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July 10

I think the riots have ended, but I don't think people have stopped being angry or scared.

Dad went into town today. Mom wanted him to stay back, but he had to know what happened. We all did. He said that the town was pretty bad. Smashed windows, some burnt stuff, and destruction everywhere. But he said that it could've been much worse.

There was a smattering of ash today. It began in the afternoon and continued till sunset. Or what I thought was sunset. The sky is always gray and dark. It's hard to tell when the sun is rising or setting.

Because the sky is always dark, the vegetables in the garden are dying. Mom went out to check out some of the blossoms, but most of them were wilted and the plants were drooping. She found some small zucchinis growing and a couple of green tomatoes but didn't pick them. She wanted to wait for them to get riper, but it's unlikely to happen.

"Do we have any books about canning?" Mom asked.

"I don't know," I said. "How would I know?"

"I mean you read a lot," she said.

"Maybe ask Dad. He'll know where everything is."

"I already asked him," Mom said. "He said no, so I thought you would know."

"Maybe you could go to the library," I said.

"Didn't it close down when the electricity got turned off," she said.

"I'm sure that they'll have some kind of system for checking out books."

Mom thought about it. "How far is the library?"

"One mile. Two miles tops," I said.

"That's too far. You'll be breathing in too much ash."

"I'll wear the air masks and I won't breathe too deeply or anything," I said. "I'll be gone for an hour. Less than that actually."

"I don't know," Mom said. "Everything seems so dangerous. You saw the riots."

"They're over though. I just need to head out," I said.

"Why?" Mom asked. "Haven't you always wanted to stay at home. This should be like a dream for you."

"I just do," I said. "Just think about it."

There is just something about being stuck in a house with everyone that feels so suffocating. I don't think Mom understands. I liked staying at home because it was a place of privacy, some room to breathe. But now everyone is at home and there's no room for some fresh air.

Today was our three can day, but everyone except May skipped dinner. I guess we felt guilty about eating three cans yesterday. Mom went to sleep early today. She said she had a headache.

I hope she changed her mind

July 12

A miracle happened today.

I don't know what happened. Maybe the wind direction changed, maybe there was some rain, maybe there was even some divine intervention, but the sky was extraordinarily clear today.

I woke up early today. I had some kind of nightmare, but I don't remember what it was all about. The first thing that I saw was the sunrise. Ever since the volcanic eruptions, it's been dark and gray all the time. But this morning, I could see the sun peak up from over the horizon and rooftops of the houses. The sky was awash with a lavender purple. I think that the volcanic ash that's still in the air is turning it a strange color.

I tried waking Mira and May up, but they just shrugged me off. "Go back to sleep," May said. "Don't disturb me."

"Shh," Mira said and she turned and went to sleep.

I don't really know why they don't care, but I don't even know why I care so much about this. Maybe it's a sign that things could get better, but that makes me even more worried though. The thought of everything returning back to normal is scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Because the air quality was better today, Mom said that I could go to the library today. There were two conditions however. I had to go with May and Mira. I had to be back under an hour because if I don't, then I'll be stuck at home forever.

These conditions aren't that strict, and Mom changing her mind was a miracle too. I guess I could say that two miracles happened today.

I walked into our bedroom to ask Mira about going to the library when I remembered what happened last time. "May and I are going to the library," I said. "Mom says that you have to come along, but if you don't want to go, that's alright."

"No, I'm coming," she said. "It's nice to finally be outside the house."

I looked at the ground. "Okay," I said. "You're not, you know, bothered by what happened last time?"

"We both made mistakes then and now we've resolved them."

"Okay. Great. I'll see you in the kitchen in five minutes," I said and began walking out of the door.

"Hey Neal."

"Yeah?"

"Do you mind if we take a little detour?"

"For what?" I asked.

She pulled out a stack of papers. "Well I've wanted to mail these letters to Leon, and I guess that with everything that's been going on, I haven't really had a chance to send them."

"Yeah, I think we can do it. The post office is only five minutes away from here. Mom might get a little irked though if she finds out."

"That's why we don't tell her. Keep it our secret."

"With May too," I said and paused. "I thought we weren't supposed to keep secrets."

"Only for the important stuff," she said. "This doesn't really count."

Before we left the house, Mom handed us the new air masks and made sure that they were tight around our noses and mouths. The weather was a bit chilly today in the height of summer, so we wore our winter jackets.

When we left, Mom made a big deal of holding out a stop watch and saying that she is timing us. I told Mom that we needed an extra half an hour because the library was a solid forty minute round trip because we were walking, and she approved of it. So we got an extra thirty minutes.

The streets were devoid of people with garbage spilling out of abandoned trash cans. With a severe lack of gasoline, the city probably can't even afford garbage trucks. May and Mira talked to each other. They played the "I miss" game, naming everything they miss from before: internet, freedom, boys, pizza, cookies, ice-cream, chips, boba tea. They sure missed a lot of food.

I thought about the bucket list with Charles. I had completely forgotten about it. The issue is that I still don't know what to fill up those last four spaces with. That's what's frustrating for me. I don't know what I even want to do for the future that isn't serious. I don't even know what I want for my future. Whenever Charles and I meet next time, I'll probably have to tell him that I don't have the whole list complete, though that would be an understatement. Maybe his bucket list will give me some inspiration.

The library was pretty empty when we arrived, but there was significantly more life than what we saw on the street. The building had some burn scars on the sides from the riots, but it was mostly untouched. There were people running the library, possibly volunteers.

They had set up a system for checking out and returning books along with navigating the library since it was dark without power. We first had to check out a lantern. They warned us that they will check the batteries of the lanterns to make sure we aren't stealing them. I guess some people snagged a lot of batteries.

