Previously on Five Seconds: Emotions boil over and Andy leaves Parker.
Does Andy go back to Parker or head towards home?Click To Reveal Results
The sun baked road never changed. Neither did the power of the sun, or the suffocation of all the events that had led up to this day. The late September air seemed to fill my lungs and never escape.
One foot in front of the other. One worn out sole slapped on the pavement after the other. It was the only sound that accompanied Newt's heavy panting and the thin air that grinded my rusty throat.
My back felt like someone with a heavy cleat was stepping on it. My feet felt… well they were numb by now which was — although concerning — a little relieving. It felt like acid had been poured down my throat, and it escaped into my lungs and stomach.
But these pains were minor. The real pain was the heavy weight on my chest. Parker was probably dead by now, limbs strewn in awkward positions at the bottom of a hill, either mauled by a bear, some stupid cannibal, or the terrible loneliness.
Guilt was mauling me, and leaning heavily over my shoulders.
I wished for the momentary enthusiasm I had held before. I tried to picture the crisp water rolling down the sharp rocks, the pines that seemed to stretch kilometres into the sky, but the vision was blurry. It couldn't cut through the plain pavement in front of me, the burnt grass on either side of the highway, the shrubs that stretched further away, the lot of tin like buildings to my r—
I collapsed to my knees in a heap of relief. The blood orange sunset shined behind me, and cast my shadow across the empty road. Even my shadow was worn and tired, but beneath that was a warrior who fought a long hard battle. With a heavy heart and worn shoulders, a soldier was finally coming home.
Newt and I travelled the streets of the town, searching for a place to put our feet up and douse our tongues in heavenly water. Perhaps we could even take a bath.
I stumbled up the pathway to a small pub that could've been a house, and pushed open the door with what little strength I had left. Cool air kissed my skin, and a giddy feeling erupted in the pit of my stomach.
"Water, please," I said to no one in particular.
Somehow, I ended up in a seat at the bar, with a tall glass of water in my palm that I quickly guzzled down, and a large bucket for Newt.
I continued drinking avariciously until I was sick, and then I continued after that. I told the bartender to get whatever could be cooked the fastest, and soon reveled with the taste of greasy tender food. I ordered something for my dog as well, and although the bartender didn't seem happy, he obliged.
The sun dipped below the horizon, and the moon came up, along with the devils of the night.
Once I felt hydrated, I quickly turned to the hardest liquor they had.
The gruff man set a glass in front of me, and poured an amber liquid with a pungent smell into it. I gripped the glass tightly and threw a minuscule amount into my mouth. It wasn't much, but it certainly burned. The pain in my throat felt like rusty razors, but it felt satisfying after so much turmoil.
"Where were you when it happened," said the middle aged bartender whose nametag read Greg.
"Vancouver," I replied in a harsh breath. "I've been travelling for the past three days." Or was it four?
"By yourself?" The bartender kept his gaze on the rag he was using to wipe the counter.
My breath caught in my throat, and I washed the lump away with more of that terrible drink.
"You lost someone?"
"I left him," I whispered.
Once again, foolishness clouded my mind, and I felt like a complete idiot. I didn't dare lift my eyes from my drink.
"I brought him along because… well I really don't know why. Maybe it was because somewhere in my sick and twisted mind I thought we would get together… or maybe it was because I knew if he was left by himself, he would die—" my voice caught in my throat and tears pricked my eyes. I took a deep shaky breath. "And now after everything, I've left him all alone, a million miles away from his home. His broken, demolished home. I'm a terrible selfish person aren't I?"
I looked up into the grey tired eyes of the bartender. His salt and pepper hair was brushed back with either grease or gel, and a white beard bordered his mouth. There was no emotion in his face.
"I should go back, shouldn't I?" I asked redundantly. "My aunt won't even look at me when I get home and she learns of what I've done. Life is so precious, and during a time where so many are being broken, I threw another life away."
"I'm sure your aunt will be happy to have you home and safe," Greg replied in a monotonous voice, as if he'd heard it a thousand times and the answers came automatic.
"My aunt sacrificed so much for me. She sacrificed her life for mine when there was no one but her. And all I've done is be a burden and run away." I raised the glass to my lips, the edge of the drink wasn't so sharp anymore. I willed the liquor to drown me in a slumber where I could forget this all.
