“Holy shit…Gary? Is that you, Gary?”
Gary quickly spun around to face the voice he’d immediately recognized, although he was far from convinced that it was actually coming from the form of his brother and best friend: Mikey. It seemed fairly obvious that since he was most likely losing his mind, the possibility that Mikey was really nothing more than an elaborate construct his waning sanity had produced for its own amusement had to be given serious consideration.
“Mikey?” Weak and uncertain, his tone was almost pleading.
“Well yea, Little Brother,” Mikey assured him before Gary quickly closed the space between them and fell into his brother’s embrace, his entire body buzzing involuntarily. The hell he’d found himself in was one in which time seemed to come to a complete stop; it was nearly impossible for him to determine just how long he’d been wondering around that same, unending madhouse.
“It’s okay Gary.” Mikey’s voice was smooth and calming. “You’re okay, buddy. I’m here now.” The words were so well rehearsed for the older brother, they almost came out on their own. It was far from an uncommon occurrence for Gary to fall into a state of histrionics over one anxiety laden fear or another. Gary was, in the words of their dearly departed mother, “a delicate soul”. With a heart bigger than most, his capacity for love and kindness was beyond that of anyone else Mikey’s had ever met…but that type of emotional depth sometimes came at a hefty cost. Gary felt his emotions on a cellular level and, unfortunately, that included fear. It took very little, actually, to provoke the adolescent into hyperventilation…or even occasional states of catatonia.
“What the hell are you even doing here?” Mikey finally asked once he felt confident that the other boy wouldn’t be slipping into one of those moments. Gary could only shake his head. After so many circles through the hellish dome, it seemed he’d honestly forgotten why or how he had ended up there in the first place.
“Why…” Gary’s voice was still shaky, barely maintaining its integrity. “Why are you here Mikey? Did you come to save me?”
Mikey chuckled and gave his brother’s shoulder a light squeeze. “Just a happy accident, Little Bro.” Gary smiled despite himself. “What I really came looking for was that smell.” The moment the word escaped his mouth Gary remembered. Of course…the smell…the food! As unbelievable as it might have seemed when he first arrived, the younger brother’s nose had become so accustomed to the odor that it no longer began to register…but that’s exactly why he had entered the dome as well.
While it was impossible to pinpoint the exact source of the aroma, it, most certainly, must have been emanating from one hell of a barbeque. There were hints of beans, mashed potatoes, Cajun spices and something that had obviously been slow-roasted to perfection. Gary had caught the scent from half-way across town and it had led him straight to the dome’s entrance. While there was little fanfare announcing what was apparently the newest restaurant in Porch, Gary had still fully expected to walk into a bustling epicenter of smiling faces and bulging tummies. That hadn’t been the case, however.
The large, domed building’s walls were some type of thick polyurethane that provided only a hazy view of the exterior and turned the sunlight into a dim, green glow that bathed everything within its interior. The atmosphere it created was undoubtedly ominous and for a split-second, as he crossed the entrance’s threshold, Gary had almost listened to the little voice in his head that had suddenly begun screaming THIS IS WRONG! The fact that there were no obvious patrons or employees did nothing to alleviate the sensation and there was that one moment when he could’ve just walked away.
The exit was right there; he could still see the bright pink blossoms beckoning him to turn around. There was practically no part of him that felt the urge to continue and had the delicious aroma not been so overpowering at the point…he probably would have left then. Once he’d found himself part-way into the dome’s interior, however, his stomach seemed to single-handedly take control of the reigns. It was utterly intoxicating, to the point where it seemed to block every rational thought from his young mind. It may have looked like some deserted fun-house at first blush, but somewhere within its circular walls existed a meal greater than anything he could imagine. Come hell or high water…he was going to have it!
It had only taken a few steps within for Gary to realize the magnitude of his mistake. As if influenced by some dark magic, the open doorway he’d entered seemed to disappear. All thoughts of the most delicious food ever were immediately washed away by his heightened sense of fear. Slowly…methodically…he had begun working his way around the outer walls. Surely, he had thought, if he took his time he would have to find a door. It defied logic for him to think otherwise, not to mention that doing so would’ve forced him into a sniveling ball on the floor.
