Out of the Darkness

OUT OF THE DARKNESS by Sue Coletta

Weeks had past since the accident, and still I sat alone in the dark.  My world had fallen apart, shattered like glass, and all because a drunk driver crossed the double yellow lines.

I swayed in my pine rocker, the woven seat worn thin from overuse, and planned my death;  wondered how I’d carry out a successful suicide and free myself from living a nightmare.

Pills, I thought.  I had enough medications to kill a small elephant.  If I swallowed a handful it should do the trick.  But what if I lived?  What if I drifted into a coma?  Or worse, entered a vegetative state?  No.  I needed a guarantee.  A solution that would ensure my departure from this world and my ascent into heaven.

I fantasized about lounging in a warm, frothy bubble bath.  Flickering candles spreading a soft trickling glow over the water.  I drew a long, thin blade from between the pleats of a folded towel and pressed it against the soft underbelly of my wrist.

The cold steel sent a shiver up my spine.  I hesitated, then braced myself for the pain.

The knife punctured my skin.

It stung, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.  Determined to die, I drew the blade up my arms and slashed open the arteries.

Leaning back against a suctioned-cupped pillow, my palms facing up on the tub’s edge, I allowed my lifeblood to drain from my body.

Warm blood veiled my arms and hands.

I pictured it gushing from my wounds: crimson red, thick, the bubbles tinted pink.  Within seconds my thoughts became scrambled, my mind fogged from lack of nourishment.  I felt weak, but content with my decision.

I yearned to see Robert again.  I missed his touch, his scent, his love.  “I’m coming, honey,”  I whispered.

The pitter-patter of Evaughn’s nursing shoes against the hardwood snapped me out of my reverie.

“Are you sleeping?”  she asked.

I kept my eyes closed, held tight to my daydream, and didn’t answer.

“Scarlet,” her hand clamped on my shoulder, “it’s time to wake up.”

“Why?  Why do I have to get up?  There’s no pressing meetings for me to attend.  No one’s waiting for me.  Not anymore, anyway.”  A lone tear rolled down my cheek.

“Stop it.  I’m not listening to another one of your pity-parties.”

“Evaughn, please.  Just leave me be.”

“Now how would that help you?  Besides, today’s a big day.”

“How so?”

“Today you take back your independence.”

That got my attention.  I opened my eyes.  “What are you up to, Evaughn?”

“Me?”  she asked, as if innocent of my insinuation.  “It’s time, Scarlet.”

I fell back against the rocker and turned away.  “Time for what?”

Evaughn rested a supportive hand over my frail fingers.  “For fun.  You need some joy back in your life.  I can’t watch you sit in that rocker another second!  Besides, don’t you want to go for a walk?”

“I don’t feel like going anywhere today.  Just leave me be.  It’s not like I can even enjoy the outdoors anymore.”

“I don’t have time for your boohooing.  Now, get up.”

Evaughn was tough but loving.  She was hard on me because she cared.  We’d gotten close over the last several weeks, so she didn’t have to pussyfoot around my feelings.  She was a straight-shooter who told it like it was, and I respected her for it.

I also knew I’d never win an argument with her, so reluctantly I stood, my fingers white-knuckling the arm of the rocker.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Evaughn sang out.  “The sun is shining, it’s warm, it’s a perfect day to get some fresh air.”

How could I argue with her?  She’d been by my side since I left the hospital.  I owed her at least that much, even though I had no desire to leave the house.

“Yay, another walk.  Just what I need,”  I grumbled, as I patted the walls and floor, searching for my cane.  “Where are we going this time?”

We aren’t going anywhere, you are.

A lump formed in my throat. “By myself?  Have you lost your ever-lovin’ mind!?”

“We’ve taken the same route every day for two weeks now.  It’s time for the little bird to

leave the nest.  You are that little bird.  You’ll be fine.  You need to start doing these things alone.  It’s important you learn to survive on your own and you can’t do that if I’m always by your side.”

