After the Credits Roll
His back was plastered to the wall, his shirt plastered to his skin. Heels had dug into the softness beneath as if he could force himself right through the damp wood and to safety beyond.
“Help...” His voice cracked – thin from the earlier throttling. He wasn't going to save himself, all that remained was the desperate hope there was somebody close enough and willing enough to play hero. His right hand clamped over the split skin at the base of his throat. What he could only assume was a broken bottle had gashed just shy of fatal from the amount of blood pattering between his fingers.
“Help me!” He was bringing Rollins right to him. If Rollins didn't already know where he was. He didn't know what else to do. He was running out of time in too many ways. Time was seeping down the front of his shirt.
He crammed himself into the space created between the wall and the support beam. Hardly enough room for his body but the tight space was a security he could lie himself into believing he had. He was trembling. Cold and terror were a double whammy misfiring nerves and raising pebbled flesh. He wasn't used to fear like this. He wasn't used to not having a plan – even if the plan was created on the fly. He always had a plan.
Feet pulled in close and bent his legs against his body. His right hand remained around his throat – his left sandwiched between his thighs and belly. He barely felt his shoulder, the wound numb. The numb was starting to work through his limbs. Maybe... maybe it wouldn't even hurt when Rollins killed him.
Tugging his left arm free, Shawn dug through the sand around him. There had to be something! A rock or a pointy shell or a rusty piece of fishing tackle. Sand. Just more sand. He rapped his head back against the wall and immediately winced. There wasn't near enough hair on his scalp to create a buffer between the wood and his cracked skull.
“I seeee youuu...”
Shawn swallowed hard and dug harder. Any sort of weapon! Anything, anything, anything...
Both of them were packing flashlights. Carlton lit the underside of the pier with a brilliant white glow while Henry's yellow beam focused on the tracks at their feet. Then both of them spun at the soft play of a voice – the plosives lost within the echo chamber they occupied.
Pinpointing location would have been tricky enough without the lack of sunlight. Their focused light made hard black shadows where they struck the supports, making them jump and dance when they panned between them.
Carlton pointed a direction to Henry, glad to see the man didn't fight him on splitting up. Angling up to the left while Henry went right, he moved from beam to beam as he closed in on where he thought the voice might have come from. He was almost to the base of the pier, his light spanning out across the broad wall before him. A scrape of sound and he whirled, weapon at the ready as his flashlight caught on a figure crouched behind one of the last beams. Face bone pale and covered in scratches. “God, Spencer...”
“Lassie?” The voice that squeezed free was mostly breath. Something struck Carlton as very wrong, more than the wheeze of his name, but he had no time to discover what before Spencer's head cocked. Then, suddenly, his face twisted in high panic.
“Lassie, look out!” Eyes going wide as he lifted a foot to turn, Carlton's body was slammed against the post he'd been facing. He lost the flashlight but was able to keep the gun. The bright beam from the lost light shot up from the ground and sliced the space in half.
Elbow snapping back into midsection, Carlton wrestled with his attacker who seemed to be going for a choke hold, though the grip was wrong. It wasn't until he flashed on the murky brown glass and sharp sour stink of beer that he realized what Rollins was attempting. And as he grabbed at the wrist wielding the broken bottle, he finally realized what was wrong with Spencer. The jagged edges trembled near his eyes. Though blurred in close proximity, he could make out the droplets of blood still wet along the broken points.
He kicked back one leg, trying to wrap it around the back of Rollins' knee. The razor sharp glass edged closer towards his left eye. Releasing with one hand, he clawed backward and punched his thumb into Rollins's eye instead. The other man yelled and jerked back, letting Carlton wrench free. Spinning, he brought the side of his hand down on Rollins' wrist, numbing the fingers clutched around the bottle neck. Though he lost his weapon, Rollins wasn't done – launching himself at Carlton and once more bashing him into the support beam.
Black and blue smeared in his vision and he stumbled, bracing his feet wide apart. Fingers clawed at his jaw and wrenched his head to the left. Insane flash image of Bela Lugosi driving his giant fangs into his neck, he twisted in the hold that'd been weakened by the blow to the wrist. Sand arced up from the sweep of their feet – showering Spencer where he sat huddled against the wall, hand tight to his throat.
Long scratches dragged into Carlton's flesh as he ripped away from Rollins and pivoted, a rabbit punch catching the man in the larynx. Flattened to the sand, his breath wheezing, Rollins gave up the fight and Carlton was able to drag him to a crossbeam and cuff his hands over his head.
