6.A Chapter by smkrwt
I open my eyes, and it is darker than it has ever been.
Slowly, my eyes begin to adjust, and I can see the reflection of the moon sparkling on the crystal ornaments that decorate the coffee table in the living room of my grandparents’ house. The memories of the past day flood my mind, and I watch the images as they slowly flash across my consciousness, but I feel nothing. I’ve no capacity left for pain or sorrow in the wake of losing everything. It was all spent in a single burst who knew how many hours ago, like a paper eaten by flame--harsh and raging for only a few seconds before the fire burns itself out. I am burnt out now, and I have nothing left of me to feed to pain and mourning. I just accept it, and I wish this nothingness had covered me sooner.
There is a triangle of light illuminating the carpet, and I roll onto my side to see the kitchen door opened slightly. I can hear the sizzle of food frying on the stove, and, as awareness takes over once more, I can smell the scents of sausage and bacon. I am hungry. So I stand up--taking each step slowly because my head is still spinning--and I walk over to the door that separates the living room from the kitchen.
Gus is standing at the old propane-powered stove, cooking breakfast, though it is the middle of the night. I can’t see the food, but I can smell it--bacon, sausage, toast…no eggs though.
“You went through their freezer?” I ask, sounding more abrasive than I feel.
“I figured you might be hungry for something when you woke up. You would probably trust the food in this house more than anything I went out to get and I thought you might want something a bit more substantial than what you’ve been eating the past couple of days.” He pauses to look up at me. “You can’t live off of crackers and fruit forever.”
“Trust me, I’ve done it before,” I say, stalking tiredly over to the table. I lift my hand to rub my eyes, my fingers brushing across a gauze pad taped to the side of my head. I feel my eyes widen in surprise, and press my fingers curiously against the bandage, making the wound beneath throb in pain.
“S**t,” I gasp as my head begins to spin. I drop into one of the chairs, clutching my forehead as I try to get a hold on myself.
“Liza?” Gus asks, backing away from the stove and coming over to the table. He kneels in front of me, placing a hand on my shoulder, gripping it tightly. “Are you alright?”
I close my eyes tightly, willing the pain away, and shake my head. I inhale deeply a few times, and the pain eases. I look up at Gus.
“There are some painkillers in the cabinet above the fridge,” I tell him. He nods, standing up and walking back across the kitchen. I see a glint of silver from the corner of my eye, and focus on his wrist. The handcuffs dangle from his arm, one of the bracelets still secured to his wrist. I’m amazed that he’s willingly stayed in bondage this long.
He turns around, carrying a plastic bottle, and a roll medical tape and gauze.
“I already have a bandage on,” I say, not really bothering to sound argumentative.
“Yeah, but you’re starting to bleed through again,” he says, passing me the bottle of pills and pulling out a chair next to me.
“Again?” I ask, twisting off the cap and dropping two tablets into my palm. I throw them into my mouth, swallowing the pills dry as he pulls the bandage off.
“I’ve had to change the gauze twice already,” he says, measuring out another square. I freeze, looking at him in disbelief.
“What?” he asks defensively.
I snatch the gauze from his hand, standing up. “That’s because you don’t know how to make a proper bandage,” I say. “Give me the tape.”
He stands up, holding the roll of adhesive in his hand. “I’ve worked in that sanatorium for three years. I’ve had to deal with cuts and bandages on the patients before.”
“That’s different. You never cared whether the inmates had proper medical attention or not. You never got proper training. My grandmother was a nurse, I know how to treat this the right way. Tape.”
He stands still for a couple of moments, before giving in and passing the tape over to me. I walk out of the kitchen back into the dark parlor, and make my way across to the bathroom. I turn on the light and lock the door behind me, making sure I have privacy while I fix myself up. The wound isn’t deep--the bullet had just barely grazed my temple. I consider digging out my grandmother’s sewing kit and stitching it up, but it isn’t worth the time, and I don’t have any anesthesia, and I don’t trust Gus--no matter how affected his Stockholm Syndrome is. I fold the square of gauze, pressing it against the side of my forehead.
“You’re still in the handcuffs,” I point out apathetically as I return to the kitchen. I put away the gauze, tape and medicine, then turn to take out two plates and some silverware.
“I didn’t feel alright with searching through your pockets for the key while you slept.”
I take the key out of my pocket, throwing it onto the counter next to him. He unlocks the cuffs, discarding them into the sink. “Thanks,” he says, rubbing his sore wrist before returning to finish cooking the food.
