What If... You Had to Choose (YA/ Teen)

I woke up and looked out the window. Wow! It was just like my parents said it would be, frozen and snow covered. Overnight it went from a normal North Carolina winter to a frozen wasteland.

I pulled out my cell phone and pushed the button. Nothing happened. That was just as my parents said too.

I looked around the cabin, from my bed on the couch. A fire roared in the fireplace and my mom was stirring a pot over the fire.

“Oh, my god!” My brother, Lance, ran in the room. “Mom and Dad aren't crazy after all!”

Mom looked up from the pot and stuck her tongue out at him. “Thanks.”

“I know, right!” I replied. “Who would have thought this could really happen?”

All I could think was, thank god for my weird, hippy parents! And that's something I never thought would happen. Usually they're a source of embarrassment. But they actually predicted this would happen. They said something about predictions of the Mayans... or something like that. I don't know exactly, I never really payed that much attention.

“Mom and Dad, that's who,” my sister Lisa said, coming down the stairs. “Now aren't you glad they talked us into coming here?”

Two years ago my parents bought this cabin in the mountains and began stockpiling it for a disaster. We made a couple of trips up here a year to drop off supplies.

This year Mom convinced the whole family to come spend the week before Christmas here at the cabin. That wasn't as easy as it sounds. I have eight brothers and sisters she had to convince, as well as their husbands and wives. I didn't get a choice, I still have a few more years before I turn eighteen and can make my own decisions. Not that any of the others really had much of a choice either. Mom begged and cried until everyone agreed. Even though most of us thought she was more than a little crazy, none of us wanted to see her upset.

“It's just a freak snowstorm,” my brother in law said. “There's no reason to think it's anything more than that.”

“Have you looked outside?” Lance asked. “There has to be five foot of snow out there and the river is frozen solid. The river never freezes!”

That was true. With the waterfalls so close by and the rapids, the river freezing did seem unlikely if this was just a freak snowstorm.

“Well, we're safe and warm in here.” My dad said.

And we were too. We had a stockpile of wood, food, and bottled water. That should last us for awhile. But I wondered about all my friends back home who didn't have weird parents and weren't prepared for this. I wished my cell was working so I could check on them.

We spent the next few weeks in the cabin, playing board games and trying to entertain ourselves. My brother in law had given up trying to convince himself it was just a snowstorm and admitted Mom and Dad were right.

I was about to go crazy stuck in this cabin. Don't get me wrong I have a pretty cool family and I enjoy hanging out with them... most of the time. But being shut up with them for weeks was just too much.

I was excited when my dad said he was going to town and see how everything was there. I jumped at the chance to go... until he started taking his rifles out of the gun cabinet. He handed one to each of my brothers.

“Umm... why do we need the guns to go to town?” I asked.

“There might be some pretty desperate people in town,” he replied. “It's just in case someone attacks us.”

“Why would they attack us?” I asked.

“We have the dogs and the sleds,” he replied. “That's probably more than most people have right now.”

My dad had planned for this too. He bought a couple of old dog sleds like they use in Alaska last year. Where he found those in the South is beyond me, but he came home with them one day. And he bought some sled dogs to pull them too.

“Are you coming or not, Chris?” My dad stood by the sleds waiting.

The trip didn't sound like quite as much fun now. But it was either stay at the cabin, and play yet another game of monopoly with my sister, or go. I chose to go.

“Yeeeehaaaa,” Lance yelled as we raced down the hill.

“Wooohoo,” my brother, Ron, yelled back.

My brothers were having fun. Even my dad had a huge smile on his face. I was just cold.

We came around a curve and I saw the town. I was shocked, it looked like a ghost town.

Nothing like the friendly little town it was last time I was there. The shop windows were broken and whole boards were missing from some of the wooden buildings. There was no sign of people anywhere. No one outside, no smoke rising from a chimney, nothing.

“Stay close,” my dad warned.

I rolled my eyes as I followed him inside the small sporting goods shop. There wasn't anyone around to be worried about.

There wasn't much left in the shop either. A few things lay scattered on the floor but the shelves were empty.

I heard a noise behind me and turned. A man was standing there. He had a large hunting knife in his hand and a crazy look on his face. He started walking toward me slowly.

