Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Don't Fall in Love with London

‘The flat you rented is a bit cramped.’ The landlady wove in and out of the dressers and other items on the hallway. ‘Don’t mind these. We’re having some renovations done in the other rooms.’
I lifted my bags, narrowly avoiding knocking over a pile of books. The bookcase beside it had been stocked with countless trinkets from places I have yet to explore.
‘The folks on the other side of the building are planning to leave by next month. Perhaps you can take their place. If it’s convenient for you, that is.’ She smiled.
We had stopped in front of a formidable door, and the landlady fumbled with the keys. Once opened, the door creaked a sound akin to a metal rod scraping the exterior of a brand-new Bentley. The landlady didn’t seem troubled, but I had the hairs on my arms standing, my teeth gritting. We stepped into the room and drew the curtains back.
‘Well, what do you think?’
The room was basic. A bed, table, closet. There was an open-plan kitchen, and beside it was the door to the bathroom. No paintings on the walls. Three simple track light fixtures on the ceiling.
‘This would be fine,’ I said, finally setting my bags near the lone table. There were two chairs. Who in the world would be sitting on the other one? I thought.
The landlady just looked at me as if waiting for a little more praise. I couldn’t deprive her of what she desired.
‘This is lovely, madam. It is definitely larger than my previous flat. Thank you.’
The landlady slipped the key off the key ring and handed it to me but not before reminding me of the payment due dates and some basic house rules. ‘I’m not saying I don’t allow it, nor do I have the power to prohibit you, but I do wish you wouldn’t bring in random men into your room. You’re such a lovely girl.’ She placed her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye like a parent would to a child on her first day at university. ‘Don’t fall in love in London.’ That was her advice.
She then left the room hurriedly, taking away my chance of explaining that it was the main reason I moved to this place. Does where I fall in love matter? Can anybody even avoid it?
Hamilton Gardens. The web displayed it as a peaceful residential area, ideal for people like me who had just decided to, well, reside.
I plopped on the bed and stared at the bare ceiling. My fascination of ceilings had driven me to old Victorian houses, admiring the details of each chandelier, crown moulding, and lighting, critiquing silently the various reconstructions that modern man had to impose. That’s how I met him.
‘I don’t understand why everyone is so concerned about beam ceilings being too plain or tray ceilings being too ornamental.’ He paced around the dining room, eyes squinting at the tray ceiling. ‘I mean, they’re ceilings. Less than 10 per cent of people living in houses with decorative ceilings, or any ceiling for that matter, actually pay attention to what’s over their heads.’
In his preoccupation with the impractical ceiling and his unnecessary and possibly flawed statistic of ceiling appreciators, his hip hit one of the dining chairs, which bumped the table and shook the decorative plates and sent them crashing to the floor. His panicked eyes grew wide, and I could see the plea begin to form in his head even before he gave voice to it.
‘Help.’
But that was in another time, another life, another old Victorian house. I had transferred to the Victorian conversion to rid myself of any favours I had unknowingly owed him. This house was to be my place of redemption, my opportunity to occupy a world—my world. This room, bare ceiling and all, would have to be enough to dispel my demons.
By the time I rolled off the slightly lumpy bed, the sun had begun to set. There were people outside, walking or riding their bicycles, minding their own business. My stomach complained by making an embarrassing rumbling that would have sent me blushing had I been with him.
There you go again, I chastised myself. Stop thinking about him.
My feet dragged me to the corner store at Nugent Terrace, and my hands instinctively grabbed a fizzy drink and a club sandwich—exactly the same as what he would have gotten. The lady at the cash register smiled at me kindly.
‘Will this be all, miss?’ she asked as she started bagging the goods.
‘For now, but you don’t have to bag them. I’ll just have them here if you don’t mind.’
She conceded and accepted my payment. I then relocated myself to one of the seats conveniently placed near the window facing the laundry shop. It was amusing to watch the tenants of the shop go about their duties, carrying basketfuls of clothes from one machine to another. It was reminiscent of when we had to use the coin-operated laundry for the first time and he lost his socks in the washer.
I finished my meal and took a stroll further down the street. You know what would be really nice? I mused. A corner bookstore with lots of stuffed toys and the scent of coffee mixed with the scent of decaying books. Nostalgia filled my nostrils as I remembered exactly what those scents were. I had long accepted the idea that I could have been a great hound, if hounds were humans. But then another thought threatened to shatter the slow calm that was sweeping in like the tide: The last time I was in a bookstore was when I was with—‘Stop it!’
I bit my lip and looked around to check if anyone had heard me. A few passers-by looked my way, but most of them had earphones on, reassuring me that my reputation, as the newcomer to the area, would not be tinged with the words weird and possibly bonkers. Coincidentally, though, when I had stopped, it was in front of a bookstore that also sold toys. There was a man carrying boxes and arranging them on the shelves and a younger man, I assumed, carrying boxes from the van into the store. He saw me standing there, gaping at the ‘luck’ I seemed to be having.
‘Miss? Is everything all right?’ He lowered the box he was carrying to check on me. My body had frozen, unfortunately, and my eyes were busy taking in the bookstore entrance. He reached for my arm but was repelled by nature in the form of static electricity. The pain from the sudden spark jolted me from my immobility.
‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’ My arm was sore, but my ego was suffering even more.
‘Hey, it’s okay. You’re just kind of electric,’ he said, shaking his hand to remove the slight numbness. ‘What have you been plugging yourself into?’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘You say sorry a lot, don’t you?’
I opened my mouth to respond but realized I was about to say sorry again. He smiled knowing he had dissuaded me from what has become my habit.
‘Setting up shop?’ I gestured to the boxes and the shelves.
‘Well, if you call bringing in stocks without actually displaying them yet setting up, then that’s what we’re doing.’
‘David!’ the older man called. ‘Hey, where are the other goods?’ The man came out and saw me—a girl in jeans, jacket, shirt, and sneakers—stealing David’s time away from helping set up the shop. ‘Oh, I didn’t realize you had a friend in this area.’ He walked closer and adjusted his glasses. ‘I’d offer my hand in marriage, but I’ve already done that. A handshake perhaps?’
‘Pleased to meet you, sir.’ I shook his hand and bit my lip—another habit I had to break. ‘I’m not exactly friends with’, I looked at the younger man, ‘David?’
‘No, yes, I mean, Dad, I . . .’ David ran his hand through his dark brown hair. Just like he does.
‘Oh, no need to be so defensive, son. I’ll leave you two to your introductions.’ David’s dad took the box on the ground and headed back to the shop.
‘Elise,’ I said.
David smiled. ‘Would you like me to offer my hand in—’
‘I think one proposal is enough for a day, don’t you?’ I joked, then stretched my arm for a handshake. ‘It’s nice to meet you, David.’
The sun had undoubtedly gone off to the other side of the world, and the lamp posts were lit one by one. There were a few people lounging around the cafe nearby, and others were headed to the restaurants on the street further on. The voices of children in the town houses were carried in the wind while the clatter of silverware provided a musical background to the already surreal evening.
‘Do you need help setting up?’ I had offered.
‘Well, we do need some help.’ David leaned closer and whispered, ‘I don’t exactly know how to arrange these books and toys, and I scarcely trust him to do the decorating.’
‘I may be old, but I can still hear you, David.’
‘Sorry, Dad.’ He turned to his father. ‘Would you like, um . . .’ He looked confused and embarrassed as he looked at me. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t usually let this happen but . . .’
‘Elise,’ I said. His forgetfulness caused a prick in my heart to burn.
‘Right. Would you like Elise to help with setting up?’ he asked his dad.
‘All right, but I get the last word on the decorations. None of the cutesy lace frills.’ His dad placed the last of the boxes on one of the shelves. ‘Dinner?’
David took a while to answer. He seemed to be worried about something.
What am I still doing here?
‘I’ll be back tomorrow then? To set up?’
‘Yes, that would be great. Thank you, Elise. It was nice to meet you.’
David did a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ dance before simply waving goodbye and walking into the shop.
I headed towards my own flat, passing through Hill Road and Alma Square into Hamilton Gardens. The house was quiet; the construction team for the renovation had gone to their own families. The flat I rented remained untouched.
I plopped once more onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t even remember my name. Is this what I came here for? An escape? Into frustration?
The conversation of the afternoon replayed in my head, and I beat myself because of my stupidity. It’s too soon. You want to do this all over again? Isn’t this exactly what you were afraid of happening? Isn’t this what he said would happen?
‘Don’t fall in love in London,’ the landlady said. Her advice was well meaning but a bit impossible.
I listened to the gradual disappearance of sound, the lights being switched off, the doors being locked.
‘You can’t change things by running away, Elise,’ he had said. ‘You can’t run from this.’
By this, he meant love. I couldn’t run away from love. I couldn’t just change and switch to loving someone else, loving somewhere else. The ceilings could be fixed and Victorian houses could be restored, but there was nothing I could do about whom and where I would love.
Not a change in location would stop it. Not a freedom I had declared could dissipate it. It was a permanent marker on a varnished piece of furniture. It was a Victorian house that refused to be refurbished. I was stuck in a fizzy drink and club sandwich world.
‘Don’t fall in love in London,’ the landlady had said.
Too late.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

