Alone, I stood on the platform and waited for the six-thirty train to arrive. The heavy downpour that had started well over an hour ago continued. Lightning sparked brightly in the distance while thunder spoke softly in echo over the hills holding time in its voice, age in its sound.
I sighed and sat my small black case on the covered platform near my feet. I had not planned on the weather being this foul. Even with my collar up my clothing gave little help in keeping out the wind and rain. Sunny and warmer when I left, I cursed the heavens more than once.
A wooden bench behind me creaked as it took my weight. The sound of the rainfall, combined with the growing darkness relaxed my senses.
Lost in my thoughts, I heard the man’s shoes scuffle on the wet sidewalk a moment before I saw him round the corner.
He held his open coat over him to shield the rain. When he lowered this, under the protection of the roof, and put it on, his appearance gave me a start. I was expecting someone clean shaven and meticulous. He was not. I nodded to him respectfully, apparently a farmer by way of his attire, and he nodded back in kind.
He leaned on a post and put his hands in his pockets and waited as well.
Before long the farmer cleared his throat and spoke. “Hey, son. Are you waiting for the seven p.m. Mills?”
“No, sir.” I touched the brim of my hat minding my manners. “I’m taking the six-thirty from here to Franklin,” I replied politely.
He nodded and looked back at the tracks. He kept whistling a tune, a little ditty, under his breath as he stood there and tapped his foot nervously. By his manner he waited impatiently.
“Expecting someone?” He asked me. “No, wait,” he held his hand to his chin. “By the black case you have and your clothes you’re a traveling man.”
I nodded and he smiled.
“My turn to guess for you,” I said, being drawn into his simple game. Talking with someone kept my mind off things and helped pass the idle time away. “Your clothing is that of a farmer. You are waiting for someone you care about, someone special, to come from Mills and you have not seen them in a while.”
“Close, mostly, I am heading to Mills. May I?” he asked and I moved over, sliding my case with me, so he could have room enough on the bench to sit. “I’m on my way to Mills to get my wife. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen her and she’s not expecting me. I find it hard to wait,” he rubbed his hands together and placed them on his lap. He fidgeted restlessly and kept tapping his fingers on his legs.
His clothing looked new, as if he had purchased everything for this occasion alone. The common shirt he wore, and his work pants were ironed. His grooming was in stark contrast with his clothing, however. He wore his hair in a long braid much like an Indian of the West might, a single braid, not two. His hair was brown, not black, and he didn’t look like an Indian. I had seen some on the movie screen at the local theater. I had to listen intently as his accent made it hard to place his origins. I admit that I am not the worldly gent I tried to make myself seem. I thought he probably came from the old country and let it be. He was a burly man, bearded, tall, broad-shouldered and heavy-handed. I pitied a man who ever crossed him.
“I just came from Mills. My mother is in a hospital there,” I said.
“Ah, I see.” He folded his arms across his chest and stroked his thick beard. “She hurt?” I heard his concern, but knew his thoughts were absent.
“A sickness actually. Hopefully she’ll be better soon.”
“At times I wish it was a cancer. Not that I want to wish that kind of death on anyone, but at least then they would know for certain.”
“A terrible thing, cancer is. What could be worse, you say?”
“There is this sickness,” I began, taking a deep breath, “that is making her grow old. I mean, she is getting older faster than anyone normally would. She’s my mother, but to look at her you would believe that she is my grandmother. She is in her mid-forties but already her hair is white and the aches have her and won’t let go. She’s been in the hospital off and on for all but a half a year now.”
“My word,” he said. He had stopped fidgeting. He no longer tapped his fingers or toes. Talking calmed him and seemed to take his mind off things. We sat there under the green slate roof of the train platform and watched the rain fall just a few feet away.
“Do they have a name for that disease?”
“Um, accel...decryption. Just a moment.” I reached in my pocket and pulled out a paper. “Here it is. Accelerated decrepitude. The doctor wrote that down. They say she may have had it since birth and it may have only surfaced after I was born. Probably has something to do with her glands; an imbalance of her humors.” I folded the paper and put it back in my pocket.
“Going on war medicine,” he said rubbing his hands together, “these doctors seem to know everything now. Amazing what they can do. Almost lost my fingers in an accident years ago, but they fixed me up just all right.” He quickly flashed his hand and I saw an old scar running across his palm. It was a thing that people kept to themselves. I did not pry further and he did not offer any more.
