Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Out of the Darkness-- part two

Author’s note:  When we first met Scarlet she was suicidal over losing her husband and her sight in an automobile accident, caused by a drunk driver.  She daydreamed about splaying open her wrists in a bubble bath. Her live-in nurse, Evaughn, jarred her awake and announced that she had something special planned for Scarlet:  a walk through her rural neighborhood-- alone.  Reluctant, Scarlet agreed.   She ambled down the road-- her walking cane tapping side-to-side in front of her-- and her mind wandered.  When she snapped out of her reverie her surroundings had changed.  
This is where we begin part two, with Scarlet’s nerves jumping like hot oil in a cast iron skillet.  Alone and terrified.  

Out of the Darkness
Part 2
Something was different.  I couldn’t hear the dog barking anymore.  The children’s voices trailed around the corner and vanished like vapor.  There were no familiar sounds.  The sun faded.  And a coolness chilled my bare arms, sheathing my skin in goosebumps.
I must have wandered off the road somehow.

Moving my cane to the side, I waved my hands out in front of me.  
Within seconds, my fingertips hit a tall, tubular object.  The texture was flaky, but smooth like paper.  I moved forward, still using my hands to guide me.  A few feet away I hit something else.  The texture was rough, thick jagged edges protruded from a rock-hard surface.  
I walked my fingers to the object beside it.  This one had a checkerboard imprint, a peeling crisscross pattern and a faint scent of cherry.
Then it hit me.  These were trees.  Three trees in a row:  a birch, ash, cherry.  I had studied dendrology in college, so I recognized specific barks of different tree strains.

Dead leaves shuffled around me as squirrels and chipmunks scattered from sight.  
At least, I presumed that’s what was happening.  Little did they know I was no threat.  A smile slowly broke across my face.  However, my glee was not long-lived.  Apprehension and disquiet rocked my heightened senses.  I was in unfamiliar territory with surroundings I had never experienced, even before the accident.  
My pulse quickened and I went on high alert.  I heard every rustle, every crunch, every snap of a twig, every roll of a stone. I flinched, spun to the right, then to the left.  A shudder ran through me.
A hawk’s squawk coiled through the forest, and I froze.  A hoot from a nearby owl resounded to my right.  In the distance, a lone coyote howled; his loud bay resonated through the forest.  

My dead eyes widened.
And then, the most terrifying sound of all ricocheted through the trees.  Heavy boots stomped along a dirt trail.  The same trail I was on, only farther down the path.
I shifted in my stance, not knowing what to do next.  Think, Scarlet, think.  Snapping open my cane I hustled down the trail.  I moved faster and faster, until I was in a full on sprint.  My pulse raced, hammering at my ears, introducing me to the sound of panic.  A sound I’d not soon forget.  A sound that tortured my very being.  A sound that proved I could never survive on my own.  
The footsteps became clearer, as though the stranger was quickly gaining on me.
I didn’t have much time.  Folding my cane in thirds I hightailed it in a straight line and prayed I didn’t slam into a tree trunk.  
A protruding rock tripped me minutes later and I soared through the air...  and landed face down in a mud puddle.

I wanted to curl-up in the fetal position and surrender, but I couldn’t.  I refused to die by the hands of a killer.  Leave Evaughn wondering what happened?  No.
Frantically rubbing the earth with my palms I searched for my cane.  It was nowhere.  Lost.  Gone from my grasp.  I scrambled to my feet.  
A sharp pain shot to my right knee and folded me in half.  
Massaging my sore knee, I realized it had blown up to twice its normal size.  The skin felt squishy, like fluid had begun to build around the joint.
Right then I knew I wouldn’t get far, not with a bum leg.  Tears welled in the rims of my eyes as I tore off the bottom hem of my tank-top with my teeth.  I wrapped the cotton material around my knee and hobbled down the path.  My knee throbbed, pulsed with the beat of my heart.
An icy breeze stopped me mid-stride.
I listened for a cause.
Rolling rapids violently churned below me.  

The rushing water sounded fierce, like a fury of madness.  And yet, it triggered a memory.  I know where I am!  I’m at the Smith River.  I inched toward the rocky edge, using my foot as a guide.  Then I got down on my left knee-- my right leg held out to the side-- and scrutinized the chilled soil with my fingers… ledgy, compressed, moist.  
One problem haloed through my mind:  I wasn’t sure if the waters were ten feet, or one hundred feet down.  
I gasped.  Dropped my face in my cupped hands and thought, There’s no way out! I’m going to die here!
The footsteps became louder and more pronounced.
At that moment, I knew I’d come to a crossroads.  I could run and hide or stand my ground.  But without my cane, how could I find a decent hiding spot?  If I jumped, would the drop kill me?  What if I hit the side of the cliff on the way down?
I slammed shut my eyes and commanded my racing my mind to slow.  Took a deep breath in, let a long breath out. Summoned the courage for what I now believed was my only alternative.  With my shoulders back, my chin held high, I faced the rolling rapids below.
The footsteps stopped a few feet behind me.
It was now or never.  I kicked off my shoes, held my breath and dove off the cliff.  For a split second I floated, then dropped like dead weight.  
The moment I hit the air I regretted my decision.  It was the cowards way out.  What have I done?  I still have a life worth living! 
If I survived, I pledged to appreciate the miraculous wonders of life.  I’d take nothing for granted.  I lost my sight.  Does that mean I stop living?  Robert died.  Thus, should I die too?  I answered with a resounding, “NO!”  If I survived, I’d fight for what I desired.  I’d learn braille, instead of denouncing it.  I’d buy a seeing eye dog.  I’d do everything in my power to overcome my disability.  Learn my limitations, and then conquer them.  No more pity-parties for me, if I survived.  

