Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chapter 12: Fourth Night, Part III

Dark gripped his flesh with cold talons. He grabbed the doorframe with his other hand and pulled. Nothing. He tried again. Still nothing. A tug from the other side jerked him into the room up to his shoulder. The cold crept up his arm. Vernon turned his head. Shadows were trying to cover more of his body. Only the kitchen light kept them at bay. Wonderful. My luck, the lights will go out in just a second. He looked at Ethan, still leaning against the refrigerator. Ethan scratched his head and arched an eyebrow. “A little help?” he grunted, slipping a few inches back. Fingers started to cramp as he tightened his grip.

Ethan shook his head. “Do you really think this little display will prove anything, Vern?”

Vernon gaped at him and momentarily lost his hold on the doorframe. His shirt ripped as it raked across the doorway. Clawing for a new purchase, he managed to halt his progress just as the cold dark reached his jawline. One of his legs had been dragged across the threshold, increasing the pull on his body. He grimaced as the muscles in his fingers and forearm started to cramp. “Come on, Ethan,” he gasped. “Don’t just stand there. Do something!” The fingernail on his pinky ripped free. Tears started in his eyes, and he lost his grip. Wood bit into his arm as he wrapped his elbow and knee around the doorway. Another jerk pulled him a few inches back. Pain flared in his arm. I can’t keep this up. So much for a demonstration. I wonder if Ethan will try to come in there after me. The cramps spread up his arm. His hold started to slip. Vernon closed his eyes and took a deep breath as his grip weakened further.

Nothing dragged him backward. In fact, the pain and tension in his wrist had increased. Cocking one eye open, he found Ethan holding to his arm with both hands. His friend leaned backward, bracing one foot against the doorway just above Vernon’s leg. Muscles and tendons stood out in his neck and forearm. He muttered something through gritted teeth.


“I said, let go!” Ethan shouted.

“I’m not holding on to anything!”

“I’m not playing, Vern,” he grated. Sweat dripped from his forehead. “Either let go, or I do. I’m not going to give myself a heart attack over this.”

I think he’s serious. His old friend looked like he might pop a vessel any minute. But for now, he kept his hold. Groaning, Vernon strained to help free himself. He pulled with the leg wrapped around the doorframe. He’d lost all feeling in the arm and leg trapped in darkness, but he tried to make them push, as well. Slowly, inch by painful inch, he scraped past the wall and back into the kitchen. Ethan’s sweaty hands made the progress difficult. Every few minutes, Vernon had to brace himself as Ethan let go with one hand, wiping it on his pants, then repeat the process with his other hand. At least he’s holding on. He slipped half an inch between sweaty palms. For now. Another lunge, and he managed to pull himself halfway out of the back room. He used the wall to support himself as Ethan pulled one hand free to wipe clear. Vernon had only a bare warning before the other slipped free.

He lurched backward, barely able to halt his backward slide. The abrupt stop slammed him into the doorframe. His free arm banged the wall. He heard a bang from the other side, felt his arm hit something. Light flooded the back room. Vernon fell to the floor and laughed at Ethan’s sudden, surprised expression. “Guess I should have tried that sooner.”

Ethan put both hands behind his neck and tilted his head back. “It would have been better if you’d just let go when I told you. I don’t know what you were trying to prove, playing tug-o-war with me like that.” His neck cracked as he turned it side to side. “I’d send you my chiropractor bill if I didn’t already know you don’t have any money.”

“I wasn’t trying to prove anything.” He stood and dusted his pants off. “I told you I wasn’t holding onto anything. Does this look like I’m playing?” He pulled at his shirt, exposing the tears. “Or this?” Blood dripped from his arm as he shoved it into Ethan’s face. Several gashes ran from elbow to wrist. Out of the cold night, the wounds were starting to hurt. Look like I’ve been manhandled by an eagle or something. He kept the other hand clenched in a fist. The pressure helped dull the pain from his missing fingernail. “What do you have to say about that?”

Blowing noisily and shaking his head, Ethan pushed the arm aside and stared him in the face. “Look, Vern, I’ve always tried to be a good friend. Sometimes that means telling folks what they don’t want to hear.” He leaned back against the wall. “I got to tell you, there’s something seriously wrong in your head. I know you’ve been through a lot lately. You lost a job. All your money’s gone. You had to move across the state, and your marriage hit the skids. I guess the stress just got to you.”

“Stress? You don’t know the first thing –”

“I’m not done.” A hard edge entered his tone. “My guess is you just snapped. Your wife and daughter left, and you concocted some sort of fantasy because you couldn’t deal with the fact they’re gone. Look at yourself.” He gestured at the bleeding arm. “You’re hurting yourself to make it true. I don’t know if you’re doing it on purpose or if you’re even aware of it. You sure seem like you believe all this, and I don’t think you’d make me bust a gut for some kind of make believe.”

“You still think I’m making all this up?”

“Maybe not on purpose, but yeah.”

“After everything I’ve showed you…” Vernon trailed off and shook his head.

“What have you shown me, Vern? Huh? A table with nothing under it? A cabinet with some mice and roaches in it?”

“That cabinet was empty, Ethan. You know that.”

“Of course it was empty. With all the banging and light, anything in there would have run off. Just because you didn’t see anything doesn’t mean they weren’t there. It certainly doesn’t mean there’s some kind of creepy crawly dark waiting to drag you away. It’s just part of this dream of yours, just like you grabbing the wall in there to pretend the darkness got you.” Vernon tried to get a word in, but Ethan overrode him, turning around to point through the living room. “I’m not sure I even want to know what was going through your head when you were trying to tear my house down.”

“I told you about that.”

“I know what you told me, but what was it really?” He waved dismissively. “I doubt you even know. But you have got to snap out of it, Vern. For your son’s sake if not your own. Face facts: You’re alone here now. Cheryl and Alexis aren’t coming back.”

Vernon laughed hysterically. “You think I don’t know that?”

“Not for the reasons you think. They’re not sucked away into the dark here. Your wife left you and took one of the kids with her. She left the baby with you. Looks to me like she just couldn’t take anymore of the stress y’all had been under and decided to split with her baby girl.”

“I’m telling you, they haven’t gone anywhere.”

“Snap out of it!” Ethan yelled. “Look, I’m going to prove to you there’s nothing here, then we’re going to go get you some help.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just come with me.”

Part IV coming soon!

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