Previously on Five Seconds: Life isn’t exactly thriving in Aunty’s cabin. Parker contemplates leaving them and returning to Vancouver to search for his family. Andy continues to push for the three to ration their preserves so they don’t have to risk being noticed.
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I woke up alone in my room. It wasn’t comforting. Sleep was where the weight of the world could go away, and every morning that weight resettled on my chest like concrete.
I peeled myself from the bed and sat up. As long as I kept going through the motions, the darkness that kept licking at my heels couldn’t catch me.
“I can do it,” I whispered to myself. “I can do it.”
I set my feet on the chilly hardwood floors. I was home. No one was knocking my doors down. For now, I was going to be okay.
“I can do it,” I said with a little more faith, and stood up.
I walked towards the curtains, and peeked through a small tear. The sun was just beginning to rise over the tips of the tall pines. Snow glittered on the lake like shattered glass. The few clouds that dappled the sky contrasted greatly against the sapphire ceiling.
Life was being held together right now by nothing but some dollar store tape and safety pins. But I had to take little moments like this and remember that there were still things in the world to be happy about.
I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. The familiar stairs creaked on their cue, and as I got lower and lower, the smell of freshly brewed coffee grew stronger. I rounded the corner and walked through the living room.
Aunty appeared, sitting in her chair at the kitchen table alone. Parker must’ve been out with the dog. Sun beamed through the window.
I was going to say something, but stopped short at the sight of what Aunty was doing.
“Aunty, are you making snowflakes?” I asked hesitantly.
She didn’t bother looking up from her work. “Yes, I am. Care to join?”
I slowly walked over to the table and sat down adjacent to her. “Why, exactly, are you doing this?”
Aunty dropped her scissors and unfolded her paper. An eccentric shaped snowflake appeared. She looked at me mischievously through the holes. “Look at the calendar, Andy.”
My eyes shifted from the mess on the table to the calendar beside the fridge. A picture of kids skating on a lake was there… because it was no longer November.
It was December 1st.
Normally that would excite me.
December was my favourite month. And usually I’d wake up on the first day of this month as if it were Christmas. But today there was no elation.
There was no time to be happy and excited about a stupid month. Rationing and hiding and guards in riot outfits circled my head like the kids skating on the lake in the calendar.
A ball of paper was thrown at my head and I snapped out of my daze.
“Andy,” Aunty said with a raised brow. “You are my niece, and I fully support you – because I have to, not because I want to – but right now, I cannot support you.”
I blinked. “Aunty, what the h—”
“No.” She threw another ball of paper at me.
I deflected it with my arm this time. “Hey!”
“Today is December 1st,” she stated. “Any other year, and you’d be treating today like it was magic – you’d be treating this whole month like it was fricken magic, but no. Instead you are sulking.” She whipped a paper ball at my head, “And brooding,” she whipped another one, “and you’re dragging everyone down.”
She gripped the scissors and I held my breath. Throwing scissors at my head certainly wasn’t below my aunt, and she had killer aim – I had learned that one the hard way. I braced myself for the object to make connection with my retina.
“And frankly, I’m sick and tired of eating like mice. I’m sick and tired of tip-toeing around my own home, like a mouse. So today, I am over-ruling you. And we are going to blast Christmas music, bake obnoxious amounts of cookies, decorate the house, and have fun. Got it?”
I nodded my head vigorously.
“Good.” She let go of the scissors, and my shoulders relaxed. A little.
Within the next few hours a million little Christmas decorations appeared. Garland spiraled down the railing for the staircase, paper snowflakes hung from the ceiling, little trinkets smiled and laughed from tabletops and ledges. Santa hats adorned our heads, and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton filled every empty spot left. Aunty and I sang along and danced while decorating the tree.
Every candle was lit, including my favourite one.
That weight that was threatening to crush me this morning was now a distant memory. All the hard times that had happened were just a stepping stone. Who cared if the world could implode tomorrow? For now, nothing mattered. At all.
In fact, nothing ever really needed to matter again. I was home. A smile lit Aunty’s face up like a Christmas tree and I mirrored her. I didn’t need to worry anymore. The security forces had already been here once. The likelihood of them ever returning wasn’t realistic at all. Who would travel here in knee deep snow?
