Chapter 6A Chapter by Domenic Luciani
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Beck was not entirely sure of what had happened until a few moments later. Duncan had slumped over the table after being shot. He wasn’t dead, but his breathing was laborious and he wasn’t moving at all. The room erupted into yells and scuffles. The man with the pistol was quickly subdued and pinned to the floor by two men; the gun went skittering across the tiled floor. Other’s came to Duncan’s aid and hoisted him up and laid him out sideways on the table. None of them had any medical expertise, so they stood around holding shirts to the wound and trying to staunch the blood.
As the doctor descended into the room looking downright furious, a popping noise echoed up from somewhere deep in the bowels of the ship. Three men rushed out immediately to check on it. The doctor cleaned the wound, removed a pair of forceps from a bag and worked to dig the bullet out. Blood was everywhere, flowing out of the wound and falling to the floor in waterfalls.
Beck stood away from the table watching the doctor work. He was shivering from adrenaline.
Duncan had apparently lost consciousness soon after getting shot, but now he came to. He waved off the doctor just as he managed to wrench the forceps out of his back with a tiny piece of blood-soaked metal clutched between the prongs.
One of the sailors helped him sit up and he motioned for Beck to come closer. “Listen to me, and listen good, alright?” His usual upbeat tone was gone, replaced by an angry growl.
“Yeah,” Beck said, drawing in closer so that Duncan wouldn’t have to exert himself by talking.
“This isn’t real. None of this is real. It’s all a lie. Wake up from the dream and face reality.” Duncan’s breathing was slowing down more and more, as if there was something lodged in his throat. “Tear this place down . . . tear all of it . . . down.”
Beck had no idea what he was talking about. This was definitely not a dream. The doctor pulled him away and told him that Duncan was bleeding internally and didn’t have much longer to live. He was probably just losing it.
Beck removed his outer layer of clothing and tore off his beard bit by bit. The adhesive was strong though and it pulled at his skin painfully.
The doctor gave Duncan a shot of morphine and that seemed to calm him down. His eyelids began to flicker, his eyes rolling backwards into his skull. After a brief moment, he would open them wide and try to focus on something, but he couldn’t maintain it for long and would slip away shortly after. Beck put his hand on Duncan’s shoulder. It was the only thing he could think of doing. The man from the subway had been dragged away kicking and screaming. Beck wondered what they were going to do with him.
Duncan snapped to attention again, mustering up just enough strength to grab Beck’s arm and pull him close. In a trembling and barely audible voice, he whispered, “Don’t trust anyone. They’re all liars.” His face scrunched up with pain and his next words were masked by a groan.
“What?” Beck asked, nearly putting his ear to Duncan’s lips.
“We are all rats in the maze.”
A second tremor ran through the ship. What was going on? Duncan’s eyes closed once more and didn’t open. He was still breathing, but Beck had a feeling his eyes would not be opening again.
The doctor pulled Beck away from the grizzly scene. “Come on,” he said. “We have to go. That guy was probably an informant. He had a wire on him. The police will probably be here any minute.”
A third and stronger tremor shook the ship hard enough to make everyone lose their balance and caused some of the windows to crack.
“We don’t have much time,” he said, straightening up. Just then, Ben came rushing in. There was a trickle of blood on his forehead and his sweat-drenched hair clung to his scalp. He ignored Beck and went right over to the captain, falling to his knees and sobbing at the sight of Duncan’s limp body. He took Duncan’s hand and pressed it to his lips, then placed his hand on his forehead and drew a line down to his heart, then to each shoulder. Beck had no idea what he was doing.
Ben was nodding to something, then stood up and told Beck to follow him. He wiped the tears from his eyes and swiftly climbed down the stairwell.
