The past six chapters has been rather action-less. This one is dissimilar.
There was no one. The usually populated building at the front of the national park, responding to calls for help and such, was empty. There was no sign of human life. Everything had been abandoned. All the cars were still left there. There was no sign of life.
Isaac’s face showed an emotion of horror, even though there was nothing particularly horrifying about this scene. I admit to being surprised, however. I felt more ignorant than ever. What is happening? Why is everything abandoned?
“Why…” Toby started to say. I think he knew everyone was about to ask the same question.
The building did not look like it was abandoned properly. A door had been knocked over, and there was a broken window.
“Maybe…maybe, there’s an unexpected national holiday.”
“Doesn’t explain why the door is broken. Doesn’t explain why everyone has to be gone. Everyone.” Isaac mumbled. It was probably his first sentence since we started off on the walk.
“Actually, there might be people in the building. We’ll check.” Anne said. I just realized that everyone had been paralyzed in their steps. I broke out into a jog towards the building, while the rest followed me.
I walked through the door, and my feeling was like walking into a haunted house, as I didn’t know what I’d expect to find in the abandoned building. There was no one. Everything was silent. The tables were left with the papers still scattered around, but since the electricity was out the computers were blank.
Wait, I’d thought then. Why is everything abandoned, and the electricity also out? I then realized I spoke my thoughts out loud.
“Perhaps a natural disaster hid. Maybe a bad storm.” Toby said.
“But why did everyone have to leave if there was a bad storm?”
“The thing is that our classmates also left.” Isaac said. “I think we’ve forgotten that. Everyone’s gone. Electricity’s out. This isn’t normal.” Isaac’s face was grim. Now, I could see that there was something to worry about. It certainly isn’t normal for everyone to suddenly leave, and the electricity to be out.
“We also haven’t seen a single soul other than ourselves.” Isaac went on. “No car passing by, no other campers, nothing.” He then sat on the ground, face in hand. Always the domesday predictor.
I nodded, digesting this information. It wasn’t new information, but I’d never seriously considered that any of this was related, and only now with Isaac’s prompt that I was trying to piece the facts together. It did make sense. We haven’t seen anyone other than ourselves, and the building is abandoned. Something must have gone wrong.
“There’s only one way to find out.” I concluded. “We need to get to town.”
“Yeah, but it’s a long walk from here. We’re not going to get there before dark.” Sophie said.
“We rest here today.” I said. “We still have water. Humans can go without food or a long time. There must be some food in town anyway. We can eat like crazy then.”
Toby swore. “I’m going to die of hunger before we reach town.”
“I believe there’s a few more marshmallows.” Sophie said. “You can eat them.” I groaned silently. And so I was hungry this whole day and I didn’t know that Sophie was hiding some marshmallows. And now, he’s offering it to Toby. Crap.
“We can sleep in the building.” I said. “It’ll probably be the most comfortable place.”
Toby simply groaned and walked to the building with Sophie. Isaac was drinking water, and although I didn’t want him to drink too much of the water so that we had enough for the next day. The walk the next day was going to be tedious. There was little shade on the road, and there’s a fair chance that someone would faint.
Anne interrupted my thoughts. “So you’re starting to be the lead dog.” she said.
I didn’t say anything.
“So you enjoy it?” Anne asked.
“No,” I said, truthfully. “I actually dislike making choices for others. You do it the next time.”
“Well, I don’t like it either.”
“Well, there aren’t so many choices left to make anyway.” I said. “We get back to town, we phone the police and we hitch a ride back to home. There’s nothing left to do after that.”
Isaac looked up. “You think it’s going to be that easy?” he said.
I said “yes.” I genuinely thought that.
“I don’t think it will be that simple.” Isaac said. “If there’s a natural disaster, we don’t know where it’d hit and stuff. Or there could’ve been a terrorist attack or something. That’s why nobody has been driving around.”
“You know, Isaac, you think too much.” Anne said.
“I don’t.” Isaac snapped. “It’s the truth that we just won’t consider.”
“It might just be one of your wild theories.” I said.
“Well, I wish it isn’t. But this is just wrong. Things are too abnormal.” Isaac said. He got up and walked to the building. “I tell you, we’re not going to see any cars or people when we walk to town, or at town itself.” Anne looked at me and said, “I think I better get some sleep.” She followed Isaac to the building.
