Name: V.T. Bidania
Genre: YA Apocalyptic/Thriller
Title: Till the End of the World
Not just because my family’s the only family left in our suburb, or because Mom’s getting sicker every day, or even because the world’s about to end. More than anything, I’m scared of hoping we’re going to survive.
Because what if we don’t?
It’s not yet dawn and I’m crouched by the kitchen window, peeking out the curtains, gripping my brother Ben’s old varsity baseball bat in one hand and Mom’s birding binoculars in the other. It’s my turn on watch.
Only a week ago, I was in the kitchen eating Thanksgiving leftovers. Now I’m alone, surrounded by a silence so deafening I’m afraid my ears will burst.
Down the hall, my family sleeps. I hear them crisp and clear from here. Dad and Ben’s synchronized snoring. Mom’s deep, winded breaths; her oxygen machine is off and her breathing is loud. Yet the silence continues to blare at me.
Through the tiny slit in the curtains, I watch the sun slowly creep over the treetops, quietly spread a coat of blue-gray light onto the empty driveways and abandoned houses.
It’s been days since we heard any warning sirens, since army trucks rumbled down the street to remove any wreckage from riots, since we saw anyone out besides looters. Now the only movement I see is the occasional plastic bag whirling across the ground like tumbleweed.
I hold the bat so tightly my knuckles hurt and I wonder, if a group of looters stormed into our house right now, if they tore down our doors the way I saw them do yesterday to Mrs. Fitzgerald’s deserted house across the street, would I be brave enough to whack a looter on the head with it?
My eyes flit back to the window and I lean closer to the glass, scan the area once more. But it’s dead quiet out there, too. Not even a breeze stirs through the trees. As I stare at the calm, leafless branches, I try hard not to think about Nick. As I concentrate on the curbside and the road, I remind myself that he’s gone now. I’m never going to see him again.
“April, where are you?”
I turn around to find Mom in the hallway, searching the gray shadows of the kitchen for me. She’s wearing the pink flannel pajamas I got her for Mother’s Day. Her favorite wool sweater is draped over her shoulders like a shawl. With one hand pressed against the wall, she looks more frail than usual. Like she might fall over if she lets go.
“Mom, why are you up so early?”
She spots me by the window and frowns. “You need rest,” she says and takes an unsteady step toward me.
I toss my bat and binoculars onto the counter and rush over to help her. Mom holds onto my hand as we step down the hall. I can feel her veins protruding from underneath her soft, thin skin. Her fingers are so cold.
“How are you feeling this morning?” I ask, although I doubt she’ll tell me the truth. She hates it whenever any of us worry about her.
“Good,” she says but I see the truth in her tired eyes, in her slow, ragged breaths. She tries to clear her throat and is interrupted by a sudden coughing fit. It forces her bony shoulders to shake up and down violently, flushing more red into her already pink cheeks.
“Are you okay?” I rub her back and Mom nods, pounds her chest with her fist.
I tug her gently into the family room where we’ve been sleeping since the Voluntary Evacuation. It’s now morning but the room is still dark. The entire house is dark because Dad and Ben worked late into the night boarding up most of the windows and doors from inside.
I help Mom into her wheelchair by the side of the pullout where Dad is snoring away. Just as I pick up her oxygen mask, a thunderous pounding rips through the house. The mask drops from my fingers and I spin around, my heart racing fast.
The front door’s about to burst open. The panels of wood boarded across the doorframe shake and rattle as the pounding roars louder.
Dad snaps up from under the blankets. Sleep lines criss-cross the side of his face like scars. “What is that?”
“Someone’s outside!” I whisper.
“Ben!” Dad hops off the couch to wake him, but my brother’s already kicking his covers away. He springs up from his air mattress on the floor, turns his head from side to side.
“What happened?” Ben asks.
Dad points to the front door and Ben stumbles to his feet. His thermal top and sweatpants are wrinkled, his messy hair stuck flat to the back of his head. He grabs Dad’s golf club on the coffee table. They both start for the foyer.
“Wait!” I see red and blue lights flash in from the foyer window. Through the frosted glass, I can make out figures standing on our front steps. Probably not looters.
I scurry ahead of Dad and Ben to the door. I rise to my tiptoes and squint out the peephole. A group of soldiers and a cop. Behind them two army trucks and a squad car are parked sloppily in the street. I exhale. “Soldiers and police.”
“Open up!” a voice hollers, pounding again.
Ben and I look at Dad. He nods and reaches for the power drill on the shelf.
When Dad pries the door open, four soldiers and a police officer peer in at us. One soldier points a flashlight into the house. The rest stare with wide open eyes, their curious faces frozen on ours.
“Good morning, I’m Sergeant Thompson,” says the soldier with the flashlight. He motions to the others behind him. “Sergeants Michaels, Jones and Cruz. This here’s Officer Harris. Is everyone in your home okay?”
Dad nods. “What’s happening out there?”
Thompson flicks off the light. “Looks like you’re the last family in town. We’ve been combing these neighborhoods and everyone else has cleared out.”
I peek out from behind Ben’s shoulder and notice the soldier beside Thompson watching me. I think I recognize him from somewhere.
“So what’s the status?” Dad says. “Can you tell us anything?”
Thompson shakes his head. “No information, sir. You know as much as we do. We’re moving through the area, making sure those who stayed behind are safe. That’s all we know.”
Ben leans forward and says, “Josh Michaels?”
Sergeant Michaels steps closer to the door. “Berkeley! Ben Berkeley from Little League, right? I don’t believe it! It’s been what, ten, eleven years?”
So I have seen him before. They shake hands. Ben says, “Just about. How long’ve you been in the military?”
“National guard, three years now. How’s your family? Wait, why are you still here?”
Ben glances at Mom. “My mom’s sick, and our cars were stolen.”
“Oh.” Michaels’ smile fades and he nods at my parents. “Mr. and Mrs. Berkeley, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Josh, how do things look in the city? How are the roads?” Dad asks.
He shakes his head. “The best thing you can do right now is to stay inside your house. Trust me, you’re safer in here than out there. The Announcement and Evacuation brought some pretty crazy characters out of the woodwork. We do not recommend going to the city.”