“Persephone!” As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I was wrapped in a tight hug. “Where have you been? Do you know how much trouble you’re in?” she demanded, but I could tell from her tone of voice that she was just as relieved as I was. “Quick this way,” she ordered and pulled me into the bunker, the three others followed. “Who are all these people?”
At a loss of words, my mouth opened and then closed again. How would I be able to explain to her that I was able to leave the base without any permits or identification? Paul could get into a lot of trouble for that. Fortunately for me Eric jumped in with an excuse, it seemed unconvincing to me but my mother seemed to believe him. He told her that the three of them were repair workers and had had some trouble getting past the front gate, so had asked for my help. The lie had a couple loose ends— such as, what if she actually asked the front gate— but it was better than anything I could make up on the spot. “Did you lock the door on the way down?” was all she asked. To which we replied yes, though I wasn’t sure what a locked door would do against an air strike.
“You speak English?” I asked.
Eric shrugged sheepishly. “I’m Eric, by the way.”
“Maria,” the woman said, sitting down against the wall. “Und das ist Kristopher.” Maria evidently wasn’t bothering to translate. The first man waved slightly and sat down beside Maria against the cool metal wall; the two of them whispered quietly, speaking too quickly for me to catch the words.
Mom turned to me and hugged me once more. “I’m just glad you’re safe, I was so worried.”
“Mom, what’s happening?”
Mom sighed, she still seemed to be getting over the shock of my arrival but she also seemed incredibly exhausted. “I was on the phone earlier with Ms. Blanchard, she told me something like this may happen. Germany is under danger of a potential air strike,” Mom explained, her hands clasped tightly in her lap and her lips pursed as she was thinking. The three of us— Mom, Eric, and I— sat on the sofa, which was fleecy and scratchy; the warm orange-green light shone through the lamp shade and the hum of the water heater and furnace came from around the corner. I’d never spent much time in the basement, but it was quite cozy.
“Resources are being stretched thin, the world just reached the ten billion mark, Germany has about 160 million alone, and governments are starting to panic. Obviously some countries are more fortunate than others when it comes to things such as fresh water, oil, minerals, and the like. Some of the countries more plentiful in resources have started an alliance, the WTA, where they trade commodities rather than money. Since not all countries have the ability to trade by these mandates, obviously some have been left out: this means they must pay extremely high prices to compete for imports and accept low prices for exports. As you can imagine, most excluded countries haven’t taken this well. Not to mention the fact that Germany has taken in nearly 10 000 asylum seekers from Syria in the last few months, which has made them a target of the terrorist group occupying the country.”
When Mom paused, I noticed that Maria and Kristopher had fallen quiet too. The tension was thick in the room as the reality sunk in with us all. From school I knew about the World Trade Assembly, though the name was laughably misguided. It should have been the Trade Assembly of the most Developed Countries: Canada, USA, what was left of the UK, Japan, South Africa, Australia, etc. I also knew about the refugees, many of them had come to live in Hamburg. But the terrorist group was news to me.
Ten billion people. The number in itself was unfathomably large, but it didn’t resonate well with me. Looking around, I could tell that the others were still thinking over the number themselves. Last year we’d just been at 9.8 billion, not that that wasn’t a large number as well, but how could we go up 200 million people in one year? Then again… That was only a population increase of 0.02… Whether or not that was a small percentage increase, it was a huge number. “So it is Syria that I bombing us?” Eric asked.
“I-I’m not sure, I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. Let’s hope that nobody bombs us,” Mom replied. Fear coursed through me again; and I remembered the last time I’d been that scared had been during the fire. Thoughts of losing my home, Mom, and possibly my own life filled my head. I felt scared enough to cry, scream, and swear all at once but nothing would happen. All I could do was stare at my lap in shocked horror. My head felt fuzzy and my vision tunneled onto the spot over my knees, I had to wiggle my fingers just to assure myself I still had control. Over the sound of my pounding blood, I heard my mom mumbling to Eric. “Thank you for bringing her home.”
“Persephone, honey, wake up.” Soft hands shook me awake; I was harshly pulled from the haze of my dream, and my eyes flew open to reveal my mother leaning over me.
