4 (Horizon Lines) A Word

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                “Times up Ray”, I muttered watching the thin stream trickle by, “we can’t be here if it starts coming down heavy”

                “We’re nowhere near the bottom” he replied coldly but I could still hear the nervous tension in his voice, “We just need to stay clear of the run off”

                “I’m not kidding Ray if it’s a real storm this place could flood” 

                “Yeah but most of the waters going to pour into the crater first until that fills up we should have nothing but time.”

                “The pit is made of sand; water will sink straight through it, all the ground water in the world drinks from the pit”

                “Relax man it’s still a freaking drizzle”

                “We shouldn’t have ever come down here”

                “Because of a few storm clouds”

                “Because it’s Hole Eight”

                “Aw come on Paul don’t tell me you buy into all that rubbish about aliens”

                “No but there’s something off about this place Ray" 

                “Well duh, why else did you think I wanted to come down here?” he was suddenly so serious, so firm and fearless.  Was it an act, there was no way to be sure with him.  “I’m still going if you want to turn around fine by me man”

                “Your flashlight doesn’t even work retard” 

                “I’ll manage just fine on my own coward”, he jiggled his flashlight and sidled down a few more rocks moving on.  I hurried after him my mind still on the storm that seemed forever above us.  “Oh so you’re coming now”, I grunted but didn’t say anything back.  As little pools of water began to collect the caves natural echo seemed to triple, every scuff and bump repeating ten times as water began to drip from the ceiling making all of the other sounds seem surreal.  The stream got a little thicker the drips coming closer together until it built into an endless reverb.  Scuffs became slips and bumps sloshes, the cold was mild but it still sank to the bone.  Secretly I wished we were still talking to one another, anything to diminish from this places growing presence.  It had a power over the mind akin to a small child’s awe at a simple magic trick; it was becoming a part of me, sinking to the bone like the water itself but it was a very different sense of wonder.  The kind that made my fingers prune. 

                Occasionally Ray would take us along a slightly upward path but it would almost always bring us to a near vertical drop.  This shouldn’t have been too surprising, down was the natural direction of any hole in the ground but there were cliff walls and dead ends aplenty that should have slowed us down or forced us to double back, somehow Ray hadn’t brought us to a single one.  It was something strange enough that once it occurred to me I almost managed to forget the rain, at least until the cave began to roar.

                The noise seemed to be in front of me at first then it rushed overhead crashing behind us, I knew what it was well before it hit but something held me frozen until the dark wall swelled into view of my flashlight transforming the cave into a white water rapid that ripped me off my feet.  Suddenly the world was very dark.  Crack, my foot, Crack, my arm, Crack, my head, what before had only sunk to my bones now went up my nose and in my ears throwing me head over heels as I tried to grab anything that would slow the jarring tumult and assure my head a place above water for even a moment.  A few hard crashes and one of my hands did catch something the rush of water threatening to pull my arm off as I clung to the rough stalagmite for dear life.  I’d like to think I could have held on a good deal longer, but I heard the echo of shattered glass and shriek of fear and pain that somehow carried over the tumult of white noise to reach me on my little rock.

                He was strong and agile for his size and everyone knows that kid was tough, but he was still small.  His defiance to the fact didn’t change how helpless he was.  He mastered chaotic events by foreseeing them and controlling their outcomes in ways anyone else would deem impossible but here the chaos was moment to moment, rocks that came out of the dark surges and swells without any sensible pattern a blind man could ever find.  I was out of my depth in this situation; Ray was just flat out screwed.  So I didn’t test my ability to hold, instead I did the stupidest thing possible.  I dove forward swimming with the current as best I could wasting precious moments I could have used to gasp air so I could call out “RAY!" 

                HERE Here here her he he…  The call back was useless it seemed to come from everywhere at once.  I take it back, at least I knew he had his head above water, at least he knew I was trying to get to him.  I still felt the situation was hopeless; a dim flicker of light changed that assessment.  That little sucker couldn’t have possibly held onto his lame go-green flashlight… could he?  I flipped and rolled on the current still crashing and floundering but every other time I banged into something I managed to kick off of it righting myself for a couple of good strokes before being tossed like a salad again.  Going with the current made smacking into some rocks hurt more and others hurt less, in the end all it changed was how quickly I gained on the spinning light.  I could see a shifting dark lump now twisting brokenly in the water, fear bit at me and I swam faster.