Running steps from the other side of the pier and a jerking light flickering as Henry ran towards them. Either the man had wandered to the closest Starbucks for a coffee and lemon cake or the fight had wrapped up faster than it had seemed while exchanging punches.
Gasping still, his various wounds stinging, Carlton braced his hand on the beam next to Spencer and knelt down in front of him. Shawn seemed to be staring, though his eyes were out of focus and just not quite... right. His head kept tilting, slow movements that made Carlton think of a satellite dish.
“Spencer?” His hand moved towards the fingers pressed against Shawn's throat. “I'm just going to take a look at that wound...”
Henry's voice, a cannon releasing its payload as he panted up to the scene. So the man had energy limits after all. The flashlight lit on Rollins first and Carlton was about to ask for Henry to spare a few lumens his way just as his hand came to rest on Shawn's knuckles.
A thrash of kicked sand as Shawn cowed away – one hand flying out from his body to swing at the air before him. The other stayed in place, drying blood or fear of its loss keeping his palm glued to his throat. Carlton jerked back from the wild fist, the knuckles missing his nose by a hair.
“Woah, calm down! Hey, hey, easy!” He grabbed Shawn's wrist only to have the other hand tear away from its perch and catch him across the cheek in brain jarring slap.
“Shawn!” Henry's bellow stilled them both.
Carlton shook his head to shake free the fresh burst of stars. Feeling a tug, he blinked past the fading blur to see Shawn reaching out – hands seeking. His face was stiff in concentration, his breath heaving up from his chest. Slowly, his left hand made contact with Carlton's lapel, then climbed upward. The urge to extract himself was immediate, but Carlton only leaned away slightly before firming his jaw. Delicate, nothing like previous groping during so-called visions, the fingertips grazed across his cheeks, nose, and finally to the curved down bow of his mouth. It was an uncomfortable intimacy, but the result was a sudden slacking of taut muscles. Hands dragging back down from his face, Shawn gripped Carlton by the forearms and trembled.
“Henry?” Looking over his shoulder, forcing his voice soft, Carlton waited as the older man approached. Harder than he'd have thought, he had to grab Shawn by the wrists to force freedom, surprised he didn't leave fistfuls of wool blend behind.
A quietness to his speech Carlton didn't recall ever hearing from the man, Henry changed places with the detective and spoke to his son. Carlton didn't even attempt to hear the words.
Instead, he took a few steps away and made another call to request an ambulance. He could already see the lights from several squad cars nearing their position. He could afford a minute to just breathe.
He understood the workings of law. He knew the strategy of lawyers and the limits of judges. But in that moment, he wished he could bring those caretakers of justice to the scene he occupied. To let them see what he saw. A murderer they'd allowed to go free and his terrified victim, curled together on the blood peppered sand.
Four hours in the ER. Thirty-two stitches to close the gash below his throat. They wanted to keep him overnight for observation. His son wanted to go home. Cushioned chair somehow the hardest surface he'd been forced to sit on, single tattered copy of Prevention read through three times, Henry let himself be swayed by the tired pleading on Shawn's face.
Mostly carrying his sagging son into the house after their silent drive from the hospital, Henry considered the repeated advice of the ER doctor to leave Shawn in their care. Stairs out of the question, he detoured them to the couch and helped Shawn down to the cushions before heading to the kitchen for a bottle of water. Back in the living room, he placed the open bottle in Shawn's hand and watched him take a couple sips before setting it on the end table. Nothing left to do but let him sleep.
Henry wouldn't have minded sleep himself. He wasn't hungry – he'd broken down and ordered some sort of marinara meatball thing at the hospital cafeteria of which he'd eaten only a few bites before tossing the rest. Shawn had been in and out while recovering but an offer of something to eat had been answered with a head shake.
Patting his hand to the left, Shawn found the pillow Henry had brought him, along with a light blanket, and pulled it into his arms.
No mystery why the kid had been so adamant about coming back home against his doctor's wishes. Not just a shared aversion for staying in a hospital longer than it took to sew up a wound. He forgot so easily. It wasn't just the smell and activity of the place. The hospital food and nurses barging in every hour to wake up and examine a patient they were holding there for the purpose of rest. It was so much more simple than that. The simplicity of reaching out a hand and knowing whether it would meet a wall or lamp or open air. Shawn wanted to be someplace familiar. And after a whole evening spent anywhere but, how could Henry deny him that stability?
