My brother locked the door behind us. It would keep our father out until he sobered up. We both had enough bruises from the last time he went out drinking. Mother wasn’t much help, if anything, she egged him on if we were annoying that day. Neither of us could do anything about it, or go to anyone because we didn’t know what would happen to us if we did.
It was much easier to lock the door, perhaps even barricade it, until the next day.
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I was older than my brother by five years, but sometimes it didn’t feel like it. The rough life on the farm and the brutish nature of our parents changed him. There was no time for innocence, just cynicism. He sat in the corner of the room, close to the door, and would stay there until morning.
You might think I am a bad older sister for not hugging him and telling him it would be alright. It’s something I used to do, but I knew he didn’t believe me because I didn’t believe it myself. Now, I live there in silence; it was better for both of us if we didn’t discuss it.
That night I saw him drift to sleep, looking as sad as an abused puppy. I would soon fall asleep, but I had other things on my mind. Plans and ideas that would get me out of the situation. Of course, I would bring him along, but I wasn’t responsible enough to take care of an eleven-year-old boy. I’m not sure how I could when most of my plans involved me going to the city and struggling to take care of myself.
It would be better if I found some family, or charity group, or something. I didn’t want to consider an adoption agency, because then I might lose contact with him. Most likely they would take me as well, as I was still a teenager.
These thoughts had circled my mind for many nights, for many years, but still felt like dreams. A mirage I couldn’t grab a hold of. That was a thought that made me cold and forced me to sleep before I continued the mental torture of promising myself a better life to come.
I woke up early in the morning. The sky had the barest hints of a rising sun, which told me that it was four-ish. I was shaking, the cold making me want to stay beneath the blankets and wait until I was warm. I didn’t know what woke me up. I glanced at the window, to see if there was a crack letting cold air in, but I could tell it was firmly shut. The door was closed and blocked with the dresser.
I then looked at the corner of the room where my brother slept. I couldn’t quite see him, so I turned on the light.
In the light, I could see him lying there in his sleeping back, head resting softly on his pillow. His skin looked so pale, so I knew he felt cold as well. Concerned, I climbed out of bed to check on him. I felt his skin and it was ice cold. He was breathing softly, even snoring a little. I placed my hand on his shoulder and shook him softly awake.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” I asked. “Are you hungry, or anything?”
He groaned and shook his head, slowly waking up. I thought he was sick, but then he also shook.
“Are you cold?”
“A little,” he replied softly.
I smiled and went to get him a blanket and one of my beanies. After covering him up, I returned to bed to sleep a few more hours before a new hellish day began. I didn’t let that thought cross my mind, I just blocked everything beyond the room out of my mind and concerned myself with blissful sleep.
When the sun was up, I was met with two curiosities.
First, it was almost noon. My parents didn’t bang on the door and yell to wake me up for work that day. It was Saturday, which meant checking the small crop of wheat we had. It had passed the phase where it looked full of life and was heading towards a more ‘aged’ look. That’s the only way I knew we would harvest soon.
My brother woke up while I moved the dresser. He watched me unlock the door and yawned as he left. I checked the hall the way one would check for cars before crossing the street. Nobody.
I shook my head, wondering what my parents were up to and returned to my room to change. That’s when I noticed the small amounts of dirt and grass on my window sill. Looking close, I realized someone had climbed into the room. It wasn’t hard to tell who it was from the size of the shoe mark on the white paint.
“Must have got hungry,” I said to myself. After all, we only got one or two bites of dinner before our father returned from the bar.
It was an easy picture to conjure, but still, something didn’t seem right. I went downstairs, checked the kitchen, the living room and looked out across the farm from the porch window. I saw no signs of life, apart from a few birds. More importantly, I saw the family truck still parked in the old barn.
“I’m hungry,” I heard my brother say behind me.
“Huh, oh, right.”
The old oven had trouble starting, which meant no coffee, no eggs, not even oatmeal. That left the standard American breakfast; a bowl of cereal.
Cereal did little to put my mind at ease. My parents couldn’t have gone far if they didn’t take the car. There was no way they took the tractor either. Yet, looking around the house, I began noticing small details that told me something was off. Such as the kitchen, there was no evidence anyone ate before us. The front door was locked, the keys still resting on the hook beside it. When I went outside, I saw that even the tractor was untouched.
Our parents couldn’t walk to town and there was nowhere else they could go. I then realized that the answer could only be they were still in bed. I slapped my forehead for not thinking of it earlier, but then I reminded myself that them staying in bed was abnormal as well.
My brother was playing in the sand outside the house, digging holes more than making anything with the sand.
“If mom and dad catch you, you will be in big trouble,” I reminded him, but he ignored the comment. He still looked pale. “Have you seen mom and dad?”
“They aren’t here,” he replied.
“Yeah, I know, but where are they? Are they still in bed?”
“Not there either.”
“Okay...well, keep an eye out, will you? You shouldn’t dig holes.”
It was a pathetic attempt to make it seem like I was responsible, but I had nothing against him digging holes. Often he found interesting things, bits of metal, cool rocks. If I weren’t so terrified of my parents at his age I might have continued as well.
