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To Begin Anew
As she opened her eyes, she was blinded by the light pouring in from the few uncovered windows. Her head pounded, and slowly she became aware of her surroundings and sat up. Cautiously, she noticed that she had a large bump on the right side of her forehead and that she was covered with debris. Her left leg was partially covered by a rotting wooden board, and there were many holes in the ceiling, from which the wooden board on her foot had probably fallen. She heard a groan from under a pile of wood and sawdust.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” she called out with fear in her voice. As she inched closer to the heap, she noticed it subtly rising and falling, almost in rhythm with her own breathing. Then a board fell from the pile, and an arm peaked out from the side. She let out a small yelp, and leaped back to the wall behind her. A well-built but disheveled man emerged from the pile and, upon seeing her, he made a noise of surprise. The two stared accusingly at each other for a few moments, until she inquired tentatively,
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?” he asked defensively.
“I,” she paused and thought, “I don’t know. And you never answered my question.”
“ Jason.” He replied shortly, and began to walk about the room, searching for an exit of some kind. “The only exit is the staircase, and it’s blocked by the fallen ceiling and that metal beam. By the look of it, it’s about five hundred pounds. There’s no way I could lift it.” He spoke in a monotone voice, and seemed to want to finish his sentences as quickly as possible.
“How can we get out of here then?” She was almost in tears.
“You kids—“ Jason and the girl turned suddenly to the corner of the room, where an old man was leaning against the wall calmly.
“How long have you been standing there?” Jason sputtered.
“Oh, I’ve been here the whole time, watching you two doing nothing in an effort to try to get out of here. As I was saying, you kids didn’t even think things through. Did you ever think to look for a window to escape from? There’s one right over here.” The old man confidently walked to the opposite side of the room, drew his arm back, and punched the glass. When his fist made contact with the glass, instead of breaking it, it knocked against a hard surface. The old man cursed and held his fist in pain.
“It’s acrylic glass. It won’t break. I’m amazed that this stuff is in use, it’s only a very recent development. I could have told you that if you weren’t so adamant about proving us incompetent.” Jason calmly stared down the old man, satisfied that he had made his point. The old man only glared back in return, while the girl looked back and forth between the two men, attempting to understand what was going on.
After the three had searched around the empty room for some time, the old man spoke, “I suppose since we’re going to be in here for a while, I might as well tell you about myself and what I know. I’m Avery Williams; I am a retired watchmaker. Today is April 18, 1906. You probably remember feeling some shaking before you became unconscious. Well, a mighty earthquake hit San Francisco. It was so violent that I was knocked to the ground, and the quaking caused that.” He pointed to a crack down the middle of the room. Each side of it titled upwards slightly, forming a triangle out of the floor. “I do not remember what happened after the shaking, until I woke up on the floor of this room, and watched you until you gained consciousness.”
The girl suddenly ran to the window and began to yell and hit it with her fist. Jason and the old man quickly followed her, thinking at first that she had gone mad, but then saw what had caused her outburst: two men dressed in black standing outside the window. The three of them began to yell, and to their delight, the men turned around. But upon seeing the source of the noise, the men quickly turned back around.
“He made eye contact with me! That b****rd saw me and I know it! What the h*** does he think he’s doing ignoring us?” Avery was furious. A secretive look suddenly appeared on Jason’s face, and he appeared oddly unmoved and unemotional.
Three days passed as the girl, Jason, and Avery realized that the men in black would not release them from the cold concrete room. Without food they quickly grew weary and bony. The girl’s wiry frame was even sicklier looking than before, and her strawberry hair had turned from shining to stringy and lifeless. Jason’s cheeks became gaunt, and it was obvious he was struggling not to show the pain the starvation was causing him. Avery Williams was even crankier than before, and his potbelly was speedily shrinking.
As Jason was staring blankly out the window in the bleak morning sunshine, policemen approached the men in black, who—after a few minutes of arguing—pointed to the window of the concrete room. Jason summoned the other two, and when the police saw their faces in the window, they walked around the building until they were out of sight. Then, they heard footsteps above them, and the policemen already had ropes and were slowly lowering themselves down to the concrete room through the holes in the ceiling.
“How are you feeling? Are any of you injured?” one of the policemen asked them. “We should take them to the hospital to get them nourished.” Again he addressed the three of them, “Are there any more of you? How long have you been down here?”
Mr. Williams answered as the spokesman of the group, “It’s just us three. We think we’ve been here since the earthquake. We weren’t able to find any way to escape.”
One by one, the policemen lifted the three out of the room. A police officer who seemed to be in charge said to them, “These men in black were ordered to guard where you were trapped. This man, Mr. Jason Holland—“, the police officer gestured toward Jason, “—is wanted by Li Zheng, the owner of an opium den in Chinatown, for reasons that will remain confidential. They kept all of you captive down here because they couldn’t run the risk of letting Jason escape while releasing you other two. We’re willing to provide Jason with protection from him. As for you two—“ he said speaking to the girl and Mr. Williams, “could you please provide us with your information?”
Avery told the police officer his information, but when it came time for the girl to give her information, she didn’t know. “I don’t remember anything about myself,” she said weakly, feeling the bump on her forehead once again.
“Well lemme take a look through these missing person reports and see if I can find you.” He shuffled through papers, and finally pulled out one. ‘”Well sweetie, I’m sorry to tell you your parents are dead.” The girl knew she should be sad, but not even remembering her parents she only felt a twinge of sadness. “Your name is Charlotte Williams, and this man, Avery Williams, is your grandfather. You don’t know one another because your mother was estranged. If he will just sign some papers, Mr. Williams can be your new legal guardian.”
Charlotte looked at her grandfather, who was awkwardly staring at his shoes awaiting Charlotte’s decision, and thought back to the past three days she had spent with him trapped in the empty room. He had been grumpy and argumentative, and although they had been in a difficult situation, he didn’t seem like someone she wanted to live with. She decided to trust her gut feeling, she could always change her mind. An orphanage sounded far from enjoyable, but she didn’t want to spend the next few years of her life regretting a decision to move in with her grandfather. For now she would trust in fate, and hope that a generous family would adopt her, allowing her to begin a new life after the one she had lost. For now she would consider moving in with a new family, to begin a new life after the one she had lost.