Holly tossed the ball to Laura, and she swung the baseball bat to meet it with a dull thud. It flew over Holly's head, which she then ran to retrieve.
"You're getting better Laura," she said as she jogged back to her position.
"I know," Laura said. "I've been practicing."
"Girls!" their mother called through the screen door. "I've got a snack for you inside!"
"Coming Mum!" the two girls called in unison.
"Race you to the kitchen," Holly said, eyes glinting with excitement.
"You're on," Laura said, always accepting any challenge handed to her by her sister.
Holly started running, Laura quickly following suit until she tripped up the steps to the front door, tumbling over the cement. She sprang back to her feet and kept running, already knowing the race was lost. She thundered into the kitchen and was met by the wet nose of her playful Black Labrador puppy, Louie, snuffling gently around her knees. She scratched him behind the ears before sitting down next to Holly to eat. Their mother sat down a small tray with two glasses of lemonade and two choc-chip cookies on it, and the girls scrambled to grab their food. They chewed in silence as Louie sat between them, eyes darting from one girl to the other, hoping for a dropped morsel or two. Laura finished her food and took her glass over to the sink, before opening the cupboard above the fridge to grab a snack for Louie. She pulled out a bag of dog-chocolate pieces and dangled one above his head. He sat swiftly; tail swishing against the vinyl of the kitchen floor in anticipation. Laura pulled out a piece and put the bag back in the cupboard, shutting it behind her. She carefully sat the treat on the puppy's nose, leaving it there for a few moments before snapping her fingers and watching the clever canine snap his mouth open to let the treat fly into it. She patted him again and then went outside, seeing as Holly had finished eating too.
The two girls went back outside and threw the tennis ball between them since Louie had come to join them in their game. After doing this for about twenty minutes, all three of them heard a sound that sent their mother running outside too. It was a siren not unlike the ones Holly and their mother had heard on countless occasions, although Laura had never heard it before.
"Holly," their mother said with a sudden urgency that sparked fear in Laura, "you need to get Laura out of here. Do everything you can to protect her."
Holly had her mouth set in a hard line and nodded firmly. "Laura, we need to run. It's not safe for you here."
"What's going on?" Laura yelled, angry that she was being told nothing.
"Laura, do as I say," Holly said angrily.
"Why should I?" she yelled back. "You're not telling me anything!"
"Laura," their mother said calmly and quietly, although still with the note of urgency in her voice, "you need to trust your sister. The less you know now, the better."
Despite how much Laura didn't want to have to obey her sister, she loved her mother and knew that she needed to listen to her now, even if she never did again.
Holly grabbed her sister's wrist in a vice-like grip, tugging at it impatiently. "Come on Laura, we need to get out of here!"
"Laura, I love you and always will," their mother said tearfully as Holly dragged Laura away.
"Laura, quick; I'll tell you everything later, but you have to come with me now!" Holly yelled.
Laura managed to get her feet moving and started running, but Holly still dragged her along behind her. Laura took one look behind her as their mother went back inside with Louie, and then turned back to Holly, just in time to leap over their fence, into the forest. The two girls ran to a large tree that had been dug at around the bottom to create a deep hole under the trunk. Holly pushed Laura in first, and then slid in herself, pushing Laura in further until neither of them could see out.
"What's going on?" Laura hissed.
"We need to be quiet," Holly replied.
"No, I need to know what's going on, or I'm leaving right now and going back home."
"Fine. But shut up and let me explain; no interrupting."
"We live in a dictatorship. That means that the person in charge of our country, Zahra Matheson, is in charge of every law, can change them whenever she wants, and can pretty much do whatever she wants."
"But what does all that have to do with this?"
"I'm getting there, just shut up and listen. She's trying to build an army; a child army. Once you turn twelve, you have to start worrying; that's the age you're eligible. They just haven't been here for a while. You're fine once you're eighteen; that's why I'm here. They can't take me, but you're fourteen, so they can take you away from us."
"Who are 'they'?"
"The Soul Stealers; that's what we call them, anyway. Every month they do a raid on a few towns, taking as many children as they can. I can't let them take you away; you're too special."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're too young for me to tell you now, and the less you know now, the better."
"Hang on, what about the sirens? If they're trying to get children, why wouldn't they take down the siren, stop people from knowing when they're coming?"
"It's their way of saying that we can't hide from them; that they'll always find us, no matter how hard we try, and how early we start running."
The two girls stopped talking as they heard the crunch of a twig under someone's foot. Holly held her hand tightly over Laura's mouth, silencing her. Laura started shaking, but stayed silent, not wanting to be taken from her family. A boot appeared in front of the tree trunk, and the girls grew even more silent than before. As hard as she tried, Laura let out a tiny squeak of fear, just audible in the silence. The quiet talking the girls had heard before suddenly stopped, and they all stopped moving. Holly held up one finger, telling her sister to be absolutely silent. The boots turned to point towards the trunk, and they heard a deep gravelly voice.
