Clouds, p.16
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       Clouds, p.16

           Nate Allen
 
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  Chapter 16

  Grant left the room with a bag of saline tucked away in his sweatshirt pocket, alongside the photo from the box. He ran through the hall, down the stairs, and past the examination rooms. He pushed open the hallway doors, and found himself in the waiting room.

  The last time he had come to the waiting room had been the night of his father's death. The room was eerily the same, from the TV bolted in the corner, to the color of the gray fabric on the chairs, except everything was now streaked in red. The people were now partial pieces. The smell was less of chemical and more of rot. Yet, the feeling was the same. On the night his father died, everything had been covered in what felt like a dream. And now, after having found his mother dead, it still felt like just a dream.

  The reality of his dying daughter slipped away from him again, as he now found himself just a seven year old boy walking back through the hospital with a piece of him gone. But, instead of being his father, it was now his mother. Yet, it all felt the same. The pain was sharp once again. The tears built up at the back of his throat only to fade away, just as they had after his father died.

  Suddenly, growls filled the air and lingered alongside clotted sounds. The feeling of a dream disappeared, leaving him with only a pit in his stomach. He thought about Kali, and then the dream: blue and lifeless. He was not a seven year old boy anymore. He was a father with a daughter to save. His steps became fast once again, as he pulled the rifle from his back. He left the waiting room to be a bad memory as he stepped out into the main hallway.

  The cast of his flashlight caught shimmers, as if many little mirrors were near the exit. But, he knew they were eyes. The Insane were trapping him.

  He thought about Kali. Within a few steps, the outlines of a group appeared. When he shone his light toward the exit, he saw them form a wall three rows deep. They said nothing. They stood like eerie statues. Watching and waiting.

  He thought only about Kali. He pulled the trigger, hearing their growls become screams of agony. It only made him fire faster. The wall of Insane quickly became a few of the living beginning to feed on many of the dead. Some were now aware, calling for help. Terror filled their words. Grant didn't look at them. He walked past, letting them live the last moments of their lives facing what they had become.

  He ran from the hospital and jumped in the bed of the truck idling near the entrance. Bobby pulled out and away. The Insane never came out of the hospital.

  Grant could only think about Kali blue and lifeless. He couldn't escape the feeling that it had all been for nothing. Two miles passed, and he soon found himself jumping from the bed. He ran into The Family Restaurant with his body shaking. His eyes were clouded with beginning tears. He was near the cellar.

  "No!" the scream was shrill; it was the sound of someone shattering. "Don't! Kali! Kali! Wa-wa-wake up!" Grant ran behind the counter, and down the steps. Mr. Hart was standing silently in the opposite corner; Chelsea's head was hung, and tears were dripping onto Kali.

  "I have the bag." he said softly.

  "She's dead." Chelsea said blankly. "You failed!" she laughed while sobbing. "You are a failure!"

  "Shut up!" screamed Grant.

  "No! You killed her! You coward! You failure!"

  "You're a whore."

  "You son of a bitch," Mr. Hart grabbed hold of Grant's gray sweatshirt, clenched his fist, and punched him in the face. "You failed! You are shit!" he punched him again, kneed him in the stomach, and kicked him while on the ground.

  Bobby walked over to a corner, sat down alone, and buried his head within his knees.

  Mr. Hart kicked Grant once more, and then walked up the steps. Grant spit a mouthful of blood onto the floor. He coughed with a wheeze, and hunched his spine into the air.

  "God." he whimpered.

  "I hate you." Chelsea said within a cracking voice. "You are nothing."

  He didn't answer. Grant only lay on the ground. He coughed red and began to quietly sob. He blamed himself for everything. He was a father who wasn't able to save his daughter; he was a son who wasn't able to save his mother; he was a brother who wasn't able to find his sister. In every aspect, he had failed. And the one person who was supposed to love him beat him down instead.

  Grant closed his eyes, hearing Chelsea's sobbing become a wail, and then fade to a whimper.

  Suddenly, a gun was fired from outside, sending a shiver down his spine. Chelsea flinched. She looked down at Kali, kissed her head, and wrapped her up tightly in the blanket.

  "You'll be okay." she said. "I'll protect you."

  Grant glanced over at Chelsea. Her eyes drained of sky blue, her face lost its rosy glow; she softly hummed a lullaby to Kali, resting her wrapped up body against her shoulder. Chelsea refused to accept that she was dead, so she wrapped her up, and numbed herself of the truth.

