“They’re always just so young and so far away…”
“Why do you always say that?” asked the slightly older boy. Most of his features were hidden in the darkness. The flickering candle gave brief views of his panicked eyes and his sharp nose. His most notable feature was his bottom lip that had two buck teeth dug sharply into it.
“Because it’s true,” replied the other, much visibly calmer boy. Even in a lighted room it would be hard to see much of the boy’s face with his slightly-curly, brown hair covering most of his face. “Look at us just sitting in the cellar out of someone else’s paranoia.”
It was partially true. Had their mother not been the anxious woman she was, the two boys would probably be sitting in their living rooms confused along with millions of others that autumn night. Of course, they would have the only mother in town who believed that the soup kitchen was really a way for the government to keep in check who was rich or poor.
No one could fully blame her, however. Mrs. Winchange had gone through her own depression in the midst of the country’s economic depression. After watching her husband dabble in his own depression, she was she was immensely relieved when he was given the opportunity to start anew atop the business world. Their happiness was short-lived, though. The personal sacrifices required to survive in the business world were ultimately too much for the two. Mrs. Winchange was forced back to the place she was born; a small place she always wanted to escape but was unable due to her family.
“You go out there then,” said the older, nervous boy. It was hard to tell whether the shivers in his voice came from the cold temperature of the room or fear of what awaited them outside.
“Damn it, Carl, you know I want to. I just can’t imagine what it would do to mom if she came back down here and didn’t find me here.”
The calm boy had a look of fury come over his face. His brother wasn’t sure how furious he really was. The flutter of the candle light may have given his brother’s face a more serious look than it really had. Either way, the older brother had a sense of guilt that he couldn’t help his brother in any way.
A few hard footsteps could be heard in the room above the boys, followed by a pause, then even harder steps being taken. Both of the boys knew what it meant and braced for a squeal to come from their mother. What the heard instead was a slam and now frantic steps above them. Carl stood up, not knowing what to do, while his brother stayed sitting up against the wall with his eyes gazing out the tiny basement window.
Not a minute after they had heard the slam upstairs, the boys turned their gaze up to the top of the basement stairs where their mother had just hastily swung open the door. The boys could barely make out any of their mother as she was carrying three different lanterns as well as two more candles. Carl ran up the stairs to help his mother carry down some of the lightings while his brother still sat against the wall. Mrs. Winchange handed her older son two of the lanterns and a candle, and then shut the door behind her. Her face was covered with calm despair as she quickly walked down the steps towards her sons. The basement was now completely lit up and then some extra to spare for another room or two.
With more than just a single candle providing light for the basement, all the features of the boys could be seen. The light revealed that the boys were really two young men. Carl was a man just out of his teenage years with a clean face and an even cleaner haircut. His blond hair was combed over in front to give it an almost wet look and very classy. His lower lip was getting a rest from his teeth now that his mother was near, but the bite marks remained. The rest of him was concealed in a heavy-knitted blanket, but he appeared to be very fit and lean even while concealed.
His brother on the other side of the basement didn’t look anything close to him. Instead of having combed-back blond hair, the young man had a brown mop instead. His hair had random curls here and there, and his bangs came down nearly to his eyes. The back of his hair was so long that it committed the cardinal sin of men’s hairstyles – it touched the back of his collar. This wasn’t just figuratively speaking, either; the young man was wearing a white button-up shirt with a burgundy tie and a brown vest to complete the set. Below his stomach were matching brown knickerbockers and tan socks pulled up to his knees. The black shoes he had on were on the floor next to him in what looked like a hasty positioning. The 18 year-old looked more like he was preparing for a formal event rather than sitting in his dirty basement.
After placing the lanterns and candles down around the room, Mrs. Winchange began to look at her boys with the anxiety they both knew she had. In an instant, the calm despair on her face turned into worry with a tear forming in her eye. She took a moment to calm herself before she said, “Well, I tried everyone. All the lines are down. Oh, Lord, who knows what is going on out there? I couldn’t get through to your grandmother or your aunt! All the lines are dead! We can’t communicate at all! We’re trapped here!” Each sentence became louder and faster until she finally curled herself up in a ball on the floor. Carl went to put his arms around her while giving a nasty look at his brother who yet remained in the same spot he had been since going down in the basement.
