Chapter 1: Girl in Sunflower dress
(500 years ago.)
From Odette's POV
‘The time is 9 p.m.'.
My laptop screen shows those sentences as the final question. I stared at my screen, not flinching as I placed my fingers on my keyboard.
I don't know the answer.
Okay, this is the breaking point. If I can't answer this, I'll fail the test. I clench my fingers as I bite my lower lip.
''No''. I thought. There is no way I will back down from this. I scored nearly 198 points and passed all levels to get to this point. So there is no turning back now!
YOU CAN DO THIS!
I took a deep breath before typing my answer. After I finished, my index finger landed on the ENTER key before reading the text one last time.
“I hope this works," I whisper as I hit the ENTER key. My screen turns black and blue pots cycle around in the middle.
It is loading.
I took a long look at my screen, clenching my golden crucifix necklace against my chest and hearing my heart rate in my inner ear.
It is....still...... Loading......
I inhale deeply and feel a release of sweat all over my skin.
“WRONG ANSWER! WRONG ANSWER! WRONG ANSWER!”
A load of vocals suddenly burst through my earphones into my eardrums in the background. “OW, MY EARS!!!"," I scream before removing my earphones.
Why am I even wearing earphones? Those sound waves could have busted my ears off!!!!
As I massage my ears, an animated blue owl wearing glasses reappears on my laptop screen. “Hoot hoot looks like someone has mistranslated!" The owl giggled. I reduced the volume and put on the earphones letting out a deep sigh.
“Student@13, you should know that ‘es ‘is used instead of ‘das’, and also, the clock is spelled ‘Uhr’ not ‘Urh’.” said the owl. “Have you been dragged off again? You sure are lazy. You would NEVER be able to make it in the BIG WIDE WORLD with that terrible habit of yours!”
The owl laughed.
I can feel my cheekbones turn red as I gnash my teeth.
“If you are willing to speak German fluently,” the owl continued. “You'll have to keep in touch with this app schedule so you won’t miss any of my lessons and practice EVER SINGEL DAY!”
The cartoonish owl laughed again.
I have been practicing German...Well, sometimes I stretch out my notebook when I get bored. Hey, studying twenty-four hours without taking a break is pure torture!
And why is the avatar bullying me? Does that mean it bullies other learners? Why is anybody calling this out?
“Oh well, better off next time hoot, hoot" as the owl disappears and another question pops up on the screen.
I let out a deep sigh before lying back in my seat. I failed again and had to start over. I closed the laptop before removing my earphones and turning to look through the car window next to me. Throughout the countryside, the sun shines brightly, the sky is clear, and birds sing and chirp through the endless sky.
We passed a few houses and shops. Some of them are indeed normal and modern, but some are Gothic, which stands out more significantly from the country's traditional architectural style.
We stopped by some restaurants and my parents talked to some locals. Of course, they asked me to translate for them. I see the locals, however, there is nothing different about them. They are so cheerful and alive. It’s almost like I’m living in a fairy tale.
Germany is big and beautiful.
I turn back to look at my laptop lying on the dining table. How will I survive living here? I hardly speak German!
“I can’t take this anymore!” I cry. “Why am I the only one falling behind in this game during the group chart? It was never like this back in high school!”
“Stop whining.” A harsh tone echoed throughout the motor home. I froze and turned up to see my mother seated next to the driver which is my father.
Her green eyes are glued to the map she’s holding. However, I can still feel her negativity even if we are only a few meters away from where I’m seated.
“Sorry,” I apologize looking down. “It’s just that...the app is too challenging."
“Then why did you download it?” She asked without looking at me. “You know for a fact that you’re moving here to Germany where you can study medicine and earn a scholarship but here you are whining like a baby!”
“But Mom,” I plead. “The college I'm going to is international. Everyone speaks English there.”
“And what does it mean to quit German when you’re staying in Germany?” She asked.
Despite shaking, I remained silent. It’s pointless to argue with my mother when she is angry.
“You’re not a baby anymore Odette,” she continued. “Suck it up and improve your German. How are you falling behind? How will you communicate with your roommates?”
I look away, holding my tongue.
“They won’t understand you and you will be left alone most of the time. You don’t need me or your father anymore. You need to think after yourself.” Her words grow louder but I can hear Aiden chuckle seated across from me playing Mario games on his Nintendo switch.
