Tanner Key was introduced in Book IV: Before the Sun Sets in Chapter 9. She is part of The 9, a group of survivors looking for shelter. She was living single and going to school as a medical student before the cleansing. She frequently visited her parents on the other side of town after the cleansing. Gang activity had been increasing, and she desperately tried to convince them to move in with her. She lived in a small community of survivors working together and running a shelter where she volunteered. She wasn't certified yet, but times were desperate. This is her story.
She knocked once more on the door and waited. It had been nearly a week since her last visit, and she was becoming frustrated with her parents. Mostly her father refused to accept how bad things had become. They felt protected in their building of brick. Living on the fourth floor, with plenty of food and water, giving them a false sense of security.
Outside, things had gotten much worse since her last visit. She saw many gang members now hanging out on the streets and shaking people down for anything of value they may have, which usually amounted to food and water.
She could hear her father scrambling to get to the door. As he opened it, he grabbed her arm and pulled her inside, "what are you doing here?" he asked alarmed.
"I'm here to try and talk some sense into you and momma," she said.
She was only 22 years old but matured quickly, living in a poor neighborhood. Putting herself through college working as an intern and selling handmade jewelry on the side to pay for her schooling.
"I told you to stop coming here alone! Don't you know what they are saying? People are taking pretty young girls, selling them to the gangs, selling them like slaves. If they see you, they will take you!"
"Who is it?" her mother called from the next room.
"It's Tanny," he responded.
Turning back to Tanner, speaking softly, "say your hello's, then say goodbye. I want you out of here before dark unless you're going to live here with us, where you belong."
"Tanny!" her mother called out as she scuttled into the room and hugged her.
"Tanny!" her brother said as he, too, ran into the room. He was fifteen years old, but a childhood accident had damaged him, and he had the capacity of a six-year-old. He loved his big sister and cried every time she left.
"I can't, dad. They need me at the shelter. They don't have any doctors or medicine. They have no one."
He groaned and walked away.
"Tanny, come look what I drew. It's a spaceship, just like the one they sent to look for more earth's."
Tanner followed as her brother pulled her by the hand, dragging her into the kitchen to see his masterpiece.
"That's really nice. I like how detailed you made it with all the stars," Tanner smiled at him and wished she could just take him and leave. If her father and mother wouldn't go, fine, but her brother deserved to leave and find safety, she could take care of him.
Maybe I'll ask? They may say yes? She said to herself.
"Tanny, it is getting bad out there. I tried to talk to your father, but he won't listen. I'm getting scared." her mother whispered.
"I know, Momma, that's why I came. It's the gangs, they are going house to house, and they don't care who they kill." she stopped herself realizing her brother was listening. She looked at him as he silently stared at his drawing, hearing every word.
"I know," she said to him, "see if you can draw my house, do you think you can do that?"
He chippered up and smiled, "Pft, easy, I know I can," he ran to his room to grab more paper.
"Momma, you guys have to come with me. I saw so many men out there with guns on the way here, they are moving into this area, and any day," just then gunfire rang out in the streets below.
Tanner ran to the window where her father was looking down to the street, "Oh no," he blurted out.
"What is it?" Tanner begged.
"Who?" her mother asked.
"The gangs, there's about 20 of them, and they just shot a couple people dead in the street for no reason. They're coming into our building!"
"What are we going to do?" her mother whimpered.
"Quick, come with me, Tanny," her father once again grabbed her arm, pulling her to the closet and opened the door, "you have to hide."
"No! What about you guys? You hide too!"
"There's no room in there. There's no time, they'll take you!" Tanner's father said with a tear in his eye as he looked at his beautiful daughter wishing he would have listened to her weeks ago.
He shoved her into the closet and placed blankets and clothes atop her, and shut the door.
They could hear the men in the lower levels yelling, breaking things, kicking in doors, shooting people. On the fourth floor, there was no escape. Even if they could somehow get past the gangs coming up the stairways, more of them were in the streets around the building's exits.
Tanner pushed her face into the blanket to muffle her cries as tears began to flow down her face. She sat there helpless and prayed.
The door kicked in. Tanner wasn't sure how many of them there were, but it didn't matter. There were so many throughout the building. She could hear her father talking, reasoning, offering them whatever they wanted, begging.
She heard her brother scream, laughing from the gang members as they tormented him, taunting words and physical abuse. She hated them, prayed they would die, leave, something to end this.
She heard her mother cry out and then her father yell, in a way she had never heard before, and it broke her heart and filled her with fear. The fear caused her to begin trembling uncontrollably, and she felt ill.
She tried to cover her ears, but they were so loud.
She heard a crash and lifted her head, her mother screamed, and then silence.
She could hear them laughing, mocking, rifling through the cupboards, talking about what food and water they found and what they were going to eat tonight when they returned to camp.
She pushed her face into the blanket and cried again.
Time passed as she waited for her parents to tell her to come out, but they never came. She knew it was safe now, enough time had passed, and she heard the group leave her floor and eventually the building.
Tanner opened the closet and pushed the blankets off. She quickly scanned the front room looking for her parents but didn't see them.
Walking towards her brother's room, she found him lying on the floor in blood, "No!" Tanner screamed as she quickly fell to her knees, trying to help him, but she knew it was too late, the opening was massive, and his life drained. She held his cold body and cried, still trembling.
She looked around once more for her parents, seeing balcony glass all over the front room floor. "No, no, no," she stood and ran to the balcony, looking over its edge she found her parents, lying next to each other on the street below.
She fell back onto the floor and for a moment felt it was all a dream, a nightmare, she tried to wake up, she began to bellow and slapped herself again, and again, to no avail.
She returned to her brother and picked him up. She struggled to carry him but managed to get him into his bed and covered him, "I'm so sorry, buddy, I should have taken you with me. I knew it was bad. I should have just taken you."
She returned to the kitchen, where she saw his drawing on the table, picking it up and looking intently at it.
"There you are," she whispered to herself, "go see the stars, buddy," she folded the picture and placed it in her pocket.
She knew she would never be able to carry her parent's broken bodies, so she grabbed their comforter from their bed and their pillows.
When she got to the street, a crowd had gathered. People were outside crying, begging for help, telling stories of how their loved ones had been murdered before their eyes. They all needed help, they all suffered loss, there was no one there for any of them.
She placed the pillows beneath their heads and covered them. Knowing she would never return to this place.