Note: So weird. I must have written this as a trifecta, and then not had time to figure out whether or not I could publish it. IDK. The thing just appeared in here this morning when I logged in and started to review the story thus far. Weird. Anyway, I've hit publish, so I guess I'll leave it. But I've removed it from the Trifecta set. Because it didn't even have the word, which in Week 23 was confidence.
Across the Rails -- Upon Arrival
The children, upon seeing the ramshackle hut, looked at each other. So tired were they, so thirsty and hungry and sick to death of Oreo cookies and apple juice, the shack looked like a resort. Although they'd never been there before, it was exactly as Terry had expected it to be. One door, window to the right with lime green curtains obliterating the view to the insides. Door painted red, rest of the house a dirty shade of grey.
Terry knew this house had once been white, had seen the picture and committed the little house's visage to memory. But grey was not charcoal and, as soon as she located the key to the lock, it would be theirs for the duration. At least that was her hope.
Even in her pre-teen state, she knew better than to think that anything in her life would be a given. Experience had taught her that if she hoped that something would work in her favour, the opposite would usually prove true.
She thought bad thoughts, just to avert the possibility. Other squatters, her aunt not wanting her, rats eating their way through the provisions, a poisoned well. If she thought these ideas now, none of them would prove true.
The house looked deserted, something about it was desolate enough to make her think her aunt and her aunt's friend had not been there for a while. Still, there was no mail piled high, no papers on the stoop. Of course the area was off the beaten track, she thought, it was possible that the mail was delivered only to a "rural route" box nearby. And if her aunt was anything like her own folks, she would not have the time, patience, trust nor money for a newspaper subscription. And the free ones were usually only delivered in the towns -- rural folks were not ones to use the flyers to augment their meager furnishings with dreams of Martha Stewart or her ilk.
"What do you think, Petey?" she asked finally.
"Do you think they're home?" he replied. "I want some water."
"Wait here with Frannie," Terry said, her voice low despite their being the only people to be seen. "I'm going around back."
Peter sat down with his back against a knotty old tree, as weary as if he'd already lived a hundred years, rather than his meager six. Francis dropped beside him, and put her exhausted head on his thigh. His hand automatically smoothed down her hair, the gesture of an older sibling who never enjoyed the luxury of being cranky and selfish.
As Jean left to find a way into the house, she let her eyes linger for a moment longer on her brother and sister than she should have. How much she longed to be a younger child, to have someone smooth her hair, for any touch that would lessen the responsibility she felt. She ached to be back at their place by the lake, reading books with her neighbour.
She shook herself a bit, to pull back into her reality. She knew she needed to get the younger kids into the house and give them something better to eat before nightfall. She glanced around, noticing dandelions everywhere. They'd have greens, anyway.
The key was exactly where her mom said it would be, beneath the stairs, between a piece of wood that made the platform and a leg that didn't quite rise to meet it. It felt cool and hard and sharp in her hand and as she squeezed it the pain she felt brought her some relief from her unending stress.
She turned the key and slipped into the back door of the shack. It smelled musty, as if it had been closed up and not given a chance to dry out from the wet of the spring. She could fix that tomorrow, she thought as she opened the front door and beckoned the others to enter.