Rising to the Top
New 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Rising to the Top
Tom Warren continued to stomp, to plod through the mud and earth, trying to compact the ever increasing fall of dirt into the enclave. And while Tom stomped, stumbled and staggered through the mess, others clawed a tunnel from the upper hatch to what they hoped would be a surface. The greatest danger was a cave-in of the dirt, rubble, and debris as they tunneled out. Boards, lockers doors, clip boards, everything available was being used to shore up the walls of the tunnel as more dirt and mire was removed and shoveled back down the tunnel to where Tom Warren could compress it within the increasingly limited volume of the enclave.
But the potential magnitude of their problem did not seem capable of nagging at Tom. Rather, the stomping about reminded him only of grape stomping and that a glass of wine would be great about now. Hell, a beer or a shot of bourbon would do. But Tom missed the liquor only mildly, not yet realizing how long it might be before he once again could take a drink of any intoxicating substances. Decident not to think about such things, he continued to stomp mud which with a little effort could be visualized as bright, purple, juicy grapes. But wait! Did he want red wine or white wine? Weren't the grapes different colors? How about a rose?
Then an even more clever thought hit Tom. He could remove his boots and it would be even more like grape stomping. Then he realized the problem. In the debris were rocks, sticks, bones, and a wide assortment of rubble which could easily cut his feet. So he would have to keep his boots on. He would have to overcome the difficulty and continue to picture himself as the barefooted, bronzed Italian with his shirt tied in a knot across his belly, preparing for the feast or orgy that the village had planned for the evening. Tom thought quite a bit about whether the celebration was to be a feast or an orgy.
Fred Smith watched Tom as he stomped about in the mud and dirt and the incredible smile on his face. Could the guy be enjoying this? Oxygen was running low, there was no indication that they had any hope of getting out of the enclave, there was the very real possibility of everyone suffocating, and Tom Warren was tripping the light fantastic without a care in the world. Smith could see only the possibilities of complete panic as the breathing became labored, the same kind of panic he had seen in so many varieties before the collision with the comet. Panic of the mind was a horrible thing to watch and yet, as Smith looked at Warren, there was no panic at all. Only the wonder of what could make a man smile at stomping and stumbling through mud and dirt.
Then Fred looked away, he might never fathom the depths of Tom Warren's mind. He might have reserves of calm and strength, indefinable in anyone else's terms. Then he saw Les Rodgers.
Rodgers had just crawled out of the tunnel for a rest break. He was tired, certainly, and covered with filth. But it was the eyes that caught Fred's attention. They were glassy and far away. The digging had seemed to be on automatic while Les had contemplated other things. Where was Rodgers' mind now? Was he still with them? And, if not, how could Fred bring him back to reality?
Then, suddenly, a yell from the hatch. And more yells, sounds of commotion, confusion. Fred fairly leaped toward the hatch. He could not decipher what the yelling was about but suddenly he recognized the timbre. They were yells of victory or joy. Then he heard it, they'd broken through. And, as if to add an exclamation point, a reddish fog lightly blew into the enclave. They had tunneled out!
Everyone was interested in getting out the tunnel but made way for Fred Smith as he began clambering up the narrow passageway, replete with its assortment of enclave materials to hold the walls back. Most of the men were up the tunnel first, but Les Rodgers seemed almost unaware. Then, with prodding from his wife, he entered the hatch and began to climb the steep fifteen to twenty foot tunnel.
After an indeterminate time, Les came to the surface and received a blast of hot, smelly, breath-clogging wind in his face. He immediately quit moving, the hot water and the dark and dreary dusty atmosphere horrified him. 'Had they tunneled into hell?'
But others wanted out and he had to make way. Slowly Les gained his feet as the turbulent wind threatened to cast him down. Surely this was hell; a barren landscape with only rubble and debris to break the monotony, a hot, dry wind clogging his pores and sandblasting his eyes, an eternal, reddish fog limiting visibility to tens of feet. This was not the world he had left when he entered the enclave, and it was clearly not a world where humans could live. This was just not real, it couldn't be; it just wasn't ... it wasn't acceptable.
