Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chapter 10: Dawning, Part V

It was like being thrown spread-eagle into a sensory deprivation tank. A faint breeze across his skin spoke of motion away from the house, but he felt nothing else save a bitter cold. He heard no wind; even Ray's screams cut off as darkness enveloped him. Vernon sniffed. The air smelled sterile, dead. No grass, no earth, no flowers. He closed his eyes with no discernable effect. He tried to cover them with his hands. It felt like swimming through syrup; he had to fight to move his arms. An attempt at kicking yielded the same result. He took a deep breath and waited for the end. What will it be like? Will I die first, or will I just fade away? At least I'll be with them again. He sobbed. The sound fell dead. I hope they find Ray in the morning. His grandparents will take good care of him. He sniffled and sighed. Adobe Photoshop CS v8.0 crak

Pain wrapped around his waist, driving the breath from his body in a long grunt. His body folded around the red-hot band. Vernon's eyes bulged. He struggled to breathe. Air entered his body, he noticed a new sensation: something tight that quivered around his hips and stomach. He frowned and forced his hand to his side. It moved slowly, but eventually reached his waist and found a rough, wrist-thick cord. He followed it around. His fingers found a bulging knot just above the waistband of his pants. The rope!

Vernon took a breath and forced himself upright. His body moved in harsh jerks, fighting the black current that tried to sweep him along. His upper half straightened first. Then his left heel struck something soft. It took him a moment to realize he'd stuck it into the ground. Vernon gripped the rope tighter and heaved. He could feel his foot digging a divot in the dirt as he slowly turned. Facing the house once more, he planted his feet, grabbed the lifeline with both hands and started walking. He bent nearly double, like a man braving a hurricane. It was a laborious process – digging a foot in, grabbing a new handhold, pulling and stepping, then starting over again – made even harder by the monotony. He had no way of knowing how much progress he made. His feet slipped as much as they stepped. Something that felt like vines and branches snagged at his ankles. Others raked his clothing, hair and flesh. At times, the only thing keeping him in place was his grip on the rope. It was during one such trip-up that something slammed into his shoulders.

It reminded Vernon of his brief attempt at joining the high school football team. He had taken his stance and barely heard the "hut, hut" before two of the largest guys he'd ever seen did their best to drive him into the ground. Vernon walked with a limp for two weeks, and his shoulders and ribs had been sore for three. This blow made that one feel like something out of a pillow fight. His shoulders went numb, and he slid back several feet. He clamped his hands down. When he finally got his feet underneath him once more, he shuddered and took a shaky step. The rope felt slippery all of a sudden; his hands didn't want to maintain their hold. Vernon leaned over further, using his legs to propel himself forward. His progress slowed even further than before. Step after step, he trudged onward. His back and legs ached, and his hands tingled as feeling gradually returned. Is this ever going to end?

His foot caught again. Pain shot through his shin, and his grip on the rope slipped. "Come on!" Vernon shouted, straightening. "Just stop already." His voice cracked. "Please, just stop." He leaned forward but did not take another step. What's the point? I'm not going to make it. It's never going to let me go. He whimpered. Or is it already too late? Is this what it's like to be trapped, always trying to get out but finding no end? A faint cry answered from somewhere ahead.

Vernon looked ahead and blinked. That's the first sound I've heard. Am I somewhere near the end? He lifted his other foot and slipped it forward. All resistance vanished, and it landed on a hard surface. He leaned over further and found himself staring at his own foot resting on a wooden step. He fell forward, collapsing on the porch. His breath came in great gasps. Sweat stung his eyes. He raised his hand to wipe it away and stopped. Red covered it from fingertips to heel, and a ragged gash ran down the palm. He lifted the other hand and found the same. The wounds started burning.

Raymond cried inside the house. Groaning, Vernon pushed himself up and walked to the door. The baby's cries intensified, but he paused and stared at the wall where he had tied the rope. Wood in the window and door frames had shattered. Several asbestos plates from the siding lay smashed on the porch, and that section of the wall buckled outward slightly. He shook his head and set about untying his end. His hands didn't want to uncurl much from a fist, which made working the knot difficult. Blood slicked the rope, further complicating the work. He finally got the last loop out. Letting it drop with a thump, he crossed the threshold.

In the bedroom, Ray had twisted around so his head pointed at the foot of the bed. His arms and legs waved as he wailed. Vernon limped over and looked down at him.

"Hey, buddy. How you doing?" The baby looked up and stopped crying. Vernon thought his look had an air of expectation about it. "I'm sorry. I couldn't get them." Ray smiled. He sat on the bed and lowered himself until he lay next to his son. "I guess they didn't want to be saved."

Raymond drifted off to sleep, but his father lay awake much longer. He kept going over that last statement. Is that true? Do they really want to stay out there in the darkness? He found it hard to credit. Who would want that? Why wouldn't they want to come back to their family? Realization slowly dawned. They're part of the night now. "No," he muttered. But the denial lacked any force, even to himself. Tears leaked down his face. They're gone.


Part I of Chapter 11 coming next week!


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