A Wave from a Chimney
by Jeff Brown
Table of Contents|
Part 3 appeared
in issue 137.
It wasn’t hard to get to the hole in the roof. Jack crawled over the tree and then got down on his hands and knees. He shone the flashlight down in the hole, looking down into the house’s attic. He smiled when he saw what looked like wooden flooring.
“A trap door,” he said aloud. “There’s an attic door somewhere.”
He smiled for another reason. He had been worried about how he was going to drop down into the house without getting hurt. He knew now. The tree had broken into several pieces when it had fallen on the roof. One of the pieces — a large piece of the trunk with thick branches on it — had fallen through the roof. Several of its branches were still intact and looked strong enough to support him as he climbed down.
Jack placed a foot on one branch. It held his weight. Slowly, Jack lowered himself using the branches like rungs on a ladder. Once or twice he felt a branch crackle and bend. He gripped the tree trunk tighter at each point. None of the branches broke and he made it to the attic floor without falling.
Shining the light around the attic Jack looked around for the attic door. Carefully he walked along the wooden floor. He could see that in some places there were no boards or any type of flooring. He could see the faded pink insulation in the places where there were no boards.
They didn’t finish the job, Jack thought, telling himself to be aware of the missing boards.
It was then that his foot went through one of the wood slats. Jack fell forward, catching himself with his hands on the flooring. At first he thought he was going to go through the flooring, but it held. He let out a deep sigh of relief.
Jack pulled his foot out of the hole he had made. He felt a sliver of hot pain in his leg. He looked down at it and saw where the wood’s jagged edges had ripped through his jeans leg and cut a gash into his calf. Blood was coming from the wound and running down into his sock.
A noise in the corner of the attic took Jack’s attention away from his leg. He flipped the light toward the corner where he thought the noise had come from. Coming toward him was a rat. It was as big as a small cat with black fur, white filament whiskers and coal colored eyes. His nose was twitching, sniffing the air, smelling Jack’s freshly spilled blood.
“Oh, shit!” Jack yelled as he tried to stand up. He hit his head on one of the crossbeams as he stood, making white spots appear in his vision. One hand went up to his head as he backed away from the rat. Jack lost his balance, his foot finding insulation instead of flooring, toppling him backward. He tried to catch himself as he fell, his hand reaching out, finding nothing to grab hold to. Jack’s back hit one of the attic beams when he reached the flooring. There was a loud crack, and then the wood gave way, sending Jack through the attic and down to the floor of the room below. There was a moment where Jack couldn’t breathe and his body screamed in pain at him. Then there was darkness.
* * *
I’m dead, Jack thought. I’m dead and I’m in hell. His body ached badly. He could taste the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. His head pounded as if he had a hangover from an all night party. Everything was dark. For a moment being dead was no longer a concern of his. Being blind was.
Open your eyes, you dummy, Mr. Rationale said.
Your eyes are closed, Jack heard. This time it wasn’t Mr. Rationale who was talking but someone else. The voice sounded familiar to Jack. He just couldn’t place a face to go with it.
You’re not dead, the voice said. Just open your eyes.
Slowly, Jack’s eyes fluttered then opened. At first the white spots he had seen before passing out still dominated his vision. After blinking several times the spots began to fade and in their place was a blackness that slowly became gray until shades began to form. When his vision finally cleared Jack could see the large hole in the ceiling that he had made when he fell through the attic. There was a minute where Jack thought it was night, but then he saw the sun shining through the cracks in the roof.
Jack moved his left hand, fingers first, then his wrist, elbow and shoulder. There was a tinge of pain that rippled down into his elbow when he moved his shoulder, but thankfully nothing was broken. He did the same with the other arm, gently moving each joint and knuckle. There was soreness but no real pain that came from seriously hurting oneself.
Jack rolled his ankles, first one then the other, just as he had done with his arms. Again, there was only soreness. Jack began to sit up when he felt the sharp, shooting pain in his back and neck. His face pulled into a grimace and he dropped back all the way to the floor. The pain subsided only slightly as he lay there.
