Friday, September 26, 2014

Chapter 36

Outside the wardrobe, Graham heard Peggy Lee and Ian moving around the room.  After a few minutes, they left, closing the door quietly behind them.  Crammed in the closet, Graham could hear nothing but the sound of his own intensely labored breathing.  Sweat dripped down his brow and into his eyes.  Inside the dusty hood, the air became nearly unbreathable.  His arms ached, and his stomach throbbed from where Ian had kicked him.  He wanted to scream, but his tongue’s effort against the ball in his mouth made him gag.  He was afraid he’d throw up.  He thought he might choke.  He struggled against the straps that bound his wrists, but he could not free himself.  He recalled the terror in Ginger’s eyes back in the silo – those many years ago – as she yowled against the violent storm of corn.  He wondered if his eyes now looked like hers did then.  He wanted, he needed to touch his scar, to try to calm himself down, but he couldn’t.    
Graham tried to stand up, but the wardrobe was too short.  He hit the top of his head and then fell forward.  He could squat, but that was no help.  He tried to push the wardrobe doors open with his knees, but he could not get any leverage.  The wardrobe seemed to be getting smaller and smaller.  Graham felt his breathing quicken.  He knew that he had to calm down, but the sides of the closet were closing in on him.  Now the air in the hood turned to thick gravy.  Each breath filled his lungs with dirt and grit.  Each breath became faster, shorter, harder. 
Graham flipped himself onto his back with his feet in the air.  His arms were pinned painfully underneath him.  He tried to calm himself down.  The image of Peggy Lee’s face came into his head.  She was so beautiful.  How could she have done this to him?  She had seemed so genuine, so caring and kind.  The thought of her crying in the hover transport vehicle made his stomach drop.  Was it just an act?  He felt sick with shame, and then the anger took back over. 
He had to do something to get out of there.  With his feet, he kicked the side of the wardrobe as hard as he could.  The banging was deafening inside of the wardrobe.  He knew that trying to signal someone was a long shot.  The soldiers’ quarters were far away, as was the rec room.  Perhaps some of the guys had lingered in the dining hall and could hear him, but he doubted it.  After a few minutes of continuous kicking, he stopped.  He was exhausting himself, and no one was coming. 
Graham began to pass in and out of consciousness.  In his haze, he remembered a story about a woman who had been caught cheating on her husband.  The husband happened to be one of the most powerful traders in ancient Rome.  He had loved his wife with all of his heart.  In his anguish over discovering her infidelity, he ordered that she be buried alive.  The execution, however, was designed to send a message to all of the other wives in the area.  The trader commanded the gravediggers to install an air tube from the grave to the ground above.  They forced the woman into a coffin-like box, and then the lid was nailed shut.  The gravediggers attached a ceramic tube to the box and lowered her into the ground.  After the gravediggers filled in the hole, the end of the tube stuck up from the ground about six inches.  The woman survived for days and days.  She was slowly dying of thirst and of hunger.  Ghastly, animalistic screams rang out from the tube all day and all night long.  The husband stayed by her graveside listening and lamenting.  Sometimes, he would pace back and forth on the soil above his wife’s dwindling body and suffering soul.  When finally the tortuous whimpers had ended, the husband drank a solution of hemlock and died a few moments later, with his hand next to the silent ceramic pipe. 
Graham awoke with a start.  He could feel the heavy dirt above, the sides of the coffin pressing in against his arms.  He could hear the hopeless screams echoing inside the tiny box, the stifling air filled death and unbridled fear.  He twisted and struggled on the floor of the wardrobe.  The gag pressed down into his throat and the thick hood seemed to tighten around his head.  His heart was about to explode.  He tried to pull his hands free, but it was no use.  He needed to get some air.  He had to get out of there.
And then he heard a sound.  It was faint at first, far away, but he had definitely heard something.  He listened intently, trying to ignore his heart pounding in his ears.  And then he heard it again.  It was Charley:  “Graham?  Hey, Graham?  Are you still around here?”
Graham started banging the side of the wardrobe again with his feet.  After about thirty seconds, he stopped and listened. 
“Graham?  Is that you?”  Charley’s voice was coming from the hallway.  He was nearby.
Graham banged once.
“Why don’t you say something?”
With all his might, Graham kicked and kicked, shaking the wardrobe violently. 
“Okay, okay, are you in Peggy Lee’s room?”
One bang.
Graham heard Charlie trying the door and then a loud crash as he knocked it down.  “Where are you?” he asked as he flipped the light switch.
Graham banged on the cabinet one last time.  He listened as Charley untied the ropes.  It seemed to take forever.  His body was shaking.  His arms involuntarily pulled against the constraints, tearing away the skin on his wrists. 
