I, tussled the pillows. There always comes a time, finally, you need to come and go. Out, through the rain, I awake and behold, he is there and free. We see one, we see two but never three. With waves, upon the shore that is you. A shore of stone and salt, for eternal is the salt in the sea, and the ocean. It is of light and it shines into my very soul and spirit. Reveals me for who and what I am, and delivers redemption, peace. Or what do I think I am, saying this? For I know not and neither do you. You there, behind the glass. Looking. Judging. And at times, emphasizing.
Follow me, my footsteps. Let us go and journey to the great, to the unknown, to where all those have gone have never returned. Why return, when all is one and wherever you lay down your head is home. Wherever you take your cranium and its living, beating, pulsating contents, is home. Is you. For all that is, is you, isn’t it? You are, like it or not, the center of your creation and your existence. Even if you hate yourself, you are the center; you cannot escape from the one you hate. So, locked in a cage with someone or something and what do you do? You make friends. You have to. And if you don’t like the bastard, change him, or her, for that matter. But what does it matter, anyway. There always comes a time when you just gotta push a button or several. Drop one foot in front of the former and so on. On and on.
The sharks, they die still. Breathe by moving. All life is kinda the same that way and, I dare to say, us human things especially. Each moment you spend in the cave of stagnation, you take a step backwards. Time keeps on running and a lot of us, on this Earth, keep growing throughout our lives. However, the unfortunate masses, probably accounting for at least 90% of the population, grow approximately for 20 years and then wither away slowly. They are grown and raised as disposable products; consumers, not producers. Producers of shit, at most. Such a shame! Couldn’t this be changed somehow? Oh, but how? God knows, many have tried during the last few thousand years. But what is such a short time period to a race of beings? Nothing! It is even less to Earth. So, if ancient ones failed in bringing light to all humankind, why should we? Can’t we be any wiser? I suppose we could, but will we do what it takes? Because it ain’t no easy task (and the double negative here is not meant to neutralize itself but to function as a quirky lingual device).
I see, I see. With my eyes, with my reasoning. But often, I sin. Often, I am mistaken. But so are we all. Each is a tiny bit of goo, stuck in a walking corpse. Such a puny being. Even if we act for the common good, we are still a collection of individuals. And we make a lot of mistakes. A lot of them. And in the end, all I can trust is my will and intuition. Arbitrary power. “This is what I believe to be right, so be it!” But this is not fiction; this is reality. This is not only a figment of my imagination, but the existing. Thus, I will alter my stray course.
He glanced at the mirror, shuddered and lowered his gaze. A drawer, its surface felt smooth under his hairy hand. A pang! He looked and saw a tiny splinter had burrowed itself into the thick, dry skin of his index finger. Trying to remove it with the left hand, he cursed; the intruder was so tiny, his fingers so large. And he had no tools on him.
The topmost drawer opened, revealing a large assortment of items. They were old and smelled dusty, worn and withered by time. Like the book he raised from the shadows. It dealt with recipes from an age long gone. He put it to his nose and took a deep whiff. Yes, old. Laid it on the counter and pulled out another item. A magnifying glass. It had the same, old fragrance to it. Must have come from the drawer itself. For a moment, he concentrated on examining the back of his hand, close up. The hairs and their roots looked like antennas protruding from surface of a strange, alien planet, so he returned the glass to the shadows.
Next up was a cassette. One of those magnetic media he had seen pictures of. Bringing it to light, he examined its structure. It was open on one side, where the device, presumably, could read whatever had been recorded to it. Plastic cogs enabled the device to move the tape. There wasn’t much more to it. Simple, intuitive piece of technology. It had the smell, too. And on its side, on a narrow piece of sticker, it read: “Mix Tape 3” So, there were probably other ones in there, as well. Indeed, he was able to find “Mix Tape 1”, but the second one was made intriguing by its absence.
With a heavy sigh, he slammed the drawer shut and took a few steps back, careful not to raise his eyes. It was dark in the room, only the blinding daylight illuminating its innards. Made it hard to see what lay around him; the contrast and all. Outside, an old house lay across the yard. Unlike with this one, its yard was well looked after with neatly cut grass, trimmed bushes and, all in all, maintaining an aura of human presence. This one, however, had a nearly inaccessible doorway, for the house was surrounded by wild bushes, trees and grass, growing against the chipped, sunburned walls. There was no electricity, no running water. It was a dead, dank place. And he owned it all.
