Early Sunday morning, we arrived at a desolate lot of land in Oasis Springs, still recovering from the shock of losing our parents in a tragic car accident. The land had been in the Spencer family for generations but had never been developed. Aside from our clothes, it was all we owned. Our parents’ life insurance policy was only enough to cover their medical bills and funeral expenses.
While our family had never been rich, we’d always been happy. Our lives changed in an instant that fateful day, but I was determined to take care of my younger siblings to the best of my ability. Time to buck up, buttercup.
Kylie’s lips were trembling as she looked up at me, trying not to cry. “We live h-h-here?”
“Yes, sweetie. Mom and Dad left us this land, and I’ll figure out a way to make it a home. C’mere and give me a hug. I’m going to take good care of you and Cole. Just wait and see. We’re going to be OK; I promise.”
“But there’s no house. There’s nothing but dirt and a mailbox,” Cole whispered.
“I know, Cole. Try to think of it as an adventure.”
“Emma promised to take care of us and I trust her,” Kylie said as she hugged her twin.
“I can help, right? Just tell me what to do,” Cole implored.
“I’m sure you can. Our first priority is to make enough money to buy food. Let’s explore the area and see what we can find.”
“First, I want to check out that weird looking rock near those boulders.” Huh. It’s not really a rock at all. I cracked it open and found some kind of metal. Let’s hope it’s worth a few bucks.
Kylie trudged across the street and tried to make a new friend. She approached an Asian man dressed in a sharp, black suit. “Hi, mister. We just moved here. Are you our new neighbor?”
“Hello, little girl. No, I live in San Myshuno. Have you heard of it?”
Shaking her head, Kylie replied with a slight pout, “Uh-uh. We used to live in Willow Creek, but our parents died in a car crash and we lost everything. Now we live on that dirt lot across the street.”
“Oh, you poor thing! I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“Thanks, mister.” Kylie sniffled, a lone tear trailing down her cheek. “My big sister promised to take care of us, though.”
“Please, call me Victor. Let me give you my phone number. If you need anything — anything at all, you call me, OK?”
“OK, Victor,” Kylie said, drying her eyes. “You seem like a nice man. My name’s Kylie. Maybe we can be friends.”
While Kylie, our social butterfly, had a lengthy conversation with Victor, Cole and I took a short walk past the edge of our property and found a creek where the fish were so active you could see them jumping out of the water.
“I can catch us some fish!” Cole exclaimed.
“That would be great! Fishing is free and we can sell any fish you catch to the local grocery store.”
With a goal of catching as many fish as possible, Cole set his pole in the water and awaited his first bite. It seemed to be just the distraction he needed to keep his mind off our predicament.
While Cole was fishing, I found another strange rock and proceeded to crack it open. This time it was some kind of fossil. Surely, there has to be a market for that, too. Maybe a museum would want it.
Nearby was a hollow log covered in moss. I cautiously searched inside of it and found a frog. Well, if nothing else, the twins will get a kick out of the little guy.
When I looked across the street, I saw Kylie hugging the man in the black suit. I was glad to see our little social butterfly had made a friend.
The next thing I know, Kylie’s taking a selfie with him. When she finished, I called her over. Cole was done fishing for the time being, too.
“Can you believe I caught seven fish?” Cole said excitedly. “It took a little while for the first one to bite, but then I just kept reeling ’em in!”
When Cole showed me what he caught, I saw that a couple of the fish were huge. I couldn’t wait to see what they would be worth. He also handed me a lemon and some sort of electronic part.
“Cole, you did an awesome job! I’m so proud of you — seven fish?!? Plus you caught some other cool stuff, too. I’m going to plant the lemon right now and see if it’ll grow. It’d be great to have our own lemon tree.”
By the time I finished planting the lemon, Kylie had a worried look on her face. “Um, Emma, I gotta pee. What do I do now?”
“I do, too, sweetie. Let’s check out the local park. They must have public restrooms there that we can use.” The kids and I quickly headed over to Desert Bloom Park.
Luckily, the restrooms were near the park entrance because one of us waited a little too long. I was white-knuckling it the last several yards. Finally, we all got some much-needed relief.
While I was there, I took the opportunity to brush my teeth. Who knows when I’ll see a sink again.
We all met outside the restrooms as planned. “You guys can go play for a while. Just stay where I can see you, OK?” They both nodded and ran off to have some fun.
I spotted a guy playing chess by himself and decided to join him. I wasn’t sure if he was nodding off or just didn’t want to play with me. I’m not easily discouraged, though.
“Hi, I’m Emma. Mind if I play a round with you?”
“Not at all, Emma. I’m Bjorn. You can make the opening move.”
While I played chess, I saw Kylie had climbed up onto the colorful spaceship and manned the bubble gun. What kid wouldn’t love that?
I wrapped up the chess game with Bjorn when I spotted a small pond not far away. I wanted to see if I’d do as well fishing as Cole had. Ultimately, I caught a single guppy. Cole had me beat by a long shot. However, while waiting for the fish to bite, I spotted a few more weird rocks a short distance away. So, I headed over there to check them out. I dug up a treasure map, which led to a voodoo doll and a trophy.
