Updated: Oct 9
Even in a frozen, post-apocalyptic world, miracles are born. Follow the journey of a young family learning to survive a never-ending winter.
A few months after Gabby turned sixteen, Clare convinced her to try her power outside the garden. James and I agreed to it as long as she stayed within the reinforced fences. We’d maxed out the prison’s capacity a year ago, and the fences had come in handy when repelling small groups that wanted inside. Gabby was eager to venture outside the safety of the prison perimeter. She loved meeting newcomers, and since no one else was allowed inside, she’d expressed a restlessness that worried James and me. Clare, on the other hand, fueled my daughter’s desire to leave with tales of Gabby’s future as the world’s savior.
Eager to prove her strength, Gabby stood within the prison's fenced area while James, Clare, and I, along with most of the camp, waited to witness her latest miracle. Gabby fidgeted under the eager stares of her friends and family and glanced back at James. He beamed at her with a proud grin and flashed her two thumbs up, which made me adore him even more. Gabby seemed to relax a bit, then she crouched to place her bare hands against the ice.
This time, a silent pulse exploded from her hands and reverberated through the ice until it combusted into steam. The entire field thawed in an instant, and the campers gasped with delight at Gabby’s power. She kept her hands against the ground and groaned with an effort she’d rarely exhibited during creation. Grass, flowers, and trees erupted from the soil to reach for the cloudy sky and covered the field in vibrant colors of Spring. When the plants were finished, Gabby lifted her hands into the air and cleared the clouds above the prison, letting the sunshine down on us.
The campers cheered at Gabby’s gift to them and crowded around her to thank and congratulate her. James and I waited as everyone dispersed to enjoy the new garden. We stood side-by-side with our hands clasped together in silent support. We both shared the same fear that Gabby would leave our protection to save the world and get herself killed in the process. We couldn’t let that happen. I watched Gabby chat with her friends and Clare, and I silently rejoiced when my daughter sat down in the grass to catch her breath.
“You did great, Gabby,” Clare said as James and I rushed forward to assist our teenage daughter.
"Yes, this is amazing,” James said, motioning to the field around us. I nodded without surveying Gabby’s work. Her power still unsettled me. I was far more concerned with her health.
“You’re so pale. How are you feeling?”
“Tired, but I’m okay.”
“You don’t look okay. You’re sweating,” I said, and Gabby rolled her eyes in typical teenage fashion.
“Mom, I just need to sit for a minute.”
“What do you think?” Clare said, crouching down next to Gabby. “Do you think you’re ready to do this out there?”
“No,” James said. “Look at her, she’s exhausted.”
“I can do it, Dad. Not the whole world at once, but maybe in sections or something.”
James shook his head. “Not if you’re this tired from a field this size. The world is massive, and you’d be vulnerable for too long. You can’t trust anyone outside those fences, Gabby. It’s too dangerous.”
“How would I know how big the world is? I’ve never left this camp. There’s so much I haven’t seen.”
“And you’ll get to see it all,” Clare said. “But not until you’re strong enough.”
I nodded and pushed back her sweaty bangs. “Just a little longer, Gabby.”
“Whatever,” she mumbled and laid back against the grass.
Clare pulled James away to talk, and I leaned back onto my elbows next to Gabby. She glared up at the cloudless sky and chewed on her lip. I glanced at her and tried to decide on the best way to cheer her up.
“Did you know that when you were little, you had trouble smiling?”
“That’s ridiculous. Everyone knows how to smile.”
“You didn’t,” I said with a side glance at her. “Every time we took a photo, you’d open your mouth real big instead of smiling.”
“Is that why I look like I’m screaming in all of my baby photos?”
I laughed. “You were adorable. I’m so glad we found that printer and rechargeable camera.”
“We’re lucky. I know that,” Gabby said as she sat up, and I followed suit. “This place has kept us safe, and we have more than most people in the world right now. But I can fix that, Mom. I can help everyone.”
“Not until you’re ready. Going out there before then will only get you killed. And then what? Who will save everyone when you’re dead?”
Gabby threw her hands into the air. “Why do you assume that I’m going to die? That everyone is out to get me? Why does Dad distrust everyone outside the fence? What makes us different from them?”
“That’s just it, Gabby.” I placed a hand on her shoulder. “There isn’t a difference. There isn’t anything the people outside those fences wouldn’t do to keep their loved ones safe, just like your father and me. And if the best way for them to keep their loved ones safe is to take what’s ours, they’ll do it. But we can’t let them, because we need it.”