When Diana Riddle pulled herself out of the tunnel and jostled him in the elbow, he did not even notice. And as he mentally rejected all that he saw, he was oblivious to Diana's sudden horror. She began to curse the scene and scream insults at Fred Smith and the others for the nightmare that she was now facing. But Les Rodgers could only turn to her and stare. What was the point of cursing? It wasn't real. Therefore why fight it?
Les was only barely moved when Fred Smith belted Diana cross the face, knocking her to the ground.
Brought up short so suddenly, Diana could only stare back up at Fred Smith's towering pose. There had never been the slightest question in her mind that Smith had been responsible for William Robert's death and for the oblique attack on her own self, if only by implication. Her initial reaction had been to promise herself vengeance on the man. But then, slowly, she had begun to perceive his authority and the alternative idea had finally crystallized in her mind that it might be better that she join forces with Smith -- at least temporarily.
Now, still on the ground, looking up at his passive face, she saw him turn around, dismissing her for the moment as too trivial with which to concern himself. Her mind raged at the insult but she kept her anger in check. She would not make another mistake with Fred Smith. She would never again place herself in open conflict with the man. From this day she would be compliant, submissive and quick to do his bidding. She would be a changed woman, appreciative of his bringing her back to reality with his fist. And then slowly she would become attractive to him and available for his every whim. She would haunt the man until he was hers. And then in the not too distant future, she would utterly destroy him.
Nancy Lomas pushed the metal flap just enough to allow her slim body to crawl through. It was best to keep the dusty wind out of the shelter. Jim seemed to be healing but without proper medical treatment, there was still a very real danger. Briefly her thoughts recoiled, they might have to do away with a phrases such as 'proper medical treatment'. It might never be proper again.
Sally looked up from an apparent catnap and smiled. It seemed pleasant just to see someone again. Then, to answer Nancy's unspoken question, she replied, "Jim's fine. He's been sleeping quite peacefully ever since you left." Nancy had been gone for perhaps thirty minutes.
"How's his fever?
"Hardly noticeable. I keep checking him and he keeps getting better. Now quit worrying and relax.
I'm not worrying. I'm just... concerned.
You're worrying. And your worrying is worrying me. Do me a favor and go to sleep and get some rest.
"I'm not that tired.
"Bull! You're about to fall on your face! Now lay down and rest. That's an order. I'll watch Jim." Sally ran her fingers through Caron's hair as she lay near Jim, her young eyes glued to his face. Smiling, Sally said, "Caron will help me watch Jim."
"Well, I guess you're right. Then, glancing around abruptly, "Where's Dick?"
Sally's easy smile suddenly turned expressionless. I'm not sure. He said he wanted to scout just a bit and visit his wife's grave.
Her grave? Again?
Sally was somber. I'm afraid so. The last time he did this, I went to check on him. He was praying by his wife's grave. I suspect that's just what he is doing now.
Oh my God! Is he that far gone?
I'm afraid so." Then glancing about the tiny, makeshift shelter, she said, Nancy, it's just you and me. We've got to hold the fort alone.
Nancy, looking down on her sleeping husband, knew that Sally was right. Reconciled to the apparently inevitable, she laid down with the blanket and quickly fell asleep.
Sally continued to watch Nancy for a few moments. Then her gaze drifted around their small group of survivors. Two children, two women, and a seriously injured man. If they could not bring Dick Small back to reality, they were quite alone.
The thought of alone' maintained itself in her mind. Dreamily she thought of Larry Scott and the terribly few moments that they had had. In one respect it seemed that Scott's absence might have been the thing that saved his life. For even now he might be alive and well in Eagle. The thought nourished Sally. But the loneliness would not be so easily stilled. Sally knew that they must find help.
Then she remembered Dick Small again. There would be no hope for him at all if the exposure were so severe that he could not even recover physically. Soon she would have to go find him.
