Little Molly Moop ran fast and she ran reckless. ‘I am a missile,’ she said in her mind as she cut through the woods. Her backpack rattled with each step. The twigs and leaves crunched beneath her. She brought noise to a silent and desolate woods. The crows watched her with their curious, black eyes. ‘I am a missile,’ she reminded herself as the trees flew by.
Little Molly Moop was a tiny thing, but her backpack was big. Not only was it big, it was heavy. But Little Molly ran on, never looking back. That was the mistake the others made. If you look back, you’ll find a bullet in your head. Her lungs and legs begged for relief, but Little Molly knew missiles didn’t need lungs or legs.
A gunshot thundered through the woods. She heard the bullet tear through a tree not too far behind her. Crows covered the sky in black, their wings fluttering and their calls rippling. Little Molly closed her eyes for a few seconds. ‘I am not me. I am a missile. And missiles don’t get scared.’ The second shot fired, and dirt erupted at her heels.
It was not the bullet, but her voice that brought Little Molly Moop down. ‘Good Molly. You listened to Mama.’ Molly found cover behind a boulder. ‘Little Ben was bad. He didn’t get too far.’ She was Molly again. Her breaths were labored and her legs numbed.
‘I am missile,’ she chanted her mantra. ‘I am a missile.’ She took off. The bag weighed on her shoulders. She was slower. She could feel it. If she followed the path, Mama wouldn’t shoot her dead. But then… A wall of fog fell before her.
‘You’re not listening. That’s not where you’re supposed to go.’ Another shot rippled through the air. Sounds of a river grew more distinct. Little Molly Moop ran to the gushing water. A ford appeared before her with a bridge of rocks. She stepped carefully, but her feet would still slip.
Two bullets splashed the water. Little Molly Moop was soaked and chilled. She scrambled across, running faster once she touched ground. She weaved through the trees when she saw something that made her jump.
The rags barely clung to the flesh-eaten bones. Hundreds of flies took off when she approached it. In its eye sockets, she saw herself. And she saw Ben, and Lucy. Little Molly couldn’t turn back now.
She was a shadow in the fog, big and monstrous. She cocked her gun and aimed. Little Molly Moop broke the most important rule. The gun’s fire illuminated the fog. The bullet pierced her arm and blood oozed through her hand. Little Molly Moop did her best to stifle her scream, but it broke through her fingers.
Little Molly Moop limped back to the curving river a wounded deer. She was no missile. She was flesh, terrible flesh. The weight of her hunter’s stare could kill her there. She imagined Mama smiling over her. Little Molly plunged into the river. Coldness enveloped her.
In a ravine of white, they stalked the red blossoms along the stream. Moose the Boy followed Hobo and Fatboy, who was actually a girl with plump cheeks. ‘I’m hungry,’ Moose groaned as he did every day for the last year.
‘Shut up and eat some snow. If you help us kill this animal, we can all eat.’ Fatboy slumped down with her make-shift spear. ‘I’ll stab it, and you just make sure it’s dead.’ Hobo dashed ahead, leaving his prints in the snow. ‘Don’t mess this up.’
They found the girl shivering by the bedrock. Hobo jumped excitedly around her, and it seemed the girl welcomed the animal’s company.
‘You’re not food,’ Moose said sadly.
‘No.’ Fatboy thought about it. ‘No. She’s not. Come back, Hobo. We don’t need another mouth to feed.’
‘I-I have food.’
‘Oh yeah? Then give me your bag and we won’t kill you.’ Fatboy held the spear to the girl.
‘No! She’s like us.’
‘Who cares? There’s plenty like us.’ Fatboy pushed the point closer to the girl with dead eyes. ‘Come on!’ Hobo began to whimper.
‘What’s your name?’ Moose quickly asked.
‘Molly.’ The girl didn’t take her eyes off Fatboy.
‘Is that what your mama called you?’
‘You should choose a new name. We did. I’m Moose and she’s Fatboy.’
‘Why what?’ Fatboy was losing her patience. ‘Stop distracting me. The bag! Now!’ She pressed the point into her.
Molly shuddered. ‘Why Fatboy? And why Moose?’
‘Because I’m fat! Because I look like a boy incase you didn’t notice. God, why do you talk so much? Now if you weren’t a sniveling idiot, you could put the two together. I’m Fatboy, OK? And he’s Moose because he couldn’t think of anything better. Happy? Do you think we’re friends now? Do you think I won’t kill you now because I know your name?’ Fatboy stormed off.
‘She’s just hungry.’ Moose helped the Molly up.
The warmth seeped into Molly, but she continued shivering. They ate the jerky around a fire. Hobo seemed to be the only one who enjoyed the cold meat. Fatboy chewed angrily and intently across Molly, the flames lapping the air between the two. Outside their shelter, snow fell like petals.
