Don’t Open Your Eyes
Sweet one, your mind will scream as the animal instinct in you comes alive. It will demand you open your eyes. It will demand you see your attacker.
Remember what I showed you. Remember all the times we practiced. Don’t stop practicing when I am gone. Every day when you wake, close your eyes and find your way from the cot on the floor to the door, to the windows. Count every step. Know every obstacle. Map it in your mind and hear my voice.
Then, when the time comes—and it will come, sweetest—these defenses will be ingrained in you. You will not open your eyes.
Put on the Praesul Suit
Your attacker is an infiltrator. It invades. It wants inside you. Keep the praesul beside your cot when you sleep; set it beside you when you sit at the window as you are wont to do; when you forage—and you will have to if you are to survive until the ships return—put the praesul on.
The suit is heavy; never forget that. Practice. Practice everything, but practice this especially. I am proud of the thirty seconds it takes you now—I will be even more proud when it is ten. Those extra seconds could save your life.
Your body will not want to respond when you hear that horrid wailing shriek. Your muscles will feel tense, your limbs cold and numb. Recognize these things for what they are: panic, fear, terror. Then set them aside. Climb into the praesul and check all the seals.
One open orifice is all it takes. Your eyes, your mouth, your ears. One. Only one and you are undone.
Do not hesitate, sweetest.
The window or the door will be quickest, but they may be blocked. The Invader is larger than you. It is faster than you, but you can beat it. I know you can, my sweet child. You don’t yet know it, but you’re fierce, too. I see the fire in you even now. You thrash when you sleep; you fight away your demons better than I could have ever taught you.
Hold onto that fierceness. Don’t ever give up.
Keep the trap door clear, in the corner just beyond the rug. Practice sliding your nimble fingers under the lip; practice lifting the wood, ducking under, and scampering through the tunnel until you see the light, until you are bathed in it.
Your suit will make you bulky. The tunnel is narrow, but you will fit. Batter back any claustrophobic thoughts and remember you want that dirt channel to be snug—it means the Invader can’t follow fast enough.
Get out. No matter what it takes, get out.
Don’t Look Back
This is the most important. You protest every time I say it, but I need you to heed me. I need to know you’ll listen to this rule.
Don’t look back.
The moment you hear the shriek, heed the rules I’ve given you. Let them guide you, my hands that have shaped you for so long. Let me lead you, in this way, out of the valley of death.
The Invader will invade me and you will hear my voice. I will be there, but I am not there. My voice will rumble with thunder like Daddy’s did before his end. The Invader will promise things and it will threaten things, but you must not listen.
Ignore me. Close your eyes against the Invader, and in doing so, close your eyes against me.
There is only one suit. It is all I could find.
It is yours. And even should you plead until you weep tears of blood, I would not take it from you.
Any hesitation will kill you.
The praesul suit will protect you, but it can be penetrated, given time. You must not give it time.
Remember, it’s not me. It’s not me, my sweet, fierce child.
No matter what my lips say, remember these words.
And you mustn’t look. My body will not contain it long. Its power is too much. It will rend me and my blood will be all around, but my spirit will be with you. I pen these rules so that my words remain, tangible, when I am gone.
I believe in you. I know you will not be there to see my end—you’ll be down in the tunnel, already halfway to a new hiding place.
Live. Scavenge and scour the earth, find all the safe places, but never feel safe. I hate that this is your fate, but it must be so. Always have three ways out. Always know these ways. Always protect the suit.
Know when to move on. It’s not something I can teach you with words. I think you’ll know by the pull in your gut.
In time, the ships will return. They will carry you off this forsaken, rubble-ridden planet. You must still take care. You must carry caution always in your heart.
Know When to Take the Fourth Way Out
It’s not what I want for you. I wept in the night and I debated whether or not to add this rule. But I can feel them drawing closer. I hear their shrieks in the winds that scrape the corners of this house. I know they are coming and I fear I have made a mistake.
What if my rules leave you no way to adapt when necessary? What if you are paralyzed and succumb to it? What if its black tendrils infiltrate you?
You are young. You would live a while. In agony. In slavery.
In time, it will burn you from the inside. It will consume you.
I told you to always know at least three exits—but you must also remember the fourth. If you misstep (Christ, I pray you don’t), if you falter, if it is too late…
Don’t let it invade you. Take the fourth exit.
I will understand. I will have failed, but I will under—.
—Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction. Over fifty of her short stories have appeared recently in Shimmer, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Apex, and more. To learn more, visit www.alexisahunter.com.