"Furthermore, before Mother finished her sentence Father spoke up. "Now, Jessie, calm down, there's no need for you to lecture her. She'll be alright.”
“She was ecstatic when she got accepted to college here” he continued. “She is strong and full of pride: I even saw her practicing speaking German once in a while.”
Father smiled. “Besides, is this supposed to be a family-friendly vacation before we drop off Odette at her first college? It would be the last time we traveled together as a family."
Mother looked at my father about to say something but let out a deep sigh.
Mother turns to me. “All I’m saying is: do not complain about the small things. Nobody will take you seriously if you act that way. I have my eyes on you. Don't give up on your German just because it's difficult. You’re turning eighteen this year so act like one, you understand?”
I didn’t respond.
“ODETTE MILLER!” Mother shouted at me.
“Yes, Mother!” I yell back stunned a bit. With that said Mom looks at her map.
“Jeez, why does everything have to be so difficult for me?" I muttered.
“Maybe you’re just not lucky,” Aiden smirked at me. “But it’s amazing how you got accepted despite how an air-head you are. They must be desperate for them not to fail."
“What was it?" I asked him. “And who are you calling an airhead? I’m older than you, you know!”
I bounced on him and we started wrestling.
My name is Odette Miller and I'm 17 years old. I was born and raised in Canada. I am the firstborn child of a middle-class family in a small village. I got most of my father’s traits: golden blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. A lot of people say I have an hourglass shape but in my eyes, I look petite- just like my mom.
I had average grades, and average friends but most of all, I LOVE FINE ART!
After school, I would spend time shopping to buy all the equipment I need: Paint, brushes, pencils, erasers, palettes, stencils, sponges, and brayers.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for art supplies.
But all that said, I also love being around my grandmother. Since Grandpa passed away, Grandma and I have been inseparable. She was sweet and kind almost like another mother to me. During the summer, I helped out around the house at my grandmother's house. Sometimes we even play board games.
She even gave me a golden crucifix necklace as a farewell gift.
"Live your life with pride and challenge yourself to overcome the difficulties you’ll face. It is up to you to change your destiny.” Those were the last words she said before I left. I miss her so much.
My father works at our family’s small restaurant and is also the head chef. Before my father got bald, he had blonde hair and a full beard. He was quite short for his age and a bit chubby.
He’s the voice of reason and keeps his family together. I worked with him as a cook when I designed cakes or pastries and sometimes as a waitress. He would always say how lucky he was to have me.
Then there’s my mother who is a tall and admired woman. She works as a math teacher downtown. She has red curly hair, tanned skin, and green eyes and some people would mistake her for her early 30s.
My mom comes from a traditional background.
Back at home, she made me clean the house and prepare dinner when she was at work. When she was at work, she forced me and my younger brother to study for 4 hours a day. She would judge my friends if they were reliable companions and forbid me from accompanying them to high school parties or dates. Furthermore, she refuses to buy me any latest electronics for connecting with my friends, and she organizes my wardrobe to make me appear distant from others.
"Women should know their modesty," she would say.
And finally, there’s my younger brother Aiden who is six years younger than me. He also got his father's eyes and skin color but his hair color came from our mother.
All I know about him is that he's in eighth grade. His interest is in reading urban legends and the supernatural, such as ghosts and Bigfoot. He's also a daredevil. Last winter he set up a trap to catch Santa Claus, but instead, he trapped his father. Sure he can be a brat sometimes but we get along.
Throughout my life, I will always see them at the same time and place every day. Nevertheless, I never imagined that I would move away from them to attend college.
Time seems to fly by.
“BOTH OF YOU STOP FIGHTING!” Mom yelled. “Get back in your seats, Aiden. You should know better than to tease your sister.”
After wrestling, we returned to our seats. “Jeez, Mom can you ever cool off?" Aiden rolled his eyes. “Anyway, are we there yet?”
“Quiet Aiden.” Mom scolded. “Your father and I are concentrating.”
“But it’s been forever since we got off the plane,” Aiden whined. “How long does it take to get to Berlin?”
Angrily, she turns around. ‘‘I said zip it. Your father wouldn’t have rented this motor home if your sister never suggested traveling to Germany.”
The mother turns to look at the map again clenching her hair irritated.
“Honey, stop the car.” She demands. “I think we took the wrong turn.”
“Are you sure, dear?" he asked. “I think we're on the right track.”
