It had been raining for a couple of weeks before Lena’s prom. She remembers being upset because of all the time spent trying to book appointments, and pictures and all the things that go into the biggest event of your teenage life, and having them wasted by rain and bad hair. For most high school kids, prom was a chance to have one last party, one last good bye to all the friends you had made throughout your last few years, and all those people you would probably never see again. But for Lena, prom wasn’t just another day; it was also the date of her eighteenth birthday, and one of the last nights she would be spending with all her friends before going off to college in a different town. Most kids would spend their last summers at home, working, partying, and doing whatever they wanted before the challenges of “adulthood” and all the responsibilities that came with it.
Because of all the rain, the prom after-party at Ashley’s house was cancelled. Everyone was supposed to hang out, drink outside, and sleep over in tents and sleeping bags, but the ground had become too wet and her parents hadn’t wanted all those people walking around in their clean house. But Lena hadn’t told her parents that. She knew prom would be the last night she would see Drew, a boy she had liked for the last four years. He wasn’t her date to prom, (she had went with her best friend Kyle), but she had gotten up the courage to ask Drew out on a date. He decided that after prom would be the perfect time, seeing how Lena would be leaving to go to college in a couple of days, and that his parents just happened to be staying out of town that night. So Lena told her parents that Ashley had moved the party inside her house, and that she just needed to bring a pillow. Drew lived just down the road from Ashley, and she would sneak back to Ashley’s the next morning when her parents went to pick her up.
“Keep moving!” shouted her mom. Lena’s dress had just gotten caught on some sort of plant when she realized she wasn’t paying attention anymore. They had been walking in the rain for a few weeks; maybe it had been a month already? Who knew? After the heavy rain, when the dam broke open and the river flowed over, Lena and her family’s life had changed. Everything had changed. “Well at least I got my money’s worth out of this dress!” said Lena to her father, as she caught back up to the rest of her family.
“Its too expensive, you’re only going to where it one time” said Lena’s dad as she was showing him the dress she had chosen for prom. “I’ll wear it more than once” she answered, even though she knew it was a little too fancy to wear another time, and he was probably right. “It’s too low-cut in the front”, said her mother. But that was the part that Lena liked the best. It was less than a month before prom and earlier that day Drew had just told her that he would like her to come over to his house after the party. Lena had been trying to get his attention at school for months it had seemed. She only had one class with him this semester, but she made sure to sit where he would be able to see her and where she could casually turn around and talk to him if she had wanted to. She knew that Drew was going with Ashley to prom, and that they had dated in grade nine and ten; but she had overheard him telling his friends that they were just friends now, and were only going based on some promise they had made over a year ago.
The day before she had chosen her dress, Lena had been visiting her friend Kyle when they decided to go to the beach. It had been an unusually warm day in May, and they figured not many people would be at the beach this early in the season. However, they were wrong. It seemed as though their whole school was there; some kids were playing volleyball, others lying in the sand tanning, and even some more daring ones were actually running in and out of the water. Lena and Kyle had planned on just lounging around in their bathing suits and read books all day, but now there was more noise to distract them. However, as they were setting up their towels on the sand, Lena noticed him.
Drew had just finished a game of volleyball with his friends and was celebrating their victory. A few of them decided to leave, and Lena saw that Drew was going around asking if anyone else wanted to join. “We can go play if you want” Kyle suggested with a wink, knowing that Lena had a huge crush on Drew. “No, I’m way too shy” she answered. But it was too late; Kyle had already grabbed onto her hand and was now dragging her towards the beach volleyball nets. “We’ll play” announced Kyle, and they divided up the teams again. Lena was upset because she wasn’t on Drew’s team, and she now had to try and play a game of volleyball without staring at him. After a few minutes, she had started getting more into the game and the score was pretty close. As the perfect serve was slowly making its way to her, she knew this would be her chance to impress Drew.
“I think we have to cross the river, I see a house up ahead” shouted Lena’s father. It must have been a river since there were a few boats attached together next to a dock. They had been travelling uphill for a couple of miles today, and they had finally reached an area that wasn’t flooded. Below them, all they could see in the distance was water, how far away was her house now? “Okay, I think we’ll continue on” said one of the couples that were following them, and another went along with them. There were five groups together that day, and another had decided to follow Lena’s family towards the country home. This had been their routine since she could remember; walk as far as you could in one day, find shelter, find food.