One hour turned into two, two into four, and then after that…it was impossible to say. The horrible green glow messed with more than his eyes and left him feeling lost in a state of reality where there was no time…or space…or anything at all. It was just him. Gary had found himself lost in this circular, green hell. He had, in fact, very nearly reached his breaking point when Mikey had found him.
“So where’s this food at Gary?” Mikey raised his nose to the air and filled his lungs with the savory fragrance his little brother had seemingly become immune to. The question hadn’t been meant to prompt an adverse reaction and Mikey was definitely not ready for the response it did illicit as his little brother fell into hysterical tears. Mikey couldn’t help but to sigh; it was premature to have thought that they were going to be able to avoid one of Gary’s breakdowns…but damned if he hadn’t.
It took a full ten minutes of soothing words and rubbing the back of the kid’s head gently for the sobbing to finally subside. Once there was some degree of calm again, Gary looked up at Mikey with swollen eyes and said, “No food. There is no food!”
“I don’t understand Gary.” Mikey craned his head around dramatically. “Where’s the smell coming from? I’ve been around longer than you…and you know that I know some stuff. I’m telling you right now…that smell only comes from good food.” Gary protested even harder.
“I’m telling you! There is no food!” The sobs began to gather at the ends of his words again so Mikey didn’t push. “I can’t…even…find the door out! There’s nothing in this whole place…except…”
“Except what?” Mikey was genuinely curious and, not given to the same ‘worst-case scenario’ fears that plagued his brother, he was eager to explore this mystery a little further. While it was true that he hadn’t seen the exit since he’d come in, he hadn’t exactly been looking for it either. In the back of his mind, and far from his lips, Mikey was pretty certain of two things: there was a way out and, somewhere within those walls, there was a damn good meal to be had. It wasn’t terribly shocking that Gary hadn’t been able to locate either, as well. He loved the kid intensely but Gary could get lost in his own bedroom.
Mikey had been tableside for some amazing meals in the town of Porch and nothing…absolutely nothing…had ever smelled as good as this. As Gary led him to a point further down the wide circular hall Mikey was pretty sure he’d end up being the hero to his little brother once again. They’d be going home in an hour with full bellies and Gary would, once again, expel the wondrous traits of his big brother to everyone they’d pass on the way. That was okay though. Mikey liked the way he looked through his brother’s eyes. In a way, it pushed him to be a better individual. He was always trying to live up the considerable mental image Gary had of him.
Before too long they came to a stop and Gary pointed up to the three words superimposed on the green, exterior wall. The massive letters were backwards, making it obvious that they were on the outside or at least meant to be read from that angle.
“What does it say?” Gary asked earning him a scowl and a smack in the back of the head.
“How the hell should I know what it says, Smart Guy? Why don’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know,” Gary barely muttered aloud. He couldn’t tell if his brother was teasing him or truly upset.
Living in Porch had plenty of benefits. The area was beautiful, brought in plenty of tourism and provided some significant amenities to new residents…but the educational system was not one of them. Things were done the old ways and that included teaching and passing on history through oral traditions. This didn’t mean that the citizens of Porch were any less intelligent than others, but it did create an epidemic of illiteracy. One would’ve been hard pressed to find anyone locally who could’ve read those words. That alone, only added to the strangeness of why they were there in the first place.
The “except that” that Gary had wanted to point out wasn’t, unfortunately, what Mikey had been hoping to see. At very least, he’d been anticipating a clue of some type and there were no insights to be had from this.
“Okay listen…” Mikey sat his brother on the ground, his back against the wall with the giant mystery words looming above him. “I want you to stay here for now.”
“No!” Gary screamed, instantly in protest mode. “You can’t leave me alone again.”
“It’s okay, Big Guy,” Mikey cooed; “I’m just going to check the place out and I don’t want to have to worry about you keeping up. You stay here and I’ll know right where to come back to. I need for you to be a grown-up right now.”
“But I’m not,” Gary interjected.