Moving, with slow sliding steps, he pictured himself skating on dust. It was a filthy place. The floor was riddled with dry fly, spider and mouse carcasses. There were even a few fresh ones that reeked. He felt like throwing up and acted accordingly, soiling one of the dusty, moldy corners with his acidic stomach fluid and a steak with french fries cocktail. Wiping the side of his mouth, he took a step back and saw how, in the near future, the vomit would be as dry, lifeless and odorless as the rest of the building. It would die a slow death.
Collapsed on his rear and lay his arms on knees, letting his head drop. Tired, this was all he had to his name. Inheritance; a foul, worthless handout from behind a grave. The floorboards squeaked under his shifting weight. Shifting through contents of his pockets, he pulled out a smartphone. Brings it to life with a thumb press. Blindingly bright fresh summer meadow as its background image. The bright, artificial light illuminating his face, he looks at his surroundings. The new and the old, side by side. If only ghosts here could talk and see. If only he could talk to them. He would show his phone to them and make them gasp in amazement. Or leave in boredom and disinterest.
Had tried to teach his mother how to use one of those things. Had failed. Had failed a lot of times. Had given up. Who grows old when young, never becomes young again. Once you stop learning, once you stop growing, you begin to take slow but steady steps backwards. And the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. “New technology, enabling me to do things once unheard of? No, I do not want to bother. I am fine with my life, thank you. This is a corpse, me. This is a coffin, me. This is my world and I am afraid of everything new.” Or just plain too lazy to bother.
Yeah, the ghosts would likely not care. And if he could bring them back for a while, they would probably use all that time complaining about how things have changed, how the house is a mess and no one has taken care of the goddamn flowers outside. And if he could take them to a city, to the world out there, they’d whine more. The food would not be quite right for their taste and way too expensive; the cars would look too ‘something’ and sound wrong; and to them, modern people would appear soft, void of taste for anything and.. Well, they’d be right about the people. But then, they’d have to indict themselves, as well. Guilty as charged.
Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of awesome people around. They’ve always been out there, but they are a minority. If you meet one of those noble souls, who listen and not just talk, who care for others and not just themselves, who create and not just consume, who learn and not just teach and who lead and not just follow, AND are decent enough yourself to recognize such a gem when you see one, you will experience melancholy; the realization that the decent are outnumbered; like an all-too rare mutation for better in a stock of the mediocre and downright rotten.
He sighs, turns off the screen and slides it back into his pocket. Gets up and beats the dust off his pants. Floorboards creak.
A view from the top of a staircase enshrouded in darkness, the man staring up from the bottom. He takes a step, which does not give in. Carefully, he walks up with a hand on the railing. At the top, straightens himself and hits his head against the ceiling.
Still, silent and pitch black. No windows. Not even one tiny crevice for light to come through. The darkness sits heavy on his breath. A sense of foreboding gathers in his belly; an ancient, primal echo from a time long gone. “Beware the dark, that which you cannot see. Fear. Fear, and beware.” Tightening his neck, reaching for the device in his pocket. White light bursts out from the phone’s backside and reveals the attic.
First, he sees the usual stacked magazines and newspapers, a trademark of hoarders. Cheap people, who cannot part with anything. Walking to them, he sees them tattered, the paper soggy and moldy. Hard magazine paper has fared better, but is nothing to write home about. Ancient home appliances, likely broken the day they were sealed into their tomb. Toys in boxes, which he now remembers having played with a long time ago. Plastic figurines of wrestlers, frozen in expressions of rage, muscles forever flexing, forever bursting at the seams. And toy cars, those he used to slide along the floor downstairs. A different time, a different person, but the same place. It feels like a distant dream; something you can barely reach in the depths of your mind, but still have a strong impression of its validity.
Drops a figurine into the box and moves on, turning the light onto an old chest, reinforced with studded metal plates. It has a lock. The lock has no key. With a bad feeling, he tries to lift the top with one arm, crouched. Thinking it’s too heavy, he attempts with two limbs, to no avail. The lock has no key. Thinking fervorously, he tries to figure it out. Has seen the chest before, in that time long gone, but closed. Always closed. And every surface, every wall downstairs is plastered with drawers, closets, pockets, boxes and bags, any of which could hold the key. Let alone the attic, which, in its perpetual darkness, could be hiding it in any of its concealed crevices and nooks.
A smart one would put it somewhere within an arm’s reach, perhaps on one of the beams supporting the roof. Easy to retrieve and deposit, whether coming or going. Even in that darkness. And, encouraged by this insight, he rises and feels for the top of one of those beams, going through the narrow they capture with the roof. Finger meets metal, which then proceeds to impact the floor with a clank.