The doors swung open.  Charlie pulled Graham out of the wardrobe, loosened the ties of the hood, and yanked it off.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Chapter 35

Peggy Lee began looping rope through the wardrobe door handles.  As she paused to undo a tangle, she said quietly – her voice trembling – into the crack between the doors, “I’m sorry, Graham.  This is something that has to be done – for your sake, for our sake, for the future of the planet.”
Graham hands – still tied behind his back – were balled into shaking fists.  How could he have fallen into this trap?  She had been faking the whole damn time.  Did she really think an apology whispered into the darkness – as she locked him into a closet – was going to make him feel better?  Did she really think that she had him that wrapped around her little finger?  No, no, no, Graham thought to himself, I don’t think so. 
And then she said something that sent him over the edge. 
“If it’s any consolation, I really did – do still – like you.”
He instantly shifted his weight and whacked the doors with one of his knees.  Peggy Lee had not yet tightened the ropes.  One of the handles broke free and the door smacked her in the face.  She screamed in pain.  As she tried to shoulder it back, he kicked it again.  The blow knocked her to the floor.  He fell out of the wardrobe and then struggled to his feet. 
He stood stock still, breathing hard against the ball-gag.  He shook his head in a vain attempt to get the hood off of his head.
All was silent except for the sound of Peggy Lee crying quietly on the floor beside him.
“So that’s how you want it, eh?”  Ian said from across the room. 
Graham heard the sound of a metal chair scraping across the floor as Ian got up from the desk.  He heard Ian walking slowly over in his direction.  He tried to kick in Ian’s direction, and Ian laughed.  Graham stepped forward and tried to kick him again. 
This time Ian caught Graham’s foot and yanked it high in the air, throwing him back.  Graham fell violently, cracking his skull against the bottom edge of the wardrobe.  Unconscious for a moment, Graham came to just as Ian kicked him square in the stomach.  The air from his lungs surged out against the gag and came out of his nose.  Mucus and saliva covered Graham’s face as he struggled to catch his breath.
“How do you like that, lover boy?” Ian said as he pulled Graham up to a sitting position.  “You like beating up pretty girls?  What kind of sick, army pigs do they have running this joint?”
Ian cuffed Graham upside his head, knocking him back to the ground. 
“Stop it,” Peggy Lee said, “it was my fault.”
“You’re bleeding,” Ian said.
“I’ll be all right.  Let’s just get him secured and get on with the operation.”
Ian grabbed Graham by the arm.  “Come on now, get in the closet.  I’ll kick the living shit out of you if you try anything like that again.  Got it?”
Ian shoved Graham back into the wardrobe.  In just a few seconds, he had tied the handles of the wardrobe closed.  “See how easy that was?”
Graham could hear them moving around the room.  Then, Peggy Lee said to Ian, “Remember, no one gets killed.  You can’t go overboard, okay?”
“I know, I know, no more Tarrytowns.  I know the drill.”
Graham knew immediately what Ian was talking about.  Tarrytown, New York, was the site of the Center for Combating Global Climate Change.  Hundreds of geo-engineers from all over the world worked collaboratively to find new ways to recreate a livable climate.  The Center had produced the huge shade canopies that covered large parts of the Great Lakes and LA Climate Shelter Zones and had been responsible for many life-saving improvements to solar-powered air conditioning technologies.  Graham had given multiple presentations there on the water production facilities. 
Ten years ago, seven militants from a subgroup of the Movement for Earth’s Rebalance had stormed one of the central buildings on the Tarrytown campus.  The lab’s scientists had been working for years on “Project Ice Floes,” which involved a new chemical that could raise the freezing point of salt water.  The ultimate goal was to create large-scale ice masses around Antarctica.  The floes would reflect sunlight and aso counteract the warming trends of nearby ocean currents.
The project had been controversial from the start because it involved dumping massive amounts of a highly classified freezing agent into the Southern Ocean, an action that could harm many aquatic species and threaten the survival of the last remaining population of penguins.  But the Center saw the project as the potential silver bullet.  The trade-off seemed worth it.  What was one more extinction among the many thousands, after all? 
The MER militants entered the lab with the aim of destroying everything related to the project.  A struggle ensued, however, between the armed men and the scientists.  After shooting two of the lab workers, the militants took twenty-seven of the top scientists hostage.  The lab was sealed off.  The U.S. Army surrounded the building.  Negotiations proved unproductive and slow.  And then, in the middle of the night, the lab blew up.  Fueled by large quantities of flammable liquids, an immense fireball exploded into the night sky, blowing out windows for half a mile in every direction.  All of the militants and scientists perished instantly, along with seventeen soldiers who were positioned too close to the blast.  No one ever discovered exactly what happened that night inside of the lab. 
