ALMOST - TOM LARSEN
The plane drops and Ripper loses it. Like going over on a roller coaster and running out of track. They strain for any sign of control. The nose loops and the shock and the vertigo trigger a scream. Jack, the record rep, grabs his arm but Ripper keeps screaming. Details register, the whine of engines, crap flying, Willie T white as a sheet. The spiral tightens. It takes forever.
Cold. Firelight. The ground smells like backyard. His eyes open and it comes back in a flash. He turns his head and watches the flames.
Cuts and bruises, pant leg shredded but nothing broken. Walk away from a plane crash, Christ. Keeps seeing their faces, Willie and Dag. Calls out to them but he will not go looking. Waits as the fire burns to scattered patches. No one comes.
Ripper picks a direction, starts walking. Two days into a three record deal.
Make that one record.
Another ploughed field and the thought it might be endless. Walk away and die anyway. Just hours ago, the crowd gone wild to Dag’s slide, Skeets and Ricky trading licks.
Something crashes in the windbreak, a white dog tracking him through the brush. Ripper looks around for a rock but there is only dirt. The dog stands in the moonlight watching.
“No stopping,” Ripper tells himself. “If he’s gonna come he’s gonna come.”
Another field, another dog, bigger, then a third. Ripper wraps his belt around his wrist. The dogs trail him but keep their distance. He thinks of Jimmy Wales and his Dobermans, ripped him up one night for no good reason.
“First they knock you down, then they go for the throat,” Jimmy traced the scar.
The next field slopes to a wide stretch of woods. Ripper stands there staring at it. His nose keeps running, he can’t stop shivering, the moon clouds over and it is hard to see. How it plays out this way, his big night ends in a shithole cornfield, friends dead, hellhounds closing in.
From behind, one peeling off to box him in. Ripper picks up the pace, get to the woods, climb a tree, almost there. Dogs locked in and he knows it’s crazy but he starts to run. Feels them gaining. Reaches the woods but it’s too dark to see then the lights go out.
He comes to with a groan. More scrapes and bruises, blood down the front of his shirt. Ripper listens but there’s only silence. Crazy to run, just dogs wondering what he’s doing. Should not have wandered off. Should have looked for flares or a cell phone at the crash site.
He climbs the embankment, sees the field through the trees, halfway to it when the rain comes down. Ripper heaves a sob and drops to his knees. Lets it go, shoulders chugging, battered, beaten and so cold. Feels the fear turn to rage, throws his head back and screams to the heavens.
“KILL ME, YOU FUCK! COME ON, GET IT OVER WITH!”
The dog pounces then tumbles off with a chunk of his ear. They spring at each other and Ripper goes off. The dog yelps once then sags in a whimper.
The shack looks deserted but he knows he saw a light. Ripper stumbles toward it, tries to call but his throat cuts off in a croak. He follows the flagstones, weaving and lurching, almost rock star on his last legs. His boots clomp like concrete, up the stairs, across the porch. Rain blows in sheets behind him, sky mottled in grays to the east. He pounds twice then bends to listen. Thinks of that song, Dag doing Hank Williams. The door swings open. A shotgun blast takes out his chest.
BIO: Tom Larsen has been a fiction writer for fifteen years, his work has appearing in Newsday, New Millennium Writing, Puerto del Sol and Antietam Review. His short story “Lids” was included in Best American Mystery Stories – 2004. His novel FLAWED was released in October.
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