Saturday, 14 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Seventeen

[This is the chapter that made one of my beta readers quit reading and hate me with really real hate. My own mother threatened to throw my laptop out the window and told me she doesn't want to hear from me until I 'fixed this'. Basically...Don't read it, you guys. Save yourselves.

Parts 1-16 are here if you want to pretend that the story ended at cupcakes and carrots and the tooth fairy.]




He’s not sure where they are going. They trudge blindly through the snow, searching for any sign of Michael, any sign of shelter, any sign of help.

There’s nothing.

They are alone.

James tries to calculate how far the avalanche has taken them, but he has no idea. They could be anywhere by now.

“Michael,” he mumbles, unaware that he’s saying it out loud. “Michael, please. Michael.”

He stops abruptly, too stricken by grief and fear to move any further.

“We could be going the wrong way,” he mumbles to himself. “We could be…I don’t…I need…Michael.”

His heart feels like it is tearing at the seams. He looks up at the sky. The sun has just started to rise.

“Please,” he whispers. “Oh God, please. Help us. If you are real, if you are what I was raised to believe you are, then help us. Please. Help us.”

“James?”

He looks down at Alexander. He’s staring at him with tears in his eyes.

“Are we going to die?”

The tear in his heart widens.

“No, buddy,” he says, wiping the tears from his eyes. “We’re going to be fine.” He reaches down and picks him up, mindful of his broken arm. “We’re going to be okay. We’re together. And together we can face anything. Do you hear me? Together we can get through anything.”

Alexander nods. James can tell he’s trying not to cry.

His heart splits cleanly in two.

“Come on,” he says, taking a jagged breath in. “We have to keep moving.”

He looks around indecisively, trying to determine which way to go.

“That way,” Alexander says, pointing to the left of them. “I think we need to go that way.”

James stares at him. At his nine year old child trying to be brave. Trying to take charge. Trying to be strong. He wraps his other arm around him, hugging him against his chest.

“I think you’re right,” he says unsteadily. “We’ll go that way.”

He composes himself before he pulls away and puts Alexander back down on the ground. Between the pain in his back and the pain in his shoulder, he can’t carry him for long. Alexander slips his hand into James’ hand and together they keep moving.

They’ve only gone a few hundred feet when James sees it.

Sees him.

Michael.

Clinging to a broken branch as he dangles over the edge of a cliff.

“Michael,” he whispers in disbelief. “Michael. MICHAEL!!”

He takes a few steps and then stops, turning to Alexander.

“See that tree over there?” James says, pointing to a pine tree a few hundred feet away. “Go over there and wait for me. Don’t move no matter what. Do you understand?”

Alexander nods, staring at Michael. He is almost as white as the snow.

“Alexander!” James says, louder than he intends to. “Go! Now! Wait for me and Uncle Michael. We’ll be there really soon.”

“Do you promise?” Alexander whispers.

James doesn’t answer. Instead he turns and sprints over to where Michael hangs. Half his body is wrapped around the tree branch, while the other half dangles dangerously over the edge. James glances over his shoulder. Alexander is standing under the tree. It gives James a small degree of comfort. He doesn’t want Alexander anywhere near the edge. He turns back.

“Michael,” he says loud enough for Michael to hear him. Michael looks up. His face fills with hope, then with fear.

“J,” he chokes out. He sounds terrified. “J, get back! It’s not safe! I was walking and the ground, the ground just…”

“It’s going to be okay,” James says, cautiously slowing down. “It’s going to be alright. Just –”

The ground trembles. Clumps of snow fall away from beside Michael. James feels dizzy.

“James,” Michael whimpers. “Please, go back. You can’t be here. You can’t be.”

James ignores him and keeps walking forward. He’s nearly there now. He can see that it’s not actually a cliff face; it’s a large drop where the snow has fallen away. It looks to be almost a mile high. He wants to throw up.

“James,” Michael pleads as another tremor ripples through the snow. “Please. Alexander needs you. You can’t be here.”

“Shhhh,” James says, blinking away tears of fear. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Alexander needs us both.”

“James…”

Michael slips further down the branch. James acts without thinking. He dives forward, landing on his stomach and grabbing Michael by the wrists. The ground shakes. More snow falls away.

“I’ve got you,” James says through clenched teeth. “I’ve got you.”

Michael stares at him with terrified eyes.

“James please,” he whispers. “Alexander can’t lose you. He can’t.”

“He’s not losing either of us,” James says, gritting his teeth against the pain in his shoulder. “Do you think you can pull yourself up?”

Michael tries to. The movement sends more snow over the end of the precipice.

“Stop! STOP!” James yells. His heart is beating much too quickly. He tries to think. He sees another branch a few feet away from him, probably belonging to the same tree, buried underneath the snow. A plan formulates in his mind.

“Okay,” he says, staring at the second branch. “Okay. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to let go of you with one hand and grab this other branch.” He gestures towards it with his head. “As I do that, you’re going to swing yourself up onto the snow. Once I have the branch, I’ll use it as leverage to pull you up. Can you do that?”

Michael shakes his head. “It’s too dangerous, J! You might fall with me!”

“I won’t,” James says firmly. He can feel his shoulder shifting in a way it is not meant to shift. He tries to ignore it. “No one is falling. Do you hear me? No one is falling. Now we’re going to do this on the count of three. One.”

“James…”

“Two!”

“James, no!”

“Three!”

James lets go of Michael with his right hand and grips the branch beside him. Michael just barely manages to grab onto James’s left arm.

“Now pull up!” James yells. His shoulder slides in its socket. “Climb!”

Michael starts to scramble upwards, but as he does, more snow falls away. His body slips further over the edge and he loses his grip on the branch.

“NO!” James screams, tightening his hold on Michael’s wrist. “MICHAEL!”

Michael dangles over the edge. James’ hand is the only thing keeping him from falling.

The wind begins to howl. The ground shakes.

“Let me go!” Michael yells over the wind. “The whole thing is about to collapse! Let me go and get out of here!”

“NOT A FUCKING CHANCE!” James screams back, clinging to him. “USE ME! USE MY ARM LIKE A ROPE! YOU CAN DO IT!”

Michael looks down. His other hand slips a little further down James’ arm.

“DON’T LOOK DOWN!” James yells. “WE CAN DO THIS! MICHAEL, WE CAN DO THIS!”

Michael looks back up at James. His eyes are full of tears. More snow falls away. James clings onto the branch.

“I love you, brother,” Michael yells. “Remember that. Always remember that. Alexander needs you. He won’t survive without you.”

“MICHAEL!” James screams, seeing what is coming. “DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE! MICHAEL! DON’T!”

Michael closes his eyes.

And lets go.

******