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Lenora’s Landing (story 1)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic


Lenora Lopez, fearless adolescent and first-generation Mexican immigrant, faces a disaster so enormous she may lose all she loves.

Submitted: June 11, 2018

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Submitted: June 11, 2018

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I elbow the scratchy armrest, the stale scent of popcorn wafting from my sister, Fatima. Adjacent me, she digs to the bottom of a small bag, pitching a few kernels on the backseat while I glare at three skinny girls featured on the magazine I hold. Don’t show me their first-world problems when my messy, complicated world remains fragmented. Seriously. Look at these girls, dressed in thin plaid jumpers. Smirking with their pink-plasticky lips, they pretend to fist-pump two nail-polish bottles beside their whiny slogan.

“We bling our blues away with bedazzanails. Our pep to your step.”

Okay, okay. I’ll agree. Slogan’s gotta a cutesy jingle. The inside message though, the one that claims their privileged homes are so depressing they require a Gucci pick-me-up. That, right there proves how shallow-to-the-max these thin-mint trolls are. Betcha they never experienced one-real day in their snoberrific lives.

I toss the magazine. It slaps the cup-holder then slides to the dirty floor. Dumb. Here Mom wasted fifteen-bucks on this magazine for me to what? Get a heavy dose of spoiled and entitled richees? Paint me judgy, a lot bit jealous. Their posh existences aren’t exactly obtainable to me.

Case and point? My rust-splotched car. It sways on the shuddering overpass, the abrupt motion shoving me toward Fatima whose pop-corn scatters across the shadowy backseat spotted with yellow rays. Streaming through the dusty windows, the sun, a fiery ball, dances above Franklin Peak and reflects in the rear-view mirror where mom’s coffee-colored eyes stare. She hums La Cucaracha. Her attempt to settle our nerves. Mainly Fatima’s nerves since mine are unbreakable. Even if part of me whispers that I’m weak, worthless, a complete waste of space. I stomp that ugly part to the bottom of my brain and stuff her in a box that I alone control. Hiding my true self is just that easy. Easy or stupid. Either way, I learned from the best — Mom.

She clenches the steering wheel as we snake down the shivering mountain road. As it jolts again, I grapple for my seatbelt wedged next to Fatima.

She curves her quivering tanned hand round the roof handles, squeaking in Spanish, “I’m scared.”

“Chillax.” I say. “Nothin’ to worry ‘bout.”

“Tell that to Mrs. Spencer.” Fatima squeezes the handle tighter than Mom’s brown pony-tail. It sways over the driver’s headrest. “Be prepared. That’s what Mrs. Spencer says.”

“Pffh. She also says snakes have nine lives.”

“Well, maybe they do.”

“Whatevs.” I continue fidgeting with the belt that for some reason keeps unlatching. “You’re gullible.”

“Am not!”

“Wanna bet?”

“Chicas. Chicas.” Mom brakes behind a fat line of traffic that’s as long as the ponderosa pines peppering the road’s sloped gravel edges.

Mom blurts over her shoulder. “Put it on.”

“Working on it.” I wrestle with the belt clasp that still won’t go in.

“Rápido.”

“I’m tryin’.” I examine the latch further and spy a popcorn kernel jammed to the bottom.

Go fig. Fatima’s shabby eating habits strike again. I should’ve sat in the passenger seat. Should’ve packed a toothbrush to freshen my day-old burrito breath. Should’ve taken that job at Frosty King instead of being guilted by our family camping tradition or Mom who’s locked me into babysitting Fatima practically twenty-four-seven the whole summer. Forget about teen time. Or kissing boys. Or even Snapchatting the few friends I have on my phone plan Mom can no longer pay for.

Seems everything in my life has turned to crap. Not literal crap. Bad luck crap. Call it Midas’ reverse. A crap curse I wish to vanquish quicker than when it smote me a decade ago. I sigh, glancing up as five vehicles suddenly swerve across the median. A huge boulder snaps off a nearby arch formation and shuttles our way, whamming the van in front of us.