While successful in terms of accomplishing its primary objective, the action became a public relations disaster for MER.  The Movement’s leaders denounced the attack and claimed that they had had nothing to do with it, but no one believed them.  The media thrashed MER for weeks, causing many of its supporters to leave the group.  Then, one of MER’s leaders was shot and killed at a restaurant in the East Coast Climate Shelter, and the Movement went underground.  Since then MER had been relatively quiet.  Two years ago, the U.S. government had released an assessment that downgraded the threat presented by MER to “existing, but likely insignificant.” 
Clearly the government had been wrong.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Chapter 34

Graham could not get enough of Peggy Lee.  He wanted to open himself up and drink her into him.  She kissed him back passionately.  His hands were exploring every curve of her body, breasts, buttocks, thighs.  He untucked her blouse to feel the warmth of her flesh.  He felt a lifetime of loneliness fueling his longing, his need.  He desperately wanted to consummate his new life and simultaneously close the book on the past twenty years of utter solitude.   
But then, he heard a shuffle behind him.  There was someone else in the room.  Desire gave way to alarm.  He pulled away.  A voice hissed, “Now!”
Before he could turn around, he was being tackled and pinned to the floor.  Peggy Lee had adroitly stepped away.   
“Now, get the hood and straps.  And don’t turn the lights on.” 
Graham recognized Ian’s voice. 
“I know the protocol,” Peggy Lee hissed back. 
Graham could not believe what he was hearing.  He thought for a second that it was a terrible joke, but he could feel Ian’s knee grinding down on his spine.  This was no joke.  Ian’s weight pressed the air out of Graham’s lungs.  He could not catch his breath enough to call out for help.  He gasped hard with his cheek pressed against the linoleum floor.  He struggled against Ian’s grip, but to no avail.  Ian had his arms locked behind him.  Peggy Lee located a flashlight and was digging through Ian’s camera bag.  Quickly she passed some things to Ian.  Graham tried again to struggle free.
Ian wrenched Graham’s head back and forced a ball gag into his mouth.  He affixed the straps of the gag tightly around the base of Graham’s skull.  Then he put a large hood over Graham’s head.  He pulled the hood’s drawstrings around Graham’s neck.
“Not so tight,” Peggy Lee said, “he’s claustrophobic.”  Graham hated the pity in her voice.  He wanted to strike out at them, but he could barely move.  “Make sure he can breathe, Ian.”
Ian then bound Graham’s hands behind his back.  “Listen,” Ian said menacingly into Graham’s ear, “do what I say and you won’t get hurt.  It’s as simple as that, okay?”
Graham nodded his head. 
“Get on your feet.”
Ian pulled Graham up from the ground, holding him roughly by the nape of his neck. 
“Peggy Lee,” Ian called.  “Shine the light over here.  I’ve got to find his pass card.”
Ian searched through Graham’s pockets.  Graham considered kicking him, thinking maybe he could land a knee to Ian’s face – maybe break his nose – or to his groin.  But he quickly decided that would be a bad idea.  He could never best Ian in a fair fight.  With his hands tied behind his back and his eyes blindfolded, he would be beaten to a bloody pulp.  Ian found the pass card in Graham’s shirt pocket.  “Got it,” he said. 
“Okay,” she replied.  “Now get him into the wardrobe and get your bag.  Make sure he can breathe.  I mean it.”
Ian walked Graham over to the wardrobe and pushed him inside.  Graham tried to yell but the gag was too tight.  He struggled, but Ian manhandled him back into the wardrobe.  “I said cooperate, damn it, or I am going to bash your brains in.  You wouldn’t be my first.  Now, get in there and sit still.”
Ian shut the wardrobe doors.
“Tie those handles together,” Ian instructed Peggy Lee, “and do a good job so your boyfriend can’t get out.  I’ll finish getting the materials ready.” 
“Okay, Ian.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

Chapter 33

When Graham walked out into the dining hall, he found Peggy Lee standing near the waterfall.
“Good evening,” he said as he crossed over to her.
“Hello.  Come look, you can see a gorgeous rainbow in the spray.”
Graham had seen the rainbow hundreds of times; it was always there – it was part of the design – but he wanted to share it with her.  As she pointed, he breathed her in deeply.  She smelled like orange blossoms, honey, and cucumbers.  But there was something else as well, something acrid, something industrial.  He could not quite pinpoint it.  He tried to smell her again, but she had taken a step back.
“Where’s Ian?” Graham asked.
“When I stopped by his room, he didn’t look so good.  He said that he had slept all afternoon and that he was feeling flu-ish.  He felt hot to me, so I think he might have a slight temperature.  He was going to go back to bed so that he would feel better by morning.”
“I should send the medic over to his room.”
“That’s not necessary, Graham,” Peggy Lee answered.  “You know, Ian always does this, really.  To be truthful, I think he is a hypochondriac.”
