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“Hey, do you want to come over and hang out?” I asked my best friend Liam.
“I’ll have to ask my mom, but I don’t think I can. I’ve got to go to my brothers dumb soccer awards thing tonight.” He shrugged and tapped at his phone.
“She said no, sorry.” I frowned then giggled.
“It’s ok,” I glanced at my small flip phone, it was being blown up by texts from my dad.
“I gotta go, my dads blowing up my phone. Bye!”
Before giving Liam the chance to say bye back, I darted off towards home. My dad rarely even touched his phone, so this had to be something important. Was I in trouble? Did mom come back? Are my siblings ok? Fearful thoughts filled my mind. I shook with the fear that something was seriously wrong.
My dad was standing on the porch, holding my one year old sister Delaney in one arm and holding my two year old brothers hand in the other. His face was filled with fear, his eyes twitching, his usual smile replaced with a frown.
“Hadley, come here, now!” His voice was shaky, like he had just heard that someone had died. I scrambled up the driveway to him.
“Here, take Delaney.” I reached my arms out and dad plopped her into my arms. He ran to the rusty cellar door and swung it open.
“Get in, now.” I slowly climbed down into the cellar, after being handed Noah. Probably just another drill. I thought. It’s no big deal. I had never been more wrong.
I woke up on the cold, hard cellar floor, again. Noah and Delaney were sprawled out on the thin mattress that we share. I picked up the blanket that somehow ended up on the floor and covered them with it. I made my way across the cellar, I could feel the icy cold concrete on my feet. I picked up a piece of dusty white chalk and made a line on the wall. My one 1850th line. Every single day I wondered if I’d ever get out.
I shivered, even inside the cellar, the air was bone chilling. I trudged my way to the ‘kitchen’, which was really just a bunch of storage bins full of non perishable goods, bottled water, and gas to power the small gas stove we use to cook some of our meals. I took out four styrofoam bowls and poured small amounts of cereal into each one. My dad was passed out next to his radio and walkie talkie, both of them blaring just in case there is someone who survived like us.
I woke up the kids and fed them. Then I ate mine. I glanced over at the small mirror we had.
My long, greasy, uncut dirty blonde hair fell on my freckled face. My hazel eyes scanned the rest of my body. My scrawny, malnourished, pale body. Over the five year I had been in here, I have changed so much.
I had just finished cleaning up after our dinner, baked beans and hot dogs, when I heard the walkie talkie make a weird noise, like people talking. My dad was asleep, so I grabbed the walkie talkie.
“Hello?” I asked, cautiously. “Hello? Is anyone there?” The walkie talkie went to static for a moment, then a voice appeared. It was a deep, crisp voiced, definitely a mans.
“Hello, this is the President of the United States. Who is it that we’re talking to?”
“Hadley Birch.” I responded quietly. I shook my dad awake and filled him in on what was happening.
“It has been two years since the war ended and we are fully confident that it is safe for you to leave wherever you are as long as you have gas masks and you’re covering your whole body.” I rolled my eyes, so we wouldn’t be able to go out, it’s not like people just had gas masks.
“If you are able to make it out,” he went on, “Please travel to D.C so we can rebuild our society with all of our survivors.”
My dad smiled and took out a bin, filled with shiny yellow suits and gas masks.
“Looks like we’re going to D.C!”
My dad passed out nuclear gas masks and full body hazmat suits, complete with gloves and hats.
“Where did you get all of this?” I asked, suspiciously. The shiny yellow suits were as bright as the sun, or at least I think that the sun’s bright, how would I know? I haven’t seen it for ten years.
“It doesn’t matter where I got them, it matters that you guys need to put these on.” I quickly grabbed Delaney, now eleven years old, and helped her into her suit while my dad helped Noah into his.
I reached into the tub, searching for a suit my size. There weren’t any. There were two small ones, one for a baby, and one for somebody way bigger than I am.
I glanced at my dad, he was putting on his suit, with a smile that I hadn’t seen in ten years.
“Um, dad, where’s my suit?” I slowly questioned, confused and fearful that I would always be stuck in here. He looked at me and then at the tub. And then all at once, his smile had vanished.
