Aftermath Episode 7
Hanging In the Balance
You can see the full series of this fictional story here.
“How is he?”
“For now, but he’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Take some more from the boy.”
“We’re gonna bleed him dry.”
Patricia’s head pounded in agony. The voices were coming from somewhere above her, and she struggled to open her eyes. Through the fog of regaining consciousness, she tried to remember how she’d ended up face down on the floor with a splitting headache. Knocking at the door… gunshots? Oh God, Dale! Her eyes shot open, and she tried to shout, but her throat was dry and her mouth gagged. When she tried to pull herself up from the floor, she found her wrists and ankles bound tightly.
“Dad, look,” one of Longhauser’s boys, said quietly. Two sets of feet came into focus in front of Patricia, and now they both pointed at her.
“Let’s get the boy moved into this front room here, we’re going to need them when the husband gets back,” Blake’s voice no longer carried any warmth, “She won’t cause any trouble as long as he’s still alive.” He walked down the hall and the other set of feet followed.
Dale… they must be talking about him… so, he’s still alive… each thought surfaced through the nauseating dizziness of her head wound, what about Cathy? They couldn’t… even if they found her… Oh God, why did I let them in! Her head throbbed and she stretched her neck to look around the room, hoping to see a sign of her daughter, or Dale or anything that might give her hope. Her eyes caught the pale arm dangling off the edge of the couch on the other side of the room. Next to it on the floor was a heap of bloodied rags and bandages. Above the couch, hung an I.V. bag, it’s clear thin tube running down the wall and into veins of the man who lay motionless on couch. Dale shot him, she remembered, but who did he shoot? She said a silent prayer that it wasn’t one of Blake’s sons. Through the window, the last bit of sunlight was fading, but she wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Had it been a day? Two days? More? No, surely Jason would have been back sooner than two days… unless he ran into trouble too… She began to panic. Calm down; keep your wits, she commanded herself. Now more than ever, you’ve got to keep it together.
The pain in her head was making it hard to see straight, and she began to feel the stiffness in her arms and shoulders from being bound and lying on the floor for so long. Down the hall she heard voices, talking loudly at first, and then a sharp scream. She writhed against her restraints, but to no avail as the commotion from the other room grew more violent.
“Quit your yellin boy!” Blake’s voice shouted above the din, followed by the sickening thud of flesh hitting flesh. Then things were quiet, save for the sound of Dale’s body being dragged down the hall. Patty twisted and pushed and in a sickening push, forced herself to sit upright, leaning hard against the wall behind her. Her head spun from the quick change of position, and she squeezed her eyes shut to steady herself. When she opened them, Blake and one of the other men were pulling Dale’s limp body across the room in front of her.
“Well, look who’s up,” Blake said, letting Dale’s arm fall to the floor and approaching Patricia. He knelt so that his face was at level with hers. “Listen carefully now,” his breath was hot and sour, “That boy of yours shot my brother-in-law.” Patty tried to speak but only a hoarse whine came out.
“Shhhhh,” Blake held his finger to his lips, “I said to listen, not speak.” Blake leaned in closer, so that he was almost whispering into her ear. “Now, the only reason that son of yours is still alive is because he happens to be the only one here with same blood type as poor Sammy.” He motioned towards the man lying on the couch, “We’ve stopped the bleeding for now, but as you can clearly see, he’s still a long way from better.” Patty’s eyes locked on the motionless body of her son on the floor in front of her, his face was swollen and purple, and there were dark bruises on his arms where Blake and his sons had beat him.
“So,” Blake continued, “As long as Samuel there continues to breathe, your son will too.” Blake now looked directly into Patty’s eyes, “Do you understand me Patricia?”
She stared back at him with pleading eyes, and slowly nodded.
“Good,” Blake said, “Now, that you’re awake, you’re going to make yourself useful.” Patricia squirmed.
“Calm down, Calm down,” Blake patted her head like and spoke to her like a child, “Just because we need your son alive for now, doesn’t mean we can’t make him wish he wasn’t.” Patricia deflated back against the wall again. Tears squeezed their way out of her eyes, and she looked up and prayed.
“We’re going to start by asking you a couple of questions,” Blake stood up and looked down at her, “First off, where did your husband and that other boy head off to, and when are they coming back?”
Jason leaned against the front wall of Delmar’s cabin, clutching his rifle and listening carefully to the commotion outside. The car had stopped in front of the house, and from the sound of it, three, maybe four men had gotten out. Jason looked down at his son who knelt beside him, the color was gone from his face and he was clutching his gun to keep his hands from shaking.
“Steady boy,” Jason whispered.