She cupped my hand around her forearm and assisted me to the door.

I stopped short.  “My glasses!”

“I’ve got them; don’t worry.”  She slid dark tinted glasses over my ears, snapped open my walking cane and folded my fingers around the top.  “I’ll be here when you get home,”  she said, then gave me a gentle nudge out the door.  “Have fun.  And Scarlet, I don’t want to see you back here for at least a half hour.”

“What time is it?”

“You’ve got a watch.  Use it.”  She closed the door, but I knew she’d be watching.  She was too much of a mother hen not to spy on me.

I lollygagged on the front stoop.  I wasn’t ready for this.  Why didn’t Evaughn understand?  Lifting the protective glass on the face of my new watch, I touched the embossments– the minute and hour hands and twelve raised dots– with my fingertips.  It’s two-oh-five.  It’s only thirty minutes.  We’ve walked this road many times.  I can do this… I think.  

With a straight arm outstretched in front me, the walking cane tapped side-to-side against the dirt road’s sandy edge.

The sound reminded me of a metronome atop an upright piano, but it didn’t lull me into tranquility.  My nerves jumped like hot oil in a cast iron skillet.  All I saw was blackness.  Nothingness.  A dark and scary world.  A never-ending maw of evil waiting to quaff me up.

Turning back was not an option.  Evaughn made that clear.  I had no choice, so I soldiered on.

The sweltering hot sun scorched my skin.

A sheen of sweat gathered on my forehead, neck and chest.  I plucked my clinging tank-top away from my body, fanned it in and out, and hoped to cool myself.

It didn’t work.

The flutter of wings high above my head made me forget about the heat.

I stopped.  Listened.

A low guttural croak sounded to the right of me.  A dog’s bark straight ahead.  Children’s laughter echoed in the distance.  And a slight whisper from a warm breeze whisked by my ear.

Maybe this wasn’t such a terrible idea, I thought.  I resumed my stroll in awe of what I was experiencing.  I stepped up the pace, my cane clicking faster and faster against the road.

My mind drifted back in time.  A time twenty years ago when two high school sweethearts said I do under a fragrant flowered trellis.  The birds sang that day, too.  The sun warmed our faces.  The champagne fueled our passion.  Oh, how I wished Robert was here with me now.  My grim reality: he wasn’t here.  I missed his touch, his scent.  My body ached for one more day in his loving embrace.  He was my lover, my best friend.

How dare that drunk take him from me too.  The only consolation I had was that Robert died on impact; he never suffered.  Our last moment was one of laughter.  We had just professed our love to each other when a drunk driver swerved into our lane and struck us head-on.

Anger and resentment boiled to the surface.  Evaughn always preached, “Let go, let God.”  Where was God when I needed him most?  Where was he that night?  And where is he now?

I heard Evaughn’s voice in my head.  “Free the anger.  Breathe…”

I inhaled a deep, cleansing breath through my nostrils, exhaled through my mouth, and tried to release the tautness in neck.  I concentrated on happy moments instead of dire ones.  And within seconds, my mind snapped back to the present.

Something was different.  I couldn’t hear the dog barking anymore.  The children’s voices trailed around the corner and vanished like vapor.  There were no familiar sounds.  The sun faded.  And a coolness chilled my bare arms, sheathing my skin in goosebumps.

I must have wandered off the road somehow.

Something was different.  I couldn’t hear the dog barking anymore.  The children’s voices trailed around the corner and vanished like vapor.  There were no familiar sounds.  The sun faded.  And a coolness chilled my bare arms, sheathing my skin in goosebumps.

I must have wandered off the road somehow.

Moving my cane to the side, I waved my hands out in front of me.

Within seconds my fingertips hit a tall, tubular object.  The texture was flaky but smooth like paper.  I moved forward, still using my hands to guide me.  A few feet away I hit something else.  The texture was rough with thick jagged edges protruding from a rock-hard surface.

Hmm…

I walked my fingers to the object beside it.  This one had a checkerboard imprint, a peeling crisscross pattern and a faint scent of cherry.

