Safe Haven - A Short Story by Angela Tsai

Posted by Brianna Boone
on 17 June 2019

Safe Haven
A Short Story by Angela Tsai, Class of 2021

Noah, he thinks, My name is Noah. Mom, Dad, Candice, Thomas, Katrina, and Mr. Bell from across the street, he recites to himself. Every morning, like a prayer, this is how he remembers. How he remembers his life before the Fall, before the flood, and before he had lost everything.

Part One: Before

November 18, 2039.

Every family had been preparing for the day since October 7, 2018. The day when scientists believed our world as we know it would end. The United Nation’s most intellectual researchers had given us twelve years: twelve years to find a solution, twelve years to reverse the damage done to our planet, twelve years to live our lives before the catastrophic change known as The Fall hit the world. One can imagine what people did to protect and prepare themselves: teaching their children first aid before the multiplication table, setting up family evacuation plans, stashing emergency bags full of water bottles and smoke masks, and renovating basements to withstand a hurricane. No matter how much was taught and how much one learned, it was nearly impossible to feel ready. By 2025, the Earth’s problem was deemed unfixable, The Fall was unavoidable.

While the majority of people braced themselves for the next years, many coped a different way, a way where they would not have to live through it all. By 2026, suicide rates increased fourfold, becoming a worldwide epidemic not just for teenagers but among parents, grandparents, and sometimes entire families all at once. Panic rose faster than ever before.

By 2030, the world was silent. Once lively towns now had more spider webs than people occupying the buildings. The streets of Bangladesh remained archaic, while the houses were built to withstand anything, surrounded by fencing and padding. During the day, people seldom went outside. Nightlife no longer existed, and continents remained pitch black as soon as the sun went down, everyone remaining in their houses. People lived in constant fear,  and The Fall became the sole thing on their minds.

By 2031, people were still paranoid. They didn’t know when The Fall would hit and or how impactful it would be. Still, they took cover. By 2034, people were simply confused. The Fall was four years late from the predicted time. Maybe the scientists were wrong. By 2035, people were tired of living with so many precautions for something that didn’t seem to be coming. By 2037, civilization reappeared. Towns reopened their restaurants, schools filled up with kids, and parks finally got maintained. By 2038, life was back to normal. Armor-like padding was taken down off houses, replaced by gardens and furniture. People had forgotten what living was like before The Fall’s prediction. They lived similar lifestyles as before, as it seemed that their actions didn’t really affect the Earth. It took a couple of months for everyone to settle back into their daily routines, starting the day off with a morning jog and ending it with friends at a bar. While some safety regards were still taken and some were still paranoid, most people had begun to live for themselves again, instead of living just to stay alive.

A blaring alarm shook his entire room. His eyes opened slightly, only enough to read the clock, 8:00 am. Noah groaned, pulling the covers over his head in order to block out the noise. There was a knock. Noah’s mom cracked open his door and turned off his alarm.

“Noah?” she asked, opening the blinds and flooding his small room with sun.  

“Mm?” he moaned. The light from outside was way too bright.

“Your dad made breakfast to celebrate your brother visiting from University. French toast and bacon with that maple sauce you love. There’s a plate for you downstairs. Eat up and then we’re leaving for Saka Haiphong by 9 at the latest. Remember your swimsuit.”

“Thanks, Mom,” he replied, “I’ll be down in a sec.” Noah got up and headed for the bathroom. He splashed his face with the cold water, feeling more awake already. He slipped on his new swim trunks, ripping off the tag and tossing it. He headed downstairs and by 8:45, his family of five was packed into the car, driving to the rivers.

The rivers in between the Saka Haiphong mountains were once Bangladesh’s main tourist attraction. However, after the Fall was predicted, the government shut it down, fearing water contamination or flooding. Tomorrow was the river’s grand reopening, but since his dad was in charge of its maintenance, Noah’s family got access to the park today. Passing through the shady surrounding forest, the car’s energy was buzzing; it had been so long since anyone had gone for a swim out in nature.

The car pulled up the site. Noah got out, and even though he had been here before, his breath was taken away. He ran over the smooth rocks and looked into the crystal clear water. Without hesitation, Noah ripped off his shirt and jumped in, quickly followed by his brother, sister, and parents. Laughter filled the forest, and Noah’s joy spread through his entire body.