What If Only Then

What

We'd been friends since we were kids. I pulled her hair once. Once a day, that is. She'd cry sometimes. Most of the time she'd chase me. We were neighbors. I'd see her walk to school with her mother every day. I'd walk the other way to school so I don't have to listen to her talk. She annoyed me with her squeaky voice.

When we got older, things changed. We barely talked. Our family moved to another neighborhood, and I only saw her when she'd buy bread before going to her school. She sometimes walked with her friends. All girls. I figured she didn't have a boyfriend yet. I wanted to walk her home sometimes. I never did.

The last time I saw her, she was walking alone in the mall. I followed her for a while. People must have thought I was a stalker. She stopped and sat down on one of the outdoor benches. She was sad. She didn't see me. I didn't talk to her. I never saw her again.

If

If he wanted to talk, he could have approached me. If he still wanted to be friends, he could have said so. As it was, he never seemed to be interested, no matter our friendship in the past.

I saw him walk away. Why didn't he want to talk? I shouldn't be so annoyed. We haven't talked about anything for a long time. What made me think he'd want to talk now? I wanted him to talk to me. It doesn't matter now.

He has new friends now. He goes out with them, watching movies, playing computer, going to beaches. I sometimes see him jogging at the park with the rest of his group. I never look at him long enough to see if he would notice me. I just keep going my way.

One day, I decided to treat myself to dinner alone. I sat at a table near the back. he didn't see me. I guess he didn't. He was busy talking to his date. She was pretty, but I didn't stare. I focused my attention on my suddenly undesirable baby back ribs. As I walked out of the restaurant, I glanced back at them just long enough to see him reach for her hand.

Only

It's been years now. I lock the door to my apartment and start my way to work. I pass by a lady selling the daily newspaper. She smiled at me and asks me again if I've found that special lady I'd give my heart to. I sat her as she offers to take that position. We laugh because we both know she's only joking. She has a family somewhere. She wishes me good luck, adding that I might find the girl of my dreams today. She was right.

The girl of my dreams walked past me while I was having lunch. She walked fast, maybe she was late for an appointment. Maybe she was meeting someone. Maybe she just walked fast, the way she always did.

Only she wasn't alone. Her smile spread when she saw him. They didn't hug. Not her boyfriend, I thought. At least not yet. Only as I saw them talking, I saw the smile on both their faces. They were happy. they were obviously in love. I know because that's the smile she gave me once, the one that made me decide that I love her. Only she doesn't seem to know. Only I never told her. Only now it doesn't seem to matter. Only time can tell.

Then

Then he was there. He stood in front of me. He stood there and looked at me. He looked at me in a way I've never seen before. Not from him. there was something in his eyes, something different. I couldn't understand.

We were at the amusement park. I was with my friends. We were celebrating one of my best friends' engagement. They were riding the Ferris wheel. I chose to stay on the ground. Then I saw him.

He was standing beside the balloon stand. He must have seen me first because he didn't seem surprised. He wasn't smiling, but he didn't look sad. I contemplated walking over to him. I trashed that idea. I decided instead to just smile and wave. But he didn't see.

It was then that the girl, the pretty one from the restaurant, came toward him and dragged him off. I don't know if he looked back at me. I turned away. There was something breaking inside me. there was something I couldn't understand.

Then my friends brought me back to reality. Then I decided it didn't matter. Then I decided to let him go.

What if

What if she thought my cousin was my girlfriend?
What if he thought I was still with my old boyfriend?
What if she would never talk to me again?
What if he wouldn't let me explain?
What if I just told her before?
What if I just told him right then?