Oh my God! The van crunches like an aluminum pan in a garbage disposal. Scrap metal and a pink haired Barbie ping-pong off the squished fender and fling at our windshield, busting it. In ten different places, glass shatters to our indenting dash.

Fatima shrieks.

A purple iPhone hits the road.

“Hola! Hola!” Some lady hollers from the phone. “Que esta pasando?”

Mom recites a Catholic chant, tapping the sign-of-the-cross on herself. “Cristo Jesus. Pon tu Espíritu Santo sobre ellos. Sobre nosotros.”

The road bounces up, tossing me from my seat.

“Hang on.” Mom removes a hand from the wheel and grabs my ankle.

Fatima shrieks louder once the road, jerking our car again, catapults me forward and Mom loses her grip on me. I launch out of the windshield, my eyes bugged open, my pulse hammering through my flailing limbs.

“Lenora!” Mom’s heavy Hispanic accent spits in my pounding ears while I fly over the wrecked van and three other damaged cars.

“Fatima. Mama.” I screech. Whooshing toward the shaking guardrail, I enter this crazy time-warp where seconds literally slow into hours. Where all I can focus on is that Sandhill Crane honking in the cloudless sky. Its wings, large and white, mirror an angel’s wings swooping in my direction as I collide hip-first with the gravel berm, my bone achy beneath me.

“Lenora.” Mom continues to scream.

I scramble to my knees despite the ache. Adrenaline spiraling through me, a green pick-up truck fish-tails beside me. I scoot away from it, my palms burning and imbedded with sharp pebbles. Pain sears across my arms and wrists. My blood smearing on the gravel, I crawl toward a group of leafy pines.

“Walk your brown ass back to Mexico.” A man, with a cigarette butt between his lips and a beer can in his hand, slurs out the truck window.

He flicks the smoking butt my way. I dodge it.

“Outta my way.” He flips his finger at me, the traffic behind him zig-zagging when the ground seizures. Splinters. Cracks down the middle, cutting the guard rail in two and belching out wet sulphuric burps that spray up my sun-dress.

“Help!” I cling to a tree, the crack enlarging beneath my sandals and beneath the long line of traffic. Brakes eek. Cars flip. Boulders boom off the alpine summit and bash vehicles down the length of the road, the mountain tremoring like an igneous skyscraper crumbling atop an overpopulated desert. Atop the flat El Paso valley, thousands of feet below, slab rock hurtles, smashing terra-cotta roofs. Decimating wind turbines. Pulverizing lumbering palm trees. Pummeling seven-story municipal buildings. Entire streets and not-so-quaint burbs I used to walk convulse, rifting apart before my next breath. Before my mind can process what may happen to me.

The ground, thrashing under me, uproots the tree I’m clutching and throws me sideways. Panic exploding in my chest, I roll down the sloped cliff unable to stop. Unable to latch onto anything but fistfuls of sandy stones and branches I snatch from pines falling after me so fast I figure this is it. I’m gonna die. Right here off the side of this mountain, my fifteen years of life flash into view, funneling me through a collection of memories and people.

My eleven-year-old sister Fatima and her high-pitched laugh each time I walk her to school, each time she purposely forgets her backpack so someone will pay attention to her. Mom, her comforting lilac scent and the delish flan de leche she sometimes bakes when she isn’t working twelve-hour shifts at the Plaza Juárez — the hotel that sometimes gives her those after-dinner chocolates and those piña colada shampoo bottles. Math coach Burton who awarded me with the state calculus champion cup that’s probably no longer balanced on my Selena Gomez decorated bookshelf. My ESL tutors, who spent this whole year boosting my English skills. My classmates who almost got shot down last month by those insane supremacists. My dead-beat dad who never showed up to my ninth-grade graduation. My Siamese cat, Guavalupe who must be meowing beneath my unmade bed if it’s still standing. If my two-room parish-owned trailer is still standing for that matter. If only I hadn’t said goodbye ten years ago to my sweet Abuela. Hadn’t left her; the one person I truly trust, in the one place I call home — Tijuana.

“Save me!” I wail to the heavens or to whoever is up there. “I beg you.”

A final groan slips from my lips. As the slope declines quicker, I shield my head.

Thud! Thud! Thud!

Everything stops.

***

I toddle on the clay floor, fisting Papa’s coins, my ears ringing from all the noise. Loud and forceful, shouts reverberate in the background while I enter the dim kitchen lit only by the moon. Shining through the window, the moon glints off Abuela’s silvery hair pinned in a loose bun. In her grasp she holds a large ladle. She sways her hips and hums, La Cucaracha while she stirs a cuminy scented pot of Frijoles del la Olla on the wood burning stove I near.

“Precaución.” She picks me up and shows me the bubbling black beans. “Mira, mi amor.”

“Abuela,” I squeal, clapping the coins together. “Abuela. Play Música.”

“Bueno, Lenora.” She curves her brown lips in her signature smile, revealing her crooked front teeth. “Such a smart girl.”

She laces her waxy fingers into my wispy black bangs.

“Give it, little twit.” Father storms into the kitchen, his flat mustache flouncing and his camouflaged uniform bunching as he seizes the coins from me. “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

“Nasty gringo.” Abuela tilts her chin his way. “She’s not even three. Let her be a baby.”

“F-U. Tell your worthless daughter if she wants this baby so damn much she can pay for her and the other one she’s carrying. I'm done. Never wanted either of these brats in the first place.” He spits on Abuela’s shoes then stamps off.

I whimper, hiding my face in Abuela’s blouse.

“Promise me.” Abuela kisses my cheek. “Always stay this kind and young.” She swaddles me in her arms, her love unconditional, a warm glove fitting me perfectly, banishing my shame, my fear, my grief.

Until she vanishes. Until I transform into my older self, fallen on all fours, the clay floor cold under me. Tears staining my blood-caked hands, I weep.

***

I wince. Waking under the blazing sun, I wink away the sweat drizzling from my brow, my throat parched; the air so hot and dry it burns in my lungs and burns the crusted soil. On my right, a barrel cactus sticks up tall, the thick pleats in its trunk piled with piercing thorns capable of impaling that cattle mooing closer than I expect since the nearest dude ranch sits at the foothills. Quite amazing they wandered all the way out here and speckled the ground with their rotten manure, reeking of really bad farts. Blech! Wish I could say this was a night-terror. That if I pinched myself I’d be safely back in my Chevy with Fatima beside me and Mom driving in the front seat. A weekend camping trip we saved all year to embark on ended two days early by that earthquake. By who knows how much damage it caused. How long it lasted. Or how I survived that brutal fall. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I’m dead. Maybe I’m dreaming after all.

Except if I were dreaming then why does it feel like ten-hundred knives are stabbing my bones? My left leg screams beneath my excruciatingly achy hip once I shift to my back. I prod myself to a sitting position, inspecting my crushed femur bone. A jagged stick is shoved into my thigh. The gash encircling it oozes with white gunk laced with trickling blood. Doesn’t take a brainiac biologist for me to realize infection may set in. As if I can wish a first-aid kit into existence.

All I can do is gape at that same Sandhill Crane honking bugle calls overhead. Across the brittle landscape, it soars above miles and miles of smushed vehicles, crushed streets, car-sized crevices, piles of pines, half-crumbled buildings, snapped pipes, downed wind turbines and dropped power lines crackling with blue sparks. Other than a few cows roaming over giant boulders and picking at rare patches of dune grass, no one is in sight. Not a drop of water is in sight either. I’m so thirsty. Gotta get a drink. Get medical attention. Get moving up that mountain and find my family. They might be trapped. Might need help. Might be... Don’t go there.

