AWOL – Chapter 10

So, I had this brilliant plan almost two years ago to write an entirely blog-book, adding a chapter at a time.  I did well for a while.  Then, I didn’t.  I am going to make  a valiant effort to do better now.  For anyone who WAS or who might now be interested in following along with this story, I am going to include links to the first 9 chapters prior to adding this new chapter.  Happy reading!

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

—————————————————————–

Chapter 10

The disorientation Ry felt as he woke scared him more than the report of gunfire, or the terror of dreams or thoughts of Evey. He was lost, for a dizzying moment, confused and forgotten and unsure of everything. His body spasmed, eyes flew open. His fingers scrabbled to grab hold of something, as though he was falling, falling into blackness and he gasped. And choked. He coughed, tasting dirt, smelling dirt, feeling it crumble under his hands and spatter around him. He froze, breathing heavily, letting the world reorient itself, willing his brain back into focus.   Remembering. It was dark and close and he was warm.   Rain, he remembered. A house. A barn. The little door and the tunnel. The tunnel. That’s where he was. In the little cellar or storm shelter, or whatever it had been in its former life. Seeking shelter from the rain. He remembered now. Remembered feeling safe. And so, he had slept. Deeply. So deep the dreams hadn’t touched him. So deep, everything had gotten lost. He would not sleep so deeply again. The waking was too painful, too frightening.   And what might have happened to him, sleeping so far gone? What if they had found him? What if they had killed him in his sleep? His throat tightened at the thought because it scared him so badly. Because he wanted it so badly.

He stilled. Something had called him back, snapped him into reality. Something abrupt. He quieted his breathing, listened, focusing. He could still hear the drumming of rain, and if he tilted his head, he could see dreary light filtering through the cracks in the cellar door. But it wasn’t the rain that had wakened him, or the light. It was something else. Something his instincts were trained to catch. Even in unconsciousness. Voices. He heard them then, muffled, distant. And another sound, like a door slamming. The door of a vehicle.   The fear pounded through him, now, but it was the fear he knew. Slowly, and quietly he dragged himself with his elbows, sliding up the shaft on his belly. Until he could peek out through the door. He had a good view of the barn, and part of the house. And of the military vehicle in front of the barn. And of the two men with the vehicle. They were shouting at each other, waving their arms and gesturing. It seemed something was wrong with the vehicle. It wasn’t running. And now, they were pushing it, shoving it and rolling it towards the open door of the barn. They disappeared into the barn and Ry fought, with every fight or flight instinct he had so carefully honed over the past two years, to not scramble out of the tunnel and run. He was trapped here, in this tunnel that had seemed so safe. A fish in a barrel. A rabbit in a hole. An AWOL Drover in a tomb. He couldn’t just stay there, wait for them to find him, to shoot him. Yet he knew to run meant to give himself away. He was hidden, now, covered with soil and grass and the anonymity of total obliviousness. They didn’t know he was there, had no way of knowing.

He cocked an eye up. The gloom of rain and haze smeared across the sky made it difficult to determine an accurate hour, but he’d learned to read time in any weather conditions. It was past midday already, edging towards late afternoon. He carefully eased his way back down the tunnel, settling back into the pocket of warm his body had left.   He just had to wait a few more hours, just until dark. Desperation and need filled every nerve and cell, lighting him with a restless fire. He breathed deeply, shifted for a more comfortable position. And his hand brushed against something. He felt around until he found it again, wrapped his fingers around it. It was the bulging, edible part of some root. A potato or onion perhaps. He dragged it towards his nose, sniffed. It smelled mostly of dirt, a little of rot. It was soft, the skin dusty and rough. A potato he guessed. He took a bite, teeth tearing into the flesh. There was no crunch. Just a deep sinking in, then a pop and a mush. It was potato but well on its way to vodka. The taste was awful, like the smell of compost on a hot day pooling against his tongue.   He didn’t gag, didn’t spit it out. He chewed against the sweet, musty taste of rot and swallowed hard. In the Drove, taste wasn’t a consideration. No matter how foul the flavor you ate, if not gratefully, at least without complaint.   And since vomiting was a luxury only afforded in life or death situations, he had learned quickly to determine what would actually make him sick and what just tasted like it should. His stomach had become something of a marvel, a lockbox for all things barely digestible. Hard to imagine he’d been a picky eater as a child. He took another bite, wondering how old the potato was. Wishing it actually was vodka.