If only

If only I'd walked up to him at the amusement park. If only I had the courage to talk to him. If only I hadn't kept quiet all this time. If only I stared at them at the restaurant. If only I had at least passed by them to say hi. If only I'd looked up before he walked away at the mall. If only I'd walked after him. If only he didn't leave their old house. If only he'd walked up to me and talked. If only I told him how I really felt.

If only I could change everything. If only I could do the things I never did. If only I could walk up to her and hug her, tell her that I loved her. If only I could take her away from the world we made for ourselves to the world we made up for ourselves. If only I could spend my life with her, the way I've always dreamed. If only I could know that she loves me too.

Only then

Maybe only then will our lives start to make sense. maybe only then will our hearts stop hurting. maybe only then can we understand why all these things happened.

Only then would things matter. Only then would we go back to the way things were before. Only then could we be friends. Only then could the possibility of us being more than friends happen. Only then, after everything, could we finally throw away all the pretenses and just be honest about how we feel, about how all these years, after all these years, we loved each other. Only then.

What if only then, after everything, would she know that I love her?
What if only then, after everything, would he find out that I love him?

What if only then would never come?
What if only then?

To Be Distant

is to be there but be miles away
   to stay in the same room but not with each other
   to speak words that will not be heard
   to contribute but feel empty
   to be part of something you're really not
   to think that things will be better than what it is
   to rely on one's self for most everything
   to accept the reality of being alone
   to deny the fact that life is an adventure
   to long for something that can never be yours
   to long for someone who once was
   to smile at the memory of a past long gone
   to cry at the silence that engulfs the present
   to stay standing on opposite corners of the world
   to stay together on opposite corners of the heart
   to be the one who walks away
   to be the one who hurts the most
   to be the one who still holds on
   to experience the beauty and wonder of the world but share it with no one
   to see things in a way that only you can appreciate
   to never see things the way others see
   to stand in the middle of a crowd and wish to be with only one
   to wait for the one who couldn't wait for you
   to lavish love on people who will never understand
   to love without truly speaking, showing, pushing, pursuing
To be distant is to be the person who stands right where he's supposed to be but remain emotionally unattached to the world.
To be distant is to be a balloon caught in the wind, the tethered string broken, now floating away. Far, far away.

When She Said Yes

Yes. A three-letter word that can carry the weight off a person's shoulders. A tiny word that can change lives and create futures. The sweetest word to the ears of lovers longing for acceptance. Yes.

Out of all the yeses I've heard from her, there are three that stand out.

The first time she said yes wasn't even a good thing for me.

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?"

We were in a fast-food store. She was alone at a table. All the other tables were full. I approached her.

It wasn't even a yes, really. She just sort of smiled and nodded.

"Sorry," she said.

I turned and spilled my Coke all over the floor. The people around started staring and moving away from the spillage.

Quick, say something cool to cover up how embarrassing this is, I thought.

"Gravity." She said it so casually, I wondered if she was mocking me or just stating an obvious fact.

"Yeah. Newton was right."

The store staff started mopping my mess. I spotted an empty table and made my way toward it.

She went back to whatever she was doing. I never saw anyone sit on the empty seat in front of her.

***

Her second special yes happened so quickly, I don't even think she realized what she just said.

She was at her friend's house. They were doing a surprise project for another friend. I just got off work and had nowhere to go. I knew she was busy and I couldn't see her that day, but I still called.

"Hello. Just got off work?" she asked. I heard her open a door, probably moving into a more quiet room.

"Yeah. How's the project going along? Did you find the rubber tacks at the bookstore?"

"No, the salesperson said they ran out. We're improvising. They're making something out of glue and something else right now."

"Hmm . . . need help?"

"Uhh . . . not really. It's a girls' activity. Plus, we wouldn't want to bore you with our girly girl issues." She was using her annoying valley girl accent. I loved it.

"Well, yeah, you've got a point. I just . . ."

"Hey, who're you talking to? We need you upstairs." I heard one of her friends on the other line. "Oh, is that your boyfriend?"

"Yes! I'm talking to my boyfriend. Now go. I'll be right up after this." I could hear the smile in her voice and the teasing of her friends. "Hello? You still there?"

It wasn't much of a yes, I admit. It was the first time I heard her say it out loud to her friends, though.

I could hardly stop smiling. The people on the street must have thought I'd gone crazy. Maybe I had.

"Hello? Are you there?"

"Yes, your boyfriend is here."

***

"Do you still love me?"

We'd just completed one year of married life, and we were experiencing the tension. The honeymoon season had gone, and everything about being a couple started feeling more like an obligation, a duty I didn't enjoy doing.

We were renting a house. There were bills to pay. Our work schedules were changing from time to time. We couldn't stay put for a moment. We never went on dates anymore. We never talked heart to heart the way we used to. There was never time. Not until now.

"Do you still love me?"

It was a Wednesday night, and everything just fell apart. It was a mess. I made a mess. "Gravity," I heard her voice in my head. Gravity that pulled us down, drowning us, drowning me.

She waited for me. She waited at the lobby like she always did, like she was supposed to. And I was driving away from her, driving with someone else in the passenger seat, driving like I wasn't supposed to.

I got home that night to a dark house and went to sleep beside a broken heart.

"Do you still love me?"

She sank to the floor in tears that day I told her. She felt helpless. She felt betrayed. Then she told me.

"I saved it for you. The seat. I saved it after that day. Because I thought it'd be nice to be your friend. Because I thought you were different. I saved it every single time."

And we were there again. At the fast-food store, Coke all over the floor. I sat a ways from her. Her own Coke now only a cup of ice, my wet food staring at me from my table.

Suddenly she was there. She introduced herself. She said sorry again for making me spill my Coke, as if it were her fault. She started talking, and though I did find it weird, I couldn't help but listen to her. I don't remember most of what she said that day, but I remember how she said it. There was life in her. There was vibrancy spilling out of her every word, every gesture. Her smile, the way she would pause and try to remember something as I guessed what she wanted to say, the ease in the conversation. That was when I said yes. Yes to this girl who blames gravity. Yes to a life committed to loving only her.

In time she would tell me she loved me too, that she'd marry me. In time she explained why she did what she did that day at the fast-food store. She said yes to my friendship, yes to my love, yes to a lifetime with me. Yes. For the first time in her life, she allowed herself to say yes---to someone who just broke her heart.