Dick Small, knelt and prayed by the portion of rubble under which he thought was his wife's final resting place (the wind kept blowing everything and rearraning the landscape). He was not sure of what he prayed for, but he was certain that he needed to pray. It was only when the wind began to unbalance him with its random gusts that he realized that the wind was getting stronger. In the back of his mind he realized that it was time to return to the shelter.
Struggling to his feet against the wind, he struck out toward the shelter. The wind seemed to assist him, to urge him on, to push him along. Then, slowly, he began to wonder where the shelter was. Turning abruptly, he realized that he should have already found the others. And, in turning about, looking for signs to guide him home, he became even more disorganized. He was no longer even sure of the direction from which he had just come.
Quickly he realized that he must find his wife's makeshift grave again. Whether as a signpost to guide him to shelter or as an end in itself, his mind did not bother to differentiate. But he knew he must find it.
He started off, moving more quickly now. His course seemed to strive for the path of least wind resistance as he tried to hurry faster. Soon he was running with the wind, searching wildly for signposts to his wife's resting place. He never saw the embankment of concrete rubble and rock. He fell headlong into it at a dead run.
Consciousness was with him for only a moment as his battered body realized the imminent death awaiting him. He died there, without an effort to get up, thinking in his last moments only of his wife and children.
Mike Sienstra yanked at the line disgustedly. It was probably snagged on something again. When the sharp pull proved pointless, he grunted. For a moment he stood there in the blowing wind, thinking about Trippe's insistence on maintaining lifelines, arguing that a search for Georgina Evans would be pointless if those searching became lost. Mike did not like the idea, principally because Jon had insisted on it. On the other hand, Mike knew how easy it would be to become lost. He'd have to put up with it.
Then he turned away from his link with the enclave. Looking into the foggy turbulence of reddish dust, he wondered if it was even worthwhile. What was the point of looking for some stupid broad who had panicked and run off? Anyone that stupid wasn't worth saving.
Once again Sienstra thought of his wife. She was dead and Mike could not straighten out his thoughts on her. On the one hand she was a drag and he didn't need her. On the other she provided a certain stability and had always been there. Often she was just a handicap in Mike's maneuverings; but when his plans went awry, she was always there to provide a safe, if unexciting harbor. Now she would be neither.
Mike grew uneasy at his wandering thoughts, unable to resolve the conflict of how he felt about his wife's death. Instead he turned his mind back to thoughts of finding Georgina. He only had maybe forty feet of line left. He might as well wander a bit farther until he reached the end of his rope. Then he could return to the enclave and get out of the vicious, biting wind and dust. Perhaps he could find some temporary shelter and kill some of the time. Then he would not appear to have given up the search too soon.
He continued to walk along, tripping over debris and cursing the individual pieces of rubble each time. Slowly and methodically, as he let fall to the ground the last loops of rope, he found himself having to shield and protect his eyes from the wind. But it didn't help; there was something already in his eye -- albeit perhaps smaller than a mote. After a bit, he seemed to get whatever it was out, and began moving again. But the aftermath of having had his eye invaded kept his attention. In the process, he failed to see see the drop-off. Suddenly the edge of the ground crumbled from under him and falling backward he produced a minor slide of dirt and debris.
Before he could fall any great distance, however, the line jerked at his belt where he was tied. Momentarily it held his weight while he struggled to regain his balance on the soft crumbling earth. Then the line pulled away from a snag and he slid another five feet down the embankment. Covered with dirt and crud, he cursed violently. Then he realized that the rope was still attached and he could use it to get back up the impromptu hill. When it became clear that he was still okay, still part of the enclave, he relaxed and quit cursing.
In the unexpected silence, now partially shielded from the noisy wind, he heard it. It was a cry for help. And it might be Georgina. Incredible luck, Mike thought. She was probably in the ditch and if he hadn't fallen, he'd never have heard her.
Mike began to listen intently, trying to distinguish the cry, to decipher words. Nothing seemed to come through except that the call seemed to come from his right hand side. He realized he could follow the ditch along the side and perhaps get closer.
