by Nicola Ditty aka britwizz
A “Survival” story.
Summary: Samuel Johnson said, "The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time."
Except, of course, when it is, and doesn't.
~ PG for language. Comments and feedback welcome. Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org ~
With heartfelt thanks to Morgan Logan, my long-suffering beta.
Fish die belly upward, and rise to the surface. It’s their way of falling.
~ Andre Gide ~
As expected, Death came unexpectedly.
For an epitaph, it wasn’t half bad; pithy, and just a little wry. Something that could be etched in granite and read aloud, with a smile, by anyone passing by his gravesite.
Too bad it looked from his present perspective like he’d never get that chunk of granite. And everyone passing his grave seemed to be tooling along at a respectable 45 mph, too far away to read anything that wasn’t rendered in neon lettering two feet high.
Too bad, too, that there was no one around with whom to share his words in person. Nor even a pen at hand to jot them down. No paper either, come to think of it. A total bust.
Bad planning… No, be fair, and call it bad luck. He almost always had a notepad stuffed in a pocket, even off duty. Almost a necessity… a lyric could bloom in an instant, but it was a short-lived flower that had to be plucked immediately and pressed between the pages of a book for conservation.
Which raised an interesting question, a point of philosophy perhaps, but a relevant one: when you plucked that flower, detached it from its life source, at exactly what point did it cease to be living? The moment you snapped the fragile stem? When the crushing weight imposed on it descended? At the end of the first day without water?
Damn, don’t even go there. Think of something else...
Yeah, how about a nice cold beer at Huggy’s, or maybe Barnaby’s Tavern…
Fuck, forget the beer, I’d be happy just to lick the sweat from the outside of the glass…
Hutch closed his eyes, his parched groan escaping as a gasp.
Funny how just the blink of an eye in this realm of upside-down hurt and heat could jolt you forward three hours. Strange stop-motion, Harryhausen’s latest creature feature, not a bad way to kill time. Unless you had a helluva lot of time to kill…
Or were taking too damn long to die.
He was ready, already, and then some, holding the hope that by the time the next morning rolled around he would be dead.
How’d that old chestnut go? Live life to the fullest? Live each day as though it’s your last.
Well, he’d tried to do that; it made sense, because that way a guy could plan, and diligently prepare, get all his ducks in a row, dot the I’s and cross the T’s on a stack of letters that started, ‘If you are reading this…’
They taught you all that happy-crappy week one at the Academy. And, bottom line, if you got nothing else out of it, you came away from Orientation with one grain of fact planted deep.
You could die tomorrow.
With any luck…
Assuming, of course, he lasted through the heat of this new and unremitting day.
Life in recent years had been pretty damn good for the most part, and he wasn’t scared to die, but dying itself, that whole ugly present participle state… He was dying and doing it badly. Doing it way too slow.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this...
Pain had been expected, and heat considered, or cold. Bleeding out on sun-simmered night-chilled asphalt. A fifty-fifty shot, humid burning or a dry leaching cold. But not this.
The damp darkness that couldn’t slake his thirst, and the arid daylight hours.
No, never this. And never alone.
Sorry to bug out on you this way, Starsk. Don’t even get to say goodbye. God, what wouldn’t I give for a scrap of paper right now…
He knew, damnit, knew he’d had a notebook. Top pocket of his shirt. He remembered now.
Must’ve lost it. Damn…
He’d lost a lot of things along the way. Lost them, given them up, had them stolen even. Sometimes life seemed like a journey on an endless road that, looking back, was strewn with things discarded. Things that were unnecessary burdens and things you later needed but for which you couldn’t return.
Maybe that’s what dying is. A respite near journey’s end, a time for looking back.
But does it have to hurt so fucking bad?
When he next lurched towards consciousness it was with the panic of a drowning man. Time-lapse footage—a shoot bursting forth to sunlight from the drag of dirt.
Starsky with his dumb trivia, his wiseass revelations, some cautionary tale for vegetable lovers about carrots screaming when ripped from the ground.
Pain wouldn’t let him sleep. Wouldn’t let him slip silently away, nudging him with a sharp elbow for fear that he would miss the main event. Prying his lids apart with scabrous fingers.
Okay… I’m awake. Now let me up already. Let me go…
His head hurt. On the outside, where he’d struck or been struck on the way down, it wasn’t so bad. But inside, he felt as if a tight band had wrapped around his brain. A band of iron, spiked on its inner circumference. Shrinking inexorably.
His skin was dry and tight as college jeans, over-washed and over-worn. Worn out, worn thin. Or like the leather of an antique chair. Inflexible. His creaky movements threatened separation, a slow splitting of the seams followed by the unstoppable spill of internals.
His arms, his shoulders, his back… His back was killing him.
No, it’s the leg doing that, but let’s not go there.
He felt like he’d been drawn out on a rack, or suspended, gravity pulling bone away from bone. Disconnecting his joints as he hung like a side of beef by his ankles.
Forget about the fucking leg, I said…
There were a hundred other indeterminate hurts: bruises and scrapes, aches and irritations. The gnawing pain born of thirst and hunger, the cramping clench of his bowels. A stinging itch at his groin from when he’d let go his bladder—the stink not so bad when set against the broad panoply of his discomforts, but the fabric there felt like sandpaper abrading his tender skin.
And then there was the leg.
Okay, fine. The ever-lovin’, mother fuckin’ leg!
Well, maybe. But not now. Feels warm, but dry, I think. I hope…
Well, would you look at that. Still alive.
When he next came to the sun was on the downslope of the day, sucking away the heat like water down a drain. It would be full dark in another hour, and cooler.