While the kids were busy playing, I Googled everything we’d collected throughout the day to see what it was all worth and where we could sell it. As it turns out, it had been a very profitable day!
Our total haul was worth $1,415 — not too shabby for a teenager and a little boy with no skills. The voodoo doll alone was worth $950!
I quickly looked up from my phone when I heard Kylie shout.
“Victor! What are you doing here?”
“I was worried about you and was hoping to find you here. Do you kids have anywhere to stay tonight?”
Kylie shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“That settles it, then. You can all come to our apartment. Call me when you’re ready, and I’ll send a car to pick you up. I’ve already talked to my wife about you kids, and she wants to be sure you’re safe.”
“I’ll tell Emma and see what she says. Thanks, Victor. Maybe we’ll see you later!”
Kylie had told me about making friends with a nice man named Victor earlier in the day and he didn’t set off my finely tuned creep radar. I guess it’s because he looked at her the same way our Dad always did. And we could certainly use a friend right now — especially one with room for us to sleep. Fingers crossed.
Still, I kept my eye on them as I made a pot of franks and beans for dinner. It was a cheap, hearty meal I could easily prepare on the grill.
When it was done cooking, I called the kids over to the nearby picnic table. The mood was pretty subdued. Maybe the kiddos are starting to get tired. Kylie was the first to finish eating and went back to play a little longer.
Cole looked a little down in the dumps, but I knew just how to cheer him up. He was a sucker for the ridiculous faces I made.
Cole burst out laughing and I soon joined him. Baked beans and laughter are a dangerous combination, though, as Cole’s laughter caused him to pass a stinky fart. Cole grinned mischievously.
“Cole, you stinker!” I cried, giggling hysterically. That loss of control made me pass gas, too. “Look what you made me do!” I was so embarrassed. It felt like we were surrounded by a green, noxious gas as I jumped up from the table to avoid the smell. Cole just sat there laughing at me.
There were plenty of leftovers, so I separated them into individual servings and brown-bagged them for future meals. We could not afford to waste food.
After putting down one of the sack lunches, I turned back to our picnic table to see an old man with long, gray hair and dirty clothes help himself to our food. If he didn’t look like he was homeless himself, I would’ve given him a piece of my mind.
The man sat down at our picnic table and inhaled the aroma of our franks and beans as if he hadn’t smelled food in quite some time.
Cole looked at the man nervously and then whispered to me, “We’re not gonna end up like him, are we, Emma?”
“No, we’re not. We may be homeless at the moment, but it’s temporary, and we will not be sleeping in the park tonight.”
Kylie had filled me in on her recent conversation with Victor, and we decided to give him a call. True to his word, a car picked us up at the park and drove us to his apartment in San Myshuno.
The driver pulled up in front of an imposing, high-rise building and told us to take the elevator to the top floor, saying Victor and Lily Feng lived in a penthouse apartment. I knocked on the door and heard a woman’s voice call out, “It’s open. Come on in.”
We walked into a grand foyer and I quickly surmised that the Fengs were quite wealthy.
“I’m in here,” called Lily, and we spotted her around the corner. Behind her were floor-to-ceiling windows with a magnificent view of the city. “Don’t worry — Victor told me all about you. I’m his wife, Lily. He’ll be home later tonight.”
It was getting late and the twins were starting grade school in the morning. So, we all sat at the dining room table and got started on our homework. Since Kylie kept yawning, I helped her with her homework so she could get to sleep sooner.
The Fengs dressed to impress and lived in an elegant apartment, so I expected their meals would be restaurant quality. Lily surprised me by having a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich as her late dinner.
Once the kids got their homework done, Lily lit a fire in the living room, making it warm and cozy, and the kids snuggled up on the sofa and love seat.
They were fast asleep in minutes.
I hadn’t finished my homework yet, so once the kids were settled, I got started again. Lily turned on the stereo and started dancing. I made it through about three-quarters of my homework before exhaustion hit me hard.
I went upstairs to see if there was anywhere I could sleep and found a love seat in the master bedroom. I curled up on it and nodded off.
When I came downstairs a while later to check on the kids, I saw that Victor was home and both he and Lily were watching TV. Since there were no other seats available, Victor watched TV standing up. I thought it was sweet that he didn’t want to disturb the kids while they were sleeping. To my relief, they really do seem like a nice couple who just want to help us out. I went back upstairs and sacked out until sunlight started filtering through the windows.
At the end of Day 1, here’s a peek at everyone’s skill levels.
It’s a shame that collecting doesn’t result in any skill gain. You’d think running around and cracking open rocks with a hammer would build fitness skill, but nope. With Emma, we’ll probably focus mostly on fishing, gardening and cooking skills.
It’s pretty clear Kylie spent most of her time talking with Victor. Gaining a friend was key to having somewhere to sleep for the first night and access to free food. According to the challenge rules, the stove, BBQ and fridge are unlocked for the whole family in a friend’s home. Kylie is nearly halfway to maxing out her social skill, and it’s only Day 1. 🙂
All that time spent fishing gave Cole a boost in his mental skill. Once he maxes that out, he’ll gain actual fishing skill like Emma does. So far, we’ve done absolutely nothing to feed his creative soul, however. 😦
You can view the full set of challenge rules here.