Then it hit me.  These were trees.  Three trees in a row:  a birch, ash, cherry.  I had studied dendrology in college, so I recognized the specific barks of different tree strains.

Dead leaves shuffled around me as squirrels and chipmunks scattered from sight.

At least, I presumed that’s what was happening.  Little did they know I was no threat.  A smile slowly broke across my face.  However, my glee was not long-lived.  Apprehension and disquiet rocked my heightened senses.  I was in unfamiliar territory with surroundings I had never experienced, even before the accident.

My pulse quickened and I went on high alert.  I heard every rustle, every crunch, every snap of a twig, every roll of a stone– and flinched.  I spun to the right, then to the left.  A shudder ran through me.

A hawk’s squawk coiled through the forest, and I froze.  A hoot from a nearby owl resounded to my right.  In the distance, a lone coyote howled; his loud bay resonated through the forest.

My dead eyes widened.

And then, the most terrifying sound of all ricocheted through the trees.  Heavy boots stomped along a dirt trail.  The same trail I was on, only farther down the path.

I shifted in my stance, not knowing what to do next.  Think, Scarlet, think.  Snapping open my cane I hustled down the trail.  I moved faster and faster until I was in a full on sprint.  My pulse raced, hammering at my ears, introducing me to the sound of panic.  A sound I’d not soon forget.  A sound that tortured my very being.  A sound that proved I could never survive on my own.

The footsteps became clearer, as though the stranger was quickly gaining on me.

I didn’t have much time.  Folding my cane in thirds I hightailed it in a straight line and prayed I didn’t slam into a tree trunk.

A protruding rock tripped me minutes later and I soared through the air, landed face down in a mud puddle.  I wanted to curl-up in the fetal position and surrender, but I couldn’t.  I refused to die by the hands of a killer.  Leave Evaughn wondering what happened?  No.

Frantically rubbing the earth with my palms I searched for my cane.  It was nowhere.  Lost.  Gone from my grasp.  I scrambled to my feet.  A sharp pain shot to my right knee and folded me in half.  Massaging my sore knee, I realized it had blown up to twice its normal size.  The skin felt squishy, like fluid had begun to build around the joint.

Right then I knew I wouldn’t get far with a bum leg.  Tears welled in the rims of my eyes as I tore off the bottom hem of my tank-top with my teeth.  I wrapped the cotton material around my knee and hobbled down the path.  My knee throbbed, pulsed with the beat of my heart.

An icy breeze stopped me mid-stride.

I listened for a cause.

Rolling rapids violently churned below me.

The rushing water sounded fierce, like a fury of madness.  And yet, it triggered a memory.  I know where I am!  I’m at the Smith River.  I inched toward the rocky edge, using my foot as a guide.  Then I got down on my left knee– my right leg held out to the side– and scrutinized the chilled soil with my fingers… ledgy, compressed, moist.

One problem haloed in my mind:  I wasn’t sure if the waters were ten feet, or one hundred feet down.

I gasped.  Dropped my face in my cupped hands and thought, There’s no way out! I’m going to die here!

The footsteps became louder and more pronounced.

Right then I knew I’d come to a crossroads.  I could run and hide or stand my ground.  But without my cane, how could I locate a decent hiding spot?  If I jumped, would the drop kill me?  What if I hit the side of the cliff on the way down?

I slammed shut my eyes and commanded my racing my mind to slow.  Took a deep breath in, let a long breath out and summoned courage for what I now believed was my only alternative.  My shoulders back, my chin held high, I faced the rolling rapids below.

The footsteps stopped a few feet behind me.