“Ahh” shouted a startled Drew, as the volleyball bounced off his nose. “I am sooo sorry” said Lena, running over to his side, concerned that she had hurt him. “I’m fine, but I’m surprised you can spike that hard!” he replied, while his friends were still laughing at the hit. “How about we sit the next round out” suggested Drew “give my nose some time to heal.” he shouted as they walked towards the water. “Again, I’m really sorry; I didn’t think it was going near your face… I wasn’t aiming at you” worried Lena, suggesting going to get some ice. “No worries, it actually doesn’t hurt at all anymore, more of a surprise I guess… I really just wanted to stop playing so we could talk some more.” “Ohh… really?” asked Lena, startled by Drew’s idea.
In Lena’s eyes, prom had been a wonderful night; it was still the best birthday ever, even if her hair had gotten ruined by all the rain. But what was even better than all the dancing and eating with her classmates, was the night she had spent with Drew. They had spent hours talking about their high school years, their futures, themselves, and everything it had seemed. Night had turned into morning, and Lena and Drew had barely gotten any sleep when she realized that her parents would be arriving at Ashley’s house soon to pick her up. After giving Drew one final kiss and promising that they would not lose contact, she bolted out the door into the pouring rain towards Ashley’s house.
“Why did you come from the backyard and not the front door, and where is your pillow?” questioned Lena’s mother as she hopped into the car, soaking wet “and why were you out in the rain?”. “We all stayed up talking in her backyard under the gazebo, I didn’t even notice it was raining that hard”, a clear lie considering that Ashley’s front yard was a giant puddle, “someone was sleeping in the house with my pillow and I didn’t want to wake them, I can get it tomorrow”. But tomorrow would be a very different day.
The only way to get across the river was to jump on the boats that had been attached to the dock. The current was semi-strong and the boats were tied up so that they were still a little loose. They went across one at a time. Lena would jump ahead to the next boat carefully, and make sure it wouldn’t tip over too easily; her mother would follow behind then move to the front of the boats so that Lena’s brother could be helped across by her father, then her father would jump on when her mother would go to the next one. “Dad, dad it’s just like that video game we played, remember?” shouted her brother in excitement. “Yes, except this time you need to be more careful” answered her father, while he settled himself into the next boat. They jumped across five boats before they reached the dock, and once they were there, slowly headed towards the home up the bank.
They entered the house and Lena’s parents quickly but carefully searched around to see if anyone else was there while Lena and her brother went to the kitchen to look for food. The electricity was off in the house, but it was still light enough that she could see. She opened the fridge, and based on the smell determined that it must have been off for a couple of days at least. Thankfully there were still some canned goods, crackers and cookies scattered throughout the kitchen cupboards. Lena opened up a bread box and much to her surprise found almost two full loaves of semi-fresh bread. “They must have left quickly” thought Lena to herself. As news of the flood at the bottom of the mountain spread quickly, people higher up were forewarned, and therefore had enough time to leave their homes in time, before the waters could reach them.
After driving uphill for a couple of hours, her family had realized that they would soon run out of gas. The only problem was that most of the gas stations around had been abandoned. They even tried stopping at a few to pump the gas themselves, but the pumps had either been shut off or emptied dry by people who had left earlier than them. Finally at 2:04 pm on June 2nd, the day after Lena’s birthday, her family’s car had run out of gas completely, and they needed to continue on foot.
Lena’s mother returned with some candles and matches, and lit them in the kitchen as they gave one of the loaves to the other couple that was with them. “We’ve found a bedroom, it should be getting dark in a couple of hours so wake us up when you’re tired” her mother said. That was how they worked; her parents would sleep in the evenings until around midnight, then it was Lena and her brothers turn. But lately her brother has been getting scared and sleeping with her parents, and sometimes even until morning. At around dawn they would wake up and try and eat whatever food they had saved, then set out again to climb the mountain. One time, they had been sleeping in a store with many other families, but had woken up to find themselves alone and covered in water. No one had bothered to wake them up to tell them that the flood had risen to their level. Since then, they’ve been sleeping in shifts, and her parents would wake them up in the middle of the night if the water had gotten too high.
Lena divided up the food into threes, some for her family, some for the couple who would just be staying a few hours, and some for whoever would come next. She decided to keep a couple of slices of bread, took some butter in a little container and a butter knife, and set out to explore the area. “I’ll check for a good path we can take tomorrow” Lena exclaimed as she head out the door.