  Grant got to his feet, and crawled up the steps. He stumbled through the restaurant, walked through the shattered window, and stepped onto the street. His eyes wandered from left to right. Far onto his right, Mr. Hart's body sat encased in the clear glass bus stop. Pieces of brain slid down the glass like water drops on a windshield. His balding head was bent over, his lips were wrapped around the barrel of his shotgun, and blood dripped from the top of the bus stop in clumps.

  Without expression, Grant turned around, and went back down into the cellar. Chelsea held Kali close to her chest, talking to her like nothing had happened.

  He closed the door to the cellar, slid down against the wall to a sit, and stared forward. Bobby lifted his head, and looked at Grant. Without saying anything, the message was conveyed: he was sorry. Grant nodded his head with a sniffle, and coughed once more: no more blood.

  Kali may have been dead, but he didn't have to accept it. He didn't have to tell himself that. And even if he did, Grant knew that he, along with the others, would be dead very soon anyway. In a way that was comforting. It had become apparent early on that no one was going to survive. But, now he was beginning to accept it.

  Any love he had felt for Chelsea withered away. They were no longer two lovers. Maybe they never had been to begin with. Grant didn't mourn the loss of his future. He wasn't sad that he and Chelsea would not live in a cabin together. He wasn't sad that they would never marry and grow old together. But, he was broken knowing that Kali was dead. Acceptance and knowing are two different things entirely. He looked over at his daughter wrapped up in her blanket and cried a few tears.

  "She'll look adorable with piggy tails, Grant." said Chelsea with a smile. "I can see her now, playing in the sandbox, putting on lipstick she has stolen from me. I'll buy her all kinds of dresses? She'll be my little princess."

  Grant closed his eyes to falling tears, only to wipe them away from his face. "Yeah," he agreed, trying to numb himself as well. "We'll live in my house, and grow old. Mom will come to her birthday parties; Hannah will be a great Aunt. We'll be one big family."

  "She'll be beautiful, Grant. She'll be my little princess." Chelsea stared at Grant with sincerity. Maybe to her Kali was breathing in the blanket. Maybe she was only sleeping. As heartbreaking as it was to know she was dead, Grant couldn't hurt Chelsea by telling her that Kali was dead. She was ignorantly bliss, something he couldn't obtain.

  For an hour, Chelsea sat clouded in her delusions, looking down at her dead child, and thinking about a future that wouldn't come to pass. Then, she fell off to sleep. Her eyes were dry, and her cheeks were pasty red.

  "What happens now, Bobby?" asked Grant quietly.

  "I don't know," answered Bobby.

  "Just tell me something. If you want, give me a placebo. Tell me that my daughter isn't dead, and that I am worth something. Lie to me."

  Bobby lifted his eyes without moving his head, and sighed. "Kali is just sleeping. You'll see her again soon."

  It didn't matter what he was told. Grant couldn't become blissfully ignorant. He envied Chelsea, and her ability to escape. It wasn't fair!

  "Are you going to be okay?' Bobby
asked.

  Grant could only close his eyes and shake his head. The cellar was quiet. Grant put his hand up to his face and pressed hard. His eye had blackened, his lip had swelled, and the pain was pulsating.

  Bobby sat wondering how the people he had grown to love were now just shells of what they had been. He looked over at Grant, seeing a silent, sighing friend. He looked over at Chelsea. She hugged Kali closely, like a little girl would her favorite teddy bear.

  Grant got up from sitting, pushed open the cellar door, and stepped up the three steps. He stepped over the bodies in the restaurant, through the shattered window, and out onto the street. Mr. Hart's body had been torn apart. The gun lay on the ground. Grant looked up into the sky. It was lightening. He could see a puff of gray clouds hanging low like stage curtains, and hiding somewhere behind them sat a light. He fished in his pocket, pulled out his phone, and hit the power button. It came on for only a second. The time was 4:30 pm, May 16th, a Friday.

  Without reason or explanation, Grant walked back down into the cellar, and threw Chelsea over his shoulder.

  "What are you doing?" asked Bobby.

  "We're leaving. Grab the bag of water and soup."

  "Alright," Bobby didn't argue. He grabbed the bag, threw it over his shoulder, and grabbed his gun from the floor. Grant stepped up the three steps. Bobby followed.

  Grant pulled the keys from his pocket while walking over to the truck. He opened the door, and laid Chelsea in the backseat. Kali still sat a lifeless doll in her arms.

  He didn't speak, or explain. Grant just got in the driver's seat, started the truck, and waited for Bobby to get in. When he did, he put the truck in drive, pulled out of the parking lot, and went straight down Fault and Hadshall Ave: a country road.