"Do you still love me?"

She sat there, watching the sunset. She sat there, alone. She was older now. There were streaks of white in her hair, caught by the sun and reflected like glitters in the air. I walked up to her. She saw me and smiled. I sat with her. We spent that moment together. And it was then, after all those years, I figured it out.

Yes to love is not a free pass. It needs to be worked on and cultivated. It needs to be taken care of and valued. It means not taking advantage. It means sticking to one's promises, one's commitments. Love means action. Love makes decisions. Love needs forgiveness.

As we sat there, her hand in mine, I felt the ring that symbolized our promise to each other. A promise that needs guarding. We sat there and I asked her.

"Do you still love me?"

And every time she says it, I know that I'm saved. I'm saved by gravity. I'm saved by her openness and her acceptance of me. I'm saved by her forgiveness. I'm saved by a three-letter word that means everything to me.

"Yes."

Yes, I will always do.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

something something and the vanishing houses

(title subject to change pa.)


"Why do we have to go to their house?" said Jared, playing with the automatic car window switch.
"Because it's her birthday and you're her cousin.” Jared’s mother locked the windows so he couldn’t play with it anymore.
“But her birthdays are always boring. And I don’t even know anyone there.”
“Sure you do. There’s Mark and Fred and…” His mother listed all the names of their family friends whom she thought would be going.

The Cortez’ house was built far from the city. They were a rich family of business people and their only solitude was in their house high up in the mountains. The transportation wasn’t a problem for them because they used helicopters to get to work. Their only daughter, Amber, was home-schooled so she wouldn’t have to put up with all the ‘fake’ friends.

“But they’re only there because of the food. They don’t even talk to people about normal stuff.” Jared flipped through his cell phone, wishing there was someone he could call to save him.
“And by normal stuff, you mean computer games, right?” His mother turned the car into the Cortez’ parking lot.

It was more of a mansion than a house. If castles were outdated then this house is what took its place. There were a total of 27 windows in all four floors in the front face of the house. Each window had a balcony and each balcony had a different sofa for the occupants to rest in. And that was only the fa├žade.

“I wonder if they’ve tried getting lost in their own house.” Jared kicked the car door shut.
“Jared, don’t go running around in that house. We’re here to celebrate with Amber, not to explore.” His mother led him to the front door and pushed the doorbell.

A few moments later, a woman wearing an apron opened the door and escorted them into one of the large rooms.

“We’re so glad you could come.” Aunt Mildred hugged Jared’s mother and ruffled Jared’s hair. “You’ve grown.”
“That’s what they all say.” Jared mumbled.
“Jared!”said his mother with a disappointed look.
“That’s okay Susan. He’s probably just hungry. The boys are in the other room.”

Aunt Mildred pointed to the room right across the corridor where loud music was pouring out. The lights were a blinding white and the smell of roast meat made Jared’s stomach rumble. Half unwillingly, he went inside the room and saw the back sides of a few boys gathered around something.

“If you don’t want to squeeze in with those pigs, you can come and eat with us,” said Sharon.
She was standing near the door and next to a table of food but with girls surrounding it.
“No thanks,” said Jared. “I think I’ll just sit around until the pigs, I mean, boys have had enough.”
“We’re not going to contaminate you with any girly sickness, if that’s what you’re afraid of,” said Cherry.
“And besides,” said Amber, standing up. “We heard your stomach growl on your way in. We wouldn’t want you to starve in my own birthday party. It’s unacceptable.”
She took a cupcake from the table and tossed it to Jared who almost squished it when he caught it.
“Thanks,” said Jared. “Happy birthday, by the way.”

He turned around and left the group of girls giggling at the table. The room seemed to be a spacious conference room. There were white screens on the wall and the spare chairs were stacked in one corner. A wall clock hung on one end of the room while a little stage was set on its opposite side.

Jared chose a chair near the huge panel windows so he could at least see who were arriving and who were already leaving. The boys on the table started lounging on the sofa. The girls were talking about something, probably one of their crushes because they were constantly cooing and gushing and giggling.

Somewhere in another room, two men were talking with serious tones. It was Amber’s dad and one of his financial advisers. They were in his study and a pile of papers occupied his desk. However, it wasn’t the papers they were talking about.

“So you’re saying that we’re nearing bankruptcy? How is that possible?” Mr. Cortez asked.
“I am saying, sir, that you owe the bank more than the cash you have. You need to sell this house.”
“I don’t need to sell this house,” Mr. Cortez stood up and started pacing. “I made this house. I built it myself.”
“Technically, sir, your construction company built it.”
“Nonsense! I am not going to sell this house. Where will we live? And what about Amber? How can she be home-schooled if she doesn’t have a home?”
“Well, sir, you can always send her to a regular school so she can actually live her life. And you have relatives you can live with. It would be enough while you recover from the debts.”
Mr. Cortez stopped pacing and considered his options. His construction business wasn’t going too well anymore. He had to decide his next step before it’s too late.
“Okay, we’ll move out by the end of the summer.”

A few doors to the left of Mr. Cortez’ study, Samuel, Mike and Jessica were checking out every room they could open. They were already going up the second floor when Mike opened the door to a map room and they all went inside.

From wall to wall, the room was covered in maps. The tables and shelves also had maps filed on top of them. There were some scattered on the floor and a few others rolled on to a chair.

“We’ve got the world in our hands,” said Samuel, raising the world map above his head.
“Yeah, and the world is flat,” said Jessica, looking at the map on the floor.
“I wonder why they have so many maps,” said Samuel. “They could use the internet to find places like normal people do.”
“Maybe these are souvenirs from their travels.” Jessica looked up and found that the ceiling was also covered in maps. “They must have been everywhere.”
“I think you mean they must have already been to everywhere,” Mike said to the bookshelf. “But I think there’s another explanation.”
Mike took a picture of the room and the maps. “Come on, let’s get out before the oldies finish their little meeting.”

The three of them slowly went out of the room and proceeded to the second floor. Right in front of the staircase was a painting of a small cottage usually seen in fairytales with a small chimney and wood-lined windows. The initials on the painting read B.T.C.

“Bacon, tomato and coleslaw?” said Samuel as he started opening the doors and exploring the rooms.
Meanwhile, in the room a ceiling below them, Aunt Mildred was sobbing into Susan’s shoulder. The two mothers had just been talking about their children when Mildred tactlessly blamed Susan’s husband for allowing Jared to have his own computer. Susan was offended more because Mildred mentioned her husband. On account of the computer, she was on Mildred’s side and also wanted to strip off her son’s ownership of it.

