Previously on Five Seconds: Parker and Andy make it to Aunty’s house, but quickly realize that they were not getting the warm welcome they had hoped for. It seems they couldn’t just leave their problems behind in the rubble of the earthquake.
Do the girls rescue the stranger or not?
Click To Reveal Results
Snowflakes fell lazily from the low grey ceiling. They landed in silence on top of the thick blanket that had already reached my knees. This was just the beginning of the storm that was to come. The clouds were dark and menacing. I had minutes to spare before I needed to make it back to the cabin.
A dark mass passed through the corner of my eye. I shifted my gaze from the sky to the grove of trees I was in. The dark mass passed through two trees, and I didn’t have enough time to brace myself when it charged at me and knocked me to the ground. Luckily, the shattering of my bones was prevented by the snow, but my heavy clothing and toque did nothing to prevent the ice that chilled my spine.
“Really, Newt?” I muttered.
The dog answered with a slobbery kiss on my face.
I lay there in the snow, eyes cast on the sky. The snowflakes spiraled down towards me, as if I was a captain on a space ship flying through time.
The insulation the snow provided seemed to suck up all the sounds of the world like a vacuum. The sounds of birds chirping, air moving, leaves rustling, were all gone. Even the sounds of people. On a different day, in a different life, perhaps it would’ve been comforting. Mystical even – but now the silence just seemed eerie.
I sat up and checked over my shoulder to make sure I was still alone.
It had been two months now since the incident that tore the world apart. Two months since I was thrust into a strange partnership with someone who had once held my heart and crushed it carelessly. Two months since the treacherous journey here on a wing and a prayer.
Newt bounced through the snow drifts, dipping his head low and munching on the powder.
I fingered the necklace at my throat. A token Parker had given me after he saved my life when I ditched him. The scar on my stomach from that bartender's knife was still angry. Aunty had patched it up well. Her tender fingers had done a miracle. But unfortunately she had run out of the moisturizer she swore by, and there was no way we were risking going into town for lotion.
When we arrived here I had expected a warm welcome from Aunty.
That hadn’t been the case.
I had spent that six-day journey holding onto the grand breakfasts that filled the house every Sunday morning. I had clasped desperately onto the way Shania Twain and Cher made the weekly vacuum enjoyable. On the life the house held when the sun shone through the big windows in the back that looked out onto the lake. The scent that had infused into the moth-eaten curtains from the dozens of candles that were lit daily.
But I had come home to a house that was no longer the haven it had once been.
The curtains were drawn and the windows were boarded. The scent of the house had turned musky from the lack of fresh air coming in. Breakfast was now a bowl of oatmeal or a piece of toast – we had to limit the risk of travelling to the city as much as we could. We had to make ourselves invisible even though this was our home. Our territory.
In order to survive, to live, we had to be ghosts. Nothing but a whisper in the wind. I was alright with that as long as it meant never having to deal with the mess that Vancouver had been left in ever again.
My breath billowed in front of me. It reached to the sky like a ghost until it dispersed so widely it ceased to exist. I looked through the trees in the direction of the house. I thought about taking Parker out on the lake later, teaching him how to skate. But that was risky. Who knew who could spot us, or who would confront my aunt if we left her alone.
I hardly let myself out on these daily walks with Newt, but Aunty had corralled me into escaping the confines of the cabin by being extra annoying. It also helped her case greatly that Newt was on her side, and managed to get in my way until he was allowed his fifteen minutes of freedom.
A chill ran down my back despite the winter coat I was wearing. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and adjusted the toque on my head. I should’ve worn gloves.
“Come on Newt,” I breathed. “Let's go back home before we get frost bite.”
Despite the past incidents this year, and the danger we were still in, a large blanket of contentment shrouded my shoulders. I was home. The trees were still the same. The lake was still there. The fresh air kept my lungs light.
Home never felt so good.
And I never wanted to leave.
I sat at the oak table in the kitchen across from Aunty Bailey. She was Andy’s aunt, but that didn’t stop her from insisting I called her Aunty. And I was just fine with that.
Aunty was an exuberant woman. She radiated enough life it made up for all that was lost these past couple of months. Every day when I woke up in this warm cabin I felt myself piece together a little more. Of course, there was still a large portion missing, and the pieces that were mending themselves together didn’t exactly feel quite like me, but it was better than nothing.
Waking up in a twin bed with a roof over my head every morning made up for every day Andy and I spent scratching our way here. Having a hot cup of coffee and a real toilet beat that stupid adventure. It was six days without caffeine. And nearly the same without a real toilet, and even less with one that flushed. It was much better looking at the snow from inside a building with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, and to hear the rain on the roof of a house and not some makeshift muddy shelter.