It was now or never.  I held my breath and dove head first off the cliff.  For a split second I floated, then dropped like dead weight.  Instantly I regretted my decision.  I viewed it as the cowards way out.  What have I done?  I still have a life worth living.  If I survived, I pledged to appreciate the miraculous wonders of life.  I’d take nothing for granted.  I lost my sight.  Does that mean I stop living?  Robert died.  Thus, should I die too?  I answered with a resounding, “NO!”  If I survived, I’d fight for what I desired.  I’d learn braille, instead of denouncing it.  I’d buy a seeing eye dog.  I’d do everything in my power to overcome my disability.  Learn my limitations, and then conquer them.  No more pity-parties for me, if I survived.

I struck the water with a loud thud, a forceful splash which sucked me under.

My body tumbled in a ferocious whirlwind.  A deadly swarm of gravel, pebbles and water that nearly drowned me in an instant.

Beneath the roiled waters– my body sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss– I recalled my declarations, my resolutions, and needed to act.  Kicking my legs with vigorous intensity I stroked the water with flat hands in wide, controlled movements.

The freezing cold rapids nipped at my skin, like tiny pinpricks of thousands of needles.

Just as I was running out of air my face emerged from the water.  I was reborn, baptised in the icy waters of the Smith River.  I choked and coughed to release the fluid from my lungs.  I fought through the weakness, the dizziness.  I fought through the numbing pain in my fingers and toes and swam toward the voices on shore.

Exhausted and weak, I dragged myself on to a sandy beach and collapsed, flat on my back, my arms out to the side.

A young man dashed over to me.  “I saw the whole thing.  Are you all right?”

“A man,”  I said, through winded breath.  “A man was chasing me.”

There was a long pause of silence, and I didn’t understand why.

“Do you mean… the ranger?”

“Ranger?”  I cocked my head, wrinkled my nose.  “What ranger?  What are you talking about?”

“The park ranger is standing on the edge of the cliff waving a cane.”

Now I felt like an idiot, a complete and utter moron.  “You mean I imagined the whole thing?  I was never in any real danger?”

“Danger?  In Bristol?  I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t understand.  Do you know where you are?  You’re in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire.”  He said it as though I had lost my mind, like how could a killer possibly exist in our sleepy, rural community.

I think he believed wholeheartedly that violent crime only occurred in cities and not in small country towns.  He was a sweet kid, but innocent as a newborn.

I flashed up my hand and interrupted his incessant chatter.  “I don’t know what I’m saying.  Just forget I said anything.  Okay?”

“Righty-oh.  C’mon.  I’ll help you up.”

He must’ve stuck out his hand.  Of course, I didn’t see it.

“Eh, ma’am?”  he said, a hesitation to his tone.  “Can you see me?”

“No, young man.  I’m blind.”

“Oh my goodness!  Golly, did you hit your head or something?”

“It’s all right.  I was this way before the fall.”  In that moment, I saw the humor in my circumstance.  The nonsense of my decision to jump.  I started to laugh and laugh and laugh, until I cried.  Tears of pure joy slid down the sides of my sopping wet face.

My laughter must have stunned the poor kid because he giggled a nervous chuckle.  “Oh!  I get it!  The ranger has your cane.  Hey, maybe that’s why you thought he was following you.  Did you lose it somehow?”

I didn’t answer.  The entire situation was too absurd.

He swaddled me in a beach towel, led me to his jeep and drove me home.

When I walked through the front door Evaughn let out a yelp and rushed toward me.  “My goodness, are you all right?  What happened to you?  Why are you all wet?”

“I’m fine.  Don’t make a fuss.  I’m better than fine.  I’m fabulous!  You were right, Evaughn.  I should’ve done this weeks ago.”  I threw my arms around her.  “Thank you, thank you.”

Strolling away, my palm running the wall beside me, I whistled a happy tune and turned into the kitchen.  All that fresh air stimulated my appetite.  Or maybe it was the swim?

I shrugged.  It didn’t matter.  This was the first day of the rest of my life.  A different life, yes, but a fresh start nonetheless.  I had broken out of the darkness and burst into the light.  And from that day forward I never looked back again.

I didn’t doubt for a second that Robert awaited me in heaven.

I’ll see him again, just not any day soon…  I hope.

 

***

 

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