“And…and…and…it came up and grabbed Tory,” Sister sobbed, sneaking words in between sobs and grief-panicked hiccups. “Arms, or…tentacles, maybe! I dunno, but she was screaming, and then it had her and then I ran…”

Caleb didn’t say anything more. Instead, he took Sister into his arms, returning his adopted daughter’s panicked embrace with quiet and resolute strength.

“The boys saw me cry,” she finished, as if it was the worst blow of the lot–worse than sneaking off to go exploring, worse than losing her best and only sister Tory.

“Listen,” Caleb said. “If I lost one of you, I’d damn sure be crying. And I wouldn’t care who saw it, because that kind of crying…well, it’s a strength. You don’t know what you’re doing in this world unless you have folks to cry over you, or some folks to cry over yourself, if they’re hurt or gone.”

“Then why aren’t you crying now?” Sister said, sniffling loudly.

“Because I can’t. When we know for certain what’s happened, well…then you might see some tears. But until then, I have to be the dad here. I have to lead you kids in doing something about this.” He looked Sister in the eyes. “I need you to know that I’m crying on the inside about this, okay, Sis? I do care, and if it looks like I don’t, it’s because I’m just trying to get Tory home safe.”

“All right,” Sister said.

Caleb let her out of the embrace and trotted over to his gun locker. He pulled out his hunting shotgun and something new, something that Sister had never seen before – a long, black rifle that looked like it meant business. Slinging one over each shoulder, he handed Sis her own small weapon. “Gather up some ammunition. .223 and 12ga for me, .22 for you.”

Then, he opened the door to the workshop. The boys were huddled there, clearly terrified–too scared to listen at the door, but not so scared as to turn and flee. “Trace,” Caleb said. “As the oldest, you’re coming with me. Come on into the workshop, we’ll get you kitted out. Switch?”

The quietest boy of the lot looked at Caleb, artificial eyes glowing quizzically in the dark.

“You’re next-oldest, and the best shot besides. You’re staying here. Come on in and get your kit. Then you’re leading the other boys down into the old radio room, and you’re going to stay there until I get back.”

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