Sunny didn't want to get up. She'd only just started dreaming. She hadn't had more than a few hours of sleep at a time for the past three weeks. Tugging at the blankets, she shifted on the thin pad of her mattress and burrowed deeper into her pillow.
Sunny rubbed at her eyes, listening. No babies were crying. No alarms were ringing. She heard only the soft breathing of her sleeping children and her mom's urgent whisper.
"Sunny. Get up. C'mon. It's time for you to go."
Sunny sat up then, eyes wide and blinking in the darkness. A tiny crack of light shone from under the door, then the unfamiliar glimmer of yellow from the flashlight her mom held tight against her body, fingers cupped over the lens. Her hand made a shadow like a giant spider on the ceiling. Sunny looked immediately to the crib where baby Bliss lay sleeping. Happy's cot was empty. They'd taken him.
Sunny was up and out of bed, across the room and tearing at the blankets before her mom could grab her.
"Hush! He's here, with me. He's ready to go. You need to help me now, Sunny. You get the baby. I'll take care of Peace. Now!" Her mom's whisper hissed, harsh, not like her normal voice at all.
Sunny's heart pounded. Her palms were sweaty, and she scrubbed them against the soft flannel of her nightgown. The light from the flashlight swung as her mom set it on the cheap dresser missing a leg. The light wouldn't stay steady.
"Mama? Is it time for the rainbow?" The wobbling light hurt Sunny's eyes. Disoriented, sluggish, she could think of only one reason why her mother would've woken them. "Is it time to leave?"
"Sunshine." Mama's face was even harder than her voice. "Hush. You need to get yourself and the babies out of here. Don't ask questions. Hush and do as I say. Listen."
Sunny hushed, going still and quiet. She listened with her heart, as she'd been taught. To obey.
Her mother took both of Sunny's hands and brought them to her lips. She kissed the knuckles. In the pale and trembling light, Sunny's mom looked pale and trembling herself. She looked too thin, her cheeks hollow. There were shadows under her eyes that had been there for a while but now looked extra dark. She pulled Sunny into a tight hug, crushing Happy between them. The boy didn't cry out. He was listening, too.
"Get out? I don't understand." Sunny was awake now. Wide-awake. She moved to the crib to change Bliss's wet diapers and dress the baby in a fresh nightgown. Also the socks her mom tossed at her. A knit cap. A blanket, wrapped tight around Sunny's now-waking daughter.
Sunny's mom grabbed her by the upper arms, turning her. "I have money. Here."
She pressed a soft wallet stuffed with folded bills into Sunny's hands. "I've packed your bags, just one backpack for you and Bliss and Peace. Happy's a big boy, he can carry his own bag, can't you, my sweetheart?"
"I can, Nana."
Sunny looked at her son. At four, he was just starting to lose the baby plump in his cheeks, but it seemed like only yesterday that she'd held him the way she was holding Bliss now. She looked at her mother. Her heart skipped at the weight of the money in her hand and the baby in her arms. With the heaviness of knowledge.
The alarms blared. The lights in Sunny's tiny, concrete-walled bedroom came on overhead, bright enough to startle Bliss fully awake and into a scream. Sunny closed her eyes against the glare.
"No time for that! Come on! Let's go!"
Sunny's mom tugged her forward to sling a backpack over the arm not cradling Bliss. In her cot, Peace sat straight up, small mouth in a frightened O, while Happy struggled into his own backpack. Sunny's mother helped Peace out of bed. She tugged a sweatshirt over the little girl's head and shoved her feet into shoes while Sunny grabbed the blanket up from her bed and slung it around Happy's shoulders. He had no winter coat. None of them did. No boots either, though Happy wore a pair of battered sneakers two sizes too big, the laces shredded and knotted so tight they couldn't be undone. Sunny had a zippered sweatshirt, ragged at the sleeves, the strings of the hood missing. The zip would go only halfway up, and it was impossible to make it go farther with one arm cradling a baby. Maybe not even with two free hands to tug it.
"It'll have to do. We don't have time to get you anything else." Her mother paused to press her fingertips between her eyes, a habit she'd taken up over the couple years that had become so second nature she didn't notice she was doing it
but Sunny did.
It meant her mom's head was hurting her again. Maybe bad enough she'd have to lie down in a dark room. It might even be so bad that John Second would let her miss chapel if this were during the day, but never a summons in the middle of the night. Not when it might be time for the rainbow.
