Previously on Five Seconds: Parker and Andy make decisions for where their journey will take them next. A shelter is made for the abandoned animals.
Should Parker and Andy go over the Pitt River Bridge or the Port Mann Bridge?Click To Reveal Results
The world was blanketed by an eery blanket of smoke. The silence was deafening. My truck took us towards the Port Mann. We crawled forward at a heavy pace, sometimes driving on the wrong side to surpass potholes and ridges. I kept my eyes on those two towers, willing there to be a bridge. We climbed onto the entrance that remained intact.
Parker and I held our breath.
I dared not drive fast, for I was scared that the displacement of any molecule, no matter how tiny, would send us to the frigid depths below.
And then a van appeared out of the smog, and I slammed the breaks to keep from crashing. It was a roadblock. A man stood with his arms crossed, a threatening expression held his face tight.
"What is he doing?" I asked Parker, annoyance on my tongue.
I turned the truck off and climbed out. Parker did the same.
"What gives?" I yelled.
"Can't cross," the man replied. "Not safe."
"Look, I know it's not safe, but I have to cross."
"Nope. The rules are in place." His voice was gruff. "Holes my lady. Holes that'll swallow your old truck up like a mint."
"Well, I'll avoid them. I'm not stupid."
"I'm sorry, I haven't gotten it through your stupid uneducated brain yet. I can't let you cross."
"You can't make me do anything." Anger raced through my veins. "Get out of the way." I stormed up to him.
"I can't. You getting on that bridge creates danger for many people. You fall in the river, then someone has to go and get you. That's another life at risk. Someone has to make sure that guy doesn't drown finding you. Another life at risk. I'm not letting you cross."
"Then how am I supposed to get to where I'm going. You can't herd us all here like pigs."
The corner of his mouth twitched. "Try another bridge. Perhaps, wherever you're trying to go is not a very good idea."
"Better than being stuck at a bridge away from my family day and night," I spat, forcing every ounce of venom into those words.
His eyes grew, and a vein bulged on his forehead. He lunged to attack me, but Parker got in the way, yanking me back before the man could get a grubby finger on me.
"This is not the time to be doing this!" Parker yelled. "There are worse things going on right now than a stupid bridge. Andy, stop being an idiot. We'll find some place else to cross. Maybe we can go cross country. I don't know. And you," he pointed at the man, "try a sign, and help the people who really matter to you."
"Oh, I've helped the people who matter to me." A slimy smile grew on his face. "I got them on the first flight out of here."
"You mean YVR didn't drown in the tsunami?" I asked, my breath catching in my throat.
"No, it did. The runway's a marsh. It'll still be hours before they can clear the runway of all that junk and get a plane out of here. Water planes must be making the big bucks."
"You got your family on a water plane?"
"I know a guy."
"This damn world is all about knowing a guy," I muttered. "Do you know the conditions of any other airports?"
"There are other airports in BC?"
"You swine," I growled.
His eyes gazed at my truck. An eyebrow raised. "Perhaps you give me all of your food. If you want to cross, I know a guy. With a boat."
I had no words. My aunt always wanted me to stand up for myself. But how could I when I couldn't find any words? I bit my cheek and grappled for my confidence, hidden somewhere in the dark abyss inside me.
"Andy," Parker started.
I spat in the man's face.
"What are you doing!" Parker shouted.
The man's face grew crimson red. His sweaty palms grabbed me and threw me to the ground. "Stupid girl!" he spat.
"Hey, hey, wait!" Parker interrupted. He stepped between us. "Maybe we can't give you everything, but what do you need?"
"Parker what the hell? Why are you trying to reason with the—"
"Just shut up Andy. I need you to shut your trap for just one minute for once in your life."
Again, I was at a loss for words.
The disgusting man let out a grumbling chuckle. "What do I need? Depends. Where are you traveling."
"You're going the wrong way then."
"It's the only way—"
"You're an idiot if you think it's the wrong way," I interrupted.
The man's evil eyes stabbed at my heart.
"Get in the truck Andy!" Parker bellowed.
"Go!" he snapped.
I clamped down on the inside of my cheeks. I shamefully climbed to my feet, and walked backwards to my truck. I sat miserably next to Newt while the two held a conversation. The dog let out a rumbling noise.
"Well, I tried to get my way bud. The world's just full of stupid people. Parker's just waisting his breath."
I looked upstream to where my aunt's cabin was hidden beneath the smoke. I missed her, more than anything. A heavy weight settled on my chest.