I nodded in agreement. “They say if they can’t do a thing for her then they will bring a specialist down from Boston. If he can’t help her, I’ll find a rest home closer to home and she’ll stay there.”
“Family could could take care of her,” he offered, turning the collar up on his own denim jacket. The wind had picked up again, not blowing the rain on the platform, just making itself known. “Your father?”
“He’s gone.” my voice quieted. I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees and combed my hair back with my fingers. “Went to the war and never came back. Just ma and me at the house, growing up.” In most ways, and most days, I was always grateful to leave the crowded turmoil of the city and get back to the country and its openness. However, today, leaving my mother at the hospital made me feel incredibly lonely. I was glad this farmer was here to help take my mind away from my worries.
“Do you remember him?” he asked.
“No. I was too young when he left. Ma has no photographs.”
He looked me over as if judging my age and nodded. “War’s a terrible thing. Does your mother miss him?”
“Oh yes,” I held my bowler in one hand and traced the edge of the brim with the other. “There was this old rocker that she had by the upper bedroom window. She’d spend her days sitting there watching and waiting for his return. Suppose he had left in that direction and that was the way she expected him to return. Neighbors thought his absence had driven her to senility. His name is on a plaque in the town square. She just won’t accept it.” Only death had kept my father away. I had known this for the longest time.
“You’ve plenty of work to do when you get home?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “We have a barn with a forge in it, my father’s business; it’s not been fired up in years. I can learn that trade, I guess. We shall see. What do you do?” I suddenly felt as if I were steering the conversation.
“Hmm?” he looked up as if I had interrupted him from his own thoughts. He might have dozed or listening to the rain. He raised his eyebrows and thought for a moment. “Well, I guess you could say that I am between jobs. Having just been let go from the burdens I had before, I am now free to do as I feel. For once in my life I have no path before me.”
“I see, and these burdens have kept you away from your wife?”
He chuckled. “Yes, yes they have. She will be very surprised to see me tonight. I’ll . . .”
He stopped when we heard a clock inside the building chime seven times. Instinctively, I looked at my watch. It was seven o’clock. My watch was four minutes slower from the one I heard and I had to reset it. I did so, winding the spring as I did every evening.
Late trains were not rare in this part of the country. If the scheduled train had been on time, I would have been twenty minutes closer to my destination by now. By ten I had hoped to well and away from here in a town called Franklin many miles to the east. That would put me at my front door at close to midnight.
This little delay was natural and for the most part I have come to expect it. For some reason, this part of the rail line was more prone to delays and setbacks. The rain made it worse for some reason. Awful as it might be, the thought of getting stranded here tonight started to become real. I didn’t want that. I did not welcome a night, damp and cold, here at the train station.
If this train arrived within the next few minutes my trip would work like clockwork, as it sometimes did, and I would sleep comfortably at my home in a few hours.
“Late again,” the farmer grumbled. Slapping his hands on his legs, he was clearly agitated. “I have no time for this, not this day. She waits.”
He stood and began to slowly pace back and forth across the platform. I stood likewise and leaned against one of the timbers supporting the roof.
On the other side of the tracks a long hedgerow of briars lay. Beyond this was a large plot of pastureland, and there in its center, a giant solemn oak stood. Its branches dipped and swayed as if positioned for conducting some vast orchestra as wind pulled through its limbs.
Then from the darkened clouds, a whip of lightning struck down. So sudden and unexpected was this that it startled both of us. Its bristled tip engulfed the whole of the tree. The limbs and trunk didn’t crack or splinter; the tree just merely stopped all movement as if the wind meant nothing. For an instant bright blue light glowed all around its silhouette. A limb fell to the side and I was sure, for that moment only, I saw someone standing by the trunk of the tree, hands flung upward as if to stop the falling branch. I blinked and there was no one--just a trick of the light. The lightning disappeared as quickly as it had come.
I closed my eyes. The brightness was still there, etched in the darkness in the back of my mind. I saw the negative. In my mind’s eye, the tree seemed brighter than the lightning.
A drop of rain struck my cheek.
And only then, as if to judge its distance and to triumph over striking the tree; thunder came, low and hollow.