The men outside hadn’t approached the house yet, their footsteps seemed to spread out around the perimeter, but none of them had spoken yet. If it was Delmar, he could have seen that his door had been broken, and was preparing to raid the place. Jason thought about re-attaching the white handkerchief to his rifle again, or maybe even calling out to the men outside, but decided against it. Whoever’s out there is going to shoot first, and ask questions later, at least that’s what we have to assume. Jason looked back down at his son. Delmar would be the kind of guy smart enough to have a working car, he thought, but he’s also the kind of guy smart enough not to leave his retreat unlocked. The room was dark, with the fading sunlight barely sneaking in through the two small, slit windows near the top of the front wall on either side of the door. There wasn’t much in the room to offer cover; one ragged couch, and a small end table, at the back of the room a doorway lead to what looked like a small kitchen. We’re sitting ducks here, Jason thought, and if I know Delmar, this place has a safe room, and probably an alternate exit somewhere.
Jason listened carefully, pressing his ear against the door. The footsteps were making their way back towards the cabin. He put one hand on his sons shoulder to get his attention, and motioned with one finger towards the kitchen. Jim looked up and nodded, and Jason put his finger up to his lips to remind his son to move as quietly as possible. He slowly stepped forward away from the wall, heel first and slowly letting the rest of his boot find the old wooden floorboard.
Creeeeaaaak! The floor let out a low-groan and Jason winced. Jim looked up at him with panic in his eyes, and they both listened intently to see if the men outside had noticed. The footsteps stopped their approach for only a brief moment. What are they waiting for? Jason thought, what do they want… who the hell are they? Jason forced his thoughts back into the room, we need to get out of here, as quickly and quietly as possible. He took another step, the floor creaked again, but not as loudly. He raised his rifle and aimed towards the kitchen doorway taking another step. The footsteps continued growing louder, and Jason moved quickly towards the kitchen, motioning for his son to follow. The room was empty, save for a stove and a small table and a pantry at the far end of the tiny kitchen. The entire place seemed abandon, and Jason began to wonder if maybe they had come to the wrong place. This can’t be it, he thought, feeling a panic rising in him, no back door, no food stores, no other rooms, Delmar would never make a retreat this poor.
Then, something moved inside the pantry. Jason trained his rifle on the door, and moved so that his body blocked Jim’s. Delmar? Raccoon? Jason’s thoughts raced but his rifle remained steady.
“Jason?” a barely audible whisper came from the pantry.
“Delmar?” Jason replied.
“Put your gun down.”
“Suit yourself,” the quiet whisper continued, “but them spooks outside ain’t here on a social call.”
Jason recognized Delmar’s candor now, and lowered his rifle a bit.
“Delmar, what the hell is going on?”
“No time to explain, lower your rifle, and come to the pantry.”
Jason didn’t know what to do, but he knew he didn’t have much time to make up his mind. The footsteps had reached the front porch and clicked against the rotted wood. The boys crossed to the pantry, with their guns lowered. When they reached it, the door opened to reveal Delmar sticking out of a hole in the floor, one hand on the trap door cover, the other gripping a small pistol. Delmar looked them both up and down suspiciously, his pistol pointed directly at them, and then, as if finishing a conversation with himself, he nodded and whispered, “Follow me,” and quickly climbed down theladder he had been standing on. Jason and his son exchanged looks, and followed Delmar down the hole, closing the pantry door behind them.
They found themselves crouching in a musty, rock foundation basement, dimly lit by candles and an electric lantern. Delmar was busily moving about, at the other end of the small cave-like room, stuffing things into a big pack. It was only then that Jason realized that he and Jim had left their own packs upstairs. Damn it, Jason!
“Cover your ears,” Delmar said, without looking at them.
“What? Why?” Jason whispered back sharply. Delmar turned to Jason with a twisted grin on his lips.
“Claymore’s,” he said.
It was then that Jason noticed the trip wire running down from the ceiling and hanging near to where Delmar stood. A sick feeling came over Jason as he realized what was about to happen. We shouldn’t have come here, he thought, but it was too late.
“Delmar, you can’t be serious, who’s up there? What’s going on?” Jason pleaded, but Delmar carried on as if he hadn’t heard, stuffing earplugs into his ears, and grabbing the trip wire. Jason pulled his son over to him and they both ducked low to the ground, covering their ears. We’ll be lucky if the whole goddamn cabin doesn’t come crashing down on us, Jason thought, damn you Delmar, you’re going to get us all killed.
A deafening roar shook the entire cabin, causing thick billows of dirt and dust to fill the room, making it impossible to breath. I wish we had never left the retreat, was all that Jim could think, and he huddled tight against his father. Jason peered up through the thick air to see Delmar standing up right with a smile on his face, looking up at the ceiling. He uncovered his ears, stood up, and grabbed Delmar by the lapels of his camouflage jacket.
