Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Scoop" by Al Miller (chapter 10)

From Detroit to Fort Wayne, Indiana the traveling was pretty normal, but then we began to notice the traffic coming the other way. Fact is we were able to breeze right through until we got close to Marion. Just north of Marion, the police had set up a road block. We were fairly sure what the problem was, but we were also quite certain that we didn’t want to confront the police with a stolen car. Having grown up in that area and being quite familiar with the back roads, I turned off the main road, choosing instead to take my chances.
As we turned onto a rather rough side road, Tommy woke from a nap, something for which we were both long overdue. After stretching and yawning, he reached into the back seat for the thermos of coffee we had purchased.
"Welcome back to the land of the living," I said somewhat sarcastically. "Did you have pleasant dreams?"
Tommy took a swallow from the cup. "Not really, George. I couldn't get that story out of my head. I kept seeing the earth split open and steam rolling out."
"Sounds about right. There was plenty of that going on in the story."
"Then there were the cars being toppled over and falling into the cracks being left by the earthquake."
"I seem to remember that too. A really horrible sight. If we had only known this might happen, maybe we wouldn't have started writing those stories in the first place."

Tommy took another swallow from the cup. "You want some of this stuff, George?"
"Thought you'd never ask." He poured another cup and handed it to me. "But what I'd really like is a shot of Bourbon on the rocks."
"No, George," he said very slowly, "I don't think you really do. That's part of what got us into this pickle in the first place. More of the same would just make it worse."
I drove on. After a minute or so, I turned to Tommy. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Actually, I haven't missed it since this whole business began. Maybe that's a sign it's time to quit. D'ya think?"
"I think you've just given yourself the best advice you ever got," answered Tommy. "I quit myself a few years ago. Haven't had a drink for fourteen years now."
"Gee, that's a long time. Don't you ever get the urge for a drink?"
Tommy was silent for a full minute. "Yes, I do every now and then. Once you're an alcoholic, you're in for life. But the urges come much less frequently after a few years."
"I don't know if I could go that long without a drink. Seems like an awful long time."
"That's the secret," said Tommy. "You don't try to stay off the drinking for a long time. You tell yourself every morning, 'Today I'm not going to drink.' First thing you know, the days turn into weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years. Then you look back on it and tell yourself, I've been free for however many years it's been. The problem is control. You don't have the necessary control to last for fourteen years. You have to do it one day at a time."

I had no answer for him. I couldn't think of a single smart-alecky quip to make myself look better. I could only sit and think, Tommy did it. Why can't I?
It must have been fifteen minutes later when Tommy got back to the original problem. "George, how much do you remember about those original stories?"
I thought for a minute. "Well, I'll have to admit that after all these years, some of the details are just a little fuzzy. But I think I remember 'em pretty well."
"How 'bout the mine story? Were all the details just exactly as you remember 'em? Was there anything just a little out of place?"
"Now that you mention it, I don't remember that one reporter being in the original story. What was his name, Bob Orr? As I recall, we had Mike Wallace down there."
"That's what I was thinking."
"So, what does that mean? All the rest of the story was just like we wrote it, wasn't it?"
"Mostly, I guess. But I said something while I was down there in the mine that wasn't in the original."
"What was that?"
"It was that message I sent you. I said 'Go to plan B'."
"That's true, but how else could we have changed the outcome?"

"We couldn't. But that's just the point. The story changed even before you found that typewriter and re-wrote the ending. Something else changed that story before you could."
"Are you trying to tell me it would have come out the way it did even if I hadn't re-written the ending?"
"I don't know, George. Maybe. But most of all, I don't think this situation is under your or my control, at least not entirely."
It took a long time to think about that. I kept looking at Tommy, then at the road, then trying to visualize the story we had written, then back at Tommy. I was so bothered by the problem that I stopped paying enough attention to the road. That's when it happened. I looked straight ahead and spotted the crack across the road, but before I could apply the brakes, we were jumping the gap. By the time we reached the opposite side, the front bumper was just above the level of the pavement. We hit the raw edge with the tires, and with the full force of my sixty-five mile an hour speed. The force was sufficient to rupture both front tires on impact. This also caused the front end to bounce into the air and the rear end to try to catch up. We were nosed up at about a thirty degree angle when the rear of the car hit the edge of the fissure just in front of the rear wheels. This brought the front end crashing down against the pavement again.