Behind me I heard a set of rusted hinges creak as a door opened. Turning around I saw an elderly man looking out. His glasses perched on the rim of his nose, his hair was thinning and resembled the down of a goose so light with time and age that when the wind moved through its strands it seemed to have a mind of its own.
The farmer and I both went to the window.
“I thought I heard people out here. Are you all waiting for someone?” The elderly man asked, his voice so low and he could hardly be heard above the wind of the storm.
“Oh no. No I’m just waiting for the next train to Franklin to come. I’m trying to get home,” I said holding one of the doors open. I held my ticket half crumpled in my hands.
“I’m trying to get to Mills this evening,” said the farmer.
“Well, you know, I just received a call about twenty minutes ago from the station on the other side of the county. Your ride to Mills might still be coming along, but the train heading east to Franklin ran into some trouble. They say Central is going to close the section down. The storm must have been really bad over there, doing a lot of damage I suppose. Power is out here and along the whole line.”
“How soon do you think the next train will be coming through?” I asked tucking my ticket away in my pocket.
“Like I said; to Franklin, there is nothing; the Mills run still may pull through.”
“Nothing tonight, then. I don’t want to go back to Mills,” I tried to hide the disappointment in my voice. I didn’t have the money to stay with mother one more night. I needed the two dollars to see me through the week.
“Not any time tonight, tomorrow noon at the earliest. The Franklin run should resume then. They won’t be able to get the horses up there to clean the tracks until sometime after sunrise. That’s if the weather clears. If it’s still storming in the morning, it will be even later.”
“Well, this is not good,” I thought aloud as thunder clapped distantly. “Would you know of any place, a hotel, or someplace where I could stay the night?”
“Shaye’s,” said the farmer nodding obvious familiar with the town.
“Yes sir. There’s Shaye’s Hostel ’bout four blocks up the street. Should have enough room for you to stay the night. It’s been rather slow these days. Don’t expect much though. It’s a simple place.”
“Good luck,” I said to the farmer.
“Good luck to you too. Hope your mother gets better.”
“Thanks,” I said and tipped my hat to the gentlemen. Picking up my case from the bench, I raised my collar once again to the wind.
The train station and tracks were on the edge of town. Heading up the street, towards the hostel, I could see the town was dark and quiet. I felt odd walking up a street with no street lamps to show the way. With no electricity to power the lamps on the sidewalk, darkness descended full and complete. Most of the shops had closed and locked up, waiting for the morning with grim faces of wood, glass, and tile.
At the first corner I came to I noticed a candle flickering in a window of the store across the street. “Alvinston’s Books” read the name of the store painted on the large glass window. Catching my interest, I made my way across the street and peered in.
A woman sat at the front counter reading a large book on a podium by candlelight. Her hair had fallen over her shoulders and covered her face as she read.
Shelves of books all of various sizes lined the walls. Smiling, as if greeting old friends after an absence, I laid my hand on the glass and my breath misted around my fingertips.
The books I had read in life would never leave me. Since I was young, I loved to read. Books had kept me company when friends and family had failed. I would read everything I could get my hands on. Although this passion for books had subsided somewhat over the last few years, I still loved a good story.
I went to the door and walked in removing my hat. A cowbell on the inside handle clanged against the door, and the woman looked up with a start.
“Oh, my goodness it’s really dark out. What time is it?”
“Just after seven,” I said walking to the counter.
“I should have closed an hour ago. That’s what happens when I get into a good book, just can’t put it down.”
“Do you want me to go?” I asked half turning.
“No it’s fine. What can I help you with?”
“I’m just looking for something to read, I guess.” I sat on a high stool and looked around the shop. The musty smell of old paper, and glue hung in the air around me.
“What do you like to read?”
“Well, I enjoy adventure novels most. Nothing too modern.”
“I see; would it bother you to read a second-hand book?”
“No, not really. It’s better if they’re broken in. Shows somebody liked it before.”
“This book I’m reading right now is very adventurous. I’m almost at the end, just the last few pages of the last chapter and I will finish. If you give me a couple of minutes, it’s yours.”
She pushed her glasses back on, picked up the book, and instantly forgot about me.
I turned my attention from her to the books on the shelves behind me. It was hard to see the titles in the dim candlelight, but in moments I discovered several familiar authors and smiled. Most of these authors I had not read in a long time. I picked up a book here and there, flipped through some pages, read a few passages, then returned them to the shelf. It was like revisiting old friends.