Mom began to irritate. Harshly, she pulls over Dad's jacket. Dad gives in and pulls on the sidewalk near a stop sign.
“Oliver, do you see this?” Mom pointed to the map. “The map states that we were supposed to travel through a garden of sunflowers to reach our destination. But all I see is nothing but grass on every corner of the road, not even a single sunflower!”
“Okay, Okay Jessie calm down,” Dad said.
“CALM DOWN?!” Mother turns red. “We were on the road for six days straight and we were not even close to reaching Berlin!”
Dad looked confused. “But that is impossible; we follow every step on the map. Jessie, are you sure you read the map properly?”
“Oh? So you’re saying it was my fault we got into this mess? How would I know if you didn’t hear me correctly when I gave you directions?” Mom looked at the map again. “Let’s face it we’re LOST!”
I shook at my mother’s words but I spoke up between my parents.
“Mom, I don’t think we’re lost.” I interrupt. “Maybe, the farmers cut out sunflowers from the fields; I mean, what are the reasons why we don’t see them? After all, sunflowers produce a lot of oil.”
“You don’t cut sunflowers to produce oil, you plant THEM!” Mom snaps at me. “And I don’t see any cropland ANYWHERE!”
“Jessie maybe Odette is right,” said Dad. “What are the chances we didn’t see any sunflowers?”
Dad snatches the map from her and examines it. “By the way, did you take your meds this morning?” He asked. “I can see that your panic attacks are kicking in.”
“I’M NOT HAVING A PANIC ATTACK!” Mom screams.
Before I could speak, Aiden called out. As he pointed out the car window, he shouted, "Look there!". In the distance, we saw what appeared to be a man walking towards us. He's wearing a long-sleeve coat, suit, and large leather shoes and also wears a tall wide hat. He is all wearing black.
But the outfit didn't catch my eye; it was how tall he was. He's tall enough to reach out to some fruits hanging above the trees. He looks almost 8 feet tall.
“Look how tall he is, he's a freak of nature!” cried Adrian.
“AIDEN!” I hissed. “He'll hear you!”
“Maybe we should ask him,” Mom suggests. “He must be a local in this area. So we could ask him if we’re lost!”
“But we are not lost, Mom,” I told her calmly.
“But even so,” Mom continued. “We need to know if we’re heading in the right direction or not.”
She caught my attention as I glanced at her. This is ridiculous! We are moving in the right direction. She is being too dramatic because she forgot to take her meds again.
“But Mom we are-" Before I could finish my sentence, Dad interrupted me. “Maybe we should ask him,” He said finally agreeing.
“What?!” I gasp. “But just a second ago you were on my side.”
Dad sighed deeply. “Odette listen, screaming and shouting won't get us anywhere. One of us has to stand and one of us falls and I know your mother will not back down. So I’m taking her side. You should too.”
“No way!” yelled Aiden. “Don’t ask him, he gives me the creeps!”
“And I’m still sure that we’re not lost,” I added. “Can we just stick to the map?”
Furiously, Mom said. “We are your parents and you do as we say. I have no time for this!”
I couldn’t find the words to say that so I remained silent. It is what it is; Mom is difficult to deal with.
As the stranger approached our motor home, Father waved his hand out of the car to draw his attention to the stranger.
“Hello! Hello!” Dad called. “Hello! Excuse me, sir! You with the big hat!”
Upon hearing my father's call, a tall man approached us. The stranger stood next to Dad looking down at him.
My attention was drawn to the stranger as I examined him. Oh my god, how tall is he? His head barely shows through the car window. And why would he wear all black when it's 180 degrees outside?
"Good day sir" Dad greeted. “I’m sorry to interrupt your day, but have you seen fields of sunflowers anywhere around here?"
The stranger didn't speak. "Uhm, sir," Dad spoke again. "I asked if you could tell me where the sunflower farm was!"
The stranger remained silent staring blankly at Dad. I don’t know why but I feel uncomfortable looking at him. The way he stares, the way he stands, it feels off. What is his deal?
Within a few minutes, Mother whispers into Father’s ear and turns to me. “Odette, get over here. He might be German.”
I shook at my mother’s words and stared blankly at her. Of course, he is. We are in Germany and not a lot of people speak English.
Walking towards my parents, Dad stepped out of his seat and I sat facing the stranger. Looking at him up close, the man wore overly large sunglasses, and his face was covered with a scarf wrapped around his mouth, ears, and nose. I hardly see his face at all.
