THE STEPS UP TO LIFE

Photo: www.anu.edu.au

BY: Shannon Yang

Stephanie gracefully stepped onto the rock. Her feet were wet and slippery. She started singing a tune from long ago. I let her stay awhile in her utopia. That’s what happened yesterday.

My name is Jack. My older sister Stephanie and I live by a stream in the countryside. Though I’m a city boy, my parents decided the setting here is way too charming for us not to befriend. They’ve changed my standards of living.

A small dirt path is in close proximity. It’s old, and nobody ever walks there besides us. At the end of the path, where it meets the stream at a perpendicular angle, there are plateaus of the hard rock of the stream, one atop another. The aqua rushes by, creating smooth waterfalls. But the water here is shallow, shallow enough to wade in, with only a few big gray rocks on the side. The underwater steps have acted as our front porch, our gateway to heaven.

It surely is beautiful. The foliage and trees are watching on the sidelines. They wave at me as the wind whooshes by. Spring is almost over.

It makes no difference to me whatsoever. I’m home-schooled. Mom and Dad haven’t worked since those days in San Francisco. I suppose urban life was too stressful, and they wished for a serene and carefree haven. We come from a very affluent family, so my parents decided to just buy the land and forget about work.

It’s six o’clock, and I walk in the spacious dining room, ready to stuff myself. The aromas in the air smell like garlic. I guess that’s the theme of the dinner. Sure enough, Mom ambles out of the kitchen, holding a tray of garlic bread and a whole bowl of garlic fries. Later, she brings out the meat, veggies, and rice.

I heartily eat all of this, thinking about all of the things I want for my upcoming birthday. A new computer, a peach tree to plant in the garden, a few packs of baseball cards, an iPad, an awesome hat…

Dad interrupts my thoughts. “Hurry up and eat, Jack. Stephanie is already done. And your mother and I want to go out for a walk.”

Hastily, I finish up my ninth piece of garlic bread and my eleventh handful of fries. I gobble down the roast beef. Sensing that I’m finished, Mom takes the dishes to the kitchen, and during my session of zoning out, I hear the splash, splash of the water in the sink as well as the cling, cling of the plates getting put in the cupboard. Without a sound, Mom and Dad open the grand double doors and disappear into the wilderness.

Normally, it takes my parents an hour to do what they need to do on the long trail arching and curving through our large property. In the meantime, I decide to start playing Pokemon on my Nintendo DS. Engaged in the fantastical world of the game, I don’t notice that it’s become an eerie night. I automatically filter out those sounds and instead focus on the cheerful music of Cerulean City.

Stephanie’s index finger moves up and down on my right shoulder.

“Stop tapping me!” I request loudly. “I’m in the middle of a battle.”

“No, I’m serious. I need to call our parents. I think there are some people on our land. This never happens, and it’s really bad! I even heard a rifle or something. And why in the world do you always zone out? It’s super annoying!” Stephanie reprimands. Our sibling rivalry still affects us in this possibly grave situation.

As Stephanie dials the number, the music of the numeric keypad rings in my ears. After three long beeps, there’s a ringtone of “Jingle Bells.” Afterwards, a monotonous, automated voice starts to speak.

“Hello,” it says. “The contact you have called cannot be reached. Please try again later or leave a message after the tone.”

Stephanie is raging as she rams her face into the cell phone. “Mom. Dad. You have to answer. I think there’s someone on our land. I heard a rifle! You have to pick up and get rid of whoever it is!”

Stephanie puts her thumb on the red “END” button. She pushes down, overwhelmed and tired. She sighs and does the same thing over and over again to ensure that our parents notice. But her efforts are to no avail. Unexpectedly, her purple-sleeved arm reaches to the white plastic home phone.

“I’m out of battery,” she explains as she dials the number and groans quietly to herself. “Ugh… Why do they have to ignore me? They don’t even have anything to do except walk!”

After examining the phone multiple times and wondering if there is something wrong with it, we realize that there is no signal right now.

“Come on,” we complain. “It just can’t get worse.”

Stephanie opens the double doors and drags me outside, accidentally smashing my Pokémon game to a thousand shattered pieces in the process. Thanks. Now I have to add a Nintendo DS with a Pokémon game to my birthday list.

I finally find out that we are outside to look for our parents and tell them about the rifle-bearing man. To do this, we walk along the regular trail, trying to catch up and stumble upon Mom and Dad.

Where Stephanie sang the day before lie two corpses. Their pale faces are wickedly complemented with a rifle, leaning against the rock, disturbing the peaceful flow of water on the stream.

For once there are obstacles on the steps, hindering our purpose to move further and reach a remarkable goal in life. The waterfalls have always been clear and cool. My sister and I cannot believe that it’s happening to us at the moment.

The dead bodies are our father, and our mother, who is still wearing her wedding ring. I already have enough sensibility at age ten to lie down on a flat rock, legs in the water like the corpses I’ve just seen – and weep silently. It’s been a long day, and now it’s just me and Stephanie, crying and feeling the disrupted parts of mini waterfalls pass through our toes. All I can do is think about the gravestones that I would’ve given, if I had a chance, that is.

We can’t call the police, for there is no signal on our isolated property. We just sit like sleeping sponges in stagnant water on the steps of the stream in our slightly damp clothes, listening to crickets and waiting for hope to completely vanish, but actually hoping that it won’t.

For the next eight years, Stephanie and I “play a game” with the authorities, passively pretending that we don’t exist. Even after my older sister becomes an adult, she stays here to take care of me. We find food and explore the land together all the time. We’ve built an everlasting sibling rapport. And of course, we can’t even use the phone or electricity now.

Birthdays and birthdays have passed giftless. Never again will I own a Pokémon game or even a bit of a relaxed life. Instead, Stephanie sings an old tune on a rock to give ourselves peace and pleasure.

Look at things with optimism. Things I used to take for granted are gone now. The wealth, food and protection: everything my parents gave me. Only sheltered by my sister, I’m more independent. I’m stronger and able to survive in any condition, a skill I haven’t cared about since I was a Boy Scout in San Francisco. Because of that tragic evening, I have grown to become my own superhero.

That rifle has forced me off my old steps and allowed me to take a new path in life.

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