“Then why don’t we help them?”
“We do what we can without compromising our own well-being. We offered shelter until we ran out of space. With this new field, Clare may be able to expand our capacity, but that’ll take time.”
“You said that we’re the same as those people on the other side,” Gabby said. “That means that if we’re kind, they’ll be kind. They’ll understand that I’m trying to help everyone.”
“That’s not always the case. Before we came here, your father offered help to two men who came to our door one night when you were a baby. We gave them food and shelter, and in return, they killed your aunt. Since then, James and I agreed to never risk our family like that again. We love you too much to lose you. Neither of us could bear to lose you.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” She shook her head. “But not everyone is like that. We’ve seen it in the people that joined the camp over the past few years.”
“You’re right. A few people are willing to put the greater good above their own interests, some will look out for themselves without hurting those around them, and others will destroy the world to get what they want. You have to be prepared to face all of them.”
Gabby nodded and bit her lip. “Which am I supposed to be?”
“Honestly?” I offered a bitter-sweet smile. “I’m terrified that you’re in the first category. I’d much rather you stay safe and help people where you can, but you seem dead set on doing more. So James and I will help you, but we’re not going to rush into it. We’re going to do it the right way and keep you safe.”
Over the next few weeks, Gabby filled the new field with her favorite creations, not just plants but small animals and rodents too. Throughout her years in Eden Square, she’d mastered twelve different kinds of fish and over twenty types of rodents, including mice and gophers. She’d even made a couple of meerkats and raccoons. Then one day in the field, Gabby asked about hummingbirds.
“Why are they called that?” She fidgeted in the top bunk as she stared at a poster in our room. We didn’t have much space for the three of us, but we managed with the bunk beds and a third mattress on the floor.
“Because their wings moved so fast that they made a humming noise when they flew past you,” James said from his bed on the floor. “Come to think of it, they also hovered. I can’t think of any other birds that hovered.”
“Cool,” Gabby said. I smiled without looking up from my book, and James crossed his arms under his pillow for comfort.
“What did they eat?” Gabby interrupted the silence with another question, and I set the book down to glance at James. He met my gaze with a knowing expression. One question meant she was interested in something new; two questions meant she would create it.
Sure enough, the next day, James and I watched our daughter from lawn chairs in the middle of the camp field. Gabby pressed her palms together and stood in silence for several minutes. She squeezed until her hands shook, and a bright light exploded from her. When she spread her fingers, a tiny hummingbird peeked out, then it hopped free of her grasp to buzz around her head. She giggled at her new creation, while I shoved my unease down deep.
James had a different reaction. Upon seeing the bird, he jumped to his feet and practically danced over to his daughter.
“That’s amazing,” he said. “What should we name it?”
“I don’t know.” Gabby shrugged. “Mom, what do you think?”
I smiled at my daughter, pretending that her power didn’t bother me, but I knew I’d failed when she dropped her gaze and bit her lip.
“How about Buzz?” I said. “I once had a dog named Buzz.”
She lifted her head to return my smile, but voices from the nearby fence distracted her. The three of us spun around to find several recently turned-away people crowding around a chain-link portion of the perimeter.
“Did you see what she did? She made that bird!”
“No way. How’d she do that?”
“It’s a miracle. She’s heaven-sent.”
Much to Gabby’s aggravation, James shuffled her away from the fence and closer to the prison buildings. I turned to follow, but the gawkers called out for answers. One middle-aged woman fell to her knees and thrust her hands through the fence.
“Please, tell me she can deliver us.”
As the guards stationed along the fence rushed to corral them, I hustled closer to the woman and grasped her hand. “We can’t help you right now.”
“But she will one day?”
I nodded, and the woman wept against my hand. She thanked me through her sobs of joy and proclaimed my daughter as her savior. The guards pulled the woman from the fence, and she wandered away, touting Gabby’s power to her fellow travelers. I wondered if I’d made a grave mistake.
With the open sky much larger than before, more people continued to arrive in search of answers and hopeful for relief from the cold. We’d had to turn most of them away due to a lack of space and resources. Most were upset at being rejected, especially when they saw Gabby’s new field within the fence. We’d seen a few small attacks on the facility, but they were squashed without casualties. I hoped that my slip up with the woman at the fence didn’t make things worse.