“Yea…I know Gary…but right now…I think you can be. Besides…you’re not a maggot are you?”
Gary shook his head ‘no’. Had anyone else asked him that question, he might’ve broken into tears again, but coming from Mikey…it didn’t bother him. No one in his life actually shot him straight; everyone else always treated him with kid gloves as not to disturb his delicate sensibilities. It wasn’t like his big brother was mean to him really…he was just the only one who wouldn’t mince his words around Gary, especially when it was about matters of importance. Gary always took it as a sign of respect on the rare occasions that Mikey did give him a hard time and this was no exception.
“No…” he mumbled, more to himself than aloud; “I’m not a maggot.”
“Damn right you’re not! You’re my bad-ass, little brother.” Gary smiled and bobbed his head slightly in agreement. He could be motivated relatively easily anyway, but Mikey was a pro at knowing which buttons to push.
“Just give me ten minutes and I’ll know everything I need to know. This place isn’t that big. I won’t leave you. I promise.” Gary whimpered slightly but nodded in acquiescence nonetheless.
It was a little harder to leave him there against the glowing green wall than he’d anticipated, but it was necessary and Mikey spent the next ten minutes scouring the exterior walls, much as his brother had done earlier in the day, except at a much more expedient pace. The domed building was basically one immense hallway that circled back upon itself and it didn’t take too long to discover that his brother’s claims weren’t entirely without merit: the exit had seemingly disappeared. Mikey wasn’t quite ready to dive into the panic pool with his brother just yet however, but it was sufficiently unnerving. He still retained a vivid memory of the substantially solid opening in the wall by which he’d entered…but the memory seemed to be all that was left of it. Furthermore, the amazing food odor that hung in the air like a narcotic haze seemed to be emanating from, as crazy as it sounded, the walls themselves. Of course it all denied logic and made no rational sense whatsoever…but that didn’t change the fact that it was what it seemed to be.
By the time he’d circled back around to Gary and the massive, mystery words, again that little voice that had been screaming warnings in Gary’s ear earlier in the day was just beginning its second round in his. This wasn’t good. He had fully expected that when he saw his brother again he’d come bearing solutions. He was supposed to be handing him some delicious food at that point before heroically leading him back to his bedroom. Now Mikey was wondering if he would ever see his own room again, let alone return Gary to his. What felt like the beginning of an exciting, or at very least interesting, adventure only thirty minutes ago was quickly spiraling into a waking nightmare. That was, in Mikey’s estimation, the worst type as a new day would bring no reprieve.
As Mikey closed the last few steps between them, he tried to appear calm…calmer, at least, than he actually was; and he hoped it would be sufficient enough to keep Gary from truly reading him. He had no idea what he was going to say to his little brother, but he knew that it wouldn’t go well if Gary had any intimation as to what he was really thinking. The younger of the two, most likely, wouldn’t be reacting well regardless how the next few minutes went down…but if he were to reveal that his best supposition up to that point was that they’d somehow landed themselves in the twelfth-circle of hell…well…it probably wasn’t wise.
Mikey had half expected to find his brother in a different location. Gary was always flittering about and rarely stayed in one spot for more than a few seconds. The fact that he hadn’t budged an inch spoke volumes about the little guy’s mental condition. Somewhat despondent and rocking back and forth, it seemed that Gary had “stepped outside of himself” or at least that’s what he called it. His body’s go-to reflex for extreme situations, it happened from time to time when stress and anxiety got the better of him. It wouldn’t take too much for Mikey to break through the self-hypnotic paralysis his brother’s body had put itself in, but…for the first time ever…he wondered if he even should. Wherever the hell the kid’s mind had gone to must surely be better than this. Plus…every second that he stayed like that was another second that Mikey could avoid revealing his failures. Hell…maybe he could join Gary wherever he’d gone to.
