posted on Sep, 12 2005 @ 10:42 AM
Hi guys. I received a lot of overly kind words following the success of 51:20 in the short story contest. A few of you were foolish enough to ask
about a sequel, so here it is. This is the first of a few additions to the story of Jeremiah and his son, Caleb. It's a little short, but I wanted
the story to evolve in small chapters, if for no other reason than to spare you all having to read vuliminous amounts of text. I hope you enjoy it.
Let me know what you think, unless you hated it, in which case go away you mean person, you.
51:20 Part Two – Thou Art My Battleaxe
He looked up into his father’s face. His smile was broad and wide, the way children’s smiles should be all the time. He tapped his little
fingers against the glass until his father pointed out a sign which read “Please Do Not Tap Your Fingers On The Glass” and he stopped. His eyes
were wide and blue and they spoke of childhood wonder and relaxed innocence.
“Daddy, can we get a puppy?”
“Well I don’t know champ, we’ll have to ask mommy”.
“But … but … I heard mommy say that she wanted a puppy”.
His father smiled at the lie.
“Did she now? Well, that’s different. But you know, Caleb, your mommy’s very busy. She might not have time to look after a puppy”.
“That’s okay, daddy, ‘cause … ‘cause I could look after it for her”.
His father laughed softly at the childish deviousness of the trap.
“What sort of puppy do you think mommy would like?”
“That one! The one that looks like grandpa”.
Caleb pointed through the glass with tiny fingers to a saggy, ruffled shar-pei which lay coiled on a bed of shredded newspaper.
“That one? Wow, champ, it really does look like grandpa, it … it’s got … I …”.
The dog was playing with something in its mouth, something blue and white and stringy. It held it down with its paws and was tearing it to pieces. His
father began to shake when he realised that the object the puppy was devouring was his son’s shoe.
“Caleb … how did …?”
His father looked at his son who had resumed tapping on the glass. When he looked back, the dog was sleeping peacefully, thick rolls of skin obscuring
its closed eyes. It looked as though it were dreaming, whimpering and mewing in a high-pitched, newborn dog’s voice. His father’s hands felt
sticky and when he looked down at them, he saw they were covered with dark blood which stained his palms and his wedding ring and ran in small
rivulets down his arms. But the blood didn’t register. It was shoved to the back of his father’s mind, drowned out by the leathery feel of
Caleb’s shoe between his bloodied fingers.
“Why are you shaking, daddy?”
Jeremiah woke up in the dark, his hand still closed about a non-existent shoe. His eyes flickered as they struggled to focus in the black darkness
which filled the room and lapped at the walls like a dull oil slick. As his vision adjusted, Jeremiah saw that the room was, in truth, not entirely
devoid of light. From outside the room, barely visible through shattered windows and spiderweb-like glass panels, a series of small fires burned
unchecked. Their dim orange light groped its way into the small room, causing shadows to ebb and flow against walls and ceiling. Scanning his
surroundings for the first time, Jeremiah noticed that the room he was in had itself borne the brunt of several blazes. The walls and parts of the
floor still bore charred black bruises and Jeremiah observed that part of the roof had fallen in. Jeremiah wondered who had put the fires out in the
small room and why they had not bothered to quench the fires burning outside.
Jeremiah propped himself up on his elbow, although doing so sent spikes of cold pain through the left side of his head. Looking down, he realised for
the first time that he had been lying in a thin, rather worn sleeping bag that looked as though it had seen use far beyond its recommended lifespan.
Where his head had lain there was a small pillow, which was so flat that it was barely more than a token barrier to separate his head from the floor
of the small room. The pillow was very damp. On a sudden, the realisation came to him that somebody must have brought him here. Jeremiah struggled to
remember what had happened, to recollect the series of events that had conspired to place him at this strange location that was dark and surreal and
somehow dreamlike. A shot cracked through the night and Jeremiah cringed and shut his eyes. Vaguely, as is from somewhere far away, he smelt gunpowder
and jacaranda leaves and a sweet burning scent that was at once familiar and alien. He felt powerful hands dragging him forward and shoving him to his
knees. He spun to face his attacker and the pain in his head savagely protested the action. There was nobody there. The only movement was the
shadowplay of soft orange light against charred walls and a blackened roof. Jeremiah was alone in the room and it was only then that he realised that
the hands and the shot and the smells were constructs of his memories, a bitter retelling of a story that was as unique to him as it was commonplace,
for though he knew others had suffered as he had, his suffering and his pain were his alone to know. Jeremiah felt his head spin and wanted to throw
up, but he knew that if he did so he would be conceding his will to the unspoken fears that dwelt at the periphery of his rational mind. Instead, he
steeled himself and decided to better explore the confines of the small room in which he lay.
His explorations had not taken him three paces when he realised that he was in a school classroom. Tiny plastic chairs and metal frame desks lay
sprawled about the room, as though whoever had been sitting in them had got up and left in a great hurry, heedless of the neat organisation they had
once enjoyed. On the wall closest to where he had lain, Jeremiah observed a strange and beautiful sight. Tiny hand prints, made of paints of many
colours – of blues and greens and yellows and reds – covered the entire wall. In the centre of each print, a name was etched in black felt pen.
Jeremiah slowly ran his hand across the wall, pausing at each name and speaking it aloud.
The orange light of the flames danced upon the wall and Jeremiah suddenly felt as though he were standing in a dark cave and that the light was that
of a campfire. Jeremiah envisioned young children smiling and laughing as they dipped their hands into bowls made of bone and cold paint made of ochre
and blood. He smiled as they pressed their tiny hands upon the wall next to paintings of bison and mammoth. Jeremiah snapped himself back into
reality. He knew that if he lingered too long in front of the wall of children’s hands that they would ensnare him in his grief, as surely as if
they were to reach out from the wall and grasp him with their tiny fingers.
Abandoning the wall, Jeremiah walked slowly, so as not to exacerbate the pain in his temples, to the head of the class. He briefly noted that the
teacher’s desk was still in its proper place, although the chair had been cast rudely aside. Scattered all about the desk were pieces of white
paper. Gingerly, Jeremiah bent down and picked one up to examine. It was the words to the Star Spangled Banner, which the children must have been
learning. Looking upwards, he saw that the blackboard was decorated with the stars and stripes of the American flag, outlined in chalk. Across the
flag, in red chalk, was scrawled the phrase Libertas casus. Although he had no idea what the words meant, Jeremiah dimly recalled his own
kindergarten days. He smiled as he remembered the pride he had felt as he placed his hand over his heart and sang his nation’s national anthem for
the first time.
And the rockets red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night,
That our flag was still there.
A great wave of grief and of loss overtook Jeremiah at that moment and he would have wept, but his loud thoughts of despair were silenced by the sound
of soft, measured footsteps echoing down the hall.
[edit on 12/9/05 by Jeremiah25]