Instead, something odd happened. The woman came back every day after that to watch for Gabby, and she brought friends. When Gabby spent time in the field, the woman and her followers kneeled at the fence line and studied her. They mimicked her motions during creation and preached of her power to those that would listen. The worshipers outside the fence grew numerous over the next few months, but they never showed violent signs. Rather, they spread along the fence line and acted as an alarm a barrier against aggressors.
One day, Gabby and I sat under a tree in the new field. I read a book while she played with a ladybug she’d created. She watched it flutter away, then her eyes fell to the familiar woman preaching to her fellow worshippers about Gabby’s greatness.
“Why do they keep doing that?”
I glanced up from my book and pursed my lips. “Because they need something to believe in, I guess.”
“They keep saying that I’m all-powerful, but I’m not. I don’t know how I do what I do, but I know there’s a limit to it. They need to know that.”
“Don’t engage them. Trust me, it’ll just make it worse.”
Gabby giggled and shoved my shoulder. “I can’t believe you started a new religion.”
“I didn’t mean to do it.” I made a face then laughed.
We paused in our fun when a guard at the fence called for Clare, and she hurried to him. Gabby jumped to her feet and rushed to join them, so I followed.
“The worshipers claim that a group of aggressors is forming about a half mile West of us. It’s most of the people we’ve turned away since Gabby made the field. We’ve never faced a group this large,” the guard said.
“Do you know when they are planning to attack?” Clare asked.
“No, not yet.”
“Why would they attack us? We haven’t done anything to them,” Gabby said, and I wrapped my arm around her shoulders.
“They want what we have. Our land, shelter, food, everything.”
“But if they just wait long enough, I could help everyone. I could save the world.”
“They don’t care about saving the world. Or they don’t believe us,” Clare said. “They only want to save themselves.”
“And doom the world in the process,” I muttered, shaking my head.
Gabby’s eyes darted between Clare and me. “What are we going to do?”
“We’ll do what we always do,” Clare said. “We’ll fight and win because we have a world to save.”
When the aggressors came, the camp was ready. The worshipers sounded the alarm as soon as the attack started, and the campers responded as we were trained. Campers fought alongside the worshipers against the aggressors. Many people died from both sides of the battle. I heard that it was a chaotic and bloody fight, but I didn’t see it. James and I were responsible for getting Gabby to the designated safe zone as soon as we heard the alarm. And when it blared through the prison PA system, the three of us jumped from our beds and tore out our bedroom like bats out of hell. No one anticipated that the battle was a distraction for the sneak attack.
While most campers swarmed outside to fight, my little family hustled to Eden Garden, the center and most well-guarded part of the prison. A handful of guards were assigned to meet us, but a mob of aggressors swarmed them before they made it to Eden. The murderous crowd left their dead and rushed onward to clear the next building. We stumbled upon the aftermath of the mob in one of the hallways, and James jerked Gabby and me to a stop. Four men remained in the hall, killing the wounded, and they spun around at the sound of our steps.
I pushed Gabby behind me, and James motioned for the two of us to back away. I knew what he had planned, and I didn’t like it. But I also knew it was our best chance to keep Gabby away from these men.
“All of you need to leave,” James said. He was a large man and knew it, so he puffed out his chest and glared at the four intruders. As threatening as my husband looked, the strangers were not impressed.
“I don’t think so, friend.” The larger one shook his head and pulled a large knife from his belt. The others flashed various weapons, including two rifles and a bat. James frowned at the dangerous men, then he glanced back at Gabby and me.
I reach for his hand. “James.”
“Never again,” he whispered to me.
Then, my husband pulled a handgun from his pocket and shot at the strangers. They dove to the side in search of cover, but one man was too slow. With three left, James kept firing until he finished the clip then charged toward the trespassers. I grabbed Gabby’s arm and tugged her away. Together, we ran through the prison, and I prayed James would be okay. He survived the house fire. He could survive this, too, right?
I heard the largest man shout behind us, “They’re getting away. Go after them.”
“Keep going,” I yelled to Gabby, and we surged forward. Bullets zipped past us, and we darted into another hallway. The camp had a limited supply of guns and ammo, but every guard was armed, so we just had escape long enough to find a guard or two. Surely they weren’t all dead.
Gabby and I crashed through a door to Eden Square, but I tripped on a tree root, and she slowed to help me. As we crossed the square to another building, the two men chasing us caught up. The first one grabbed me by the hair then wrapped his skinny arm around my neck. I struggled for freedom, biting, scratching, and kicking like a wild animal. Gabby came to my aid, only to have the second trespasser tackle her to the ground.
