Autumn's Life

Why me? Why us?

* * *

Autumn's life fell apart when she lost her parents to a terrible bombing in her city. She escaped with her sister and met her two best friends. They were finally let free and lived with a kind couple, meeting her crush in the most unexpected of times. And just when she thought she was rid of her past, it comes back to haunt her. One after another wave of sadness, grief and guilt from the horrible and unexpected events comes crashing down over Autumn's head before she can recover from the previous wave. Will she ever find happiness again? Or will she let those waves drown her with depression?

This is her story.

Cover credit goes to my friend.

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3. Chapter 1- Escape

Escape

By Helina Li

 

I woke up to shrieks of people and shattering of household objects, sounds that were unfamiliar to my ears that are accustomed the gentle sounds of my usually peaceful city. What is happening?

I slid my legs off the bed and onto the cold floor, the rest of the blanket falling away as I stood up.

More screaming unpleasantly pierced my ears.

Feeling more urgent and frightened though still unsure of what was going on, I threw open the door and raced into my living room.

There was chaos everywhere. My parents were screaming at each other frantically, mostly— Where is it? Where did you put them? We have to find them! They are our last hope!— over the the shattering sounds.

I was confused by what they were saying. What last hope? What are they trying to find?

Now that I think about it, my parents had been acting weird for the past few weeks. Tense. Worried. Freaking out every time we disappear from their view or we leave for school. Once, we even caught them lurking in the shadows of our school. Paranoid. Looking over their shoulders everywhere we went. They were tormented by terror and trepidation affected their actions largely though they didn’t notice.

I had heard from Winter, my younger sister, that they have been whispering to each other about bad dreams of bombing and death;  anxiety and fear plagued their dreams while asleep.

I had also caught some of their private conversations that meant for themselves only, because they had them more frequently than usual.

I was then drawn back into the memory of that night when I truly realized something was wrong….

I groaned in frustration. This problem is impossible! I’ll talk to my parents., I decided. I walked to the living room, where they normally relaxed on the couch, but they weren’t there.  

How weird., I mused. Where did they go?

They retired to their early., I remembered after a moment of tracing their activity through the evening.

Early?, I thought, incredulous. They never do that.

Well, they do now.

I felt uneasy. I had never accepted new or unfamiliar things with an easy acceptance and that wasn’t an exception.

I walked down the hallway, the carpet caressing my feet, trailing my hand up and down the smooth white walls, the white papers crinkling as I tucked them under my arm, to their room. I twisted the doorknob and the door creaked open. My parents were bound to notice that but they didn’t seem too; they seem to be too engrossed in their conversation to notice.

I knew it was bad to eavesdrop but I did anyway.

“Why did they send them over? How many times do we have to tell them they are not trustworthy?” I heard Dad whisper to Mom.

Who are they talking about?, I wondered.

Mom reached out to touch his arm lightly. “We just have to prepare for the worst. Prepare and be aware.”

“What? Prepare for what?” The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them. Upon noticing me, they abruptly stopped talking.

“Oh. Nothing, honey. Now, why are you here?”, my mom asked, falsely sweet but I could see her worry behind the facade. Worry for what? What I had heard? Or what they were talking about? Or both? Or neither?

I so wanted to ask them but I sensed it wasn’t the time.

“I need help with my homework.”, I announced.

“Sure, come over, sweetheart.”, she answered.

I walked over to their desk and she helped me solve the problem while Dad just watched silently on the side.

I became increasingly curious and, as I finished the homework, asked her, “What were you guys talking about?”

“Nothing.”, Mom said again.

“There was something. I want to know!”, I whined. I didn’t know why I want to poke my nose into their business so much but I was just so curious.

This is so frustrating, I thought to myself. Why won’t they just tell me?

Unless they don’t want to. Unless they don’t think you’re trustworthy., I concluded bitterly.

Ouch. That thought hurt., I griped inside; an unfamiliar hollow feeling forming in my chest.

“Please, can you tell me?”

Mom looked torn and turned to Dad, who just shook his head at her.

I was already frustrated and I knew I needed to try a different angle, not that this one works very well.