Then he remembered his rope, he was near the end of it already. Stopping to think, he tried to work out something that would allow him to move along the ditch and yet insure his link back to the enclave. The cries for help continued, interrupting his thoughts. To silence the voice, he roared out for it to wait. There was a momentary silence as the voice at the other end listened intently, trying to understand whatever message was to follow. But Mike was thinking, with no further messages ready to send.
Then it came to him. He had hit his foot on a rock a minute ago. Quickly he was able to find it. Carefully he untied the rope from his waist and looped it around the rock, securing it as an anchor. He then crossed the ditch and carrying the rock, he moved up the other side of the ditch until the line was taut. Carefully he set the rock down, keeping the line taut. Then with his curled fingers retracing the rope, he returned to the ditch less than a few feet away. The taut line came up to his chest. Perfect, he thought. When he returned along the ditch, it would be easy to find the line and retrace it back to the enclave. He could now move to the right, along the ditch, and find Georgina.
Striking out, he started again to listen to the cries. They had begun again even before he had set the rock down, but he had been able to ignore them. But now as he walked, his hand brushing along the side of the ditch, he listened with much greater focus, hoping to detect an increase in the loudness. He became certain he was moving correctly as the volume of the yells did in fact increase. Then, in a momentary patch of relative clearness, he saw her, leaning against the ditch, struggling to move toward him.
He yelled out, "Georgina! He saw her look up as the visibility dropped. Then he heard her again pleading for help. The words had come through clearly. He moved quickly to her. Within a few feet the fog cleared enough to see her. He yelled again, "Georgina!"
As she watched him come, knowing that he could see her now, she cried out, "Oh, thank God! She almost collapsed back against the ditch that she had held at arm's length. Exhausted, her fears suddenly abated, she cried, "I couldn't find home. Then, as Sienstra reached her, she cried again, "Oh thank God!" and threw herself into his arms.
Her sudden movement toward Mike caught him by surprise. This sort of thing had never happened before, no one had moved so quickly into his embrace. Momentarily he had no idea of what to do.
Then as she tightened her arms about his waist, her face embedded in his chest and her whole body thrown again his at the sheer joy of finding another human being, another feeling reached him. Mike felt her soft body being held against his. The idea of her soft, pliable, yielding body wholly within his embrace began to excite him. Her warmth began to flow into him, to kindle a fire, to channel his thoughts. She was so soft, so warm, so completely against him, and so willing.
For a moment his body delighted in the sensation. To reach greater heights, he turned his head down and lifted hers. With blunt passion he put his lips on her mouth and tried to force her into even greater desire. He wanted to increase her fire in order to match his own.
At first it shocked her. She met his kiss with deadened, unyielding lips. The act was unthought-of, confusing, and momentarily stunning. Then, as he increased the intensity, she was repelled. Suddenly the simple act became disgusting as she sought to turn her head and spit away the dirt. But his embrace was strong and the simple attempt yielded nothing. Then she released his arms and tried to push away As quickly, her fists went up and began to hit the side of his face while her head twisted violently to rid herself of his lips.
None of her actions reached Mike's mind until her fist boxed his ear and she had managed to twist her face away. Had someone slammed into his stomach with a hammer, the surprise would not have been more acute. His body froze, stunned by the unexpected reversal of Georgina's affections. As his arms held rigid, she slipped out and away from him and fell back against the ditch's sloping side. Turning her head away, she tried to spit, to cast aside the whole memory of the previous moments.
For a moment Mike could only stare, unbelievingly. Then the rage began to build. A 'tease' had thrown herself at him, only to push him away once he was aroused. And then to spit away his kiss, to seem pure and above him, while he was nothing. His thoughts branded her with 'tramp', 'little gutter bitch', 'whore' while his rage forced him into action.
He reached for her while she tried to dodge. She knew completely his mind now. Crying out, she pleaded, "No, Mike! Please!"
