Chapter 4: Downstairs
I don’t know how much time passed before I woke up. Hours, days, it didn’t matter. I lay numb with the terror of it all. I wanted to scream. To run upstairs and pound on the windows and command these abominations to leave. Nightmares, my nightmares, were bad enough, but to awaken to find reality no less terrifying, tested my endurance. Sweet, silent death would be welcome. Death would remove me from the terror and hopelessness of my life.
“Wake up, we have the watch,” Mom whispered.
I yawned and sat up to rub sleep from my eyes. Mom and I were the only ones awake. She reached into a cooler, pulled out a rice ball and handed it to me. Not hungry, I took it anyway. I knew she wouldn’t stop until I ate something.
I nodded and stared at my mother, who refused to make eye contact. She had been crying. She’d taken to crying every morning since Chet died. Chet was my older brother, the oldest in fact. His loss haunted her and turned her cold. Ruthless you might say; she wasn’t going to lose another child. Her morning sob was the only sign of weakness she allowed herself these days.
“Eat, Annabel,” she said in her curt manner. I sighed. I use to be Bel dear, but since Chet’s death, I was just Annabel.
Illuminated by the candle light, Mom appeared old, her soft Vietnamese face worn and weary. I could tell she hadn’t slept since before we retreated to the basement.
She pointed toward the water heater, stood up, and walked over to blow out the candle. A weak beam of light streamed through the exhaust vent. How long we watched over the others, I do not know. Time ceases to make sense in situations like this.
Mom tried to stay awake. Her chin would fall to her chest and jerk back up while she fought against the inevitable. She succumbed to sleep just as the rain started.
Susan woke up soon after. She sat up and her wide eyes darted around the room. “What time is it?”
“Dunno.” I pointed to the light cascading through the vent. “It’s daytime at least.”
I stood up, stepped over Chris, and dropped down next to her. I put my arm around her. “It’s raining.”
She gazed up. “Yeah, I can hear it.” She put her arm around me. We hugged.
“I’m scared,” she whispered.
“I know. It’s going to be all right though. We’re going to get through this.”
She pulled away and we stared at each other. In the dim light, I could tell Susan had changed. She had grown stronger. Still frightened, she was not the terrified little girl from the night before.
“I’m hungry,” she said.
“You’re unbelievable. You eat everything in sight, and you don’t gain a pound. It’s not fair,” I said, pulling a mock pout.
Susan smiled. She smiled at me. That smile, such a simple collection of muscle contractions, was something much missed of late.
Several hours passed while Susan and I watched over our family. She spent a good amount of time brushing her long black hair. We hadn’t been able to take a bath in weeks and we looked like it. She kept on trying though.
Theo woke and sat up in his chair to resume his silent, tense vigil. Dad and Chris woke next.
“Listen,” Chris said.
“I don’t hear anything,” Dad replied.
“I know, just the rain.”
Dad snapped his head upward and tilted his ear toward the ceiling. He listened for any sounds other than the rain striking the exhaust pipe. No moans. There was nothing but the soft patter of rain.
“I think they’re gone,” he said.
Dad was right. While Susan and I held watch, the moans had subsided, unnoticed by us in our silent joy at reconnecting with each other.