My passenger door opened, and Parker climbed in. "Let's go."
"Where," I mumbled.
"Across the bridge. He's letting us go."
My head snapped up. "What? He's letting us through? How! What'd you do?"
He flashed me that lopsided smirk. "Have you forgotten who I am? I'm Parker Dee."
I breathed a laugh. "And maybe I'm amazed." The shuttering engine came to life on the second try.
The man pulled his van to the side, and we crossed the bridge.
Again, I stayed slow to minimize any more damage. Slabs of concrete had fallen off, but there was enough of a path to fit my truck. Fear flooded my stomach as we crossed a narrow section. My knuckles were white from holding onto the steering wheel with an iron grasp. My heart thundered in my chest and blood rushed from my head. I could see the river through the hole, a dizzying distance below.
I forced my eyes to stay forward. Focus only on where we were heading. Never look back, never look down. My aunt told me that once. "Never look down. You can't hide your double chin if you do that." I wished she were here now. I desperately needed her words and her wisdom. I was just a tiny speck of dust in the vast universe, and even though my aunt was shorter, she seemed bigger. She held a larger impact than a meteorite. The weight on my chest grew.
The ground beneath me seemed to feel less stable as well, even though we were off the bridge. I focused on my breathing.
Survive now, live later.
Survive now, live later.
"Just think Parker. Maybe by the time we reach my Aunt's it'll be after dinner, she sure knows how to cook a fantastic breakfast. We'll arrive at the perfect time. After dinner, but before breakfast. Early enough that she'll know to cook us a really good breakfast; late enough that we can just crawl into bed."
"Do you think she has those hashbrown patties?" Parker asked.
My stomach grumbled at the thought.
I looked at my dashboard. I had just over a quarter of a tank of gas left, and it was quarter to two. We had woken this morning at nine, and it apparently had taken a lot longer than I originally thought to give those animals a shelter.
In a regular world, the camp we were heading to was a half hour out of our way. The uneven terrain proved too dangerous to go the regular speed limit, and the smoke was already darkening the sky.
At least the roads were empty.
It was dark by the time we arrived at the camp. Things got dark a lot faster without the city lights. Andy's old beat up truck was the only source of light and left eerie shadows. We still hadn't passed another car with people heading somewhere. I didn't know if that was good or bad. There weren't many parked cars either, which worried me, because we were dangerously low on gas. I was only slightly relieved when the truck's headlights lit up a sign that notified us we were close.
What was terrible was that the truck didn't light up a safe camp. No tents. No church. It lit up nothing. Where a camp once stood for survivors was nothing but ashes.
"It's gone. It's all gone," I exclaimed.
"There's nothing but ash," Andy observed.
"What happened? The rubble is still smoking, the fire had to have happened recently." She looked over at me. "Parker, we used all our gas. What are we going to do, we're basically trapped."
"Do you think there's anyone left?"
"None that are alive."
I climbed out of the truck. "Hello!" I called. "Is anyone here?"
"It's no use. Let's just, go," Andy called from the truck.
"No. Come on. Maybe we can find stuff. Stuff that wasn't touched by the fire."
She turned the truck off, but kept the headlights on, illuminating the dark scene. "How could it have burned down?" she muttered to herself. "This doesn't make sense. This camp would've been set up after the quake…"
I walked around, stirring up ash. I sifted with my feet for anything that could be of use. A strange scent permeated the air. Andy stayed by the truck in disbelief. I remember she was scared of people stealing her truck. Now there were no people to worry about. The isolation from the world was scary.
My foot hit something that rattled. I kneeled down. Perhaps it was a tin, or a jar… no. It was a bracelet. A bracelet attached… the whole ground was littered with burnt corpses. I swallowed down my vomit. "Oh god," I breathed. That's what the stench in the air was. Burnt flesh.
Movement caught in the corner of my eye.
I couldn't tell what it was from this distance, but I had a bad feeling in my gut.
"Parker . . ." Andy called wearily.
I could hear Andy's wary voice, but I wasn't going to run away like her. Perhaps it was an animal, or a pyramid of food that had collapsed. It'd be stupid to run away from something good. I decided to get a better look. I moved forward. Fifteen metres. Ten. I couldn't tell if it was moving or if that was the wind. Was it a hunched figure? It almost looked . . .
I halted my movement, not daring to take a breath. This man… he was eating something. Savagely, like an animal. I lifted a foot and moved it back, slow and soft—crack!
I winced. The man stopped moving. It—he slowly looked up. He turned around, blood all over its mouth. A snarl escaped his throat.
