Previously on Five Seconds: Parker and Andy make it home only to find that her house is no longer livable. More secrets are revealed, while tensions increase.
Should Andy and Parker snoop around the neighbours' houses or leave at the crack of dawn?Click To Reveal Results
Things were a lot scarier at night. Perhaps an hour passed of lying in the bed of my truck, waiting for sleep to caress my body and wrap me in a safe embrace. It was impossible to keep my eyes closed for more than a minute, regardless of how heavy they felt. Fear enraptured my brain, and whispered terrible ideas into it. I was scared that the next time I opened my eyes my house would be engulfed in flames, or that the truck would be swallowed by a sinkhole, or the sky would fall and encase us in a tomb. Gone forever.
Newt lay at our heads, a warm soft pillow whose snores sang a lullaby.
"When do you think things are going to get better?" I asked, breaking the tension.
"I don't know," Parker said restlessly.
"Maybe, this is all a bad dream. And when we wake up it'll all be over, and our home will still be a home." My voice sounded like two boulders rubbing together.
"I'd still have her," Parker breathed.
"I'd still be alone," I whispered to myself. The realization that this earthquake quenched the loneliness made me shudder.
"It's funny, you know. In such a busy, over populated world, I was a complete loner. Yet now, in such a broken place, where everyone is losing people, I'm… not alone. And I don't know if I should be happy, or sad, or guilty." I didn't know why I was saying this to him, but the words came out faster than I could stop them.
"Why would you be guilty?"
"If I'm happy that I'm not alone, I'm guilty. If I'm guilty, I'm sad. If I'm sad then I'm not happy, and I just want to be happy again. With all that's happened… I don't know if I'm happy or just numb."
"I think you would know when you're happy," he said in a passive voice, rolling away.
"How? How would I know I'm happy?"
He let out a breath of annoyance. "I don't know. You're happy when, well… I don't know how to explain a feeling," he huffed, rolling back over to face me. "I guess, when you're happy, you feel, like there's nothing wrong. You feel safe, and light—you don't feel weighed down. You just, want to live in that moment, because there's nothing better than that moment when you're happy."
"Are you happy right now?"
"Do you feel safe?"
He paused for a moment. "For now I suppose."
"Laying in this truck, it kinda feels like nothing's wrong. We're just two people, camping. Looking at the night sky."
"Do you feel weighed down?"
"There's nothing left to weigh me down," he huffed.
"Are you living in the moment?"
"I suppose so—yes."
"So you're happy?"
He blinked. "No, no, no," he said, exasperated. "Happiness doesn't work like that. I can't be happy after everything today. That's ridiculous."
"But you just explained happiness and you agreed to them all."
He sighed. "Yeah, so. I guess I did. Big deal. I didn't create the rules, I'm not a scientist, or a psychologist, or whatever."
"Well it's good. Because I suppose I'm happy too. I'm happy that you're alive, I'm happy my dog is alive, and I'm happy to be alive and not alone," I said softly. "Maybe sometimes you just have to count your blessings."
Silence ticked away.
We lay there in the darkness while sirens echoed in the distance.
"I don't know why they bother putting their sirens on," I exhaled.
"Why?" Parker said with a touch of annoyance.
"Because those sirens are pointless," I said in a dismal voice. "Sirens are there to notify people to get the hell out of their way—pretty sure no one's in their way, and sirens aren't going to make broken buildings move. It just raises panic."
"But it also notifies people that help is on the way. It gives them hope."
"False hope is worse than no hope."
"You don't think they'd receive hope?" Parker asked incredulously.
"Nope," I said matter-of-factly. "People are on the bottom of the list. 'Help' is going to go to the fires. 'Help' is going to shut off all the gas lines so we don't blow up. Maybe 'help' will go to those Red Cross tents or whatever. But I'll tell you right now, us two are nothing to help. They are going to pass us by like we are nothing to them… sirens are broken promises—they don't fix shit."
A moment passed.
"This is messed up." He rolled onto his side away from me. "Goodnight."
And then his presence was gone. Any warmth, any comfort I had before, vanished into thin air. I focused on my dog's breaths. His fur was a nice contrast against the hard truck, the rivets of the bed dug into all the wrong places.
Hours passed by at the pace of a snail, and we both continued to pretend to sleep. As much as he tried to hide it, I could tell he was crying. I was facing away from him, munching on my bottom lip. The constant shaking of his body tired me, and for some ludicrous reason, it wasn't the fact that he was crying that pained me; it was the fact that I knew Tessa was on his mind. I shook my head to get the thought out before it could grow any bigger.