Once he’d finally reached his little brother’s side, Mikey struggled to assemble the right words before releasing them into the world, as the only ones he could think of seemed to carry an apocalyptic weight with them that would’ve, in no way, been right to dump on Gary. The last thing on earth that Mikey wanted at that point was to exasperate his steadily deteriorating mental state…but he couldn’t let the kid remain completely oblivious to the direness of their current situation either. It was something of a ‘Catch-22’ and for the first time in perhaps his entire life…Mikey was without words.
In truth, Gary had to already know how bad their predicament was; he had, after all, been trapped in this place a lot longer than Mikey had been and he was displaying all the symptoms of having been carrying that knowledge for some time now. Mikey had seen his little brother come close to a complete and utter breakdown on more than one occasion, but that had to be worst by far. The kid had, obviously, pinned all his hopes to being rescued by the guy that was always there to rescue him…and, ostensibly, it was the only thing keeping him on this side of the sanity fence.
Mikey opened his mouth to say, “Gary” with no idea which words would follow. Every thought seemed painfully inadequate or overtly portentous with no middle ground offering itself up to him. Fortunately, he wasn’t forced to decide. Before the first word could escape, they were both surprised by a third voice that seemed to pipe in from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Gary was immediately pulled back to a fully conscious state while Mikey craned his head to locate the source of the voice that they both knew very well: it was ‘Uncle Frank’.
Truthfully, neither of the brothers could say for sure that Frank was actually their uncle as everyone in Porch called him “Uncle Frank” as if he had been christened as such since the very beginning. That wasn’t to say that he wasn’t either. Porch was an old community and it obtained very few residents from other locations which, by and large, had created a town where very nearly everyone was a blood-relative with one another. The odds were probably pretty good that at least a third of the town could call him “Uncle Frank” and be accurate in doing so. In Porch, the idea of the ‘extended family’ took on a whole new meaning and even those who held no relation treated each other as though they did. There was no shortage of “Aunts”, “Uncles”, “Grams” and “Gramps” and, frankly, no one would have it any other way.
“Boys!?” Uncle Frank’s voice filtered through to them again; “What are you guys doing in there?”
“Uncle Frank?” Gary called out as he got to his feet and began frittering around in an effort to pinpoint the source.
“Over here,” he called back although, given the wonky acoustics, it did nothing to help the brothers’ locate him. For several excruciating minutes they played verbal tag trying to bring themselves together; it was Mikey that finally spotted him on the other side of the dim, green wall. He was outside. It was actually rather amazing that Uncle Frank had been able to see them on the inside at all and if it weren’t for a renegade stream of sunlight and a stroke of luck…he probably wouldn’t have.
The three finally met in the same spot with only the circular green wall keeping them from making any physical contact. Oddly enough, now that they were right in front of each other they could barely hear each other and had to yell at the top of their lungs to communicate at all and, even then, it was a broken conversation at best. Uncle Frank had begun and, although he spoke for some time the only words the brothers could discern were “How the hell…”, “Where is the…”, “…tell everyone…” and “…yummy, damn smell…”. It was fairly obvious what he was trying to express, however: he wanted in. The only thing in the whole world that they wanted right now was to get the hell out of there and…that damn fool wanted in.
The brothers found themselves screaming back at him in unison and repeating nearly identical phrases like “it’s a trap”, “get us out” and “get help” and for a moment they thought they’d gotten through to him. It appeared for a moment that he was calling others over in an effort to help them. Unfortunately, the view through the dim green wall didn’t provide enough detail for them to see the skeptical expression on Uncle Frank’s face…and then the faces of those that joined him. It was the smell. It was just too powerful.
Mikey should’ve known from his own interactions with Gary when he first encountered him in the dome. He hadn’t believed his brother when he was told there was no food…just as those on the other side of the dome’s wall did not believe them. They knew with the same certainty that he had that either A: they were just too stupid to locate the food; or B: they were trying to keep it all for themselves. The scent, unfortunately, proved to be as strong as any drug in Porch and the small crowd gathering on the outside of the dome seemed to be leaning towards the latter. Before too long they weren’t trying to communicate with the brothers any longer and began to split up into small ‘front-door’ search parties.
