Veronika couldn't stop smiling when she saw the joyful expression spreading across her mother's face. She watched her mother walk to the door, but before she opened it, she peeked out the window, and that was when her mother's face stopped smiling.
"What is it?" Veronika asked, still hoping for the newfound joy to return to her mother's eyes. "Is it Papa?"
A shadow rushed over her mother's face. She looked down at her, then knelt.
"Baby, do you remember the place I told you to hide if the bad guys came back?"
Veronika swallowed. She felt like a lump was growing inside of her throat. The bad guys? They were back?
She nodded. "The closet. It has a secret compartment in the bottom."
Her mother was breathing heavily. "Exactly. Can you go hide in that for me, huh?"
"Just do as I tell you to, please?"
Veronika nodded, then walked past her, shoulders slumped, fear gnawing in her stomach. As she walked toward the bedroom, she turned around just before her mother opened the door.
"Is it the bad guys again, Mama?"
She shook her head. "No. Not this time. This is just one man who is with your dad. It's probably nothing, honey. But go hide just in case."
There was a knock on the door, and her mother signaled for her to hurry up. Veronika rushed to the bedroom, found the closet, and opened the compartment in the bottom. She was getting almost too big for it, but she could still fit. She closed the lid and lay completely still like her mother had trained her, while listening as her mother opened the door to the RV.
"Mrs. Mikhailov, my name is Mr. Aran," she heard an odd voice say. "I have a few questions for you. Your husband here has been so nice as to let me come back here with him, so we can all have a little chat. May I come in?"
"S-sure," she heard her mother say. "It's very messy, though."
"Oh, I don't mind a little mess. I’m quite the messy man myself."
Veronika heard the door slam shut. It was the strange man who spoke.
"Ah, the life of a traveler. So exciting to always be on the road, huh? Just going exactly where you want to go and being where and when you want to be. No chains to hold you down, not a care in the world, huh?"
"I…I don't know if…" her mother said. Her voice sounded so nervous; it terrified Veronika to the bone. Who was this man and why was her mother so afraid of him?
"Now…your husband here made quite the win today, did he tell you that?" the strange man then said. "Or maybe you already knew, huh?"
"N-no, I…I was hoping…we've been having financial troubles for some time; we were hoping to make a little…"
"It was quite spectacular, I tell you," the man said. "For him to bet on a horse that ab-so-lu-te-ly no one else would think could stand a chance and then…what do you know? There's a crash. Can you believe it? I almost couldn't. I have to say, it was very remarkable, remarkable indeed. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. So much chaos, so much havoc, all at the same time. So many horses out of the race, just like that," he said and snapped his fingers. "And your horse, the one you gambled all your money on as the winner, nonetheless, makes it first across the finish line. What in-cre-di-ble coincidental luck, don't you think?"
"I…yes, I guess that's incredible, honey…" her mother said.
Why doesn’t dad say anything? Why doesn't he tell this man to get lost, to get out of our home? Tell him, Papa. Tell him to leave us alone!
Once Veronika's dad finally did speak, he didn't exactly say the words his daughter wanted to hear from him. Instead, he spoke with anxiety and a begging voice.
"Please, sir. We meant no harm…we didn't mean to…"
"No! You just thought what could it hurt, didn't you? You looked at one another, then told each other that it would only be this one time. No one would notice, and then all your troubles would be over, didn't you? Was that what you were telling one another? Just one time. It won't harm anyone? I betcha' that's what you said. Am I right, hm?"
"Please, sir," Veronika's mom said, utilizing the same pleading tone in her voice that her dad had. "We didn't have a choice. We will never do it again."
"Exactly," the man said, raising his voice slightly from its otherwise calm state. Then he breathed in deeply like he was enjoying this, enjoying hearing them pleading with him.
At first, she thought her mother had started to clean, but Veronika couldn't believe her mother could start cleaning in such a strange situation, yet she could still hear the vacuum cleaner as it roared through the RV. It only lasted for a minute or so before the sound stopped, and the RV fell completely silent. Not a single word was spoken.
Then, she heard footsteps. Heavy steps walking through the RV, approaching the back bedroom where Veronika was hiding. She heard the steps coming closer and then stopping. Then she heard the closet door being pulled open and, after that, there was silence.
Veronika waited for them to pull the compartment open like they had trained when rehearsing for this type of situation. She waited for them to look down at her with smiling faces, telling her it was all over now. She could come out.
"Wait for us to open the hatch, you hear me?" she could still hear her mother say. "Only then will you be safe."
Veronika waited and waited for the hatch to open, but nothing happened. She could hear movement in the closet, could hear clothes being moved around, then the door closing. Seconds later, she heard the front door close as well and, after that, all she could hear was her own ragged breathing.
For several minutes she was lying there, listening to the silence. She was wondering about her parents, wondering when she would be able to get out, if they had forgotten about her, while tears were streaming across her cheeks. Then, finally, she heard the door to the RV open once again, and more movement as someone entered. She heard voices, voices she didn't know, and footsteps, agitated footsteps, and soon someone yelled.
"I think I found something."
When the hatch was opened, and the light came in, it almost blinded Veronika, but after a few seconds of getting used to it and blinking her eyes, she spotted four faces. Four women were looking down at her. Four sets of strange eyes.
A set of arms reached down and helped her get out, and she held the woman tightly when she spotted the dead bodies of her parents in the living room behind her. Veronika held onto the woman as her body started to spasm and tears welled up inside of her, tears she had no outlet for since there were too many.
"Hold onto her, Claire," a voice said. It belonged to a gorgeous blonde woman, unlike any creature Veronika had ever seen.
"What do you think I’m doing?" the woman holding her said. She was muscular and had very hairy arms but felt warm against Veronika's skin.
"Let's get her out of here," a third voice said, belonging to a small chubby woman. "Before he returns."
Veronika glanced with great terror at the empty bodies of her mother and father as she was carried out of the RV. The fourth person, a tall woman with sparkling purple eyes, was holding the door for them. She slammed it shut behind them as they ran for the car.