Sitting on the dusty floor. Light of the phone display, shining up onto his face, blinding him from whatever lurks in the shadows. Blinding him from all but the key he turns, twists and squeezes in his hands. He cannot see any details in the darkness, but feels its cold, solid form. Long ago cast metal. It has but two teeth. He thinks anyone with half a brain for lock picking could have done without it. But to him, it is essential. It is the only key. So he gets up and walks to the chest, revealing the key hole with the fake light. Insert. Turn.
The lock does not open. He turns the other way. Nothing.
He regrets the loss of another moment of his life, a burning frustration behind his eyes, and collapses onto his bottom. The light is pointing at the roof: gray wood and spider webs. He lays down onto his back and closes his eyes, breathing deep, tasting the dust in his mouth, smelling the dank, dead attic. But it is so quiet and peaceful, there. Like in a grave.
He shoots up. A bolt of anger has energized him. “No use laying dormant, no use feeling self-pity, for I am still alive and kicking. This house reeks of stagnation and I am not going to spend any more time in it than I absolutely must.” But first, he must see what is inside the chest.
He pushes the key further, as far as it can go, and turns it violently. The lock resists for a moment, but then gives in with a gratifying “click”. Elated, he grabs the lid, feeling the cold metal against his fingers. Savors the moment. And then, the chest is open.
At first, he cannot see a thing, for the phone is berating the spiders for their dusty nets. Having picked it up, he points it down.
A horrible, murderous face stares straight at him.
Gasps, taking a quick step backwards. Stumbling, the phone drops and its light dies out. The terrible image still fresh in his mind, he is breathing fast with a racing heart. Staring. Staring at the invisible chest, now hidden deep in a veil of darkness. But all is quiet, all is still and he can not only feel, but hear his pulse. Scrambling to find his phone, he feels the dusty floor around him. Having found it lifeless and without light, he decides it’s dead. His breathing steadies as he realizes that whoever was waiting for him in the chest is still there and has not come after him. He will not run out of the house, screaming, after all.
Downstairs, all is as quiet and still as before. The phone, its screen cracked, will not turn on. With the boldness of the only living, sentient being of the habitat, he rummages through the countless shelves, drawers and cabinets, walking from one room to another with loud steps. Steps loud enough to keep him company. Occasionally he glances nervously at the ceiling and what lies beyond it.
The oil lamp is covered in thick dust, which he wipes off with spit and a dirty napkin, left lying about. The lamp itself was at the bottom of a closet, covered in damp newspapers. It is empty, but the wick seems to be in good condition.
Something creaks upstairs. He thinks it’s the wind, pushing against the old wooden roof. He hopes so. Placing the lamp on a table under a window, he leaves in search of fuel.
Wandering from one room to another, his head begins to ache. Tiredness, lethargy, creeps into his limbs. Ceasing for a moment, he spectates dust dancing in the air, flowing gently in a soft, nostalgic light filtered through dirty glass. Each move he makes agitates the flow, upsetting the dance into a raging display. He wonders whether he is an intruder to the death and stagnation of the house; to its timeless, lifeless nature. How, once he is gone, the dust will fall and settle, once again to rest in peace. Forever and ever. Till the end of time. Or, the end of the house. The death of the house.
Lost deep in thought, he startles and realizes that beyond the invisible air currents, carrying dust in spirals, lies a shelf. And on the shelf, a small yellow metal canister. Its faded label claims “Kerosine” and the container has a liquid weight to it.
A thud sounds from above, from the attic. In his mind’s eye, he can see a heavy boot, stepping on the floor above him. Thinking more on it, he discovers a much more soothing image of a thick branch, beating the roof in a heavy wind. Walking past a window, he does not look out. He does not look out because in the deep reaches of his mind he knows the day’s not windy.
Carefully, the man empties the canister into the lantern. Half-full, he reckons weighing it with his hand, and screws its tank shut. He sits in a corner and stares at the lantern while its wick drinks the fuel, turning moist and willing. He looks at the floor, the drawers, and out the window. Where the sky is blue and branches lie dormant, calm. Something rumbles upstairs, as if a thick chain dropped onto the gray, concealed floor. Cold creeps into his heart. Still, he listens. To nothing.
Sets the wick alight and covers it under glass. Adjusts it, proud of the accomplishment, however minor. Stomp, creak, stomp, he climbs the noisy stairs, bracing himself for a fight.
