“There’s tough times ahead, Rich, but don’t bow your head yet―don’t bow it ever. No matter how hard things get, keep your chin up.”

           Richard Banks stared through the window at the white streets and the grey clouds with snow raining down from them. The words his father had said to him over two years ago still echoed in his mind.

           “I bet you didn’t know times were going to be this hard,” Richard said. He was standing in his bedroom on Birch Street. The clanking of silverware from downstairs told him his mother was preparing breakfast.

           A year before Richard’s father said those words to him, the world had been a peaceful place―or at least, it had been becoming one. The Covid-19 vaccine was ready to be distributed around the world, and the virus was preparing to meet its end. 

           But not everyone saw global distribution of the vaccine as a good thing. Richard’s father, for one, argued that the vaccine had been developed too quickly to be safe. His complaints were put to rest a year later when he was arrested for his refusal to take the vaccine. The infection rate had been climbing steadily, and the world government decided they weren’t going to beat the virus unless everyone was immunized. A team of police officers barged into Richard’s home that night to arrest his family and take them to the police station, where they were forced to receive the vaccine. A camera crew recorded the whole thing and broadcasted it on CTV News.

           Before the show, Ontario’s Premiere made an appearance to say, “for anyone thinking of not taking the vaccine, this is not a time for rebellions, and this is not a time for hesitation. The virus has claimed millions of lives, and it is time to act.”

           Three days after receiving the vaccine, Richard’s father developed a severe fever and nausea. Richard’s mother drove him to the hospital, but the doctors couldn’t save him. Another three days passed before he died in his hospital room, holding Richard’s hand.

           His funeral took place on March twenty-seventh, 2022, the same day that marked the beginning of the end for North Bay, Ontario. The death of Richard’s father invited a wave of unrest that washed over the citizens and left behind a trail of riots, fires, and shootings.

           Richard was the face of many of these riots, much to his mother’s dismay. “You have a life to live, Richie,” she would say to him. “I won’t have you wasting it doing community service.”

           “I’m not wasting it,” he used to argue. “I’m starting a movement for Dad.”

           This movement, as he called it, led him to the city he lived in now. North Bay, Ontario, a place most people in the province had taken to calling the Wasteland.

           “Richard, come eat breakfast,” his mother said from downstairs. He turned his attention from the window and met her in the kitchen. “Are you ready for school?”

           “Yeah, I’m good to go.”

           “Good. I hope you weren’t staring out that window again, Richie. Dwelling on the past won’t bring your father back.”

           Richard exhaled deeply. “I’m never dwelling on the past, Mom. I just wish I could’ve done more for him.”

           “You mean destroy more public buildings and suffer more community service hours?”

           “No, I mean send a message to the government. Everyone hated the police for forcing us to take the vaccine until they started showing us their guns.”

           “Not everyone hates the police because of what they did to your father. A lot of people who followed you hate the police because their existence means we have to follow the law. A world without the police isn’t what people want; they want a world where they can do whatever the hell they please.”

           “I wasn’t trying to give them a world without laws, Mom.”

           “You were never going to ‘give them a world’ Richard. It’s time you practice some humility and stop living in the past. You’re seventeen for God’s sake, act like it. Have some fun or go to a party. We can relax now; we can finally live our lives again.”

           “Why are you so ready to do that without Dad?”

           His mother inhaled sharply. “You have no right to ask me that, Richard. You know well enough that I miss your father just as much as you do. I’m sorry for trying to make the most out of our situation.” With that, she walked pointedly past him and to the front door. “Eat your breakfast, I’ll wait in the car.”

           A plate with three pancakes sat on the countertop. Richard took the plate with him to the car and ate hurriedly while his mother drove. She said nothing to him, and so he stared out the window at the gloomy sky. As he looked at the clouds longer, they began to look like a painting, and when he looked back at the road, everything else appeared a little too real.

           After his father’s death, Richard had become fascinated with daydreaming and with the weather. Storms were his favorite thing, and he found ominous skies beautiful.

           Seven police cruisers passed them by, representatives of North Bay’s increased law enforcement. Richard watched them go with a scowl on his face.

           As they pulled into the school parking lot, Richard thought wistfully about the days when everyone was wearing masks and social distancing. It was peculiar to many people that he missed those days, but he did, because in those days his father was alive, and in those days there was peace.

           Richard said goodbye to his mother, who nodded curtly and drove off. At the front doors, a police officer checked his backpack and coat pockets before admitting him inside.

           “They always search the black ones more carefully,” said Richard’s best friend Lucas.

           “Shut up, man,” Richard laughed. “Were you waiting for me or something?”

           Lucas shrugged. “Kind of. I got here ten minutes ago.”

           Together they headed through the bright hallways where teachers stood outside their classrooms greeting students cheerfully. Some of them still looked at Richard with concern, some of them with contempt, some with pity. He hated those looks; they whispered regret into his ears.

           “Good morning, guys,” said Richard’s chemistry teacher, Ms. Crock.

           “Morning,” he and Lucas replied.

           “Hey, are you doing anything tonight?” Lucas asked once the national anthem had played.