Papa's voice came over the speakers. The commands of a dead man, speaking calmly. "Listen now, my children. Listen with your hearts. The time has come. The time has come. Listen now, family. Listen with your hearts."
Sunny clutched her baby to her chest as her mom shoved Sunny's feet into a pair of men's work boots. Sunny looked down at her mother kneeling, the top of her head, her blond hair shot thickly with silver. When had her mom's hair gone so gray? Her mom looked up at her, and Sunny was alarmed to see tears streaking her cheeks. Her mother never cried. They weren't allowed to cry.
Her mom got up. From the hallway outside came the steady sound of marching feet. Never running. Running was for people who had something to run from, those were Papa's words, even to the children who were found playing tag in the hallways. One foot in front of the other, that's how the family walked, with quiet and careful steps to keep the world from ever thinking they were afraid.
Sunny was afraid.
A knock on the door had Sunny reaching for the handle, but her mother was too quick. She pushed Sunny's hand aside before Sunny could open it. Pressed a finger to Sunny's lips and shook her head.
Sunny didn't move. Bliss wriggled in her swaddling, and Sunny quickly undid a few buttons on her nightgown to slip her breast free, letting the baby suck to fend off her criesnot that anyone could possibly hear an infant's sobs over the blare of the alarms and Papa's steady, unending drone.
"The time has come, family. It is now. Listen with your hearts. Come to the chapel. Come to the chapel."
Sunny's mom cracked open the door and peeked out. In the hall, the white glare of the emergency lights flashed, bright and piercing. They made shadows, black and white. Light and dark. She lifted Peace onto her hip and took Happy's hand. Sunny followed her into the hall, where Peace clapped her hands over her ears at the noise. They'd done this hundreds of times, dozens in the past few weeks alone. Woken from sleep to the ringing of alarms, the glare and flash of lights. More times in the past few weeks, almost, than Sunny could remember in her whole life.
Ever since Papa died, it had been John Second's voice over the speaker system. John Second telling them to listen with their hearts, to go to the chapel where they'd be given the rainbow and tested to see if they were all pure enough to leave. How only when they were truly ready, truly pure of heart, without the weight of their misdeeds, would it be time to leave. Every time, they'd failed and been sent back to their beds, sometimes to be woken again within an hour to the same commands. Maybe two hours. Other times they were allowed to sleep until the bells rang for the morning gathering.
Now, instead of going down the hall toward the chapel, Sunny's mother pulled her and the children in the opposite direction. Through the fire door and down the steep metal stairs, where the lights still flashed in a constant, eye-straining pattern but the voice of Papa was muffled behind the heavy metal doors and concrete walls. At the bottom of the stairs was a set of double metal doors, EMERGENCY EXIT in bright red letters above them. The sign on the door said Alarm Will Sound, but wasn't the alarm going off already?
Mama put Peace down. She pressed a piece of paper into Sunny's hand the way she'd put a wallet of money a few minutes before. "You get out. Go back around the garden and the greenhouses. Stay in the shadows, Sunny. Stay away from the windows. Don't go out the front gate, you find the back fence near the creek. There's a hole. You run as fast as you can. You don't stop for anything or anyone, you hear me?"
Mama, why aren't we going to the chapel?"
Her mom's tears had vanished. She looked hard again, blue eyes glinting and her mouth a thin, grim line. She shook her head. "No more. Not for these sweet babies. You go, Sunshine, and don't you argue with me!"
"But where?" Sunny cried finally, no longer able to listen with her heart. No longer able to simply obey. "Where do we go?"
Her mom crushed Sunny's fingers around the paper in her palm. "You go to your father."
The lights kept flashing. The alarms kept blaring. The steady, muffled voice of Papa continued to murmur on
but Sunny's world broke and crumbled all around her. "John Superior is my father."
"No, Sunny. Your real father. This is his name and address. There's a map and directions to get there. It's not very far from here. It will be hard, but you can do it. You have to do it!"
Sunny looked at the crumpled paper, the words smeared, the lines blurred in the shadows. "How?"
"You go there. You take the babies. And you never come back here! Ever, you hear me? No matter
" Her mom's voice, so much louder now that all the rest of the noise had gone muffled and far awa...