Silence filled the dark room, only interrupted by the sounds of my dog’s heavy sighs. He sat by my stool, staring at the door, waiting for a companion that would never come.
“Brewing in your own misery isn’t going to help,” Greg said with that same voice. “After everything that’s happened, which I can only imagine, you really think your aunt is gonna care more about your friend than you?”
I chewed on the inside of my lip. “Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t kill a guy…”
Something shifted in the bartender’s mood.
“So what. Big deal, there’s a million other people that can replace him. He’s just one minor loss in a hard time.”
I bounced my leg restlessly.
“Do you think you’ll be able to live after the fact?” he asked.
I shook my head.
Greg hummed a tune and poured himself a drink. “Why’d you leave him?”
I kept my gaze down. “Because I was angry, and tired, and frustrated. Hours ago, it felt cleansing. But now, I can’t shake the grief. Yes, he was useless, but he had his moments, and… any decent person would have stayed with him.”
The guilt ate away at me, and I downed the rest of my drink with a shudder. How could people find going out to a smelly building and consuming unpleasant drinks like this amusing and fun? A strange warmth had spread across my chest, but it only calmed me a touch.
I looked out the dark window. Night had settled in. There was no way I was going to be able to travel to Green Lake in the darkness. Not even Cache Creek. Unless someone was willing to give me a ride.
“Any damage here?” I asked as the man poured me another drink.
“Some cracks here and there. Couple of rock slides north.”
I didn’t bother asking if they covered the road for I didn’t have enough energy left to deal if they had.
“Care for some potato wedges?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders.
The man turned around and began chopping a potato with a large knife. I looked down at my dog. The beast was getting restless, and I decided he needed some fresh air and a patch of grass.
“I’ll be outside,” I muttered, hardly loud enough for the stranger to hear, but I didn’t care if he did or not.
I let Newt and I through the door, and leaned against the frame while Newt went to explore the perfect blade of grass.
The endless heat of summer hardly lifted in the darkness, and I wished for that familiar bite in the air. This terrible month seemed to drag on for much longer than it was welcomed, and I wished for October to come with a new beginning.
I pondered my aunt’s reaction for when I finally made it home. She would of course pull me into a tight embrace that always made things feel better, but what would happen when she let go? Would she let go of her love for me when she finds out I left Parker to die? Or would she give me some pep talk that would turn all my wrongs right, and lend her words of wisdom to heal the terrible wound on my soul.
I ached for her so much the pain knocked my breath out.
I looked back into the musty pub. The bartender and I were its only occupants. My eyes scanned the dark building. Where had he gone? A backroom perhaps.
A sound emitted from my dog’s mouth, and my head snapped back to the outside world. There was something in the grove of trees, and Newt had his eyes set on it. I shrugged it off. It was probably a deer, or a squirrel.
That ache in my feet was still prominent, and I needed to get off of them. I left the door open, and lumbered my way through the room. But something didn’t sit right in my gut. Wildlife was common in this part of the world, but not so much when the moon was high in the sky.
Fear crawled my veins at a slow torturous pace.
Rats. Rats were nocturnal. Newt probably saw it. Dogs had special ears that could hear tiny beings far away. But why would he pay heed to a tiny rodent?
Unless it were something else… someone else… fear snapped the rest of the way up my spine.
I spun on my heel only to come face to face with the bartender. The alcohol was strong on his breath, and I could see a milky film covering his eyes. He had something clasped in his fist…
The muscles in my shoulders tensed one by one. “Hello,” I said slowly.
A snake-like smile spread across his face.
My gut sensed it before my brain did, and I leaped to the side, but not without evading the sharp edge of his knife. The object tore through my shirt and across my abdomen.
I crashed into a table, condiments and menus went flying. Pain ignited in my stomach. In a room full of booths only on the walls, and one bar opposite the entrance, there was nowhere to hide. Did I leap over the bar in hopes of finding a weapon myself?
Could I use it if I found one?