As we both struggled with our attackers, I heard Clare yelling. She wanted to shoot the aggressors, but she couldn’t get a clean shot. The man at my back pressed a knife into my side, and I screamed. Through the pain, I heard footsteps as Clare and a few guards rushed to our aid. I hoped that I would last long enough.
A bright light exploded from Gabby, followed by a deep thrumming that pushed at the air around her. My attacker and I stumbled back from the pressure in the air. Gabby and her assailant fell motionless with his hands around her neck and her fingers digging into his face. Then the stranger choking my daughter crumbled to ash and blew away in the wind that Gabby generated. The plants under them burned away, and the soil seared to clay. The thrumming slowed, and the light dimmed until Gabby took a breath and glanced around in confusion.
“What happened?” she asked me. Ash smudged her face, and I gaped at her. My attacker had a similar response.
“Screw this.” Surrendering to his fear, the attacker dashed past Clare and the rest of the guards. Those running to our rescue stopped several yards away and whispered about what Gabby had done. She had killed a man with her touch.
Wiping tears from her cheek, Gabby climbed to her feet and looked at me. When her beautiful brown eyes met mine, I saw the heartache she felt at realizing she’d killed someone. It was similar to what I saw in James’ eyes the night his sister died.
“Never again,” I whispered. Then I pulled my daughter into a hug, and she sobbed against me as I wiped the ash from her face.
With my arms wrapped around Gabby, I pointed Clare and the guards toward James. He needed their help, so half of them raced to the rescue while the others stayed with us. A few minutes later, Clare returned with a solemn expression. Tears welled in my eyes, and I hugged Gabby closer. She pulled away from me.
I opened my mouth to answer, but I couldn’t say the words. I couldn’t say anything.
Clare placed a hand on my shoulder and met Gabby’s heartbroken gaze. “I’m sorry, Gabby.”
“No,” she tore away from us and ran from the square toward her father. “Dad! Daddy!”
“Follow her,” Clare said. “We are still under siege, and we haven’t cleared the prison yet. This has been a mess, and I’m not sure we can clean it up.”
“What are you saying?” I asked as we followed my daughter through the halls.
“I’m saying that we may have to abandon the prison.”
How could everything fall apart like this? The prison was our home. Now we have to leave, just like we had to leave the farm so many years ago. But the thought of losing our home couldn’t compare to the heartbreaking sight of my husband. He sat against the wall with the intruder’s knife protruding from his chest and the two men lying dead at his feet. He’d died protecting us and fulfilling his promise to me. Gabby wept at his side, holding his bloody hand.
As I shuffled closer, her sobs grew harsher. When I crouched next to her and took his other hand, she released a mournful wail for her father, and a wave of power exploded from Gabby. It crashed into everyone around her and throughout the prison. The blast obliterated the intruders while knocking the campers and worshipper to the ground, unharmed. Gabby’s power did not pass the fence line, sparing those outside, but the remaining aggressors retreated in fear of the mysterious force that killed their comrades. The campers and worshippers knew who to thank for the miracle, so they cheered her name throughout the prison halls.
Although a small part of me celebrated the win, I did not cheer with my friends and fellow campers. At that moment, I didn’t care that we nearly lost the battle and the camp to the aggressors. I didn’t care that Gabby had saved our home. I only cared that my husband was dead, and my daughter had collapsed next to his body. I pulled them both against me and wept.
We buried James and the other casualties of the battle in Eden Square. It was a beautiful salute to their sacrifice, but it wasn’t enough. James deserved more than to rot in a wooden box. He deserved to see Gabby grow up, fall in love, and have children. That’s all he wanted in life. That’s all I wanted too.
After the funerals, I sat at Gabby’s side for months. I wasn’t sure if she would ever wake up; the camp doctors said she’d slipped into a coma. Her body remained strong and healthy even without food and water, but her mind refused to wake. I wondered for a long time whether she spent too much energy when saving our home, or she chose to remain catatonic because the world didn’t deserve her.
When I stepped outside the prison walls after several months at Gabby’s bedside, I found Clare training the worshipers. They’d joined our camp to fill the losses we’d taken during the battle. Watching the people that pledged their love and devotion to my daughter interact with her friends, I knew she’d wake up one day because we needed her. I needed her.
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© 2020 by Kelly A Nix
Cover image painted by Megan McCloskey