I sat up straight too quickly, and my head started swimming. Had I fallen asleep on the basement couch? Why? Why wasn’t I in my bed upstairs? That’s where I’d been the rest of the day. “Why are we in the basement?” I asked, my voice thick with sleep.
“The advisory, remember? We had to wait in the basement. I just got a message on my phone telling me we could go back up,” she explained, helping me up.
Her words didn’t fully reach me as sleep still preoccupied my mind, I was very exhausted and I didn’t know why. “How long was I down here?” I asked groggily.
“We’ve spent all night down here,” Mom said as she helped me up and walked me to the stairs; when we got there I shrugged her off and headed upstairs. “Those three workers left just a minute ago.” With an unsure hand on the banister and heavy footsteps falling on the wide stairs, I made my way up— becoming more aware with each step. It was loud, both in the house and out. There were loud voices shouting from, what sounded like, only a few metres away from the house. “Are you hungry?” Mom asked. “There’s still some of that pasta salad from dinner yesterday.” Yesterday’s dinner party and the events following were the last things I wanted to remember at the time. Mom went immediately to the living room and turned on the news.
I sat down next to Mom on our couch, Mom grabbed my hand and began rubbing her thumb over my hand— as she often did as a result of worry. The news anchors were bantering back and forth over some trivial economic mishap in some country I barely knew about. But much like Mom, the only reason I was watching was to see if they’d have coverage on what had just happened, which of course they should have. The topic was brought up only a few seconds later.
“A crisis in Germany, as a potential air strike had nearly ten million people in the Hamburg area seeking refuge. It is still unknown from whom the threats came, no connection has been made between the suspect and a government or terrorist organization, though an interrogation is underway. We go live now to Aaron Zwissler at the Parliament Building. Aaron?” As the news anchor spoke a small shot of the Hamburg area map was pulled up, with short clips of people running in panic through streets. People jumped from cars and ran into each other on the street; in a restaurant, a waitress dropped her tray and food splattered everywhere; there was even a clip of children screaming and crying in what looked like a kindergarten while the teachers tried to keep order.
In the next second the shot changed to who I assumed was Aaron (a man who looked far too full of himself for an area wide news reporter) there was a brief delay and then he began talking. “Thanks Nickolas. I’m at the Reichstag Building on my way to see the minister of national defence, Mme. Minister?” Aaron and his camera crew half jogged as they tried to catch up with a small group of people; in center of which was a stout brunette woman. When he called to her, the woman turned— annoyance clearly written on her face.
“Mein Gott, who let the media in?” she asked sharply, the people around her looked at each other and then back to her, shrugging. Obviously the interview had not been planned for.
“Mme. Minister, just a moment of your time please? Do you have any comments on the crisis—?”
“There was no crisis, it was just a drill. We were never under serious threat but it is imperative we be prepared for any possibility. There is no need for panic, everything is fine. Now please, some of us have jobs to get back to.” The minister scowled and turned around, she and the other people disappeared down the hallway. The reporting team seemed to be confused, and the minister turned to a man beside her and whispered, “Please escort these people out, the chancellor doesn’t want the media here.”
“There you have it, apparently we need not worry,” Aaron said quickly, as a large man began ushering him out. “B-back to you, Nickolas.”
Turning to her, as she muted the TV, I asked, “Mom? Do you think it’s true, what the minister said?”
“I think that the government is trying to keep people from worrying too much, nationwide panic certainly wouldn’t be good. Sooner or later they’ll have to admit that it wasn’t just a drill, but a serious reaction to a serious threat. I’m sure they will once this blows over a little. But for the moment, I think this was the right thing to say.”
“I don’t think that’s fair. If it wasn’t just a drill, we have a right to know.”
Mom smiled tightly and let go of my hand, before standing up and smoothing out her work pants. “It’s for the best. I’m sure they’re fully capable of doing their job, Persephone. There’s probably nothing to worry about. Now I have to run into the office for a few minutes, I just got a text from Liam, but I’ll be back in a little bit.” I looked up at Mom, unable to answer. She had to leave? Now? And leave me alone with just my thoughts? “Calm down, honey, everything is fine. You don’t need to worry.”
“O-okay,” I replied. Easier said than done. I couldn’t exactly just turn off my thoughts.
