All was still as the sun slowly crept up. The birds chirped in a monotone tune as a cool zephyr flew by carrying fallen leaves. It was morning and all was calm. John popped his head full of curly light brown hair out of a dugout in the clearing. His cardinal tinted eyes canvas the low growing malachite grass. There was nothing in sight but the continuous trees; the horrendous vision that he couldn’t escape, miles upon miles of trees. Then a glimmer of hope stood out in the distance. Rigidity, dry rotten wood situated into a building. A building that could have a phone, water, and food.
John placed his hands on top the warm crisp grass. He hoisted his left leg up and stuck his barefoot into the hard dry earth. He pulled his thin, frail body up with the girth of his sore achy biceps and triceps. Then he stuck his right foot into the earth’s wall forcibly. Now, relying on his hamstrings, he extended his thighs up and his body levitated at the edge of the hole. His sweaty hands slivered further over the hole in search of more grass to grapple upon to pull his whole body out.
John kept his eyes close envisioning his triumphant escape. The dirt started falling like pink sprinkles on top of a batch of freshly made cupcakes. His foot slipped. He slipped. His foot plundered aimlessly hunting for stability. He huffed franticly clinging to the quickly snapping short stubby blades of grass. He scrapped his long toes against the strong formidable dirt wall.
John’s body weight rested solely on his other secure but wavering foot. His planted foot violently trembled urgently asking for assistance. John was in trouble. The nails of his lose foot dug like a dog on a quest for his old bone. He plowed through the side of the dirt until at last it was made, a place, a hole for his foot to rest was made. He sat his foot on the dirt shelf and he breathed calmly once again. He grabbed once more for a handful of grass and pulled with his wobbly arms as he pushed with his legs over the edge of the hole. He was out!
He lay on the grass looking up at the bright blue sky, huffy trying to regain his strength. How could something this beautiful be so cruel? The sky was peaceful, calming, and infinite. It was the same sky his parents peered at this very moment while they sipped their tepid lattes chatting about their children scattered around the globe. He was by himself, all alone. Keller was gone. He hadn’t seen him since yesterday after Keller slid down the cliff fleeing ratcheting bullets. Whereupon he followed their rule, out of sight out of mind. Which meant if I don’t see you, you don’t exist. It wasn’t harsh; it was survival.
The sun had scorched everything his trunks didn’t cover; his face, neck, torso, arms and legs. Every piece of visible skin was red, leathery, and blistering. His small, thin lips were cracked, peeling and in dire need of a drop of water. He was tempting fate lying in the open. It was time to move. He stretched his sore cramped muscles. He’d been in that tight confined hole for a day; too scared to move. Now was the time. It was the crack of dawn and they never came early, never. They hunted late.
John ran. He ran with every fiber of his being. He used ever ounce of the strength that linger in his famish dehydrated body. The last meal he had was five days ago. He hung on the thought of that feast of fire-grilled sirloin, roasted corn on the cob, overly cheesy bacon baked potato, and sweet succulent cherry pie. If he’d known it would’ve been his last meal he would’ve went back for seconds, thirds even. He pumped through the woods like a Jamaican track star at the Olympics vying for gold as he rushed pass the trees cutting his bare feet on fallen jaded sticks.
A lone brass arrow whipped within the wind picking up speed like a freight train. The dilapidated house was a trigger shot away. John could taste freedom. In his mind he could see freedom. He could see his corgi running down the ivory-carpeted stairs as he relaxed back on the tan couch salivating over the hot greasy pizza in his hands. Like a missile with a programmable chip the arrow tracked down John’s course gliding into his sunburnt lower back. Pain hijacked his weak, exhausted body. He collapsed to the ground like a fallen warrior during the Peloponnesian War.
A German shepherd, agile and lean sprinted ensue as his nose picked up every scent John left behind that mingled with the dew. John stuck his fingernails between the bark of the tree and pulled himself up. John’s body was spent as he leaned against the tree. He held the arrow trying to keep it still as he took in tiny breaths. It was too much. His tank was empty. The trees blocked out the sky’s beauty denying John its sight. They blocked everything out: the sky, the sun, people, and the world. But not the building, it was in his eye’s view. He had to get to it. His brain overpowered his body amped on quitting. He craved the will to live. He pulled himself together and starting again.
In quick, labored paces he plowed ahead. He zeroed in on the door’s brass knob. His gait improved as he reached nearer. The arrow hung from his back, moving in it’s own direction. The pain was still there but his mind didn’t travel down that dark path. He blocked it out using all his concentration on the building, on freedom, on the tan couch, his corgi and the hot pizza in his hand. Tranquility General Store was labeled against the door in dingy, swiveled plastic letters. He twisted the knob and flung open the backdoor. He expected cold air to blast him in the face like a tornado but there was nothing. It was dim and stifling inside. A family of flies buzzed claiming every piece of expired food as their own. The aroma of musk and mothballs journeyed up his nasal passages. A sheet of drab dirt shrouded the laminate floor.
