A Midnight Meeting
Written by Jonah Gomes
It was a long and late night when she felt the car slow to a stop while amongst her sea of dreams. Slowly, she began to realize where they had arrived. The steady flowing hum of the car’s old heart died and the sudden warmth of the cab lights shined on her tightly closed eyelids. She held them so tight because she knew her mother would ask for her to bring in luggage for their first night in the new home, unless she appeared to be asleep. Mother’s seat belt loosened itself from the buckle and the leather seats squealed as she turned from the passengers side to look upon her daughter. “Janie?” she whispered. The teenager did not move. “Janie sweetie are you awake?” Still she continued to lay in her ball on the seat. More sternly the mother spoke, “Janie, come on, I know you’re awake I can see how tightly your eyes are closed.” Immediately Janie lessened the grip she had on her eyes, wishing it would somehow magically cure the situation. It wouldn’t. She realized her efforts were useless, accepted her defeat, then opened her eyes to meet mother’s. Green was their color, just like hers but had a slight mixture of blue around the iris. Janie’s were on the darker shades of the spectrum. Due to her Dad’s deep shade of brown, the combination of genetics made her eyes appear to almost be a dark emerald eye color. The light in the back made it hard for her to see out into the darkness but she didn’t care how the house looked anyway. She hated moving and worst of all, her parents never told her why. It frustrated her because she figured they thought that she was too young or immature to handle such truth even though she believed she was more mature than other kids her age. Hard to know though. They hadn’t seen another family much less another kid her age in months since the beginning of their journey.
Mother then said to Janie, “We’re not gonna take in anything tonight because of the rain, your father will handle it. We’re just gonna set up our beds and sleep. Come on.” Janie felt the relief in her breath as she pulled on her bright green raincoat before stepping into the downfall outside. As she followed mother towards the house steps, she began to take notice of the rain with each step. She hadn’t even realized the weather while she slept due to the cars loud engine that must have overpowered the heavy pelts of toxic rain. The so called “toxic rain” was one of the many things that resulted from the effects of the third world war against Russia that ravished the planet. It was thought to be harmless but it did leave a strange green stain on things. Those caught in it take the precaution to cover up just in case. Jaine was born not too long after the war had ended so this was all she was used to. Only a few scattered specks of humanity is all she knows now. Only a few good people fighting for the right thing are left in the world. The rest? Dead or turned savage.
The new house they were moving into was much bigger than the last one they left, but was certainly not as nice. She could feel the rotten wood creak beneath her feet as she climbed the groups of stairs leading towards the front door and eventually made it through and into the darkened living room. As the doors closed behind her she turned to look back though the dirty paned glass in the door to see her father starting to unload the essentials that they would need for the night. As the rain pelted on the rusted roof of the car, Janie felt a sense of guilt as she watched her dad struggle with the things, but she guessed that by the time she got out to help him, he’d already be finished. She turned away and followed upstairs. The next thing she knew, Janie was saying goodnight to her parents in their room as the rain continued to rhythmically beat on the roof of their new home. They wrapped up the small talk with her for the night and she went back to her own bedroom to sleep. But as father watched her leave he noticed her attitude. He saw it in her eyes that she wanted answers. Answers to questions that had no simple answer. Although more tired than he had ever felt, he decided to aid her sleep. Father whispered to mother in their bed that he would not be long and that she could sleep if she wished. She simply exhaled sharply and buried the side of her face into the pillow. Father climbed out, wrapped his favorite velvet colored bathrobe around him, and closed the door behind him. The hall leading to her room croaked and moaned as he went to her door. He cracked it open to find her lights off and her already in bed turned away from the door. In her room there was only one window for the moonlight to spill through so managing his way to her bedside took some time and his growing age did him no favors. While relatively still young and acting like it, Janie couldn’t help but notice her father’s strength slowly disappearing every year that he grew in age. It was hard to watch. Eventually he made his way to her, knelt down upon one knee and asked what was bothering her. Janie turned on her bed to face him and said, “Everything.” The night was still young and still had much more to teach Janie.
It felt like years were being drawn out as Janie struggled to grab ahold of her lost sleep. False hope had her believing that speaking with father would ease her into sleep but instead, the conversation had just made her more angry. Every time she would ask about why they were constantly on the move and cautious about their actions, her parents would either avoid the question entirely or promise her they would say when the time was right. Tossing and turning, she yearned for her rest but still she remained awake. The moon was at a full rise now and the rain had stopped its midnight song much to Janie’s misery. Due to her insomnia, Janie always had trouble sleeping in the silence of the night, so certain sounds would always help her sleep through it. She liked to imagine that her mind was so creative and so loud that in order to rest, it had to be suppressed by other noises that most would find distracting. These sounds ranged from a car’s engine, to rainfall, the cracks of lightning, and her walkman that she carried.
