Monday, January 7, 2008

Chapter 8: Lights, Part I

Vernon swung his Camry into the parking lot of Callahan & Son, coming to a halt in the first available spot. Batteries and flashlights rattled around on the floorboard. He climbed out and walked inside.

"Back for more flashlights?" Gary Callahan asked from behind the register. He rapped a beat on the counter with his knuckles. "Kids worn the other ones out already?"

Vernon gaped at him. What was he talking about? It took a few minutes of blank staring before he recalled the previous day's conversation. He coughed into his fist and tried to smile. It felt weak and misshapen on his face. "Nah. They're fine. Actually, I came in for some rope."

"How much you need?"

"I don't know." He hadn't thought of that. How far outside would he have to go to get them? Where would he tie it off to make sure the rope was secure? "A couple hundred feet?"

Gary whistled. "That's a bunch of rope. How strong do you need it?"

"Uh, maybe that stuff people use to pull cars?" Overkill, maybe, but he doubted the night would let them go easily. He didn't want it snapping in the struggle. Gary looked at him oddly. Mind racing, Vernon had a sudden burst of inspiration. "I'm going to put up a tire swing. My wife's kind of paranoid about safety. She won't be satisfied unless I bring home the stoutest rope you got."

"My mom was the same way." He laughed. "But you'd only need a dozen feet or so for a tire swing."

"Yeah, I know. I just figure I might as well get plenty while I'm here. Seems to me that kind of rope might come in handy at times – car dies, having to haul loads or hoist stuff, that sort of thing. You sure don't want to have to run to the store when you need it."

"You got me there." He pointed to the far back corner. "Rope's back there, along with the chains. I'll have Dad meet you."

Vernon paused at the mention of chain. Steel would be stronger than rope. Then he thought about a great dane-Irish setter mix he'd had as a boy. The dog had been about as bright as a doorknob, but immensely strong. He broke every single chain they'd ever bought; Ben would simply lunge against the links until something gave way and he could jump the fence and roam the neighborhood again. But the mutt had never managed to snap a rope. Dad said it had something to do with the way it would stretch instead of breaking.

He hooked a left down the nearest aisle, glancing at tents and other camping equipment. He slowed when he reached the lanterns, miniature lighthouses stacked in neat little rows. He stopped and stared, index finger tapping on his chin. I got plenty of flashlights and batteries. He shook his head, turned to go and took two steps before backing up. He found himself staring at the lanterns again. On the other hand, you never know when a light's going to go bad. Besides, how long are those batteries going to last out there if they're running all the time? On the plus side, the lanterns would cast a wider light than the flashlights' fixed beam. One hand skipped along the shelf, tapping the metal bases one by one. He stopped at the electric lanterns and cast his glance from those to the oil-fed lights. He'd never fully gotten the hang of those kerosene lanterns with their little flammable bags, but he wasn't sure how much he trusted one of those battery-operated jobs. They may not be as bright. Still, the last time he'd tried to use a gas lantern had been on a camping trip with Cheryl before Alexis was born. He had burned the hair off his right hand and nearly lost his eyebrows that evening. Vernon shuddered and grabbed a pair of the electric lights before hurrying off around the corner.


Part II coming Friday!

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