Come on, Jack heard in his ear. It was as if someone whispered it right into the ear. Jack felt a cool breath brush against his face. It was a breath with no odor or taste to it; it was neither pleasant nor foul. Jack turned his head slightly in the direction of the voice. The pain in his neck tore a line up into his skull and down into his shoulders that made him wince in pain and cry out just a little. He closed his eyes as hot tears formed in them.
I’ve hurt myself, he thought almost in panic. I’ve hurt myself and I can’t get up to get out of here.
Jack was reminded of an old commercial that was aimed toward old folks. It was a medical alert commercial where an elderly lady had fallen. She proclaims in a pained voice: “Help me, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Jack felt like the elderly woman in the commercial. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. He let out a slight laugh as he thought about it. If only he had a video camera, he could star in his own med-alert commercial. He might could even send it to that video show on television and win him some money.
“Real people in real pain who really can’t get up,” he said aloud and then laughed again. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” He laughed harder then though it really wasn’t a laughing matter he was in. As he laughed the pain shimmered in his neck, seemingly on fire for a second or two and then gone, replaced by a dull ache.
Get up! The voice said. It sounded impatient and just possibly a touch angry.
Jack’s laughter ended just as suddenly as it had started. The voice was right in what it was telling him to do. Get up. He needed to get up, push through the pain and hope he could get out of there.
Slowly Jack moved his neck, rolling it on his shoulders, feeling the biting pain eating at the nerves. It’s a pinch, he thought. It was one of those kinks that hurt bad enough but not too bad to get up from a floor with a busted roof and a dead man inside there somewhere.
Slowly, carefully, Jack sat up, pushing himself up with his elbows and then his hands until he was sitting up. The pain ran up and down his back and neck. Jack tried to ignore it as he got all the way up into the seated position.
Help me, the voice said.
Jack snapped his head in the direction of the voice. The sudden movement caused a violent jolt of pain to cut through his neck. His eyes snapped shut and he let out another cry, this one louder than the first one. He rubbed his neck with one hand and opened his eyes. He looked toward the fireplace.
He was sitting there, on the bricks that surrounded the fireplace. He looked to be almost squatting with his knees almost to his chin and his haunches firmly seated on what once were probably very pretty bricks. They were now brown, gray and black from years of having not been cleaned or dusted. He looked as real as Jack was and for a moment Jack wasn’t sure if her were a living, breathing person or a ghost. The man was wearing a dark gray button-up shirt, its sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows. He had donned a pair of dark blue jeans and a pair of white tennis shoes that looked to have been worn for quite some time.
Jack quickly noticed the dark maroon stain on the side of the man’s face as blood. His face, in itself, was average in looks with a slim nose and thin lips, surrounded by a helmet of brown hair cut short. The only thing that stood out was the man’s emerald green eyes. They seemed to glow in the shimmering light coming from the ceiling.
Jack started backing away from the man, the pain in his body suddenly becoming nonexistent.
Wait! the man said. His lips didn’t move.
Fear began to well up in Jack as he continued to back away. He knew he was about to be consumed in fear. He was trying to keep it at bay but not doing a very good job of it.
It’s okay, the man said and stuck out both his hands with his palms out as if to tell Jack to stop. I’m not going to hurt you. I just need some help. Jack stopped backing away. His back had hit a wall and instead of backing away he used the wall to help him stand. When he was standing Jack asked a question he was sure he knew the answer to but he asked it anyway. “Are you a ghost?” he asked. After the question had left his mouth he realized how silly it sounded.
Yes, the man answered.
“Okay...” Jack said not knowing what else to say. His heart was pounding hard in his chest. He thought it was going to beat its way right out of his body and onto the floor. His palms were sweaty and his body felt oddly cold.
The man stood from his place on the fireplace. Jack shot out both of his hands just as the ghost had done, hoping to stop the ghost from approaching him. “Wa... wait...” Jack stammered. “Stay right there, okay?”
The ghost didn’t move. He nodded and looked to frown. They stood this way for several minutes. When Jack’s heartbeat began to slow he lowered his hands and folded them across his chest in a defensive manner. Finally he spoke, calmly with no tremble in his voice. He had remembered why he came here and the fear began to flow from him rapidly. “You’re the fella’ in the chimney, right?”
Yes, the ghost said, again without moving his lips.