“What? Am I not trustworthy enough for you liking?”, I snapped, suddenly furious. They had never kept stuff from me before, not if I asked them about it. When I was a kid, they would tell me everything, every angle, every point, every small, insignificant detail, and I wouldn’t get a single word. I think they had counted on that, but as I grew older, I could understand them more and they would tell me less and less, leaving me to puzzle more and more out by myself.  

“No, no, sweetie. Of course, you’re trustworthy. It’s just...nothing.”

“One, if you refuse to tell me, you have no right to call me “sweetie” or “sweetheart” or “honey”.”, I warned coldly.Two, if you think I was trustworthy, you would tell me. I know you think not, but you didn’t say otherwise, and I hate people who lie.”, I spat, pausing a little.“Three, tell me!”, I demanded.

She looked hurt. Good. They did the same to me.

Dad finally spoke up. “Autumn, leave it alone. Are you done with your homework? If you are, go to bed.”, he commanded sharply.

I couldn’t hold back my glare at him but I knew there was no defying him when he was set on something.

“Yes.”, I grumbled, defeated.

I turned on my heels dramatically, and stomped away. I tore open the door, and stalked out of their room. I didn’t even bother with a “good night” or even a glance back; I was so angry. Grabbing the doorknob, I roughly pulled it towards me and slammed the door back where they wanted it so they could continue their precious little conversation.

I winced, months later after it happened, as the bang from the door slamming behind me as I left that night resound in my head after reliving my memory.

I never heard any of their private conversations again, probably because they became more cautious after I overheard, and I never got an explanation. I cooled down and apologized and became increasingly worried and though I asked them again and again, about the bad dreams and their conversation, they refused to say anything and I eventually, angrily, reluctantly, and bitterly just gave up.

We were not the only ones with weird parents. Friends, enemies, classmates. They all complained about their parents’ behaviors. I should’ve asked, no, demand, if not blackmail or threaten, for more information from my parents on something so serious. I never did and I was regretting it.

I was jerked out of my thoughts by a heartbroken wail from outside. I didn’t want to know the reason why; I doubt it was good.

It was then that I finally noticed the shaking of the building, the sound of explosions- I knew they were bombs exploding somewhere here. Fire was catching on the walls of our wooden houses, scenes I only recognized from books and movies. The scent of burning chemicals hung thick in the air, and it wasn't only my family's shrieks flying through the air. Many other panicked voices were heard outside of our house.

I winced again as the sound of splintering wood sliced through my eardrums and the roof collapsed, crushing the attic, and the ceiling above us sagged.  

Panic gripped me like a vice and I struggled to clear my head and think straight, scrambling to make sense of it all.

Now, what “the worst” Mom had told Dad to prepare for had happened and that tiny snippet of conversation somewhat made sense. By the looks of it, they weren’t expecting it to be so soon. I could see why. I didn’t expect my death or the destruction of my city or anybody’s death to come so early either. Maybe their dreams told them about the future., I thought, deliriously amused.

Dad, his face pale but triumphant, lifted something worn and old up into the air above his head. Mom looked at it, and some of the tension dissolved from her face. She handed me clothes, and I changed into them as quickly as possible. The jacket was unfamiliar; I had never seen it before even though it was clearly made for me.

My parents reached for me, and I stepped closer. Dad unzipped a secret pocket and quickly shoved pieces of paper inside and pushed my sister and I out the door of our house.

Before I stepped over the doorway, Mom leaned down and whispered into my ear, "Keep the papers inside your jacket safe, okay? Don't try to save us. Get out of here as fast as you can, for us. That's the best way to avenge our deaths. Everything's about to change, Autumn. Be brave and strong for Winter. Her life depends on you from now on. Keep her safe for us."

She pushed me away and screamed so both Winter and I could hear, "Go to the Barren Lands! Run and travel as far North as you can! Stay safe! We love you!"

She stepped back inside and stood besides our dad, both smiling sadly at us. Then, the house collapsed on them.

Mom's last words were the only thing keeping me from running back into the house, to try and climb inside the house to save them, doing the exact opposite of her orders.

