Hope was screaming. The panic in her voice gripped and pulled me out of bed, out of darkness and toward her. In spite of our solitude the instinct was to keep quiet and not draw attention. I stumbled over something soft in the doorway of their bedroom, and went to my knees, using my hands to feel. I realized it was a small body. Hope kept screaming from somewhere in the dark. I heard Sarah’s voice, hushed, whispering Dad over and over.
I gathered up the body; it felt like James. Thin and hollow like a bird. I heard Linny coming, saw with relief she’d gotten the lantern lit. She set it on the floor and took the boy from me, and I went to Hope. She was inconsolable as Sarah tried to touch her. I reached for her, and she shrank back against the wall, still shrieking. Linny was yelling now too, desperate. “Make her stop, Jim!”
The unseen dangers weighed on us. Who was to hear? What? But for all we knew silence was the only reason we were left.
I grabbed Hope and pulled her close, muffling her against my t-shirt. She bowed her back and fought but I forced her. She smelled of sweat and fear. But she gradually quieted.
When I could be heard without raising my voice, I looked over my shoulder at Linny. “Is he okay?”
Sarah sat on one side of me, eyes like tar pits in her pale face. The other two boys huddled on the cot against the opposite wall.
I looked at Sarah. “Do you know what happened?”
She shook her head. Hope was finally quiet, heavy sobs shaking her body. Her hands clutched at my shirt. I tried to push her back, look at her, but she clung tighter. I wrapped my arms around her, that now-familiar comfort washing over me.
Linny carried James back to the boys’ cot. She pulled up his shirt and shone the lantern on his pale, concave chest. “Rash,” was all she said.
“On his back?”
She gingerly turned him over. “Yes.”
Just like Ellen. Linny began to cry.