be getting the wrong idea. "I'm doing what's best for him. I don't think you have the right to question me Alex. You-"Bookmark here

She pointed an accusing finger at him. "-cause trouble AGAIN. Your principal called saying you are getting expelled."Bookmark here

Alex just rolled his eyes, shaking his head slightly. "You are changing the subject because you are guilty! That's why you lie all the time! You said you would never hit us"Bookmark here

"I didn't lie!" Anna defended. "I'm not hitting him to hurt him, I-"Bookmark here

"Shut up! I don't want to hear your excuses!" he yelled, stepping closer to her, almost intimidating her with his height so she stood up to make herself taller. "Don't you dare hit Max again Anna!"Bookmark here

"DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! I'M THE PARENT HERE, NOT YOU!" she yelled louder. Both Daniel and Max were staring at them back and forth, uncomfortably.Bookmark here

"You are not my parent! I never asked you to be my mother!" Alex hissed.Bookmark here

The silence that followed was almost deafening. Everything in the world went in slow motion. She watched Alex mouthed it word by word with his eyes tightly closed... her heart stopped beating and the air got held up in her chest. The back of her eyes started to well up with tears but she did her best to hold them back...Bookmark here

"And you are the worst child anyone can ask for!" Anna spat in spite but regretted it instantly when surprise crossed his did she say that? She should have handled this better. What was wrong with her these days? She hasn't been acting herself!Bookmark here

"FINE, I'LL LEAVE THEN!" Alex's mouth grimace in anger, eyebrow creeping on each other in a harsh line, nose muscle squeezed together. He grabbed Daniel by his arm and dragged him along, who had the opposite expression. His were soft, eyelid not fully bare, with a small frown on his face. Pity and guilt were evident in his features. But he also did the same as Alex and pulled Max. The youngest seemed confused. What has she done?Bookmark here

"Wai-" She twisted around, outstretching her hand out to stop them from going away. 'Wait a minute.' She wanted to scream this out but it got stuck in her throat. "w-w..."Bookmark here

The courage of saying them out loud was lost. She silently watched them run out, leaving her behind. Admitting she might have used the wrong method was a struggle. A bile in her stomach started to erupt inside and she quickly ran to the nearest bathroom. She almost stumbled on her way there but she didn't let that bring her monument down. Yellowish liquid seeped through the cracks of her hands. Her nondominant hand got through the door obstacle and she dropped down, vomiting out whatever was bothering her organ into the toilet. It wasn't food since she hasn't been eating well lately. She felt so sick, tired, and stressed. At times like this she wished her husband was home because taking care of three children alone was taking a toll on her. He hasn't been home for five months now and she didn't feel better these days. She just wanted to see him. His presence would give her so much strength. She continued to throw up before it ended up nothing but regurgitation from the lack of substance in her stomach.Bookmark here

William... How long was he planning to stay out? She had texted him about being sick but he said he was too busy to be home. Now the issue with the boys happened. She doesn't know how she could bring them back yet after what she's said and done.Bookmark here

An immense pain struck her and she clutched her stomach. Before she started to regurgitate, liquid seeped out of her mouth as she pulled her hair high then let them go once she calmed down. The toilet was filled with blood. Anna ripped the paper and wiped her mouth from any traces and closed the lid, her head lay on top as she waited for any more signs. She let out a relaxed breath. "I think it's time I revisit the hospital."Bookmark here

"I can walk by myself, you know?" Daniel broke his hold off Alex and Max as well.Bookmark here

Alex glared at him as they reached the ground floor, his pace slowing down. "Why did you take her side?"Bookmark here

"I didn't take anyone's side." Daniel stated as a matter of fact, his finger pulled up to emphasise his point. "I barely even said anything!"Bookmark here

Alex didn't buy it. "Don't lie, I saw the way you were- what the hell happened here?"Bookmark here

He stopped at the kitchen entrance, spreading his arms to stop his brothers from walking further. Max's head shifted left and right as he looked underneath his arm at what he was talking about.Bookmark here

"Oh that. A monster came in and wanted to bite me but I took it out and locked the doors so it can't come in." His head rose to their tall height and nodded as if it made all sense.Bookmark here

Both Alex and Daniel shook their heads at the explanation as they turned around to get out from the front door then their usual backdoor.Bookmark here