He darted to the tub, carefully taking all of the gas masks out and then dumping out the suits. He searched and searched, double checking then triple checking the sizes and checking all of the other boxes. No suit. He tore his off and handed it to me.
“No, dad, I’m not taking your suit!” I handed it back to him. He handed it back to me.
“I’m gonna wear the oversized one, it will fit me better than it will fit you.” I sighed, I guess he was kind of right. I unzipped the smaller suit and stepped into it.
We all secured our gloves and hats to our suits with duck tape. The masks smelled like a hospital, like that thing they rub on your arm before giving you a shot.
After making sure we were all secure and and all of our food and water was tightly secured in the extra suits we had, he swung open the cellar door.
We walked into the bright sun, even brighter than our suits. All of the bright green plants and lush grass that I remembered from my childhood was replaced by crunchy yellow nothing. All of the happy wildlife had disappeared.
I slowly sniffed the air and almost threw up. It smelled like old sewage and new vomit. The hospital smelling mask just added to the putrid odor.
We made our way to our old house, or what was left of it, a pile of rubble that kind of resembles a house. I walked through what was the front door and trudged through to my old room. I looked around, at all of the pretty pink princess toys, even my old mirror was shaped like a tiara.
I looked around some more, surprised to only find one picture. Me and a boy. Who is this? I thought, and then remembered that I always wrote on the backs of my pictures. I tore the frame off the picture and read what my sloppy, fourth grader handwriting wrote. Me and Liam, summer of 2032 at old pier beach. Followed by a little heart.
Then it all rushed back to me, Liam was my best friend. A lonesome teardrop streamed down my cheek.
“Had, where are you?” My dad shouted.
“Over hear.” He found me before I could wipe my tear away. He saw the picture and understood. He wrapped his thin arms around me, as I bawled into his shoulder. It was a nice moment, but a very short one.
“Dad!” Noah shouted. “There’s an empty car over here!” My dad jumped away from me and ran to the car.
“My old car, I wonder if she still runs.” He hopped in it and grabbed a set of keys that were hidden in the counsel. Vroom vroom! The engine roared.
My dad packed us up and all of our supplies and we were on our way to D.C.
Three Weeks Later
We were on track, only stopping to get supplies at the empty gas stations and fill up the car with the gallons of gas we had.
Noah and Delaney were sleeping, it was way past midnight. I was about to doze off when I heard a rumbling sound, followed by a popping noise. My dad pulled over and got out. Thankfully, the kids were sleeping, because there was language not appropriate for children being said. My dad got back into the car, waking both of the kids up.
“What happened?” I asked, cautiously.
“We have a flat tire.” He sighed. Delaney cried. Noah yelled. I just thought, great, now how are we going to get to D.C? It was like my dad could read my mind.
“I guess that we’ll have to walk.” He slowly said, like he was still processing his thought. “Yeah, we’ll have to walk.” Now he was talking clearer, but still like he was in shock. “Get some sleep, we need the rest for the long walk we’ll be taking tomorrow.” He put his seat down and covered up with a blanket. I helped Noah and Delaney get situated, Noah on the floor and Delaney on the seats, and crawled to the front of the car to sleep before a long day of traveling.
Two Weeks Later.
I had thought that we’d only have to walk for a few days, not a few weeks. We only stopped to eat and sleep. We would go into empty houses to sleep, the ones that weren’t completely destroyed by the war. We had eventually given up on the hazmat suits and gas masks, but replaced them with long pants and long sleeve shirts and just normal masks that doctors wear in surgery.
I was getting ready to lose hope of ever getting to D.C. Delaney had gotten sick, probably pneumonia, which doesn’t help her already flared up astma. She gets carried so she doesn’t drain all of her energy. Noah and I carry the supplies. At night, when it’s raining or snowing, which never happened in California, we can’t build a fire. We raided a store and got one small tent, enough for two people to fit comfortably or four to fit very uncomfortably.
The wind at night was bone chilling. Even in the tent, we could hear the wind howling like a hungry wolf. The wind in the day was even worse because you didn’t get any shelter from it.