Blissfully cool. Numbingly cold.
And numb sounds pretty good about now.
Nighttime was a time for gentle reflection. A place where remembrance and speculation became dreaming or could be written off as such.
A place to come to terms.
He thought of
Starsky; Starsky tearing his hair out wondering where he was. Tearing up the
streets in the
…because Dobey would let him.
Hutch shifted uncomfortably, raising up on his elbows just a little to ease his back. Diverting the strain to his shoulders and hips, where it mutated. Pins and needles becoming knives.
Serves you right!
The pain was apt reward for stupidity. And he had been stupid, in many ways, at many times, but this time worst of all. And for what…the sake of expediency?
Two minutes. It would have taken two minutes to make a call.
Two fuckin’ minutes, Starsk…
But, no. Thinking with my dick again, buddy. Get there, get back, get laid. My life in a nutshell. Pretty crappy epitaph. I had a better one, but I can’t remember what it was.
A half-smile formed and froze in place.
The sense of failure plagued him. Like a splinter it had provided an incessant ache but now, touched upon directly, the pain shot through him, stealing his breath. Robbed of the relief of tears he slid into oblivion once more.
Sorry, buddy. Shoulda left a note.
He thought he’d maybe pissed himself again, scant moisture he could ill-afford to lose. The rank smell provided the first clue that he was still in the game. On the losing side maybe, down but not out.
At least he wasn’t sweating anymore. If he could lose a couple of the shirts maybe he would air out some.
Something about that bothered him in a vague and unquantifiable way. Some trace memory from medical textbooks. Something…
Not good. I can’t remember what that means, but it’s not… good.
Now, before the sun cranked up to full blast, the flies were at their worst. Small in number but huge in their single-minded purpose of adding to his Hell. They pitched on his face, his hands, hovering in epicurean delight over every exposed wound. They explored the damp misery at his crotch. And somewhere, underneath the car that held him prisoner, out of sight if never quite out of mind, they crawled.
He wasn’t dead but he had reached the point where the distinction was little more than semantics.
His heart still beat, under the misapprehension that this was not yet a hopeless cause. From habit he kept breathing, but the air mixed with something else deep within, producing a disconcerting rattle. His extremities tingled when they weren’t completely numb but they were numb for longer periods each time.
And about that sweat thing…
Oh, yeah, that little nugget of information had expanded, revealing, as he’d suspected, nothing good. Funny how that all came back now, all those medical terms unused in daily life.
Dehydration, hypotension accompanied by paresthesia, and probable hypernatremia. He was hyperthermic but had begun to shiver, the sun burning without warming. And then there was that ubiquitous friend of the unwillingly immobile, pneumonia.
If I were a dog, somebody’d shoot me. Put me out of my misery.
I’d do it myself if I hadn’t lost my gun… Fuck my anti-suicide scruples…
A nice, quick bullet through the brain. Messy, but still a cleaner death than this. And by the time he was found, maybe not even so messy anymore. Sand scoured, sun bleached bones, and a tangle of rotted fabric dressing his skeleton.
Please, God, I’ve never asked for much but…
A brief image flared in his mind; Starsky, like Hamlet, cradling a sterile skull.
…don’t let Starsky find me.
Lucid thought flickered, a light bulb on the wane.
In day-bright sightlessness, Hutch stumbled up against it, the awful truth, like furniture set out of place in a darkened room. It was so huge, so solidly right-there-in-front-of-him he wondered how he had missed it before.
He mapped its shape and contours, its noisome texture. Feeling it, and then feeling it surround him so that even as he backed away, he blundered up against it time and again.
Starsky was never going to find him… Starsky was already dead.
Oh fuck, oh God, oh fuck…
Divide and conquer.
Oh God, no…
The partnership’s whole greater than the sum of its parts. Take one to take all.
If anyone could have found him, Starsky would have.
Would have but…
Starsky’s dead. He’s dead…
Okay, I get it now, so let me go!
He couldn’t move, but his heart pounded fists of rage and frustration. He was mute while his mind wailed his misery.
And he couldn’t weep.
Sorry, buddy… all tapped out. Desiccated… that’s d-e-s-i-c-c-a-t-e-d, Starsk. Bone dry.
Dry bones – that’s what they’d find, the ‘they’ unspecified. The ‘they’ didn’t matter.
They say that vampires walk at night for fear of daylight.
They say? Is that the same ‘they’ who’s supposed to find me? They… they lie.
The sun was a vampire, feasting. Its heat, sharp-toothed and ruthless, seizing life, draining moisture from the earth. Bleeding the sky of pigment.
The sky was white. The color of salt flats. Bone color. Clorox clean.
Hope it was quick, Starsk. Quick and clean. Or you went out in a blaze of glory.
The sun blazed, darkness writhing at its center, like a light bulb when stared at too long.
Remember Tommy Marlowe? Burning out his memories, along with his sight…
His eyes were dry, his sight fuzzied by a powdering of wind-blown dust.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Dad tamping down the sod with the heel of his hand-made Italian shoes and spreading salt upon the ground.
Hutch ran his tongue along his lips, the tang of salt there an afterimage of sweat long-dried. Like the tidemark on a beach, a delineation of seaweed and flotsam.
Life’s a beach, and all I’m missing is the cabana and a nice, cold beer… God, I hope there’s a hospitality suite wherever it is I’m going. Belly up to the bar, Starsk… The drinks are on me!
Buoyant on the surface of narcosis, he drifted, belly up.
And dreamed that he fell upwards, to the sun.