Gary and Mikey watched with morbid fascination as the crowd grew larger and larger, all searching for a way in. They covered every inch on the dome’s walls and even onto its roof and the brothers’ desperately tried to keep as many of them in their viewpoints as possible. While these stupid fools may have been trying to get in, instead of getting them out, it could still work out in their favor. If someone were to manage their way in and one of them could see them do it…then they’d know how to get out…theoretically. The key element to their continued existence was finding that damned door and every neuron they had were singularly focused on that task. The steadily growing assembly outside could only be a good thing as far as they were concerned. They’d already exhausted their hopes of their finding the door themselves from the inside. This could very well be their last, best chance at escape.
Occasionally they would catch a snippet as one group would call out to another “not here” or “keep looking” but for the most part they were nothing more than obscured shapes scaling about the dome creating strange green shadows that danced eerily across the floor and inner walls. If the brothers hadn’t been so intensely fixated on keeping up with their progress, the effect would’ve been nothing short of creepy. Every second was a minute and every minute an hour to the extent that time almost had no meaning. Days could’ve passed when a random voice rang out with a pitch-perfect clarity that could’ve come from right next to them.
“It’s here!” They had no idea whose voice it was, although it did seem somewhat familiar, surely someone they’d both met before. “I found the door everyone!” she screamed again; “I found the door!” They didn’t see anyone’s bright eyes looking back at them from any direction and they immediately separated, desperately searching from the source. Normally, Gary wouldn’t have let Mikey set off in the opposite direction, such as he did, but they both knew in their cores that this was a crucial moment…one they couldn’t let pass them by. Somewhere close, someone had found their way out!
“Where are you?” Gary called out to the voice, no longer able to see his brother or the new occupant. “Help us!”
“I’m right here dear!” Gary spun on his heels and there she was, standing right in front of him. It was Mary Something-or-another; Gary had met her on a couple occasions. At his age, politics wasn’t really something he kept up with but he kind-of thought that she was the Mayor or maybe a preacher. He was pretty sure he’d seen her speaking before crowds of some type…but it was hard to say in his current traumatized state. Whatever the case, seeing her standing here in front of him was the last thing he wanted to see.
“NO!” he screamed involuntarily. “No…no…no! Where’s the door? How did you get in here?” He could tell from Mary’s mildly bemused facial expression that she was giving no credence to his panic. For starters, he did have something of a reputation in Porch for his emotional escapades…so most adults generally gazed at him with that same look. Beyond that, however, was the fact that she was fully enraptured by the aroma still wafting off the walls. He could see it in her eyes; she held no concern for his safety.
“It’s right there behind me, silly.” She said as she flitted past him in search of the elusive food. Gary could feel the tears pooling again as he desperately searched the area from which she’d came…the direction from which he had just come. Much as he expected: there was nothing there. It was as maddening as it was frightening. After a couple frantic minutes searching walls he’d already searched a dozen times before, Gary decided to backtrack and grill Mayor Mary a little harder about the way she’d gotten in. It was a moot decision, however, as the moment he spun around he was met by Uncle Frank and several of his drinking buddies who filled the hall before him, appearing as if from nowhere.
“Uncle Frank!” Gary screamed; the joy he suddenly felt piercing his tone. Uncle Frank’s manic friends immediately dispersed in both directions, making no effort to conceal their drooling, zombified expressions. Much like Mary before them, they were fully caught up in the hypnotic aroma’s spell.
“How…” was all Gary managed to get out before his uncle was cutting him off while physically covering the youth’s mouth to hush him.
“Not now, Little Buzzy.” ‘Little Buzzy’ was his go-to pet-name for any local child whose real name didn’t instantly spring to mind. Gary knew that Uncle Frank knew his name but…much like the others…he wasn’t engaging in the type of rational thought he normally would be; it was more than evident from his wide, wild eyes. It surely didn’t help that he’d probably spend the better part of the morning getting drunk on the locally produced fermented, apple concoction that served as the biggest tourism draw in the summers.