Jack felt a shudder roll through him. His eyes trailed down to the man’s stomach where a large crimson stain was. “You’re the fella’ who’s been waving to me for the last God-knows-how-log?”
Yes. No lip movement again.
“You want my help?”
“Can you move your lips?” Jack asked quickly, the question coming out as if he were snapping at the man. He couldn’t help it. The ghost talking to him without moving his lips was unnerving him.
“Yes,” the man said, his lips moving and the single word sounding more human, more alive than before.
“Thank you,” Jack said, his voice more polite now.
The ghost nodded.
“What do you want me to do?” Jack asked.
The ghost turned to the fireplace, pointing at it with one hand. Jack could see blood on the back of the man’s shirt, clearly coming from a wound on the back of the head. There was matted hair caked in blood on the back of his head. He turned back to Jack.
“I want you to get me out of there,” he said, his voice sounding sad.
“Get you out of there?” Jack asked. He knew that had been his purpose all along, but he had kept it in the back of his mind, not thinking about it or voicing it to himself.
* * *
Jack was squatting on the hearth of the fireplace, looking at it. Someone had cemented it in all the way around, covering several of the bricks that made up its frame. They had gone to great lengths to conceal the crime they had committed. Jack had been chipping away at the cement for over an hour. His arms had grown heavy, his neck stiff from the vibration of the screwdriver as he hit it with a hammer. He had brought both tools with him in his bag.
There was a small pile of mortar and brick to the side of the fireplace hearth and plenty of white concrete dust floating in the air. Jack wished several times that he would have brought a dust mask with him, but he hadn’t thought that he would be chiseling away at a fireplace that had been sealed shut for over thirty years.
He swung the hammer down on the end of the screwdriver again and again and again until the final time he swung the hammer there was a loud crack. The plastic handle of the screwdriver cracked in the center, splitting it in half. The handle crumbled in his hand and he let out a string of profanities, which was very unlike Jack Kenzie to do.
“Sorry,” he said as he turned to the man standing to his right. There was a look of surprise on the man’s face and then a small smile took its place. It was a smile that was like a realization, like a father to his child when he realizes he is no longer a child but a man. It was a look Jack never got from his father. Nor his mother. They both seemed to hate him. They told him differently but it was all about showing to Jack.
Don’t say you love me, he always thought to himself but never said. If you’re going to say it then show it. If not, then don’t say anything.
They never showed him. Especially after his thoughts became words of anger that rolled off of his tongue one afternoon during an argument. The words — false words, lies, in Jack’s eyes — ceased on that day. It didn’t matter to Jack, though. He knew the words were lies. They were hollow and only said to make them feel better about themselves, to wipe away their guilt.
But there were times Jack thought he didn’t have it too terribly bad. He had friends who had it worse. His friend, Kyle, and his little brother, Kenneth, they had it bad. Their mother left them at an early age. She left them with a monster for a father who beat the living hell out of them just because he could. After a while even the father left them to fend for themselves. The beatings took a toll on the younger brother, sending him in and out of mental institutions for the remainder of his life. At least until he set fire to the house he grew up in and then committed suicide as the house burned down around him.
Poor Kenneth. Poor, poor Kenneth.
Now Kyle has lost his mind, swearing his father killed Kenneth and was coming for him.
No, Jack really didn’t think he had it too terrible. He just wished he could change things.
Jack tossed the broken screwdriver aside. He swung the hammer down several times until he saw a brick move, loosened by the blows. Jack set the hammer down. Working the brick back and forth with his hands he slid it out of its spot and set it aside in the pile next to the hearth. The mortar was now loose and Jack began to pull away brick by brick until he had a hole in the fireplace big enough for his head to fit into.
At one point, Jack just wanted to swing the hammer down on the cracking cement, breaking out the covered-up fireplace all at once. He thought better of the idea, thinking he didn’t want to damage the remains of the man. Instead he worked his way around the cemented area, one brick at a time, wiggling, pushing and pulling each one until it came out. Then he would start working on the next one.
After working an-upside down U-shaped hole around the concrete opening of the fireplace, Jack took both hands and placed them at the top of the opening. He began to rock the concrete slab, loosening it until it began to tip toward him. Jack scrambled backward as the slab fell, crashing to the floor with a loud thud that echoed through the empty room.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown