a short story
Gary Baker, September 2014
(a practice piece in cross-chronological plotting)
A friend once told me there was nothing to lose, providing proper effort was given where it was due. This person also claimed nothing could get in the way of our dreams were they only strong enough to withstand the close of ages.
What she didn't tell me, however, was that consequences were completely indefatigable.
My breath came in ragged gasps, my back slapped wetly against a shadowed redwood or other deep in the northern woods. I didn't even know where I was anymore. With my head lain back against the bark I released another exhale high above myself into the misty night. The subsequent inhale brought in the crisp reality alongside tangy pine, rustic petrichor and the oddly salt-free taste of woodland fog.
Sweat dribbled across my brow and down my cheek. Moonlight flickered across my loosely closed eyelids with the pace of a breeze pushing branches up high.
I remember how she had summoned me over one day, calling me from the foyer. Poised behind her desk, brows drawn in consternation, she set to lay waste to my dreams. It was a practical battlefield that day in her office, all torn reality and woeful hopes burned at the stake as one regretful sibling to a rising lord seeking kingship. She said my words meant nothing, that no matter what I wrote it could never please her. That I could never please her.
After what felt like ages of resisting, I broke. I had worked my ass off for nothing. I had bore my heart and soul into my most recent article, working prose through fields of ghost-written sciences, never to see the light of day 'neath my own name. I remember the glitter of my tears as they fell.
I also remember how her scowl then morphed so wondrously into a gleam of coy awe. She then told me that any dreams I still had, anything at all that survived such abuse, were the only ones worth fighting for. She told me that any dream that could be broken by unknowing anger, instead of being strengthened, could never place the bread upon the table.
An echo of rushed movement clattered across my lap and I tore away from the tree with my heart in my hands. Feet raw from running, I knew I would be caught sooner than later. I was barely keeping ahead as is, did I really expect to survive this?
In seconds time I reached the pebble-strewn shore of an annual riverbed. The waterline had dropped mere feet, yet it left an island three times as wide as the river currently was. Moonlight on my shoulders, I raced. I aimed myself for the far shore where I could only wish for a place to climb out and into saving grace of darkness once more.
The water came like yet another smack to the face. Ice seemed to form around my very lungs themselves and I gasped for the solace of staying alive, were it only so easy.
She had come around. Leaning on her desk with an arm held out to hand me tissues, her eyes told me everything I needed to hear. She was my mentor. She was my friend. More than that, she was the one who paid me for my articles. She would connect me with scientists needing their experiments recorded and understood by their lesser-minded peers, the ones with the money, the ones who could either shut them down or add another dose of much-needed funding.
She told me the writer within me would benefit from what she had just done, that I should be grateful. I didn't believe her then, but later I discovered she had saved me while sending me off to my executioner all in one.
I thrust my arm above the water to take hold of roots extended into the riverside and came back empty. I fought to reach the surface and came up just enough to find that in a fraction of a moment's time I had drifted deep downstream. Already I had gone further than I originally planned and missed my chance at finding safety on the far shore.
Thinking back, even as the frigid sloshing tussled me in every which way, I chose to make the most of the moment. At least I couldn't be followed by the dogs from this point. Perhaps I could survive this after all.
So I turned into the current and used cupped palms to pull myself further. I swam like a frog, like a dog, I even kicked like a dolphin for a while, doing everything I could to keep warmth flowing through my limbs. When the current tore me around a bend I hit the first of several rocks and debris. Shortly thereafter I was losing consciousness and knew I was losing blood in much the same way.
When I had taken that last job I knew things were different. She had changed me. My will to write was stronger than ever and somehow it had broken barriers of writers block with all the excess energy that coursed within. The original job was to oversee a chemical experiment based on reactions deduced by the particle accelerator in Munich. I was to observe and record while science types tried and failed to reproduce chemicals known to have been used in abroad. For some reason the men and women at the lab I was sent to believed the chemical to have been falsified and, for all that I could tell, they were right on the money.
When things got boring for me, though, I chose to indulge myself. I escaped via a supposed bathroom run and instead began my exploration of the facilities.
I hit another rock as rapids began to form. I dropped several feet into a pool, peace lasting only hints of time until I was once again dragged along into white foam and jagged yanks to and fro. Those bastards, I figured then, might have missed their chance to kill me, but nature was sure as hell trying to do their work for them.
I remember jotting down a rough assimilation of a map, writing my story as I went in my head of how the chemical wasn't properly reproducible and thus disproved any subsequent experiments done with it. I remember altering words from experimental Latin-fused English to much more layman terminology when I found an open door. The door led to some shadowed, as yet unfinished portion of the facility, and from there to a massive basement.
It was like a horror movie turned real and still I pushed on. Suddenly nothing could sate my curiosity, not now that my desire to write, my desire to know, was so strong. What I walked into was the last thing I expected so deep within a chemical laboratory: there in front of me were the stooped forms of human experiments gone wrong.
Beakers upon beakers as large as tables, all stacked with sealed contents of everything from embryos and fetuses to full-grown men with bubbles and blisters formed along every imaginable inch of surface area each in varying degrees. My reporter instinct kicked in and my cell was out and set to record both video and audio in separate files. I cautiously walked the aisles looking over tabs of information and degrees of chemical composure.
Bonnie Jones, here, dosed with what I read as heroin and cyanide in a convoluted molecular solution, then injected into the bone marrow. In big red letters were stamped: Exp-Failed. Cringing, I moved on to the next, finding an illegible name with etches of acid formulas described as having been slowly increased in dosage since birth, grown in a test tube until the body of cells simply went haywire and somehow morphed into a human-sized mass of muscle and tissue. This one was marked as: Exp-InProgress.
It was still alive.
The experiments went on for whole sections of the gymnasium-sized room, when finally I freaked and bolted for the entrance. Immediately I ran headlong into someone on their way in. We fell to the floor with boxes of supplies dropped in the collision, and as I scrambled to rise I found there were others with this scientist. Guards loomed over us, guns in hand; massive guns. They shot their own man first, for what I can only pretend to know, and then began at me. From there I barely made it out alive. Shortly after I had dogs on my tail and leaves slapping my face.
I don't even remember getting out of the water, only that I was suddenly racing with sodden icy clothes into oncoming traffic when a cop hit me. Gun drawn he came at me as I lay roiling in pain on the ground before his beaming headlights. I remember looking him in the eye, how he then grimaced and shrunk back, and how he was then shot more times than I can commit to. His once white shirt was riddled with color, his eyes glossed over quickly and soon there were figures in black surrounding me.
This time I couldn't get away. My leg broken, there was no way I could run, walk, hell I couldn't even crawl my way out of this.
One of the figures then moved over me and placed a thick, heavy black boot on my wrongly-twisted knee. The pain was deafening. When he stepped down it was blinding. I came to again and my throat was hoarse, the cop still bleeding beside me, eyes completely glazed over, and my leg seemed nonexistent.
"I won't tell," I plead, hands raised as I tried to back away by pushing with my good leg. "Let me live and I'll forget this ever happened."
I felt cold metal place itself against the back of my head. From there I couldn't honestly say for sure what happened. It's like time just skipped over the following few years.