“But it’s the only thing he left his son with,” was the only defense she could give from her husband who had died two years ago.
“Oh I’m so sorry, Susan. I didn’t mean to be so rude.” Mildred then started sobbing. “It’s just that I sometimes wish Jerry was still here.”
“Me, too.” Susan let her sister cry on her shoulder.
“Jerry would know what to do.” Mildred wiped off her tears with a paper towel.
“About what? Susan saw Mildred tense up a bit.
Mildred then went to the kitchen door and closed it making sure that no one was near enough to hear them.
“Alex is keeping secrets from me.” Tears started pouring from her eyes again.
“How do you know?” Susan motioned her sister to sit beside her on the counter.
“He goes missing in the middle of the night. He says he’s in his study but I checked once and there was no sign of him.”
“Maybe he’s in one of the other rooms. You have a really big house and I’m sure you could sometimes get lost in it.”
“I hope so because if that’s not the case, I really don’t know what to do.”

The two women continued talking, occasionally nibbling on bread that hasn’t been served yet. They only got out again when the cook pounded on the door and demanded them to open it. He was then embarrassed to find out that his boss was inside the kitchen and had to cook up a delicious cream cake to make up for his actions.

By evening, the house on the hilltop was quiet and vacated. Only the Cortez family and their helpers remained. The wind howled through the trees and Amber turned away from her bedroom window. She didn’t want to see the shadows that fought from the living room light. She held her favorite stuffed bear and started towards the third floor. In the third room on the right corridor, she busied herself reading until she fell asleep and the noise of her quarreling parents died down.
Drinian08: how was the party? Were there cute girls?
Polaris52: there were pigs and there were…pigs
Drinian08: I’m guessing you didn’t enjoy it?
Polaris52: how can anyone enjoy that place?
Drinian08: it’s big! There’s bound to be something fun there
Polaris52: that’s if you don’t get lost or lock yourself in one of the rooms
Drinian08: well, yeah. But that’s what cell phones are for
Polaris52: and what if there’s no signal in there?
Drinian08: then that’s where your adventure starts
Polaris52: well I’m not ready for an adventure yet and I certainly don’t want to get stuck in her house forever
Drinian08: hmm we did find something interesting there
Polaris52: you were at her house? When?
Drinian08: this afternoon. It’s her birthday =)
Polaris52: I WAS THERE TOO! WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME??? I could have gone with you
Drinian08: we didn’t think your mom would allow you to go with us
Polaris52: you make it so hard to be your friend =(
Drinian08: well, anyway, we found a room full of maps and…
Polaris52: and?
Drinian08: and what?
Polaris52: what about the room full of maps?
Drinian08: oh, uhm, not much. I took a picture of some of the maps but when I uploaded them on the computer, I couldn’t understand them
Polaris52: what do you mean? The format’s wrong? Was it blurred?
Drinian08: no. the format’s right. And very clear. It’s just that…
Polaris52: mike? Mike! Buzz! You better not be sleeping!
Drinian08: hey. Sorry about that. Mom had me wash the dishes.
Polaris52: you? Wash dishes? Are you sure you’re all right?
Drinian08: and I had to make sure nobody could get in the room
Polaris52: why? Is this one of your secret ‘guys only’ moment? We’re getting too old for this
Drinian08: Jared, the maps don’t lead to any place on earth and yet…
Polaris52: you mean they’re made up? Mike? Hello? Stop disappearing on me!
Drinian08 has left the conversation
Mornings in the Cortez’ house included 80s music, hotdogs, eggs, rice and milk. Any silence in the air was substituted by the music and any reason for conversation was drowned out by the food. Amber sat the far end of the dining table and played with her milk, stirring and tapping the spoon to the tune of ‘I Can’t Fight this Feeling’. After fifteen years of breakfast, the 80s music was as good as muted in her system. She needed the extra clinks to distract herself from the apparent tension on the other side of the table.

“Okay, so I’ll see you both after work.” Mr. Cortez stood up and walked out of the dining room, leaving his plate half-eaten.
Mrs. Cortez buzzed for the helpers to clean up the table.
“When you’re done eating, be sure to attend to your mathematics right away,” she said before also walking out and leaving Amber alone with her breakfast.
The helpers picked up the plates and brought it to the kitchen. One of them offered to bring Amber’s plate in if she wasn’t going to finish her food anymore.
“It’s all right, Miss. I’ll take this to the kitchen when I’m finished.”

Amber was then left alone in the dining room. She slumped on her chair and stared at the chandelier. The swaying crystals glittered in the morning light. The decorative art on the ceiling formed a vine-like picture that reached from wall to wall. She traced one vine with her eyes and shifted her gaze to the fireplace that was never used.

“Why would anyone build a fireplace in a country that doesn’t even snow?” she sat up and stretched her back, twisting from side to side.
She ate the rest of her breakfast and dutifully brought the plate into the kitchen while the cook and one of the helpers were arguing.

“I told you, the eggs should be fresh. Why can’t you follow instructions?” shouted the cook, flailing his spatula in the air.
The maid looked down on the tiled kitchen floor as if she were looking for a stain. The other maids had retreated into another chamber and were only listening to the conversation.
“Well, if you took time to actually go to the grocery and buy your own ingredients then you wouldn’t be in such a pickle,” said the maid, finally looking up.
“So now you dare talk back at me, eh?”
“Yeah. You’re only the cook.”
“Only the cook? We’ll see about that.”
“Ahem.”
The two people instantly looked towards the door and became statues. Amber stared at them as they slowly looked down and sheepishly apologized.
“You know, you can always get fresh eggs from the chickens at the barn.” Amber placed her plate on the sink.
“But, miss, we don’t have a barn,” said the cook.
“Of course we do. The barn’s right behind the house. Haven’t you two been there?”
“No, I mean, yes we’ve been there but” said the cook, struggling for the right words. “But it’s not there anymore.”
“What?” Amber asked.
“What he means is that, your father sold the barn and the animals and the chickens,” the maid explained.
“Really? I didn’t know that,” said Amber shrugging.