I was left alone. Black clouds were starting to appear on the sky, engulfing the rays of afternoon sunlight. I just sat there, looking at the trees and at the sun-baked street. After a few minutes, rain started pouring in. Somehow the sound of the rain was calming. Trickle, trickle, trickle. My peace of mind was a change from the whole day. I’d spent the whole day worrying about things, mostly about my empty stomach. Now, I didn’t really feel the hunger. I was getting wet, but I had no care.
* * * * *
Because we’d started sleeping since afternoon the day before, we all woke up at around the middle of the night. Anne said that we had to quickly get on to the road and walk. A walk during the night wouldn’t be so tiring compared to a walk during the day. Toby had found a flashlight in the building, and he took it with us.
The road was wet, and there was still a little rain, although you could hardly feel it. It didn’t matter. We had to keep going. Walking in full light for hours was not what I wanted.
We all kept very quiet. There were no cars around, as Isaac’d expected. Sometimes I feel that Isaac was too negativist. He always saw everything in its worse angle, and always predicted the future so that it was at the worst it could be. He wasn’t the cheery kind of person you could travel with for a long time.
The road wasn’t a very good one, and it was bumpy. I didn’t notice it during the drie to the national par, because I’d been asleep. Now, I was starting to notice the surroundings. There were a few shops here and there, but a lot of the sides were covered with long grass. The national park with its abundance of trees had been marked as a wood preservation zone, but just outside, there were only a few lonely trees here and there. People had greed for everything. For wealth, for money. Even if it came at the cost of destroying the environment.
The odd shop scattered at the side of the roads were all closed. It was only correct that they were closed, really, since it was still midnight. But I yearned for one of them to open, so that it would confirm that Isaac’s fears were over the top.
In the end, Toby started singing to break the silence, and so I joined in. Soon, everyone with the exception of Isaac was singing. “We wish you a merry Christmas…we wish you a merry Christmas…we wish you a merry Christmas…and a happy new year! Good tidings we bring…” When we finished the song, I recalled that it was still June. Next came “London bridge is falling down…falling down…falling down…” and then someone started singing “Mary had a little lamb”. I felt young again, singing those stupid songs.
After about twenty songs, we once again went into silence, but by that time we were nearing town. I didn’t know the name of the town, because it was simply a small one that seems to just be there to accomodate visitors to the national park. There was a lot of camping equipment, I remembered, but not much else.
I felt myself getting sick. Perhaps it’s because I had sat in the rain yesterday. I swore silently. Why didn’t I listen to the good old advice of not going out in the rain? My forehead was getting warm. If it rains again, I’m dead.
* * * * *
The town was lifeless.
It was still a bit dark when we had reached town. But there was no life. I was shocked. There was no one walking the streets, and even if it was a small town, there should had been a car. But no. There was nothing. Nothing. Some windows were broken. There were no people walking around.
“What…” Toby started. He didn’t know what to say.
I was also out of words.
What had happened? Why were there no people? Suddenly, a wave of depression hit me. I didn’t know what to feel. Why was there no one? Has everyone in the world died, except us? I didn’t feel much worry yet in the forests, because I thought we just had to get to town.
But town had no one.
“What has happened?” Toby finally managed to say. No one answered.
Sophie ran around the street, trying to find people. Isaac simply lied down. Anne was standing with no emotion.
Suddenly, Anne said, “Guys, come here.”
We sat in a circle. Anne started to speak. “This town’s lifeless. This means that something big has happened. It’s probably a natural disaster, and so everyone has been evacuated. Perhaps a really bad storm is coming soon.”
“That’s our best hope”, I said. “Hopefully it’s not that suddenly everyone disappeared from the face of the Earth and we’re the only ones left. Maybe a mini asteroid hit that took the humans but not the buildings, but we were in the river, hiding from the bees, so nothing happened to us.” It was not a helpful comment, and Isaac snapped that at me.
Anne shook her head. “Well, we need to cooperate. We need to work together. First, let’s think: if this town has been evacuated, but nearby areas are still populated, what should we do?”
“That’s easy.” Toby said. “We need to cycle on to other towns.”
“Yes.” I agreed. Sophie nodded.
“Then we move on. But first, we need to gather supplies. Food. Maps. That’s the important thing.” The pang of hunger suddenly returned, and my stomach ached for food. The shock of seeing the lifeless town had took away all other emotion. How did Anne gather her senses back so quickly? How did she think so clearly?
“Well, then. Let’s go search the houses for food. If we don’t we’ll die of starvation. No one will sue us for stealing, I guess.” Anne said, and smiled. “Alright, off to different directions we go.”
