Saturday, August 13, 2011
Indivisible Chapter 24
Vaughn and Jimmy left Garrity’s house running through the snow all the way back to the pickup. Neither spoke along the way as nothing needed to be said.
Jimmy had to keep Vaughn under control while he drove as the drifts and ice were quite treacherous. It was an agonizingly slow drive out to Wellington Lake. It took over an hour with nothing to be done about quickening the pace. Vaughn would rage and vent intermittently and slam the heel of his hand down on his dashboard in helpless protest against the slow road, the ice, and the distance which were all conspiring against his sanity and against Jessica’s life. He muttered curses through his clenched teeth. His fingers squeezed and ratcheted away at the steering wheel.
Marzan’s phone signaled an incoming text message as they passed through the ghost town of Pine.
The numbers were undoubtedly map coordinates masquerading as a phone number. It was a rendezvous point and an escort would be waiting for Marzan there. Captain Rick, his leader, had finally found him. Rick was gathering up his flock as any good shepherd would. They were all soldiers and they had much work to do in defense of their country. A soldier must never confuse defending one’s country with defending the State. They are not the same, Jimmy realized.
Some earlier defector from Marzan’s unit must have discovered Marzan’s AWOL status. Jimmy deduced that the resistance must have operatives inside the DSF and they must also have known about Jimmy’s location as the coordinates indicated a rally point that was reasonably close— less than ten miles. One never knows where they plant those locator chips, anymore.
“It’s taking too god damn long”, Vaughn shouted as he slammed the dashboard again.
Jimmy calmed him by reminding him to breathe and to focus…it was so unusually difficult for Vaughn to breathe anymore. Inhale. Exhale. They could not risk any more speed.
They turned down an old Forest Service road that tracked back towards the Lake. Vaughn knew exactly where the campsite was where Garrity had said Jessica was kept. Why didn’t he look there before, he wondered. It seemed so obvious. But there was no way he could have known. There were hundreds of campsites in the vicinity. She could have been anywhere or in none of them for all he knew. Still, it haunted him.
They followed the road down into a gulch into deep snow. Tire tracks were already laid there...probably by the kidnapper’s truck that Jimmy saw at the Mercantile Building that night when he ran out of gas. Vaughn stayed in the tracks the best he could. The pressure and stress built inside and the blood throbbed in his veins. His muscles tensed. He pressed down on the accelerator and the tires spun out, pitching the back end of the Ford to the right, precariously close to the edge which dropped some twenty feet down into a frozen creek bed. It might as well have been a thousand feet as they were now far away from where anyone would find them.
If they wrecked they would have to walk out...if they could still walk. Marzan knew how to survive the cold but Vaughn and Jessica, if they were to find her alive, would probably freeze to death in the frigid January night.
“Easy there,” Jimmy advised, putting his hand on Vaughn’s shoulder to steady him as the truck righted itself.
One more bend in the road and another drop descending into the spruce, which like the shadier areas, and down onto the plane of the creek. There it was, dead ahead… the campsite, marked by the tire tracks which turned off the road and into it along the banks of the frozen creek. The snow was at least a foot deep there. Old footprints dotted a pathway leading to an outbuilding.
Vaughn jumped out with Jimmy close behind.
“Jessica! Jessica!” Vaughn shouted.
He ran up to the door of the outbuilding. It was padlocked.
“Hang on!” Jimmy ordered. He ran back to the truck and rummaged around in the back of the cab.
“Jessica! Can you hear me?” Vaughn shouted. A dreadful notion of death poisoned his mind. “Jessica! It’s me! Jessica!”
Jimmy returned with a tire iron and pried the latch loose with one vigorous jolt. Vaughn threw open the door and stormed in. It was empty inside. Jessica wasn’t there. Vaughn lunged towards the shit-hole and lifted the lid, looking down into it. It was pitch black. Jimmy ran back to the truck. He returned and handed it to Vaughn.
“Jessica! Are you down there? Jessica!” Vaughn shouted.
Jimmy returned with the flashlight and handed it to Vaughn. Vaughn shined it down the hole.
Jimmy yanked on the crate that formed a bench seat for the toilet and the entire box slid away from the wall. Jimmy helped him push it out the door. Vaughn shined the light down into the hole again.
But the opening was plenty big enough for a man to climb down into.
“One second!” Marzan ran back to the truck again and returned with a rope. He dropped one end in the hole and tied the other around his waist. “Go!” He shouted.
Vaughn took hold and climbed down.
“Jessica!” He shouted as he descended.
The cistern was dry and clean and fairly warm. Jimmy went down about ten feet before touching the floor. He shined the light around.
Blankets! A pile of blankets covered something in the corner. He pawed through them, shouting out “Jess” as he flung them aside. He found a hand! It was cold.
He pawed the covers off and followed the hand up a cold arm and up to a shoulder. He shined the flashlight on the face. It was her. It was Jessica! He had found her. But she was pale. He touched her neck and her cheek. Cold. She didn’t move.
“No! No! Jessica!”