She looked around and decided to see if she could climb up the nearby barn to get a better view. Along the back there was some old wood piled up, and she managed to get up on top of the roof slowly. Looking in the distance, she spotted an abandoned silver SUV, similar to the one her parents used to have. She climbed back down the side of the barn and headed towards the vehicle, hoping that it belonged to someone that could help them.
By the time she reached the car, she could barely see the barn and the house anymore. She approached carefully, but there was no one around. As she got closer, she noticed that the car was empty, and the doors were unlocked. Sliding into the passenger seat, Lena saw something in a leather briefcase she hadn’t seen in a while: a laptop. And with it, a small USB stick that connects to the internet, something that could save her family if she could let people know where she was. She slowly slid it onto her lap and tried to turn it on “please have batteries, please work” she whispered. When the light came on, Lena became so ecstatic; she couldn’t wait for it to load up and try and connect to the internet. While she was waiting, her stomach grumbled, reminding her about the bread she brought to eat. She buttered a slice and took one bite by the time the computer had finished fully turning on. She pressed the internet connection button and finished her slice of bread, waiting in anticipation for the computer to go online. She was so focused on getting the computer to load, that she had barely noticed the small white car driving up behind her.
She heard a car door close, and she realized she didn’t have any time to hide; the man was now approaching her. Quickly tucking the knife into the pair of shorts underneath her dress and shoving the computer underneath the front seat, Lena slowly opened the door and walked outside.
“Walk over here slowly” grumbled the man on the left holding a knife in his hands, while the other one, the driver, walked towards her from the side. No sooner was she within a few feet of the car that the second man had taken her arm at the elbow and pushed her towards the man in the passenger seat of the vehicle. “I’m not going to hurt you” pleaded Lena, all the while thinking of the knife she had tucked below her dress, and how quickly she would be able to get to it. The man loosened his grip and they both stood behind her now, letting her know she wouldn’t be able to get away easily if she tried to run away. “Is that your car” asked the man in the passenger seat pointing to the SUV that Lena just came out of. “No,” answered Lena “I just found it a few minutes ago”, now noticing another young man in the back seat of the car, someone around her age. The man turned around and looked at the boy, then back at Lena. “You’re such a pretty girl” he said, as he looked her up and down, admiring her torn dress “why are you walking alone?” “I’m not alone, my family is nearby” she replied, but they were probably sleeping now, and wouldn’t know she was this far until they woke up in a few hours’ time.
“Do you know what I do to women who are alone?” said the man, snapping Lena back to the present, and the danger she now faced. “My name is Robert M” he added “have you heard of me?”. “Not that I know of” replied Lena, although she had heard rumours of a man that people referred to as R-M, a nasty man that went through the tragedy struck homes searching for women, women he would use as he pleased and then move on to the next. She tried to pretend that this was not that man. “You see, it would be such a crime to waste such a beautiful girl like yourself, how old are you dear?” he asked while smiling and staring along the top of her dress. “Eighteen, sir” she answered while slowly backing away in sudden fear. “Eighteen, what a perfect age. Around your age, right Michael?” he asked the boy in the backseat who nodded in agreement. One of the men behind her stopped her from walking backwards, then grabbed her wrist. “What’s this in your hand?” he asked. Lena had forgotten that she had been carrying the internet USB stick the entire time. Quickly thinking, Lena said “I’ll give you a trade” while opening up her left hand to show the men what she was holding. “This internet stick that goes to a laptop in that car” she said while gesturing towards the black SUV “for letting me go freely.” “That seems like a good trade,” said Robert “but what if it doesn’t work?”. “I just checked them both myself, and the laptop has almost a full battery, and the stick will connect to the internet if you wait a few seconds” she said, while slowly moving her right hand towards the knife she hid in her dress. “Go check for the computer” he told Michael and the man who was not directly behind her. The man took the USB in her hand and they both moved towards the SUV to search for the laptop. “It’s under the front passenger seat” yelled out Lena, as the man behind her slowly began to back off. A few seconds went by as Michael was trying to connect to the internet. “It works” he shouted towards Robert, “and there is gas in the car” said the driver as he shook the SUV. Robert then nodded towards the man behind Lena to back off and let her go. “Thank you for the computer and vehicle” said Robert, “ya, maybe you can check your Facebook or something” joked Lena and they both laughed at the thought of what their lives used to be, how simple things once were. “I don’t want to see you again,” warned Robert “or your deal may expire”, as Lena shook her head and jogged towards the top of the mountain, not directly back to the house.