“Look out!” his sister, Kat, screamed, pointing upwards. Thomas flew above them, jumping off the nearby cliff and cannonballing into the water, splashing his entire family.

“Jesus dude. Thank for the warning, Thomas. How did you even get up there?” Noah asked once his brother’s head reappeared at the surface.

“I yelled that I was coming down, but I guess it was too far up. No one got hurt though. And that’s what matters.” Pointing, Thomas explained. “There’s a tiny little path behind that section over there. You walk and then you climb up the rocks and end up right above where we are now.” Thomas gestured upwards, about thirty feet from where they were now. “Go try it, it’ll be fun.”     

Nodding, Noah swam over to where his brother had pointed. He peered behind the trees surrounding the river and saw what Thomas described: a steep path that was so small that no one would’ve given it a second glance unless they were looking for it. Jesus, Noah thought, that looks steep as hell. Nonetheless, he trekked up to the path. At the top, he looked down, seeing Kat and Thomas skipping rocks across the surface of the water, and his parents sneaking in kisses when they thought no one was looking. He felt secure, as if this river was a safe haven from the rest of the world. Everything seemed perfect. He smiled, a little dimple appearing on his smooth face.

Something snapped. Noah looked around the ground to see what twig he had stepped on. He couldn’t find anything near him. Another snap. He looked up. Squinting, he looked into the sea of trees surrounding him. Confused, he focused his gaze on the horizon. The trees were falling quickly as if they were dominos. Noah had no idea what it was, but he knew something was wrong.

  “GUYS!!” He screamed for his family, “Come up here. You need to see this!!” But just like Thomas had said, he was too far up to be heard. But this time, people would get hurt. The movement was getting closer and closer, “GUYS!!! WATCH OUT!” The action was now clearly in sight: it was water, lots of water. It was nine years late, but the Fall had finally come. The rushing water was a few hundred feet from his family. Now, they all had seemed to notice. Hearing something, Thomas turned his head, eyes wide open, grabbed Kat’s hand, and ran. They ran, but it was no use, the water was faster than anyone. It was too late. Noah saw the look on his mom’s face, the look that said I love you. He was the last thing she saw before her head went under, swallowed whole by the white rapids.

   “No,” Noah cried, “N-n-no, no, no. No.” He looked into the water, trying to see if anyone was swimming. No one. He wanted to jump in, to save his family, or to be with them. It wasn’t fair. Thomas and Kat were going places. They were going to help so many people. Noah thought, If the Fall were to take anyone away, it should’ve been me. He finally understood why suicide rates had skyrocketed years before the Fall: it was the only escape from these disasters and these thoughts. Although he wanted to, Noah couldn’t find the courage within him to jump off the cliff. There was too much was happening. He crumpled to the ground, the water just feet below where he was on the rock. His knees were cut and his hands are blistered from pounding the rocks, but he didn’t feel it. He didn’t feel anything but emptiness.

A minute passed. Then two, then three. He was all alone.

Noah screamed for his mother, for his father, for any familiar face. His voice was drowned out by the rushing water, but still, he persisted. He screamed until words stopped coming out and his throat became raw. He needed to know at least one other person had made it out alive.

There was no response.

Part Two: After

January 21, 2040

Five months. That’s how long had passed since Noah last saw his family since he last saw any human being. At least, he thought it was five months, he had run out of room on his rock to keep track of the passing time.

It was dusk. The sun was beginning its daily journey up from behind the Saka Haphong mountains. While the opposite side of where Noah stood was still a dark, twilight blue, the sky surrounding the mountains was becoming a vibrant mix of colors: orange, yellow, and every shade in between. As the sun inched up, the twilight blue faded, painting the sky with a vivid palette of colors. For a couple of minutes, everything was peaceful, everything seemed normal.

Noah took a deep breath. He hated watching the sunrise, but at the same time, he couldn’t look away. Nature seemed to be tricking him, its beautiful skies letting him think that the day was going to okay. But for Noah, everything was not okay. He was reminded of what he no longer had.

Candice would’ve loved this, Noah thought, thinking of the 5 am morning hikes his girlfriend had dragged him to simply to see the sunrise at the peak. Never thought how much I’d kill to be doing that right now, he smiled sadly, a single tear sliding down his cheek, starting in the eye and dissolving at his dry lips, leaving the smallest hint of salt behind.