Janie sat up with excitement and relief. “Of course! How the hell did I forget that thing?” she thought to herself. Immediately she slipped on her jeans and started to look around the room and through her bags to find it. No luck. Perhaps a second look would provide better results. Still nothing. She checked an extra three times in a furious panic in search for her prized possession. It was nowhere to be found. The realization of what she had to do frightened her but she knew that it had to be done. Grabbing her jacket and tucking her laces into her shoes, she made her way out of her room, through the hall, and down to the car outside. Trekking her way through the darkness of the outside she eventually found the door handle to the last place she had slept, wishing she could find that same comfort again. She tugged on the door handle on the back passenger side of the car but the door would not open. Again she pulled on the rusted handle and again the door stayed put. This time, with all of her might, she yanked on the door and the handle snapped off forcing her to fall backwards. Cursing under her breath, she stood up and went around to the other side and luckily this time the door opened with ease. Janie climbed into the car and began the same frantic search that had tore up her room. This time she only needed one search to find what she was looking for. Her forest green walkman with her Apple headphones and collection of tapes was at last in her possession again. Immediately she sat down on the seat, closed the car door, placed the headphones in her ears, and let the lyrics of Cat Stevens “Father and Son” fill her head with emotion. It was the first song her father showed her when she first had the walkman so it held a special place in her heart, even if it was about a father and his son. As she listened, she began to look around to notice the surrounding woods and the beauty of it it that the moon would allow her to see. She noticed the most beautiful collection of fireflies dancing amongst the darkness. Like moving dots of yellow paint on a blackened canvas. One after another each song rolled onto the next as she sat for awhile watching the display, nearly falling asleep to its power. Then she noticed something strange that grabbed her attention. Janie squinted her eyes and looked closely to see two particular fireflies floating absolutely still and far, but not necessarily separate, from the rest of the group. These two were different from the rest. Different indeed. Unlike the rest of their brothers and sisters, they did not have the same bright yellow glow and liveliness to them. Instead the color that was shown was almost orange like and had a dead look to them. As she was guessing to why they were this way they suddenly disappeared and reappeared in fast succession. Janie’s heart sank as she realized that they were not fireflies at all. They blinked again and out into the pool of moonlight stepped the paw of a bear. Then slowly the rest of the humongous creature moved forward into the light, revealing a beaten and radiated grizzly bear with a scar running down its nose like a river of blood. The creature blinked its orange eyes again for the third time.
She wanted to scream. Her heart wanted to beat out of her chest and run away. She wanted to call for her father to save her. Both fear and logic kept her frozen in place for screaming would only make the situation worse. Janie felt useless and frightened. In the midst of this terror, Janie remember her father’s repetitive saying for strength. Whenever she was frustrated with certain things he would always tell her “Not everything can be done for you. There will be times in your life where the only thing that can save you, is you. How we respond to this is what makes us the people we are. No matter how afraid we are of the unknown, we stand to it and overcome this fear. Now get up.” Her eyes closed for a moment then opened as she found her resolve. She clicked the pause button on the walkman and slowly moved her hands to her ears and took out the buds. The bear’s gaze was locked with her’s and refused to move from her eyes. It did not move. She did not move. What seemed like hours but had only been minutes passed before the animal eventually began to move towards the window that was the only thing keeping her “safe.” Each step forward of the abomination increased the pacing of her heartbeat but still she remained unmoved from her position. Janie did her best not to show any of her fears even though she felt the inside of her groan with it. The bear steadily moved toward the glass that separated them and stopped when it was but a few inches from it. She could see in full detail the creature’s head now that it was so close. Its breath started to fog the glass window, obscuring some of the details aged by its gruesome face. As Janie was studying the bear she saw something. Something she’d never think to find in such a frightening beast. There were tears streaking down the bears face. Tears of something in immense pain. She could even hear the muffled sound of the bear’s whimpering through the rusted metal and glass. “Could this be possible? Do animals even cry?” she thought. Well this one certainly did. The surrounding fur was dry indicating that they were indeed teardrops running down and had not been caused by the rainfall earlier that evening. Janie saw in the bear’s eyes the very same emotions that made her human and she understood. She understood the reasons of her parents secrets that they held from her. However in doing so, without realizing, her parents had also suppressed her own emotions. Such emotions of fear, love, loss, joy, and despair were all resurfaced to her with every drop that fell off the nuzzle of the creature. She found a strange connection to this animal and felt a compassion for it that she had never felt before. Janie began to cry. It was then when she learned true empathy. It did not take long for the bear to turn, walk away from the car, back through the silver pool of moonlight from before, and to disappear into the darkness of the trees. Janie waited a few minutes just to be safe before she gathered her belongings, opened the car door, and walked her way quietly back into her room. She ignored undressing, climbed into bed, and closed her heavy eyes. Janie new that she had changed. She was different. It was a new her. A new life. A new beginning. She had never slept better.