“Carmen, lo juro por Dios, if I hear just one more complaint from you, I will pull this car over!”
Martha Montero shouted, rapidly shifting her glare from her daughter to the road ahead. Locks of greying hair stuck out of her otherwise black ponytail and framed her sweaty face. She had a wide, squished nose as well as flushed, freckled cheeks which her daughter reflected.
“Ma, we’re on the interstate, where could you possibly pull over?” Carmen huffed and leaned back into the plush of the car seat. She set her feet on the dashboard as she scratched the back of her neck. Carmen had shaved her thick, black hair off that morning as a violent protest against moving. She had left only a few inches of bangs plastered to her ears and forehead, much to her mother’s dismay.
Something in Martha’s brain snapped as she suddenly yanked the steering wheel of her 2003 Honda Civic and forced the car off the highway and onto a rather dry patch of grass.
She stared out the windshield not seeing anything but red. Her hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that, at any sudden stress, she could reasonably snap it in half. Carmen, after recovering from the dangerous swerve, sunk further into her seat, smoothed down what was left of her hair, and bit her lip. She had gone too far. That was clearly evident.
Slowly, Martha sighed and leaned her head against the steering wheel. Her eyebrows were knitted together and her eyes were wet.
“Carmen, for once in your life, could you please just… not be so difficult?” She breathed hoarsely. Her head was still on the steering wheel and her eyes were now closed.
Carmen flicked her thumb in response and muttered a ‘yes, mamá,’ as she stared out the window and onto a rather yellow patch of the dry grass.
As Martha silently backed the car onto the interstate, she sighed again.
To Carmen, this felt like the end of the world. Moving was the worst thing that could possibly happen to her.
Six weeks ago, her mother had announced to her, over Chinese food, that they would be moving to the town of Sweet Haven, Idaho, population 16,389. Carmen had honestly thought of it as a joke or as yet another sign that her dear mother had lost her marbles. And yet, there she was, in an aged, rusted, grey Honda, speeding down the interstate.
Carmen apprehensively opened the shiny ‘Tourist’s Guide to Sweet Haven’ with a scowl. It was one of those ridiculous pamphlets that promoted the ‘heartwarming architecture’ and ‘golden wheat fields that wander past the horizon’ of some redneck town in the middle of nowhere. To say the least, Carmen was not pleased.
Hours ago, her mother had attempted to justify the move, citing that it was a ‘new adventure’ and ‘a chance to make new friends’. In Carmen’s eyes, it was just another chance for Martha Montero to ruin her daughter’s life. Carmen couldn't even begin to list the reasons why this was horrible and yet, every two seconds, she muttered still another reason.
“All my friends at home…” Carmen whispered longingly, watching the cars to the right pass their own.
“You’ll make new ones,” her mother replied tensely.
Carmen made a move for the car’s radio which was playing some silly Dolly Parton song. In an instant, her hand was slapped away by Martha who never even took her eyes off the road.
“Mi radio,” she mumbled with finality.
Carmen muttered something under breathe while Martha turned onto some ridiculously named exit and onto some ridiculously named two lane highway.
Bit by bit, as they went from empty road to completely empty road, the cement and chunks of dried grass melted away into long, bright fields of grain and tall, green stalks of corn.
“The food will suck.”
“Then you can finally learn how to cook.”
Carmen rolled her eyes and groaned. Martha sighed and gripped the steering wheel.
On the right, a bright yellow and blue sign wishing them a ‘Hearty Welcome to Sweet Harvest’ as well as the slogan, ‘It’s Harvest time!’.
Carmen stuck a finger down her throat and retched.
“Keep doing that and you’ll get an eating disorder,” Mather said coolly.
“Well, I’m not the one who needs it,” breathed.
On the horizon, another vehicle appeared, a white pick-up truck, which freely drove over the dark puddles of nothingness splayed out on the road.
Read more of Frog's Hollow here !!
November 22, 1998
My mother is dead. My father too. There is no point in life.
It was another day at school. Another. Horrific. Day.
The cafeteria that smelled like burnt onions, the classrooms that looked like World War II had just happened and the bathrooms that had walls splashed with urine. Nothing different. It’s always been like that. Nevertheless, I could not live another day in this world, suffering, when my life could be way better than it is right now.
I sat on my chair in front of the old desk my mother had been renting from our next-door neighbour. It was a brown wooden desk full of gum and pencil markings that were done by a 10-year-old. It smelled like old newspapers and dead fish. But, I guess it was okay. I made it work while sitting on the very edge of the chair since a dog bit off the other half of it. I learned how to make do with whatever I had. However, I still want to make it better.