The bartender threw the knife. It struck the underneath of the collapsed table, and chopped a section of my hair off. I rolled out of the way, and scrambled to the bar. It took several steps to find my balance. I leaped up, but a strong hand snatched my ankle. I turned sitting on the bar and kicked at the man with my free leg.
But before I could connect with his head, he grappled my leg, and pulled me violently to the ground. He crawled above me, his forehead nearly touching mine. I did the only thing I could think of, and slammed my own head into his. He recoiled in pain, as did I. My forehead throbbed, and pain shot down my neck.
Unfortunately he recovered faster, and was on me once again.
I struggled under his weight, but found a strong grip on his wrists, and kept that nasty knife away. “Why are you doing this!” I tried to reason. “You’re better than this.”
“I do it because I have to!” he snarled.
Somehow, perhaps with a new rush of adrenaline from the added fear, I managed to push him off of me. I clambered to my feet, and jumped over the bar. I snatched a bottle of spirits, stood tall and smashed it over his head.
He howled in pain and fell to the ground. I sprinted around the bar and to the front door, placing a hand on my abdomen, slick from blood. I was halfway across the floor when an impossible force slammed into me from behind. I jolted forward, and smashed into the floor onto a smattering of shattered glass.
I gripped the floor, eyes on the door, and pulled myself forward with the crushing weight of Greg on top of me.
“You bitch!” he screeched.
“Don’t kill me please!”
I twisted under him, and impaled his temple with my elbow. He recoiled for a moment, but only long enough for me to turn onto my back. He raised the knife high above his head, and brought it down fast. I caught his arms in time, just fast enough.
My muscles strained and my arms shook against the force of Greg.
“I have to kill you,” he growled. “It’s people like you who did this to the world!”
“Did what!” But all I was doing was wasting my breath and precious energy.
Fear shot through my body like an electric current.
This was it. I was looking death straight in the eye and he would have no mercy this time. But the vision was blurry from tears. I would never make it home to my aunt. All this struggle, and pain, and terrible events… all for nothing. I was nothing but a memory to my aunt. Nothing but an anxious woman sitting at a table, gripping onto the thin thread of false hope that I was coming home.
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed, even though I knew she wouldn’t hear me. I wished desperately I could hear her voice one more time, wolf down her wisdom, and learn one last lesson… one last precious goodbye.
Greg plunged harder, and my arms screamed in protest. I could feel the energy seeping out and I knew at any moment my arms would give out, and that knife would gouge right between my eyebrows, and kill me instantly.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt.
The man atop me bellowed and blood sprayed all over me. I closed my eyes and turned my face away. The force in his arms suddenly wasn’t so terrible.
His body slumped to the side. Dead.
Blue eyes pierced through the darkness above me.
That girl was a swirling tornado of flame. If the punches weren't hard enough, the words certainly were. Yes, I had screwed up immensely — not necessarily on purpose, but if I wasn't there perhaps those events wouldn't have ever have happened.
I wished I could melt into the pavement.
I lay there for about an hour in the unforgiving sun waiting for the vultures to find me. Thoughts hardly entered my brain. Just images of the past few days. Buildings collapsing. An impossible wall of water. Running in a mall. Tessa's broken dead body.
Andy... talking to me in the bed of her truck. "Now is not the time to grieve. It's the time to survive."
Survive now, live later.
I took a deep breath and turned my head to the forest. To where an amazing fighter forged a path of survival.
I wasn't going to give up. Not on Andy at least. Myself, well, I was a lost cause. The least I could do for this world would be to make sure Andy made it home safe because everything she had said rang true.
I took off after her.
Although I kept intent on following Andy, I managed to look around at the world. I hadn't seen this much wildlife in my whole life. It was peaceful, and serene, and I could certainly see how it made life better.
Maybe I should've slowed down when I was thrown into the fast lane. If the earthquake never happened, I would've been stuck in that relentless cycle of deadlines, doing things for other people, earning no satisfaction whatsoever, and I would never have found this wonderful peaceful place.
The forest had a way of healing one, and I couldn't imagine what it would be like in a province not shredded to pieces by an earthquake and clouded by a poisonous smoke.
I wondered if Tessa had ever seen this many trees, or got to experience small towns that weren't buzzing like the city. We could've taken a vacation out here. I'm sure she would've griped about it, but once her eyes laid on the endless hills of vegetation, her words would've been swept away.