"Things are a lot scarier at night," I whispered and turned around to face his back. He was still. "You're not alright, I'm not alright, and that's okay. But we're not dead. And that's what matters right now. We may not have what we had before, but we have each other." I didn't know where the words were coming from, but I knew Parker was paying attention. That these words were fire rolling off my tongue, and somehow deep inside, they began to forge. "I'm so happy that I'm not alone. With you here, I'm not alone, we're in a good situation. I'm scared, but not as scared as I would be by myself. Now is not the time to grieve. It's the time to survive."
I found his hand and squeezed it. We may not be the best team, but we were a team, and somehow deep down, I knew that we were going to be okay. We were wild as a flag in a hurricane—strong enough to create history.
The world would never be the same.
We would never be the same.
Perhaps the world shouldn't be the same, nor should we.
And somehow, that was okay.
I snapped awake full of terror. The smell of smoke invaded my brain. It wiggled its way through my brain, flushing out my peace of mind. I flicked my head back and forth searching for the flames. I looked to the sky. It was brown and full of ash. Soot engulfed every surface.
I stood in the bed of the truck, but my eyes couldn't see past the end of my street. The air was thick with smoke from the resulting fires of the earthquake. I bit my cheeks hard to swallow the memories rising in my throat. Fear clawed at my esophagus, closing my airway. I looked over at Parker who was still sleeping. After last night I didn't dare wake him. Maybe a few more hours for me would prove productive as well.
I didn't expect to fall back asleep, but I found myself opening my eyes again to a brighter lit world. Unfortunately my sleep didn't feel like sleep, and the hot burning sun was right above us. The smoke trapped the heat, exploiting the greenhouse effect.
After a pathetic attempt at breakfast (crumbly bread and lukewarm water) we found a large flashlight across the street that lit up like the sun. The house had been abandoned long before we had arrived on the scene. We found a plush comforter that Parker and I would be able to share comfortably. I would've preferred to have sleeping bags, but this would have to suffice. Besides, we were to be at my aunt's cabin tonight, not in several days. All of this preparation was just unnecessary caution. We also found more food and a can opener, along with an expensive set of steak knifes. But we still needed to find some food for the dog. I knew just where to find that, yet it didn't sit well in my stomach.
We stopped in front of the blue house two doors up from mine.
"I was friends with the family that lived here," I told Parker. "I guess they wouldn't mind if I 'borrowed' some of their stuff and never gave it back?"
"I'm sure they wouldn't even notice. Perhaps they won't ever come back. Where do you think they left?"
"I don't know."
We continued standing.
"You uh, going to go?" Parker asked.
"Yeah. For sure." My legs were heavier than concrete.
"Absolutely positive." I ran my tongue over my lips.
"Andy . . ." Parker said wearily.
I let out a breath. "What if," I cleared my throat. "What if they're still in there?"
The roof was half collapsed, and one of the bedrooms had fallen in. The bed was currently residing in the driveway.
"I'll go in."
"No. I will. To me, they, aren't real. I never interacted with these people. I'll be ok."
His eyes held more stability than I had ever seen before. He opened the front door, and headed in. My heart thundered in my chest, adrenaline rushed through my veins. Blood roaring in my ears was the only sound until he called out: "hey!" The words didn't sound disturbed. "It's a—"
A loud snarl erupted from inside. Thundering on the stairs. Parker landed on the ground next to my feet.
"Oh. Careful of Figaro—he bites," I said too late.
"Figaro," he breathes heavily. "Like the coffee?"
"Yeah." The Rottweiler bounded through the door wagging his nub of a tail in excitement of seeing a familiar face. "Oh, Figgy. Don't worry bud. It's over now." I caressed his dusty face. "You want a flower?"
I plucked a buttercup from the lawn—one of the last of the stretched out season. The dog gently grasped it in his mouth and ate it like the puppy he was at heart.
"What!" Parker shouted incredulously, and climbed to his feet. "That huge mass of fur and muscle that just about decapitated me, daintily plucked a flower out of your fingers and ate it!"
"He's a ladies man," I said petting his rump.
Parker exhaled in bewilderment, and rubbed his reddening face. "I found some dog food—that's where I bumped into the devil. What are we going to do about this one?"
"One dog is enough," I said without thought. "We can't handle more. But he can be pretty aggressive towards people who scare him. I'm scared that he or someone else will get hurt if they cross paths." I ran my lip through my teeth. "This is so terrible Parker. What other pets have been abandoned?"
The dog gave us a look as if he knew what we were talking about.
"Well, I'm sure he won't starve," Parker said weakly.
"Are you sure? This is a domesticated animal. I don't think he can turn into a wolf at the switch of a button. And what about shelter? It may seem impossible now, but it's going to get cold and wet eventually."
We stood there in silence. Parker looked at Figaro, I looked at the ground.
"How about we find the least damaged home, open up all the doors and windows, put a lot of food and fresh water in there, and then pets can come and go as they please?" he suggested.