I stared at my aunt, who reached high to place a bobble on a branch. I was beyond grateful to have such an amazing woman for family.
“I missed you, Aunty,” I confessed. “Vancouver wasn’t the place for me, and I think you knew that. But, you supported me anyways.” I could feel a lump begin to form in my throat.
“Andy,” she said softly. “You are a dreamer. You always have been, and you always will be. Don’t let a few downfalls get in the way of your dreams.”
“Vancouver was a nightmare though.”
“And yet, here you are. Still breathing. Still smiling.” She placed a warm hand on my cheek. “Andrea Hara. You were born a fighter. I’ve seen you travel through hell and make it out with a few scars and a wild look in your eyes. Someday you will have all the answers, but don’t rush to that day.”
Tears welled in my eyes, and everything crashed down. How did my aunt hold the power to make the world stop spinning with just a few words? How did she know the exact words to say without me even telling her what was wrong?
I wrapped my arms tightly around her. “I’m never going to leave you again.” She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed some tears out in the process. “Please don’t leave me.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” she hummed. “I will always be there, whether it’s to knock some sense in you, or dry your eyes. But don’t give up on your dreams – ever. Because I’m still waiting for the day that you defy the limits of what I think you can do.”
“And what exactly are these limits that I need to cross?”
“Changing the world.”
I let out a laugh. “Yeah, I’ll get right on that.”
Everything was okay. It was December 1st. Things were only going to get better from here.
The front door opened, and I shifted my gaze from Aunty to Parker and my dog walking through the entrance, cheeks cherry red from the cold.
But it wasn’t Parker at the door.
A bauble dropped from my fingers and shattered on the floor.
Some could call me an idiot for trying to navigate snow that was unbearably deep, but I liked to call myself brave for going back to the city to search for my family. I had been travelling since the moon was still in the sky, and really hoped I hadn’t just been going in circles. I tried following the twisting road as best I could, and I was pretty certain I was doing a good job at it – I just hoped I was following the right road. Maybe it was stupid to travel alone in the elements, but I figured if I could make it into town, then I could hitchhike or something to Vancouver.
But when the sun reached the peak of it’s climb, I was met by an unexpected visitor.
A dark mass charged towards me and I dove into a bush to get away from him. He jumped on top of me and let out a low sound that evicted more fear than friendly welcoming in my core.
“Newt, what the hell!” I tried to push the massive beast off of me, but the sharp canines he flashed were enough to make me stop. “Look, bud. I have to go back for my family. If Andy was still in Vancouver you’d go back—”
I was silenced by the look he gave me. It wasn’t one of warning, but rather fear. His ears were pulled back and he was looking down the road. I paused to listen but I heard nothing.
“What is it?” I whispered. It was dead silent and dead still. The only thing moving was the cloud in front of my mouth.
A low growl rumbled in Newt’s throat, and he bared his teeth. Fear crawled up my throat like a spider. Was it a wolf? A deer? No, it was December. They’d be hibernating by now. Nothing would be out there… unless—
And then I heard it.
A truck in the distance, plowing through the snow like dust. I pulled Newt down into the cover of the bush. Ice prickled my neck. A shiver rolled through my body. The noise was getting louder. I could feel the vibrations from the vehicle. Either this truck was impossibly large, or there was a fleet of them.
I lay in the snow under the bush and held my breath. Large wheels passed by, eating up the snow. I counted four sets of them. I peeked out from the bush and gazed at the back of the last ginormous truck. They charged through the snow like rhinoceroses, and even resembled the look of the beastly creature.
I didn’t have to be a genius to know where they were headed.
I cursed under my breath. I gave a nervous look to Newt, and he sent one back. We had to warn Andy. But I had no phone and no vehicle. There was no way I could travel up the road faster than those trucks… but I could go cross country.
And I think Newt had the same thing in mind, because he took off faster than a bolt of light through the trees. I followed quick on his tail.