I cry out as I push myself to my unscathed foot, leaving the other one dangling. A wobbly stance I sustain a few moments before I collapse backwards, kicking up dust. I sneeze twice, almost a third time but hold it when something rattles. A familiar rattle I once heard eons ago during my only camping trip with dad before he abandoned us for good. That night in Playa Salamando I crept with dad out of our tent and peed in the sand without a clue of the dangers or the deadly creature that could be lurking here now.

My spine prickles once I stare into the slanted onyx eyes of a Mojave Rattlesnake. It slithers closer, my pulse pattering on my wrists where I imagine it biting. That’s all it takes to kill its victim. Starts with muscle loss and a whole-body rash. Ends with complete paralysis and death unless you’re as fortunate as I was at age seven when dad was supposed to be watching me. He walked away the second that snake chomped its venom into me. Forty-seven vials of anti-venom later I finally recovered. So yeah, I think I know a thing or two about these vicious brown-checkered beasts. Stay still. My only choice. Frightening part is I didn’t escape the last one. I swallow hard as it hisses, its tongue flicking out. So what if it has poor vision. It certainly smells me. I can tell. It uncoils itself, arching up, its jaw widening. Saliva dribbles from its fangs.

It leaps. I screech.

Someone whoops behind me.

“There you are, Flo.”

The snake pivots. I do too slowly, looking straight at Mrs. Spencer.

“My poor baby.” She lugs Flo up, snuggling it against her chest as if it’s my cute furry Gauvalupe. “You must’ve been so frightened being out here all alone.”

The snake? Frightened? What about me? The girl who just rolled down a mountain during an earthquake and was nearly attacked by your creepy pet.

I raise my hand to Mrs. Spencer. “A little help here.”

Mrs. Spencer completely ignores me as she strokes her gruesome snake, her pale raisin fingers practically touching its fangs.

Um hello, cray cray! Gonna assist me or not?

It slinks across her shoulders, its scaly skin sweeping her pruned cheeks.

Eek!

She finally glances down at me. “And you are?”

Come on. We’ve only been neighbors for the past seven years.

“Name’s Lenora.”

“Sure it is dear.” She wraps Flo’s rattling tail round her flabby neck like its some stylish scarf. “Guess you can come with me too.”

How nice of her. I feel so honored. “But actually, I need to hike back up the mountain and find my mom and little sister.”

“Not in your condition.”

Hilarious. Now she notices my injuries. What tipped her off? The stick in my thigh? My bones poking out my elbow? Or my constant grimace?

She retrieves what resembles a satellite phone from her back pocket. Nice. Didn’t expect this Golden Girl to have that kind of tekkie device.

She taps in a few numbers. “Got another one out here. East quadrant.” She swipes the screen off then doles me a bottle hooked in her belt loop.

“Gracias.”

“Speak English.”

Sheesh lady! Rude much? I take a long swig, the water oh so refreshing despite that it’s warm and has a plastic aftertaste.

“Sit tight.”

No shit Sherlock. Cause I’m really able to run a marathon at the moment. Even though I want to. Quick. Away from her freakish snake and its rattler tail. It squiggles its spooktastic scowl in my direction.

“Mind moving your thing?” My words drown under the whirring noise of a camo-covered chopper. Its propellers swoosh sand into the air as it settles down on the disgusting cow patties, the noxious reek making me sneeze continuously until that snake hisses. “Move your pet!”

“Grumpy girl. Don’t mind her, Flo.” Mrs. Spencer presses a smooch to the snake’s ickster nose. It licks her chin.

Yuck! Some man wearing a military uniform jumps from the chopper and darts in my direction.

“Thanks for calling.” He says.

Mrs. Spencer strokes the snakes tail. “My pleasure dear.”

He hoists me, my teeth gritted as my muscles spasm, my leg twinging the faster he hauls me.

“Ouch.” I suck in seething breaths. “Slow down.”

“Can’t. Risk of aftershock is too great.” The soldier yells over the virring propellers of the chopper we near.