I heard a sigh behind me, and so I turned. She held the book closed between her hands and was looking at the candle, her thoughts very distant from this small shop on a rainy night. Waking from a dream it always took a moment to return to the here and now.
She sat there for a few seconds before she gave me a sidewards glance.
“Here you go,” she said as she handed the book over to me. He smile was broad. “You can have it.”
“How was it?”
“Very interesting, I think it will raise your spirits and make you look at life a little differently. The author creates a whole world that feels so real. It’s very hard to come back to this one. I wish I could have stayed even though the journey is over. I’d love to see how the people fare as time goes on. You said you like a good adventure, right? You should enjoy this story,” her smile was infectious and I smiled back at her. If she found this book so exiting, then I could afford to spare fifty or seventy-five cents for it. With a good book to sustain me, I could live on bread.
“How much do I owe you?” I placed my case on the stool and began to fumble in it for my billfold.
“Nothing, just take it. It’s a treasure, but I can’t take money for it.”
I gave her a quizzical look. Few things were free in this day, let alone a book. Her smile was unwavering and I saw no hint of deception in her eyes.
“Thanks,” I said as I looked down at the book in my hands. It was old and looked much like an old family bible. The well-worn cover was made from simple brown leather with three slender strips of brass binding the pages together. Hand-made. This was almost unheard of with the printing practices of today. I turned it slightly so the candlelight played over the surface and I could read the title. The single word “KALENDECK” stamped in gold relief across the cover gleamed as I ran my fingers gently across the letters.
“This is my name,” I said so softly at first it was almost a whisper. Turning it again I had to be sure of the name. I almost laughed, thinking it was a joke of some kind. I cleared my throat and said it again louder so she could hear. “Well my last name, that is.”
“It is? How odd.”
I nodded. “Do you know who wrote it?” I asked.
“If I remember correctly, in the back, it says something about the author. He’s a man named Ravenstein lives in Jackson, Massachusetts. Close to Boston. I’ve never seen anything else written by him.”
“It was good though?” I asked. Setting the book down I thumbed through the pages. The musty scent of old paper and glue rose around me anew.
“Very. He’s a good writer. I like his style.”
“Are you sure you want to just give this to me?” I asked taking a step back and watching her face to read her expression. “It looks quite expensive and very old?”
“Listen, if you are ever in town again, you can stop by and return it to me, and tell me how you liked it. As you can see, it has been around. I was not the first owner and I think you will not be the last,” she said taking her jacket off of a wooden peg behind her chair.
“I travel through this area often. I’ll find some way to repay you. Thank you very much,” I said placing the book on top of my other possessions in the black case.
“Just enjoy the story. And have a safe journey.”
“Good-bye,” I said and left. The cowbell rang again as I closed the door behind me.
Walking up the street, I continued into the night. With every step my case slapped against my thigh. A sense of contentment filled me and the night grew more tolerable. It seems I would have a friend tonight. The book would keep me company.
With a few more minutes walking I saw a rusted chain supporting a sign. The words “Shaye’s Hostel” could be read on its weathered surface.
I entered a small foyer lit brightly by candles. Warmth enveloped me, along with the aroma of cedar. The air was noticeably drier here. This place would be a lot more comforting than any seat on an east-bound train.
I closed the door shutting out the damp, and then opening my case I reached for my billfold I kept inside the inset pocket.
It wasn’t there.
Taking the book out I searched the bottom. Standing, I slapped the pockets of my jacket, checked my pants, front pockets, back pockets, and the breast pocket of my jacket. Nothing. Searching through my clothing in the case, I came up empty once more.
I cursed in the candlelight. How was I going to pay for a room? I had my train ticket, but I needed it to get back home.
I stood there in the foyer and thought for a second. Footsteps could be heard as someone came from the room inside to the foyer door. Quickly, I picked up my book and case and was about to turn and leave when the inside door opened up.
“Good evening, can I help you?” The man asked.
“I was looking for a room for the night?”
“Well you’ve come to the right place, come on in.” I went in reluctantly as the clerk closed the door behind me. Trapped now, I could feel the room get notably warmer. Candles of all sizes were in place wherever there was an empty space on a shelf. The room was better lit with the candles than it would have been with the electric lamps. The heat became suffocating. I looked out the window at the night and wished I were still out there looking in.
“Now then,” he said going behind the counter and picking up his pen. He handed me a blank registry card. “Do you have a reservation?”
“No, no I don’t” I could not think of anything to say, so stalling for a moment I said. “At least I do not think so. I do have a friend coming. He’ll arrive here later this evening. I’m sure he has made a reservation.”
“Is his last name . . . Kalendeck?” The desk clerk asked as his finger scrolled down the registry. My breath caught in my throat and I took a step backwards almost dropping the card. Wind was blowing a branch against the side of the wall outside. The man cleared his throat. I could not have heard him right.
“I asked if his name is Kalendeck?”
“No, no that’s not it. M - my last name is Kalendeck.”
“Well then you’re the only one registered to stay here tonight. I see nothing for your friend.”
“Did the man from the train station tell you I was on my way up?” I asked. It was the only thing I could think of and I was sure we did not exchange names.
“No, our power’s been out for sometime now. You’ll notice the candles. I was about to lock the place up for the night when you arrived.”
“I see.” I wondered who had known I was going to get stranded here tonight and could think of no one. As I thought on this, another one came to mind.
“I think my wallet was lost on the train tonight. I am sorry, but I have no way to pay you for this room.”
The manager fumbled under the counter for a moment and brought out a receipt. On it was my name, just my last, and also my complete address. At the bottom, stamped in dark blue ink, were the words ’PAID IN FULL’ with today’s date. Beside this there were two signatures.
“Who signed it?” I asked.
“The first was Avery’s, that’s the morning clerk. As for the other signature, I cannot tell you. What I can tell you, is that a room is paid for, and under your name. You can take it or not. It’s damp and chilly out tonight,” he stifled a yawn with the back of his hand.
“Can I wait a bit?” I asked. The room was closing in on me. I had to get back outside.
“To see if your friend comes along?”
“Yes, that’s it,” I said snapping my fingers. “I’ll just wait outside for him. Thanks.”
“We have a lobby,” the man suggested with a wave of his hand.
“I’ll just wait outside. So he doesn’t miss the place in the night.” Grabbing my case I hurried out before the man could say more.
As I closed the door, several of the candles that lit the foyer blew out.
Once outside, I leaned against a dark lamppost to gather my thoughts. The cool, damp air felt good against my skin and I realized I was sweating. I waited for my heart to slow down, and then, started back towards the bookstore.
How odd, I thought, as my foot went into a puddle, to run into my name twice in one night. I was sure no one knew I would be in this town tonight. My being here was a direct result of the storm, something purely incidental. Should I trust these events and take the room for the night, or stay away and see what the night brings? I was not sure.
By now I was standing outside the window of the bookstore. It was just as dark as the other shops. I retraced my steps back down to the railway station, but found the lock was in place on the front door. I went around the back only to find all the entrances barred and tightly secured.
I sighed as I returned to the platform by the tracks. I sat on the same bench I had sat on earlier. It was very dark and sheltered here and I tried to rest. I sat the case beside me and pulled my light jacket closer seeking what little warmth it would give.
I shivered, my stomach growled, my feet and pants were wet. It was very quiet as the little town slept. I jumped when I heard the clock inside the station strike half past eight.
Even with my thoughts all jumbled, it would be better to return to the hostel before I froze to death on this autumn night. Maybe by unknown circumstances someone did prepare a room for me tonight. It would be a lot warmer than the platform. I would search the room completely and lock it from the inside. If it were a prank, I would not be fooled.
As I neared the building once more, I hesitated for a moment. The cold numbness I felt in my fingertips and toes urged me to go on. I stomped my feet again on the steps and went to the door.
The man was sleeping with his chair leaning back against the windowsill. As the door closed, he woke with a start and his chair came forward with a bang.
“Your friend didn’t make it?” He asked wiping his eyes seeing I was alone.
“Ah, no. Trains are down. They will have to get the horses out tomorrow and clear the tracks up,” I said as I shuffled up to the registry with my hat and my case in hand.
“Well, your room is at the top of the stairs two doors down and on the left. Business is pretty slow so I am going to lock the front door. If you need anything though, I’ll still be here. I have a cot in the back.”
“Is there something I need to sign?”
“Just when you leave in the morning. Here’s your key and also a candle so you can find your way. Will you be wanting anything else this evening?”
“No, I’ll be fine, thank you. Good night.”
“Good night to you, then. The furnace is gas. So electricity is not needed except for the blowers. You might be lucky and feel some heat coming through the floor vents,” he said as he came from behind the counter and began to snuff out the candles.
Taking the candle given, I found my way upstairs to my room.
The room, being at the far side of the hostel, was as cool as the night, but with no wind and no rain it was definitely a blessing. Once inside, I found a kerosene lamp sitting on a simple desk. I brought life to the wick with the flame of the candle. I blew out the candle and set it to the side.
I slid the bolt into place and then checked it by trying to open the door. It held tightly. I went to the window and checked it also. No one would be coming through unexpectedly this night.
I placed my wet shoes over an air duct that felt warm. I undressed and placed my socks next to them and my pants nearby. My light jacket and shirt I placed on separate wooden hangers above the duct and slightly off to the side.
I began to really look at the room for the first time. The bed was higher than the bed I had at home and covered with a heavy patchwork quilt. It was a simple design; circles within circles. It looked warm and inviting. To the side against the wall, was a very large mirror that, with the help of the door, used up the wall opposite the windows.
The kerosene lamp sat on a desk with a wicker-back rocking chair in front of it. It would seem the desk was not so much for working, just relaxing.
I pushed the quilt aside and lay down between the sheets pulling the quilt up over me. I had sat my case along with the book on the dresser next to the mirror. I looked at it for a long moment. When my feet and legs warmed up some I would consider bringing the book to bed with me.
Minutes passed and my eyelids grew heavy. Feeling secure, warmer, and more relaxed, I was soon asleep. Lightning stuck nearby and the thunder startled me from a dream. I went to the lamp and blew out the flame. A heavy odor filled the air as this wick cooled. I did not mind, my mind clouded with sleep. Returning to the bed, I pulled the covers over me once more and slept.
* * * * *
For some reason, the room had become extremely warm. Even stripped down to nothing, with the quilt kicked to the floor, I was sweating.
My eyes opened slowly and I brought my head up from the pillow. The room was full of light as if it was morning. Rolling over on my side, I faced the window.
I propped myself on my elbows and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I wasn’t sure if I dreamt or if I was awake, but just outside the window a blazing blue light shone through the curtains. It was bright enough to mimic the sun, but I could tell by the shadows the source was right outside the window itself and not from the sky above.
Seconds passed and nothing happened. My heart was beating swiftly.
I stood and pulled the sheet from the bed to cover myself, securing it tightly around my waist as I went to the window. I drew the curtains open slowly. The light was so bright, even squinting with my hands over my face tears were still falling from my eyes.
The air closest to the windows was hotter than it had been near the bed. Sweat rolled down the small of my back. I could not think of an explanation for what was outside the window. It could have been ball lightning, but I wasn’t sure. I had never seen ball lightning before, although I had heard people talk about it. It could be a freak from the storm.
I stepped back away from the window to the far bedside. There was the sound of an arc, an electrical snap that lasted ten seconds or so, then stopped.
Curiosity brought me back to the window to see what had happened. All I could notice from my vantage point was the ball had shrunk; its brightness was less intense.
The air had also cooled, and smelled of ash. My breathing was rapid, and shallow. I steadied myself by holding on to the back of the rocker. My lungs filled deeply with air as I forced myself to calm down. I was going to give myself a heart-attack. Only eighteen and dies of a heart-attack. Goodness, what would mother say?
I stood there and watched the object as it hovered in the night. There was movement behind it, off to the upper right, back in the hills. It was there in the corner of my eye and it didn’t register until it brightened.
It was second ball of light, much like the first, rising from behind a hill like an angel in the sky to become a miniature sun on a stormy morning. My gaze left the ball before me and I watched the one behind it. It did nothing but hover there. And then, like a stone it fell. Before it reached the earth, it began to come forward, toward the hostel.
Perhaps the ball before me drew the other closer. I judged its distance as a few miles out, but then as it fell it began to pick up speed, the distance decreased rapidly.
“It’s coming straight for me,” I realized with a shock. I dove backward, throwing myself across the bed and hit the floor as the two spheres met.
Their momentum carried on after the impact, and the window erupted inward. There was a brilliant flash of light followed by a rainfall of wood and glass. I was on the floor and the bed shielded my eyes from the flare.