“Just point me in the direction of the food, Kiddo!” It was a reaction beyond anything that Gary could easily digest and something inside him just, kind-of snapped. Without even knowing that he was going to do so, Gary watched in slow-motion as his arm autonomously raised itself and swung through the air, smacking Uncle Frank right across his face. For a full three seconds there was nothing but shocked silence as neither of them could actually believe it had just happened.
“What the fu…” The older of the two began, but Gary cut him off.
“The door Frank! Where’s the damn door?” The simple fact that Gary hadn’t addressed him with the normal ‘Uncle’ attached to his moniker seemed to convey his seriousness more than anything and Uncle Frank’s jaw dropped open. He blinked several time, as if waking up from a dream before finally sputtering; “It’s…uh…it’s…right there.” He pointed to a spot in the wall where he thought he just entered but, much to his chagrin, there was nothing there save the sheen solidity of impenetrable green. Uncle Frank blinked again and shook his head as he struggled to process just exactly what was happening.
For a moment, Gary thought he’d won his uncle over to the side of genuine concern. That was up to the point that Uncle Frank’s belly gurgled its insistence, easily re-directing his attention.
“Doesn’t matter, Kid.” He waved it off. “We’ll find it later. If you’re not going to help me find the food…well…don’t expect me to share.” On the last couple words, Uncle Frank had spun around and begun to make his way in the opposite direction. Gary wanted to scream in frustration but, as it turned out, it was a good thing he didn’t. As Uncle Frank had rounded the bend, just out of sight, Gary could hear him repeat “excuse me…excuse me” as other voices returned with several “pardon me”, “coming through” and “where’s the food, Buddy?” There were more coming in!
Gary sprinted up the bend and was met with a small crowd, maybe twenty or thirty more; and the group was continuing to grow. He desperately tried to fight his way forward through the growing mass of bodies but his progress was becoming slower. No matter how hard he tried to jockey for any type of vantage point, he was unable to see where they were coming from. They were just…coming. It was only a matter of minutes for the thirty to become a hundred or more and he found himself being pressed backwards by the overwhelming size of the group.
Once he’d been pushed to a point where the bodies were coming in from both sides of the large, circular hall Gary began screaming out for his brother. It felt like screaming into the wind, however. Hundreds of voices all asking each other some variation of the question, ‘where’s the food?’ created cacophonous jumble of noise. He was actually shocked when Mikey came fighting his way through the crowd to his side where the two of them embraced tightly.
“I told you I’d come back, Little Bro.” Gary’s moist eyes looked up at his brother and he nodded as though he’d never had a doubt; in truth…he hadn’t. Mikey had never let him down before.
“I couldn’t see where they’re coming in at,” Gary called out to his brother; the growing din about them making it necessary to raise their voices even though they were right next to one another.
“I know…” Mikey replied; “I couldn’t either. They just started flooding in.” Looking around, the brothers could see that very nearly the everyone in Porch seemed to be cramming themselves into the dome that had once given the impression of being very large around them. It was progressively seeming smaller and smaller as they began to be squished together from all sides. Logic looked to dictate that once the place filled up, whomever was the last one in would be standing next to the door and would therefore be able to lead everyone out. Regrettably, that didn’t appear to be the case.
Instead of reaching an apex of fullness and then receding like the wading shore, the count just continued to grow and, before they were even aware of their legs leaving the ground, they were being lifted up by a sea of Porchians. Fear now gripped both brothers equally as they struggled to keep their arms linked together and somewhere in both their minds there was this idea that if they could just hold out long enough, this entire nightmare would come to an end somehow. Unless they had all just died and gone to hell, this was an unthinkable scenario that must surely give way to probability and logic at some point and mercifully ease itself into something that could be overcome.
This must’ve been the prevailing mindset for the group as a whole as, once they’d become crammed together, no one concerned themselves with the food any longer; they hadn’t, however, given way to complete pandemonium either. There was plenty of tension and anxiety, undoubtedly, but it didn’t go much further than that…at first. That was, as they would all soon discover, the calm before the storm. Fifteen minutes and fifty bodies later and it was an entirely different picture. The calm that kept the tightness of their bodies from becoming a hazard dissipated, slowly at first, and regressed the normally peaceful population into a state of primal chaos.