He props me on a back seat, the knives in my bones wrenching as he elevates my injured leg. As we zoom off, I study a bunch of helicopters descending on the cracked mountain road. People shriek beneath smashed vehicles. Others claw inside cavernous holes and jump over split slabs of asphalt while soldiers use ropes and the jaws of life to rescue them. Deliverance my Mom and Fatima may never obtain if I can’t track down our car. It’s no where. I frantically search, fear dragging my brain into a comatose daze. A result of my crap curse. Or my blood loss. Or my strenuous fall. Or perhaps whatever plasticky weirdness was in that water. Or a combination of every nutzo event that happened today.

My eyelids droop shut, my mind waning in and out. While the chopper ascends higher, I barely have energy to move. Let alone think. Sleep pours over me like a warm glass of milk.

***

I rouse, blinking at hundreds of wounded people. Crammed around me in this huge gymnasium, they sprawl on foam cots lined up side by side with only a few vacant cots situated around the room below basketball nets, broad fans and acoustic ceiling tiles similar to the ones in my school. Except my school has tiger mascot posters on the white walls while this place has wood panels and a new load of survivors straggling in. Many, bloodied and crippled, they’re being carted by soldiers toward the empty cots as old as the one I lay on. It’s soft. Short. So squishy it feels I could sink to the floor and become mummified by this mesh blanket cloaking me toe to chin. Or maybe I’ll go blind from these flickering lights, the fluorescent bulb type. Tube-shaped, hung between the fans. Migraine inducing bright if you ask me, worsened by the tannic scent of alcohol wipes and sterilized gloves. Strong enough to make my eyes dry and my nostrils itch. Low in my chest I yowl once I stretch my leg out. Once I peel the blanket down, I notice a hard white cast wrapped around my thigh. On my brow I feel a wide gash that throbs the more people yelp. From every angle, doctors set bones and stitch gashes while nurses dole meds and offer bottled drinks.

“Water.” I extend an arm out.

A nurse wanders in my direction and hands me a bottle which I immediately uncap and sip. Get water. Check. Get medical attention. Check. Next on my list: find my family.

I scan the gymnasium which I now recognize as the one in the basement of Saint Thomas’ Parish where I attended a Zika-virus fund-raising dinner five months ago. Where black-clothed tables replaced these cots that I scrutinize thoroughly without a trace of Fatima or Mom. I tell myself not to panic. That they’re probably still out there. Hopefully not in a ditch. Or crushed beneath a boulder.

Don’t go there! I repeat to myself. The sooner I track them down the better since the risk of aftershock is great according to what that soldier said. Where is he anyway? Maybe I can convince him to assist me. Over there, past that last cot near the gym entrance, I spy him. He carries a girl with blonde pig-tails, her frail body smaller than Fatima’s. Her face lacerated and her shoulder bones poked out from their socket, she bawls, the sounds heavy in my ears. I wanna bawl along with her.

And I would if I my task wasn’t so urgent. I wave wildly, flagging down the soldier.

He settles the girl atop a cot then shuffles around the maze of beds and nurses.

“Yes?” He says once he nears me.

“Fly me up the mountain. I need to search for my family.”

“Good luck with that.” He snorts then strides away as if he could care less whether my family lives or dies.

“Welcome to my world.” Someone mumbles in a thick Pakistani accent. I’ve heard that phrase, welcome to my world, before. My calculus classmate, Adham often says it.

I glance beside me and sure enough. It’s him.

“Glad to see ya survived, bae.”

I am not his bae regardless that he did steal a kiss from me a year ago beneath our high-school bleachers. Sure it was a heart-thumping kiss, the kind of kiss you remember for days, maybe months after as if it never really ended. As if your lips are in limbo between reality and that slow, sultry moment. Even now I lick my lips, examining his wide mouth curving up as he slouches on his cot, his torso spotted with bruises. Below curly black side-burns, thick gauze patches his skin.

“Careful who you talk to round here.” He rests his cream-colored turban against the brick wall, flexing the underside of his brown bicep where more gauze is taped. “Some have plans for us.”

“Plans?”

“Keep your mouth shut, Taliban.” The man with the shaven-head next to Adham blurts; the same man who told me to walk myself back to Mexico.