“I was out cold, I wouldn’t have noticed,” I say, sitting down as he brings the food over to the table.
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t really the right thing to do, especially since I’m still afraid you might kill me.”
“I don’t have the gun anymore,” I say, frowning. Not like I would use it on him"I don’t care enough for that anymore. But I don’t feel safe, knowing that he knows where it is and I don’t.
“Yeah, you dropped it on the lawn when you passed out. It’s still out there if you want to get it.”
I stare at him incredulously. “You didn’t take it?”
“I was a bit too worried about you bleeding to death to care about getting the gun back.”
I slouch back in my chair, still staring. “You are seriously twisted.”
He smiles as he serves the bacon and sausage. “I take it that means that you trust me now.”
“Not a bit,” I say, sighing.
“Why not?” He sits down, slicing into the coin of sausage, looking up at me as he waits for an answer.
“I don’t give a damn anymore. I don’t trust you, but I don’t care what you do now. Run back to the cities, kill me, turn me in. it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“You really think I’d do that?”
I look up at him questioningly. “What are you saying?” I ask guardedly.
He sighs, setting down his silverware. “I’ve had more than enough opportunity to turn you in, to get back to the city. By now, I’ve been tagged as an accomplice of yours. I turn you in, I turn myself in to the same fate. You know what it’s like in the city for traitors--call me a coward, but I’m not ready to face a sentence I haven’t earned.”
I look at him levelly, trying to empathize with his new understanding, before responding. “None of us were.”
“My point,” he says. “So, now I’m on the run, whether you are or not, whether you’ll let me tag along with you to wherever you go to now.”
“I don’t have anywhere to go,” I say.
“That’s not true,” he says, pulling a piece of paper off of the counter behind him and passing it to me. It was the note my grandmother had left me.
“I already read it. They’re gone.”
“Gone, yeah, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been caught.”
“What are the chances they got away?” I ask, grabbing the note away from him.
“If they left long enough ago, the chances are huge. This town wasn’t taken off the map until nine months ago. If they left even a month before then, they probably got far enough away that no one in the cities would care enough to track them down. Do you know where they might have gone?”
I look at him solidly for a few moments before glancing down at the paper. The city in the sky of green clouds.
“The northwest coast,” I say.
“You mean…like California?”
“Yeah, the redwood forest to be specific. When the nation dissolved, the people who didn’t want to live in the shiny technologically advanced and oppressed cities re-grew the forests that had been decimated by the lumber companies centuries ago. ‘City in the sky of green clouds’? Those were the cities built in the trees. That’s what the people who didn’t want to leave the cities, but weren’t absolutely positive they’d be able to remain in the other cities, called the cities in the trees. Not the greatest code name, but most people around here are too lazy to try to figure it out.”
“So how long will it take us to get there?”
I raised an eyebrow, recognizing the spark of childish eagerness in his eye. My brother got that same look every time our grandfather took us out on a new adventure.
“A few more days. I’d say as long and as fast as I’ve been driving the past couple days has gotten us about a third of the way across the continent, if not more.”
“So we can get there before they catch up with us?”
“If they’ve slowed down,” I say, placing the note on the corner of the table. “We won’t leave until tomorrow though.”
“We won’t leave at all unless you eat,” Gus replies, staring pointedly at my plate of untouched food. I pick up my knife and fork, and begin to feed myself. It amazes me that he has begun to care so much, especially considering the hostility between us a few days ago.
I look down at the note, glancing over my grandmother’s handwriting once more. “I guess this is how you found out my real name,” I say, remembering that he had called me Liza earlier, not Lisa like he had been calling me.
“Yeah. I was a bit surprised that I’d guessed so closely.”
“You had probably glanced over my file a couple of times and remembered the similar name with a vague image of my face.”
“I guess it’s not that hard to believe when you look at it that way.”
I nod and continue to eat.
I wash the kitchen after the meal, sending Gus up to the guest room. I place everything back in its designated place when I’m finished, remembering how particular my grandmother was about her method of organization in the kitchen.
I don’t go up to my bedroom. I’m not sure I could stand another moment under the illusion of safety in my own home. At least sleeping on the couch, I can feel at ease while still being alert to any intruders. I lie down on the sofa, pulling an old quilt over my body, curling into a ball.
I fall asleep like this, and it is the first time in years I have slept so peacefully.
© 2011 smkrwt