He ignored her; his brawny hand grabbing her blouse between her breasts and ripping downward. The sight of her soft white breasts cut through the fog to excite him further and he fell against her, burying his face in her neck and shoulder. His massive body forced against her, Georgina struggled for breath. Her hands pushing back on his shoulders were more to allow the entry of air than to push him away.
His hand moved down along her side to her buttocks. He tried to undo her pants, only to meet with frustration. He rose up, grabbing the pants in each hand and ripped them apart.
With her torso now exposed in full frontal nudity, his excitement increased. Grabbing her pants, he lifted her feet up while she rolled to the bottom of the ditch. Her breasts and legs gleaming at him with their promise of ecstasy, he ripped at his own clothes.
Regaining her breath during the momentary respite, Georgina rose up on her arms and tried to drag herself back to escape from him. But she had no chance as he fell first to his knees and then full onto her body. He lurched violently as their bodies matched against each other.
Mike had never concerned himself with whether or not his sex partner was enjoying herself. His wife, in fact, seldom had. But those women who had at least begun to enjoy themselves he had found to be better at pleasing him.
In Georgina's case, the softness and warmth of her body combined with her struggle to avoid him provided him with more than he had ever thought possible. His excitement increased and peaked even faster than normal.
With his excitement and rage satisfied in a single ecstasy, he rested for a moment, thinking of this woman as the best he had ever had. Sienstra had never raped a woman before, or at least one who could never have imagined being raped, and the sensation Mike discovered in doing so surpassed everything he had ever known before. The intensity of his passion and feelings had reached new heights.
'Georgina had done it for him,' he thought. As he lifted his body off hers, he gently patted her rump in approval. She had ceased to fight him at one point, but he had hardly noticed. The intensity had been short but overwhelming in that brief moment.
Sienstra smiled down at Georgina, his approval of her complete. Slowly he sat back on his haunches, his arm gently smoothing her leg. He could show her tenderness now. For a moment he watched her, trying to see a sign that she had enjoyed his manliness.
Then it suddenly began to crystallize: she was not moving -- not at all. Her chest, which should still be pounding from the act, was not stirring. The truth rushed at him, hitting his mind with an unrelenting pounding. Mike suddenly knew she was dead. Only the illogic of it, the way it could have happened, struggled in his mind.
He quickly fell toward her, his arms holding his body above hers as he searched her face for signs of life. How could she be dead? He hadn't even hit her, for Christ's sake! Then he noticed that she seemed to arch her body toward his. It had been as if she were again throwing herself at him. But now?
Moving to one side, he rolled her body to the other. A sharp rock in her back, lodged in her spinal cord below the shoulders, held there for a moment before it fell back to the ground. Blood followed, rapidly making its way through the mud and dirt on her back and beginning to drip to the ground. Stunned, Mike allowed her body to roll over as he picked up the rock that had killed her. He gazed at it for a moment, his enraged mind screaming for an answer to 'Why?'
The injustice of it, the wrongness gnawed at him, demanding to know the reason why he must always be the recipient of evil. He had not come to rape and kill, so why must he bear the guilt? He had never chosen wrong; wrong had always chosen him. Bad luck had cursed him and he would always be labeled more evil than he could ever intend. But why?
With tears forcing themselves from his eyes and his mind screaming for some sort of justice, his hand gripped the rock as if to crush it. Then he flung it away with all the strength he possessed. He had not wanted the rock! He had never asked for it and its associated evil. He must throw it out of his life! With all his strength, he heaved it.
Exhausted, he hung his head, grieving for himself and Georgina. He looked lovingly at her, admiring her white body, thinking of her simple, smiling attitude. Then he recognized the pain in her rigid face and his thoughts began to reorganize. His mind began to race as he thought of her as the one who had sinned. And even so, 'The others must not know. They must not find her. It wasn't my fault; they can't blame me. But I I can't let them know the truth. I've got to get rid of her!'