The thought made me terribly sad.
At least that's what I wanted it to do. Emotions had long left me, and I hated the feeling of not feeling. It felt like there was an empty cavern where my heart should be. I wanted to scream, tear my hair out. Anything that would pierce through this veil of nothing.
I didn't feel like myself, and didn't even know if I was myself. Could one still be their self after such events?
How did one live after so much death?
That was an impossible task, and the idea of leaving myself in the forest for death once Andy got home seemed to solidify more with every step.
In several hours the sun set and I thought Andy disappeared for forever, but then I saw that wonderful dog standing before a shabby looking pub. I stayed hidden in the trees. Everything ached, and I was terribly parched, but I wouldn't allow Andy to see me. Relief coated my shoulders. At least she hadn't gotten herself in trouble.
Her dog seemed to know that I was close, but did nothing to notify Andy. For that, I was grateful.
Andy stood hidden in the shadows of the door. I could hardly make out her silhouette, but I could spot her strong shoulders weary from a long restless journey. She disappeared inside.
Newt came forward. A long tongue stuck out of the dark fur, and this time I didn't recoil when it came close to my face.
Man’s best friend. Only now I understood. I would miss him dearly.
A scream came from the pub. It didn't sound like a happy one. Fear coursed through me and all I wanted to do in that moment was run away. But I wasn't going to leave Andy in trouble. I had to get her home.
I dashed to the building, threw open the door and darted in. A man yielding a knife was on top of Andy. He was going to kill her if I didn't act fast.
A fire poker leaned against the wall on my left, and I did the unthinkable. I snatched up the sharp object behind the crazy man, took a quick breathe, counted to five and plunged it down. Hard. Blood squirted out in every direction, spraying the walls, the floor, my legs, Andy. The body slumped to the ground.
Andy made brief eye contact with me before puking her guts out all over the dead man.
"Oh god… he's dead," her voice sounded on the edge of hysteria. Her body trembled violently. She ran her hands through her hair and I think it was that moment when she realized she was drenched in his blood, and promptly threw up again.
In this moment I was glad I couldn't feel emotion anymore. Hopefully I would never register this moment.
Andy looked up at me, vulnerable and teary eyed. "I'm sorry Parker. I'm so sorry you had to do that—" her voice caught in her throat. "And I'm so sorry I left you behind. Come with me. Home. To my Aunt's. Please."
That wasn't nearly the reaction I expected were she to ever see me again. I bit my tongue hard. A million words rushed through my head but they were all wrong.
I reached into my pocket. A delicate object met my fingers and I pulled it out. A necklace dangled from my fist, and I extended my arm out to Andy.
"It's a P and a heart. A P for my name, and a heart to remind you and show everyone else that somewhere deep down you have a heart."
It was dorky and obnoxious, but a sappy smile appeared on her face. I extended my other arm. "Come on. Let's get you cleaned up."
The hose on the sink didn't detach so I was forced to use a wet dishcloth to sop up the blood. Andy hadn't stopped trembling. Newt stood by her side, practically on top of her like a guard dog. She was shaking like a fish out of water, and after an hour passed by I started to wonder if some sort of medical emergency was occurring.
"You going to be okay?" I asked.
"Of course I'm going to be okay," she snapped. The walls were up again.
I hadn't really debated whether or not I should stay at her aunt's. But what I did know for sure was I wasn't going to leave her side until she made it home. I bit my tongue before opening my mouth.
"Well what do you want me to say? Perhaps, on this stretch of the venture, you can try not being a piranha. Don't expect me to make a tipi tent out of a leaf, or carve my way through the canyon in an hour with a screw driver. I'm not like you, and I know you've pointed it out many times, and I'm sick and tired of hearing about it. If I'm dragging you down, then you can leave me behind. I don't care, because frankly, I don't need you picking on me every two seconds."
I could see Andy's jaw tighten. "I'm not leaving you behind."
"Don't say that. If you have to force it then don't bother."
"Alright Parker, you suck. Is that better? You've put us in terrible situations, you don't know how to live in the wild, you can't tell the broad side of a barn — but. . . you've made it this far so I guess somewhere in there you know how to survive. And. . . I care about you, Parker. I don't want to see you get hurt."
