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For Whom the Bell Tolls

By brian_a_navarro All Rights Reserved ©


Short Story

Warily fatigued by the long night in bed, Tommy’s eyelids crept open to only a sliver of sight. Even still, through such a small opening he expected to see something, the glow of the candle from beside the bed, the glimmer of dawn coming in through the window, anything, but the quiet darkness that unnerved him and made him feel trapped.

I can’t move, Tommy realized. An itch rose to the tip of his nose begging to be scratched but sorely could not be, leaving him to wiggle and scrunch his nostrils in an effort to ease the annoyance.

His heart gradually thumped a little faster in response. His face growing flush with a chilled sweat curdling across his forehead, like gravy cooling in a pan, as a strange and musty darkness overshadowed his listless movements. Unlike most his age, Tommy refrained from giving way to panic, at least for now.

This could just be the aftereffects of the fever . . . or even the medicine, he started to believe, convinced it was nothing more than a waking dream gone awry. The last thing he seem to recall was his forehead burning hot just before taking the foul, thick as syrup liquid to break the fever, accompanied intensely by a sour look from both his mother and the doctor before falling asleep.

On waking a drowsiness from the medicine lingered, even on his taste buds, seemingly unlikely to pass quickly at all he would have guessed by the way it stuck to him. Even so, despite its effects clinging to his bones and muscles, feeling did slowly return to his body except now from the neck down a strange numbness permeated and aroused such newfound sensations that he was a little bit frightened. But mostly curious.

The first among those growing sensations to rile his senses was the firmness of the surface he rested upon in darkness; his bed had never seemed so bitten, nor rough to his backside that it felt unlikely so. Perhaps the floor then, he warily accepted, unsure of how he got there, but certain enough for the grooves felt like wood from what his hands, resting at his sides like that of a soldier, could gather without moving. His feet, however, would remain quiet on the subject, tucked away in wool and leather, seemingly quite content as things were. All of this made him only more curious. I must have been going out, but where? he seriously wondered.

In the minutes that passed, movement of his lower body followed first, not by much, but enough to scrape his left boot across the floor several times to gather some bearings. Narrow? he quickly questioned after repeatedly hitting a sturdy obstruction with each swipe that in his mind could very likely be the bedpost, solidifying his emerging belief that he’d simply fallen out of bed on his way out.

“Are you sure then?” the boy suddenly heard a woman ask in muffled tones. Is she crying? He continued to listen, waiting for some reply, but only registered a slight of movements from those above him. If only I could see.  “Brother, I—”

“Yes, we’ve been here all night . . . and not a peep,” replied a man with rough speech. Uncle?

“Or, even a toll,” offered another, this time a high pitched tone from a voice he did not recognize.

Tommy needed to speak up, but found his voice absent, the lips moving well enough, but the words clung to the hollowed cave of his throat with only the smacking of flesh to indicate any attempt on his part.

Then it went quiet above him, and his nerves began to tingle over so many unknowns. The darkness, the voices . . . everything about his situation for that matter. Yet, his body woke further, and distracted him with fresh colors amidst the darkness, namely an earthy brown above him and around, like a bedspread draped over, yet the shape of it blurred too much to be certain.

Despite how much that might have intrigued him and left him uneasy, it would be his hands that garnered his attention when he suddenly became aware of something coarse was wrapped about his left index finger. If only I could see . . .

The boy then went to have a look, but quickly met resistance, barely inching up in his first attempt. He meant to try again, only then the voices returned.

“Ok Samuel, that’s . . .” the woman began before gasping all a sudden, swallowing the rest of her words in a single breath. Some time later, the woman found the strength to continue and did, timidly.“That’s long enough. Be with God, my son.”

The boy didn’t understand the woman’s meaning. But before he could make heads or tails, the voices drew silent and only their movements, along with the gentle tolling of the bell before being hushed, could be heard. His heart began to beat faster, his breathing growing heavy due to the unknown festering and leaving him desperate to understand. The boy then sharply pushed through the haziness and saw at last a long white string running out of the blackness from above and down the left–hand side.

“No . . . no.” The sullen words poured out from the boy’s mouth laced with fear, followed quickly by his body heaving upwards, then squirming and wiggling almost instantly afterwards in the obvious tight space of four, brown walls leaking bits of soil drizzling down like rain from above as he slammed his boots against the sides.

“I’ve been buried alive,” he frighteningly knew, which drove him to yank on the string tied to one end of his finger in the hope there was still time, yet it was attached to nothing as the string plopped down onto his trousers, curling up like a snake amidst the bits of soil that followed into his earthen tomb.
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