On a particular morning, I was walking in the lead, my turn carrying Delaney, who was now very feverish. I saw the sign first, it read Washington, D.C. One Hundred Miles. So we’re closer than the one that read Two Hundred Miles.
We were getting closer but Delaney didn’t have much time left. She couldn’t even stand, the second you let go of her, she fell to the ground. It was about noon, time for whatever lunch we could get.
I plopped Delaney down onto the ground, her leaning on Noah, while helped my dad build a fire and cook our last batch of hot dogs.
We ate slowly, all of us already drained from different things. Me from carrying Delaney, Delaney from being sick, Noah from carrying all of the supplies, and my dad from never sleeping due to worry and a bad case of insomnia.
I stood up and put out the crackling fire. Delaney leaning her small, petite body on Noah, who was slowly brushing out her thin blonde hair.
Then, we all heard a sound we hadn’t heard in forever. A truck. Not just a pickup truck, but a semi. It was heading towards us, or maybe towards the sign that points them towards D.C. I didn’t care.
I started waving my arms in front of the driver and they pulled over. The driver stayed in the truck, however the man in the passenger seat hopped out. He was tall and fit. He had dark brown hair, not necessarily are buzz cut, but it was close. His green eyes scanned me, and then a tear streamed down his cheek.
“Hadley?” He asked slowly. All of the memories flashed back to me. Tears poured down my face.
“Liam?’ He nodded. I ran to him. He picked me up as I clung to him.
“Liam, I thought that you were dead.” I spoke between sobs.
“I thought that you were dead, Had.” He was sobbing too. The driver of the semi got out of the truck.
“Liam, I’m assuming you know these people, am I correct?” He spoke in a thick southern accent and he was wearing military clothes, I noticed that so was Liam.
“Yes sir, Hadley was my best friend before the war.” He took a picture out of his pocket, the same picture that I had in my frame, and showed it to the man. Liam whispered something to the man and he nodded.
“Where are y’all headed?” He asked.
“Washington, D.C sir.” My dad spoke. The man nodded again.
“Would y’all like a ride, we have room in the back.” He gestured towards the semi.
“Yes please, thank you so much.” I quickly answered. Liam nodded towards Delaney.
“What’s wrong with her?” He asked.
“She’s very sick, we think pneumonia.” I brushed my fingers through my snarled hair, like I had when I was younger.
“Well, we have medicine in the back. Come on, lets get her in.” Liam lifted up Delaney, her barely conscious of what was happening. The driver swung the door open and revealed maybe a dozen thin mattresses, piles of supplies sorted in labeled bins, from food to weapons, and probably twenty other people.
Liam layed Delaney down onto her own mattress and ran to the medicine bin.
“Is anyone here who was a doctor or nurse?” He announced. A women appeared.
“I was a pediatric doctor.” She announced.
“What do you think is wrong with her.” I asked the lady. She quickly examined her, then frowned.
“Looks like pneumonia. How long has she been sick?”
“A few weeks.” I answered. The lady looked through the bin, finding a blue looking medicine.
“Give her this every four hours. It may take some time to heal her because she has been sick for some time, but it should do the trick.” She also tossed a red inhaler. “This is for the asthma.” She packed everything up and made her way back to her mattress.
I left Noah with Delaney. She and Noah both fell asleep, along with my dad on the next mattress over. I sat on the ground, Liam right next to me.
“So, how did you survive?” I asked him.
“So, I was at my brothers soccer awards thing at the Pizza Palace when the warning came through on the news. Turns out that the owner of the place was obsessed with the idea of nuclear war. He had built a bunker filled with food and beds.” He smiled, almost laughing.
“So where’s Luke. Or your mom and dad?” I asked. His smile left his face.
“Luke is back in D.C. with his wife and son.” That surprised me. “But my parents didn’t even make it into the bunker. My mom was still at work and my dad wasn’t allowed in. There were too many people, they said. Five of the men were kicked out.” He started crying. So did I.
“Liam, I’m so sorry.” He hugged me. When we were kids, he was always my shoulder to cry on, now I was his.