I don't know how long we sat there, but when I came to, Tommy was lying against the dash, bleeding from a gash on his forehead. Gradually, I became aware that there was a great deal of steam coming from the front of the car. The windshield was shattered, being held together only by the plastic film that made it safety glass. Both front doors were unlatched, but they were also jammed against the pavement, which would make it very difficult to open them. I was afraid to move my head for fear my neck might be broken. Finally, I felt around my neck and found nothing amiss. I tried moving my head. No pain. Working my way down to my toes, the only problem I found was a pain in my left ankle.
"Tommy?" There was no response. "Tommy?" I reached over to shake him awake. He groaned but did not open his eyes. I reached down and unfastened my seat belt. Then I rolled toward Tommy. The pain in my left foot suddenly became excruciating and I cried out. There was still no response from Tommy so I unfastened his seat belt.
By now, I could see that what was coming from the engine compartment was not steam but smoke. "If I don't get us out of here now, we're gonna go up in smoke with this old junker."
I took hold of Tommy's shoulders and pulled him toward me. I would have to live with the pain in my ankle. "Come on, Tommy. We're goin' out." With all the force I could muster given the cramped space, I slammed against the door. It gave a little, but not enough to release from the pavement. I slammed against it again and again, six or seven times. Finally the door opened far enough to allow us to get out, but in the process, the car sagged toward the left, reducing the opening by a third.
It was now or never. Grabbing Tommy by both shoulders again, I pulled him over my chest. Then, using my right foot to push against the drive shaft hump and whatever else I could brace it against, I pushed and squirmed and pulled until finally we were far enough outside the car for me to stand. Tommy was beginning to revive by this time and I managed to get him onto his feet.

The car was now burning furiously, and we could feel the heat on our faces. I turned and half dragged, half hopped until we were about fifty feet from the burning wreck. I sensed, more than heard, the gas tank start to blow; and I pitched forward, dragging Tommy to the ground with me. We felt the flame passing over us. The force of the explosion lifted the flaming hulk from the edge of the precipice over backward and into the yawning fissure. I could hear nothing. The impact of the explosion had deafened me temporarily.
Just as I thought the danger was passed, the ground began to tremble. It began as a mild vibration and quickly escalated to wild shaking from side to side. As if to add insult to injury, it began to rain. Not just a shower, but a hard drenching rain that soaked into my pores and made me wet from the inside out. I looked at Tommy. He was trying to speak, but because of my temporary deafness, I could only see his lips move. I tried to read his lips. He seemed to be saying something about control. That was the only word I could make out. Something . . . control.
My hearing was at last starting to come back. I began to hear what Tommy was trying to say. ". . . out of control."
"What is out of control? It seems that everything is out of control. The weather, the earth, even my life is completely out of control." I was screaming as loud as I could, but the rumbling of the earth beneath me was drowning out my voice. The rumbling turned into a screeching sound as the steam began to spew forth from the ground beside me. The ground began to separate from between me and Tommy. Then I watched in total disbelief as Tommy was lifted off the ground and seemed to be floating over me as though he were being levitated by some magical force. Then I screamed in horror as the ground beneath me began to break away and I fell into the chasm.

I hit bottom and opened my eyes. Everything was a blur, but the noise had stopped. Was I dead, or had the deafness returned? I was soaking wet. The ground beneath me was hard but very smooth. I felt something under my right arm. It seemed to be made of cloth. "How is that possible," I thought, "at the bottom of a hole in the ground?"
My vision began to clear, and as it did, I could see that Tommy was still there hovering over me. He was still uttering that same word, "control. Everything is under control. Wake up George. Everything is under control."
The ground began to fade away, and in its place, the darkness of a room began to take shape. It was my room. I was lying beside my bed. My left ankle throbbed with pain. I was ringing wet. It was sweat. My own sweat, and I was lying in a pool of it on the floor of my room. Tommy was kneeling beside me with his hands on my shoulders trying to hold me down.
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