“I've... I've been thinking about it.” Voice rough as he spoke, Shawn hadn't said anything since his rescue beneath the pier. Henry lifted his head, watching as Shawn bent forward – blind stare directed downward.
“What have you been thinking about, son?”
Shrug. Head tilt. Eyes that saw nothing, closed. “Remember... remember when Gramma died?”
Henry swallowed at the small ache up through his throat. Eighteen years gone and it still hurt. His father hadn't been the same man since. None of them had. Her boys.
Shawn swallowed and his eyes opened again. A reflex only, what he saw wouldn't change. “I can remember everything about her, you know?” His lip quirked. “Like those glasses she wore. She always had them on a chain around her neck but she never actually wore them. Said they were there just in case her vision crapped out on her someday, ha.” He laughed but it was bound with sadness. Irony.
Henry smiled though, that image of his mother than he hadn't had in a long time suddenly bringing her to life in the room between the two of them. He could even smell the heady vanilla musk perfume she liked to dab on her wrists on Sunday mornings. “We're going to the house of the Lord, Henry. Wouldn't do to smell like a barnyard.” Not that she ever did. Not that she ever could.
“I... remember going to the church. After she'd...” He rubbed his nose. “It was bright when we walked in. I could hear the organ playing. Her... casket... was at the top of the stairs and covered in white flowers. The lid was up. I remember looking away. I didn't... I couldn't see her that way.” He hugged the pillow tight and sniffed. “I saw her, for just second, anyhow. Her profile. Even though I closed my eyes it's still here.” He tapped his temple with one finger. “It will always be here.”
He sat up then, hands twisting in the pillowcase. One leg began to twitch, the heel of his sock covered foot making a soft tattoo of rhythm against the hardwood.
“See... when I think of her? That's where it all stops. That last picture of her... when she was dead. And... and that how... and...” Fingers scrubbed at his eyes. “And that's how it feels now with... with everyone. The memory just... stops. I only know how you looked before, when I could still see you. But what about tomorrow, or next year, or in ten years? It feels... it feels like everyone died cause nothing will ever change again.”
Henry rubbed his face. What Shawn was going through, he had no true grasp of understanding. A midnight walk to the bathroom, too lazy to turn on the hall light and earning a bashed shin was hardly a comparison to having no option for light whatsoever.
Loss of beauty was the first things the sighted mourned when confronted with blindness. No more sunsets. No more ocean views. No more watching their favorite TV program. They didn't consider the incidentals. Like the ability to walk into a strange room and navigate the space regardless of furniture arrangement. Like shopping for clothes and finding a shirt based on the pattern rather than by the fit. Like eating dinner and knowing whether you were grabbing the salt or pepper to season your meal.
But even those things were nothing. They weren't what tormented his son the most.
“Dad, I need to see.” He whispered. His hands rubbed at his eyes.
Henry knotted his hands together. “I know, kiddo.” They'd make another appointment. Maybe Doctor Belic would have other treatment suggestions, or would know a specialist...
“Please, dad... I need to see... please...” Shawn was starting to pant. Hands still rubbed at his eyes – heels of his palms grinding at his lids. Henry moved from the chair to sit beside his son. He placed his fingers against the back of Shawn's hands.
“I need to see! I need to see! I need to see! I need to see!” Full panic took over as Shawn yanked away, pushing to his feet and lunging towards the mantle where his hands began grasping at the items collected there – sweeping across the pictures and knocking them to the floor, fragile boats falling beneath his wild reach. Henry moved after him to pull him back as those fingers scrabbled against the brick. “I need to see-I need to see!”
“Shawn, stop, kiddo! Come on, I got you...”
Finally clasping Shawn's arms at the wrists he was unprepared when Shawn whirled back on him to beat his fists against his shoulders, though the blows were undirected – still trapped behind the black panic of his desperation as he screamed to break out of the consuming dark of his world. Not since five years old had Henry been confronted by his child's fear of the dark – back now in sudden and heart wrenching finality – a world no longer banished with a superhero nightlight and the promise that the monsters in the closet weren't real.
And at the terrified wail, his only option left was to wrap his arms around the trembling body and hold him tight – hold him through the anguished sobs and attempts to break away – attempts to run towards anything to escape when couldn't be escaped. Until finally the fight was gone and all that remained was the despair.
“I'm blind, dad! I'm blind-I'm blind-I'm blind!”