After finally getting the wooden floors to their usual spotless state, I ended up cooking a late breakfast for the both of us— should Mom have come home anytime soon. Doing chores at least forced me to do something, rather than sitting idly watching the news. By this time it was eight or so in the morning: the sun was breaking out from behind the grey-white clouds again and a cool morning breeze blew in through the window. While I cooked I turned on the music quietly, for some background noise, and tried to keep my mind focused on chopping the vegetables and whisking the eggs.
But it was no use, cooking kept my hands but not my mind preoccupied and soon I found myself in the same hole I always did when I thought too long. Automatically, my mind thought up worst case scenarios. Mom had said there was probably nothing to worry about, but that mean that there may have been something to worry about. This wasn’t a drill, like minister had said, I knew it wasn’t. Mom had confirmed that, and it had been easy to tell by the minister’s reaction. This was a warning… From whomever, telling us specifically to stop whatever it was we were doing before it was too late. But what it was, I wasn’t sure. Did it have to do with the terrorist group Mom had mentioned earlier? The news had said no connections had been made between the suspect and any organization, but maybe they had some sort of connection to one of the angry governments left out of the trade assembly. Or, maybe they had meant to drop the bomb and by chance it had malfunctioned. Maybe we— Mom and I, and everybody else in the area— had been one lucky break away from being flattened by an atomic bomb.
Perhaps hiding in our fallout shelters would protect us, but at the same time maybe not. And what about all the other people who didn’t have shelters within close range? Not to mention the nuclear winds and long term radiation. That would surely be the worst of it all: all infrastructure would be destroyed, water systems would be contaminated, and agricultural fields would be ruined. How would we recuperate? A war would be raged, all it would take is one bomb or possibly even one more threat, and we could be launch into the next war.
“Ow,” I exclaimed as I felt a sharp cut into my finger, I looked down to see red oozing from my fingertip. I suddenly felt very faint, and I had to lean into the counter to keep from falling. As blood dripped onto the count, an automated voice listed off the components of my blood. With my non-cut hand I clutched the cupboards to help me down to the floor, the other hand I wrapped tightly in a paper cloth which quickly turned scarlet.
I took a deep breath. “It’s okay,” I mumbled to myself while wrapping my arms tightly around my knees. “Nothing bad is going to happen to me. I’m safe.”
It was already past noon when I finally heard Mom come home. I was on my laptop in my room, doing university research, when the crash of the glass door pulled me from my lull. The chair squeaked as it grated against the hardwood, my feet slapped against the hardwood, and blanket on my lap was thrown askew. I walked to my door cautiously, half expecting Mom to burst into my room. When I heard a stranger’s voice, I stopped short.
Their voice floated down the hall and slipped under my door. “Elisa, this was just faxed for you to our office.”
“Thank you,” Mom replied, then I heard the glass shattered against the frame again and the heavy wooden door being pulled shut. There was a moment of silence, and then I finally made my way into the hallway. Mom stood by the door, one shoe off and one on, with the paper held close to her face (Mom desperately needed reading glasses but refused to admit it). After a moment she looked up, and spotted me at the end of the hallway.
“I made breakfast,” I said. “It’s in the microwave.” I slid open the white-washed cupboard and searched through the bottles until I found the desired one. One tiny yellow pill slid into my palm, and I swallowed it. I’d been in such a state that I’d forgotten to take my medication, hopefully now I would get some peace of mind. “Who was that?” I asked.
Mom filled a glass and drank slowly, her eyes still studying the paper. I repeated the question before she finally looked up. “Huh? Oh, that was just a co-worker.” She chose her following words carefully. “It seems I’ve been offered a case: there’s been some sort of scandal with the Prime Minister, and he wants me to represent him.” Mom looked up, to gauge my reaction probably, but I didn’t respond. “If I took this job, paying for your first few years of university wouldn’t be an issue anymore. It may also get me a promotion, then I could leave the IPC and we wouldn’t have to move anymore. But… We would have to move one last time, back to Canada.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, and traced my thumb nail over my index finger lightly while I thought. The way Mom worded it… I knew that taking the job was what she wanted, but she was trying to be fair by running it by me. Moving back to Canada. I didn’t know how I felt about that. Did I feel anything about it? Did I even care? It didn’t seem like I cared much either way. Sure moving was a hassle, but it wasn’t that bad. Lance had shut me down, we were probably no longer even friends, and other than him I only had fair-weather friends from school. Did I really even have a life here? I hadn’t left much behind moving to Sweden, and I hadn’t bothered to really make roots here either. People seemed not to like me very much, and they exhausted me. I certainly wouldn’t miss Kohl, my spot was gone, and to be honest I was still extremely terrified from the previous events. Would moving to Canada be safer?
