April 2019 Short Story of the Month
The soldiers were tense, waiting for something to happen – like it was a matter of when, not if. For our part, we did our best to steer clear of them, avoiding the main square, where a group of protestors were on their 80th hour of shouting at city hall. It was only a matter of time. The whole city felt like a ticking time bomb. I didn’t want to be around when the explosion finally happened.
Derek and I were planning on leaving tonight. His uncle had a cabin about 60 miles out of town on the lake. We were going to wait it out there. I don’t know what made this time different than all the other protests we’d seen over the last few years. But there was definitely something in the air. This was not going to end well. Mostly for the protestors.
I actually agree with the protestors, but I don’t feel like getting involved. Does that make me a bad person? I just didn’t see the point in risking my life for an idea. My parents said that’s what was wrong with my generation. We don’t care about anything.
Which, is just not true. I care, but I don’t want to get hurt or put in jail. Was one idea worth risking my future over? Derek said no; that’s why we were making a break for it.
After meeting up with Trish and Billy, we all piled into Derek’s Honda CRV and rode in absolute quiet to the cabin. It was like we were all afraid to break the silence. The first person who did would be guilty of something, though I didn’t know what. I just knew, it wasn’t going to be me.
Trish was the first one who spoke as we pulled up to the cabin and Derek put the car in park.
“Does this place have Wi-Fi?” she asked.
I just rolled my eyes and took my things into the cabin. I didn’t hear what Derek actually said to her.
Later as we were sitting around a fire near the pit off the back deck, Trish said, “I can’t believe there’s no Wi-Fi, and my phone is getting a weak signal at best.” As she said all of this, she didn’t even look up from her phone.
“We have bigger things to worry about right now than cell phone reception,” Derek said. Then he added, “But if you want a better signal, you could sit on the cabin roof.”
“Really?” Trish asked.
“Seriously, Trish. You are not getting on the roof. That’s all we need is to rush someone to the hospital from way out here.” I said this to hopefully put a stop to the inane Wi-Fi talk.
Billy just chuckled. He didn’t talk much, which is probably why Derek let him hang out with us so much. Derek preferred to be the clear leader and to make all the decisions for our “group.” I just went along with him because he was my oldest friend. Sometimes though, I didn’t agree with him. Maybe my parents were right about me. Maybe I didn’t care about anything.
The next morning, we ate breakfast in silence. Every one was crunching and slurping their cereal lost in their own thoughts. I finished mine and put my bowl in the sink.
As everyone else was doing the same, I said, “I want to go back to town.”
Derek had his back to me but turned very slowly around. “I already told you, we should stay here till whatever is going to happen, happens.”
“I know. That’s what you said. What you want to do.” I didn’t want to let him get a word in, so I continued, “I want to go back. I want to join the protestors. It’s the right thing to do.”
I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Billy and Trish were not so subtly walking out of the room.
I didn’t let their cowardice in front of Derek sway me. “Just take me back to the edge of town. I will walk the rest of the way. I’m not asking you to come with me.”
Derek tried to stare me down. But I just stared right back. “What if I won’t take you?” he asked.
“Then you’re not my friend.” I just stood there waiting for him to say something else. If I backed down now, I would never live it down. Derek would boss me around for the rest of my life. This was my moment to be my own person.
“Good luck. Don’t do anything stupid,” Derek said to me as I was getting out of the car on the outskirts of town.
“Thanks,” I said.
As he drove away and headed back to the cabin, I had a feeling that everything would be different between us now.
I started walking and the movement helped clear my head. I knew this was the right thing to do, and I felt guilty for not realizing it until now. I hefted my backpack higher up on my shoulders and tried to pick up my pace.
I was about a mile from the center of town and I could hear the protestors voices being carried by the wind.
Their yells were interrupted by someone with a megaphone. “Disperse. We won’t warn you again.”
The megaphone was answered by louder, angrier voices.
Then I heard the unmistakable sound of a gunshot. I froze. I couldn’t move.
The sounds I heard after that didn’t make sense to me. I heard yelling and fighting. The screams were of pain and agony. The cacophony was joined by police sirens. There were more gunshots. There were definite sounds of glass breaking and things being knocked around.
I just stood there for what felt like forever but was actually only a matter of minutes. Eventually a police cruiser drove by me with protestors hand cuffed in the back. Then I heard ambulance sirens approaching the scene.
The flashing lights snapped me out of my paralysis. I turned and walked home.
As I entered the kitchen and the door slammed behind me, my parents looked up from their dinner.
“Thought you were at the lake,” my dad said as he forked another piece of pot roast.
I shrugged but didn’t say anything. I couldn’t process what I was feeling. At that moment all I knew was that I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.