Jerkish skinhead didn’t have the decency to help me up when I landed beside his truck. And yeah, maybe I’m uncertain of my emotions for Adham but I won’t let some pricktastic racist slander him.

“Keep your own mouth shut.” I jut my nose in the skinhead’s direction.

He chuckles. “You’re all the same. Mooching immigrants. Using my hard-earned money to hijack my country. Ain’t that right, army-boy?” He yells to the soldier I just talked to.

The soldier rolls his eyes while a cop pushes an empty wheel chair past a few nurses.

He halts in front of me. “Miss Lenora Lopez.”

Wait? How does he knows my name? Did he finger-print me or something?

I study his crew-cut hair, his starched uniform and his badge reading, Lieutenant Lynch. Freaky name. Add that to his orange nose, bent at the tip mimicking a pig’s snout. Double freaky.

He arches his brow as if I’m a turd on the sole of his gray shoes. “I have official orders to escort you elsewhere.”

Elsewhere?

Adham shifts to his side, his cot creaking under him. “Who authorized your orders?”

“Not your concern.”

“Hell Yeah it is. She’s my friend.” Adham straightens his bandaged torso. “Let’s try that again. Who authorized your orders?”

“Suggest you mind your own business, Mr. Ahamdi.”

Again, how does he know our identities? I gulp repeatedly when Lynch side-glances two other officers striding in our direction.

They scrutinize Adham and I as they stalk up behind Lynch.

“Mr. Ahmadi. Ms Lopez.” One says. “Our cots are overfilling. Lieutenant Lynch here needs both of you to accompany him.”

Really? Why didn’t douchy Lynch state that from the beginning? Course I’ll move if other people like that little girl require my cot. I eye Adham.

“I’m only consenting for the ones who are sicker than us.” He struggles to his feet. “Single us out again tho and you’ll hear from me.”

“Smart decision, Taliban.” The skinhead snickers.

Adham clenches his fists like he might retract his words and fight these bigots. Darn straight I’d enjoy kicking their asses if I was healthy and was positive they wouldn’t arrest us or thwart my chances at locating my family.

“It’s all cool.” I lean over and place a hand on Adham’s.

He gazes at my fingers, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down while my heart thumps as hard as it did when his mouth melted mine. I pull away.

“Here.” He hobbles the few steps to the wheel chair. “Let me help.”

“Gracias.” I brace my arm on the bed, shuddering out a breath as I stand to my good leg and allow Adham to assist me into the chair, his touch stirring the things I feel for him. Things that unearth the weak park of me boxed at the bottom of brain. Vulnerability I can’t succumb to for a boy whose lips set mine on fire and left my mind reeling for months on end.

I inhale steadily, prodding those visions of him away. Safer for me to ignore my emotions and stick to our friendship. Friendship is easy. Uncomplicated. I watch the wheels rotate while we follow Lynch to the gym exit. While the cries of survivors fade and we head to the end of a long hall, I see the parish’s main exit, the double doors caked in dust and chipped in the corners. The glass reflects Lynch’s stone-faced-glare.

For reals. Something ‘bout him doesn’t sit well. Maybe it’s his silence as he leads Adham and I out of the white brick building. Or maybe it’s his robotic-like stride as we near the lot uninhabited except for a couple smashed cars, a van and one police SUV all parked on the splintered asphalt; a result of the earth-quake’s devastation to El Paso. To thousands of displaced Texan citizens now being flown in helicopters over the half-caved in mountain. It towers in the distance above Mrs. Spencer who still surveys the desert area with her ickster snake wrapped round her neck. Guess she’s helping save people which is more than I can say for Lynch.

He scowls while he lead us past the police SUV and toward that van at the back of the lot. As we close in on it, I spy the words embossed on its side.

Homeland Security. That’s odd. Why are we going in this Homeland Security van?

“We did nothing wrong.” Adham says, halting before the van.

“That’s a matter of opinion.” Lynch barks.