He held her close to him in that dark, wretched place, rocking her back and forth. Was he too late? He listened to her chest but didn’t hear anything. He shined the light in her face.
A faint mist of carbon dioxide floated up through the light. She was breathing.
“Jimmy, she’s alive,” Vaughn shouted triumphantly.
Jimmy Marzan couldn’t believe it. He thought she was gone for sure as soon as that bastard Garrity had given her up. Perhaps Garrity had believed it was so. Jimmy hoped that the sheriff had finally frozen to death.
“Jess, can you hear me?” Vaughn asked as he held the light in her face.
Her eyes rolled about under their eyelids.
“Jess! It’s me.”
She moaned but she didn’t have the strength to open her eyes or speak.
“Tie the rope around her...under her shoulders. Then push her up to me,” Jimmy ordered.
Vaughn looped the rope around her and lifted her up towards the opening. With Marzan pulling from the top they got her out. Marzan carried her to the truck and buckled her into the front seat. He turned the truck’s heat all the way up. Then he ran back to pull Vaughn out. Once out, Vaughn embraced him. He was overcome and started to weep.
“You’ve got to get her to someplace warm,” Jimmy explained.
Vaughn let go of his friend and wiped the tears out of his eyes with his coat sleeve. He smiled awkwardly, briefly, a and started back for the truck but he noticed that Jimmy wasn’t getting in but rather gathering up his things.
“We should get going,” Vaughn pleaded.
Jimmy Marzan just grinned.
“I’m not going back with you, Vaughn.”
Vaughn instantly knew that his friend had gotten the signal he was waiting for.
“What are you gonna do? It’s freezing out here.”
“I’ll be all right. My unit is close. I can reach them by noon tomorrow at the latest so long as I can stay under the canopy.”
“Let me drive you to them,” Vaughn offered.
“You can’t get there by road. You’ll just draw attention, anyway. And you’ve got to get her in front of a good fireplace. She’s probably dehydrated, too.”
“I don’t know what to say then, Jimmy…thank you, thank you, Jimmy,” Vaughn offered. “Thank you for helping me. I’ll never forget you.”
“Just get her to someplace warm.”
“I don’t know how I can ever repay you...”
“You already have.”
And with a slap of his hand on the fender of Vaughn’s faithful truck, Jimmy Marzan turned and melted into the darkness of the wood. Vaughn wiped the tears out of his eyes again, got into his truck and headed back.
Jessica started to come around as the heat of the truck warmed her back to life. She was mumbling incoherently but Vaughn took that as a good sign. He had to get her down the hill (as they say) to a hospital and that meant driving into the Denver, way after curfew.
Once on highway 285, he pressed the accelerator, pushing his nerves to their limit on the winding, ice covered highway. There were no other cars on the road, not even the government rigs with their blue eagle trailers. It was as if the road had been closed to everyone except him.
“Jess, can you hear me?”
Jessica groaned again but she had yet to open her eyes. Perhaps it was a delirium of some sort, Vaughn thought.
The snow was falling again and Vaughn clicked on his wipers to sweep the flakes away. The road was lit by an occasional highway streetlamp but three out of four were either turned off or burned out. Thirty miles per hour was about the limit that the dark, icy conditions would allow.
Vaughn checked the rearview mirror. There were headlamps following him. They were way back. He checked again a few seconds later to confirm they were gaining. He scanned up the road to the arc of the next street lamp which was about a quarter mile ahead. The snow danced about in his headlamps. He checked the mirror again. The lights were definitely closing in on him…closing rapidly. Whatever it was, it was doing about sixty miles per hour which was insanity for the conditions.
It wasn’t a semi. It was too small and the lights were too low. A small truck, perhaps? Vaughn looked ahead to the next streetlamp. Boxy shapes appeared in the middle of the road, blocking the highway. Vaughn slowed and came to a stop in the middle of the road. Four military vehicles stood in the way some two hundred yards ahead.
What should I do? He thought as his truck idled. The snow fell. The nearest streetlamp flickered.
Back behind a few hundred yards, the truck that was following had pulled off the highway onto the shoulder. Ahead, the blackened silhouettes barred the way.
Jessica mumbled at his side.
The snowflakes flickered in the high beams.
Vaughn could make out the sentries. They were MRAPS, boxy-like Humvees but taller. They were painted flat black. Vaughn had never seen military vehicles painted flat black before.
The truck that had followed him pulled back out onto the road. Vaughn saw that it was a county sheriff’s vehicle as its white broadside appeared for an instant before completing its u-turn and going back down the highway the other direction.
The black sentries ahead stood silent.
Vaughn’s heart began to pound.
Jessica mumbled again and raised her arm to her forehead.
The sheriff’s truck disappeared completely from view.
Vaughn couldn’t understand why no soldiers from the MRAPs were hailing him or approaching. Something wasn’t right.
What do I do? He thought.
Jessica was coming too. He saw that her eyes were opening. He placed his hand behind her neck and leaned in towards her to whisper into her ear....