She turned away and headed to their library but with a deep sad feeling in her heart. She once was proud of the fact that she knew her house more than anyone else. She had visited every room and even made a map of every floor and the categories of contents in each room. There was nothing in the house done without her knowing. That was why the sale of their barn came as a confirmation of what she had been dreading. Terrible things were happening in their house and she knew she had to do something about it.

Up in the library, her workbooks were already piled and prepared on the center table. She was told that Mr. Gregson, her tutor, would not be coming because he had an appointment with the doctor. He was old and retired from academic teaching but he still wouldn’t stop tutoring even if his body tried to stop him. Amber took a seat near the door and stared at the expansive collection of books. Shelves covered the walls of the oval-shaped room and still more shelves lined up like aisles in a grocery store. There were books on food, architecture, science and literature, books on geography, cartoons and music. The categories ran from before the medieval history to the future of the present technology. The high windows shed light on the tops of the shelves making it look like the library was under a waterfall of sunlight.

Amber didn’t want to face her math today. She strolled along the aisle in between fiction and references before pulling out an old book from a random shelf and sitting cross-legged on the floor. She flipped the pages of the book and looked at the various pictures that passed. She didn’t bother looking at the title but knew that the book told of myths and mysteries, of places people have never been or have never seen. It was a book explaining the possibilities of traveling into another world not so different from the present. The pictures showed old inscriptions and codes, ancient artifacts that confirmed the existence of another world and maps. The maps help Amber the longest. Each map stopped Amber from turning to the next page. She would examine it as if she was looking for something. Each line and symbol was purposefully inked into the maps to show the reader exact locations. One map in particular took Amber an hour to let go. She held the book lengthwise so she could look at the map in the right orientation. The hills and rivers looked familiar to her. The passages and roads seemed to slip form the edges of the page into another. The village, its positions and the place where it was supposed to be gnawed at her memory like there was something deep in the back of her mind trying to get out. She looked intently on the faded scribbles lining the edge of the map trying to read it when the door opened and her mother checked in.

“Amber?” she called. Her heels were clicking on the tiled floor.
“Yes Mom?” Amber closed the book and slipped it back on the shelf before walking to the center table.
“What were you doing?” her mother had her hands on her hips.
“I …uh…”
“You were supposed to be doing our math. You know you’ve got a long way to go if you ever planned to go to university.”
“Mom, that’ll be years later.”
“Yes and it will be years and years more if you don’t study for it now. What will your father say?”
“He would say ‘oh honey, don’t be so hard on her. When I was her age…’” Amber impersonated her dad’s voice and thought it to be a good joke. Her mother thought otherwise.
“The kids downtown are better and smarter than you,” her mother said. “If only you had been sent to a normal school…”
“I wish I was sent to a normal school!” Amber shouted. “Then I wouldn’t have to stay here all day and listen to you complain about everything!”
Amber ran out the door and up to the third floor. She randomly chose a door and went inside to find an old desk facing the window and nothing more. She sat on the desk and cried.

The school bell rang and students started pouring out of the double doors. Some cars were parked on the driveway while waiting for the passengers to finish exchanging notes. The students who didn’t have wheels slowly walked to their destinations while others waited for buses and taxis.

Jared hitched his backpack up and started walking to the mall. It was still three in the afternoon and he knew his mother would still be in the office. The other students were running past him and it wasn’t until he crossed the street to the mall that he felt his bag was heavier. He twisted around and saw a hand pressing his bag down.

“Hey!” said Jared annoyed.
“What’s up J to the red?”
“Mike, cut it out. My bag’s already heavy without your help.” He shrugged off Mike’s hand.
“Sorry.” Mike hung his arm on Jared’s shoulder instead. He was 5 inches taller than Jared and he enjoyed that privilege very much. “The guys are playing today? I thought exam week bans students to play.”
“Exam week doesn’t start until next week.”

The two boys walked into the mall and headed straight to the cyber gaming zone. That part of the mall could sustain its operation even without advertising or giving out discounts. The gamers of the city spent hours upon hours in the fully air conditioned gaming facility. From the outside, non-gamers would not even know that there are more than a hundred players at one time in the area. The place was sound proofed to appease the other mall tenants’ complaints on the noise. This was the place gamers of all ages turned up especially when there’s an ongoing tournament.

“Where did you go last night?” Jared shouted over the music. Though it was muffled on the outside, one could barely hear his voice when inside.
“What?” Mike didn’t even look away from his computer screen.
“Last night, you were talking about the maps. What happened?” said Jared louder.
“I’m sorry I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Mike was busy clicking away on his screen. Then something blipped and a message popped into the screen.

Polaris52: you disappeared last night. Where do the maps lead?
Drinian08: oh, that. The computer shut down. I can’t tell you right now. Talk to you after an hour.

With that, Mike resumed his game of building his fortress, attacking enemy territory and making sure he has enough provisions for his kingdom. Jared followed suite and went off into his own kingly duties.

An hour later, the two stepped out of the gaming zone and started walking to Jared’s home. The neighborhood seemed too quiet. There were some people huddled in front of a TV shop but they seemed too engrossed in what they were watching to notice the sudden rain that started pouring. They all just stood in front of the store. Others took out their umbrellas but they remained riveted on the screen. Jared and Mike ran their way home but not before Jared saw a glimpse of what was on the screen.

“That was weird.’ Jared said when they finally got to his house. His mother still wasn’t home.
“What was weird?” Mike rubbed his shoes on the doormat to at least dry its soles.
“Didn’t you see what those people were watching?” said Jared while his head was inside the refrigerator looking for some food.
“No, not really,” said Mike, plopping on the sofa. “I was too busy trying not to get wet.”
“You’re still trying to figure out if you get less wet if you run or walk?” Jared gave up the search for food and switched the TV on.
“Exactly. It’s just that when you run, you spend less time under the rain than when you walk. On the other hand,” Mike was sitting up straight and acted like he was explaining something that could change the world. “When you run, you hit more raindrops than when you walk.”
“Well, one thing’s for sure, as one man so truthfully said, whether you run or you walk, you still get wet in the rain.” Jared sat on another chair and switched from one channel to another.
“That’s if you’re not bringing an umbrella. That would be a very different case altogether.”
Jared kept changing channels until he found what he was looking for. On the screen, there were two people walking around the inside of a police-line and some people looked familiar.
“Hey, that’s Mrs. Guerrero, the flower shop owner.” Mike pointed at a woman who was frantically explaining something to a police officer.

