Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Wanderer - Part 2

There was no telling how far he had fallen. The ravine that claimed him had come from nowhere, and he landed in its valley with a bone crunching halt. The world swam as he tried to gain some point of perspective, some glimmer of his surroundings. All in all, it had not been a good few weeks. His health had fallen steadily along with his remaining hope of survival. A ragged cough had set in, and now each Velcro breath took every ounce of remaining strength to be separated from his raw lungs.

He attempted to sit up and found that his right arm had either been broken into shards or had suddenly refused to cooperate with him. He struggled upward with his left. The effort took longer than he had concentrated on in ages and finally, he was hauled into a sitting position against the tree that had bloodied and threatened his skull.

Blood ran thick into his eyes, and using his good arm he continually had to wipe away the red smear that formed across his vision. The rain didn't help. It had caused him to slip and now it prevented his sight. He was sure that this was the way the Earth eventually undid you. Slowly it would wipe away your capabilities until there were none that remained. He sat there for a while trying to convince himself that there was something worth getting up and walking on for. Every cycle of his internal conversation was answered with the simple fact that getting up and walking meant you weren't dead yet; you might be damn close, but you still had a claim on life. This alone was not initially enough to motivate him. What was life anyway? He asked himself a million times and always answered differently. Today, life was a way to walk and air to attempt to breathe. All in all, he decided, that was better than nothing. Slowly and quite diplomatically, his brain tried to convince his battered limbs to lift his weight. They were not swayed easily, but eventually he garnered enough support to struggle upward and onto his feet.

He remained there, leaned awkwardly against this tree blinking hard against the blinding efforts of his own body, his own blood until he could see well enough to move forward. Moving had brought him this far. His last hope was that it would continue to see him well. He staggered several feet. He had no way of knowing just how fragmented his skeleton had become, but even the idea of walking caused several places in him to mourn. There he was, all ragged breath and blood, trying in vain to keep living.

It was the very picture of pity.

He'd only gone a little ways when he saw an unfamiliar sight before him. There, in the distance, was a small structure. It looked to be some sort of outhouse. It leaned a bit in the downpour as if to protect itself from more exposure. He exhaled some sort of muddy laugh that reeked of internal demise and hobbled towards it, looking for a last place to lay that might be out of this damned rain. He wiped another fistful of blood and water from his eyes and willed himself again to move, but just as he began to lift his foot from the ground he halted in alarm.

Suddenly, he wasn't alone.

From behind the leaning shack, a din of familiar noise leaped out at him. And shortly after that, so did the dog. It cavalierly jumped out, barking, its hackles raised in alarm. His heart had almost ceased to beat, both in terror from the sudden appearance, and in joy for the slim hope that he'd found a companion who might provide some affection to a dying man, and who might possibly give him one last bit of happiness before the lights went out for good. He stared, all dopey and bloody at this welcome creature. But, just as easily as the initial smile had crept across his face it was replaced with doubt. This dog was not the type that he would see still living. It was some kind of house pet, completely unequipped to survive alone this many years. In fact, it reminded him distinctly, painfully, of a dog he'd loved as a boy. This was no survivor.

Slow tears found their places at the edges of his eyes. This was no friend and companion. This must be a hallucination.

Then, even as his incredible grief fell slickly down his cheeks, he laughed harder than he had in a long time. It was hilarious, really. Hilarious, and terrible. God, or whatever it was, had brought him a last thought of his former life, a harbinger that would bring not terror, but would welcome him into what was to become.

The dog yapped on as he approached, and his face contorted into a goofy scene of joy that foretold of madness and eventual death. It was at this point, when he was mere paces from the little, wet beast that he felt it: the swift, intentional touch of metallic coolness at the base of his skull.

Immediately he froze, his arms went stick-straight at his sides in spite of the pain that shot through his every fiber at the action. Even though he had never been at its mercy before, the cool steel of the gun's barrel was surprising in its familiarity. There was no mistaking the severity and finality present in its touch. His mind scattered to the winds of panic, but somewhere inside the knowledge remained that guns do not hold themselves. No, there was someone here. A person. With a voice.

"Who are you? State your name and business, or die in pursuit of nothing."

The voice was as steely as the barrel nuzzling his skull. He searched for the right answer to the question and came up empty. Panic rose fast and hard into his entire being, he urged himself to speak, to say anything, and urgently forced an ejection of air that he hoped would say the rights things. If you'd asked him to, he never would have been able to recognize the horrible rasp that now passed for his voice. "I, I'm dying. Please. I need help."

"Your name?"

He paused. It had been so long, he wasn't sure it meant anything anymore, but managed to choke out, "Matt. My name. It's Matt."

There was no pause in the gun's insistence for use. But in spite of himself, he could feel his mind begin to journey elsewhere. It almost felt like falling, or flying, or just drifting away somewhere. He didn't mean to, but the stranger's voice was fading now, like a dream or a memory of something lovely. Lightness filled his aching body and flooded out through his skin. And slowly a tunnel of darkness appeared around his vision. It was quite nice actually, an interesting picture of mixed Autumn leaves surrounded by a shrinking black circle. He swooned with movement and watched dimly as the leaves approached him and the circle tightened to a close.

He could not sense the unceremonious smack of his skin as it collided with marshy dankness of the forest's floor. He did not hear that one last painful breath driven sharply from his chest or the overlaying sounds of the stranger calling shortly to the still barking dog, "Logan! Shut up, you're driving me nuts with that racket!"

Rain continued to fall, the dog continued to bark, and the stranger looked down seemingly apathetic to the mess of human being sprawled indelicately before them.

Peace came. Blackness became the new world.