It wasn't the best idea, but it was an idea. I nodded slowly.
A few hours later, we rounded up all the food and bottled water we could find. We used the newest house on the block, across the street and down a few from mine. We cleared as much glass from the floor as possible, and lay down blankets just in case. We filled both the bathroom tubs with water, and brought in other buckets and containers for the remaining water. We lay food out in containers in many different places in the house, for both cats and dogs. I hoped a bear wouldn't come and crash the party.
We rounded up as many strays that we could find with the help of Newt. Of the several houses that I knew housed pets, only four remained. We led them to the house, and I wrote on the door with a half empty can of paint: 'animals inside.'
Somewhere in all the static, Parker heard of several camps that were set up by Red Cross. There was one on the way to our destination, and we both agreed it was worth checking out.
My neighbourhood was still a ghost town by the time we took off (after several tries to start my truck.) It was very strange and haunting to see a city deserted. With limited supplies in the bed of my truck, a guard dog residing in the back seat, and a map of British Columbia safely tucked in the glove compartment, relief caressed our shoulders once we got rolling. But unfortunately, to get to where we had to go, there was a river in the way. In the distance I could see the towers and cables of the Port Mann bridge peeking through the rooftops.
I didn't know if we'd be able to cross it or not.
"But there has to be a way to cross the Frazer River," I said. "How else are people supposed to get out, cross the border even?"
"Maybe they don't want people to cross the border," Parker said. "Like you said, it wasn't just us that got affected by the earthquake. The whole west coast got shaken up, right?"
"Yea, but then people would want to go East. I still need to cross the damn river to go East."
"Well, is there a bridge further inland?"
"Yeah. I think I saw one on the map. Pitt River bridge I think? But the Port Mann is the newest."
"Is there a car ferry anywhere?"
"I don't know."
I don't know if it was a lack of answers that silenced us, or if it was because the destruction that had happened was really setting in. All of the destruction had defied science. It had defied building codes, science laws, gravity.
The washboard roads slowed our travel down immensely. Potholes and ridges littered the streets. The concrete had been torn apart like silly putty.
Houses lay in shambles. Empty houses that were no longer homes, like lonely broken hearts. I found myself relieved that the earthquake hadn't happened at night, where people would've been trapped in their sleep, never having a chance to escape. Parker and I had seen a few fires, but there was nothing we could do but pass by.
"It's strange don't you think, that there's no one helping. You'd think you'd see firefighters everywhere, just, helping. Regardless of whether they're getting paid," Parker mentioned.
"There's not enough firefighters in the world to help everyone that has been affected by this earthquake. Even if you count the good people."
"The radio said people are missing. Friends, family, pets, coworkers. How long are people going to look before they stop believing they're out there?"
My stomach turned. "I'm sorry about your family Parker," I whispered.
"I should be out there shouldn't I. I should be looking for them. They're probably looking for me now."
I bit my lip. The thought of going back downtown terrified me. People could steal my truck, injure us in the process. We could get stuck down there and never make it to my aunt's. Going downtown was a very dangerous idea. But if Parker wanted his family, I couldn't steal him from the opportunity, and maybe it was worth the gamble now. "We had to leave that mess. But do you want to go back?" I asked cautiously, stopping at an intersection. "At all?"
"No," he answered quickly. "They're all dead."
I wanted to protest, to ignite some sort of hope inside of him. But false hope was worse than no help.
I sat and pondered. Were these really my own thoughts? Never had they been so dark and negative. Perhaps this earthquake was weighing on me more heavily than I realized.
Yes. It definitely was. I was about to drive us over a bridge many, many metres from the surface of a dangerous body of water. Yet there was the option of going through Port Coquitlam, and in fact, I had seen an Ace Hardware on the map, right in the middle of the path we had to take, and the store could prove very useful. It was further away from the epicentre, but it was also an older bridge. The Port Mann was so new they still had construction vehicles on it. There wasn't a single chip of paint.
I was weighing life in my hands. I was weighing whether or not my aunt would ever see me again.
I lay my foot on the break at a light that no longer glowed. This street we were about to turn onto was supposed to be an emergency route. No vehicles passed. No engines roared in the distance. The vents in my truck blew warm air. I turned them off.
Static continued to pulse out of the radio. Cans rattled in the back, my dogs hot breath sent tingles down my spine. On a single standing lamp post, two crows sat. Beady black eyes glared down into our minds, daring us to trespass.
Were we two crows on a journey? Looking for a home. Representing cold hard death.
Left, Pitt River bridge.
Right, Port Mann bridge.
Left, further from the damage, with a hardware store in the way.
Right, newer building, better reinforcements, more stable science.
Which way was death, which way was life?
Should Parker and Andy go over the Pitt River Bridge or the Port Mann Bridge?
If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.