Quickly he was up, dressing, while at the same time avoiding looking at her. His mind began to grab at details on how to cover his crime. Then, gathering her clothes, he began to try to redress her. But they had been so ripped and torn that it seemed hopeless. He stepped back, trying for more breath as he looked for another way.
Suddenly he began to claw at the side of the embankment, causing dirt and rubble to fall on Georgina's body. He stopped momentarily to think and then began again to avalanche the dirt down on top of her. He knew that she must be well covered if the wind was to be prevented from exposing her and having others find her. They might find her in time but he could be well out of suspicion by then. He could make a special effort.
Finally he decided it was enough. He looked down at the heap of rubble. His mind thought to apologize, to offer a simple I'm sorry', but the words never reached his lips. Taking a deep breath, he turned away and began to move back along the ditch to where the rope was. By the time he felt the rope against his arms and chest he knew that he could return to the enclave, safe and sound.
Mike Brownson looked over to his right, once again searching out Dan Steward. Dimly he could just make out his figure, carefully holding the rope that linked them all to the enclave. Further on down the line, Lew Snapp, his twelve-year-old son George, and John Ryker would also be searching as well. As they swept the area around the enclaves, they made concentric circles, keeping the rope off the ground and above the entangling debris.
The relative flatness of the ground helped but the jumble of rock and debris scattered about required several stations along the rope. A short sweep near the enclave had yielded nothing. Now with John Ryker on the inside trying to keep the rope taut and the others at the limits of visibility from each other they were completing a second sweep.
Mike knew that there was only rope for perhaps one more deeper sweep, out to as much as four hundred yards. Brownson was already discouraged. It stood to reason that none of the other enclaves had to be within the four hundred yards. The original distances had been less than fifty yards, but the long days of buffeting and rolling could have strung them out, miles apart. And, unless the visibility cleared, they could safely go no further than four hundred yards from the enclave. There seemed little hope of making contact with the other groups -- at least for now.
Then he saw it: A piece of metal in the shape of a cylindrical container of some sort. It was particularly battered and dented but Mike thought he recognized it. It could be a food tin from one of the enclaves. Halting the others, he staked the end of the rope at the furthest point and reached for the remaining coil on his shoulders. Staking it, he began to trail it out as he moved slightly upwind to where the tin rested. As he approached it, the tin rolled a few feet toward him. Reaching down, he picked it up.
He now knew with certainty that it had come from one of the enclaves. He again staked the rope and went back for the others. At the same time, Dan Steward had halted everyone else and come up to find out the reason for the delay. Once everything was explained, everyone moved back to the farthest stake and, securing it in a more permanent fashion, struck off as a group into the wind.
It was Lew Snapp who, at the end of their file, discovered a makeshift cross. Within seconds they had all come across debris. Already at the end of the rope, they stationed the two younger men and moved directly into the thicket of a destroyed enclave. They moved quietly, knowing the futility of yelling in the midst of the howling wind and a background of low noises from the earth.
Their minds recognized the extent of the disaster but the cross provided a sense of hope, burial implied the possibility of survivors. Still they could see nothing. As they looked about, Mike began to realize the increasing howl of the wind. They could not remain indefinitely -- the wind was too unpredictable. Frowning at the lack of success when they seemed so close, Mike moved toward a section of the enclave tilted up at an angle. Standing next to it to escape from some of the wind, he surveyed the scene.
It was utter devastation. And had they not found the cross, he would have assumed a complete disaster. The only possibility seemed that what survivors there were had since moved on.
Then a sudden and incomprehensible sensation ran through his body as something struck at his leg. He looked down, his imagination instantly conjuring up a host of possibilities. His heart thudded as he saw Cheryl Scott, with her arms wrapped completely around his right leg. Slowly she looked up at him, complete joy written all over her face.
She had found them. She had been near the shelter's entrance, thinking of seeing others, looking for Mr. Small's return. Then she had seen the leg and grabbed for it. It was in this fashion that Cheryl had found Mike!
Chapter Four -- You Win Some...
Chapter Six -- First the Good News...
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]