“Whose opinion? Yours?” I wipe at the sweat beading behind my neck. “We won’t go. We have rights.”

“Not anymore. Anyone without US citizenship will be deported to their country of origin.”

“You’re lying.” I flick my focus from Lynch to three military helicopters buzzing overhead. “No law changes that fast.”

Lynch scoffs. “You’d be surprised.”

Adham staggers in front of my chair and faces Lynch. “Can’t treat us like criminals.”

“Have it your way.” Lynch whips a gun out and waggles it at Adham. “Either get in the van or I blow your brains out.”

“Leave him alone.” I try to wheel forward. Adham blocks my way as he steps in front me, his head inches from the barrel.

Lynch barks. “Stand down.”

“Stand down yourself.” Adham yanks the gun out of Lynch’s grip and shoots him in the chest. Lynch smacks the ground spine-first.

I shriek, palming my mouth as blood pools my way. As Adham flings the van door open, shouts echo from the parish.

I glance over my shoulder, my pulse drumming out a cadence once two other cops dart out the main entrance.

“Shit. Shit. Shit.” Adham lifts me from my chair.

The cops racing closer, they nab their guns from their holsters the same second Adham sits me in the passenger seat.

He buckles me in then bolts into the driver’s seat, securing himself as well. “Time to go.”

Go? Where? Where can we escape?

Bullets blam our rear window while Adham shoves the pedal down and we burn rubber out of the parking lot.

“Can’t believe I just did that.” Adham yells repeatedly, reminding me that I’m an

accessory to his murder.

Then again it was self-defense. Right? That cop threatened us with death. If Adham hadn’t killed him, the cop would’ve executed us or deported us. Either way we were doomed. Least now I can search for my family.

“Drive up the mountain. My mom and sister are trapped there.”

“Forget it. It’s not safe.”

Another helicopter whirrs above us. We veer left, avoiding a bunch of mangled trees and downed electrical lines.

“I don’t care what’s safe or unsafe. Won’t leave my family.” My gut twists. I wheeze in a strangled breath at the real possibility that it’s too late. That I may never again share moments or memories with them. No. I refuse to believe that they’re gone.

 “Stop worrying, Lenora. We’ll figure this out somehow.” Adham manhandles the steering wheel, sirens nee-nering after. The police SUV, shown in the rear-view mirror, zooms, gaining on us.

“Frik!” Adham lays on the gas, the engine revving so loudly I expect it to burst before we reach that mammoth crevice.

Unless we crash into those flattened buildings first. We swerve around them, Adham flooring the accelerator. My breath catches in my throat when the police sirens grow shriller. When we close in on that crevice, a military helicopter thith-thith-thiths to the ground in front of us.

“Outta of the road. Idiot!” Adham slams on the brake.

We skid left then right, our tires squealing. The police car rushing toward us, we slide to a stop inches from the helicopter and from the man who springs out. I recognize his flat mustache. His angular face. His military uniform.

I gasp. Dad? What’s he doing here? Darting in our direction, he runs beneath a billboard identical to those dumb teen magazine girls who pretended to fist-pump those nail polish bottles. Their whiny slogan — We bling our blues away with bedazzanails. Our pep to your step — rings in my ears as Dad’s pace appears to dwindle and time slows to a crawl. I watch that Sandhill Crane honking in the sky and that police SUV reflecting in our mirror.

The officers seem to swing their doors open at a sloth’s speed while I clench Adham’s trembling hand. While the unbreakable part of me shatters into being, my eyes well with tears. Big drops, they drizzle down my cheeks and plop on Adham’s fingers. He exhales stiffly, his face creasing when bullets zoosh our way. They boomerang off our windshield and hit dad in the stomach.

Oh my God.

He crumples to the side, more bullets drilling holes in the smirks of those tabloid girls.

Don’t show me their first-world-problems. Give me my messy, complicated world. A real world crammed with insane challenges that I will change if I survive


© Copyright 2018 Joy Shaw. All rights reserved.

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