But as nice as it was, it didn’t beat looking out at a city from an apartment high above as if you dominated the world. The lake was not the ocean – it didn’t have the same smell, the same soft sandy beaches. There was nothing to do here but look at the trees. And the snow. I had never seen so much in my life. It was worrying – every so often you would hear the crack of a tree breaking under the weight of it. The others didn’t seem to mind, but every night I lay awake waiting for the roof to collapse over me.
Aunty sat casually in her wooden chair, sipping lazily at her coffee. Her brown eyes gazed out the window, the small lines surrounding them being the only thing that revealed her age. She had a way of looking at things, as if she spotted the beauty first before making any other judgements. She was nice to be around. She was the complete opposite of Andy, and yet there were delicate moments that were few and far between that screamed they were related.
Like the way they dreamed, and the way they set out to do something. The way they were made out of steel. The way they both looked at the candles in the house, knowing full well if they lit them there would be nothing to replace them. Because risking our safety to travel into town to grab more wasn’t worth it.
Yet sometimes I wondered if it truly was. Aunty hid it well, but I could tell that she hated how her home was now a prison. How she had to treat her belongings like they were sand running through fingers. An idea occurred to me.
“We should have a feast tonight,” I offered.
Her eyes shifted from the frozen over lake to mine. “A feast?” An eyebrow rose.
“Yes. A big feast. With potatoes, and steak. And we’ll light all the candles, and invite the neighbours.”
Aunty let out a big breath. “We used to do that all the time,” she hummed. “Tuesdays would be poker night, which really wasn’t the best idea considering those games would get dragged on through the night and into the morning. I was clearly the best,” she joked, “so if it got too late and Andy got too cranky, I wouldn’t try so hard. But don’t tell Mr. Tollin that.”
Her cheeky smile lit up her face and the rest of the world. Andy shared that same smile, though it was much, much, harder to get it to appear on her face.
“I wouldn’t mind a feast. A feast would be really nice. Perhaps we could have breakfast for dinner. But could luck trying to convince that niece of mine to ‘use up so many rations in a single night.’”
A small laugh rose from my throat. “I don’t know much longer I can take her reminding us about rations before my mind blows up.”
“Not much longer than me.”
A content silence filled the room, and I pulled my lighter from my pocket and lit the lemon scented candle on the table. Andy had gone on a walk with Newt. We could enjoy a few moments of pretending like nothing was wrong in the world.
I studied the little lighter in my hand. This journey had caused me to unwillingly quit smoking. Sort of. I managed to find a pack here and there, and they helped greatly with the whole ‘I’m homeless and don’t have a family or friends because of an earthquake and tsunami’ situation.
And because Andy wouldn’t let us go to the city for supplies, I had to ration my cigarettes. Which was not ideal. At all.
I opened my mouth to say something to Aunty, but was silenced by the sound of the door opening and closing. Footsteps clacked on the wooden floors, and a very large dog with balls of snow clumped around his legs jumped onto me.
“Aw, Newt!” I scolded, hopping to my feet to get away from the nasty brute.
“Newt!” Andy called from the entrance. “Get back here! I have to wipe the snow off…” Sounds of snow boots clunking on the floor filled the house, and Andy appeared in the kitchen, arms folded. “What are you doing?”
The dog stood on his hind legs to try and lick my face. I jumped onto the chair to get away from him. “Escaping from the floodgates of your dog’s mouth,” I complained.
“No, with the candle. What are you doing lighting it?” Bolts of anger shot from her. “Furthermore, why are the curtains open, someone could spot us—”
Aunty put her coffee down and set her eyes upon her niece. “Andy, it—“
“It’s not okay.” She stomped over and blew the candle out. “We can’t just light candles whenever we want. They’re a luxury now and we can’t afford to waste them. Before we know it we’ll have none left!”
“Andy, I think you have enough candles to last a long time,” I tried to reason.
“Yeah, but how long is time going to last before we don’t have it anymore?”
Andy scolded. “I mean, we are on borrowed time. Every day we keep the light out and the music off and the food simple because we are fighting for another day to wake up in a real bed that we can call our own. Do you remember, Parker, sleeping under the overhang of rocks, or, or in a sketchy grove of trees because that was all we had? We’re home now. Don’t you want to protect that?”
“Andy, if all we are on is borrowed time then shouldn’t we treat every minute like it’s the last?” I countered. She opened her mouth to say something, but I shut her down. “If the world fell to pieces tomorrow, would you still treat today like you are? If there was no tomorrow, would you light all the candles you had? Would you look out at a lake or old curtains?”
“I wouldn’t light a single candle, and yes, I would stare at all the curtains if that meant getting to hold onto this for a little while longer.”