“Odette, say hello and tell him where the sunflower fields are,” Mom said. “I hope you took your lessons seriously today.”
I nodded and spoke the following words: "Hello, ich und meine familie sind etwas verloren. Hatten sie etwas dagegen, wenn sie uns sagen konnten, wo das feld von ist...uhm.”
I paused for a moment thinking about how I would tell him next. How do you say sunflowers in German? I could feel my mother’s gaze behind me, piercing me like a dagger.
“Sunflowers,” I respond formatting the only word I know. The man stares at me blankly without saying a word. You got to be kidding me. What am I supposed to do now?
Awkwardly, I hold up my dress showing the patterns of sunflowers to him. I can feel my cheeks burning.
“Sunflowers, sunflowers!” I pointed at my dress hoping he'd understand what I’m saying.
“Odette,” Mom angrily whispered. “What are you doing? Cut it out!”
Embarrassed, I put down my dress, hoping the tall stranger wouldn't notice my underwear.
“Nein.” The tall man finally spoke in a deep voice. “Hier gibt es keine sonnenblumen.”
My heart skips a beat. There were no flowers here? Is he serious?
After a long pause I ask: “Was ich sage, gibt es eine farm, auf der sunfl- I mean sonnenblumen waschse-.”
“Hier gabes keine bauernhofe, die sonnenblumen anbauten.” The tall man spoke up before I could finish.
The words he said shocked me. What does he mean by there are no sunflowers around? But the map indicates we are heading in the right direction.
“What did he say, Odette?” Dad asked.
I turned to Dad and told him there are no farms growing sunflowers in the area according to the man.
Mom and Dad were both surprised. Aiden, who was listening to our conversation, looked worried as well.
“Odette, are you sure he said that?” Mom asked looking concerned. I nodded, and she handed me the map. “Show him the road we are on and the direction we are taking.”
The map was handed to him and I explained everything to him. The man shook his head and said there was never a sunflower farm in the countryside.
My entire family fell silent when I explained what he said. How could this be? How did we get into this mess? Surely, there must have been a misunderstanding. My parents traveled to countless countries when I and Aiden were born. As a result, when we travel, we overcome our flaws.
I examine him closely: I can’t tell what his facial expression is hiding but I don’t know how to ask him to remove his scarf and glasses in German yet. I don't know why but I feel he's hiding something.
“OW!” A small noise with a loud "hump" broke the silence behind me. I turn to see Mom glaring at Dad.
“I told you we were lost!” She growled. “How could you miss a turn when I tell you every direction I read on this bloody map?"
Dad rubs his head. “It was your idea to use a map of this kind. If we had used Google Maps as I suggested, we could have been to Berlin by now.”
“Only lazy people get to use those,” Mom yelled back. “Nothing beats the classics. Now we have to go back to the motel.”
“But Jessie,” Dad pleads. “It's 20 miles away and we don’t have enough money to rent a motel.”
I stopped her before she could do anything. “Mom, stop fighting. It won’t help anything.”
I continued. “I still believe we are on the right track. So, there are no sunflower fields - so what? Times have changed, but the road to Berlin hasn't. I say keep moving forward.”
Mom raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? If that’s how you want to handle it, why not take the wheel and drive us to Berlin then?”
After hearing her words, I hesitated for a moment. I mean I did complete driving school. The problem is that I rarely drive since I feel nauseous when I drive.
Dad spoke gently. “It’s okay Odette; you don’t have to try. We should just turn around and figure it out for ourselves.”
“He’s not wrong,” Aiden agreed. “We should go back.”
I looked at Aiden and then at my parents waiting for my response. Should I drive to Berlin and if so where and how? I hold up my crucifix necklace remembering what Grandma said:
"Live your life with pride and challenge yourself to overcome the difficulties you’ll face. It is you who can change your destiny.”
I turn around to see the tall man still there. Clearing my throat, I asked where the short road to Berlin was. As his face leaned closer to mine, I leaned back before invading my privacy.
“You keep moving forward then you’ll turn right once you spot a sign written: Arkena,” He whispered. “Don’t turn back.”
The tall man lifts his hat before walking away. He can speak English!
After a few minutes, I finally spoke up. “Dad, if you don’t mind, I’ll take the wheel.”