He took in a breath of cool, crisp air. Inhaling, he replayed everything that had happened: the day at the river, seeing the water coming fast, yelling but no one hearing him, realizing it was too late. He breathed out his chest sinking, but still tight. The tightness had been with Noah since The Fall. He hadn’t been able to breathe right since. Noah looked into his beaten down drawstring bag for his water filtering straw. He had found one laying on the streets of his neighborhood, while he was looking for any other Fall survivors. There was nothing left but this straw. He had taken it as a reminder of his home, but soon discovered its use. With the straw in his hand, he bent over and stuck the tube into the river, whose water flow was significantly smaller and redder than when he first arrived five months ago. Lovely, he thought, it floods enough to wipe out my entire fucking town, but the little water for me to drink is contaminated. He rolled his eyes as the water moved through the filters and into his mouth, replenishing his cracked lips and dry throat. Noah closes his eyes, thinking.

Something rustled in the bushes. Noah turned his head, trying to see what it was. Another rustle. He looked into the leaves, squinting with the upcoming sun shining in his eyes. A flock of birds flew out abruptly, their wings creating a rush of wind. A piercing sound shot through the air, followed by two more. Gunshots. Noah had seen enough movies to know what guns sounded like. His head was screaming to run, but his legs are paralyzed, unable to carry him.

A man ran out of the trees. He saw Noah and started to hurry over. He was limping. Noah saw him clenching his stomach, a layer of red forming around it. Noah’s eyes got huge, he didn’t want to know what was underneath his hands. Run, he thought, Jesus Christ, run.

“Please, wait!” The man cried out, “He’s almost here. He could shoot you too.” The words went through Noah’s ears, but his legs demanded to keep running. “Help me!” the man groaned, “He’s not far behind.” Noah turned around. He hadn’t seen anyone in months, he couldn’t just leave the man.

“Okay, but we gotta hurry,” Noah finally replied, “In between those two rocks is where I’ve been sleeping. It’s hidden, he won’t find us there.”

   “Thank you,” the man said, his eyes wide. Lifting an arm over his head, Noah helped the middle-aged man take shelter in his rocks, allowing him to sit.

“Now, lift up your hands. I need to see how bad the bleeding is.” Noah moved to the man’s stomach. He looked at the red layer, squinting his eyes. It wasn’t liquid, it looked dried.

“What?” Noah thought out loud, “This isn’t blood.” He looked up into the man’s eyes, confused. Abruptly, the man’s hand moved over to behind his back, wrapping his fingers on a gun. What the hell is happening? Noah thought.

“Stand up,” the man demanded, gun pointed straight at Noah’s chest. “I saw you drinking from the river earlier- how?”

Noah took a deep breath in, trying to keep calm. “Th-there’s a straw in my bag. I found it on the streets. It.. it filters the water.”

    “Give it to me.”

    “What?”

   “Give me the straw. I haven’t had water in days. The rivers are red and there’s no way I’m gonna drink that without a filter. It’ll give me some sick disease.”

    “Okay, fair point,” Noah replied, “Let me just get it out of my bag. It’s in there.”

  “Do it slowly, don’t even think about playing games.” Noah nodded. He looked into his drawstring bag, seeing both the straw and the rock he had used to mark the passing days. An idea ran through his head. Use the rock. Hit the guy. Run. He considered it, thinking about the consequences of if he missed.

“Hurry up,” the man demanded.

God, Noah thought, You need to throw it now. Listening to the voice in his head, Noah secured the rock in his hand. Taking a sharp inhale, he threw it, right at the man’s nose.

“Jesus!” His captor shouted, dropping the gun and grabbing his face in pain. Noah took this as his chance to get out. Grabbing his straw, he dashed out of the rocks. He ran. It had been a while since he sprinted: he was out of breath but the adrenaline carried him forward. Noah turned around. He could see the man catching up. A gunshot. This one was so sudden, Noah’s reflexes made him cover his ears. He heard a metal clink onto the nearby rocks. The straw, he thought. His head knew he would be dead without it, but his body wouldn’t let him stop to pick it up, Another gunshot. This told him to run even faster, desperate to get away from this sick man.