They were in the market section of the city where the meat shops, flower shops and hardware stores were. The streets were filled with people but the audio on the TV seemed to be muted.
“Turn up the volume” said Mike.

Jared increased the volume but they could only hear murmurs and occasional sniffles and cries of woe and fear. The people were just standing there, like the ones in front of the TV shop, seeming mesmerized. Then the camera zoomed out and the two boys were shocked and confused at what they saw.

“At three in the afternoon, the peaceful seventh street of our city was disrupted when the whole building of Mrs. Guerrero’s flower shop suddenly disappeared.” The reporter on the screen didn’t seem very confident of what she was saying. Her eyes kept shifting and it looked like she was afraid. “Fortunately, nobody was inside when it happened. Witnesses say that the building started to look transparent then completely disappeared. There are no traces of the building’s existence. No trace of it being knocked down or burnt up. It would appear that the building was simply erased.”

A blip on the screen and the news anchor finally changed the story.

Jared’s mother came home a few minutes after Mike had already left. She was exhausted and didn’t even prepare food for herself but only fed her son. She cleaned up the kitchen after then went to bed without a lot of talk which was unusual for her because she was always ready with a list of things to talk about with her son. She had been trying to fill in the silence of the house after her husband died but still couldn’t seem to connect with her son. Jared had actually hoped that his mom would talk about the vanishing house. She worked with the local newspapers and could get all the information she wanted. But even now, her coming home early was weird.

Polaris52: I think she misses him again.
Drinian08: who are we talking about?
Polaris52: my mom. She’s home early and hasn’t even started her ‘how’s school’ drill. I think she misses dad.
Drinian08: that’s normal. Don’t you miss your dad?
Polaris52: I do but it’s different when she misses him. It’s quiet.
Cuddlybear6: hey guys! Did you see the new?
Drinian08: hey jess. Um we’re sort of having a serious talk.
Cuddlybear6: then why’d you accept my conference request?
Mrs. Guerrero’s living with us for the meantime. She’s spooked.
Drinian08: who wouldn’t be? A whole building disappearing. Any conspiracy theories yes?
Cuddlybear6: haven’t seen sam yet. He’s not online either.
Drinian08: maybe he was in the flower shop.
Cuddlybear6: nah. He said he’d be at the zone ‘til 7.
Drinian08: we were at the zone. We didn’t see him. Mike? Hello?
Cuddlybear6: earth to polaris52, come in Polaris
Drinian08: now people are disappearing. I better check the house
Cuddlybear6: yeah. Signing off.
Cuddlybear6 ended the conference

Cortez Manor filled up with reporters at about 6 in the morning. There were tripods and cameras set up in the lobby just in front of the grand staircase. Media men buzzed around the house while waiting for Mr. Cortez to give an official statement.

It was such a coincidence that the Cortez construction had given Mrs. Guerrero a court order on the day the whole building disappeared. Mrs. Guerrero had not been paying rent for a year and it was unfortunate that she had to experience what she did.

When Mr. Cortez stepped into the lobby and addressed the media, his eyes looked heavy and he was a bit distracted.

“I know the first question that all of you are dying to ask of me: did I take the building” he said, looking at the cameras with authority. “The answer is no. any person in their right minds even and especially those who are learned will know that it is impossible to make a whole building disappear without any trace. Magic tricks on smaller objects may be possible but taking out infrastructure such as Mrs. Guerrero’s flower shop is undoubtedly absurd. My only regret is that it had to happen on the day the court order was given thus putting me in the light I am consequently in.”

“Mr. Cortez, are you saying that you did not order the removal of the building you have rented to Mrs. Guerrero?” said one reporter.
“We did not order any such thing. It is our building and we could kick the occupants out if we wished but we would never dream of taking the building away.”
“Mr. Cortez, there have been rumors that these occurrences are the effects of your company’s bankruptcy. Any comment?” said another reporter.
“You said ‘these’, do you mean to say there have been more?” Mr. Cortez started fidgeting and mumbled something to himself.
“I’m sorry, sir. There has been just one for now but what if more buildings disappear?”
“are you implying that I have any responsibility in the missing buildings?” he looked at the reporter who was now unfazed by the sudden tension in the room. “I can assure all of you that the Cortez Construction Company has nothing to do with the disappearances nor do we plan to take part in whatever or whoever is creating this havoc.”

The room then started ringing in a cacophony of phones. Each reporter answered or read their phones and an eerie silence struck the room.
“Mr. Cortez, the mechanic’s building at 11th street, the one your company also built, just disappeared.”

Amber listened to the discussion that was going on in the lobby. The reporters kept throwing questions at her dad. Soon the police came and asked if they could have a word with him. By 10AM the house finally emptied as the media went scavenging for more clues to the puzzle. Mr. Cortez led the officers to another room where they began a heated investigation.

Amber decided to lock herself in her room for the day. The good thing about having her parents home with lots of business was that she was rarely noticed to exist. Her mother was inside the kitchen throwing orders to the maids for lunch. Home school would have to take a holiday today.

Her room consisted of a great bed with a canopy, a walk-in closet, a study table, a vanity dresser and the most beautiful view outside the window. She personally chose this room because it was the one that was soundproofed and she didn’t need to hear everything else outside her doors.

She took her place on the windowsill and started staring at the horizon. Her room was on the second floor and could afford her a view of the city dotted with the edges of the trees in their mountain. She looked past the public school building, which was the tallest in the city and fixed her eyes on a brown spot at the very edge of the shore. There, in that brown spot, was the only memory of her being on the outside world.

She was only eight back then. Her parents had decided to bring her along to the sea so she could experience a bit of ordinary life. She practically flew to the car and waited excitedly for the driver to lead them in a road trip to the sea. She kept bouncing in her seat while her other kept a hold of her. Her father laughed and took videos of them when they finally stepped into the sand. It had felt like modeling clay under Amber’s feet and she waded in the water forgetting to raise her skirt so that she ended up with her clothes wet. Everything was dream like to her until the reporters started swarming toward them.

And that was the end of her happiest day in the ordinary world.

There was a knock on the door and a maid came in with a tray full of food.
“Your mom said it would be best if you stayed in here until the investigation is over” she said as she carefully placed the tray on a makeshift table she also rolled in.
“Thanks” Amber said, helping the maid take the food out of the tray and on to the table.
“Just call me when you need anything, Miss Amber,” the maid said before turning back out the door.