But a flicker of light flashed in his peripheral vision and not a fraction of a second later he heard a half dozen zips of bullets slicing the air outside the truck. For a brief moment, Vaughn was inclined to get out and throw his hands up in the air but his better instincts took over. He slammed the transmission into reverse and stomped his foot down on the gas. The Ford roared to life, wheels spinning as it barreled backwards down the highway. He pushed Jessica’s face down onto the console and looked back over his right shoulder to drive. Several thuds punctuated the cab. The radio lit up and buzzed at full volume. The windshield fractured and shards of plastic shrapnel exploded everywhere. One of the headlights was shot out. Antifreeze splashed him in the face and the sweet-vomit smell of it filled up the air of the cab.
He backed the truck at a whining, full speed for about an eight of a mile before executing a backing spin-out that would have rolled the truck eleven out of ten tries in any other circumstance but his faithful rig executed the maneuver perfectly. He stomped on the gas again and roared back down the highway.
Vaughn glanced at his rearview mirror but the mirror was gone. The side mirrors were shattered as well. He didn’t want to see what was behind, anyway. Sometimes you don’t want to know what’s gaining on you.
Jessica was groaning. He felt he neck. It was warm and wet. He jerked his wet fingertips up to his tongue and tasted it. It was sweet…just antifreeze.
The Ford was mortally wounded but she stammered, pinged and rattled on for about three miles before finally decelerating and dying on the side of the road.
Vaughn turned on the interior light. Jessica wasn’t bleeding. Her eyes were wide open. The radio buzzed at full volume. Vaughn fiddled with the knobs to no avail. He turned the key back and the ear piercing wail finally ceased. He took a moment to catch his breath. It was so hard to breathe, even harder than before.
“Are you hurt?” Vaughn asked her.
“No. Are you?”
It was as if someone had swung and hit him with a heavy metal pipe just below the ribs. He knew it the instant it happened because he saw a flash in the insides of his eyes. It was like seeing stars after getting hit in the head. With the adrenaline wearing off, a terrible pain worked its way down his left arm so that he could no longer move it. It was ever the more difficult to catch his breath. He reached into his coat with his right hand and felt for the wound in his gut. He found a tear in the flesh just below his ribs. Warm fluid was cascading out of it. He didn’t dare remove his hand because he didn’t want Jess to see all the blood. She wasn’t any good with blood.
“Vaughn...” She asked, sensing something.
“I’m okay,” he answered.
“Vaughn, are you hurt?”
It was difficult to speak. He tried to catch his breath again.
Jessica reached her hand into Vaughn’s coat and she felt the warm, damp wound. She kept her hand on his but the more pressure they put on it, the more the blood seemed to leak out between their fingers.
Jessica’s eyes filled up.
“What do I do, Vaughn?”
“You go to mom’s...”
He trailed off. He couldn’t get enough air in to speak anymore.
Jessica pulled herself close in to him. Her soft, golden hair, dimly lit by the dying glow of the streetlamp, fell down and caressed his neck. She held him, pouring all of her love into his broken body.
They sat there in silence for some time.
Vaughn breathed in erratic bursts, his left arm was paralyzed. But a presence began flowing into him through Jessica’s embrace and it took away his pain.
Jessica sensed his transcendence. She pulled herself up and looked into his eyes. A bright white light filled the sky from the east. It’s glow illuminated all of the heavens. It lit Jessica’s face for a few brief seconds which amounted to an eternity of time in Vaughn’s fleeting moments. In that instant, as he looked at her, he knew that everything would be all right. Jessica would live. She would be a mother again. He felt the completeness of total love for her, like an impenetrable force. But he felt terrible regret in that instant, too. He regretted he would not be able to see his young daughter again. He thought of little Brooke and how much he just wanted to be able to be sipping imaginary tea and eating invisible crumpets with her...whatever the hell crumpets were. One final tea party would be a perfect last wish.
He envisioned Brooke as a grown woman, strong and beautiful and proud and with a child of her own. He could see all of time, now, as if he was there. He knew it would be so, as if he was remembering it…remembering a certain future.
And finally he accepted that it was okay to die. Everyone has to die. Not everyone lives. And few go out of this life wrapped in the embrace of love. Everything was going to be all right.
The heavenly white glow of plasma faded. The street lights and the Ford’s remaining headlamp and the dashboard lights went out.
Jessica held Vaughn there in the total darkness. She held him until the warmth began to leave his body.
A truck eventually pulled up behind them. It was a sheriff’s deputy— the same one that had given Vaughn the gas that one frozen evening near the Mercantile Building. The same one that had tried so desperately to catch Vaughn’s truck has he hurtled towards oblivion at the MRAP checkpoint. But he could not reach Vaughn in time and he had to turn back and shut down his vehicle somewhere safe lest the radio-flash from the electro-magnetic pulse destroyed his vehicle.
The good deputy and Jessica Clayton pulled Vaughn’s bloody body out of his tattered truck and loaded it into the back of the deputies’ SUV. He drove them down the hill to Denver by the back roads...all the way to Vaughn’s mother’s house where Jessica was reunited with her daughter.
Chapter 23 Final Chapter of Indivisible will be available Sunday!
Posted by The Doc at 9:40 AM