A yell escaped mine, I got my feet all tangled up, and fell to the ground. I shuffled back, scrambling to my feet.
And then the man bolted towards me.
He scrambled over the treacherous rubble, swallowing up the distance between us. It was right on my tail, gaining. Catching up. The man was letting out strange sounds, somewhere between a growl and a shout. Andy was frozen in fright, standing next to the bright lights of the truck.
"Start it!" I screamed, tearing my throat raw. I didn't want to let the looney know we had a vehicle.
She finally snapped out of it, and went into action. I prayed to the powers above that her damned truck had enough gas to get us out of there. I heard her try the engine, but the stupid old truck failed.
I cursed loudly and tripped again, sprawling over a burnt something. My eyes briefly glimpsed into the empty holes where eyes once were kept. It was a dead body. I shrieked, spit flying from my mouth, and scrambled to my feet. The crazy person caught up, and sprang onto my back. My heart leapt into my throat. I flailed my arms like eggbeaters, bucked like a bull, and somehow, the man was thrown off. I sped towards the vehicle. I yanked open the door, climbed in and slammed it.
"Go! Go! Go!" I screamed.
"It's not starting!"
"What do you mean it won't start? We have to get away. Go!"
"It's an old truck! Sometimes it's hard to turn over."
The crazy was catching up. Thirty meters away.
"He's almost here!"
The truck was being very frustrating.
"Andy! Lets go!"
She turned the keys the engine refused.
He was twenty meters now.
She tried again, still wouldn't start.
The lunatic reached the truck and slammed himself into my door.
The beautiful sound of the roaring engine erupted, the truck was thrown into gear, and we sped away from the scary man.
A half hour passed before we could speak again.
"What happened back there Parker?"
"That man," I swallowed hard, "that chased me. It… it was a person Andy—eating another person."
Fear creeped down my spine.
"I-I don't understand. Cannibalism isn't real. Maybe he was part of a cult." Her voice was shaky. "There's something fishy about that fire."
"What do you mean?"
"The camp was set up after the first quake. Sometime yesterday. But you saw the scene. The area was still smouldering. A fire like that isn't cause by an accident. Nor did an earthquake cause it."
"Something else did."
"Someone else. Parker, that fire had to have been deliberately started."
"But why? Who would want to burn down a first aid station?"
"Who would want to eat another person?"
"People can't be that desperate already," I said, thinking of humans being the only source of food left. It was a preposterous thought.
"I know. Something's not right. All I do know is that we aren't safe anywhere, and we need to find gas."
As if on cue, my best friend the truck sputtered to a stop. Silence seemed to shut in on us like a black curtain. I longed for my sports car.
The whining from Newt sent a shiver rushing down my spine.
"Still got that flashlight?" Andy asked.
"Yup," I answered tightly.
"Okay. Well, we're on a freeway. Where else are you going to find cars? I'm sure there will be loads."
"Right. Because the only ones people left behind were the ones that ran out of gas."
"That's the spirit."
Andy climbed out, I did too, and Newt followed. Andy grabbed the jerry cans out of the back, and I grabbed the flashlight.
"We don't have weapons," she mentioned.
I paused for several moments. "Do we want weapons?" I asked.
She gave me a look that notified me she was thinking the same thing as me. Whoever it was that was eating the dead body and chased after me, was still human. Even though catastrophe had struck, we weren't going to be murderers.
Not yet at least.
"Do you think we have a better chance staying on the highway, or off road?" I asked.
"I have no idea. I'd hate to go one way when the other way has it. We could split up." It was a dumb suggestion and I didn't bother answering.
"Let's stay on the highway and then if we see an exit we'll take it and hopefully a gas station will be there." I said.
"But how will we get gas? There's no power."
"Well, maybe there'll be other cars. Or some jerry cans left for unfortunate people like ourselves."
We took off down the road silently. I kept my eyes peeled on the trees, scared of bumping into another people eater.
A few minutes passed before Andy suggested: "maybe you should shut that off," referring to the flashlight in my sweaty palms. "Want to stay hidden from others."
I didn't complain.
There was no moonlight to kept us company as we trudged on down the highway. I was thankful that it didn't cool down drastically at night. We walked half a kilometre before I spotted a smashed car down the embankment. I turned the flashlight on and searched the trees for company. When I confirmed it was clear, we headed down the steep slope with the dog in tow.
Unfortunately, the car only had enough gas to fill half of the jerry can.
"What should we do?" I looked to Andy for an answer.