The shifting and twisting was subtle at first, nothing more than tiny efforts for the smallest bits of comfort but quickly, and without warning, it turned into an aggressive battle for survival. Friends, neighbors and loved ones began to flail and struggle against one another amid the growing roar of cries and moans. Showing no concern for whom they might be climbing over, it seemed most everyone had become fixated on a singular goal: not being on the bottom.
Squished tightly against Mikey and struggling for breath, Gary was terrified beyond the point of making any of his own sounds and, upon seeing his countenance mirrored in his brother’s face, slipped into a self-defensive state of mental separation. Looking around with wide, glassy eyes, and now detached from the reality of their predicament, his field of vision was completely filled with massive array of wailing faces. Some of them he knew…some he didn’t…but all of them shared the same panicked expressions. Somewhere deep inside, Gary was grateful for the fact that this nightmare glimpse into hell wasn’t actually happening to him.
Somehow, and inexplicably, the dome continued to fill and, as the crest began to rise, the degrees of primitive savagery grew with it. Churning like a slowly boiling cauldron, the roiling sea of bodies created unusual riptides and Mikey could feel himself and Gary being pulled beneath the surface. One look into his little brother’s eyes told him that the kid was no longer with him…not in any useful capacity at least; and although he knew it would make keeping them alive that much harder…he was glad to see it. Hell…he might’ve even been a little jealous. Either way…he wasn’t going to let them get pulled into the abyss without a fight.
With one arm wrapped tightly around Gary’s neck, Mikey used his other appendages to try to fight his way back to the top. Mikey was a strong guy…and a good swimmer to boot, but this wasn’t anything like treading water. Perhaps if the water punched him in the face and grabbed at his legs with each stroke there might’ve been some ground for comparison. Gary’s body felt like dead weight and for several indeterminably long seconds there was nothing but the painful and exhausting struggle to maintain their ground and ‘stay afloat’ along with the horrifying knowledge that the amount of time his body allowed him to continue to fight was quickly coming to an end.
Gary’s eyes slowly circled back to his own as only their heads were left protruding above the fray and Mikey thought he saw something in them that he knew would definitely not be in his own: acceptance. There was an unfathomable peace deep within them and Mikey couldn’t help but to be amazed by the little guy at least one more time in their lives. Gary always told anyone that would listen that his big brother was his hero and that he would always save the day…but the truth of the matter was actually the opposite. Gary was really the hero; he always had been. The way the kid looked at the world and everyone in it was to truly be admired. Somehow he always managed to see the beauty in everyone and everything and even this was no exception.
Mikey opened his mouth to scream, “I love you Gary” at least one more time…even though he already knew, but the words didn’t get a chance to produce themselves. As quickly as the frenetic swirling had begun…it came suddenly to a stop, followed very closely by a wave of four repeated words. Like an echo that grew louder as it progressed, Mikey found himself repeating the phrase as well, involuntarily sending the message forward.
It wasn’t a lot to go on but each set of ears that the words reached seemed to instantly comprehend their meaning and, more importantly, became still as a result. The mysterious and surreal circumstances that the citizens of Porch had found themselves in was unimaginable by any stretch of the imagination and came with no shortage of prevailing questions. Initially, what seemed to be the most important, ‘where is the food?’, was nothing more than an afterthought having quickly been replaced by more pressing ones like, ‘where’s the door?’ and ‘Oh Dear Lord what have I done?’.
There was one mystery, however, that taunted all of them in their various states of dismay, one that, quite literally, hung over them: those damned words on the wall. While it didn’t appear to bear any relevance to their current predicament it still felt important. There were no avenues of logic that led anyone to believe that knowing what those huge letters spelled out would, in any way, improve their situation and yet…there was something about them that seemed to extend some small sliver of hope to every one of them that saw them. Somehow…in some way…those words were the key to their freedom! The effect was, in all probability, an unintended one but that didn’t stop the irrational thought from spreading quickly. So much so that the mere idea that there was someone in there who could actually read them was enough to bring about a temporarily stoic silence.