"Honestly, you have so much imagination Max," Alex's response made Max frown, he let out a small, 'but it's true' that both his brothers ignored. At the street, Daniel brought the topic up again. "You've been progressively getting worse with our mother. You should try to be nicer."Bookmark here

They walked past their neighbour's fields, the cornerstone, heading towards a playground where their "hideout" was.Bookmark here

"Yeah! You should be nicer to mommy! You are always rude to her." Max chimed in, grabbing the vest of Daniel, a little nervous about the incoming outburst he knew Alex will have.Bookmark here

"I told you not to call her our mother! And what the hell does progressively mean?" Now both Alex and Max were curious about that.Bookmark here

"It means gradually," Daniel provided. When they both remained silent, he sighed. "Over time."Bookmark here

"Aaaahhhh!' Both Max and Alex put their fist on their palm as if they got it now.Bookmark here

"You should really pay more attention to class." Daniel facepalmed, exaggerating his movement to tease Alex.Bookmark here

"W-whatever, I don't care about that!" Alex's ears turned red as he sulked while Max jumped up and down at learning a new word. They reached the nearest playground and Alex hopped on one of the tree stumps, his brothers imitated his footsteps like a domino effect. "You are 'proaggressive'-"Bookmark here

"Progressively."Bookmark here

"Yeah 'progressively' becoming a snitch!" He rolled his eyes, climbing up the slide from the front, almost crawling on his way up.Bookmark here

Even though Max wasn't following the conversation that much, he chimed in again. His voice echoed as he was the last to climb from the pack. "We don't like snitches!"Bookmark here

"I'm not snitching- don't believe him Max- I just want you to give her a chance. You will realise she is trying hard to make you happy." Daniel dusted his tailored navy blue striped set, loosening up his cobalt blue tie that gave him a more youthful colour scheme. They reached the other slide and he waited for Alex to slide first. Daniel clutched the cylinder top for support and swooped in, hovering slightly as he skid down towards the basal.Bookmark here

"Mommy always tries hard to make us happy." Max swooped in as well but from the front, on his stomach. His arms and legs hang in the air to not scrap his unprotected limbs. He rolled to the lower, sandy ground and stood up. Both of his brothers let out a breath of disbelief at how he managed to be dirty.Bookmark here

"That's all fake. She is doing this big act to let our guard down! It's all a show for others to see," Alex dismissed their claims, hopping on one of the lower iron bars to the higher, layered ones, swinging himself to the next. His grip's steady and confident. On his way to the last, his fingers slipped, swaying him but he pulled himself up with one arm and recovered his hold, finishing the monkey bars.Bookmark here

"She is not like your foster parents Alex... she won't do what they did to you. She is not like mine either..." he trailed off, spacing out in memory. He was pulled out of his trance from Alex.Bookmark here

"She always hits Max! That shows you her true colors!"Bookmark here

Daniel took a hold of the bar and swung, his arms shaking and his pace faster then Alex to reach the goal. He didn't want to fall so he used speed to his advantage. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, fanning his cheeks with his hand.Bookmark here

"Mommy only hits me when I do wrong things!" Max defended, getting upset at the implications.Bookmark here

"That's the lie she is trying to feed you two!"Bookmark here

"No, she's not!"Bookmark here

"She is!"Bookmark here

"She's not!"Bookmark here

"Is!"Bookmark here

"Not!"Bookmark here

"Is!"Bookmark here

"NOT!"Bookmark here

"Damn, he is stubborn," Alex yielded.Bookmark here

"Language," Daniel calmly retributed as Max jumped in excitement at winning the argument. His jump was so high that his knees almost reached his chest before he caught the bar and swung. The back of his leg wrapped around the next one as he let go. His hair whooshed and he bent his back in time for his palms to hold the next one, his leg leaving the bar accordingly.Bookmark here

"He is such a damn monkey," Alex muttered for Daniel to hear.Bookmark here

"You can say that again." Daniel wished he was that flexible. "Language."Bookmark here

Max's slim body got in between the bars and he got on top, running above and he jumped into his brothers. They scurried out of the way, letting him land on his feet. "I win!"Bookmark here

"Yeah yeah, you sure did." Alex pandered to him. The three of them got back to walking towards their hideout. The bark of a dog interrupted their silent journey. It was consistent, aggressive and loud for a whole minute. Max perked up and nudged Alex by his red sleeveless shirt. "Don't doggies bark because something is wrong?"Bookmark here