As they descended, one noise became horribly clear to Beck: gunshots. These weren’t pistols either. Round after round of machine gun fire pierced the sides of the ship and created a symphony as bullets ricochet off walls, pipes, and tables. Ben pulled Beck down and they sprinted through the narrow hallways crouched as low as possible. Jagged lines of bullet holes burst through the walls. They veered off the path as a fire sprang up just outside of the door they needed to go through. They pushed against the wall, making sure to stay low. Beck could smell the faint traces of smoke rising up from somewhere below. An alarm started to blare and revolving yellow lights lit up on the walls.
“What now?” Beck asked, barely able to contain a stutter.
Ben searched around a moment, humming loudly to himself, and then nodded towards a double door down an adjacent hallway. “The kitchen,” he said, getting up and maneuvering over to it. Beck followed close behind.
The kitchen was in an uproar. Police officers hung outside the door at the far end of the room, letting off a few rounds blindly in the direction of a pack of sailors who were ducking down behind a counter. Bits of torn up food and cutlery littered the floor. A couple of the sailors had guns but were clearly not very adept at shooting them. They closed their eyes and turned away from it as they pulled the trigger. The ones who didn’t have guns were picking up pots, pans, forks, knives, anything they could get their hands on really, and were lobbing them at their attackers.
Ben whipped out a pistol he had stowed in the back of his pants and fired off two shots from the kitchen doorway. He actually kept his eyes open while he did it. One of the bullets penetrated a fridge that was already dented up from the numerous pans that had been thrown at it, while the other found its way into the forearm of a police officer just as he moved momentarily from cover to shoot. There was a cry of pain and the officer moved away while another took his place.
“If there’s a plan, it would be really swell if you told me what it was,” Beck said.
Ben started humming again, then ducked out quickly to squeeze off three more rounds then returned to Beck’s side.
“There’s a fire escape; a ladder that goes all the way down. It’s on the other side of the kitchen, through a window.”
This did not exactly spell safe for Beck. A window on the far side of the kitchen meant a run through a no-man’s-land of kitchen utensils and gunfire. He was considering trying his luck with the exit that was blocked by fire.
Ben loaded a new clip into his gun. “I’ll cover you. It’s the window on the far right, third from the counter. There’s a sign above it and everything, you can’t miss it. Pull up the lever and push the window out while still holding onto the lever, got it?”
Beck nodded his head, though he was pretty sure it was an involuntary reaction. He had no desire to run out into a hailstorm of bullets and get himself killed. Ben threw himself into the doorframe, took aim, and let loose a volley of shots at the officers who backed away from the door for cover.
“Go!” He yelled.
Beck had no choice. With a groan he pulled himself up and made a mad dash for the door, sprinting as fast as he could through the kitchen, ramming into tables and slipping on lettuce. He barely made it to the emergency exit, and it wasn’t even gunfire that almost got him killed. He could hear Ben still shooting behind him.
Beck grabbed the red lever beneath the window and yanked it upwards, pushing the window outwards as he did so. A new alarm started to go off. He looked down out the window and his face caught a icy gust of wind. The ladder was there though, and Beck started to hoist himself out.
The window was not that large; a square only a few feet long and wide. Beck had to hoist himself up and get his legs through first, then his chest. Ben’s gunfire stopped and the police burst into the room, immediately headed in Beck’s direction. The alarm must have alerted them, Beck thought, cursing his luck. He forced the rest of his body out the window, his shoulders catching on the metal frame.
Beck felt the pain before he heard the sound. His left shoulder ripped open and a spray of blood shot out into the night. His entire arm began to feel numb. The ladder was little more than a series of metal bars welded into the hull of the ship. The bars were slippery, the wind was forceful, and Beck was having a hard time putting any weight on his left arm. Now, however, his biggest fear was seeing the barrel of a machine gun point at him from the window. One shot was all it would take, he was a sitting duck. The second shot never came, and Beck managed to make it all of three of four stories down before his foot slipped and he had to catch himself with his bad arm. Pain rippled through his body in intense waves, and Beck’s immediate reaction was to let go. He fell several feet onto the pier. Truthfully, it was maybe the only amount of luck he had had all day. If he had come out on the other side, he would have fallen into the frigid water.