Mom waited patiently as I went through my inner monologue, studying the bottom of her glass. Finally, I smiled slightly and responded, “You should take the job, Mom.”
In subsequent two weeks a lot happened: my graduation finally occurred, there were only nine others so it was a small occasion; and we started preparing for our move. Graduation wasn’t nearly as exciting nor as satisfying as I’d expected to be, I received a piece of paper with my name and two signatures and that was that.
Mom was thrilled but I couldn’t muster up the energy to care about that at all. My mind was still focused to the air-strike that almost occurred, I still worried what it meant. But thus far, there hadn’t been many updates.
Next, the move. We threw a lot away and compressed the rest into various sized cardboard boxes. The house didn’t mean much to me, so saying good bye wasn’t hard. I hadn’t realized how very little attachment I had to this place until it was time to leave. I said good bye to Paul and wished him well, and couldn’t help myself from sending Lance one last text— to which I never received a response.
The day before our flight, Mom and I sat eating pizza on the couch watching the news. Mom had gotten exceedingly more excited for the move with each passing second: she mentioned attractions, schools, museums, culture, anything she thought I would like. I feigned interest for her sake, this seemed like it would be a good thing for Mom. And who knew, maybe a change would be healthy for me to.
“Where are we moving?” I asked, pulling at a bit of plastic like cheese.
“Ottawa, of course. Actually we already have our house! Hold on, I’ll get the tablet and then I can show you.” Mom got up and made her way to her office at the end of the hallway. While she disappeared into her room I turned my attention back to the TV.
The news anchors in front of the green screen couldn’t have been more stereotypical: the woman had unnoticeable features and shoulder length mouse-brown hair, the man had slick blond hair and a smug smile. “Guten Abend, a link has been made between the man involved with the recent Hamburg bomb threat and a terrorist organization known as the Ju-Al. K.V. Muthalaly is being held in custody preceding his trial, he is being held on several accounts of first-degree murder as well as arson and robbery. Muthalaly named no accomplices in his confession, despite offers of a lightened sentence. Investigators believe that Muthalaly is also involved with the disappearance of Mélissa Laforte and Carmine Boucharde. The two friends went missing from their homes in Nice, France, but were found latter in Irbin, Syria. Though investigators have little proof on the latter charges, a number found on Laforte’s phone was traced back to Muthalaly…”
“I got it,” Mom announced as she walked into the room, her voice boomed over the news anchor’s. “This house is just beautiful, Persephone, you’ll love it! It’s a little on the outskirts, and I’ll have to commute about twenty minutes to and from work, but we’ll get to live in an actual town. That’ll be nice, won’t it?” She handed me the tablet and vaguely registered the pictures. “Persephone, what’s wrong?”
“They caught the man who made the bomb threats” I replied, my hands lying in my lap and my gaze fixed on the screen.
“That’s great news!”
I looked up at Mom. How could she not understand? It seemed like all this hadn’t phased her at all. “They also said that he’s related to a terrorist organization, one that probably is pissed at the rich countries for forming an alliance against them.”
“Oh, Persephone, no one formed an—”
“Yes they did! That’s exactly what happened. Something really bad is about to happen, Mom, I know it.” My eyes studied Mom’s face for any hint of understanding, but she just smiled calmly.
“You’re worrying yourself over nothing. There are terrorist organizations all over the world, there are wars constantly. And how many of those have affected us? Sweetie, just relax, everything will be fine.” Mom picked up the remote and flicked the channels until the landed on something she seemed to approve of. “Now no more news, you’re getting too worked up again.” She sat down next to me, but I wouldn’t look at her. I hated when she did that: when she acted like my fears were trivial, as if my opinion were irrelevant. When she didn’t like something I said or did, or when I expressed an opinion she didn’t approve of, she diminished it as if it meant nothing at all.
Treating me like a child just got me angry and telling me to calm down did exactly the opposite. My fears aren’t a joke, I wished she would have understood that.