John staggered to the medicine aisle in search of something to kill the sharp pain permeating in his back. His hand slid along the dusty metal shelf. Cough syrup, Pepto-Bismol, Ibuprofen, his eyes lit up. He ripped the box open with his teeth. His shoulder was still sore from the altercation the night before. He pressed in the sides of the childproof cap and threw it to the ground. A pill was two hundred and fifty milligrams his brain did the math. He judged the intensity of his pain. He raised the bottle to his opened mouth and let the skittle size pills trickle in, one, three, eight. He pulled the bottle down.
He looked over to his left at the iceboxes built into the back wall. They weren’t given off their usual hum and their glass doors were dress with wide murky streaks. He gripped the thin handle and pulled it open. Water, bottles upon bottles of water; spring water, artesian water, water from Texas, water from Norway and the Alps of France, water. He smiled from ear to ear. He grabbed a bottle, cracked open the lid and let the clear hot liquid spill in his mouth. Typically, he would frown at hot water but these weren’t typical circumstances. He gulped it down.
He staggered back to the medicine aisle. He couldn’t continue with an arrow in his back. He knew it. However, his brain couldn’t process the thought of pulling the rod out of his back. His couldn’t process a lot. This entire time his brain has been on autopilot, running, hiding, fighting. Unfortunately, the task didn’t have to be processed; it had to be done. He sat on the hard dusty floor inhaling quick shallow breaths. It was go time. He wrapped his shaky hand around the long arrow drenched with streaks of his B positive.
John dug his short nails into his thin thigh. His heart pounded like a battle drum. He pulled in a long steady stream of air. His eyes focused on the checkout stations faded white paneling countertop in the dark. He gritted his teeth like a vice grip. Quick and easy, he pulled on the brass arrow. His body shook, the pain was inhumanely quaking through every neuron of his person. It slid through his flesh like a blade on ice. He groaned holding back the scream urging to erupt from his mouth. He was near the end. He could feel it. The tail of the arrow knocked against every sore, raw, inflamed tissue of his torso. It was coming to the surface, through the perfectly tubular hole. John itched with excitement. The torture was almost over. He used all his force and the ounce of his might and yanked it out. Tears burst from his eyes. John flung the arrow to the ground.
Blood poured out of the wound spilling onto the floor covering the dirt. He doused some seventy percent proof alcohol onto the lesion. The pain burned like a roaring bonfire. He beat his fist on the ground trying to diverge his nerves. As the flame subsided John snatched a package of gauze off the nearby shelf. He stained the white box with his bloody hands as he savagely tore it open. He placed the sterile woven cotton material on the laceration applying firm pressure. He fell back onto the dingy floor feeling dizzy and enervated. He waited for the ibuprofen to melt and start its pilgrimage into his bloodstream.
He closed his eyes as his mind took a trip. A trip down the road of what could have been; really what should have been. He should be logging in hours at the community hospital, delivering pills and checking blood pressures. Before retiring to his bed on the second floor two doors down from the bathroom in the frat house, he would cool down with a couple of MCAT study hours. That was the plan. That was his Spring Break schedule. Regrettably, he abandoned it. He flimsily gave into peer pressure. “John you work too much”, one friend said. “John, its Spring Break. We’re in college. Lets turn up”, another friend said. Well, his friend was right. It was turntable up, all the way to the damn max!
The back door slammed against the wall. John jumped up. His hideaway was searched out. His brain shifted back into autopilot; mode: fight. He picked up the sticky arrow struggling to his feet; knees wobbling, arms shaking. Tension flooded his body as he heard the dog’s sharp nail’s click against the hard floor. The dog’s powerful precise nose sniffed out every droplet of blood following it like a road map. Just like always the canine’s nose was never wrong. It always reaped treasures. Not the kind a leprechaun covets but the kind its owner lusted for; fresh, warm flesh.
John stared into the dog’s ravenous copper eyes. The black and tan beast seethed and snarled at the end of the aisle. It waited for John to make a false step. John held his territory as he watched the long drippings of spit drizzle from the sides of the dog’s angular mouth. The dog’s growl vibrated lowly humming his warning of pain to come.
John’s gaze was lost. His pupils imploded into his irises. He felt an intense throbbing in his frail chest. His unfocused eyes traveled to the locus of the sensation. Blood crimson red like a ripe Red Delicious apple ready for the picking streamed from his ribcage. He coughed and there was more of the fluid. It was salty to the taste as it rolled down his lips. His muscles relaxed. The arrow dropped out of his hand. His knees buckled and his head drifted into the clouds. John’s body felt light as a feather as it cascaded to the floor backward. He drew in one faint shallow breath as his head collided on the dingy tile floor.
“Defect.” The man proclaimed towering over John’s lifeless body.