Beck couldn’t swim.
He got up, rubbing the spot on his lower back where he had landed on it, and hobbled off the pier as quickly as he could. He retraced his steps back along the beach, keeping to the shadows as the shipyard was cluttered with police cars with flashing red and blue lights. They were equipped with spotlights, but all of them were being directed at the ship. Nobody had noticed Beck slip out the side, or at least not yet, and he wasn’t sure how long it would take them to figure it out.
He removed one of the shirts still stuffed into his pants and tied it around his arm beneath the coat. He would have to walk on the left side of the street so nobody would see the expanding red blotch on the sleeve.
As Beck emerged back into the city, the adrenaline that had been keeping him going wore off. He was exhausted, the entire left side of his body was throbbing with excruciating pain, and he felt terrible, terrible for Duncan and Ben and the rest of the crew. If any of them ended up dead, Beck thought, it was entirely his fault, especially Duncan, one of the precious few in this awful place who had been on his side. Minus one point for the home team.
He strolled into the streets, trying his best to walk in a straight line. The stray tuffs of stuffing still glued to his face itched something awful, adding one more nuisance to his already miserable day.
He ventured wearily down into the subway platform, ready to turn back at the slightest presence of police activity. There was nobody there, however, and Beck hoped that they would still be at the shipyards under the impression that he was still on the ship or dead. He desperately hoped they thought he was dead.
He leaned up against one of the concrete pillars, trying his best to look inconspicuous as he waited for the next train. Thankfully, nobody noticed him breathing hard or the visible red spot on the coat sleeve where the blood was still running. The train pulled into the station and Beck got on, realizing he left a red stain on the pillar where he had been leaning against it.
He quickly grabbed a seat at the far end of the train by the wall and closed his eyes, pretending to be asleep. He was gritting his teeth hard against the pain and he hoped he wasn’t showing any evidence of it on his face. Systematically, he ordered each individual muscle on his face to relax.
Each time the train stopped, Beck would crack open an eyelid and inspect the people getting on and off. He was looking for familiar faces: anyone who might recognize him, police officers, too. If one of them got on, he would most certainly be a dead man.
None ever did though. Beck stepped off the train when it pulled into the station closest to Steve’s apartment and looked around, expecting another ambush. Nothing happened. Everyone was walking at the usual pace with the same disturbing uniformity. If it weren’t for the exhaustion and pain, it could almost have been a normal evening. He might’ve been on his way to MedTech for another average day of work, but MedTech was gone. Steve was gone, Duncan was gone, Andrew might be gone, too, he had no idea, and it was all because of him. He had tried to help people, and to survive, but now it was starting to sound selfish. He didn’t really care about the kids he saved, he just wanted to clear his conscience, and his survival was resulting in the wasteful deaths of others. If it weren’t for Tyler, this realization would have crippled him. He would have collapsed there on the ground, immobile, until the police came and dragged him away to his death.
He didn’t even want to imagine what he must be doing to Tyler. He had stolen everything from his friends, and now he might be taking away his own son’s future. No, he thought, shaking his head. The kids were his responsibility now, both of them, and he had to live if only for their sake.
He walked into the apartment building, checking himself, making sure he stood straight and looked as normal as could be. Inside, he was screaming bloody murder. Neither the doorman nor the desk clerk took much notice of him. He got on the elevator and rode it all the way to the hundred-and-twenty-sixth floor. He had double vision now and his throat was dry as sandpaper. It felt like his heart didn’t have enough blood to pump and certain parts of his body felt empty.
He fiddled with the door key for only a moment: thankfully it wasn’t giving him a hard time.
Bursting into the room, Beck had a final moment of fear that the place would be full of police officers or the kids’ bodies lying dead on the floor, but the place looked completely empty, nothing had been disturbed, except that the old box television sat in the corner of the room. He leaned against the door, and with what little breath he could muster, he called for the children.
Tyler stared at his father with a look of confusion and concern. Beck’s eyes flickered, sometimes closed, sometimes little slits. His chest rose and fell quickly, his breathing labored as if something were caught in his throat.