“It’s alright, mom,” said Carl in a very reassuring voice that would not have come from him a few minutes prior, “Concrete is such a small town. Everyone knows everyone, and we all look out for each other. I’m sure Grandma and Aunt Carol are safe or even helping someone else out.” Although he knew he was lying, Carl felt sure his words would somehow comfort his mother, and miraculously they did.
Mrs. Winchange began to regain her composure. She was able to sit up on her own, but still needed Carl to hold her to feel safe. With the absence of her father and husband, Mrs. Winchange had come to depend on Carl to be her source of masculine strength. However, whatever comfort she was receiving from her older son was about to be negated by what her younger son was about to say.
After not even acknowledging his mother when she came downstairs, the young man who remained in the same spot of the basement finally moved his gaze away from the window and onto his mother. His face was serious yet gentle. While many would think the young man was angry upon looking at his face, anyone who knew him would know that disappointment covered his face. The entire time his mother had been in the basement, he had been thinking about one very specific subject, but he kept it to himself. When he looked at his mother, though, his thought came out for everyone to hear. “I wish dad were here.”
Any emotion other than anger had fled Mrs. Winchange. She shot straight up to her feet, knocking Carl off his. Her eyes beamed at her younger son while the rest of her looked confused as to whether she should yell at him or just smack him. Luckily for her son, she chose the first.
“DON’T BRING THAT UP RIGHT NOW. THIS IS NOT ANY TIME TO TALK ABOUT YOUR FATHER!”
Actually, there was never a good time to talk about Mr. Winchange according to his wife. Every time he was brought up, Mrs. Winchange could only think all that had gone wrong in her life. It was all caused by her husband and his need to be the supporter of the house. Or, at least, that is how she viewed it.
Both Samuel Winchange and Abigail Williams were born in Concrete, WA. Growing up in such a small town led to them becoming very close at an early age and nearly inseparable during early adulthood. They both dreamed of getting out of Concrete and moving to a big city where they could raise a family. Samuel’s uncle lived in Sacramento, and urged Samuel and Abigail to move there once they were married. In 1917, the young couple moved to Sacramento fresh off of their wedding. Upon arrival, Samuel found a job at a general store while Abigail discovered she was pregnant. The couple welcomed Carl into the world with great happiness and outlook on their future lives. A few years later, Abigail was pregnant again, and the general store was taking off. After soldiers returned home from the Great War, things began to look up for the entire country. Jobs were plentiful, and money even more. Fashion and luxury were huge. Speakeasies had a lot of speaking but were anything but easy. Prohibition saw more people drinking than ever before. And Samuel and Abigail were surviving just fine in their cozy new apartment located right above the general store.
For the next decade, nothing seemed to go wrong for the Winchanges. Samuel had become the manager of the general store, only behind the owner Mr. Appleton in the chain of command. Their two sons had grown up just fine as well. Carl was excelling in both the classroom and on the baseball diamond. In the 5th grade, he was already starting to look like a possible major league pitcher. His slider was nearly unhittable and his fastball looked like something was being shot out of a rifle. The Winchanges’ younger son wasn’t as athletically gifted, or it may have just been pure apathy for sports in general, but he still managed to bring home good grades. While Carl had a lot of friends from the baseball team, his younger brother was more alone in school as well as home. Both Samuel and Abigail, the only child in each of their families, assumed this must have been how it always was for the youngest in the family. Nevertheless, they were extremely happy with their lives of taking care of their children, going to baseball games, and attending St. Joseph’s Catholic Church every Sunday morning.