The Barren Lands was the desert beyond the fence. We were told it was empty of life and that we would die if we were to ever venture in due to the unlivable conditions. Why would Mom tell us to go?

But I trusted her wholeheartedly. I would follow her instructions. I would avenge their deaths. I would keep Winter alive. For them.

There was no grief or pain or sadness. I would feel that later. The only thing I feel now is the animalistic instinct of survival and the need to avenge.

Grabbing Winter's hand, I dragged her in the direction of the fence.

They say it was electrified "to keep us safe from the wild things outside that are so savage they would tear us apart", as my teachers have always told me, but my parents have shown me otherwise. When Mom scaled it, surprising me that she could, considering women her age don't usually scale “electrified” fences, and jumped down on the other side before climbing back to our side. I was scared and was looking around nervously the whole time, fearing the moment someone would stray from the main path and spot us breaking the law, no matter how small the amount of time. I was relieved when Dad said we were done and walked us back to our house. Since then, I have never looked at the fence with the same fear, or accepted my teacher's' words with an apathetic nod when they said it was electrified for protection. They lied to us.

Guards noticed our directions and shouted orders to get us. I knew they would search us, find the papers, whatever they are, for sure. I will not let them catch us.

We sprinted.

Running was difficult. Missiles rained down around us and building after building exploded, splattering us with debris and sharp, jagged chunks of glass from the thick windows. We had to dodge the lumps of materials that fell from the sky as we ran, but some still managed to find skin and left sharp cuts.

Panicked crowds of people who swarmed from each damaged house and from every corner of our municipality got in our way and my heart leaped into my throat with panic and fear, fear that we would be caught by the guards, fear of losing my younger sister in this sea of elbows and arms, as I gripped her hand tightly and dragged her through to the mostly empty border of our city.

I placed a hand on the fence, flinching as I imagined what it would feel like to be fried alive. Thankfully, it was dead and cold, like the last time we were here and I began climbing it. Winter followed beside me. I wasn't athletic, and my hands were shaky as I pulled myself on top of the fence, between two of the dangerously sharp spikes on the top of the fence.

I dropped down onto the other side, stumbling a little, as pain shot up my leg from the impact, off-balanced.

Winter dropped down beside me, nimble and soundless. I have always wondered how she was able to do land so silently. Her fair hair that earned her the name she has flashed white in the afternoon sun, reminding me painfully of our father from whom Winter inherited the hair color. I pushed the thought away. I would have time to grieve later.

We continued running North beyond the fence.

I vaguely noticed the guards left us behind, though they could have easily followed us. Maybe they thought we were going to die in the Barren Lands. We probably were, but I trust Mom and Dad and so does Winter, I hope.

We tried finding resources. After a few hours of building desperation and fear, we gave up, agreeing it was better to try and go wherever Mom and Dad wanted us to instead of wasting our time endlessly wandering around, fruitlessly searching. There was no food, no water, nothing. Just miles after miles of sand and heat as far as the eye could see. We started to weaken, but tried hard to follow Mom's order.

We first ran, then jogged, then walked, then limped, then crawled. We clung to our lives with our fingertips, fighting the overwhelming blackness that comes with the pain of hunger in our stomach and the burn of thirst in our throats. Every day, death’s cold, in this case, unbearably hot, iron grip tightened even more and I struggled as I worked my way forward, a few inches at a time, my arms aching and threatening to give way under my weight every time I forced them to drag the rest of my body a foot forward.

I knew it must be even harder for Winter, who was younger than me.

During the pointless traveling over such deserted land, with the sun beating down on us, the pain and grief of loss starts to hit though I was too dehydrated to even shed a tear to save our life.

I realized the old, weak and wimpy Autumn is dead. She died with my parents, crushed and burned alive in our old house.

The new Autumn was born like any newborn; step by torturous step, inch by torturous inch, she was dragged into this new, unfamiliar and harsh world.

After eternity of pain and fatigue and exhaustion, things changed.

I didn't see the hole in the ground until I fell in, dragging Winter down with me, barely registering the sickening crack of my head as it made contact with the ground, in the half-dead condition I was in.

Then, blackness.

 



 

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