I hear my parents talking in the kitchen, and by their tone, I can tell that whatever they are talking about is something serious. My little brother Max keeps trying to listen with me, but he is just going to give us away.
I move away from the door, so our parents don’t hear us. “GO watch cartoons, Max.” I try to usher him away.
“But I want to listen too, please Su!” He starts to whine, and I know there is only one thing that will get him to leave.
I kneel down, gently grabbing his arms to keep him still. “I’ll tell you what little man. If you do this for me, then we’ll play cops and robbers later.” Max gets excited at the thought of that and rushes to the living room to keep good on his side of the deal.
I go back to the door, and try to listen back in on what our parents are going on about.
“We should just go now to be safe!” I hear my mother exclaim exasperated.
“I told you it will be another week before the main door is fully enforced. If we go before it’s done you can guarantee people will try to raid us within the first year. Not to mention the amount of radiation that will leak through.” My father says to her, and I wonder what in the world they are even talking about.
“Jeff you hear what they are saying on the news. I’m telling you it won’t be much longer before the war comes on our soil. It’s going to happen, and it will be best if we are safe in the bunker.”
War? I knew about the bunker, that’s the whole reason we moved here, but I never knew why. I guess now I do. Our parents told Jack and me about the possibility of war, but I didn’t know it had already started.
My nerves start to tear away at me, but I know I need to listen further to figure out their game plan.
“Honey,” Dad says in a calming tone to soothe my mother’s worries. “we have done the drill a thousand times, and trained our kids for this. Trust me when I say everything is going to be fine.”
Things go quiet, and I take that as my cue to leave before I'm found out. When I head to the living room to meet up with Max and force myself to hide my fears from him. He’s only six, so I can’t show him that there is anything to be afraid of.
“Are we going to play now? I was good, and did what you said.” Max says running up to me as soon as I enter the living room.
“Not right now buddy.” I respond to him before taking my spot on the couch.
He drops his head into my lap and looks up at me with his famous puppy dog eyes. “But you promised Su.” he butts out his bottom lip more trying to get his way.
“I know I did, and I’m not breaking it. We’ll play in a little bit, but right now I just want to watch some cartoons.” I say while flipping the channel to my favorite show.
Max gets up and slams himself down next to me. “Fine, but I get to choose.” He says stealing the remote from my hands and changes the channel to something we both enjoy.
He curls himself next to me, and I try to focus on the television in hopes that it will distract me from what I just heard. If our parents aren’t worried, neither should I. Trusting my thoughts, I finish the rest of the day.
I try to fall asleep, but I’m left unsettled by the news I’ve heard today. I stare at the space above me wondering how tomorrow will be. I’m not just thinking of one tomorrow, but them all. Even if the war doesn’t come tonight, by the way my parents were talking it will be here soon.
My thoughts wander, and I feel myself finally start to drift away into the realm of dreams. Right as the haze drifts from reality to not, I hear someone barge into my room. I try to wake, but I can’t until my body is shaken. “Wake up Susan!” I hear my father say aloud as he tries to wake me.
I hear the panic in his voice, and I know something is wrong. War! “What, What is it?” I ask hoping it’s not what’s on my mind.
“No time to explain. Get your brother up, and pack as much as you can fit into a bag.” I hesitate, trying to let everything settle in my mind, but that was the wrong decision. “NOW SUSAN! Get your brother.” My father exclaims at me.
I rush out of the room to my brother’s door. I see him sleeping with his mouth open wide, and I hate to wake him when he’s so peaceful. War! I need to wake him. “Max, wake up.” I say softly knowing he’s not happy if you wake him up rudely.
“Su?” he says groggily with adorable sleepy eyes. “What’s going on?” he asks, and I know I have to put on a smile, so he doesn’t worry.
“We’re going to play a game Max, but you have to listen to everything I say to win okay.” I put on a false smile, knowing he can’t resist games.
“A game!” he jumps out of bed wide awake now. “What do I do?” Max asks me, and I know he’s on board.
“First we have to pack as many clothes into a bag as we can. The one who can fit the most wins this round. Make sure to pack anything you can’t live without okay?”