I struck the water with a loud thud, a forceful splash that sucked me under.  My body tumbled in a ferocious whirlwind.  A deadly swarm of gravel, pebbles and water.  
Beneath the roiled waters-- my body sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss-- I recalled my declarations, my resolutions, and needed to act.  Kicking my legs with vigorous intensity I stroked the river with curved hands in wide, controlled movements.  
The freezing cold rapids nipped at my skin, like tiny pinpricks from thousands of needles.
Just as I was running out of air my face emerged from the water.  I was reborn, baptised in the icy waters of the Smith River.  I choked and coughed, released the fluid from my lungs.  I fought through the weakness, the dizziness.  I fought through the numbing pain in my fingers and toes and swam toward the voices on shore.  
Exhausted and weak, I dragged myself on to a sandy beach and collapsed-- flat on my back, my arms out to the side.
A young man dashed over to me.  “I saw the whole thing.  Are you all right?”
“A man,”  I said, through winded breath.  “A man was chasing me.”
There was a long pause of silence, and I didn’t understand why.
“Do you mean... the ranger?”  
“Ranger?”  I cocked my head, wrinkled my nose.  “What ranger?  What are you talking about?”
“The park ranger is standing on the edge of the cliff waving a cane.”
Now I felt like an idiot, a complete and utter moron.  “You mean I imagined the whole thing?  I was never in any real danger?”
“Danger?  In Bristol?  I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t understand.  Do you know where you are?  You’re in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire.”  He said it as though I had lost my mind, like how could a killer possibly exist in our sleepy, rural community.  He believed wholeheartedly that violent crime only occurred in cities and not in small country towns.  
He was a sweet kid, but innocent as a newborn.
I flashed up my hand and interrupted his incessant chatter.  “I don’t know what I’m saying.  Just forget I said anything.  Okay?”
“Righty-oh.  C’mon.  I’ll help you up.”
He must’ve stuck out his hand.  Of course, I didn’t see it.
“Eh, ma’am?”  he said, a hesitation to his tone.  “Can you see me?”
“No, young man.  And stop waving your hand in front of my eyes.”
"How did you-- Oh my goodness!  Golly, did you hit your head or something?”
“No.  I was this way before the fall.”  In that moment, I saw the humor in my circumstance.  The nonsense of my decision to jump.  I started to laugh and laugh and laugh, until I cried.  Tears of pure joy slid down the sides of my sopping wet face.
My laughter must have stunned the poor kid because he giggled a nervous chuckle.  “Oh!  I get it!  The ranger has your cane.  Hey, maybe that’s why you thought he was following you.  Did you lose it?”
I didn’t answer.  The entire situation was too absurd.  
He swaddled me in a beach towel, led me to his jeep and drove me home.  
When I walked through the front door Evaughn let out a yelp and rushed toward me.  “My goodness, are you all right?  What happened to you?  Why are you all wet?”
“I’m fine.  Don’t make a fuss.  I’m better than fine.  I’m fabulous!  You were right, Evaughn.  I should’ve done this weeks ago.”  I threw my arms around her.  “Thank you! Thank you!”  
Strolling away, my palm running the wall beside me, I whistled a happy tune and turned into the kitchen.  All that fresh air stimulated my appetite.  Or maybe it was the swim? I shrugged.  It didn’t matter.  Today marked the first day of the rest of my life.  A different life, yes, but a fresh start nonetheless.  I had broken out of the darkness and burst into the light.  
From that day forward I never looked back again.  I didn’t doubt for a second that Robert awaited me in heaven.  

I’ll see him again, just not any day soon…  I hope.

Sue Coletta is a crime writer.  She's authored two novels, A Strangled Rose and Timber Point, and is working on the sequel to Timber Point, entitled Dancing in the Shadows, and book three in the series, Mad Rush.  You can visit her murder blog at:


Eliza Cross said...

Thank you, Sue. I've been waiting for your second installment ever since you shared the first part of this tale. Your description of the dive off the cliff gave me chills! Great story.

Sue Coletta said...

Thank you, Eliza. I'm so glad you liked it.

Susan Clayton-Goldner said...

Vivid and well told story. Thanks for sharing it, Sue

Sue Coletta said...

Thank you, Susan!