Everything changed for the Winchanges in the Spring of 1929, as it did with nearly the rest of the world. The Great Depression hit, and Sacramento wasn’t sheltered from the blast. People lost their jobs left and right, and money became very scarce. Everyone except Samuel was let go at the general store, but Mr. Appleton was unsure if he could even continue to keep Samuel at the time. Samuel’s salary had dropped to nearly nothing as people just were not buying things at the store. Both Winchange boys continued to go to school, but Carl had to stop playing baseball as his parents couldn’t afford all the equipment necessary to play. On occasion, Samuel would go to the soup kitchen in order to feed his family as he had no money to purchase food himself. These occasional visits become more and more regular until November 1931 when they became a requirement as Mr. Appleton had to get rid of Samuel in order to keep the store.
It was then that the reason the Winchanges had moved to Sacramento became clear. Samuel’s uncle was a wealthy businessman in Sacramento who had many different projects which made him rich. After losing his job at the general store, Samuel went to his uncle for any sort of help. To his surprise, Samuel’s uncle had just the project for Samuel to help him get his job back at the general store and even earn a larger salary than before the depression: condom sales.
Condom sales were booming at the time. The United States government had just recently started to support the use of condoms by citizens outside of the military. An even bigger support for condom use was given by church groups who agreed that the use of condoms by married couples was justifiable. This, on top of the belief that buying condoms was cheaper than having kids, caused many people to purchase them.
Samuel’s uncle placed Samuel in charge of a large investment used for purchasing and distributing condoms. While his uncle advised selling the condoms in many stores in the Sacramento area, Samuel thought it would be best to only offer them to be sold in Mr. Appleton’s general store. Although hesitant when first presented the idea, Mr. Appleton agreed that selling condoms would surely help the store survive the rough economic times. Mr. Appleton rehired Samuel and allowed him to receive a 15% commission on all condom sales. It was then that the Winchanges became social targets.
“There’s never a time to talk about anything anymore,” mumbled the young man as he shifted his gaze back towards the window.
Mrs. Winchange seemed uneasy about her sudden outburst after seeing the look upon her son’s face. Her eyebrows became much more relaxed while her clenched teeth gave way to almost quivering lips. A few seconds later, she was back on the floor in her curled up position. Carl resumed comforting his mother as he now had her previous expression upon his face.
“Why do you have to do this stuff, Landon?” Carl asked to his younger brother in an agitated tone. “Can’t you see the stress she’s already under? She doesn’t need all your crap right now.”
The younger brother looked over with eyes of fleeting despair. He slightly opened his mouth as if he were going to speak. His tongue lightly caressed his lips, but then disappeared along with the slight opening of his mouth. With a heavy sigh, the young man repositioned himself so his shins were flat on the ground while he sat on his feet. He placed his hands in front of his face, palm to palm and fingertip to fingertip, closed his eyes, and bowed his head.
It took a moment for his older brother to realize what was occurring in the corner of the basement. Then when it came to Carl, he belted out, “Are you praying?” in a voice that sounded upset rather than confused.
“How can you pray at a time like this? There are aliens landing over in New Jersey, and who knows what else? It might not even be aliens at all. What if it is Hitler trying to invade America? That isn’t beyond him. I’ve heard all the rumors. He wants to take over the world, and America would be the best place to take over.”
All these words fell upon deaf ears. Mrs. Winchange, upon hearing “aliens landing”, lost what was left of her sanity. Her eyes were glazed over and her body shivering. Landon did not move or even seem to notice the rambling coming out of his brother’s mouth. Carl wasn’t sure if his brother was really lost in deep prayer or just trying to block everything out. Either way, this enraged the older of the two brothers.
“I can’t believe you even still pray. Especially after just mentioning dad. You want to talk to a God whose people completely shun and ruin you?”
While selling the condoms had become very profitable, Samuel began to face some strong resistance of it from one of his strongest support groups. Although church groups around the country were releasing statements that supported the use of contraceptives, one particular group took a position that it would not falter from. The Catholic Church released a letter from the Pope himself stating that the use of contraceptives by anyone, married or otherwise, was strictly forbidden. This caused a strife nearly every Sunday at St. Joseph’s.