Heading to my room to pack my things, I manage to pack my whole wardrobe, which isn’t hard since I’ve outgrown a lot of it. Once I'm done, I grab the picture next to my bed. It’s the last picture of our family actually happy. It was taken when Max was three, and I was only eleven.
Our family decided to take a picnic at the park that day, and enjoy the warm sun out that day. Mom and dad curled up next to a big willow tree, and I was playing airplane with Max. He would giggle up a storm every time I played that with him. There was a photographer in the park that day who offered to capture our perfect moment. Our last perfect moment as a family.
“I’m done!” Max says with a huge smile on his face. “Did I win?” he asks me as I put the picture in my bag.
“You won the first round, now to the second. Do you think you can handle this one?” I offer my hand for him to grab. If this is the moment I think it is, then I can’t lose him.
“I got this. Now, what is the next round?”
“Follow the leader. You have to keep hold of my hand no matter what okay?” I lean down cupping his face, so he locks eyes with me. “No matter what happens around us you can’t let go of my hand.” I hope he understands, I have to make sure he listens without knowing the danger.
We grab our bags, and head into the living room to wait for our parents. Mom is in the kitchen on the phone and looks panicked. War! This is the moment, I know it now. When she finishes, she sets the phone down, rushing to the two of us.
She pulls me to the side, out of reach of Max’s ears. “Does he know anything?” she says referring to Max.
I shake my head, knowing he wouldn’t understand even if he did. “He thinks we’re playing a game.” I tell her waiting for a reaction.
“That’s good. He likes games.” She goes quiet for a second, and I can see the worry on her face. “He can’t know okay, but do you?” She asks furring her brow.
“I think I do.”
“Once your father is done packing, we are heading to the bunker. You remember the drills right?”
I shake my head again remembering all the random times our parents made us do drills heading to the underground bunker. They were preparing us for this even if some of us didn't understand it fully.
“Good.” I see slight relief in her features. “Your father and I have jobs to do, and so do you. You’re in charge of Max okay? No matter what, make sure you both get safely inside.” She tells me searching my face to be certain I understand.
I head back to Max and try to think of a way to explain this to him. “Hey, Buddy. Do you remember the drill games?” I ask him hoping he follows along.
“Yeah! Do I get to be a solder?!” Max says excitedly.
“Yes, but remember I’m the leader. So, don’t fall behind solder.” I tell him before straightening my form to look more like a solder. “Let’s go ahead.” I tell him in a firm tone and notice another smile come across his face.
He salutes me and follows behind. When we get outside and head to the bunker, I notice a lot of familiar faces heading the same way. Even our neighbor Jonathan with his younger sister. I hold out my hand behind me for Max to grab, so he doesn’t get lost on the way.
“Soldiers don’t hold hands.” Max states confused.
I look behind me at him. “They do if their leader says so.” I state firmly, and he grabs my hand without further argument.
The closer we get, the more families we see heading the same way. I try to stay calm, knowing it will help him do the same. Just when the bunker’s entrance is in sight, things start to go wrong. There is a loud noise that makes the ground shake and puts terror on all the faces around us.
Seconds later, Max and I are trapped in chaos as everyone runs for the bunker. People rush by, bumping us around, only worrying about their own lives. I feel Max start to slip from my grasp, and when I look behind me, he is gone.
My heart drops, and the panic finally hits me entirely. “Max!” I scream terrified to lose him. Not just because of mom’s rule, but because he is my whole heart. The first time I held him when he was just a small thing wrapped in blankets, my heart belonged to him.
“Max! Where are you?!” I shout, rushing against the crowd, and that is when I hear his cries.
He's in a ball crying for me, and I rush to him instantly. “I’m here!” I shout when making it to his side.
“Su, I don’t want to play this game anymore.” He looks up at me with tears in his eyes, and my heart breaks. “I know, but we’re almost done.” I scoop him up and take us both to the bunker.
When we are both safely inside, I hold him to calm him down. “We made it Max. The game is done.” I say to him brushing his hair to comfort him.
I watch as mom and dad close the doors before once again joining us. They see the fear on my face, as they huddle up with Max and me. We all sit there listening to the chaos that breaks out above us. We might be safe, but the rest of the world is ending. This is our life now. I think to myself knowing that the thought is right. All we’ll know now is this bunker. Never again seeing the blue sky, or even feeling the warm beams of the sun.