After he finished crying, I explained to him how I had survived and what happened with the car.
“Wow. You know, I always wondered if that was why your dad was blowing up your phone that one day.” I nodded, that was exactly why. We sat in silence, me leaning my head on his hard shoulder. “You should get some sleep, Had. We’ll probably be at the camp by the morning.”
“What camp?” I asked, puzzled.
“The survivor camp. It’s where President Calloway told you to go, right?” I shook my head.
“He never told us to go anywhere but D.C.” I thought a moment. Maybe he did. “He probably did, he said something about meeting up in D.C. to rebuild our society. He probably just forgot to tell us where.” I yawned. “I think I’m gonna go to bed.” I look around for an empty mattress, none. Just the one with Liam’s stuff on it. He must have read my mind.
“Yeah, you can stay on my bed. I’ll just sleep on the floor.”
“No, you can stay on the bed with me.” I paused. “It will be like old times when you had sleepovers at your house and all of the boys took the air mattresses so you’d share your bed with me.” I laughed and so did he.
“Ok, hear, PJ pants and oh, looks like we’re out of shirts.” He looked around the semi. “Here, one of my undershirts.” He handed to me and then turned around so I could change. I laid down then he laid down.
I woke up to Liam shaking me awake.
“Had, we’re here.” I jumped up. My dad had an already less sick Delaney on his back and Noah was not far behind, helping the other boys unload some of the supplies.
I tried to grab a box but Liam stopped me.
“Most of this is being left in the semi for our next run, I think the boys got everything we’re taking out.” He went through a clothing box and pulled out shorts and a tank top, along with a hair brush. “Here, I’ll give you a minute.” I quickly changed while I watched Liam argue with the driver. I brushed my hair then joined them outside.
“What was that about?” I asked. He shrugged and shook his head.
“I told him that I wasn’t going on anymore runs because guys with families don’t have to. And then he told me that I wouldn’t have the nice trailer that I have. I told him that I will because I’ll still work in the guard but I just won’t go on runs.” He smiled. “That shut him up real quick.”
We walked through the camp, which looked like a huge trailer park. He pointed out the regular people section, which consisted of tiny campers. Then there was the military section, where he lives.
“Your family can have a camper in this section too if your dad signs up for the guard.” He went on to point out a huge trailer. The presidents trailer.
He showed me the inside of his trailer, two bedrooms with a small kitchen and living space, along with a tiny bathroom.
“You guys can stay here until you get assigned a camper.” I smiled.
“Thanks.” I didn’t only smile for the camper. I smiled because I finally would be able to live my life how it was meant to be lived. With the people I love without the fear of dying.
From all of the bad in my life, I had finally found the good. And I will never let go of it.
Five years later.
Dillon hopped onto my bed, followed by Eve.
“Happy anniversary, Momma!” They both screeched in unison. I pulled both of them into a hug.
“Thanks, you two! Where’s daddy?” I looked around the camper, he wasn’t anywhere that I could see. They both shrugged.
“Can we go play outside?” Eve asked me, giving me her pouty eyes.
“Ok, but let me get dressed and get Rosie ready first.” I quickly put on a cute black and white romper and fishtail braided my hair. Then I made my way to the bassinet in the corner if my room. I picked up Rosie, changed her diaper and put her in a pink tutu. With Rosie in one arm, I grabbed my sunglasses from the table by the door and opened the door.
Liam was waiting there, holding a bouquet of red roses, fake of course. Behind him was my family, my dad in his guard uniform, a healthy Delaney in shorts and a t-shirt, and Noah, in his junior guard uniform.
“Happy anniversary!” He whispered. I smiled, my tear ducts filling quickly.
“I can’t believe it’s already been four years!” I hugged him, still holding Rosie. My dad took Rosie and I sat down next to Liam on the picnic table that served as our dining room table. Delaney served us bacon, eggs, and pancakes while Noah helped Dillon and Eve with their breakfast.
I looked around at my beautiful family. My siblings, my dad, my kids, and my amazing husband. I looked around at them and knew that the tough times were over. I knew that everything was going to be ok.