Wednesday, September 11, 2013

You Stay Calm- A Short Story I Wrote For Class That I Really Actually Like

It’s been 3 years since the power went out. Well, the whole thing started long before that, but it’s been 3 years since we lost all power. Everyone was expecting some big cataclysmic thing to happen, but there was no cataclysm. Just a war, a normal war, just like the ones we’ve been fighting since someone dared to set foot in our country and poke the bear. After that, we just went after everyone, like a nerdy kid who cracks from all the bullying and goes on a rampage.  We did the worldwide equivalent of beating the bully to a pulp,  but it was only when we’d  already done the damage that we realized we were hurting ourselves in the process. By that point, we’d used our alliances to their limits, the rest of the world was sick of us, and the country was in an uproar. The people rebelled, the government was overthrown, and the one that took over was no better.  Our economy collapsed completely, we went broke so quickly the rest of the world went with us.
            Now there’s nothing. There’s no government, no taxes, no schools, no healthcare. For the first few months, everything just dissolved into raiding. Parents robbed toy stores to placate their hungry children, teenagers stole from computer stores to beef up their gaming systems thinking somehow they would be able to run again. There were old people lying in the streets, crying out to passersby to help them, gasping for air and coughing without medicine or care. People were dying from starvation when there were open fields all around them, full of crops. No one knew how to function without supermarkets and restaurants. It was total and complete chaos but somehow, we got past it. Everyone just got tired, we were hungry for order, so we just created our own. People only stole what they needed; seeds, hoes, shovels, all the equipment to become self-sufficient. People migrated out of the cities to the country, and then they started to live.
I was just a kid when the War was going, so I barely remember the life before this. I remember the end of it, but even that seems like it’s fading away. I remember life getting harder and days when we only had power for a couple hours.  I remember my Mom leaving us when I was too small to tell her to stop. I remember when I was 5, I would sit and watch cartoons while I could, only to have them interrupted by a death count or a nationwide warning. I remember I would start to cry, but then my Dad would come in, scoop me up, turn off the TV and take me outside.
“Do you see those trees? The big ones across the road?” My Dad would say as he sat me on his knee.
“Y-yeah..” I would reply, sniffling into his shirt collar.
“They’ve been around for more than 200 years, that’s how they got so big. There was a war a lot like this one when those trees were as little as you.  Now, can trees run away when they’re afraid?”
“No, Daddy! That’s silly!” I would giggle through my tears.
“So do you know what they do when they’re afraid? They stand very still, and let the wind blow through their leaves. So you do the same thing, when you’re afraid, you stand still and take deep breaths. You stay calm.”
I was 14 the next time Dad had to remind me of this. It had been 2 years since the government was overthrown, and we’d tried to set up other systems, but they’d all failed. All the money was gone, and the stock market had broken up completely. It was the start of the Chaos. As Dad and I stood outside my closed school, I started breathing shallow and tearing up. He looked over to me, and wrapping his arms around my shoulders whispered “You stay calm.”
I closed my eyes against the panic, and went back to being a kid on the porch. I felt the breeze and ignored the shouting. When I opened my eyes again, we were in the car. We drove straight home, and we became like the trees across the road. We didn’t leave home, we let the wind blow over us. Dad taught me to hunt, we started a farm and bought a couple of chickens.  He taught me to be strong, but he also taught me to love people.
There was a time at the end of the Chaos when people just started stealing from any house they came across. One night, I heard someone in our storage shed while I was sleeping, and I woke up and ran out with my gun. I held it straight at the back of the intruder’s chest, but then I heard Dad’s voice, speaking softly from behind me.
“You could just ask.” His tone was almost joking, but it had a hint of seriousness to it. The thief turned around and looked down my gun barrel, his eyes widened in fear and shock, all previous bravado fading. He looked from me to my Dad, and then back to me. My Dad said nothing, he didn’t reach out to touch me to tell me to put the gun down, he just stood behind me. The only thing I could see was the man’s face and his eyes shimmering. It was one of those times you know your Dad has something he wants you to do, but he wants you to choose it yourself.
I stood there, stubborn and scared. I couldn’t back down now…
But I had to.
I took a breath and lowered my arms, and every muscle in the man’s face released. Tears made tracks down his face, and he dropped the vegetables and walked past me towards Dad.
“Thank you, thank you sir. You saved my life.” He sobbed, shaking his hand.
“Don’t thank me, thank my daughter. She let you go… I made you turn, she could’ve shot you right then.” Dad said, perplexedly. The man turned and looked at me then back at Dad.
“Thank you, little girl. You’re very kind.” He said, seemingly just to satisfy Dad’s wishes.