"I don't know."
"You look tired," I noted, wiping some dirt from her face.
"I'm fine." She tried to evade my hand.
"How about we take what we got, head back to the truck, fill it with what we have, then catch some sleep. We'll have better luck in the day when we're good and rested."
Strange, that I was making decisions, but regardless of how good a plan it was, Andy was beat and looked like she didn't have the energy to make up a better plan. We climbed out of the ditch, and headed back down the highway to the truck. Our feet slapped against the pavement, echoing through the dark night. It was peculiar, almost like we weren't the only ones. Like there were many of us, stomping down the highway.
A shiver ran down my back. It wasn't my mind playing tricks on me. It was real. We weren't alone. I grabbed onto Andy's hand.
I shushed her fiercely. I walked on my toes, to silence my feet. I closed my eyes and concentrated. It was coming from behind us. Maybe it was one—could be two. I couldn't tell from Andy's loud stompers. Or were those my feet making the noise.
"What are you doing?" she whispered.
I looked down at her hoping she would understand. But confusion riddled her face. I groaned inwardly. As majestical and genius she was, she still had absolutely no people skills.
"We aren't alone," I murmured into her ear.
Thankfully, she understood completely.
"What do we do?" she mouthed.
I looked down at the dog, who was aware of our follower. He trotted back towards the newcomer.
"I'd almost rather it be a monster than a person who needs our help," I voiced.
"Hi doggy." The person behind us was a man.
I stole a glance backwards at the scene. The man was bending down, giving Newt a scratch behind the ears. The dog showed no sign of fear.
The man was a lot closer than I realized.
"Strange time to be walking at night," he said without looking at us.
We stopped in our tracks.
"Same to you," I answered.
The stranger stood up. He had a small frame, no taller than five feet. He was older, late fifties maybe. Andy and I could easily take him.
"What are you two doing here this late?" he asked.
"Just out for a stroll," I answered. "How about you?"
"Just out for stroll," he repeated. A grin grew on his face. "Maybe a midnight snack."
I felt Andy stiffen next to me.
"Well, you're not going to find one here."
"I guess not. You heard that dog meat is a delicacy in some parts of the world?"
"Well, I better carry on. Momma always said to not play with your food. Lions only hunt the weak anyway. Good evening." He strolled into the woods.
"Do you think he was one of them?" Andy asked.
"I guess he knew he couldn't take us on. Together or apart, he couldn't do it. I guess we make a good team."
I nodded half heartedly. She was good at understanding the earth, I was good at understanding the people. Or so I thought. Normal people were my specialty—not deranged cult members. Something about natural selection popped into my brain, but I didn't dare say it aloud.
I called Newt over, and we continued on to the truck.
We climbed in, and Andy made sure to lock the doors.
"Amazing, how dark it is without the city lights, or the stars. It's a shame really, if it weren't for all the rain in the air, we'd be able to see millions of stars. That was one of the first things I noticed wen I moved to the city. There were no stars. It never got dark. There must be a lot of scared and lonely people on the streets tonight."
I licked my bottom lip and nodded my head. "You're right. I suppose I never knew what darkness was until just yesterday. It makes the world seem bigger. More threatening."
Andy let out a sigh. "Well one thing's for sure, is that no matter how big that mountain is that we need to get across, we'll scale it. Whether it's with my truck, our feet, or our teeth. We'll make it. I promise."
I sifted through the bag by my feet. "Care for a five star meal of canned corn and ravioli?"
I brought out the food. We would just take a break—a surprisingly much needed one, and continue after. Or tomorrow. The heaviness of the world seemed to suck out all our energy before we had a chance to spend it.
Life was a race against time. And time seemed to be our worst enemy. I looked to the trees, but all there was was darkness. A darkness that grew and pulsed. A darkness, that matched the one in my head.
"People are crazy," Andy murmured.
I looked to her for an explanation.
"It's something my Aunt would say a lot. Life throws a lot of everything at you, and a lot of that stuff it throws, there's no reason. No explanation. Or maybe there is, if you dig hard enough. But then you'd just be digging yourself a grave. In a situation with no pretty other side… sometimes the only answer is that people are crazy. You know, here we are, just trying to survive, and there are people, trying to get in the way of that. Whether it's not letting us cross a bridge, or trying to eat us—it's not right. And there are no answers. Not even hope. These people are crazy."
The ravioli was hard to swallow.
Should Parker and Andy wait out the night and continue when the sun comes back, or continue on their journey through the lightless night?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.