At first, there was little acknowledgement of Samuel’s sinful business. The main reason for this was because no one knew that Samuel was part of this. The Winchanges lived in East Sacramento but went up to North Sacramento every Sunday to worship. Rarely did anyone from St. Joseph’s take the journey to East Sacramento as they had everything they needed in their little area. When an article appeared in The Sacramento Bee on Saturday, September 24th, 1932, everything began to change. Mr. Appleton had been interviewed about how his general store was booming while almost every other business around him had crumbled. The mention of a man named Samuel Winchange being in charge of managing the best-selling product in the store started to bring the end of the Winchanges.
The news the next day at St. Joseph’s was how a member of the church was part of a business that promoted sinning. Samuel was able to dodge all questions and speculations that day as he slipped out of the Communion, but he knew his peace at church was over. For the next few weeks, the Winchanges reluctantly attended church each Sunday while waiting for the next round of questioning and foul statements. Samuel began to feel betrayed as he gave a large amount of his commission pay to the church. Many nights after work, he would round up the family at home and then head down to the soup kitchen to serve those less fortunate as himself.
The last time the Winchanges went to church was on Christmas day later that year. After reading the second chapter of Luke, where the birth of Christ is told by an angel, the reverend claimed that, “this was the baby who would come to save us from our sins.” Then, unexpectedly, a man which no one could recall ever seeing in the church before stood up while pointing directly at Samuel. Most of those sitting in the pews gasped with shock, unsure of what was going to happen, while Samuel could only close his eyes in fear of what was coming next.
“The Lord came to forgive sinners, but not those who promote sin!” claimed the man. He looked ragged with messy black hair and scruff underneath his chin to go with it. “Do you not see that Satan is among us? We must banish this evil from our midst if we are ever to be rid of sin!”
Abigail didn’t even look at her husband as she quickly grabbed her sons and walked out of the church with her husband walking sullenly behind them. Already not the most religious woman in the world, her faith had fully been lost that December morning. Never again would a Winchange step foot in a church or partake in any religious celebrations. That’s what Abigail believed, anyway.
“Do you honestly think I’m praying for safety from the ‘aliens’ or whatever is out there?” Landon snapped back to his brother. “Sorry to say, but there are some more important things I pray about than protection from some stupid radio hoax.”
“You don’t know it’s a hoax! Why would they break in and out of normal broadcasting to have news bulletins?” There seemed to be some doubt in Carl’s voice as he retorted back.
“I’ve never heard of any of these people they’re interviewing. Plus these volcanoes on Mars? Have you ever heard of that? Why would people just randomly be talking about volcano eruptions on Mars when suddenly ‘aliens’ attack? It’s all a phony, and you’re making me trapped here!”
The anger that appeared in the dark-lit room before their mother had brought down the three lanterns and two candles had returned to Landon’s face. This time there was no mistaking if he was really angry or if the flickering candle caused the appearance. Landon stood up and looked directly at his mother who was starting to come out of her panicked state. She looked at him through her glossy eyes, unsure of what to say.
“I’m leaving and going to get Anne. I’m sorry but I just can’t stay here chained up anymore.”
“No!” his mother shrieked as if she just witnessed her son get shot. “You can’t leave me! You’ll be just like your father! I can’t have that happen again!”
“I’ll turn into him if you keep me here! I’ll become depressed just as he was and then be gone.”
The three years after Christmas 1932 were tough for Samuel. He was still a very rich man in a time where everyone was poor. Condoms were still the most popular item at Mr. Appleton’s store, especially the reusable kind. Samuel never let on how depressed he was to anyone, but it was very obvious to his wife. She at times would catch him praying when he believed no one was watching, and his appetite started to dwindle. Samuel tried to play it off as a case of feeling guilty that he could eat so heftily while having to watch others at the soup kitchen eat nearly nothing. This excuse would work on most people, but not a wife who left her entire life behind to follow her husband into a big city. Abigail could feel Samuel slipping away from not only her but life as well.
Then science beat out Samuel’s diminished faith. A scientist had done an experiment on many popular condoms to find very disturbing results. More than half of condoms that were tested were found to be defective, and the scientist found out that shipments were rarely tested for quality before they arrived in the stores.