Taking the final step, he surveys the attic in a weak but even light of the flame. Still, as dead as he left it, dust dancing its intricate choreography. He inches towards the chest, still open. Its lid throws a menacing shadow against the backwall; a claw, reaching out to snuff out life. Takes another step, the floor creaking under his weight. Still, he cannot see into the tomb. Clenching his jaw, he covers the remaining distance and peers in.
A withered, dead face stares at him. Its head leans against the chest’s corner and tilts his way, as if it turned to welcome him. So long, it must have waited for his arrival. The head is covered in dry skin and its scalp still carries tufts of brown hair. Judging by its delicate features and size, he is looking at a someone who died around the age of ten or so. Moving closer, he observes the rest of the mummified corpse. It is curdled up, holding its arms and legs close to its body. And between the small, dead-thin fingers, is a gray, faded doll.
Foreboding and fear come for him, emanating from the child who did not want to die. He senses, he knows the creature before him, whom someone once locked into that chest in that dark attic, wanted to live and not die a slow, horrible death of dehydration alone in the darkness. For a long moment, he empathizes and feels sorrow. It culminates in tears running down his cheeks for the first time since time long gone.
Running around the attic, screaming and laughing. Light flowing in through dusty, then uncovered windows. Playing with toy guns, playing with figurines. But never, ever with the chest. It was always locked. The chest was always a mystery, after that one time. That one time he asked, his grandfather grew angry. A man of calm, serenity, his voice hardened and lashed out at him: “It is not for you to know, child!” Right there and then, for just a short but horrible moment, his connection to the old man was severed. Calling him “child” and not by his name, the man was addressing him like a stranger. Having apologized and lost some of his naive sense of security, the boy soon forgot the incident and so did grandpa. Forgot until now.
He leans over and, while holding the lantern overhead, carefully examines rest of the chest’s innards, careful not to disturb the dead, not to break its fragile body with careless moves. He discovers an apple. Shocked, he once again stumbles and falls onto his bottom with the fruit in his hand. For, unlike the child, it is not dry, but fresh, bright red; alive.
Examining the fruit in his hand, a chill runs down his spine. A creak behind makes him turn, but his eyes meet nothing. Daring not to taste it, he forces his thumbnail into the skin. Sure enough, it meets moist flesh. The apple is fresh and the implications dire. He reckons someone must have come here no more than a week ago, gotten the key and opened the chest. There, this someone placed a fresh apple before resealing the tomb. But why? Why come here and seal in a fruit with the corpse?
Thinking back to his reading days, the man recollects how ancient peoples did not settle for measly candles like those of his time. They’d bring offerings such as food to the dead as sacrificial offerings. So, option number one: the apple was meant for the child. However, another, less pleasant implication is that the apple is for him. Perhaps that someone came and put the apple into the chest for him to find it. As a message. As a warning. “I know and you do now, too. I have been here before and I will be here again.”
Something impacts the roof and he scrambles up onto his feet. Squeezing the apple, his thumb sinks deeper.
It must have been a branch. The weather outside has changed drastically, he observes, panting before a dirty window downstairs. Clouds cover the sky and strong gusts of wind are thrashing leaves and branches about. Then, heavy droplets hit the window and rain begins to beat the roof relentlessly.
Oblivious, dusty and worn, he looks down and sees the apple in his hand. It is real.
Closing the door, he runs through the rain. His car is parked across the yard, next to a barn with a collapsed roof. He unlocks the door with the remote and gets in as quickly as possible.
There, dripping on a seat, he looks at the dirt road before him. Leading away from the yard, away from the house. Its lines, textures and colours are distorted by water, running down the windshield. He listens to the rain, hundreds upon hundreds of droplets hitting the frame and glass in a deafening concert. He feels wet, cold and restless.
There, standing in the shadowy house, he had felt a sinister presence of stagnation and death creep close, reaching for his mind. His thoughts had become just as stagnant, and he had felt one with the house. Standing inside, looking out, he had not wanted to leave, which is why he did. That is why he ran away, to the safety of his car. To listen to the rain. And, to observe the house through the water stream running before him. With the apple in his hand.
For David Fletcher, the day had started normal enough. A blaring alarm aroused him, with its display reading “04:00”. Mary, his wife, had mumbled; probably something in the realm of “make it stop”. He did just that, wrestled himself up and left the bedroom, closing the door shut with care.
