by Dan Swanson
I was so startled that my concentration was broken, and I realized that I had almost been in a trance. I looked up from my desktop into total blackness! How could that be? I looked back down at the desk, and it was brightly lit. I looked to the side — total darkness! I spun around, frantically looking for anything, but the only thing visible in my whole universe was the top of my desk, with my journal open on it. I suddenly realized that the desktop was shrinking. I reached for it, trying desperately to grab onto the only thing I could see, but my arms refused to move!
Or, more like I didn’t have any arms! At that thought, I realized I couldn’t feel anything at all. As far as I could tell, I was just a disembodied viewpoint floating in darkness…
Suddenly, I heard something. “Tomas, something is wrong!” It was my mom! Now that I was aware of her voice, I realized that I had been hearing her for quite some time — maybe for as long as I had been sitting here, writing — but I had been so deeply into my writing that I hadn’t paid any attention.
“Mom, where are you? Where am I? What’s wrong?!” I yelled, or tried to yell, but I didn’t hear anything. Worst of all, my mom’s voice stopped! I was alone and aware of nothing but my own thoughts. If ever it was time to panic, it was now! But I’d been taught, many times by many teachers, coaches, sensei, friends, fellow Marines, parents, cousins, people on the streets, acquaintances, pals — stop it!
My mom’s name means rainbow, and the rainbow has always been kind of a secret totem for me. At least I still had memory! I quickly concentrated until I could clearly see a rainbow in my mind’s-eye (which seemed to be the only eye I had that was working). Yes, just the proof that I still had memory helped me a lot, and the glorious beauty of the rainbow exerted its calming magic. This was a strange situation, but I wasn’t going to get anywhere if I was hysterical.
I quickly recapped the current situation. Some time ago, I’d been on the Autumn case, and according to company rules, I have to keep a journal about all my cases — written not less than two months after a case is closed, in order to keep emotions out of the account. Since I was writing my journal entry about the Autumn case, I must have closed it months ago. Yet I couldn’t remember how the case had ended, and I had no idea how I’d come to be here in nowhere — wherever that was.
The last memory I had before I’d found myself here was knocking myself out in the stairwell. Assuming I’m not crazy or dead, there’s only one other possibility…
Oh, my Great Spirit, I’m still in the stairwell!
This realization shocked my adrenal glands, and they started pumping me full of the high-octane stuff! Suddenly, I can feel my body, and I hurt so bad, I almost wish I was really dead! Almost being the important word here!
Tomas Thomas still couldn’t hear anything, and it was still pitch-black in his cramped prison. He could feel heat radiating from the pile of rubble overhead, and realized he was going to have to get out of here soon, or not at all. It wasn’t feasible to push upward through the rubble, perhaps into a fire, which left the only way out into the basement.
There wasn’t really much of a basement to this place, considering how big it was. Just inside the door there was a small room, where the stairs coming down from the kitchen terminated. Opening off of that room was the coal bin and the root cellar, and there was a trapdoor in a corner that led to the ice storage room. He should be able to hide in one of those places.
Groping in the dark, Tomas finally found the cellar door. It wasn’t hot to the touch, thank goodness. It was locked, but the door was possibly sixty years old and had been abandoned for at least twenty. His left leg wouldn’t support his weight, and there wasn’t much room to move, anyway, but he pressed back against the stairs and launched himself, back first, against that old door, using his back as a battering ram. Tomas pushed with every bit of enhanced strength he could call from his battered arms and right leg.
The result was a classic good news/bad news story. The good news was that the wood around the lock was shattered, and the door was forced open several inches. The bad news was that, despite his enhanced strength, he wasn’t invulnerable, and he was sure the impact had broken several more ribs. He couldn’t quite fit through the partially open door, but he was in such pain he couldn’t bring himself to smash his body into the door again. As he screamed from the pain, he realized his hearing was coming back somewhat. Although why that mattered at a time like this, he wasn’t sure.
Tomas had fallen to the floor of the stairwell, and he gradually managed to twist himself around so that his back was against the lower stair, and he started pushing the door open with his good right leg. He wasn’t up for sudden movements, but he was able to exert a steady pressure, and he felt the door slide open another couple of inches. That ought to do it.
For whatever reason, completely out of the blue he thought about his pickup truck. If he was going to keep getting involved in chases with the bad guys, he needed to put some weight in the back to improve traction. And he needed some kind of persuader in the cab that he could use to discourage pursuers. He started to laugh at the incongruity of this thought, but the laugh quickly turned into a painful cough.
Still, he thought with grim satisfaction, I’m alive — and not done for yet!
He carefully dragged himself out of the stairwell and into the old basement. The room was lit by flickering firelight, and Tomas could look up and see the sky. Unfortunately, the floor level of the house was about ten feet up, and Tomas was in no condition to climb or jump. The stairwell going up was filled with debris as well. He was going to be here for a while. At least the explosions had stopped. Tomas realized he was going to pass out again soon. While he was temporarily safe, if he was unconscious in this small room and part of the burning house fell on top of him, it would be just too bad. He quickly considered the coal bin; no, it was too dusty, as he could suffocate in there, and besides, somewhere in the back of his head, didn’t he remember that coal dust mixed with air could explode when it got hot enough?
Perhaps the root cellar, then. The root cellar door was all the way across the room, and some of the fallen debris was blocking it. He no longer had the strength to clear it away. That left the ice room below. It had one extra advantage, too — once he got the trapdoor open, it should be easy to get inside. All he had to do was fall down. He refused to think about just how much that would hurt.
The trapdoor came up easily. He twisted around to get his feet in first, and then backed into the opening and gently slid down the stairs until his feet bumped the floor. The trapdoor dropped shut above him, and he passed out. His last thought was that he hoped the bad guys had gone away; if they found him like this, he’d be no match for them.