Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Redenbacher Blues

As a man who grew up in another world, a world where the dead stayed dead and where women and children didn't run through the countryside pursued by ravenous fetid corpses, I have had occasion to wonder what kind of a man I was. Certain other generations were not so much plagued by this question. They were plagued instead with war and famine and challenges of the mind, body, and spirit which I haven't known, and while I am dutifully grateful for the luxuries of being a product of the late twentieth century, I was never able to shake the nagging doubt. I heard stories, read novels, watched movies, all crowded with heroism and altruism, and I wondered, "What kind of man am I?" Would I stand tall in the face of danger, sacrifice myself; would I risk everything for a loved one? A stranger?

I was beginning to find the answers to my question.

When Colleen hit the grain, she and Finn sank with astonishing speed. The grain seemed to open for them, enfold them in countless tiny arms and simply pulled them in.

Another shot, this one so close to my left hand I felt the concrete shatter into stone shrapnel, slicing the top of my hand wide open and spraying my face and neck with tiny stone fragments. The blood from my flayed hand rained down onto the heads of the undead below. Horrifyingly, they opened their mouths and held out ruined blackened tongues to catch the droplets, like some nightmarish child hoping for a snowflake on a winter morning. A third shot, this one just closer still and a little higher up. I managed to avoid further damage, but whoever was shooting at me was clearly zeroing in and fast. Two shots in the seven or so seconds since Colleen and Finn sank below the grain. I leapt over the edge and heard a third shot crash into the concrete just before I hit the grain.

It was corn, popping corn to be exact. Round and hard and nearly uniform, they provided almost no surface tension and opened to accept me as readily as they had swallowed my family moments before.

What surprised me most was the sound, or rather the lack of it. The initial rustle of the myriad corn kernels brushing a slipping past one another was quickly repalced by a near total silence. And the darkness. God, back into the darkness. I felt my mind consulse and shiver at the thought of it. Even now I cannot sleep with the lights off.

Before hitting the grain I had taken a deep breath and I tried the only thing I could think to do. I pushed my arms in front of me and pulled, trying to swim through the slippery beads of corn. Almost immediately I found what I was looking for. I grabbed blindly at the flesh I felt at my fingertips, felt my hands close on arm, gripped and pulled.

There was no movement. Again I pulled, and again nothing. There was nothing for me to leveage the additional weight against. Flailing, desperate, I began in that dark silence to panic. Past the point of reason, I pulled with all of the strength I could still muster and jerked and twisted my body, letting the fear and panic control me. Had I been thinking clearly, I surely would have perished.

In my ridiculous desperate wiggling, my damaged hand struck something solid, sending a lightning bolt of pain shooting down my arm and jolting my oxygen starving brain to awareness. Grasping, I found a metal rod embedded in the wasll of that dark and terrible place and I pulled. I pulled until I felt my arms creaking, pulled until the tendons in my shoulders and back and neck threatened to tear, pulled harder, pulled until I could feel my body threatening to rip itself in half with the effort. I pulled again and again, felt something in my chest tighten suddenly, then give and tear, and I still I pulled. It was no longer black in that space, but a kaleidascope of color, fireworks bursting in my vision as the vessels of my eyes swelled and burst with the effort. Then we were moving, rising and the tension was a little less and just a little less and in a moment my face cleared the surface of the corn. I opened my mouth and eyes, sucked in great burning lungfuls of breath and with a final heave that threatened to pull something deep and permanent loose from its internal mooring I pulled my wife's face from below that hateful crop and into the light of day.

Reaching below, I fished blindly for Finn, found a small, fragile arm and yanked him free, setting him across the surface, glanced briefly at his fitfully rising chest, and passed out.

As for what kind of a man I am, I'm not sure I want to know anymore.

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