Friday, January 25, 2008

Chapter 8: Lights, Part VI

Travis turned an abrupt about face and marched off the porch. He paused on the last step and said without turning: "Kateri said to tell you the baby's taking about four ounces in the bottle."

Vernon, one eyebrow arched, watched him cross the yard and disappear down the driveway. He glanced down at the baby. "You think I'm making a mistake trying to bring Mommy and Sissy back?" Raymond gurgled and smiled. "Me either, little man. Me either." He watched the setting sun for awhile, then bent down to pick up Ray's carrier and diaper bag, carried them into the kitchen and set both on the table next to the paper sack and rope.

Turning his attention to the diaper bag, Vernon opened it and pulled out a half-dozen bottles and three cans of powdered formula. He shook them until he found the lightest. He lifted the can and turned it around. "One scoop per two ounces of warm water," he muttered. "Hope I can remember how to do this." Alexis had been allergic to Cheryl's milk, and he'd stayed up many nights feeding her. But Raymond had been fine, and Vernon had not prepared a bottle in nearly three years.

He grabbed a bottle, went to the sink and turned on the tap. As he waited for it to heat, he let an ounce or so of cold water flow into the bottle. Raymond started crying. Hot water followed. He raised the bottle to eye level and poured a little out until the level fell to the four-ounce line. Back at the table, he dumped in two scoops, screwed the lid on and shook the bottle with one finger covering the nipple. Ray's cries rose to screams, and his kicking had set the carrier to rocking. The temperature of the few, quick drops dribbled on Vernon's wrist felt about right. He set the bottle down, picked Ray up and gave him the nipple. The baby's cries cut off as if with a switch. Chuckling, Vernon sat down in a chair and fed the infant an ounce at a time, burping him at each interval. Ray cried further the first couple of times the bottle was taken away, but he quieted as the formula disappeared. Once the last drop was gone and the last burp sounded, the baby drifted off to sleep. Vernon smiled and gently put him back into the carrier.

Shuffling to the counter, he rummaged through the cabinets, opening doors and grimacing as shadows scurried out of the light. They didn't seem so funny now that daylight had started to fade. Finally, he grabbed a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter to make himself a couple of sandwiches. A small bag of corn chips followed, washed down with some tea he found in the fridge. He tensed every time the refrigerator door opened. Although the lights dimmed slightly, they never flickered. Guess this old place is finally getting used to the load. Still, I hate to think what this place is going to be like in the summer when we got to run those air conditioners. He set his dishes in the sink, pulled Raymond out of the carrier and made a quick circuit of the house to make sure all the lights were still on before laying the baby on his own bed.

Vernon went back to the door-side window and finished cutting through the paint. Taking a deep breath, he placed both hands on the window, stood in a weightlifter's stance and heaved. The window creaked and he thought he felt it shift slightly. Muscles hummed in his arms and thighs. The frame lifted a fraction with a loud squeal and froze again. Vernon grunted, a deep-seated sound that rose to a drawn-out groan. The strain set a fire in his trembling limbs that grew as he pushed harder. As his strength faded, the wooden window frame moved. He shoved it several inches with a yell and collapsed. I did it. Eyes closed, he breathed in huge gasps against the floor. I need to go get the rope. He planted his hands on either side and tried to push himself upright. His arms wobbled but couldn't get his watery muscles to lift anything. Later. I'll do it later. His eyes drifted closed.

Raymond cried in the bedroom. Vernon groaned and rolled over, one arm draped over his eyes. "Just go back to sleep, kid, please." Ray didn't listen; his cries intensified.

Vernon drew himself to a sitting position with a grunt and forced himself to his feet. He shambled into the bedroom. The baby's arms and legs waved. Vernon picked Raymond up and put him over his shoulder, patting his bottom and making shushing noises. Raymond slowly stilled and quieted. Once he started snoring, Vernon set him back down on the bed. The baby immediately woke up crying again. Vernon sighed and picked him back up and went to the recliner.

Raymond took longer to settle down this time. He squirmed and whined as Vernon leaned back and stared at the slowly darkening sky. His eyes drooped along with the baby's.

A sudden, jarring pain in his left arm and Ray's screams jolted him awake. Jerking upright, Vernon clutched the baby to his side and looked around wildly. The overhead light fixture flickered. Shadows leapt from the corners and darkened windows, ebony claws reaching for them as the light faltered. By the time he had scrambled from the chair and started for the kitchen, more scratches marred his left arm and Ray's cheeks despite his attempts to protect the infant.

Vernon dashed across the living room. He nearly made it when a shaft of night fell across his path, cutting his feet out from underneath him. He tucked Ray unto his arm like a football and rolled into the kitchen. Dark knives caught and ripped at his shirt, but failed to halt his forward progress.

Trembling, he stood and checked Raymond. Bloody scratches marred the baby's wide-eyed face, but he seemed fine otherwise. The living room light flickered once more and steadied. No way I'm going back in there tonight. He hugged Ray to his chest and went to the sink. He whipped a rag out of a drawer beside the sink and wet it under the faucet. Gently wiping the scrapes on the baby's cheeks, he hummed a soft tune and kissed Ray's forehead.

Overhead, the kitchen light wavered and sputtered.


Part I of Chapter 9 coming Monday!

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