Amber took an apple and took a bite before sneezing uncontrollably that she let the apple roll to the side of the room. She scrambled for some tissues and wiped her nose. The apple had rested on a wall beside her study table. Amber stooped down and took the apple, trying to decide if she should throw it away or wash it. Something caught her eye, however. Right under the table, the wall paneling had peeled away and where a wooden wall should be was a gold frame.

She threw the apple back on the table with the other food then bent down under the study table. Strips of wallpaper had already fallen off and little prodding from her finally cleaned the wall to reveal the whole of the gold frame. It wasn’t a picture or a painting. Right in the middle of the frame was a groove that would have been on drawers without handles. It fit Amber’s fingers and she pulled on it as if she were opening a drawer. The gold frame swiveled like a door to reveal a bigger opening. There was enough space for Amber to crawl into. Her only concern was that it was pitch black.

“Years of living in this room and I’ve only seen this now?” she said to herself. “I guess I’m losing my detective eyes.”

The darkness inside sent a shiver through her. She wasn’t afraid of the dark as most people are, but she was afraid of what lies behind the darkness. She backed away and sat on her bed leaving the small door open. There was a big possibility of rats and other crawling things inside that compartment and if there were, she wanted them out before she decided to explore it.

After a half hour staring at the small door, Amber was convinced that there were no rats inside. She took a penlight out of her dresser drawer and made a quick scan of the compartment. She had already decided not to tell the maids or her parents about her discovery until she knew exactly what it was. Inch by inch, Amber crawled into the dusty wall and immediately found her face with cobwebs. She had to stifle her scream by crawling faster, deeper into the wall hoping another opening would come soon. With only her penlight to guide her, she saw that the crawlspace was built intentionally for crawling. There were cushions on the top to prevent from bumping one’s head. The floor was matted so that Amber’s jeans didn’t collect dust from the tiles but from the years of accumulated dust on the carpet.

Another minute passed and Amber knocked on a wall at the very end of the tunnel. She used the light and her hands to search for a handle and finally found it covered in cobwebs. One push and light burst into the tunnel. Amber crawled out, blinking in the light and it took her a while before she saw where she was.
“Am I still in the house?” she looked around the room, bewildered.

The room was filled with plants and trees. It was all green and the tiled floors had turned into dirt. The roof was replaced by the sky.
“What is a green house doing inside the house—on the second floor?”
Amber rubbed her eyes and checked if the plants were real.
“Impossible” she whispered.
“No, it’s not.”
Amber jumped at the sound of another voice.

From behind one of the overgrown bushes, an old lady wearing work clothes slowly came out. She walked slowly to Amber, careful to further frighten her. Amber stiffened and her hold on her penlight tightened.
“Hello Amber,” the old lady said. “You’re finally here.”
“Who are you?” amber studied the lady’s face. It was wrinkled but it was a happy face.
“I’m your Aunt Bee. I’ve been wondering when you’d visit me.”
“Aunt Bee? I don’t think I have an Aunt Bee in my family.” Amber stepped back and almost slipped on a rock.
“Nonsense. You’ve known me for a long time.” Aunt Bee held a leaf that was on the ground and frowned. “Your family’s having a hard time.”
“Wait, how do you know about my family? And what do you mean I’ve known you for a long time?” Amber looked around to see if there was anything familiar. Maybe they’ve been there when she was younger.
“Oh Amber.” Aunt Bee started walking towards a clearing. “This isn’t a green house.”

Amber followed Bee even though she knew she should go back through the tunnel. They walked further into the wood where a river started calling out to them. The trickle of water and the rushing current seemed to have a voice and it was singing.
“Where are you going, Bee? Where will you take Amber?” the river asked.
Bee smiled to Amber then told the river “I’m going to introduce her to the caretaker.”
They walked further. The trees started growing closer to each other and Amber’s shirt kept getting caught in the branches.
“Ow!” she squealed when a branch cut her arm.
“Shh,” said Bee. “The caretaker doesn’t like noise.”
“Can I just meet him some other time?” she placed her hanky on the arm wound. “Why do I have to meet him anyway?”
“Get down!”

Just then a bird flew right out the window of a small house followed by a shoe. The house was wedged between two cedar trees. The shingles were in disarray and the plants surrounding the house were dying.
“He’s not a very good caretaker isn’t he?” Amber said from behind a large root.
“I told you you’ve been here before.” Bee smiled and started toward the house.
“What do you mean?” Amber caught up with her just as she stopped in front of the door.
“I never told you the caretaker was a man.” Bee tapped on the door and it rang like bells on the church.
Amber instinctively covered her ears but wondered why Bee was smiling at her as if she’s crazy. “Don’t you hear that?” she said over the bells.
“I do, but it’s not that loud. Look around,” Bee gestured to the woods. “It hasn’t even disturbed the birds.”
Amber put her hands down. When the bells stopped ringing, the door opened and a handsome man’s head popped out.
“Bee, what are you doing here?” he asked cautiously.
“We have a guest.” Bee patted Amber’s shoulder and the caretaker’s eyes widened.
“Get in, quickly!”

The caretaker practically threw the two girls inside. He shut the door and locked it from the inside. What Amber saw next convinced her that she was dreaming.

The small house extended farther than what the outside structure looked. From the entryway, she could see a hallway with a number of closed doors much like the hallways in her own house. Peeking through one door, she saw a living room complete with sofa, coffee table and fireplace. The other doors were locked and there were a number of signs that looked like names of the rooms. One door had the sign ‘Peppermint Soup’. Another was named ‘red, white and blue’. At the very end of the hallway, before the stairs to the second floor started was a door named ‘corn root mol’, which didn’t really make any sense.

“Let’s get inside the safe room” said the caretaker, walking briskly to a room named ‘Falling Rocks’.
Inside the room was all metal. The door was encased in a vault like gray. The tables and chairs were bolted on the floor and the metal frames on the wall were blinking like TV screens. Amber sat on one end of the metal table while the other two sat on either side of her.
“Nobody saw you come in?” the caretaker said, tapping wildly on the table. It looked like he was typing.
“Just the bird you threw out.” Bee smiled, instantly warming the depressingly gray room.
“He was an annoying guest.” He chuckled. “The mocking bird wouldn’t stop mocking.”
“I’m guessing he sides with the invaders.” Bee leaned on the chair and looked up.
It was then that Amber saw that the ceiling was…
 ---to be continued. =)