Alex merely shrugged, not caring much about it. They reached one of the more deserted areas, where a lone tree remained there within the greener of grass and bushes. They built their treehouse here after many months of working on it. "Let's play on xbox today."Bookmark here

Daniel was the first to climb the overlapped planks arranged to the top. Just when Alex was about to go up, a low hum, sounding gritty and throaty, had him pause. It was so unnatural that Alex felt uneasy about it. "Did you hear that?"Bookmark here

Daniel, from above, went still to hear. "I don't hear it. Are you talking about the dog?"Bookmark here

"I do." Max interjected beside him. Alex scratched his chin in thought, the back of his head sensed danger but he didn't want any of his brothers to deal with it first. "I'll go check it out. You guys wait here."Bookmark here

"Okay." Daniel shrugged, going further inside to wait for them. When Alex left, Max's attention drifted back to the barking and he decided to also go explore.Bookmark here

"I'll be back in a minute!" Max skipped towards the area where the dog's voice grew loud. Little did he know what lay beyond was more than danger.Bookmark here

In the heart of London, inside a infamous hospital, the emergency room was filled to the brim with patients. A man came out of the surgery room, peeling off blood speckled gloves and pressed down on the pedal to open the lid of the bin to toss it in. He ripped off his headband, later the green contaminated garment, dumping it all before washing his hand, scrubbing aggressively his short nails, making it soapy. Once he was done, he walked out, making his way towards the elevator, his hands in his pockets.Bookmark here

One of the nurses on the side, turned twice to get visual confirmation when he passed by him. "You are still here?"Bookmark here

William didn't bother greeting. The nurse put an arm around his shoulders, as he waited with him by the elevator. "Are you going home now? Let's go drinking!"Bookmark here

"No Sam, I'm heading towards the E.R." William's curt response made his friend sigh in annoyance. He broke off his hold when the door parted, walked in and tapped one of the buttons.Bookmark here

"Do you ever leave your office? I feel like I barely saw you gone." Sam tried to recount the times he wasn't here. "You were here on your day off as well! You are a workaholic!"Bookmark here

"And you talk too much." William didn't miss a beat. He cracked his neck, rubbing it to ease the tension.Bookmark here

"Come on, don't be so serious. You will scare the girls away." Sam then leaned in to whisper something scandalous. William stared at the number above, almost reaching his floor. "One of the nurses has a huge crush on you. Maybe you two can get it together eyyy."Bookmark here

"With a mindset like this, I'm not surprised nobody likes you." The elevator opened, making it his cue to leave. Sam clutched his heart, trudging over dramatically at the insult. "I'm single by choice!"Bookmark here

William almost sighed in weariness. That's one way to interpret his words. Sam caught up to him, almost curious as to why he was here. "Are you a general doctor? I don't understand why you are here almost everyday as if it's your job."Bookmark here

"Didn't you say the E.R are short staffed and you have so many patients coming in the past two weeks?" William provided as he greeted the nurse with a nod and spread his arm over the counter for her to place a clipboard.Bookmark here

"Yeah... but that's for the hospital to solve. Don't you have a family to go home to?" Sam waved at the nurse and gave her wink which she returned back playfully, used to his antics.Bookmark here

"Patients come first." William dismissed the possibility, flipping through this patient medical report with narrowed eyes. What odd symptoms he had.Bookmark here

"Wasn't it always family first..." he murmured. Sam tilted his head in confusion, following William like a puppy. They manoeuvred through the waiting room, avoiding as many people as possible. William stopped reading when he entered the automatic doorway with "Emergency Room" red light flashing. Something didn't feel right no matter how many times he reread it. He tore his head away from the paper to see a man, ashen skinned with dark shades of grey peeking out of his short sleeved shirt on the edges. Upon closer look, his skin had shrivelled up together into an odd, irregular shape. Blood stains were on his cloth and painfully looking bites pierced his arms. The bone of the man in-between the muscles, which should have been bright red, being nothing but black and yellow. That's a wound that has been infected by the atmosphere.Bookmark here

"Did you even disinfect him?" He didn't want to question the staff's credibility in performing the basics but how did his arm get this bad? "This man looks dead."Bookmark here

William gave a side glance, wondering already where they went wrong. Sam just shrugged. "He came to us four days saying he was bitten by someone. Out of nowhere, he started showing weird symptoms. We first thought it was rabies, now we have no clue so we thought why not ask the best doctor we got."Bookmark here