“That wasn’t what I asked—“
“Well, I’m not going to think about that until I have to.”
“Would you two just shut up?” Aunty blared. “God, you’re going to give me an aneurysm! If I wanted to feel like this today I would’ve drunken myself silly last night.” She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.
“Aunty,” Andy argued. “He’s being unreasonable.”
“I’m being unreasonable?” I guffawed. “You’re the one that wants to live in a coffin!”
“Guys!” Aunty yelled. “Andy honey, if we have to ration the alcohol, then we’re going to light a candle every now and then. So be a big girl. And take your boots off. You’re tracking water all over the place.”
Andy’s jaw was set tight, but she didn’t say anything. She tromped off, Newt close to her feet. I sat back in my chair.
“Thankfully, some peace and quiet no—“
“Oh don’t think you’re getting off the hook so easily, mister,” Aunty said over her mug.
I sat up. “What do you mean? I didn’t do anything. It’s just a stupid lemon scented candle.”
“That is my niece. How dare you talk to her like that. She’s already lost her home once. Can’t you see just how hard she’s trying to not have that happen again? Give the girl a break.”
I bit my tongue and averted my eyes.
“That’s your problem right there, Parker. You have no empathy. All you think about is yourself. God, I can only imagine how you and Andy made it here without ripping each others' heads off.”
I raised my eyebrows. We did have a few close calls, but I wouldn’t point the finger at empathy. Right?
Aunty shoved her mug over to me. “Go pour me another cup, Parker. And add some Bailey’s this time.”
That night I climbed up the stairs and found Andy wide awake in her bed. She rolled over once I entered the room. I flumped over onto the twin bed on the other side of the room. The springs groaned under my weight.
“Smoking again?” she said without looking up.
I sighed. “What are you gonna say. That it’s gonna give me cancer? That I should ration my smokes?”
“I’m going to say nothing.”
“But if we get torn from this haven because someone smelt you outside, I’ll never forgive you.”
My head landed heavily on the lumpy pillow. “Good night, Andy.”
I rested my head on my arm, the other lay on my chest. I looked up at the dark ceiling filled with small glow-in-the-dark galaxies, planets, and stars. On the dusty bookshelf opposite our beds, geodes and rocks of all shapes and sizes glittered in the moonlight. The moth-eaten curtains provided inadequate shade, letting the moon shine on my face like a spotlight.
Although I'd never been here in my life, it all felt familiar. But as comfortable as it was, I knew it was all only temporary. I couldn't live here for the rest of my life, and there was no telling when the city would be rebuilt. Although it had been two months since we'd arrived, I still felt tired and achy from the long journey. Of all muscles, my heart hurt the most. There was still a gaping hole where feelings once sang, and I had noticed everything about my appearance had dulled.
Ever since Aunty mentioned my lack of empathy, I hadn’t been able to get it out of my head. Yes, there had been a few incidents between the two of us, but they were always because Andy never wanted to try. She just wanted to run and hide. And maybe I had fallen to that level too, but I was tired of hiding now. I wanted to go back to the city. I wanted to find my family.
I didn’t care if they were alive or dead. I just needed to know.
I had to bury my family and hold a funeral and respect their deaths and get some sort of closure, but I had no idea if that was possible. They had been posting names daily of the people they could identify. There were others too, but there was nothing and no one to say who they were. I was terrified my family was among the forgotten, but I think I was even more scared that they still hadn't been found.
I just had to go back and find them. It was eating me alive – like the moth-eaten curtains that hung limply across the windows.
But the women of this house would never let me go back.
There were crazy people running amuck – specifically in the Vancouver area. They had vacated thousands of people to tents in less densely populated areas, but were taking the less vulnerable and putting them right in the thick of things to clean up and kill. They called the group of ‘volunteers’ the Vancouver Cooperation Cure. There were advertisements everywhere depicting the great things this group, the VCC does. Words like honour and pride and nationalism were thrown about like candy from a piñata. Any day now I expected they would find us, and I'd have to say goodbye to this temporary home and a warm bed.
That was why we were bunkered in. That was why we tried to make it seem like no one was living here but ghosts. Why we couldn’t risk going into town. Why I was surprised the day we arrived on Aunty’s front steps to see her completely contradict all the happy bubbly stories that Andy had told me about her.
Because the dirty workers for the government were going door to door and taking their ‘volunteers.’
Because if we were spotted, they would take us away.
And that would be the end of the world for Andy.
But I didn’t know what that would be for me.
Because lying here in this twin sized bed, staring at rocks and home-knit sweaters, it didn’t click.
This was no home. Not for me at least.
Parker can’t decide if he should escape in the night to look for his family in Vancouver, or stay. What does he do?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.