She got up almost as far as she could before she lost her breath. She hid between some rocks and plants and looked back down to the men as they moved their things into the SUV. There were still a few good hours of daylight when Lena realized how tired she already was, and slowly began to fall asleep.
She was woken up by light rain on her face and she jolted upwards, not knowing how long she had been sleeping for. She felt as if she was being watched, but she thought she was just paranoid after all that had happened in the afternoon. She looked back down to where the cars were, and only the white sedan was there. “The men must have left already” she thought to herself, as she suddenly heard rustling in the bushes beside her. She backed away in fear, not knowing who or what it could be, as slowly Michael appeared, the boy from the white car, holding a knife in his hands. She didn’t even hesitate and quickly pulled out the knife from the bottom of her dress and held it towards Michael, startling him a bit. “Did, did you have that the whole time?” he stumbled, in fear of Lena now. “Yes, and I will use it if I have to, unless you put yours down” she said. He quickly complied by tossing it a few feet to the right of him, and added “I didn’t know you were so tough, we all thought you weren’t going to hurt us”. He was hunching down as Lena slowly approached him, then slowly lowering her knife. “I would have never pulled a knife on anyone before the flood, but now… everything is different… I am different…” she was almost whispering now, as Michael was almost fully kneeling, quietly listening to her speak. She placed the knife in front of her and slowly dropped to her knees almost sobbing from all the stress she had been through today, within the last few weeks. “Me too” added Michael, unsure of what to do next. He was afraid to move in case she was just playing a trick on him, aware that her knife was still near her knees. Gathering herself now, and noticing that Michael was still staring at her knife, she stood up and carefully kicked it away, motioning for him to calm down and stand up. For a while, they stood together in silence, not knowing what to do next.
“You remind him of his wife” said Michael, breaking the silence. “Excuse me?” questioned Lena, unaware of what he was referring to. “Rob” he replied, “his wife drowned when the flood hit.” then adding “he took it pretty badly I guess, blames himself; now he” Michael paused, “goes after other women who are alone or were left behind by their husbands, thinks he’s somehow helping them I guess.” Again a pause as Lena stares off into the distance. “He wasn’t going to hurt you” adds Michael “even if you hadn’t traded the computer”. “I’m not so sure about that” says Lena, lowering herself and motioning for Michael to sit down next to her. “How did you get mixed up with them?” she asks. “John, the guy who was driving is my uncle, so is Stan, the guy who was sitting next to me. And Rob is their friend, I’ve known him for a while too I guess.” “So your parents… did they make it through the flood?” she asked, not sure if she wanted to know the answer. “No, not even my older brother” he was silent now. “Can I ask what your name is, you know that my name is Michael” he asked. “Lena. I’m traveling with my family up the mountain until we can reach somewhere that isn’t affected by the flood, somewhere where someone can save us.” If they could only reach a big city or even a town where they could be rescued, all of this would be worth it. “Us too” said Michael. And they sat in silence again.
The drops of rain had gotten a bit bigger and Michael motioned for them to go under a large tree. Once there, Lena glanced over at him staring at her dress and knew exactly what he wanted. “You didn’t come here to talk, did you?” joked Lena as she looked down towards her dress as well. “No I suppose not, but I’ll leave if you want” he replied, slowly turning away in embarrassment. “You don’t have to, just don’t come towards me with a knife next time” she said half-jokingly.
Michael left just before it got dark, and Lena slowly headed towards the house where her parents were staying, wondering if she would tell them about the car and the computer that she found. When she got there, her mom had been making dinner and looked worried when Lena dropped the knife on the counter. “I met R-M today” said Lena “What?” asked her mother in fear, as she stopped stirring the pot on the electric stove. “Don’t worry” reassured Lena, he doesn’t know where we’re sleeping, and I don’t think he’s going to hurt us”. “Are you alright then?” asked her mother, still a bit scared. “Yes, just a bit tired, I think I’ll eat and go to bed, it’s been a long day.” “It’s been a long month” replied her mother as Lena grabbed a bowl of soup and headed towards the bedroom, kissing her brothers forehead as he slept.
She finished off the bowl, and tucked herself into bed. Tomorrow her parents would wake her up in the morning, and they would walk as much as they could until they got tired and try and find another house to stay in, try and survive for another day. If they could only reach a big city where they could be rescued, all of this would be worth it