My sight was the last sense to return to me. It confirmed what my other senses already told me; somebody doesn’t like me very much.
It was nighttime by now and would be pitch black if not for the fire. I could feel the crust of dried blood taunting my nose like an itch just out of reach, being tied to a chair didn’t help. The best I could tell, I was in an abandoned building, maybe a warehouse. My first instinct was to look for a way out. What I could see ahead of me was far from promising, flames piled atop more flames.
“I wonder if I could burn the ropes and break free?” I thought aloud. As soon as I heard my own words, I was glad I didn’t just think them. Otherwise, I might have gone through with that absurd plan. Plan B was simple; I need to try to turn myself around so I can see behind me. I slowly did my best to lunge upward and twist the chair around. The ropes were so tight, I could feel them burning, stinging my wrists each time I lunged, a mere taste of things to come if I do not get out of here.
As I finally got turned around, I managed to slip a chuckle in between the laborious puffs of breath. Suddenly, a creaking louder than the thunderous flames caught my attention, which was saying something under the circumstances. It sounded as I imagine two pirate ships might sound upon colliding, except without the ocean. The wood moaned and groaned as if an angry titan before snapping with a crispness so sharp it mimicked fireworks exploding. After that, a large beam from the high ceiling began to fall. I watched the beam for what seemed like minutes until it crashed laughably close to the left of me. I did not know whether to feel lucky or even more screwed. Several smaller boards followed, many of them using me to cushion their blow. I guess I got my answer. Man, I sure could use some of that ocean right about now.
When it seemed the boards were done battering me, I looked up. The hole in the roof was big so I didn’t expect more debris, for now. More importantly, I could see the stars and the moon shining bright. It seemed to be looking down on me, letting me know that there are far bigger and more glorious forces in existence. It brought me some comfort and I could feel myself letting go. If I could see my own face, I wonder if it would look like the faces of all the friends I lost during the war. I lost my two brothers in the war, one in the Pacific and another in France. I always thought of them when I held the dying hand of a brother in arms. I wonder if, as I held a bloody hand, they looked at my face and saw something as beautiful as that moon, telling them it was okay to let go because peace would gladly embrace them. Some days, I longed for that kind of peace.
I wanted to give up but something urged me to rock the chair back and forth until, at last, I fell over. It was a good idea but the execution only partially broke the chair. Unfortunately, my ankles were tightly bound and enough of the chair remained to limit my mobility. Then, I noticed that some of the boards from the roof were beginning to catch fire so I swiftly rolled away. While that saved me from the immediate threat, it put me in an awkward position with my hands, still firmly tied behind my back, under the weight of my body. I clawed at the wood, losing a fingernail or two in the process, trying to get the chair legs out so I could at least get to my feet. If I was going to die here, at least I wouldn’t have to take it lying down.
Suddenly, there was another crash and I frantically looked, as best I could, to see its origin. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a pair of headlights. A man jumped out of a truck and ran towards me.
“Let’s get you out of here,” he said. Until he cut my ankles free, I was not sure he was real. Then, he pulled me up from the ground and cut my hands free. I winced as he cut my hand while doing so but I wasn’t in a position to complain. “Can you walk on your own?” he asked and I nodded.
When I got into his truck, he immediately backed out and a large part of the building caved in as soon as we cleared it. “Thanks,” I said as I extended my bloody hand. Despite the blood, he gladly shook my hand.
“You’re welcome,” he replied while retrieving a handkerchief from his jacket pocket. “Are you okay, pal? Do you need me to take you to the hospital?” he asked alternating his glance between me and the road.
“No, that won’t be necessary. Take me to my office, if you don’t mind. I have plenty of first aid supplies there,” I replied. The man nodded and I sensed a question coming about. “It’s at 45 North Third Avenue,” I said and he again nodded before handing me the handkerchief, now bloody.
The truck stopped right in front of the door to my building. I managed to get out fine on my own. I couldn’t help but notice a taxi stopping down the street. I watched as the people got out, three of them, but I’m not sure what I expected to see.
“Let me help you inside,” the man insisted and put my arm around his shoulders while we entered the building. “It looks like the elevator is out,” he said as we turned to the stairs.
With every step we took, I could hear Emily’s heels echoing and my heart rate steadily increased. I should have seen it coming. Everything about her was wrong. All of her clothes were new, her perfume was fresh, her makeup was perfect, and those heels cost more than my rent. She was as much of a working girl as I was.
Before I knew it, we made it to the second floor. “This is me,” I said as I pointed out the door to my office.
“That was easy. Is this your office, Chet Darby and Associates?” he asked. “Do you need some help with those wounds?”
If only he knew what a joke the associates part of that title was, he wouldn’t be so impressed. “I fought in the war, so I can handle it,” I replied.
“So, you’re a veteran. Were you a medic?”
“Everybody in the war was a medic,” I said gruffly. I immediately felt bad for raising my voice to someone who just saved my life. “Come and have a drink with me,” I demanded as I eased into my office. I went straight to my desk and poured a couple of glasses of whiskey.
He downed his whiskey even quicker than I did. “Listen, I have to be going,” he said while taking a few steps away. “Are you going to be alright?”
I looked over at the over half full bottle of whiskey. “I’ll be fine shortly,” I jested. The man noticed that I was referencing the bottle. “What’s your name?” I asked, irritated that I hadn’t already, which was becoming a bad habit.
“Oh, I’m Link Godwin. It’s good to meet you,” he said and saw fit to replace our previous handshake with a more formal one, now that we know names.
“In this case, I think we can agree that the pleasure is all mine,” I said cleverly, if only to me. “I owe you one,” I added as I raised my glass to him and took another drink.
He abruptly waved and began to walk away. However, he didn’t get far. “I hate to ask at a time like this, but I do need a favor,” he apologetically mentioned.
“This seems like the perfect time,” I replied, and he appeared to understand my meaning.
“I’m going to come back tomorrow and check on you. We’ll talk about it then,” Link said and promptly left.
After he left I wasted little time getting close to that bottle. The liquid inside looked as though it had been touched by King Midas. I gripped the bottle and unscrewed the lid using only my thumb. The lid shot from the bottle, landed on my desk, and began spinning like a top. I grinned and watched as it danced for me, seemingly celebrating its freedom. That makes two of us. I stared down inside of the bottle. It shined bright, letting me know that there are far bigger and more glorious forces in existence. It brought me some comfort and I could feel myself letting go.
Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.
“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”