  "It's getting lighter." Bobby said, tipping his head up, and looking through the windshield. "What do you think that means?"

  "Does it matter?"

  "Not really," Bobby said as he continued to look toward the sky.

  "What do you think your dad will say to you when you see him again?"

  Bobby suddenly looked confused as he turned his attention to Grant. "Are you just giving me a placebo, Grant?"

  "No, man. It makes you happy. What does it matter if I believe it or not?" Grant

  offered a kindness to his best friend.

  Bobby slightly smiled. "I think he'll be waiting to play a game of cribbage. I'll get there and he'll be at a little round table, pegs out and ready."

  "I like that your dream of heaven is simple, Bobby. If it exists, that may be exactly what your reunion with him will be."

  "Thanks, Grant." Bobby hadn't looked so peaceful in a very long time. "I know why we're driving out into the country. It's to die, isn't it?"

  "One day at a time." Grant said it ironically with a short lived smile. It hadn't even been a day since he last said it; it hadn't even been a day since everyone chose life. Now, only three of the five remained.

  For five miles they sat in silence. Slowly, the sky lit. Grant looked forward. The road followed a natural curve, passing dead and dying fields of beans and corn, and continuing forward into a land of nothing. If any place held solace-or at least the possibility of solace-it was the country.

  "Grant?" Chelsea whimpered while sniffling.

  "Hey." he answered.

  "Where is daddy?"

  "He's gone."

  "Where?"

  "He can't be here with you."

  "Wa-where is Kali?"

  "She's with you." Grant said swallowing a tear lump.

  Chelsea looked down at her hands, seeing Kali wrapped tightly. Her little face didn't poke through. Her dark blue eyes didn't glisten with curiosity. Her chubby cheeks that tucked her lips into place didn't flutter when she blew a bubble. Her body didn't move. To Chelsea, Kali was still alive. Earlier she had found blissful ignorance because of shock, but now she knew.

  Grant sat fighting his own tears. Slowly Chelsea pulled the blanket loose. Kali now lay barely covered; her face wasn't showing, only her little pale blue hands. Nearly crying, Chelsea pulled the blanket off of Kali, seeing her little daughter now blue and lifeless.

  "It was a dream, Grant." she whispered. "It was only a dream!"

  "She's safe. She isn't scared anymore." Grant offered his sympathy with clich?s.

  "But, she's go-gone." Chelsea wasn't able to crawl back into a state of numbness. She had to face it. She had to face the fact that her daughter was dead; she didn't have to face the fact that her father was. But, deep down Chelsea knew that all she had left was a loose cannon for a fianc?, and his best friend.

  Trying to escape the truth sitting lifeless and cold in her arms, Chelsea laid down on the seat, put Kali's blanket over her face, and hugged Kali tightly. She was no longer running. She was only trying to hold onto the past.

  Everyone in their own way was pondering. Grant sat wondering why he was what he was. Bobby thought about his father sitting in heaven, waiting for his son to join him. Chelsea wound back the clocks to when things were relatively happy. She wound it back to before the time Grant was in her life, to before the time her sister died in the car accident she caused. Chelsea was trying to erase her problems by wiping her mind clean of memories. She regretted loving Grant; she regretted having Kali. Both pains hurt too deeply now that it had all gone bad.

  "It is better to have loved and lost, then to never have loved at all."

  -Alfred Lord Tennyson-

  A statement as such is only true when knowing someone makes the pain of losing them worth it. Chelsea couldn't say that about her daughter. She couldn't say that about her love for Grant, because it had been born from desperation. All they had been to the other was a final reach for help. Two damaged souls found each other in a cemetery, and created something fake, something they called love.

  The rusty red truck Grant drove followed the country road, passing a long strip of cornfield, and coming up to a gravel driveway. He looked left to right, put on the brake, and turned into the driveway, following it down a hundred foot stretch of scattered tree branches, and balding bushes. And then there was a small white house bathed in pale blue light from a street pole sitting next to it. Grant parked the truck next to the light, shut off the engine, and pulled out the key.

  "Why here?" asked Bobby.

  "The gas is low," he answered. "And I don't want to drive any farther."

  Bobby nodded his head, grabbed the handle to his door, and pulled. With a CLICK it popped open. He stepped out. Chelsea lay silent. She didn't whimper or cry. She didn't ask about Kali or where her father was. All she did was lie on the seat with her head covered by Kali's blanket as she held her dead child?

 
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