By Rath Dalton
Copyright 2016 Rath Dalton
The house is shaking from the force of the wind. Fingers patter on the window pane and I realize it is the sound of snowflakes, wet ones driven against the glass. I fumble for my glasses and peer at the digital numbers floating in the dark. It is one o’clock in the morning. Another gust strikes. The window shakes. I wonder if the glass might blow in and shower me with shards but I try not to think about it. I do think about the car, though. It is in the driveway and it will be dented in the morning from falling branches. It would be safer in the garage.
I force myself out of bed, put on a shirt, pants, shoes and head for the door. No coat. It will only take a minute. The wind hits me when I step through the doorway. I squint and lean into the it. A dead leaf plasters itself against my face until I turn and let it flutter into the darkness.
The snow comes in horizontally and sticks to my body giving up its wetness, soaking into my clothes. The snow is ankle deep in the driveway and it slips into my sneakers as I walk. My hand is almost on the door handle when I hear a crunching-ripping sound. The earth vibrates. There is a flash of light over my shoulder. I turn as a shower of sparks illuminates a pole, a tangle of wire and something enormous hurtling toward me. I am slammed to the ground, stunned by the force. There is darkness and pain. Flashes of light and sparks to my right. I try to get up but a stabbing pain in my leg makes me scream. I am on my back in the snow. My shirt has soaked through and it offers no warmth.
The wind and snow are howling. More flashes of sparks offer snapshots of my front yard. A pine tree has toppled in the wind, uprooted and struck a telephone pole that now stands at an angle. There is a tangle of downed wires. One of them lies within feet of me. It sizzles in the snow and that is what sends up sparks at irregular intervals. I look to see what is wrong with my leg. The tree has pinned me. It lies on its side, supported by its dead branches. One of them has clamped my thigh to the ground and the far end of my leg sticks up at a strange angle. I put my good foot against the trunk of the tree and push but the pain in my thigh is horrible and the tree doesn’t move. I wish I had worn my coat. My cell phone is in the left pocket.
“Help.” My shout is torn away by the wind. I shout again anyway. My body trembles with cold. I’ve heard stories about men who have severed their own limbs to save themselves. I know how to do it; I would wrap my belt around my leg, tighten it to slow the blood flow and slice it off at the break. Only I have no belt and I have no knife and I know I could never bring myself to do it. I takes a courage I don’t possess.
The sparks from the downed wire are becoming less frequent, the intervals of darkness longer. I force myself into a sitting position and grab the branch that pins my leg. It is eight inches thick, rigid as a pylon. The weight of the tree is on it. It doesn’t move. It won’t break. I look around in the flashes of light for a branch; something to use as a lever. I wait for each spark to show me the branch that will save my life. It is a long time between them now. There is another flash and I see; there are no branches that are big enough. The sparks stop altogether.
I curl up in a ball to keep warm and try to think my way out of this. The wind blows. The snow pelts me. There is nothing.
There is a sound, a crunching rhythmic sound; footsteps. I turn. There is a light coming toward me. I shout. The footsteps come closer. A light beam bobs around the scene.
“Hell, how did you get yourself into this mess?” It is my neighbor, Cristo. He shouts over the wind.
“There’s a live wire over there,” I tell him. “Watch out.”
He shines his light on it, then back on me, inspecting the situation. “Your leg is pretty messed up.”
“Can you get me out of here?”
He shines the light around again. “Really big pine. I doubt I can move it alone.” He steps forward to push and shove. His feet slip. The tree doesn’t move. “I’ll get my chainsaw and cut that branch. I’ll call nine-one-one too.” He starts to turn away, then stops. “Steve,” he said, “I get you out of there, what about that land?”
He is asking me about land. I am dying and he is asking me about land. I know what he is talking about, the same thing he has asked me about before, the thing he is obsessed with; front land. He wants to trade back land for front land, feels he was cheated out of it by the developer who sold it to him.
“Yes, of course. We’ll trade the land. Please – get the chainsaw.”
He nods. “Semple should have done that.” He begins to walk away, then stops. My eyes are locked on him. Semple.
Semple owned my land before me. He was shot in a hunting accident in the woods in back of the house. They never found the hunter that shot him.
“Shit,” I hear him say. He turns around and we look at each other. The wind howls between us. The flashlight shines it’s oval on the ground.
“He should have traded the land,” Cristo shouts over the wind. “If he had, you wouldn’t be here now.”
I wonder just how crazy he is. “I don’t care,” I tell him. “Just get me out of here.” I picture a hunting rifle hidden in the rafters of his house, or maybe tucked in behind a workbench. He doesn’t reply, just watches me.
“I don’t care about Semple,” I repeat.
He looks at me, considering. “But will you care tomorrow – or next week? When you’re warm and safe in your house, when you’re talking to folks at the diner in town?”
“I’ll be grateful to the man who got me out of this.”
He plays the flashlight beam over the trees and snow around us, then looks off into the darkness. “Maybe you’ll tell stories, your crazy ideas of what happened to Semple.”
“I’ll tell stories about how you got your chainsaw and saved my life. That’s all that matters. And then we’ll trade the land.”
He shakes his head, “I can’t risk that.” He finds a broken branch in the snow and sets the flashlight down. I look around for something to protect myself with; another branch, a rock. He is walking toward me. I reach for the only thing I can; the wire. He steps forward raising the club. I swing the wire in desperation but he dodges, laughing as it sparks on the ground. He is fast and before I know it, he strikes me in the head with the club. Agony. Blackness looms. I beat it back only to find he has taken my weapon. He has the wire and he pokes my arm with it, experimentally. Sparks fly and pain sears my skin. He laughs again. The sleeve of my shirt is incinerated. My skin is burned.
“Tough night for you.” He waves the wire in front of him. “A tree falls on you and you get electrocuted.” He thrusts the wire at my head. I am able to dodge. He has dropped his club. I reach for it but he kicks it away and gives another laugh but he slips. The wire whips, touching him in the chest. There is a ‘thump’ as the electricity pulses through his body. His arms fly up like a marionette’s. The wire flies off into the night and he collapses dead on the ground.
I am elated. I have won. I take hold of his ankle and drag his body close to check his pockets. I am hoping for a cell phone. There is gum. There is Chapstick. There is no cell phone. But there is one other thing and I look at it carefully. It still radiates the heat of Christo’s body.
A half hour has passed, maybe an hour. No one is coming, not until morning and I will be dead. Christo’s belt is tight on my leg. Christo’s pocket knife is in my hand. The snow is falling. I can do this now. I have to. I begin to cut.
A man is trapped under a downed tree in a snowstorm and finds he must rely on the good will of his questionable neighbor. Short story