It was six o’clock in the evening and it was time for supper. My mother had made buttered carrots, which were borrowed from our neighbour as well.
“Nari! It’s time for supper. Get down here right this instant,” my mother yelled. She isn’t exactly the happiest at times, but I know how hard she works, so I still respect her. I then rushed down, and we all sat down to eat on the floor, as usual. We didn’t have enough money to buy a table, since all of it were used to pay for electricity and water.
My father never came home either; he had late night shifts and early morning jobs every day. So we just supposed that he was okay, living inside the garbage cans to keep himself warm. Sometimes, he would visit us, but we lived too far from his work, and busses were crazy expensive! Riding a bus would be like riding an airplane in first-class! I wonder when I would be able to ride it.
I have always wondered what my classmates’ lives were like. I wonder if they had to worry about food, or worry about electricity and water. They were always well dressed when they were in school, wearing different clothes everyday and smelling as fresh as a flower. I came to school wearing my grandmother’s ripped romper that smelled like mouldy laundry. It looked horrific. But then again, I didn’t have an option. I had to live with what I had and make sure that I was making the most out of it.
It was another day at school. I wore my smelly romper and used a plastic bag to put all my books inside it. Several layers of plastic bags had to be used because one bag couldn’t carry all my books without tearing apart.
However, as I made my way to school, I saw this poster that advertised, ‘Are you sick and tired of your life right now? Do you wish to just restart and make everything go your way? Join us today, and get free money by doing an easy job!’
Wow! Restart my life? Free? Yes! Yes! Yes! This is exactly what I was looking for. I ran back home, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice that I ditched school, and immediately shut my bedroom door. I called the number on the sheet of paper using mom’s ancient phone that can only call three times a day. Most of the time, we use those three calls to talk to my dad, but that never really happened since he was constantly busy. There was only 1 call left on the phone, so I had to make sure that it was worth it. I dialed 877-802-3421. Every time I pressed a button, it made a funny beeping sound.
It started ringing. After a few moments, there was a lady on the phone who said, “Good Afternoon! You’ve reached The Technological Global Organization. How may I help you?”
I was shaking. I’ve never really talked to anyone with perfect grammar and such a soothing voice. I usually talk to myself or mom on an everyday basis. I don’t participate in class, nor do I talk to my schoolmates. The sound of the lady’s voice was like an angel coming from heaven. I wish I sounded like that, but I wished for a lot of other things and this is only one of them.
She went on, “Hello? Hello? You’ve reached the Global Organization! Hello?” Wait. Global Organization? I don’t understand. I was supposed to call the number on the sheet of paper. I then realized that I pressed 2 instead of 1. What am I supposed to do now? The nice lady was still on the phone, so I had to say something.
I continued with a shivering voice,“Hh-hello? Ya-um-well I think I am talking to the wrong person. So m-m-maybe I should go. Thank you though...”
The lady suddenly replied, “Wait! No, don’t go! I think I’ve heard your voice before.”
“Really? You’re probably thinking of someone else. I hafta be honest, I’m kinda invisible in this world,” I mumbled as I was twisting my hair like a shy, little girl.
She then said, “Yes, it is you. I saw you walk down with your mother last week. Remember me? I’m Janet.”
Janet? Do you mean that lady who gave her coat to me when it was raining? I think I remember her. She was that beautiful person who came from a wealthy family. She had long blonde hair and the bluest of eyes that were as blue as the ocean. She was the most lovely person I’ve ever met!
She then said, “Yes, yes, that is me. Janet Witherson,” she calmly mentioned. OH MY GOD. I can’t believe that I am talking to the person who helped me get through the pouring rain!? However, what is she doing, working in The Technological Global Organization? Can I possibly work there with her too? I might be too young, but maybe it’s worth a shot.
Janet and I had a meaningful conversation over the phone before I realized that my mother was already home. I had to go, quick. We quickly said our goodbyes and she told me to meet her in her office tomorrow, at 1 pm. I agreed.
It was noon the next day and I wore the most beautiful dress from my closet. It was a bright yellow romper with white flowers on it. My father had given it to me on my birthday 4 years ago, with all of his money used from his jobs. I’ve only worn it once. I wore it on the day of my 7th birthday when I received a small chocolate cake from our neighbour. It was delicious!
Sneaking out of the house wasn’t easy. I had to wear my dad’s long jacket to cover it up. And before I knew it, I made it to her office. It was a 15-minute walk from our place, but not too far, I guess.
Janet’s office was beautiful! It was a modern building with white walls and a fountain in the middle. The lobby was gigantic! It smelled like an orchid from my neighbour’s garden and the white tea my grandmother used to drink.
