Jody could see from the fort window that the cloaks were beginning to move. Their bald heads and pale flesh looked skeletal from this distance. Up close they were no better. She remembered their black eyes. They were intelligent looking, devoid of human emotion, and their pale flesh a sickly shade of white. She shuddered, watching as the gold fabric that draped their humanoid bodies began to shimmer in the rising sunlight. Beyond the fort window was a tide of gold cloaks, glittering as their wearers shuffled impaitently. They were not attacking, but waiting for their surrounded prey to emerge.
Fear threatened to overwhelm Jody. Her breathing thick, she turned away from the window. Watching them wouldn’t help. Her only hope was within the fort. She told herself this as a way of keeping herself calm.
Maxine had begun to cry. She was a young girl, no more than thirteen. Jody hadn’t known her long, yet she felt inclined to comfort her. Had it been weeks since they came together? Or only days? She couldn’t tell anymore. Clapping her hand gently on Maxine’s shoulder, Jody squeezed once and withdrew. There was no more she could do for the child.
Not wanting Maxine to see her tears, Jody turned back towards the window. As afraid as she was, Jody had no right to cry. Not with what Maxine was about to do.
Lewis finished with the razor. He stepped away, admiring Maxine’s newly shaven head. He had been careful not to leave a nic or scratch on her. The perfectly smooth scalp mimicked the reflective quality of the gold cloaks outside, shining under the fort’s muted lamps. Panning lower, Jody watched the child’s eyes well with fresh tears. Her dark irises looked almost black in the dim fort light. Almost. Not pitch like the eyes of the cloaks outside. There remained a fraction of difference between pupil and iris, but the survivors did not acknowledge this deviation. They pretended not to notice.
“That’ll do,” Lewis said confidently.
Jody wanted to shush him. He was wrong, and she would have reminded him of that were it not for Maxine’s crying. Jody knew well enough that the truth didn’t matter. Not now. Not with what was to come. She remained mute, squeezing Maxine’s shoulder again as she pinned the gold cloak around her. This was the only gesture Jody could think of to offer some sort of comfort. Maxine reacted only slightly, turning in her chair as she allowed the bright fabric to swallow her childish frame.
The seven survivors watched, hopeless. None had come up with a plan more plausible than Lewis’s desperate plot. They observed in silence as he rid young Maxine of her hair and as Jody applied the cloak. Ashamed at having taken part in dooming this innocent, Jody stepped back to observe their creation. What she saw was a monster. Or rather, a cheap replication of the true monsters that stood outside.
Her dark eyes, the darkest of the survivors, and pale flesh brought forth a frightening memory in Jody. When the cloaks first appeared they took her neighbor. A day later they came back for her sister, and the next the sought her. She ran, but they never seemed to lose her scent.
Jody wanted to remain strong for the others, for Maxine, but this conjured image made her a child again. She was surprised when fresh tears did not immediately fill her eyes. Something about Maxine kept her calm. The girls natural delicacy and the procured cloak made her truly look the part. There was a hush among the survivors. A sigh of relief. They felt it too. Maxine could do this.
Lewis stooped to dry her eyes. She looked through him, not truly seeing his face, and let her eyes run dry. “Go.” Lewis whispered to her. Maxine moved without hesitation.
Those who remained in the fort watched from the window, Jody at the front of them. Maxine appeared several floors below, stepping out into the street. Her movements were slow, graceful. Just like they’d practiced. From above, she was indistinguishable from the real cloaks. Jody could feel it in her heart that they’d already succeeded. Maxine was out. The cloaks hadn’t reacted. They were saved. All Maxine had to do was make it across the city block and phone for help. Jody would have cheered if she could.
This euphoria did not last.
“Look.” Jody didn’t who pointed it out. Someone behind her. “By the bus stop,” they said gravely.
It happened very suddenly. By the bus stop, as the stranger said, a cloak was beginning to move. It took gentle strides, approaching Maxine from the right. At its motion, more cloaks surrounded. They regarded her with what appeared to be curiosity. Their black eyes studied what they determined to be an intruder, and not a very convincing one.
Maxine’s screams were ungodly. Damning. The others watched, not in horror but with a sense of emptiness. They’d known, deep down, that this was the inevitable end. Hopelessly, they watched the humanoid cloaks destroy what had been the last of their strained hope.
Lewis was the first to jump from the fort window, falling quickly to his swift death.