                My hand closed around what I thought was a shoulder only to find a sturdy damp material.  His backpack, it tried to rip away from me unexpectedly, if I could have thought about this for a moment I would have let go.  It’s a good thing I didn’t get the chance because as I hugged it to my body in defiant impulse jagged glass tore holes in my shirt and Ray Arden’s knee hit me in the side of the head as the current whipped him against me.  The pull had been him hanging onto one of the straps and I have to admit I was pretty glad to see him.  A few crashes and tangles later I managed to grab hold of another rock and Ray climbed up me sidling onto the wall than turned around and helped pull me and the backpack up after him.  It took a few minutes and left me feeling like I’d outdone myself at the gym, but Ray took his ‘Special’ flashlight and waved at a higher ledge with a bit more room.  A quick climb later and we were both sitting in silence.  If not for us the shelf might have actually been dry and there was enough space that if we were stock still and hugging we might both manage to lie down all the way (not that we ever would).  Height wise I couldn’t have stood all the way up but Ray probably could have almost anywhere except directly under the slight indent in the wall.  All in all it was a lot less space than either of us was accustomed too.  I’d imagine he wanted to say something just as badly as I did, but things were uncomfortable inside and out and we didn’t know how to start.  So in the almost darkness we sat, Ray picking pieces of glass out of his pack while I tapped his flashlight against my folded knees.  We stayed like this for what seemed like forever the water racing on a few feet below us until finally Ray said, “Thanks”

                What was I supposed to follow that up with a ‘you’re welcome’ I suppose or maybe ‘totally, I just saved your sorry life you ingrate’.  One was too light the other too conceded, which wasn’t fair since his one word seemed like a perfectly normal thing to say.  “Yeah”, I replied hoping the one word thing ended up working both ways.

                “We’re friends right?” that was a weird question.

                “Sometimes”, I said feeling more awkward, but hey it was true we weren’t always friends.

                “I mean right now”, he seemed strangely determined in his pursuit of this discussion

                “Of course, why wouldn’t we be?”

                 “Because I dragged you down here” he tried to lock eyes with me but ended up looking away

                “Like hell you did I’ve been dying to come back here, beside your scrawny little butt couldn’t drag me anywhere I didn’t want to go”

                “As if, every time I so much as mentioned this place you went white as a ghost”

                “Right and your after backwards time”, I intoned with bitter disbelief

                “My fathers a theoretical physicist, the only reason we live here is because he thinks it’s a relative hot spot for natural quantum mechanics.” Wow that came out really defensive

                “Uh-huh” I agreed dripping sarcasm heavier than the pools sneaking out of my damp clothing.

                “I’m serious Paul, have you ever been over to my house, ever met my parents”

                “No but that because you’re either an orphan or alien” I’m not even taking this seriously anymore

                “You’ve probably seen my mom at the grocery market a few times but other than that they’re complete shut-ins.  He’s always conducting his own little experiments and she tends to her little indoor garden like it’s the house’s freaking life support.  They may be completely crazy but you could understand how my father being here of all places and hearing things about Hole Eight might make me a tad curious”

                “I don’t care about explanations Ray, we’re friends when it matters end of story it’s always been that way”

                “I thought we were friends because neither of us had anyone else”

                “I never seen it that way, you’ve got Bones and Fletcher Boy, well… you got Bones”

                “Bones needs someone to think for him and I need the extra muscle, it’s just insurance really”

                “I’ve got friends”

                “Oh really!  Like who? “, I shrugged disarmingly, “yeah that’s what I thought”

                “It’s not a numbers game Ray.  Think of it this way, if I was in real trouble and you could help me, would you?”

                “Yeah”

                “Even if you hated me at the moment, it wouldn’t change anything”

                “Well… not really”

                “So we’re square, better than square, we’re brothers”

                “Personal interest is the most natural and powerful form of bias known to man and that's why you’re better at looking past it than me”

                “Sometimes”, I said not really sure what I was agreeing to

                “What do you mean sometimes?  It’s true” 

                “Sometimes Ray, I just mean sometimes” I don’t know how I knew it, I just did; I was clear headed like that before I met her.  Saw her coming a long way off but it didn’t matter in the end, it never does, my blindness was on it's way regardless.

                I don’t know how long we sat there on that cramped little bit of rock by the ceiling but we kept talking until the water died down to trickling puddles.  The climb out was a mad scramble but once out in the fresh air we took a long breather seeing as the sun was well on its way into the sky and shining bright.  Below us the pit was a lake, if it was draining into the lower caverns we’d traversed, it was doing so with far less speed than I had hypothesized.  I was hungry, tired and although glad to be alive I didn’t care to feel or think about anything.  It did not occur to me that whatever carefree bond had tied me and Ray together before, had just solidified into something unbreakable.  Ray was still a manipulative liar I wouldn’t trust with my spare change and I was still a few hundred kilowatts behind him on brain power but the word brother had been spoken and at the moment I had meant it and Ray had believed it.  With nothing changing at all, everything had become different.  It’s just the way people are on the inside, we all start soft and it’s not something that changes easily.

Created: Mar 21, 2014

Tags: wright, paul, arden, ray, a word, 4, fiction, story, apocalypse themed, indy adventure, romance, lines, horizon, science fiction, sci-fi, horizon lines

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