Then suddenly, a sweet angelic voice came up to me, “Hello Nari! I’m glad you made it.”
Janet brought me to her office, and we talked about this project she was working on. She was working on this virtual world that you can live in. She wanted me to experience it, and know how it is like living a life normally. She said that I can control the world any way I would like, but she said to choose wisely.
I mean, what can go wrong, right? She brought me to a room with notables. No chairs. No people. It was empty. There was only the helmet on the floor that she asked me to wear. She asked me to close my eyes and count to three.
Where am I? I am exactly where I was three seconds ago. What happened? Did it not work?
I took a step outside and realized that maybe this is it. I am in a world where I can control everything that will happen in the future. My clothes, the food I eat, my school, my friends, my parents, I can control anything! Woah, I thought. This is awesome!
First things first. Food. I was starving! I wanted a hamburger, fries, chicken, pasta, spaghetti, fish, shrimp, sushi. I wanted everything! How do I get money though? I remembered what Janet told me. I shall imagine myself in whatever situation I would like to be in and then wait for it to happen. So, I stood there, trying to imagine myself as the wealthiest girl in the world, and as I reached into my pocket, it was filled with money..
I went back home to see if I can give my parents what they’ve always wanted... a day of doing absolutely nothing! I went to my mother and talked to her. I asked her what she’s always wanted her whole life and she said, “I want to have a nice day with our family.” I thought, how will I make that happen? This is why I have decided to visit my father.
“Dad,” I mumbled. “Dad! Dad! Dad,” I yelled as I saw him reading a newspaper in front of the garbage can.
We hugged each other. I told him all about my plans and how I met Janet and went to her office. Surely, he’ll understand. I then mentioned that I can make anything happen and that I wanted to bring him home. Our house is pretty far from this place, so I decided to make a helicopter come pick us up. We were also pretty hungry, so I made a large
pizza come our way. But as soon as we got inside the helicopter, a giant pizza box started rolling our way. Uh-oh! This can’t be good. The helicopter started breaking down as my dad and I started screaming inside it.
“What’s happening,” I yelled while gripping on to the rigid walls of the helicopter.
My dad weakly responded, “I don’t know honey, but whatever happens, I want you to remember that... I... will... always... love... y-”
“NO,” I screamed as my dad came falling out of the helicopter down to the ground.
My father is dead.
The one time I finally got to meet him, I screwed it up. How did I make this ever happen?! I want to go back to how it was before. I don’t want this life any longer. I don’t care about how much money we have or if we couldn’t ride the bus. I’d prefer to walk than ride a helicopter that’ll just kill me. How did this happen? I might’ve said I wanted a helicopter, but I never said I wanted us to be safe in it. And I imagined a pizza, but not a normal-sized pizza. Maybe large meant gigantic! What will I do now?
I used the parachute to bring me down safely. I rushed back home to my mother then I saw blood everywhere. Pieces of the helicopter have fallen in our tiny little home, stabbing my mother. The floor cracked and all our cans of food had been cracked open.
There was nothing left, except for... me.
I was speechless. There was nothing to do. How do I turn back time when everything has already gone wrong?
My mother is dead.
My father too.
There is no point in life.
This piece was published in our summer 2020 issue.
When she was still around, Grandma would tell me stories of before the end. Before the drought, before the storms, before humanity dug its grave. She was the one to tell me, “The rain wasn’t always harsh and cruel; it would come gracefully drizzling over grateful plants.” I would sit attentively at the end of my bed begging for my favourite story until she finally gave in. She would start: “In the winter, we would all gather around the warm crackling fire. We’d admire the angry orange sparks that popped and flew up when it got upset. Suddenly, someone would point outside and we all darted to the window. Faces pressed to the freezing glass, all was silent. Then, teeny, tiny white flecks, each with intricately beautiful patterns would softly float to the ground.”
Those nights, I would dream of snow.
Remembering her words now, I think how strange it must have been. Imagine, looking at the mountains and seeing sunlight reflecting off the sparkling snow. It hadn’t snowed in over half a century. Nowadays, the dust circling the mountains makes it impossible to see the tops. I missed Grandma. She was the only one who would tell me such wonderful stories. Everyone else thought it was foolish to dwell on the past. I think it was just too painful for them to remember. At school, we learned about the mistakes that lead to our barren version of living. Everyone thought they knew better. No one listened to Mother Nature’s frequent warnings. Then,
one day, the chaos started.