The clap of thunder was so loud it pushed the air from my chest and drove me to unconsciousness.
* * * * *
Something, somewhere was on fire. I didn’t hear it or see it; I felt it. With recognition of the pain in my ankle, my foot jerked in reflex.
I coughed and rose to my knees quickly. Most of the far wall was gone. What remained of it, along with the ceiling and the bed, was on fire. With every breath, my lungs filled with the heat. Thick, dark smoke rolled out of the hole that had once been the window.
Flames printed abstract patterns on the aged wallpaper just before the fire consumed it. The heat was like a weight pressing against my unprotected body. It inhibited my normal functions and in turn made my reactions slower.
“I don’t want to die in here.”
Everything was flowing in a slower speed. Fire raced through the old timbers at an alarming rate. As I turned to the door the lamp burst, flames spread covering the desk. The door was splashed with burning oil. I felt a sharp pain in my thigh.
“No, oh mother, no,” I heard myself scream over the roar. I had it in my mind to ram the door with my shoulder. My forward momentum should carry me out into the hallway, and from there I could safely leave. To bust through the fragile wall of wood and flame would be easy.
Then I saw the mirror. Or rather, I didn’t see the mirror; it was gone. It wasn’t moved, or shattered, it was just simply not there. In its place there was nothing but darkness. As I watched it, shades of colors began to cross its surface, changing like wind blowing across oil on water. My body froze; my gaze had room for the mirror only. My mind became divided as if there was another person occupying my skull. Part of me screamed and cursed inside begging my muscles to move. The other was completely fascinated by the fantastic colors of the mirror and would not be distracted. Again I tried to move, but couldn’t. At that moment, I knew I was going to die.
Smoke clouded my eyes for a second and I finally looked away. As I hesitated the option I had, to ram the door with my shoulder, vanished as the door was now completely engulfed by flames.
In these last moments my senses sharpened. The heat behind me was the fire, and my death. The pain in my leg was a shard of glass from the lamp, and also my death. I looked at the blood running freely down my leg. It pooled on the floor with fire reflecting on its surface. Laying on the edge of the dresser next to the thing that was once the mirror, lay my black leather case, untouched. In the case was the book I would never get the chance to read.
“Would they be able to find my bones in the ashes?” I wondered.
Smoke hazed my thoughts as it did the air in the room. I began to turn, to face the fire and my death straight on, but I never made it. Death would be cheated this once.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a ceiling crossbeam fall from its resting place. With its one end still attached to another beam above my head, it fell in a sweeping motion; its arc carried it at an angle just off the center of my back.
I had no time to react. I felt the impact and it shoved me forward, into the darkness that once was the mirror. My shoulder nudged the case and it fell through behind me.
The the sudden roar of wind replaced the sound of the flame. The air was cool, damp, and refreshing. The burning odor became that of . . . of . . . hemlock?
Darkness over came me completely and I felt myself drifting as if lost.
And soon, even that was gone.
* * * * *
The darkness was present for a long time. I was drifting in nothingness, time had stopped it seemed.
I slowly began to feel my body about me again, starting at my very core, my heartbeat. It was good to feel warm blood moving through my veins again.
With every beat of my heart, the knowledge of my body around me grew. Up through my torso, down my arms and to my fingertips. As the feeling of life returned to my limbs, there was an odd sensation-like being pulled out of warm water to the colder air above. Or perhaps, it was more like wildfire spreading over virgin grassland. The effect was gently numbing. It was a pleasant sensation and for a few seconds I enjoyed it.
The side of my face was numb.
“Fire” . . . ? The thought had passed from my mind before it completely manifested.
The feeling of warmth was the same as sensation traveled downward. The burning went through my left leg, whole and complete, but went only half way on the right. There it began to build like water behind a dam. The warmth in my right leg grew, with increasing pain. I needed to fight it; to suppress the pain before it filled my body. I tried to sit up to hold the pain, to extinguish it with my own hands.
But hands held me; several hands were pushing me back down. The fire, the burning in my leg, couldn’t they see. They had to see!
The pain burned higher. I forgot about the hands, there was nothing but the pain. With a surge, the dam broke, and the pain filled my body. I screamed.
With the scream, my senses left me again and I was cast back into the darkness.