May held the lantern as we navigated through the dark rooms of the library. There were signs everywhere for navigation: romance, nonfiction, science fiction. Our first stop was the nonfiction section. We had to get lots of books about plants and canning and preserving food. Unfortunately, when we checked the survival sections, which included cooking, medical, ecological, and engineering books, most of the shelves were quite bare, so we had to search around the nonfiction section to find the books Mom wants.

Mira managed to find two survival manuals hidden between Alaskan guidebooks and May found an encyclopedia for garden plants that was tucked in between books about the Harlem Renaissance. There was a small paperback guidebook about local plants hidden between books about songbirds in Pennsylvania, and Mira found a book about Native American history that has some images of fish traps while May found a fictional survival book that gave somewhat detailed explanations on how to build snares.

The rest of the nonfiction section was boring, but there was a book that stood out to me. The guide to America's National Parks. Those photographs were beautiful and it was a reminder of the way things were before. I wonder what Sequoia National Park is like with all those trees caked in ash. It must look like hell.

"We should check out the romance section," May said. "I'm so bored right now that I'd read anything."

"What about the biography of John Muir," I said and picked it off a shelf.

"I'm not that desperate."

"Okay," I said. "You want some of my recommendations?"

"Nope. Any book that you've read is significantly less interesting."

"So, are we going to go and check out the books or not?" Mira asked, tapping her foot impatiently.

"What's the rush?" May asked. "We've got half an hour before we need to leave."

"Mira has some stuff to do," I said. "We're going to take a small detour on the way home."

"What stuff?" May asked. She was always a bit nosy.

"Stuff. Stuff," I said. "It isn't your business."

"Whatever you say," she said and went into the romance section with her lantern.

I checked out a couple of the young adult books and chose some fantasy and science fiction ones. Normally, I'd be hesitant to check those out since I'm not a big fan of those genres, but with everything being like it is right now, having some escapism is nice.

In the end, we checked out a bunch of the survivalist guides and plant encyclopedias. The backpack Mira was carrying was extremely heavy at that point, so we only checked out two romance and one science fiction novel. "There's always another time to get them," Mira said. "We'll come back soon."

The checkout system was archaic. We signed off the author, book title, and date of checkout on a spreadsheet. They said that they aren't going to have strict return dates for the books, but trusted us to bring them back sometime in the future when - actually - if things get better.

We left the library. The sky was getting cloudier. I wasn't sure if it was the dark gray smog of the ash clouds or the fluffy summer clouds. "Do you think it's going to snow again?" May asked.

"Let's hope not," I said.

"What do you think happened with the riots?" May asked.

"People got angry and they decided to protest," I said. "And they destroyed some stuff."

"That's dumb," May said. "Like stupid. What's the point of destroying the government buildings and harming the people if they are the ones providing the people with food."

"Honestly," May continued. "They deserve to starve."

"Don't say that," I said. "People do stuff when they're angry and sometimes they do things that they regret."

"Smashing windows and stealing food is not just some stuff."

"When people are scared, they'll do anything to try to protect themselves and their family. Fear brings out the worst in people."

"But that doesn't change that they did bad stuff," she said. "Doing all that isn't going to help their family or anything."

"I don't get you, May," I said. "How can you be so cynical about people and still believe that the world will get better. That everything will go back to normal."

"I don't get how they're related."

"Those people are the ones that are going to build up the world again. The ones that will make the world better."

"Whatever," May said. "Where are we going anyways?"

"The post office," Mira said.

"I thought the mail doesn't work."

"Let's hope that it works," Mira said.

We walked into the post office. Someone was manning it, and they took her letters. They said that the postage system wasn't working right now, so the letters might be sent a couple of weeks late, but Mira said that it was okay. When we walked out, May turned towards Mira. "Were those for your boyfriend?"

"Yeah," she said. "I made them in my free time."

"What does he look like?" May asked.

"I don't have my phone with me," Mira said.

"You guys never printed out any pictures?"

"No, I had some in my dorm room, but I don't think my college is open," she said. "It's too far away to even walk or bike too."

"We can always charge your phone," May said. "Remember those eight solar panel chargers that we got from that camping store."

"No, those only work when the sun is actually out. There's no long term storage for them."

"That's too bad," May said. "Is he hot though?"

"Yeah," Mira said.

"So he's ugly then," May concluded.

"How'd you even get to that conclusion?" I asked and scoffed.

"She wasn't very interested in talking about how he looked, so he's ugly."

"No," Mira said. "He's not ugly. He's handsome, like too handsome for me."

"It's just that I feel like there's more to him than just his looks you know," she said. "He's kind and great and everything else that's good."

"That sounded like it came out of a cheesy romantic movie," I said. "Sorry."

"No, that's fine," Mira said and laughed. "There are just some things about life that are cliched messes."

"Will we ever get to meet him?" May asked. "I want to judge him for myself."

"I don't know," Mira said and quietly added. "Maybe when things get better."

We walked in silence after that. I could see that Mira was thinking about him at that moment, and I knew that he meant a lot to her. Is this what love is? I don't know, but it might be what hope is. Just waiting and hoping that everything will turn out better.

The worst thing about the ash being gone is that the Moon is shining bright in the sky, the lighthouse in a dark sea of stars. And when I look at it, I can see everything that has happened so far. All the tidal tsunamis, all the volcanic eruptions, all the lives of every single person on this planet changing. And it's all because of that rock in the sky.

But maybe it's a symbol of hope. Maybe the volcanic eruptions might be stopping or at least slowing down. Maybe people's lives will be saved and maybe Mira will be able to see her boyfriend and maybe May will be able to go out with friends and maybe Mom and Dad wouldn't need to be worrying everyday. Maybe everything might return back to normal or at least some type of normal.

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KingEmpo

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