The rain thudded furiously against the metal ceiling. I wasn’t worried, this
was routine. Besides, the heavy metal panels covering the underground were as strong as an elephant (though I’d never seen one of those, either). However, even the scientifically designed roof had its flaws. Having roofs so low to the ground may have prevented us from flying away like Dorothy, but it captured unwanted contents. For example, this being the first clean up day in 4 weeks, the gunk and debris from months of harsh storms were sure to have brought in a horrific mass of fallen plants and animals. On the first day of each month, the youth of our unit emerged from the underground. I currently sit hands folded, waiting patiently with the rest of the group, ready for instructions. As the little hand on my treasured watch slowly ticks by, my foot begins to tap up and down echoing in the small space.
“Ah-hem!” a sharp voice calls for our attention. “Youth of Unit Eighty-Six, your
community service is no longer needed.”
Annoyed murmuring bounces off the walls as I see someone next to me roll their eyes in frustration.
“There has been an emergency concerning the detector. You are all to report back
to your respective dorms and await further instructions.”
The hammering of my heartbeat blocked out the panic erupting around me. If something has happened to the detector, we’re all doomed. Our detector was probably one of the most advanced compared to other units; it can predict extreme weather changes, radiation levels, trace animal predators, incoming missiles, you
name it. Its hard drive carries the history of our entire unit. I wonder if the girl beside me, with a big smile cheering gleefully, understood the gravity of this situation. Or, maybe she was just celebrating the chance to get out of cleaning. I understood. Without knowing what mood swings Mother Nature will hurl at us, it might be impossible to not only clean the roof, but to gather supplies. We could be sitting ducks, trapped in a large cage waiting for our supplies to run out. The community we have built down here could be lost. One device is responsible for the downfall of our precious home.
“FINAL WARNING! Anyone left in the docking area in the next five minutes will be
Snapping out of my trance, I realize everyone has left. Trembling, I stood. “I can’t be
here when all hope is lost,” I whisper to myself with determination. Instead of walking out of the loading dock, I sprint for a corner I know is out of eyeshot from the hidden cameras. Feeling a bolt of adrenaline, I attempt to steady my breath. I calm my racing heart. I know what I want to do. What I need to do. It’s now or never.
In the dank corner, I look at the ceiling, thinking over my plan in my head. I must not get caught. The punishment for something like this will be lurid.
POP! The lights flicker off. Pitch black. I turn on the flashlight. The small circle of light illuminates the dreary room. Creeping towards the wall of suits, I place each foot softly on the ground, careful to not make a sound. I grab the stiff collar of a medium-sized suit and swiftly pull it off its hook.
“BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!”
The warning system starts up.
“CODE YELLOW, CODE YELLOW” a mechanical voice states.
I sprint for the yellow helmets.
“RESIDENT 134 UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS” the voice rings out, echoing.
How could I be so careless? I was so focused on getting to the suits unheard, I forgot about the cameras!
“ALL SECURITY PERSONAL REPORT TO THE LOADING DOCK!”
I quickly secure the helmet on my head and turn my flashlight off. I’m not going to make this easy for them. Hurtling towards the glowing EXIT sign I smash into the door and swing my flashlight in the direction of the controller. It took what felt like a decade, but I finally found the shiny silver box. Whipping it open, I hit the ‘Open’ button with a shaking hand. A gust of air and rain push me off-balanced. The weather is not irate, just hailing with occasional spots of ferocious rain. As I steady myself, I bolt through a hole in a rusted old fence ten feet away. Down a hill lies a large grey storm-wrecked building. One wall was completely torn away. It stood there like a ghost. A desolate framework. A constant reminder of what once was. We learned about this building in school underground. It was once a school, too. Closer to the end, people used the rectangular building as a shelter.
As I rush past a sign I glimpse the words, West Point Grey Academy . Almost tripping
over a massive gap in the ground, I tumble to a stop. The opening is black with ash and is so deep it must go to the core of the earth. Through the wind, I heard the faint sound of the automatic voice calling for my arrest.
“CODE YELLOW. CODE YELLOW,” it repeats unemotionally.
With rapid breathing, I try to look for a place to hide. I examine my surroundings. A
recently flooded field. Grubby water flows in between a few strands of dry grass.
“RESIDENT 134, you are under arrest,” a voice behind me bellows.
It’s over. My one chance to escape the trapped world I live in. My one chance to make
my own decisions. My one chance to be set free. But I blew it. Two figures seize my arms and lock them behind my back. Exhausted, I feel the adrenaline turn to dread. All the fight draining out of me, I don’t protest. Instead, I raise my head up to the sky, saying a final goodbye to Grandma.
I hear a sudden gasp behind me. “Would you look at that,” one of the silhouettes says in awe. Tears fill my eyes. No matter the consequences, now, it was all worth it. High above our heads, descending delicately downwards. Snow.
This piece was published in our Summer 2020 Issue.