I decided to check our parent’s bedroom. If they were asleep, I would get in trouble for waking them up, but it was best I knew where they were. I marched up the stairs, approached the closed bedroom door and knocked softly.
Again I tried, this time a little louder. Nothing. I then called them, but only in silence. I decided to try the door, but no, it was locked as usual. My parents picked up this habit when I used to bother them late at night as a kid, coming to tell them about my nightmares. With a locked door, I could only talk to the handle or go back to bed, leaving them to sleep.
Something sinister was forming in my mind. The house seemed so quiet. I went back outside and looked up at their bedroom windows. All but one was closed. I eyed them, thinking and eventually deciding on a course of action. I was going to climb out my bedroom window and make my way to theirs. A peek inside would give me answers, so I did just that.
I jogged into my room and lifted the window up. I noted the crunch of a leaf beneath my foot, my eyes drifting from my shoe to outside, where I saw my brother playing in the dirt. He must have heard me open the window because he looked up at me. I waved at him, but he turned his attention back to his digging.
I noted the strangeness and climbed out the window, placing my feet gently on the porch roof tiles. I then sidled across, staying close to the wall as I made my way to the other windows. It wasn’t difficult reaching the open window, but I found myself hesitating before I looked inside.
I felt the sinister thought change into something nightmarish as I approached the window. When I did look inside, I had trouble interpreting what I saw.
An empty room, a made bed and no parents. It felt so cold in that room and I couldn’t understand why. By noon the air should have been warm and dry. Their bedroom should have felt that way with the window open, but it was just dark and icy.
“Where..?” I said to myself, my voice trailing off into silence.
There came a knock at the door, the bedroom door. It made me jump and my hair stand on end, which was easy in such a cold room. I walked over to the door, undid the lock and opened it to my brother. He stood there with uncaring eyes, looking towards our parent’s bed, then up at me.
“I told you they aren’t here.”
“I just wanted to check,” I told him, a shiver ran down my spine. “Do you know where they are, bud?”
He shook his head and looked down. I looked at him for what seemed like a long time, then my thoughts became more practical.
“Hmm, well, we can’t stay here all alone,” I told him. “Why don’t you pack yourself a bag of clothing, enough for a couple of days. We’re going down to our neighbours until mom and dad come home.”
“I don’t think they are coming home.”
It was almost sad the way he said it, but more than anything, he sounded confused.
“What makes you say that?”
My brother shrugged and walked to his room to pack a bag. I didn’t want to admit it, but his words and actions perfectly describe how I was feeling as well. Looking back at their neatly made bed, I didn't think they were coming back either.
Less than thirty minutes later we were walking towards the truck in the barn. I pushed the door open and nervously approached the truck. I wasn’t a great driver, I knew that about myself, but our neighbours were too many acres away to walk to with bags on our backs. I kept this in mind when I unlocked the truck and climbed onto the driver’s seat.
I tried the key and nothing. The car wouldn’t start, it wouldn’t even rev. Upon closer inspection, I couldn’t even get the lights to turn on.
“What now? A dead battery?” I murmured, my brother silent in the passenger seat. “Um, wait here.”
I didn’t know what I was looking at, I was surprised I could even open the hood. Gradually, the nervousness building inside of me was reaching a point where I could not contain it. My hands started to shake and to hide them I crossed my arms. I told my brother to go back to the house and call the neighbours while I tried to figure out how to fix the car.
We had a battery, replacing it was a new experience, but fairly intuitive. Yet, the old truck wouldn’t start. The fact that my parents were missing kept me from thinking about how angry my father would be if the truck didn’t start. If I knew where they were, I would keep my distance from the truck, leaving no evidence that I was near it, so he wouldn’t blame me.
Instead, I thought about what to do next. More pressure was added when my brother returned with an expressionless face.
“The phone’s not working,” he said.
We ended up walking after all. I carried the bags most of the way, but eventually, my brother offered to help and I couldn’t refuse it. The surreal perspective I had on life turned back when we arrived close tonight and saw our neighbours lights on. The whole family was surprised to see us, I could even see fear in their eyes. The father tucked something behind the door before I could see it. The object made a metal thump.
The mother was a lot more welcoming, but she too had a dark cloud hanging over her head. Their kids didn’t say a word and kept their eyes down, a thousand-yard stare through the floor.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, despite their efforts to comfort me. Ever since I told them my parents were missing, it was like I confirmed their worst fears.
Talk of lights in the distance, power outages and stories of other people missing answered my question. Although, it only raised a few more. I noticed my brother followed the kids in behaviour and continued to stare at the ground. I also noticed all their hands were dirty from digging in the sand.
We all had something to eat, and I was one of the few who went to bed. I knew the father was up, sitting in a dark living room, staring out the window. I knew the mother was in her room, praying from what I could hear through the wall. As for the kids, they went to sleep before any of us.
Such strangeness wouldn’t sit well with anyone, such talk didn’t give one happy thought. I was not eager to greet the nightmares that waited for me, but I closed my eyes all the same.
I didn’t know what to expect the next day, but I knew I wasn’t ready for it.