The toilet mirror did not flatter his appearance and was as brutally honest about how he felt. David was pushing fifty and had a decent beer belly. Leaning against the counter, he looked at a man whose face was covered by a thin carpet, roughly two days old. Wrinkles deepened between the eyes, which had bags underneath. He grinned and the mirror displayed yellow, tobacco-stained teeth in grim detail. David spat into the toilet bowl and urinated.
Sometimes he liked to take his time in the morning. He’d walk into the kitchen, grind coffee beans and read a paper, enjoying the fresh, predawn air surging in through an open window. He’d begin to feel tranquil and pretty good about himself, which he usually followed up by walking into the living room, crashing on the sofa and falling back to sleep. He was weak that way and, upon waking up two or more hours later, he would berate himself and feel like shit for the rest of the day.
That morning, he was going to play it safe. Coffee was waiting in the machine’s pitcher, which he served into a stained mug on the sink. At room temperature, it felt uncomfortable to drink, but he downed it anyway: For the caffeine. Then he rummaged the fridge for meat, bread and fat, which he consumed profusely. Looking outside while sitting by the dinner table, he squinted at the bright, cloudless scene behind a bright red garage. He looked at a weather computer’s readout, which promised promised up to twenty-six celsius with zero rain for that day. He cursed; cutting, carrying and trimming branches was work for cool, cloudy days. He’d have an hour or so before sunrise, which did not amount to much. Dotty, one of their tiger-striped felines, was sitting beside the garage, deliberately turning its gaze from side to side.
He packed his gear into a pickup truck: two saws: one for trimming, another for cutting; juice for the tools; a backpack with rest of the day-old coffee, a two-liter bottle of water and sandwiches with thick slabs of roast. On him was a thick woodcutter’s jacket, with bright orange safety colors on the shoulders. The engine roared to life and he drove off, the yard growing distant in the rearview mirror.
He returned to a two-day old site, where he reckoned to be working for another few. One of the patches of forest owned by the family, he loved to take care of it himself. “Trees”, he’d often remind his brothers “do not grow by themselves. Someone has to do it, so it might as well be me.” And they did not object, for he was a forester type. They were more accustomed to indoors, sticking to desks, computers and quarterly reports. Thinking of them was bitter, but satisfying as he began to work. They are not men enough for this line of work. He would never admit to the second half but I am.
Surely enough, the sun rose around six and began its slow ascend across the sky. It threw its rays from a low angle, most of which were stopped by high-rising tree trunks. The shadows were long, thin and deep. Feeling the warmth on his back, be cursed and pushed himself further.
Nearly fainting, he slumped on a h and took a long swig of water. Glancing at the wristwatch, he saw the short arm tickling nine. The sun was up, unobstructed even by the treetops, and the heat inside his thick suit was rising with each step, carried armful of wood or push of the chainsaw. He spat. It was time to pack-up and go.
Driving along the highway, finally out of the sweaty safety gear, he was whistling to tunes from the sixties; from his youth. Overall, it had been a good workday. As always, he would have liked to go on longer, but, as he liked to think, because of his age, he became exhausted early and had to quit. Reminiscing days of his youth, strength and endurance forever lost to him.
Driving on, he knew each stretch and bend, each field and forest. It was where he would live and, eventually, die. The other two had moved further away, but he had stayed. He had stayed home. And, as he came around a bend at a solid eighty kilos per hour, he saw the sign afar. There, a dirt road dove into the forest, twisting, rising and falling, all the way to the house; where his father grew up, a long, long time ago. No one lived there now except for rats, cockroaches and a few birds, nesting under the rotten, black roof.
Usually, on mornings like this, he drove past the turn not even registering it. But now, staring at the closing sign, his feet shifted places and the car began to slow down. The feet did their thing, which he had not bothered for decades; one they performed with utmost precision and grace, but which took place in the hiding and was appreciated by no one. The car turned, along with the angle of his arms, and was engulfed by the thick, dark scrub.
As he drove on, his arms and feet adapting to each turn, rise and fall of the gravel-covered surface, it began to rain. A lot. Thick droplets drummed the car all along its length, filtered through the thick mesh of pine needles, leaves and branches above. The downpour intensified and became violent, with puddles of water forming on the road. The thick, wide tires with their robust suspension drove through them with ease, water splashing far into the forest on the side. At last, he exited the forest and brought the truck into a sudden halt.
A car sat on the driveway, facing him. Confused, he tried to make out details through a water stream, running down the windshield. Rain rumbled all around him. Who it could be, he did not know. He drove closer, the car rising and falling with each deep pothole in the road. Not far in the distance, he could see a wide cloudless sky spread far and wide. The clouds above him, however, were thick and dark with the heavy stuff most of him was made of.