“Dad,” Tyler said, “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”
Beck made an odd groaning sound and then passed out. Tyler shook him gently by the shoulder, but he was out cold. Sam took a look at his wounds and told Tyler he would be fine. He wasn’t bleeding anymore, so hopefully he would be better in the morning. There was nothing else they could do for him now. Still, even though she suggested they go to bed, neither of them could sleep. Tyler got up and wiped off the sweat pouring down his father’s face. He pulled up a chair near him and sat down, closed his eyes and listened to him breath. Every so often, Beck’s breathing would slow down and Tyler would lean over, afraid that it might stop. He suddenly regretted every time he had ever argued with his father.
Beck was not much better in the morning. In the light, the children could see just how pale he was. It was a wonder how he even managed to get home. Occasionally he would wake up for an hour or two, and Tyler made sure he ate a little food and drank some water while Sam changed the dressings on his wounds. The big one on his left shoulder from the bullet was now leaking foul yellow pus. They dabbed on some more peroxide and Beck groaned as the liquid stung his irritated and inflamed flesh.
This carried on most of the day. They moved over the old television so Beck could watch the movies with them, though he was barely conscious. Even when he was awake, his face was blank and passive.
Sam went out to get groceries just before the sun began to set. Steve had some money around the house, and since Beck’s credit account was more than likely shut down, they would have to survive on that. Tyler wanted to go with her, but he would be too easily recognized. Sam was a nobody. To the vast majority of the city, she didn’t even exist. She told him to stay put.
Tyler was restless while she was gone and he couldn’t figure out why. Beck might have been worried, but he passed out again just after she left.
Sam returned an hour later carrying two bags of fruits and vegetables, soup in a can, antibiotic ointment for the cuts, a container of vitamins, a small container of coffee grounds, a half-gallon of milk, a three-pack of toilet paper, and three toothbrushes. There was also a smaller plastic bag that Sam wouldn’t let Tyler see. Girl stuff, she called it.
“There’s no junk food anywhere in this place,” Sam complained. “I could really go for a burger right about now.”
“What’s a burger?” Tyler asked.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised there,” she said. “A burger, well, it’s meat that’s been squished down into like a disk I guess, and then you put it in between some bread, then you put lettuce and tomatoes and sliced up onions and stuff like that between the meat and the bread. It’s all greasy and delicious, and this place sucks.
There was already some bread in the pantry. It had a few spots of mold on it, but they just picked apart the moldy areas and ate it. Tyler made Beck some soup and helped him eat it, holding the spoon up for him so all he had to do was part his lips and swallow. He had sagging bags under his eyes as if he didn’t get enough sleep, even though he’d been sleeping practically the entire day. The soup seemed to make him feel better though.
That night they fell asleep with the television on and everyone felt ill in the morning. The generator had been spewing out fumes while they slept. They took some vitamins and changed Beck’s gauze again, putting some of the antibacterial stuff on it first. It looked better today.
Once again, Beck fell asleep for the large majority of the day. Tyler and Sam decided against turning the television back on for a while and instead read books. Tyler tried to teach Sam how to read, but she didn’t seem interested in learning, so in the end he just read to her from a Jules Verne novel.
He had never heard of a fantasy story, much less ever read one. Some of the things he read seemed impossible, a subterranean biome or a city beneath the sea. There were some with elves and dwarfs that were too overwhelming for him, and he found that after reading them for a while, he couldn’t get his mind to function right. Something was caught in the gears. He often read at night, after Sam had gone to bed. Beck still hadn’t moved off the couch in four days, even though he was conscious longer and more fully. Sam enjoyed the stories, but not nearly to the extent that Tyler did. A new door had opened up for him like floodgates releasing a tide. A previously inaccessible realm of his mind clicked on like a light switch and revealed a world of possibilities to him. At school, he had always been taught that if a thought wasn’t realistic, it wasn’t worth having.
