The Fall

Posted on May 19, 2012

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Orielle woke from her troubled sleep to the one sound she had dreaded since her parents left the night before: the siren. Being only ten years old, her parents never explained to her in great detail what the siren meant, just that they were going to be crammed into a bus with frightened and panicked men, women, and children and driven to another city. They never let her watch what was on television which, for the most part, was always a tired-looking man or woman in a suit explaining something her parents would get upset over. Her mom would always sit at the kitchen table and bury her face in her hands and sob, while her father would shut the television off and pace back and forth, hands behind his back, brow furrowed and eyes downcast in deep thought. Whenever Orielle would ask about what was going on, her mother would look at her with the same expression she always had after watching the television: lips pursed, red and puffy eyes filled with despair and pain. “Oh honey…” she would manage between sniffles. Her father would look at her angrily and point in the direction of her room and say, “Go watch Trevor.”

“But,” she would protest. Trevor, her five year old brother, never got into trouble. Since this all started, he would take any opportunity he could to sleep. It was as though he thought he could escape in his dreams. She envied him.

“No buts,” her father would say more menacingly. “Now.”

Orielle would look down at her feet and respond in a barely audible monotone, “Yes, dad.”  She would then return to her room and shut the door. After being sent to her room one time, she decided to try and listen in on her parents’ conversation. She braced herself against her door gently, and pressed her ear against it as hard she could.

“…going to do?” She heard. It was her mother. She sounded desperate.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing,” her father was saying. He sounded frustrated.

“So we’re going to keep letting them heard us up like cattle and-”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“We need to go someplace remote, like Alaska, or northern Canada. Or what about Japan?!” She was pleading now.

The mention of Japan made her father laugh. “Japan? How is that remote?”

“No, no, I mean like, Japan could be our best chance, hell, humanity’s  best chance. The Japanese are so smart and all, they may have a cure before anyone else!”

There was a silence. Then, “No,” her father said solemnly. “I don’t think so. The smartest people on the planet are probably the Chinese. The government should have done what they did.”

“You mean seal our borders off and turn a blind eye to the destruction this disease is causing?!” Her mother was exasperated. Her father became angry.

“Look at what trying to help has done! We only became a part of the destruction! It’s people like you that brought this upon us!” The two became silent. There was the sound of her father’s heavy footsteps, then the sound of their apartment door opening, then slamming shut. Orielle heard sniffling from behind her. She turned around. Trevor had been woken from his sleep by the arguing. He stared at the ceiling, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes, mouth slightly agape. Orielle walked over to the bed and looked down at him.  She ran her hand through his soft brown hair.

“Oh, Trevor…” she said softly. He finally looked at her. She too was crying. She extended her arms to either side of her, and Trevor quickly went into her embrace. They held each other for a time and let their tears flow.

Orielle quickly kicked off her blanket and slipped on her snow boots that she had set beside her bed. She went to sleep wearing her wool socks, blue jeans, grey blouse, and black sweater, but never got hot. Nights in Chicago without a heater got pretty cold. She walked across to Trevor’s bed and shook him slightly by the shoulder. “Trevor,” she whispered. He stirred a little and, recognizing the sound of the siren, sat up so suddenly it startled Orielle. He looked at her with wide eyes and said, “Where’s mom and dad?” She shook her head. “They never came back.” Trevor looked as if he was going to begin balling when there came a loud banging from the living room, accompanied by a loud, resonating, yet somewhat panicked voice. “Chicago Fire Department! This is a mandatory evacuation!”

Trevor tore of bed and slipped on his snow boots as well. He too had gone to sleep in his clothes. He hadn’t wanted to, but Orielle made him.  She had a bad feeling when her parents left for the food bank last night. She couldn’t explain why, but she just knew they had to be ready in case something happened. Deep inside, she wished her gut had been wrong. Grabbing her and Trevor’s beanies off the nightstand between their beds, she quickly put hers and then Trevor’s on as they head out to the living room.

“Wait here,” she told Trevor when they reached the door. She went into the kitchen and straight for the cupboard near the refrigerator and opened it. There was nothing save for a box of chocolate chip granola bars. She grabbed it and looked inside. There were only four left, and she took them all out and put two in each of her sweater’s pockets, which had zippers. She zipped them shut and, after throwing the box away, opened the fridge. There was a jar of peanut butter, bottles of ketchup and mustard, and one last unopened bottle of water, which she grabbed. She walked back over to Trevor and was about to unlock the door when there came another loud banging. Startled, she dropped the bottle of water. Again came the loud and panicked voice, but this time it was a little more urgent. “Chicago Fire Department! This is a mandatory evacuation!”

Orielle picked up the water bottle and, using her free hand, unlocked the door and opened it. An exhausted and exasperated face looked down at them. His eyes were red, with dark circles underneath, his hair ruffled, mouth slightly open, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Kids…” he said after a moment. He looked around the living room behind them, then crouched down to Orielle’s height.

“Where are you parents?” Orielle crinkled her nose. His breath smelled. “They went downtown,” she said. “To the food bank.” The fireman’s jaw dropped, and he stared at her for a moment, seemingly distraught and unsure of what to say. Finally, composing himself, he said, “Okay, come with me,” and held out his hand. Orielle put her small hand in his. It was sweaty. She cringed. Turning her head to Trevor, she said, “Here,” and handed him the water bottle. “Hold this and take my hand.” Trevor held the bottle in his right hand, and took Orielle’s hand with his left. She looked back at the fireman, who nodded and stood. He was a giant compared to her, taller and seemingly larger than her father overall.

Her father…her mother…where were they? Why had the fireman seemed troubled by her mentioning of them going to the food bank? Where they alright? She pondered over these questions as the fireman led them through the hallway filled with the panicked voices of the other tenants as they stepped out of their apartments, and the stern and professional voices of the firemen and policemen trying to keep everyone calm.

The fireman led them down a flight of stairs to the main lobby, which was cramped with tenants, fireman and police, all talking, all panicked. Orielle started to feel afraid as she looked around. She felt Trevor squeeze her hand. He was afraid too. She squeezed his hand in reassurance. It’ll be okay, she thought. I just wish mom and dad were here…

The line of people getting on to the school bus was stopped. “There’s no more room! No more room!” A police officer was shouting. “The next bus will be here in about twenty minutes!” The school bus began its departure as murmurs rippled through the crowd. Everyone was cold, worried, nervous, scared. It was going to be a long twenty minutes…

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