"Come out here now, and you won't get hurt," the man said. "Come out with your hands up now, and we won't hurt you."
The girls made no sound, and the boots started shuffling again, until another pair came into sight. A considerably smaller pair, and then they heard a new voice; a girl's voice.
"Leave this to me, Dwayne," the girl said before turning towards the tree. "We know you're in there, and if you don't come out in the next ten seconds, I'm going to come in there and get you."
Laura started moving, but Holly grabbed her tighter and dragged her back in, still covering her mouth.
"Alright, you've had your time," the girl said. "Either you come out right now, or I get you out myself, and that won't be pleasant."
The two girls still didn't move, and a hand reached in and pulled Holly from the hole, leaving Laura inside, alone.
"Name?" the girl asked in a cold tone.
"Holly Summers, I'm eighteen years old," Holly replied.
"You can't just trust her like that Brooke," Dwayne said.
"I know that you imbecile," Brooke countered. "ID?" she asked Holly.
Holly produced her National ID, the card that had all her personal information printed on it, from her pocket and handed it to Brooke, who studied it for a moment before handing it back to her. "Is there anyone else in there?" she asked, gesturing to where Laura was still hiding.
"No," Holly lied, sounding very convincing.
"If we find that you're lying Miss Summers," Brooke threatened, "then you will be punished severely. Now, I'll ask you again. Is there anybody else in there?"
Holly sighed in defeat, knowing that lying would only hurt her and her sister. "Yes."
"Are you going to get them out, or do I have to?"
"I'll get her out ma'am," Holly said reluctantly, knowing that her promise to her mother was already broken; she'd lost her sister to the Soul Stealers. "Laura," she called, her voice already shaking, "you need to come out now," no movement. "Please, Laura. For me."
Laura slowly climbed out from under the tree and went to stand behind her sister.
"Name, age and ID," Brooke ordered her.
Laura was silent until Holly reached into her own pocket and pulled out Laura's ID.
"Why are you in possession of this?" Brooke demanded of Holly.
"Just to make sure she doesn't lose it herself," Holly said truthfully.
Brooke eyed her carefully but believed her, eyes scanning Laura's ID, putting it in her own pocket. Holly had seen this done before, and knew that it meant her sister was no longer hers.
"Laura May Summers," Brooke said in a commanding voice, "come with me."
"No Brooke," Holly pleaded, holding one arm in front of her sister, "please let her stay."
"That's Lieutenant General Lederman to you, Summers," Brooke growled.
"I knew you before you turned into this," Holly pleaded. "You hated this as much as me, and now you're one of them."
"The past is the past, Summers."
"But she's only fourteen years old!"
"But-" Holly began before she was cut off by Brooke raising her gun.
"No! Please!" Laura begged falling to her knees. "Please don't hurt her!"
"Laura, don't!" Holly yelled.
"Shut your mouth Holly," Brooke yelled, pointing the gun at her. "You know the law."
"Can't you make an exception? You used to love her, and now you're killing her."
"The past is the past," Brooke repeated, louder the second time around. "I have to do this, or I'll be killed, and so will both of you."
"Brooke, please!" Holly begged, taking a step towards her former friend. "I love her, and I'll do anything to protect her, just please, let her stay!"
"No, Holly. She comes with us now or I'll kill her right here, and you'll be next."
Holly knew then that her fight was well and truly lost, and with a sigh of defeat, stepping from in front of her sister.
"Holly, no!" Laura cried. "Please, I don't want to go!"
"I'm sorry Laura," she replied, fighting tears, "but you have to go."
Brooke gave Holly a wry smile. "Glad you've seen the light," she told her. "We'll bring her back in four years; if she's still alive."
"Please," Laura pleaded, dropping to her knees, "don't make me leave! Holly, please!"
"I'm sorry Laura," the older sister replied, blinking back her furious tears. "It's the only way."
"Please," she pleaded in a tiny voice. "Please."
"Laura," Brooke commanded, "come with me."
Laura looked from Brooke to Holly. Brooke had her gun out, not pointing directly at anyone, but as a threat. Holly was looking at Laura, tears still not managing to make their way out, and she was shaking her head. Laura ran to her and hugged her, and Holly hugged her back.
"I love you Laura and I will find you; I promise."
"That's enough," Brooke ordered them, yanking Laura away. "Dwayne?"
Dwayne marched over and handcuffed Laura behind her back, and Brooke marched her away towards a truck.
"I'm sorry Laura," Holly said through tears that had burst out. "I'm so sorry."
"Get in the truck," Brooke barked, shoving Laura into the back of the large truck, already filled with handcuffed children. Brooke, Dwayne and the rest of the men climbed into the front after securing the truck, the engine started, and they drove down the dirt road.
The sisters separated forever.