From somewhere further down the bend, Mikey could see a body that had been lifted up out of the tightly wound mass and was slowly being moved forward by hundreds of hands which, at least momentarily, were working together. From his awkward, half-buried angle it was difficult to tell who it was, only that they were old. For the most part however, the brothers were directly beneath the three words on the wall and, in another moment or two, that individual would be upon them anyway…assuming the undulating thing that they had all become together continued to maintain a cooperative calm rather than reverting back to the previously chaotic state. The beast that was ‘the thing in the dome’ contained the cumulative qualities that could make it a powerful asset if they could only keep their wits; one that could even, perhaps, find its way across the river Styx and out of this green, Hades. Unfortunately, the thing held just as much potential for autosarcophagy.
Once Mikey was finally able to see who it was that had been surfed their way, his initial response was one of genuine shock; and then a second wave of shock at the fact that, given where they were and what was happening, he could even be shocked in the first place. No one, even their long dead mother herself, should’ve really been a surprise in that moment. They were, after all, in some sort of altered reality where the normal rules no longer applied. And yet…seeing the Colonel was not at all what he’d been expecting.
For starters, it was common knowledge that Old Colonel Foster never left his home…never. He was, by far and away, the oldest citizen of Porch and, given that he lived right on the outskirts, could barely be called that. Something of a modern-day legend, there were so many stories told about him in town, it was all but impossible to discern truth from fiction anymore. The few things that did seem etched in stone were that Old Colonel Foster was a former soldier who fought in the Great Wasp War and who now lived as a hermit. From there one was free to believe any number of options that had been floated over time, everything from his being the Godfather of an underground criminal syndicate to an undead vampire to a witness protection program candidate who’d gone into hiding after helping to bring down an underground criminal syndicate. There was no shortage of backgrounds and abilities to choose from but as the old guy was being gently settled right next to them, Mikey remembered one in particular that came up from time to time. Old Colonel Foster could actually read!
A wave of intense shushing rapidly made its way around the dome…and then all eyes were on the aged veteran who had focused his attention solely on the three words before him. The first word, written above the other two, was longer than both of others combined and the old guy took over a minute trying to sound it out aloud, pausing a couple of times to apologize and say, “it’s been a long time since I’ve read”.
“Dee…da…diss…po…pose…a…disposa…bb…buu…bull…” before finally; “disposable”. Confused looks were exchanged all around and several could be heard muttering “disposable?” to themselves or others before the Colonel was pressed to continue. The next two words came easily and were quickly spread around the dome like lightening which fried the sanity of each that heard and then repeated them. There was a long moment of silent stillness as each individual took the time they needed to process just exactly where it was that they were before giving in fully to the panic and fear.
Mikey could only watch as his little brother was torn away from him, taking his arm with him. The gaping wound felt vaguely like ice, but given that the action sent him into shock, it wasn’t nearly as intense as he though it probably should’ve been. Reaching out with his remaining arm he took one last swipe as his brother…and missed. Just before Gary disappeared into the frantically swirling sea of wailing fear their eyes made contact for the last time and Gary…smiled at him. It was exactly what Mikey needed to see and, amazingly enough, completely washed away his distress and…he felt the peace as well. Even in the end the kid was his friggin’ hero. Then he was gone, swept away by the gory tide.
Mikey looked up at the words on the wall above him as he felt himself being pulled under as well and couldn’t help but to think to himself, what type of creature would even conceive such a place as this? What demon from the abyss came forward to construct this green hell, otherwise known as the “DISPOSABLE FLY TRAP”?
There was very little time to ponder the idea, however, as Mikey could feel the same freezing sensation on his back as both his wings were ripped away. Awash in arms, legs, wings and heads, death was all about him and he could feel its cold embrace all over. It wouldn’t be much longer now and, thanks to Gary, he was okay with that. His only real regret, here at the end of his short life, was that there was nothing he could do to keep his brethren away from this place. There was no telling how many lives this place could claim before the monsters deemed it…disposable.
CREDIT: Shannon Higdon
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