************

Consciousness floated back to him. Or he floated into it. Either way, they melded back together and it was painful. He registered the pain before he registered anything else. He tried to open his eyes and bright pinpoints of agony flashed across the closed lids. He attempted to shift and the pain coalesced into a living serpent, set on fire and slithering through him. He stopped trying. Other observations came to him in swatches. He wasn’t on the ground. He was inside something. There was the smell of alcohol. And not the sterile antiseptic burn of the medicinal stuff, but the sharp, heady tones of real, hard liquor. He should know. His parents had certainly consumed enough of the stuff. Typical. People were starving in town, and his parents were killing money on alcohol. No wonder they all hated Privs. Although, to be fair, he’d never once given a thought to the townspeople as he was growing up. His focus had been directed intently elsewhere. Not on himself. He wasn’t quite that selfish. The center of his world had been big enough for three, big enough to include two others…

He forced his eyes open, despite the pain. Because of it. Drinking it in. Needing it. To chase away the visions. Chase away the names. He couldn’t stop the groan that slid through his lips. Lights and shadows, motion and stillness danced in variegating patterns across his blurred vision. He wondered if there’d been any permanent vision loss. Wondered if that would be enough to get him dismissed, sent home. Not only the bane, but the shame of his family. But what did he care if it got him back to…

He heaved himself to his side, his body responding sluggishly. He felt the edge of the bed pressing against his bruised flesh, reached for it, tipped and let gravity and the impact of the floor take all thoughts but pain from his mind.

There was a muffled cry from somewhere above and beyond him, the blur of a voice. The words jumbled in his rattled brain and he didn’t even try to make sense of them. He focused on the pain, feeling it shoot and spark and flood in different degrees. Then someone was there. Hands levering under his arms, half lifting him. The voice again, and though it still sounded muted, he could understand the words now.

“Sir! Can you help me lift him? I don’t know what happened. He just rolled off.”

There were other hands now, strong around his legs and the floor fell out from under him. New pain clung, hanging from his suspended muscles as they stretched with the lifting. Then he was still again, elevated on whatever bed or cot had held him. He gasped pulling in great gulps of air as though he’d done the work. He tried to open his eyes again, peeking through the lashes at the hazy people above him. Blurry angels. Or demons.

“Thank you, Kendall. Why don’t you head back to the Med Tent.   I’ll handle Drover Astro from here.”

The muffled voice again, further away now, the words lost to him again.

“Yes, I have the chart. All the pertinent information. If I need you, I’ll call for you. Thank you. Your help has been invaluable.”

The voice he could hear and understand was male. Soft, calm and in control. He tried to focus on the man, swathed in tan and stretching to impossible heights above him. He closed his eyes again, moaned.

“You’re awake. You need to sit up, now. We need to get you back on track.”

There were hands again, slipping under his torso, pressing and pulling. He struggled to help and after a moment, was propped in a half-reclined position.   He tried to speak and it came out as a cracked whine.

“Here.” The man pressed something into his hand, helped to curl his fingers around it. Cool, smooth. Glass.

He looked down, but there didn’t seem to be anything looking back. He lifted it anyway, out of instinct, pressed it to his lips. And choked. He sputtered and hacked, the burn of the liquid scorching down his throat.

There was a chuckle. “Vodka. Not used to the hard stuff?”

Ry tried to wipe his mouth. “Wasn’t expecting it.” At least he’d formed words. He took another sip, managed not to gag on it. It burned like liquid fire in his throat and stomach. It felt good. “Where am I?”

“My quarters. The Med Tent was a bit bogged down after your little, uh, incident. And with all your fellow Drovers pointing the finger at you as the cause, the nurses and physicians were a little hesitant to make you a priority. I thought you might actually get better care here.”

Ry felt the sting of injustice matching the rest of his stings.

“It had nothing to do with the fight. It’s because I’m a Priv. Nobody wants to taint themselves.” He glanced at the man, able to focus on him now. He sat near Ry’s bed, relaxed in a way he hadn’t seen anyone relaxed since he’d arrived. His hair was silver-gray, cropped close. His face was worn, but not strained. The grooves carved into the lines of it spoke of hard work and sun, but not of stress.   He was clean shaven and smiling at Ry. The only one to do so other than Thomas. The marks on his uniform were unfamiliar but screamed of import.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m sure I should know this. But, who are you?”

The man’s smile deepened. “Quite all right, son. I’m your Staffer: Jack Halding.”

 

~ S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on July 17, 2014.

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