“You maniac!” He shouted. Delmar looked back at Jason with confusion, and then removed his earplugs.
“I said you’re a damn maniac!” Jason repeated, but Delmar just shushed him and looked intently at the ceiling again. Jason held his tongue but stared bullets into Delmar, who took no notice. Instead, Delmar waited for what felt like an eternity, unmoving, save for his eyes, which scanned the area above them, and then without explanation, broke from his trance and pulled on his pack.
“Follow me,” he whispered, and made his way across the room as if to climb back up the ladder.
“What if they’re still up there?” Jason grabbed Delmar’s shoulder and turned him around, but Delmar just looked at him strangely and moved his way up the ladder.
“What do we do dad?” Jim’s face couldn’t hide his fear, and Jason wasn’t sure how to answer the question. They both watched Delmar disappear up the ladder and into the pantry with impressive silence. Instead of opening the pantry door into the kitchen, Delmar unlatched a human sized doggy-door in the back of the pantry and crawled out of it into the darkness.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Jason whispered. In that moment he realized that Delmar, despite everything, was there best hope of getting them to safety. Hell of a place to be buddy, he thought, and allowed himself to dream about getting back to Patricia and the safety of their well prepped retreat, before following Delmar up the ladder and out the back of the cabin.
“Stay low, keep your gun at the ready, and stay on my ass,” Jason whispered to his son. Jim fought to keep his breathing steady, and focus on his dad’s words. The three of them moved quickly through the dark towards the tree line, with the cabin at their backs. None of them looked back, but it soon became apparent that the Claymore’s had not finished their advisories. The headlights of the truck cut across the trees overhead, as it wheeled around in the drive and roared off from the direction it came. Jim felt some relief hearing the engine fading off into the distance, but the three of them didn’t stop or even slow down. Where are we going? Jim thought, he wanted to ask, but his father seemed to be following Delmar without question now, so he did the same.
It was nearly pitch black now, and they were making their way quickly through the woods along an overgrown path. Branches smacked against Jim’s face, roots and rocks grabbed at his feet and caused him to lose balance again and again. Even his dad was having difficulty in the dark. It took everything they had to keep up with Delmar who was moving deftly as if he could see in the dark. He must have practiced this route a ton, Jim thought, and then nearly cursed out loud as a thorn-bush caught the skin of his arm. But where the hell are is he taking us?
Jason was thinking the same thing, and now that they’d traveled far enough to be well out of ear-shot, he asked, “Delmar, where are we going?” Delmar stopped suddenly, stood straight and turned, nearly causing Jason and his son to slam into him.
“To the retreat of course,” he said as if it were obvious.
“I thought that was your retreat,” Jason replied.
“Are you kidding?” Delmar chuckled loud enough to cause Jason to look around in worry, “that was decoy, a dummy, you think I’d have such a piss-poor retreat?” Jason had to admit, he had expected more from the crazy old fool.
“Decoy for who? Who were those guys, and how did they get a truck to work?” Jason was growing tired of Delmar’s lack of explanations.
“Spooks, like I said.”
“Yep,” Delmar replied, “Well, a special, unofficial branch of the C.I.A. designed to clean up any loose ends like me, but I’m one step ahead like always.”
This was the Delmar Jason was used to, full of conspiracy theories and crazy ideas about secret government agencies and other grand delusions. He felt his patience growing thin.
“And why were these guys after you?”
“Because I know the truth.”
Of course, Jason thought, but he decided that there was no time to argue or let Delmar launch into one of his tangents.
“How far until we reach your retreat, the real one.”
“Bout five miles.”
“Let’s get a move on then.”
Before they could begin again, they heard the truck roaring in the distance and growing louder.
“Knew they wouldn’t be gone for long,” Delmar said, and stared off in the direction of the decoy retreat. They heard the truck’s engine cut, and the doors open and slam shut. “They must be at the edge of the woods, they’ll really be coming for us now.” There was the faint hint of amusement in Delmar’s voice and Jason knew he was referring to the Claymores. Bastard, he thought, I’ve got a son to protect, and a family to get home too, and he’s got me stuck in a fire fight with God knows who?!
Then Jason remembered that it was he who brought Jim and himself out to Delmar’s in search of answers, and he wasn’t sure who was crazier. They began to move again, quickly, without another word. Keep it together buddy, Jason told himself, Delmar may be nuts, but he certainly knows how to survive, and his retreat is bound to be as safe as they come. He felt a small wave of relief come over him, until he heard the vicious, blood-curdling bark of search dogs come echoing through the woods behind them.