An Incongruous Rose

By Todd Easterbrook [Contributor]

I didn’t know if I was going to get out alive.   The crowd was coming upon me fast.   I could see the blood lust in their eyes as they watched me trip and fall to the hard pavement.  The boy was frothing at the mouth.  He wanted me.  He wanted me bad.

The rain was thick and hard that day.   It was cold.  Real cold.  I could see the vapour and steam escape as they groaned and panted in their pursuit.  It escaped into the exposed night air and vanished as fast as it had come.  I knew they would get me; like they had taken many like me before; like they had taken the rest of my company; like they had taken Rose.

I knew that my chances were slim.  If I could just make it to the other side of the reservoir, the reservoir is my only hope, I thought.   I picked myself up and kept running.  I had only run that fast once before and it had almost not been enough.  My legs pumped like pistons and my breath was short and fast, short and fast, short and fast.  My whole body was working for me—for Rose—for everyone that I had failed before me.

I could still feel the way they had pulsed in the night.  That incessant pulsing was unbearable.  I glanced back momentarily, gauging how much space I had.  The boy was gaining on me.  He was leading the pack and was faster than me.  He knew it.  His scream shattered me.  It pierced my skull and rang in my ears like a bellowing steam engine—only it was high, the most high-pitched pulsing you could imagine.  Even If I could get to the reservoir, I could never elude that pulsing scream.  It etched itself into me, searing and owning me.  He was close now.  I could feel his hot breath on me; reaching for me; wanting me.  I was terrified of that boy.  I knew that he could not take me himself. He would let the others do that and they would reward him with my head.

The reservoir was close now.  I pushed on.  If they got me my blood would have been motor oil.  I reached the bank of the reservoir.  The moon was out now and the earth was cold and unforgiving, but that wasn’t worrying me.  That boy.  His eyes were a light blue, but there was a darkness to them that was undeniable.  They were eyes that have lost all semblances.  He could taste my fear. He was fear.

I climbed up the embankment and gained some breathing room.  He struggled momentarily, but his will and lust gave him a resolve I could not match.  I knew it was only a matter of time until they would catch me.  Maybe not this time but how long could I keep running for? The human will for survival is only so great.  My will was diminishing with every step I took; every morning I awoke; every time I found an abandoned liquor store.  No, I thought, don’t think like that.  It will eat you worse than anything else.  The others had reached the reservoir now and were gaining on the boy.  He fell back to the middle of the pack and satisfactory perspiration relished my skin:  I could make it now.  I would make it.

I cleared the top of the reservoir and scrambled down the other side in a hail of dirt and mud.  Fuck!  There at the bottom stood a chain link fence that jutted out from the dirt and mire and climbed above the dead earth to reveal a necklace of barbed wire shining silver-blue in the moonlight.  My pair of worn out converse and the pajamas my mother bought me for Christmas a few years back would be my only barrier against the awaiting razors.

The pajamas were from a local department store, Sears or Macy’s or something that doesn’t exist anymore.  I reflected for a moment on how I could have noticed the juxtaposition of the barbed wire as ‘silver-blue in the moonlight’; I shook it off as archaic conditioning; I shook it off as twisted reverie in my collapsed mind.  I leapt up the side of the fence, digging my cons into the metal grooves and seizing the links in my sweaty hands.  A man was at the bottom of the fence now, after me in a crazed fit like his life didn’t depend on it.  He scaled the fence, his weight causing the links and supporting poles to shake and pulse on their foundations.  He too was incessantly frothing at the mouth.
I was at the top now—this, and the fact that I had a mob of rabid boxing-day shoppers after me whose sole notion of consumerism was to literally consume my very being made me into physical, frantic dread.  My panic worsened and pulsed in my chest and head and veins and eyes.   My arm flashed across the wire, drawing blood.  I winced and exhaled a shallow breath.  I could feel my lungs clench and hide away in my chest.  I could feel a hand on my ankle that became tight and distinguished.  The man’s hand gripped me like a vice and I tried to shake free.  The blood ebbed out of the slit in my arm and traveled down to my elbow and onto the mud and muck beneath my fear.  I kicked at the hand without looking—not daring to look at the abomination that lurked in vertical chase beneath me.   I kicked frantically and incessantly at the strong hand that seemed to forever clutch me.  My panic reduced my kicking to a spasm-like movement, much like when a dog’s stomach is scratched vigorously and its hind leg involuntarily kicks with relaxed, trusting pleasure and excitement.  No I thought, this is not at all like that.   Trust and hope like that doesn’t exist anymore. This is something entirely different.  This is me bleeding and drowning in the new world; spasming like a child for my life in the night; sweating like meaty swine in a runaway butcher house, all the while being lead to a mischievous and incongruous slaughter.

