The van was waiting outside. It was a nondescript white van with no windows. Laura said, “So, the van should probably say free candy on the sides from what the Internet has told me.”
“Well, I guess that would be appropriate, after all, we are here to take children.”
“Tell me that doesn’t make you feel a bit weird?”
“Of course it does, but these kids don’t have anyone, it’s just us.”
Night was starting to fall, the sky going from a bright grey smog to a bright purple smog. Time to get the hell out of the gated community. At least they had white skin going for them.
They punched in their co-ordinates and the van took off at a careful pace.
Going into the gated community had been a mild shock, the chaos and decay of the urban environment giving way to carefully manicured lawns, all green, and identical houses. Going out was even more of a shock. The gates kept out the reality. There was a homeless man sitting against the gate, drinking out of a paper bag, his skin grey from dirt. It was clear that his skin had been white once upon a time, before the dirt covered it, and Laura could still see faint patches of pale. His left eye was gone, a gaping, festering hole in his face.
This drive took them through far, far worse areas than their previous one had. Tenements made up of empty towers, the glass smashed out of them. Stately homes that were gradually decaying into the ground. Laura said, “There are no people. It’s like watching a movie about the end of the world. Where are all the people?”
“They got out if they could. These areas are poison, nobody can make a go of it. Not enough money, not enough people. Notice everyone we see has dark skin?”
“I knew the states was bad, but I didn’t realize… I’ve only gone to places like Florida. I thought it was bad. How the hell did Texas end up like this?”
“The oil market dried up, globally. Most of the money here is oil money. Texas built on black gold, once they didn’t have that they didn’t have a damned thing. It took a while, there was so much money, but in the end it all caught up to them.”
“Damn, we are really, really stupid monkeys.”
They kept going, and the decay got worse. Laura realized she hadn’t seen another human being in ten minutes. The gas station was looming ahead, decayed like everything else. No wonder the kids had been able to hide here, there was nobody to find them.
The front door was boarded up, but that was expected. Laura started looking around, trying to find the way in. She coughed, the ever present dust drying out her throat, her nose. If there was a hell, it was probably Dallas.
Paul was around back when he yelled, “Hey, they aren’t in the station, they’re on top of it!”
Laura ran around to see, there was a dumpster and above it a fire escape, Paul was most of the way up, his head sticking out. Laura followed him up, scampering as gracefully as she could. It was a hard climb, requiring muscles she rarely used.
Sure enough, there was a shack on top of the building. Pieces of corrugated aluminum bound together with bits of rope and wire, blooms of rust on it. There was also a little girl, black hair and dark tanned Hispanic skin. She was looking at them with her brown eyes wide, wider than made sense. “Please, please leave us alone. We ain’t hurting nobody. Just, just let us stay here. You can take me if you need to, but leave the others. I’ll do anything, anything you want if you just leave the others alone.”
Laura said, “It’s okay honey, we aren’t her to hurt you. We’re from outside… we want to help you, to take you to a place where you will be safe.”
“Ain’t no place like that, no in America.”
“No, not in America. Brazil. It’s another country, little kids in Brazil, they get to be kids. With the Zika virus lots of people can’t have children now, lots of parents want to adopt kids, even ones who aren’t little anymore.”
“How dumb do you think we are? Brazil’s a bad place. We see it on the new every day.”
“Not anymore. It had a rough patch, but it’s all good now. Has been for years. Come with us, we’ll find you a home, parents who will feed you and take care of you.”
“All of us?”
“How many of you are there?”
“Why should I tell you? If I tell you you’ll just take us to the cops. We can’t go to the cops.”
“Of course not. I promise. We can take up to ten, that’s the most we could manage with what we have right now. If it’s less than that, yes, all of you.”
“Okay. Can you wait outside? I have to talk to the others.”
“Of course, we can wait.”
Paul said, “She’s going to try and make a run for it. You know that right?” quietly so only Laura could hear.
“Of course. I’m going to let her. Once she realizes we aren’t chasing her maybe she’ll come back. Anyway, I would if I was her.”
“Yeah, me too.”
A moment later the door banged open and five ragged children ran across the rooftop, grabbing a pipe and dropping to the ground. Paul and Laura stood there, waiting. Once the kids were down Laura called out, “We’re going to wait here until ten thirty. Come back if you feel like it.”
Laura walked into the hut and sat down to wait. Paul followed her.
Two hours later Paul was up and pacing, at least as much as he could in the tiny shack. Two long steps from side to side, three from end to end. “They aren’t coming back. The trips a bust. Might as well pack it up and go home now.”
“It’s only nine thirty, they have time to go. Just chill.”
They were getting ready to leave when the kids came back. Two girls and three boys, all small, all under nourished. The first girl said, “You promise I get to live with a family?”
“Yes honey, of course. I’m Laura, what’s your name?”
“I’m Jude. These guys are my family right now… but I’m not a very good mom. I don’t know how to cook or anything.”
“That’s okay Jude. You shouldn’t be a mum yet, you should still be a kid. There’s lots of time to learn that grown up stuff.”
“Alright. We’ll trust you, for now at least. If you try to fuck us we’ll cut you.”
The switch from little kid to hardened street kid threw Laura for a second. Her eyes started to mist, but she drove it down, there were things to do, more important things than crying over a little girl who grew up too hard.
“Okay, down to the van. There’s going to be some hard bits here… customs and immigration will be watching for us.”
“I don’t get it. They don’t want us, why won’t they let us leave with you?”
“Because America doesn’t want other people to know how bad it has gotten here. They still pretend they are the greatest country in the world.”
“So, it’s just to look like they are better than they are?”
“Yeah, pretty messed up huh?”
They got into the van, all of them. It was large enough that even with seven of them there was still lots of space, not like the tiny vehicles Laura drove back home. The kids were looking at the interior of the van with wonder. It was almost as large as their shack had been, and the seating was far more comfortable.
Laura drove through the neon night. The sky shone purple above them, dust and smog intermingled with city light to create a solid dome above. The traffic started to pick up as Laura and Paul headed into more populated parts of the city, some cars even driven by humans once again. It seemed a particular form of American insanity, to want to control several tons of steel and glass careening at insane speed within inches of other similar vehicles. Not the weirdest thing they had seen in Dallas, but up there.
After a bit Paul said, “I think we have a tail,” quietly.
“Okay, can we lose them?”
“I’ll try. It’s the dark grey car behind us, the one closing in.”