Samuel was crushed. He had begun to believe he was indeed bringing evil into the world by promoting sinful behavior. Now this had put him over the edge. Becoming rich off of a product that wasn’t even working made him feel almost like a criminal. Samuel resigned as soon as the study came out. He did make sure that Mr. Appleton would still be able to sell the condoms, but that meant little to Samuel. His spirit was ruined.
The Winchanges had enough money saved up to still live comfortably for a while, yet Abigail knew that meant nothing. Her husband’s dream was over which meant that her’s was as well. She knew that Sacramento was about to be something of her past, but she didn’t know she’d be returning home alone. After telling his wife he would just be going for a night stroll, Abigail received an odd knock at the door hours later. Instead of opening the door to welcome her husband home, she was met by an older gentleman wearing a navy blue suit with a star badge on his chest. The news that her husband was found floating down the American River set in motion all the gears that led to Abigail becoming the paranoid woman her sons now knew her as.
Abigail took all her husband’s money and her two sons back to Concrete where she was able to buy a quaint house near her parents and older sister. Whatever relief she was given by being near her family was quickly taken away when her father passed away suddenly of a heart attack. The loss of the two strong masculine figures in her life led Abigail to become extremely protective of her two sons. She was always breathing down their neck and making sure she knew what they were doing at every moment of the day, even though by now they were both in their teenage years. Carl easily accepted this role, but Landon struggled with this. After having no close friends in Sacramento, he created a strong bond in Concrete with a girl named Anne.
“I’m really sorry, mom. I just can’t stay here. I need to go get her. If I don’t now, I may never get my chance,” Landon told his mother in a much calmer manner a minute after he had yelled at her about becoming his father.
“It’s not leaving me I’m worried about, Landon,” sighed Mrs. Winchange. “I know I’ve depended on you two too much,” while glancing at both of her sons with tears of sadness rather than fear. “You can’t go after her, though. I’ve seen what happens when a man chases after his young ambitions. It ruins more than just him…” Her voice tapered off while saying the last sentence.
Landon stood up, and his mother only then realized how well-dressed her youngest son was. He dug into his pocket to pull out a small gold band with a tiny jewel attached to the top of it. “You know I was supposed to go pick her up half an hour ago, right? We were going to go out to eat over at Lake Shannon, and then I planned on proposing to her. But then you had to get freaked out about something stupid and not let us live our lives.” He then slammed the ring back into his pocket.
The room fell silent. Landon stood staring his mother down. Mrs. Winchange was caught between crying and trying to talk some sense into her son. Carl stood to the left of his mother not sure what to do at all. More tension came from the fact that no one knew what to do next rather than the actual issue at hand.
“You can’t go chasing dreams, honey,” said Mrs. Winchange, finally breaking the silence. “I won’t let you throw your life away.”
“Mom!” Landon yelled before she could finish her last sentence. “It isn’t throwing my life away! I don’t even know what my dreams are to be honest. Every time I create a new ‘dream,’ I have to give it up because I know you’ll try to interfere with it. I have so many new, young dreams all the time, but they seem so far away from ever happening. I want to have old dreams that I’ve chased and made a reality.”
“But you have so much to lose…” Mrs. Winchange barely uttered out.
“There’s nothing to lose, mom. The only thing to lose is Anne. You know what is going on in the world. It is only a matter of time before Hitler declares war on everyone. What’ll happen then? Maybe the Nazis really will start invading America or I’ll be sent over to fight. The storm is coming, and I have so little time to prepare for it.”
Landon was more pleading a case than talking to his mother. And for the first time in over two years, Abigail was looking at her son as his own man, not who she wanted him to be. Without saying anything, they both knew what was going to happen next. Landon grabbed his black shoes that were still hastily thrown aside him and began to put them on. Abigail’s tears had changed again, this time into tears of acceptance. Once the black shoes were tied, Landon headed towards the stairs to leave the basement when his recently-silent brother finally spoke up.
“And just what do you think you’re going to do?” asked his older brother in a way that signified the belief that his brother had no idea what he was really doing.
“I’m going to walk out of here, open a door, and then close it. You should really ask yourself what you’re going to do,” replied the younger brother. Then he did exactly what he said.