           “No, I don’t think so, why?”

           “I’m going to a party at Sky’s house, you should come. Apparently she has a thing for you.”

“Wait, Sky? Like, Sky Fredricks?”

           Lucas chuckled. “Calm down, big guy. Yes, Sky Fredricks. I was talking to her the other day and she said she thinks you’re cute. Anyway, just come to the party, okay? Her parents are out all weekend. My mom can drive us there.”

           So, Richard sent his mother a text message explaining his plans for the evening, and Lucas’s mother drove the two boys to her house.

           “How’s your mom holding up, Rich?” Lucas’s mother asked as they got out of the car.

           “Um, she’s alright. We both miss him a lot, but we’re doing okay.”

           “If there’s anything we can do, just let us know.”

           According to Lucas, the party didn’t start until six o’clock. They spent the afternoon playing video games in the basement and tossing fetch toys for Lucas’s dog, Bruno.

           Sky Fredricks lived in a three-floored house at the end of Mclean Street, a neighborhood Richard and his mother could only dream of moving into. There were already three cars lined up on the street and four in the driveway when Lucas and Richard arrived.

           “Okay, we’ll see you later, Mom,” Lucas said.

           Daylight was receding, and the snowfall was slackening, leaving behind waterlogged sidewalks and roads marred by murky puddles. As Richard got closer to the house, he heard rap music blaring inside.

           “Lucas!” someone exclaimed when they opened the door.

           “What’s up, Q?” Lucas clapped the boy on the back and accepted a beer from him.

           “Oh, god, you brought riot boy here?” Q said.

           “Chill, man, he’s done with all that.”

           “I’m Richard.”

           “Yeah, I know who you are: you’re a freaking badass.”

           Richard laughed. “Thanks.”

           “Yeah. Anyway, enjoy yourselves. There’s more drinks in the kitchen and, uh…” Q took a step closer to them and whispered, “Big Bill’s here if you want something stronger.” With that, Q headed upstairs, and Richard kicked his boots off.

           “Let’s get you a beer,” Lucas said. They worked their way through the crowd and into the kitchen where three open coolers sat on the floor, filled to the brim with ice cubes and alcohol. Richard took a Bud-Light and cracked it open. Outside, a crowd of kids were congregating around a bonfire and a few others lounged in Sky’s hot tub.

           “Lucas, how’s it going, bro?” said a tall blonde boy Richard knew as Owen. “Richie, I haven’t seen you in ages, man.”

           “Yeah, that was a crazy night.” Approximately a year and a half earlier, Richard led a group of students―Owen among them―to city hall, where they lit fires around the property and spray-painted illicit messages until the cops chased them off.

           “You should’ve been there, Lukey. It was a blast.”

           “I think I’ll pass on getting arrested, thanks.”

           Richard kept a smile on his face, but he couldn’t help but feel irritated at Owen for making his mission for justice sound like a fun night shared between friends.

           “Where’s Sky at?” Lucas asked.

           “I think she’s upstairs. I’m going out to the fire, you boys coming?” They followed Owen outside and hung around in the backyard for a while. Soon, the sun set completely and the forest behind the house became a wall of shadows. The music inside went on relentlessly, shaking the night air.

           “Look, buddy,” Lucas said, wrapping an arm around Richard’s shoulders and pointing at the living room window. “There’s Sky.” Richard saw her through the window, talking to a group of her friends. Her brown hair was set in elegant curls and she wore a golden-fur vest over her white shirt. “Go talk to her, bro.”

           “What? No, that would be weird, man.”

           “Why would it be weird? Just go say hi.”

           “Later; she’s talking to her friends, anyway.”

Lucas let out a long groan. “Come on, Richie, go freaking talk to her. She likes you, man.”

           “Okay, first of all, I don’t even believe that.”

           “Why not? She literally told me she does a few days ago.”

           After a few more minutes of Lucas’s pestering, Richard surrendered and started for the back door. He kept his eyes on the ground, however, and didn’t notice Sky moving until she bumped into him on the porch.

           “Oh, jeez, sorry,” he sputtered.

           “No, don’t worry about it. Hey, you’re Richard, right?”

           “Yep, that’s me.”

           Sky chuckled. “I used to see you on the news, like, every day.”

           Richard grinned and suddenly found himself lost in Sky’s blue wolf-like eyes. “Yeah, uh… I used to go around trying to make a change, I guess.”

           “I’m really sorry for what happened to your dad.”

           He shrugged. “It’s okay, we did everything we could.”

           Sky boldly wrapped her arms around Richard, and he felt his heart leap to his throat. The music inside seemed to quiet as she held him, and after a second or two he returned the gesture.

           “Sorry,” Sky gasped as she pulled away. “I just, uh, Billy gave me some Xanax.” Sky began to laugh, apparently finding that funny. “Do you want some?”

           “Uh, I’m good, thanks.” Sky was not the kind of girl Richard thought she was, but he didn’t care. They talked some more until she took his hand and led him inside. Lucas gave him a thumbs up before he went through the door.

           Sky led him downstairs and into her bedroom. No one else was in the basement, and Richard’s heart began to beat almost painfully.