Sam blinked rapidly, emphasising on his curly eyelashes but William's attention was no longer on him. "Except your best doctor is a surgeon, this is not my area of expertise."Bookmark here

The sleeping man jerked a little. William didn't miss the way it started with his fingers, slow and responsiveness, then wrists, arm before his entire body shook. He was alive.Bookmark here

"The patient is going through a cardiac arre-" Sam ordered the nurses to bring a defibrillator. Just at that moment, there was a scream getting louder by the second and huge gasps. The nurse, Ashley, was bit by him on the neck. It was silent until he tore a big chunk of her skin off and munched on it.Bookmark here

"Hold him down," William's calm order snapped some people from their trance. Most were confused on whether they wanted to approach this man but they scurried to compile William's wishes when he gave another one. "NOW!"Bookmark here

They all held him down, trying to avoid getting bitten by him as much as possible.Bookmark here

"Put him in an empty room by himself. I'll be there to check on him after I report this..." what can he call this? "Out of control behaviour to the department of infectious disease. Now move."Bookmark here

Everyone somehow managed to drag him out. Some helped out the nurse who got bitten to disinfect and stitch her wounds. Sam poked his head out from behind Law, trying to make sure it's safe to come out, with clear fear on his face.Bookmark here

"Was that even human?" He pointed a finger at the retreating figures, shaking his head at what he saw. "He was like a- like a monster!"Bookmark here

"Have you never seen humans behave outrageously before?" William rolled his eyes, beginning to walk away to his decided destination. Sam didn't move a muscle, just struck in fear.Bookmark here

"Of course he is human. If he wasn't, then would he be here?" William chuckled at the absurdity when Sam couldn't respond back. He didn't even need to turn around to know how dumbfounded Sam must feel now. Some people have crazy imagination. How would he be able to survive as a doctor if he can't handle this small incident.Bookmark here

"You are right... silly me."Bookmark here

Anna had once again slept through her day before she regained consciousness. There was a strange thudding sound outside but she didn't bother checking. She went to the living room, flickered the light to brighten the room. The television stood tall on top of a coffee table at the other end, sofa at the centre with two armchairs on each side. She wiped her sweaty forehead when she saw her reflection at the right window. It disgusted her how unsightly and ugly she is. She blinked out of her thoughts when she realised it was nighttime. She frowned, the boys weren't home yet? Anna pulled up her phone to get more clarity. It was nine pm, still an hour before their curfew. She took a seat on the couch while her fingers typed through websites to book an appointment. Her husband's hospital popped up but she skipped over it, feeling a little emotional and ashamed of showing up there. She didn't want him to find out... It's why she kept it a secret for two years. But she also was afraid of how he would react. Disappointed? Maybe annoyed?Bookmark here

She found her previous hospital and checked their booking. Which specialist was she supposed to see? The ENT doctor said nothing was wrong with her and recommended her to maybe check either a pulmonologist or Gastroenterologists? Even that doctor didn't know what's causing this. Only a year ago it started to get aggressive but never this bad where she was bleeding everyday. She decided to check if it was lung cancer and booked her appointment as such. Nearest date was a month later. England's hospital bookings were so awful that she was surprised nobody died from waiting. Last time she had to wait three months for her check up. A pop up showed up letting her know her phone was on fifteen percent battery and it needed to be charged but she ignored it. She placed her phone down and took the remote from the low table, opening the television. Flipping through the channels for something to watch.Bookmark here

"-not leave your house. I repeat, do not leave your house. Stay home and lock the doors. This epidemic seems to spread like wildfire-" Images of people getting ducked and humans eating one another played out. The bottom writing talked about how it's an infectious disease that spreads through bites, leading people to do 'uncontrolled' behaviour.Bookmark here

At first it didn't concern her until she saw it was happening in London. She grabbed her phone quickly, searching on the internet for more clues. A bunch of similarly titled articles showed up. "Zombies are real?" That was the top article followed by a bunch of, "Zombies exist?", "Zombies roaming free." They were all made within the last few hours. There was no way this was real, she laughed nervously, changing channel with her other hands. They all broadcasted the same news in each channel that anxiety started to sink in.Bookmark here

This was real?Bookmark here

"Oh no... the kids!"Bookmark here

Joshua Lundquest
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