“Just turn around and walk away,” my dad told him, stepping in front of me. “We don't want any trouble.”

The man stared at my dad for a minute, like he couldn't decide what to do. Then he stared at my dad's gun and made up his mind. He ran out of the shop.

My dad and I hurried outside where my brothers were watching the sleds.

“Did you see that guy?” I asked them.

“Yeah, he ran into the woods over there.” Lance pointed. “He didn't look like he was right in the head.”

“Keep your eyes open in case he comes back,” my dad warned them. “I want to check out the grocery store before we leave.”

I followed him in the grocery store, but this time I stayed close. I didn't want to run into any more crazy people.

I looked around. It looked worse than the sporting goods store.

The shelves were bare and some of the refrigerator doors had been torn off. Milk jugs were open, spilling milk on the floor. Broken eggs were scattered all over.

All of the meat was gone from the butcher's section. The place looked like it had been ransacked and there wasn't anything left.

“What happened here?” I asked. “And at the sporting goods store too?”

“Looters,” my dad said. “People panicked and tried to take as much stuff as they could to help them survive.”

I thought I heard a noise coming from the stockroom. I tapped my dad on the shoulder and pointed. I followed him as he walked softly to the door. We stood there listening. I heard it again. It sounded like someone crying.

My dad pushed open the door. Huddled together in a corner were about eight people.

Two men jumped up and faced us. One had a baseball bat in his hand and the other a butcher knife. I recognized them from our last trip to town. One was Mr. Smith, who owned the sporting goods store, and the other was Mr. Johnson, the owner of the grocery store.

“Easy,” my dad said. “We aren't here to hurt you or to steal from you. We just came to town to see if everyone was alright here.”

The two men made no move to back down. They tightened their grip on their weapons. They looked like they might charge my dad at any moment.

“Oh for heaven's sake,” a woman said, getting up from a pile of blankets. “If he wanted our food there's nothing the two of you could do about it anyway. He has a gun, you have a bat and a knife.”

“I'm Sarah Smith,” she said holding out her hand to my dad. “One of these idiots is my husband and the other is my brother.”

My dad shook her hand. “I'm Ben Krandal. I have a cabin outside of town.”

“Ah,” she replied. “You're that crazy hippy family that's been stockpiling stuff for the end of the world. I guess maybe you aren't so crazy after all.”

My dad laughed. “Yep, that's us. The crazy hippies.”

The men put their weapons down and shook my dad's hand. They told us they were the only people left in town. Everyone else had piled in their trucks and SUVs within the first week and left.

“I didn't see much point in it,” Mrs. Smith said. “Even if they did make it through the snow, eventually they're going to run out of gas. Then their stuck on the side of the road.”

The men apologized for the way they acted. They said they only had enough food to last another week and they were scared someone would take it.

“I understand,” my dad said. “Don't worry about it.”

When we got home, my dad told my mom about the people in the stockroom. Her first response was we should go get them and bring them here to stay with us.

“Wait a minute,” my sister said. “We should all get a vote in this. I'm not sure we need to add more mouths to feed.”

“That's only fair,” my mom agreed. “This decision will affect everyone so we should all get a say in it.”

My mom voted yes, we should let them stay with us. My sister voted no. Lance voted yes. And Ron voted no. On and on it went until everyone had voted but me. The score was even, eight to eight. I was the deciding vote.

All my life, I'd waited for this moment. Being the youngest, I'm usually out voted. I've dreamed of being the one to make a family decision. But not this. This was too big of a decision.

I started to vote yes. I was afraid those poor people would starve if we didn't let them come stay with us.

Then I looked over and saw my little nephew playing with his toys. I thought about what my sister had said. If we let them come stay with us it would be taking food out of our mouths.

We'd run out of food that much quicker. Could I take a chance on my nephew not having enough to eat because of my decision? I started to vote no.

Then I thought again about those people in that stockroom. Some of them were children too.

If the shoe was on the other foot and we were the ones who needed help, would I want them to let my nephew starve because they were scared they'd run out of food if they helped us?

No I wouldn't. I'd be praying that someone would feed him. So how could I do anything else? I looked around the room at my family.

“Yes,” I said quietly. “I vote we help them.” I walked out of the room, hoping I made the right decision.

(published in Golden Visions Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Copyright © 2010 by Kimber Krochmal

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