Noah ran, he ran until his legs ached and he didn’t know where he was. His breath was shallow and fast. He stopped, gasping for air. The world around him was spinning, he was spinning. His eyes rolled to the back of his head. His vision was blurry, then black.

January 23, 2040.

   It had been days since Noah drank water. His mouth was dry, his lips peeling. He could hear the river nearby, flowing quickly. When he had woken up earlier, he desperately wanted to drink from it. But he couldn’t, as it was a burnt orange color. It taunted him. There was so much water and he couldn’t have any of it, not without a filter. Noah sat up, weak. His eyes opened slightly, adjusting to the darkness. His head was still pounding.

   It was nighttime. Noah hadn’t seen any animals around, and while during the day he wasn’t happy about it, at night he was thankful. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what nocturnal creatures could do to him. He inhaled, taking in the silence. Noah heard a noise, something that sounded like footsteps. Confused, Noah looked around. There was a rustle in the trees, then two. Then, he heard a voice, a human voice.

   “Noah?” it said. Puzzled, Noah listened for more, “Help me.” The soft voice was female, and it sounded weirdly familiar, “Please Noah.” Candice. Noah could pick out his girlfriend’s voice from a crowd. His heart rate increased: he could feel it beating in his chest. How? He thought. Noah waited for more. He needed to find her.

“Help.” She whispered. Noah stood up, his vision still a little blurry. He listened. Her voice was fading. Follow her voice, Noah. He began to head in the direction of the voice. He heard another voice, this time male.

“Noah,” it murmured, “Why didn’t you help us?” Noah recognized him: Thomas. He walked towards his voice. He had to see his brother. He walked in the direction, his head hurting more with every step. Follow his voice, Noah. He walked past trees, leaving his clearing in the forest behind. Noah could hear him louder and more prominent, now more voices than just one. He heard his mother, his father, Kat. Their voices were cold, drained of their usual emotion. Noah needed to find them. He kept walking in the direction. He could hear them clearly now. He wandered through the forest, finally arriving at another clearing. He looked around, seeing an indentation in the grass. An indentation from his past nights sleeping there. He had gone in a circle.

“Noah,” he heard, “I needed your help, but you didn’t save me.” Noah spun his head around, trying to find the person behind the voice. Follow his voice, Noah. Again, he walked in the direction of the sound, but again, he ended up in the same area. He didn’t understand. His head was throbbing, but his mind was trying to make sense of what was happening. Again, he heard the voice. Follow his voice, Noah.  

Just then, Noah heard something, a different noise, a growl. He turned around. He didn’t see anything, but his heart was doubtful. The hairs on the back of his head stood up. He could feel someone, or something, watching him. That’s when he heard it again. Another bellow. He squinted his eyes, checking his surroundings. Nothing. God, he thought, Stop. You’re just freaking yourself o-

Fingers brushed across his bare feet.

His heart stopped. Noah looked down. He screamed.

He could see the fingers of someone grabbing his ankles. The sound being made told Noah that the creature wasn’t human. Another growl, this time louder. Noah’s heart rate spiked. Adrenaline shot through his body. He reached around for a nearby weapon: a rock, a branch, anything. His hands wrapped around a stick. He picked it up and, like a baseball bat, thumped it against the figure. Using his other foot to kick, he was out of its grasp. His legs responded before his mind, making him run away from the being. Noah dashed through the trees and bushes. He could hear the footsteps behind him. He didn’t want to look back, afraid that would make his body slow down. He ran until there was no more forest. Soon, he came close to the edge of the mountainside, a steep canyon meeting him at the end. He slowed down, not sure where to go. He looked down the gorge, seeing nothing but blackness on the way down.

A flash of the day that everything fell apart appeared in his head: how his mom was helpless against the rushing water, how Thomas and Kat desperately wanted to get out, how he had the chance to join them but didn’t. Not again, Noah thought, I’m not making the same mistake. Peering down the side of the mountain, he saw it. He saw freedom from this world, and he saw an escape. An escape from whatever it was behind him, an escape from this life whose sole goal was just to survive, not to really live. Taking one last breath in, he jumped from the edge, a small smile forming on his face, saying finally. He had made it out, out to a place where he would be safe. He had finally found his safe haven.