How obedient he had been.
Sam found him on the fifth morning curled into a ball on the chair. A book was splayed open on the ground with the spine facing up. She picked it up quietly and placed it on the coffee table behind him. She looked over at Beck, who shifted uneasily in a restless sleep. Something was happening to her as well, she knew it. Tyler was more inclined to believe it was the books that were changing him, but Sam knew herself well enough to determine that her change in behavior was not without a catalyst. Every so often she could swear she smelled roses. It wasn’t a passing whiff either, it was as if someone had shoved flowers up her nose and forced her to inhale. She realized she wasn’t the only one. Sometimes out of the corner of her eye, she would spot Tyler pause and look at something distantly then slowly breathe in.
She asked him about it, but he shrugged it off.
“It’s weird, sure. But I don’t really think it’s anything to worry about,” he said.
Even Beck would sometimes stop what he was doing and frown. She knew it couldn’t be coincidence, but she’d smelled it for a few days now and hadn’t felt sick or anything, so she did her best to ignore it.
That afternoon, Beck finally made an attempt to get up. Tyler had to give him a hand for support because he was still weak and his joints were terribly stiff from not moving. He felt he had lost a few pounds as well.
He made it to the kitchen and back, but he winced in pain with every step, and when he sat back down on the couch he felt even worse than before. The blood rushing to his head was almost audible, and it didn’t take long for him to pass out again. He was shivering and sweating again, so Tyler made sure to cover him up with blankets, even taking the comforter from one of the bedrooms and laying it over his father.
He would have to do the laundry soon, Tyler thought. Beck had sweated through nearly all of the blankets, and they didn’t have very many clean clothes. So far they’d pretty much been wearing clothes that Steve had in his closets. Steve had been around six feet tall, so the clothes were enormous on all of them, especially Sam, who had to roll up the shirt sleeves five times before they came to her forearms. They were so long on her; she almost could have worn them as dresses. They tried to shower as little as possible. This wasn’t for any particular reason, other than it simply didn’t feel like something they should do. A veritable amount of paranoia had seeped into their lives, and they discovered themselves trying to be as abstemious as possible without really meaning to.
Another day passed and Beck tried once more to walk, this time making it to the bathroom. He didn’t come out or make a sound for two whole hours and both Sam and Tyler were beginning to feel concerned. They held their ears pressed against the door until they heard the faint noise of urine hitting water and they walked away quickly.
Tyler took a break from reading books and turned on the television. This time using the flat-screen that they had done their best to ignore since they first arrived. The only channel available was the news, featuring a digital humanoid with a blue face and computerized voice. They all sat down in the living room as the blue-faced anchor listed off the day’s stories, among them the accidental fire that had broken out in the shipyards. Nobody had died, the reporter said, but a few had been injured and sent to MedTech. It was likely the ship would be destroyed, as many of the damages were irreparable. There was no mention of Beck or the kids. It might have been earlier and they missed it, or MedTech was covering up the entire hunt for the three of them. Beck was inclined to believe both might be true. If they had been on the news, it was likely MedTech would have labeled them all as disturbed terrorists. A while back, a man accidentally overloaded a computer at a coffee shop and caused the place to set on fire. The police had reprimanded him and sent him to prison for destruction of property and intent to kill. They’ve been known to jump the gun on sentencing, sometimes very literally. Nobody ever saw the man again.
Tyler turned off the television and everyone took a deep breath. The quick dive back into reality had put them all in a bad mood. They returned to their normal routine without a word.
That night, Tyler fell asleep early, a book pressed against his chest and his body contorted at an odd angle on the couch. Beck had switched over to the bed which was showing to be much better for him. Before he even closed his eyes, Tyler had begun to see images more vividly than usual, especially when he read. Beneath his eyelids, he could see every word come to live, as if he were making his own movies. Then he fell asleep and did something he had never done before.
© 2012 Domenic Luciani
Added on March 4, 2012
Last Updated on March 4, 2012
Forest of Men
AboutThat is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..