The white, small car belonged to his brother. Martin worked as a school teacher in a city to the south. With the truck crawling ever closer to it, he could see no one inside. He stopped right in front of it, so the younger brother could not drive off without explaining himself, and took a deep breath, squeezing the leather-covered wheel. Having pulled the jacket back on, he opened the door and entered the raging downpour.
The three brothers grew up in need of some things: toys, candy and comics were not easy to come by with the little money they had. However, they never missed a meal and could play with old tools, found in every farmhouse back in those times. They had to share everything; from clothes to toys to the old motorbike they managed to buy with hard-earned, hard-saved money from an endless line of chores. Entering Martin’s unlocked car was a natural thing for David, who now sat in a driver’s seat, staring at the truck through streaming water.
Looking about him, the car looked like Martin. He saw CDs, soda cans, an apple and various magazines littering the car. Deep in thought, he turned his gaze towards the old, dark house the his left. You in there, Martin? What’re you doing here? Its dank, dusty interior was fresh in his mind and felt repulsive. Memories, better left forgotten, surged to him and he squeezed his eyes shut, feeling growing nausea. An apple? Martin hates apples.
Eyes wide open, he looked again in disbelief. The fruit felt real to his touch and was bright red. Examining it, he found it broken from a few places, the flesh oxidized and dark. But, the more he examined the apple, the better it looked. He felt juice against his dirty palm and took a bite, closing his eyes in pleasure. Sweet, so sweet.
He chewed and opened his eyes to the left.
Martin. Standing in the rain, staring back at him with arms limp at his sides.
David jumped up, hitting the roof with a painful bang. Still standing before the car, Martin did not react to his gesturing: “Go around and get in from the other side!” Being the older brother, David was used to scaring the other two. But with Martin standing there in the rain, staring at him with no emotion on his face, he felt his balls shrink and buttocks tighten. Something was off, here. Way off.
Then he laughed to himself, looking at Martin, who liked to do stupid things. Seeing David’s truck parked there and rummaging through his things, Martin must have decided to teach him a lesson. Stand before the car, ghost-like. Creep him out. Bravo!
David got out into the rain.
“Really funny, Martin!” he shouted. The downpour roared and muffled the words. Still, Martin was staring into the car, his gaze leveled with David’s waist. He closed the door and took a step.
“What’re you doing here, anyway?”
Slowly, Martin turned his head and looked at David. There was no joy or anger in his eyes, which were blank and unseeing. David was impressed. He knew Martin had done some acting, but this was on-par with the best stars on telly.
“Come on.” David pushed him on the shoulder, his laughter dying off. He felt water trickle down his back, all the way to the socks in his boots. It was a lousy feeling and all of a sudden, he wanted to get into the truck and drive off. Return home, warm up something in the micro and watch the stars do their from the comfort of his foldable armchair. Martin’s empty, gray gaze made him uneasy.
David looked at the house, shrouded by a wall of water. He considered for a second, then grabbed Martin’s shoulder.
“Come on, let’s go inside.”
The filthy, dust covered floor cleared up as water fell from their clothes, noses and hands. David lay his baby brother down and rest him against the wall, next to steps leading to the attic. David closed the door, panting from the exertion. It was not that Martin had resisted; like a bag of potatoes, he had cooperated in a passive way, but struggled as a mass to be carried. And his urban, city boy, teacher-wage fed body had gained weight along the years, no longer that similar to the skinny kid of their childhood. That body lay still, but its chest was rising and falling with in a steady rhythm.
David bent his knees, so his eyes were on level with the empty gray eyes.
He swung his right and landed the palm on Martin’s cheek with a sharp smack. His head swung to the left, but his expression did not change even for a moment. His soft baby brother had just taken a solid slap without flinching, without fighting back the slightest. David took Martin by the shoulders and shook. Hard.
David felt alarmed and confused, staring at his brother in disbelief.
“Can you hear me?!” he screamed.
Climbing up, David picked out his phone and backed away. Looking out, through the dirty window, he saw no sign of the rain weakening. The heard a few dial tones, then a female voice interrupted the call and apologized for any inconvenience. He looked at the phone: there was no coverage. No coverage? A mast had been built a few clicks away the year before.
“Dave.” The voice behind was mild, listless.
Scared, he swung around and saw Martin. Standing. Staring back at him.