We darted through trees, hurdled over logs, and ducked under branches. It was terribly difficult to keep up any sort of pace in the deep snow, and my throat burned from breathing in the cold air. But I kept charging forward. Because if they got to that cabin before I did…
I didn’t want to finish the thought.
I ran and ran and ran and somehow ended up at the edge of the lake. I didn’t know how long it took, I just hoped that I didn’t take as long as the trucks.
I was going to circle the lake and follow the road, but Newt darted out across the frozen lake and I had no choice but to follow him.
I ignored the protests from my lungs and muscles and kept up as high of a pace I could in these clunky boots. I didn’t have to time to worry about whether or not the ground below me was going to stay solid. I just ran and ran and hoped that in the past two months Andy had planned an escape route.
Before I knew it, I could see the dock that belonged to Aunty’s cabin and I pushed even harder to get there. I prayed that as soon as I arrived at the house the bubbling panic in the pit of my stomach would be laughed off. That I was just overreacting and Andy and Aunty were completely fine.
I followed Newt’s sharp turn and charged towards the cabin. I leaped up the steps and ripped open the back door to the house.
One step into the living room and a force slammed into me. The world tilted and suddenly I was being pressed into the floor, my arms held behind my back.
“Parker!” Andy called.
I surveyed the scene from my place on the ground. Security forces littered the house like an infestation of black beetles. Fear exploded inside of me. They had guns. Two held Aunty beside a Christmas tree that hadn’t been there when I left. One had Andy pressed against the wall. Blood dribbled down her chin.
“What the hell is going on?” I growled. “What gives you the right to break into the house and hold me against my will?”
“Bill H.28. Was passed about a month ago,” a man with a scarred lip said from the entrance hall. He must’ve been the leader. He began to quote, “‘Those capable of manual labor will be ordered to do Vancouver a service of 300 hours to bring her back to her former glory.’ Perhaps you didn’t get the memo because you were too busy hiding up here?”
I struggled against the guard on top of me, but he pushed me further into the ground, bending my arms at an awkward angle. I called out in pain, and all it seemed to do was satisfy the bastard. Where was the dog?
“Let’s pack this one up. Then the girl.”
Another man came over and together the two lifted me to my feet. A heavy weight settled on my chest. We were being ripped from home again. Ripped from safety and warm beds and working toilets. I dug my heels into the carpet, but it did absolutely nothing to slow them down.
Guards ripped Andy from the wall and followed behind. She screamed at the top of her lungs and bucked and swayed to get them off.
It felt like we were being sent to the gallows. Because we were. There was no way we were going to survive another trip through crumbled buildings and flooded streets.
I threw my body from side to side to try and shake the massive men off of me, but it worked to no avail. These guards were gorillas.
Out the door we went and right to the beastly vehicles.
“Pack ‘em up and do one more sweep of the perimeter,” the man who I assumed was the leader of this nonsense ordered.
“Get off of me!” Andy screamed, shredding her vocal chords. “You can’t take us away; this is my home. Please!”
Her voice was hoarse and it wrenched my heart. She had fought so hard to return home and now she was being torn from it faster than a blink of the eye. Her teeth were bared and she kicked and wriggled.
The guards threw me into the back of the truck. I took one last glance at the cabin that had only served as a temporary home. Guards held Aunty at the front door.
“What do we do with this one?” one asked. “She’s too old and we can’t have—”
Scarred-lip turned and raised his gun and shot Aunty. Her head snapped back and blood splattered everywhere.
A vile sound erupted from Andy’s throat, piercing the air like a knife. She screamed and screamed and shattered my heart. “Aunty no! Aunty! No! You bastard. I’m going to kill you,” she shrieked. “I’ll slit your throat and feed your blood to your kids and wife and then kill them too. I hate you I hate you I hate you!”
She was thrown into the back of the truck with me, the doors shut on her face before she could spring at them. I pulled her into my arms and tried to hold the shattered pieces of my friend together. The truck started and began driving away. She gripped onto my coat tightly and wailed.
And as we drove away from the bloody murder scene of an empty home and the corpse of a good woman who would lie there for forever, I softly sang the words of a sad song, as if it would make things better.
What happened to Newt? Is he taken by the guards to a different truck, or hiding in the woods?
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