‘So what will you do now that you got away?’ Moose smiled at her.
‘Keep running. I don’t want to be here.’
‘You’re stupid. There’s nowhere to go.’ Fatboy fumed. ‘If you were smart, like me, you’d start hunting.’
‘It’s getting colder and there’s fewer animals around. Maybe we should leave.’
‘We’ve tried that! We just ended back here. And we’re lucky we didn’t wander farther back. There’s two things we can do. We either stay put or we go back.’
Molly rummaged through her pack. Most of her belongings were sodden, but Molly made sure to steal a map. The paper easily crumpled, so Molly carefully unfolded each section. Each crease seemed to flake off pieces and much of the print had faded and become discolored. Little Molly Moop gestured for them to gather around. She pointed to a junction. ‘I want to go here.’
‘Weren’t you listening to anything I said? I told you our options.’
Little Molly Moop wasn’t the loudest, but she wasn’t afraid of Fatboy. ‘We can’t go back and we can’t stay.’
The fire in Fatboy seemed to burn low then. She fiddled with her spear, sulking. ‘I wish we could.’
‘Yeah,’ Moose admitted, surprising the two girls. Hobo nudged the boy.
They all looked to the map once more. The roads converged at a corner of the map. It wasn’t the clearest, but the text was still readable: The End. Moose traced their travels. ‘It won’t be easy. Why there?’
Molly’s eyes were blank as if she had recited her answer many times. ‘I want to go where the roads end so I can forget.’
In their cabin, they always had a fire. The red glow became the only light they knew. That is until the leaves wreathed the floor. Mama would let them out. The sunlight burned their eyes and they stumbled out like blinded animals. Mama was kind then. She taught them the roads to take, the animals to hunt, and the berries and plants to eat.
They never went hungry and they never went cold when Mama was kind. ‘Always listen to your mom,’ she told them with warmth in her voice. ‘Listen to me, and you’ll be safe. Nothing will ever hurt you.’
Molly recalled those days fondly, but she also remembered Mama’s changing. She was never certain what caused Mama to turn into a monster, but she decided to blame the cold. One day winter slipped into their cabin and extinguished their fire. Molly woke up from a chill and walked out to a dark room. The windows were opened and their door rattled by the wind’s hand.
Mama stood by the embers, her eyes taking a ghoulish light. Her hairs looked frayed, and a smile crept from cheek to cheek. ‘Little Molly Moop,’ She said softly, ‘come to your mother.’ Something in Molly told her to run. Mama’s arms swept across her shoulder. ‘Wake Ben and Lucy for me.’
‘Ben. Lucy. Wake up,’ Little Molly Moop nudged them awake. ‘Something’s strange about Mama. I think we should go.’
‘What do you mean?’ Lucy rolled over with half-opened eyes. ‘And where will we go?’
‘Mama taught us how to live out there. We should go. I have her map in my bag.’
‘You’re imagining things,’ Ben got up. ‘Why would we leave?’
‘Ben’s right. Let’s go see her.’
The three children stepped out into the dark room. Mama was not there. The room was devoid of warmth, with only the draft swirling about the room. Molly gripped the strap of her backpack.
‘My children,’ her voice creaked from behind them. Her gun cocked. ‘Let’s go out.’ She made them stand in a line. ‘If you listen to Mama, you’ll be fine.’ She fired her first shot into the air. They all jumped from the sound. ‘Run as fast and far as you can. If you look back, you’re dead.’
Little Molly Moop shook violently. She wanted to look to Ben, to Lucy, but she was afraid that would break Mama’s rule. ‘I’m not me. I’m not me…’
When she took off, the gun fired.
Down the valley, at the horizon, they saw the end of their world. Little Molly Moop was no longer little. Besides their appearances, they weren’t certain how they have changed or whether they could forget. Always like a shadow, their memories followed them. And maybe they learned to bury their hauntings. But there were the mauve mountains, the field of yellow-green that billowed, and the winds to ferry them elsewhere.
Hobo trekked down the slope, the years making him slow. They followed eagerly, waiting for the moment they could step off the map. They walked briskly until they were all running. Hobo did his best to keep up, falling behind more and more.
The grass tickled their ankles and the mountains rose higher and higher. In no time, they stood before the mountains. They were on the edge of the map, ready to take the final step. To Molly’s map, they looked back to the roads they have taken. It all culminated there at the corner.
For once, Fatboy had nothing to say. The three stood there, frozen, and they all had the same thought. It was the moment they waited years for, but it had snuck up on them. There, they lingered as long as they could. And then they took the next step.