We spent the next hour finding food. We found a small and old supermarket, but that was exactly what we wanted. We attacked the shelves of chips and such, but the bread was starting to go moldy. I saw Toby opening up three packets of chips at a time, and piling them all in his mouth. I was ravenous, but I didn’t eat at such a pace. If we still had to travel, I did not want a stomachache.
Soon, we were full. We also packed a lot of food into our bags to prepare for the upcoming journey. We then proceeded into a bookshop. It was one of those shops where there were books for sale, and there was a small area that served as a coffee shop. The door was unlocked, and Anne started looking at the bookshelves for maps.
There were some maps behind a bookshelf. Isaac insisted that we take a lot of maps, at least one for each person. While Sophie was waging war against Toby for possession of a map, I heard the sound of a car’s motor while it was driving. My heart nearly stopped beating. There was people!
I went to the window with Isaac and Anne, and we peered outside. It was a military truck.
“It must be a military truck to evacuate other people.” I said, breathless. I was overcome with joy at seeing another human outside of my own small group. I was about to run for the door, but Isaac pulled my collar back.
“No, John.” he said. “Stay behind. Anne, tell Toby and Sophie to shut up quickly. We don’t know these people. Let’s see who they are first.” Toby and Sophie came over to us, and hid behind a bookshelf. There was the sound of human steps. Those soldiers were coming into this bookshop.
“Ah…” came a voice. “Finally some rest!”
I was extremely surprised. It was Mr Noah’s voice! He didn’t say anything of importance at the trip, but I had remembered his voice. How did he become a soldier?
“Now can you tell me all about this revolution thing?” came another voice. It sounded younger than Mr Noah’s. I found myself hanging on to every word. Revolution? What revolution?
“No one bothered to tell you yet?” Mr Noah asked. The other person didn’t say anything, but although I couldn’t see from behind the bookshelf, I guessed that he shook his head. We all kept silent. We still didn’t know the intentions of the soldiers yet, but the fact that Mr Noah was one of them made me want to run out and ask about everything. I was dying to know what was happening.
“Shall I start from the very beginning, so you understand it all?”
“Oh well. We have time to spare anyway.” There was a pause, perhaps to look at his watch. “Those commanding officers must be very busy not to even tell the troops about what is happening.” Another pause. Can’t he just begin the story? Why does he like suspense so much?
He finally started to tell the tale. “Well, you know our leader, the one who calls himself the Great Leader of Brightness and Light? The one who won’t reveal his name?” I was confused. The Great Leader of Brightness and Light? Who was that? It sounded like some sort of fairy tale.
“The Great Leader used to be a farmer. A pretty poor one, in fact. His tale is a rags-to-riches one. Somehow, he became very rich and then tried his hand at politics. There’s a rumor that he won the lottery twice, but it’s just a rumor.” Mr Noah sighed. “He became very appreciative of the idea of communism.”
The word communism stang me. Communism. Revolution. The Great Leader. It was starting to all come together. I suddenly felt very pained. I was understanding what was happening, but I did not want to imagine it. This can’t be true. Please don’t let it be, I thought.
“The Great Leader now wears a mask when talking to a wide group of people, to conceal his identity. He only takes off his masks to people in his inside circle. We low ranking soldiers will probably never get to see his mask.
“In the end, he gathered a band of supporters. He enlisted the support of the armed forces, with nearly all the division commanders pledging their loyalty to him. It’s said he’s very persuasive, but I guess bribes would do. Last week, he finally overthrew the government and he has now instated himself as the President of a communist nation.”
The sentence confirmed my thoughts. My hopes fell. Random facts of what I knew suddenly came whizzing into my head. Mao. Cuba. China. Lots of people dying. Poverty. No, I thought. It can’t happen to us. No!
“The Great Leader envisioned a utopia. He wants a society where everyone is equal. Everyone farms for food, sends it to the central government, and the central government divides the food and shares it equally. That’s why all the towns are being evacuated. Everyone is going to live in settlements from now on, and these are being built from scratch in places that are harder to access. Everyone will farm the land and make the Great Leader’s utopia come true. All the cities are going to be leveled in the next two years.”
The other soldier gave a startled cry. “What? You actually believe in all this? I think it’s a fantasy! It won’t happen!”