"Oh, you care about me? You're a better acrobat than a lover. You're terrible at caring!" I meant to be nonchalant, but something didn't feel right.
"Well I'm sorry! I don't know how to show love, I've never been in a situation where I'm supposed to do that. The whole damn reason I moved to the city was for love, and of course I didn't get any of that because, like you said, I'm a better acrobat than a lover." She sat down on a milk crate. "Doesn't matter anyways," she muttered.
I could see her brain cells waging a war in her head.
I lumbered over and sat on a crate beside her. "I loved her so much," I whispered. "It doesn't even hurt to think she's gone. That everyone I loved and cared about, is gone. I just feel empty, and numb… and I'm scared I'm never going to feel again."
"Well don't be scared." Her eyes met mine. "I've lost everything too."
I opened my mouth to say something but she started speaking before I could.
"It was me and my parents. I lived in a house surrounded by an endless forest. And one day it all burned to the ground. It was only me who made it."
I blinked once. Twice.
"I hate the dry season, and I hate fire, and I hate September. All because of that. I lost everything I had before I was fourteen. Up until the past year, I've lived with my aunt. I moved to Vancouver because I wanted to experience life and get out because I felt like I was suffocating. I really regret moving to Vancouver — it gave me nothing... but I'm glad I met you and I'm at least helping one person in this time of crisis."
I adverted my eyes. "I'm really sorry you had such a shitty time in Vancouver. It's a great place, really. Just… not when an earthquake hits."
A small laugh left Andy's lips. She leaned her head on my shoulder. "The world's turned upside down and I've been focused on everything but what you must be going through. I'm terribly sorry Parker."
I wrapped my arm around her shoulder. "How do you deal with it Andy? How are you okay after everything that's happened?"
"It hurts Parker, and you'll never get over it. You only learn how to deal with the pain and manage it. It changes you. For better for worse — you decide that. I'm not the same person I was before that, and I don't want to be. Although sometimes that scared, angsty girl clouds over, I try my best to push her away. You can only ease pain with lessons, and I personally believe our hearts stop beating when that last lesson is learned."
"What's that last lesson?"
"How should I know? We're not dead yet."
My lips spread into a smile. "There's still a chance we can reach your home. Shall we roll the dice?"
"One more time," she winced.
I knit my brows together. "What's wrong?"
"Don't worry about it. Just a small cut."
I jolted up. "What? Andy where?"
"He just sliced my abdomen. No worries. It just stings a little."
I lifted her tattered shirt which I previously thought had been covered in the other man’s blood to reveal a sizeable cut across her lower belly. Blood oozed from it. I sighed deeply. Perhaps that was why she was so pale. Not from shock but from this injury.
"We have to clean it, right? And then bandage it?"
Instead of using the now pink cloth I had used before, I cupped water from the tap and poured it over the slice. It was one that was probably worth stitches, but that was a luxury we would have to wait for. I was going to bring her home first.
"My aunt can stitch it. She's done it before," Andy said, seemingly reading my mind.
"Then let's get you home."
A day later Parker and I sat tucked against the cliff wall with a pathetic fire sending off more smoke than heat. A small overhang was above to shelter us from the rain that wouldn't come. Four days since it had happened. Four days since the earth detonated and the city of Vancouver was swallowed whole. Four days since we almost drowned in a supernatural wave as strong as a thousand horses.
A monotonous buzzing rang in my head—lifeless like the sound of a radio caught between two stations, or a fan in the window on a stifling summer night. The static reverberated through my body, numbing my nerves and quieting my thoughts. There was no more life in my body. I was an empty husk in a city full of death.
It was a week of everything that could go wrong, going wrong. After the earthquake and tsunami, Parker and I got stuck in a mall helping a woman that died within an hour; I walked twelve kilometres barefoot over broken glass and torn up concrete; my house, that was supposed to be mildly damaged had been blasted to nothing; we abandoned my truck in Chilliwack, and now were no more closer to my Aunt's house in Green Lake than we were to building a helicopter out of our bare hands.
I hated September.