“She is not a little girl, she is an adult. Now, take those vegetables and go.” Dad’s tone had changed. He was strict now, pushing the man off our property.
Needless to say, that was the last we saw of any scavengers.
I wasn’t in school anymore, I was running a farm, feeding myself and I even started to trade with others in town. There were a lot of things my Dad put on me, teaching me and making me into the person I am. He put me in charge of our valuables, I was the one who bought our cows and our horse. He trusted me more than our neighbors trusted their kids, because he was pushing me out into the world, preparing me to be my own person. It was almost like he felt the winds coming like the trees seemed to.
It was a month after my 18th birthday,  I was in the house, counting canned vegetables so I could know what we needed for the winter when I heard him screaming. I dropped the paper I held and ran outside to see him bolting across the field. He was running faster than I’d ever seen him run, coughing and hacking.
“There’s a tornado. Megan, get in the cellar, I’ll grab the things we need out here. Just get it lit and get the animals inside.”
“But they’re not going to go! The stupid cows might not even get up!” I was screaming now. The storm was close enough to see the trees bending. I was terrified.
“Just do it! Get down and stay calm!”
             Exasperated, I ran from him and grabbed as many of the chickens as I could catch and threw them in the storm door. The cows struggled with me, but I eventually got them to their feet and they followed me down the ramp, mooing all the way into the basement. I locked them in the emergency pens and lit the kerosene lamps. Running back up, Dad pushed my horse through the door, fighting to calm him. I patted his mane and shushed him, finally able to coerce him into his stall. Then I waited.
I could hear the wind pulling at the house, creaking and groaning, fighting the urge to crack completely. Dad had dropped bags of crops in the door but hadn’t come down himself yet. Each time, I’d asked if he wanted help, he told me to stay. So I stayed. I waited. I closed my eyes against any fear, until I heard the door creak open and then slam shut. My eyes snapped open, and I looked to see Dad sliding down with one last bag cradled in his arms.
“I almost thought you weren’t going to make it.” I said running to hug him, my eyes aching and my breath catching in a hard knot. I wasn’t going to cry. For once, I was going to stay calm. Then the bag in his arms moved. I looked down at the bundle, and wrapped in an old hoodie was a baby. “Where did you get a baby?!” I shouted, causing her to erupt in a screech.
“Doesn’t matter, the parents are coming. Wanted me to get her inside. They needed to unload from their truck, in the ditch.” Dad said all of this between gasps for air. He was fighting for composure and that only set me more on edge. My eyes were brimming with tears and I was fighting the anger off. We didn’t have room for another family with all their crap and a screaming baby. I did not want any of this. I had fire rising in my chest and I felt it in my face, and then came the banging.
Dad gave me a look. The same look he gave me at school before the Chaos, the same look I heard in his voice when I had a man’s life in my hands. Then he looked down at the baby. She was squirming and crying louder than before, needing to be held close. Dad’s eyes looked up to meet mine, and my tears started to fall. I had to help. I opened my arms and took her from him, and he smiled and ran to the storm door. I could hear the Mother yelling down, barely audible over the wind. A man’s arm hung over the edge, covered in blood. Dad gestured furiously towards me, telling her to get inside as he tried to pull the man in, but then the wind picked up.
The door slammed shut on the woman, and it fell with a thud on Dad’s head. One of the lamps fell to the ground and the ramp was shrouded in near darkness. I squinted, and saw he had slumped and fallen to the bottom. I laid the little girl in a pile of blankets that was going to be my bed then ran over to him. Tearing the sleeve off at the shoulder, I wrapped parts of my flannel shirt around his wounded head. There was a lot of blood, but I couldn’t focus on that. I had to keep him alive. I ran through everything I knew of first aid, I kept him breathing and didn’t let him sleep. I sat by him all night, holding the baby in my arms, feeding her what I thought she could eat from our stores and singing.
When morning came, my eyes shot open from the ray of light peeking through the storm door. Dad instinctively moved an arm to shield his face, but I told him to stay still and not to touch his head. I stepped around him, climbing toward the light. I pushed the door open, and there was no sign of anyone. The man and woman were gone, the only trace of their presence marked with frantic bloodstained handprints. Their truck was tipped over in the road. The tree that had pinned them was thrown against the line of trees from my childhood.  I took a breath, and I went back inside to pick up the baby. She was left to me now, and I made a wish for her. I wished for her to be strong, but light. I gave her a name, Amelia Avery.
That was the day I became what my Dad always spoke over me, and what he still says over me when Amie gives me trouble. When she has nightmares, he wakes me up and points me toward the door with a smirk. And just like he did when I was her age, I scoop her up, take her outside in my arms, and point her to the trees.

“You just stand still and breathe. You stay calm.”

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