Mr Noah chuckled. “No, I do not believe in the Great Leader’s vision. I’m just in this because it’s the only way to survive, since all the major commanders in the military are supporting the Great Leader’s government. And it’s an easy life, for now at least. Instead of having to go through countless drills and practice, I’m sent here with just you to patrol this small town. Only small groups of soldiers are being sent out to small towns. This one is really small, so only two will do. Everyone is captured, anyway. Only Greyville is still resisting, but it’ll probably fall soon. Grey Island has also put up a defence, and that one will last longer, but we’ll take over it.”
“I see…”the other soldier said. “But there’s the national park. People will escape into there.”
“Of course.” Mr Noah replied. “Soon, a whole division will come to hunt down people in the national park and other places. We’re just here to see that the town has been properly evacuated.”
The facts were sinking into me. Suddenly, with these words spoken, life had changed. The country was now communist. My little group was still free only by luck. From now on, we no longer decided our life. The Great Leader, whoever he is, is now deciding it for us.
I felt the urge to sneeze. Shoot, I thought. No. No! I can’t sneeze now. It would give us away.
To my surprise, I didn’t sneeze. Instead, Isaac did.
“Who’s that?” Mr Noah shouted, startled.
Anne quickly ran out the door, followed very closely by Toby and Sophie. I grabbed Isaac and hurled myself out. The soldiers were not much slower than us. I heard Mr Noah shouting something about how we looked familiar, but I didn’t pay attention to what he was saying. I had to escape him. Our group whizzed along the town, playing a game of tag with the soldiers, except that much more was at stake than “being it”. We ran and ran. The soldiers didn’t have guns, I noticed. They probably left it in their military van. But I didn’t care. We probably raced around the entirety of the small town, and my legs felt like they were going to fall off.
The soldiers closed in. We couldn’t outrun them in the empty streets, I was sure. We’d get captured, sent into a settlement and farm for the rest of our lives. Anne, I thought desperately, run somewhere safe! We’re all following you!
Finally, we ran into a block, and the soldiers were out of sight. Anne took advantage of this and quickly ran up an empty building whose door was open. We quickly scrambled into the building, shut the door, and locked it tight. It turned out that we had hidden ourselves in a bicycle shop. We hid behind the counter, five people squeezed into one small place.
We kept silent. We heard running footsteps, and to my great relief, the sounds passed us by. I then realized that since I entered the empty building, I had held my breath. I breathed in, relieved that I was safe for the moment.
Toby, looking tired, said quietly to Isaac: “Why did you have to sneeze?”
“I’m sorry. I have allergies. That place had a lot of dust.”
I didn’t want to say that if Isaac hadn’t given us a way, I would have.
“We’ll wait here for an hour.” Toby said. “I’ve been to this town a few times, as my dad and I came to camp at the national park. We’ll escape quickly and walk through the streets.”
“No, we don’t have to walk.” I said. “Anne led us right into a bicycle shop. We can cycle back to the cabin.” Somehow, we had reached a common agreement that we were to return to the national park. There was no other way, no other safe place for us.
“Then let’s have our pick of the bikes.” Toby grinned. “I’m taking this one. A red bike.” He grabbed the handles of one of the bikes. It glistened.
“Ew! Red is for communists.” Anne chuckled. “Well, first, before we choose the bikes, let’s think about what we heard. So, I guess the world has changed.” She sighed.
“There’s been a freaking revolution.” Isaac said. “And it’s not one I like. They’re forcing people into settlements. That is so Khmer Rouge. I bet you, they’re about to massacre the smart people too.”
I sighed. “Well, it’s bad for sure. We’ll have to live in the forests for a while. I’m sure there must be at least some resistance. We come out when that resistance wins.”
“What if that resistance loses?” Isaac asked. I rolled my eyes. Why does he always have to be so negativist?
“Well, then we try to flee into another country.” I said.
Anne broke the conversation. “So we stay in the woods. How do we find food?”
“Fish. Come to town for supplies.” I said.
“But the town’s going to be leveled soon.” Sophie said.
“Guess what. I’m not a know-all.” I said irritably. “Let’s get back to our cabins and make plans, OK? I didn’t expect for the town to change overnight.” Then I switched from an annoyed face to a grinning face. “I take the grey bike.”
We immediately began the choosing of bikes and other equipment. I insisted that we took bikes that weren’t of bright colors, or otherwise we’d be easily seen by any soldiers. I didn’t want to have my freedom taken away quite yet. In the end, Isaac took black, Toby took dark green, Sophie got a brown one and Anne decided on dark blue.
We decided to wait until darkness. It came swiftly, and soon we were on the move, riding back to what I just realized was our new home.