The haze that covered the sky hadn't lifted either. The bronze smoky blanket of death hung over the earth like a bad omen. I hadn't had a breath of fresh air in almost a week, and the never ending sun made me want to tear my skin off. I stared at our fire until my eyes burned. The smoky tendrils clawed to the sky like a demon out of hell. I snuffed out the fire, and looked to the sky.
There were no stars.
It may have been the thoughts that woke me up—they definitely were louder.
A deafening boom echoed through the mountains. My eyes snapped open and fear knifed at my bones. "Earthquake" was my first thought. But the ground wasn't rocking, the cliffs weren't imploding, and the smell of death wasn't in the air. In fact—the smoke wasn't in the air. It was the smell of wet rock that invaded my nostrils. For the first time in a long time, moisture was in the air.
I scrambled to my feet, wincing slightly at the pain from reopening my stomach wound.
The familiar scent of pine caressed my skin, the woodsy air was like a hug from a long lost friend. The rumbling sky sounded again, and I looked up at the grey ceiling. I walked out from under the overhang. A drop sounded in my right ear, and I examined my shoulder. A spot the size of a penny darkened my sleeve. Another drop sounded to my left, and then two feet in front of me, and then the whole grove of trees residing in the mountains made a song.
For the first time in months, it was raining.
"Parker," I called. He was still asleep. "Parker," I said a little louder, not wanting to interrupt the rain.
He grumbled something but I couldn't hear it—the rain was a thundering chorus of magic. It seemed, that with every drop, the weight of the world was lifted off my chest just a little bit more.
Parker was by side in an instant. "It's raining," he said in a quiet awe. "It's so… nice."
For the first time in a long time, I felt a bubble of real laughter escape my brain. The melancholic buzzing in my head was gone, replaced by a wave of euphoria that grew and grew. It was strange… I felt light and fluffy.
"Look at the rain Parker, the world is finally starting to fix itself. Maybe…" I was careful to say these next words, "it will all be okay again."
I looked into his eyes. They were a bright blue again. He had a stupid smile on his face. I felt one grow on mine.
He clasped my hand, but not in love or a relationship. But as a friend. And that meant more than anything.
The rain brought life. It flooded out the death and made the life hanging on by a thread stronger than ever. I spread my arms and tilted my head back feeling the life full my body.
"It's October the first. New beginning," Parker mentioned. The words fueled the happiness inside me.
He started to sing a song he didn't know the words to, grabbed me and spun me around in a joyous dance full of laughter, and free of darkness.
It was strange, that after everything that happened, happiness was found on an abandoned highway on a mountain in a grove of trees.
The three of us walked through the rain that seemed to only grow heavier. We had made it to Bonaparte Road, and soon left it for Green Lake Road. The familiarity of the path made each step lighter and I almost wanted to cry.
Home. We had made it.
We faced the devil in a pot of fire and came out smiling. Newt seemed to recognize exactly where we were, and joyously darted from grass patch to tree to us, and back again. His black ears flopped in his trot, and he began to pick up speed. Twenty metres ahead a lone mailbox stood. Half crooked and rusted from disuse.
Electricity bolted through me and I took off after Newt.
It was Home.
"Come on Parker!" Euphoria danced in my stomach and my feet held a bounce they never had before. I chased my dog down the long driveway, taking in the familiar scents and sights. Rain continued to hammer down, but instead of running from it, I was gleefully taking it in, feeling it cleanse my soul and feed my heart.
A cabin came into view through the trees, and life struck my body. "We're home, Parker," I said softly, slowing to a walk and climbing the few steps. Newt barked, announcing his presence.
"I'm home," I said to myself mostly, and knocked on the door. Butterflies danced in my stomach and all the troubles we had gone through seemed to disappear as the white door opened and a familiar soul appeared behind the screen door.
This whole journey, I had been fighting for her, and here she was, real.
"Aunty," I breathed. She opened the screen door and there she was in perfect clarity. Everything was perfect. Just like I had imagined. Except…
Except… there was no smile on her face lighting up the whole world. Instead it was dark circles under her eyes and a grave look.
"Come in. Quick."
Why is Andy’s aunt so anxious for Parker and Andy to come inside? Are they up against another environmental problem, or is it a human caused catastrophe?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.