           “We had math class together last year, you know,” Sky said with a giggle.

           “Yeah, we did. Mrs. Clark, right?”

           “Yeah!” Sky laughed again and pushed Richard onto her bed.

           “Sky, wait. Are you sure this is okay? You look like you’re pretty high.”

           “Shut up,” she breathed, pressing her lips to his. He fell back on the mattress and wrapped his arms around her, feeling like the only thing he wanted to do was drown in the scent of her perfume. They kissed until Sky flipped the lights off and tossed her shirt onto the floor.

           A half hour later, when Richard’s body was slick with sweat and he knew in his mind that he was in love, Sky fell off of him and murmured that she was going to sleep.

           “Are you okay if I leave?” he whispered in her ear.


           “Are you sure? You’re not going to overdoes or anything?” To this, he received no answer, but he wasn’t going to wait around in an unconscious girl’s bedroom without any clothes on.

           “There he is. I told you guys, he was banging Sky.” A group of boys met Richard in the basement, and from their faces he could tell they were just as drunk as he was.

           “How’d she feel, bud?”

           “Mind if I take a turn?” Richard put a hand on the boy’s chest. “Uh, mind taking your hand off me?”

           “She’s sleeping.”

           The boy scoffed. “Like I care. Listen, Richie, it’s no big deal, alright? Nothing to go start a riot over.”

           Richard punched him across the face so hard he slumped to the floor. Another boy growled and dove into Richard, bringing them both to the ground. Richard rolled as hard as he could and pinned the boy down, then began swinging at his face.

           “Hey, hey, hey! Chill, it’s alright. It’s okay.” The last two guys pulled Richard off and sent their friends back upstairs. “Sorry about that, man.”

           They left the basement, and Richard came back into Sky’s room. He sat against the door, thinking he’d stay there the rest of the night if he had to.

           Some time later, a police siren startled him awake. Blue and red lights were flashing outside the window. Urgent voices were shouting at each other. Sky was still fast asleep on her bed, snoring.

           Richard’s phone buzzed in his pocket. There were twenty-five missed messages from Lucas, mostly asking about what happened between him and Sky. But presently the messages became more urgent. ‘Bro, the cops are here and Bill’s trying to go shoot at them,’ read a message from just two minutes ago. Another one said, ‘Bill just tried this new drug he made and he’s going to hurt somebody, bro.’

           “What the hell’s going on?” Richard climbed slowly to his feet and stretched. He jumped backward into the door when a tremendous bang broke the air. People screamed outside, and several more bangs followed.

           “Police. Open the door!” a man yelled from the basement.

           Richard cursed and ducked into the closet. A few seconds later, the door was kicked in and the lights came on. A police officer wrenched the closet open.

           “Hands up, kid! Good, now put them behind your back and turn around.”

           “Hey, man, I wasn’t doing anything! I didn’t do anything!”

           “I have a possibly intoxicated female and the Banks kid in the basement,” the officer said into his radio, locking handcuffs around Richard’s wrists.

           “No, this isn’t what it looks like!”

           “Keep quiet, kid. Let’s go.” Richard was led upstairs and out the front door. Big Bill was laying on the front lawn, two bullet holes in his chest.

           “Hey, wait!” Lucas’s mom came running from her car. “What are you doing with him?”

           “Ma’am, he is facing possible sexual assault charges. Please step away.”

           “That’s not true!” Richard protested.

           But it didn’t matter; Richard sat in the police station over night until Sky could explain what happened. Richard came home to a furious and concerned mother that Saturday afternoon.

           “I’m proud of you for having some fun, I am, but you can’t keep getting involved with the police, Richie!”

           “Mom, I already told you it wasn’t my fault!”

           They argued back and forth for a while until she had to go to work, at which point Richard collapsed into his bed and texted Sky. This messaging led to him catching the Junction bus that night and thanking the driver at a stop just one block from Sky’s house. She snuck out her window and they hastened to the playground near her house. There they laid in the wet grass and gazed up at the stars.

           “Sorry for getting you arrested,” she giggled.

           “Sorry for waiting in your room like a creep.” That made her laugh even harder, and he kissed her for a long while.

           “Do you think you’ll ever start another protest for your dad?” Sky asked.

           “I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone started something, though. My mom said something a few days ago that I thought was stupid, but it kind of makes sense now.” Richard explained his mother’s view on why people hate the police, and Sky grinned.

           “I think your mom’s right; everyone craves chaos. Don’t you?”

           “I guess a little, yeah.”

           “Just a little? You don’t think you wanted chaos when you started all those riots?”

           “I think a lot of the people who helped me wanted chaos, but not me. I just wanted to make a change.”

           Richard grit his teeth as an uncomfortable silence passed between them. At last, he asked Sky if she craved chaos herself.

           “Of course I do. A world without laws and order would be a lot easier to survive in, Richie, believe me. Why do you think I like living in the Wasteland so much?”

           That made him laugh, and he kissed her again as the moon rose higher in a dark sky where, amid the stars, his father was hiding.

March 09, 2021 22:55

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