I snaked and kicked my leg frantically in despair.  I kept looking beyond the fence at the compound I knew was open and safe just beyond my body and just out of reach.  I needed this sanctuary.  I kept thinking of Rose and how I should just give up and give in and just fucking give.   Why didn’t I ever tell her the truth?  Why didn’t I tell her all those days in the car? It doesn’t matter now, I thought, love has no use anymore.  I should just end it all and end the pain and embrace my cold friend and perhaps relinquish some form of sanity.  No.  I broke free of my assailant and mounted the top of the fence.  The barbed wire cut deep into my throat and just below my left eye.  I forced my weight over the barricade, teetered for an instant—I could have gone either way—and started to fall onto the right earth below.  My department store pajamas ripped as my leg funneled itself into a knot in the wire.  The pain rushed through my body and I barely felt it as I hung helplessly upside down.  The man was at the top of the fence now and was meandering around the wire to clutch at my rooted leg, his head and snarling tongue eclipsing the light like an evil vagabond in the night.  I pulled frantically at the bottom of the fence to free myself and bring the stability of the muddy earth to me once more.  The more I pulled the more the wire dug into my flesh like tiny anchors and the more the rabid man and his dark shadow clutched me with a certainty I could not escape.

I looked to the compound that seemed distant now—distant like Rose—distant like everything I once knew and loved and relished and hated.  I heard the small boy on the other side of the fence digging and clawing at the earth beneath.  He was intent on entering beneath the fence since he was too small to overcome it.  He was intent on eating my face and throat while I hung helplessly in the stale and irrelevant breeze.

The boy was halfway through.  The blood from my neck poured out steadily and I could see it splatter and mix and stain the dark mud below.  The boy let out a shriek that pulsed through my chest and skull.  He was reaching for me from underneath the fence, his body not quite able to make it completely through.  He squirmed and panted, the hot froth from his mouth escaping into the air and onto the ground.  I was terrified.  My body shook desperately in an attempt to free itself.  My hands clawed at the fence, but as I pulled myself downward my foot only tightened in the wire and vice of the snarling man.

The boy was through.

He was at my face and throat with a scream that instantly deafened me.  Everything was drowned out in darkness and I began to hear a faint ringing in the distance.  I forgot about the pain and blood and flesh and focused on the ringing.

***

I awoke to sound of my cell phone on my bedside table.  My sheets and pajamas were soaked with sweat and tears were running down my face and neck.  The sun was shining through my bedroom window, reflecting off of the metal faceplate.

I answered, it was Rose:  “Get up, I’m waiting outside.” She said, and hung up.

I got dressed, put on my cons and made my way down the steps and outside.  There had been rain the night before and the steps and pathway off my veranda were still wet.  I walked across the lawn and exited through the open wire gate that separating my house from civilization and me from Rose’s car.  As I walked closer the sun’s reflection rolled down the hood of the car and bounced off the paint silver and blue.  She leaned over and popped the lock so I could get in.  “Hey stranger.” She said.  “God, you don’t even look human.  What side of the bed did you fall out of today?” She said with a smile.

I sat down and closed the door.  Disregarding her comment, I said immediately—earnestly, “Rose, I‘m in love with you.  I’ve always been in love with you,”—a stream of drool escaping like froth from my lips and onto the bucket seat.

“Shit.” I said.  We both laughed.

“Sara—“ she said, and started driving into the cold sun.

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