Monday, June 11, 2012

One Night With The Grandkids

Colin and Connor were in the dark.  They were whimpering, desperately trying to find their way out of the house.  It was so dark they were literally lost within their own home.  Colin took the lead as they made their way down the hallway.  Connor, holding his brothers shirt with a firm hand, followed behind offering advice.
            "Feel the doorknobs for heat.  Remember fire prevention week.  Feel for fire," Connor reminded his brother trying not to sound scared.
            "I can't see the doorknobs.  I can't see anything," Colin complained.
            "I know," Connor's voice answered wanting to sound reassuring.  He could not see his brother or even the hand that he anchored to Colin's back.  His twin's pajama top was white but it could just as easily have been black.  Maybe, magically, it was black.  Maybe it was as dark and as dense as the air around them.  Connor held tight to his brother's nightshirt; more than anything, he feared losing his grip.  If that happened, he would be gone.
            "Feel everything." he continued.  Hearing his voice gave him substance.  He found it reassuring.  "Slide your hand along the wall.  If it feels hot..."
            Colin pressed his small hand flat against the wall.  It felt cool.  Slowly he moved forward.  The wall was gritty and a little oily, different than he remembered when the lights were on but it wasn't hot.  He could smell smoke.  It was all very familiar like the campouts they went on with dad and grandpa, and he could hear the crackle and occasional pop of wood burning, but there wasn't any heat.  And no light.  Why couldn't they see anything?  Light should be getting in from outside.  From street lamps.  And fire glows.  It's orange.  Why couldn't he see the fire?
            Colin's hand found a door.  He stopped, moving his fingers up and down trying to find the knob.
            "What's the matter?" his brother asked tugging on his pajama shirt.
            "It's a door."
            "Is it hot?"
            "Open it."
            "I don't know where we are.  Which door?"
            "It doesn't matter.  Open it.  We have to figure it out."
            Colin turned the knob and pushed inward.  Light spilled out into the hall.  The boys could see up and down.  Everything was black onyx, slick and shiny, as if someone came in and painted their house while they slept.  In front of them, in the glow of their familiar New York Giants lamp was their room.  It looked normal.  Comfortable and inviting. Untouched by whatever had happened to the rest of the house.  Connor's Derek Jeter poster hung next to his bed.  Colin's bright red El Camino, his dream car, dominated his side of the room.  Books, magazines and the clutter that defined their eleven year old lives were strewn everywhere.  Laundry basket basketball left more socks and underwear on the floor than in the hamper.   Everything was as it was supposed to be.  Just as they remembered it.  Somehow, in the dark, they ended up back where they started.
            Colin began to complain.  They were trying to get outside, away from the house.  That's what they were supposed to do.  They planned and trained for this in school.  They drew escape routes - one hung on the back of their door -  but it didn't work.  Somehow, Colin had failed and he felt miserable.
            "It's good.  Everything is fine.  Let's go to bed," Connor answered sounding confident.  He started pushing past his brother.
            "But what about the smell?" Colin persisted.
            "That crazy guy next door must be burning trash again.  Let's go.  I'm tired."
            “Shouldn’t we look for mom?”  Colin asked, holding back his twin.  That was another lesson:  plan a meeting place...gather with your family...stay together!
            “They went out, remember.”
            “Maybe they’re back.  Maybe they’re sleeping.  We were sleeping.  Do you know what time it is?”
            Connor looked in the room.  His brand new digital alarm clock, the one with the iPod dock that he wanted and bought for himself, sat on his nightstand.  The time blinked 1:17 AM.  It kept blinking as the time changed.  1:17...1:18...
            "We must have lost power.  My clock says 1:19 in the morning," Connor noted looking as the time changed again.  Minutes went fast.  They better get to sleep if they wanted to sleep at all.
            "It might be much later than that.  Maybe 4:00 A. M.  They could be back," Colin persisted.
            “Then I wouldn’t wake them.  He’d get mad.”
            “You sure?” 
            “Yeah,” Connor answered sounding a little annoyed.  “I’m tired.  If it is 4:00 o'clock...I'm fucking tired."
            Connor grinned.  Cursing was something new for him.  He loved saying the word “fuck”.
            "Let's get to bed.”
            Side by side, my grandchildren stepped into the threshold.   A huge and wicked plume of fire enveloped the boys in a violent whirlwind of orange tendrils and white smoke.  There was something unnatural about it, like dancing flames from some very old cartoon.  The blaze swirled around them rising steadily, driven by unheard music.  One step...two step...two step...cha...cha... cha...  The ceiling above them burned and the blackened hallway filled with an eerie, unnatural glow.  Colin and Connor stood motionless, leaning forward against the force of the firestorm, their long hair fluttering madly behind them.  Their mouths hung open.  Their teeth, clean and white against ebony, reflected miniature, flickering portraits of the blaze while their eyes bulged wide and large; they saw and understood everything.  I am certain of that much.  For just a moment the boys seemed to take on an unnatural sheen, to glow the color of the flames, before darkening first to an ochre and then to the oily black of the hallway.  Their skin seemed to bubble and then to crack, curl and shrink from their identical features.  White wisps of wriggling worms…thin, insistent, persistent, present, ever-present, rapidly multiplying smoke-like creatures…more alive than dead, twisted and crawled through every crack, hole and crevice the boys’ possessed (or the fire provided) until they escaped into the crackling universe.  Then, finally, almost mercifully, the boys exploded. They just disintegrated into two giant orange puffs of ash, their dust carried away within the great swirling, all-consuming inferno. 
            And then, once again, I screamed.  I opened my mouth, stretching my jaw to the point of pain and issued a sound no creature has ever made.  Or was meant to make.  It was as mysterious and as mythical as anything I’d ever read in books or seen at the movies.  I could not stop.  I bellowed for hours and hours and days and days as the essence of my grief spread across my neighborhood and the lands beyond.  Birds fell from the sky by the thousands and stars, one by one, faded in the heavens.  The world turned as black as the hallways of hell.  My anguish knew no boundaries.    
            And then, once again, my eyes opened.  I was in bed lying next to my wife.  She was awake, but not because I shattered windows and frightened neighbors.  There were no dogs howling, no cats hissing at unseen dangers.  I tossed and turned and whimpered.  In this world, my grief was not majestic.  In this world, I was reduced to quiet tears and constrained moans.  It was all so very impotent.
            Brenda rubbed my back feeling dampness through the cotton.  Gently she whispered in my ear.
            “You should call the doctor.”
            “I can’t. Too much to do.”

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