“But you said yourself that he felt hot,” Graham pressed.  “What if he really is sick?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” Peggy Lee said.  “He always gets himself worked up.  If it will make you feel better, we can stop by there before we go out and see the stars, and then you can check him out yourself.  You’ll see what I mean.  Besides, I thought you might be pleased that he wasn’t going to join us for dinner.”
“Well, sure, but—”
“Exactly,” Peggy Lee interrupted.  “So we’ll check on Ian after dinner, and for now, let’s enjoy each other’s company in this fabulous tropical grotto.”
“All right,” Graham responded, laughing.
They sat at a small table at the edge of the pond.  Graham hoped that Charley would notice Ian’s absence and leave the two of them to eat alone.  When Charley entered the dining hall, he did just that.  Instead of coming over, he sat down at a long table with the escort soldiers and some of the guys stationed at the Platform. 
The same soldier who had served them lunch appeared with two plates of green salad.  He returned a few minutes later with soy burgers and a plate piled high with steaming garlic curly fries to share.  Peggy Lee pecked at the fries and barely touched her burger.
During dinner, Graham talked about his childhood, basic training, the helicopter accident, and about his career at the water production facilities.  Peggy Lee talked a bit more about her years in Georgia, but then Graham could not get her to open up further.  He wondered if her inability to talk about herself might be a consequence of her job.  Maybe, she just had trouble getting out of interview mode.  But he felt like it was something more.  She had mentioned her father leaving her family, but avoided going into particulars.  He decided not to press her.  The loss of a parent in whatever form can be so very painful; Graham knew it well.  So after a few attempts to get her to open up, he respectfully steered clear. 
After dinner, they headed back towards the guest quarters.  As they walked, Peggy Lee said, “You know, Graham, there is a lot that I want to tell you.  I feel like I can really trust you.  But I just can’t talk about certain things with you right now.  I hope you understand.”
Graham wondered if she had been reading his mind.
“Just because my life is an open book doesn’t mean that I expect anything from you.  I hope you didn’t think that I was trying to pry into your personal life.  I’m just interested, just curious about you, that’s all.”
“I wish I could be more open.  Honestly, I really like you, Graham.  You are a trusting, honest, and good person.  What you have done here is extraordinary.  You deserve so much in life for all that you have done for others.  Your altruism is commendable . . . even heroic in this time of crisis.  That is what makes this whole thing so damn hard.  That’s what’s been bothering me all day.” 
Her head hung low.  She seemed on the verge of tears.  Her bubbling energy was gone.  She looked into his eyes for a moment and then looked away again.
“What are you talking about?” Graham asked.  “What has gotten into you?  I’m not upset with you about anything.  I’m nothing but extremely thankful for your visit and for your putting up with me for the last couple of days.  You have brought sunshine into my life.  Truly, you have.  You may not realize it, but you’ve changed me.  You’ve opened some doors for me that I thought had been sealed forever.  I know it sounds extreme, but it’s true.”
Peggy Lee responded with silence.  They were approaching the guest quarters.  Graham could not figure out why she was so sad.  She would not look up at him.  “Peggy Lee, what’s bothering you so much?  I don’t understand.”
“I’ll explain it to you on the boat.”  Tears welled in her eyes.  “Let’s stop by my room,” she continued, “so that I can pick up a scarf.  Then we’ll check on Ian, okay?”
This was not at all how he thought the night was going to go.  He thought back on their dinner conversation.  Had he asked her too many questions?  Something had really disturbed her.  He felt terrible, but he didn’t know why.  It felt like they had been pulled apart by some unknown force, and now the rift between them was growing with heartbreaking speed.
“Before we go in, there is something that I need to do,” she said.
“Peggy Lee, I want to apologize if I upset you in any way.”
“Oh, Graham, please, just be quiet for second and close your eyes.”
He diligently closed his eyes.
He felt her hand gently touching his face.  She drew slowly close to him and said, “Keep your eyes closed.”
Graham could not believe it.  Maybe this was it.  Maybe he had served his time in solitary and the guards were now going to pry open the doors of his cage and let him out into the sunlight, into a free world full of color and love and life.  He felt her body press up against him, her arms wrap around his neck, pulling him close.
She rose up on her toes and ever-so-slowly brought her lips to his.  She paused.  Graham felt her breath on his lips.  He didn’t know if she was watching him or if she had her eyes closed as well.  He felt a roaring, hungry desire building inside of him.  He wanted her so badly. 
She whispered, “I’m sorry,” onto his lips, and then she kissed him, first gently and warmly, and then hard and strong.  She gripped the back of his neck, pulling his head down to her.  He kissed her back, pressing her against the door.  She pulled her key card from her pocket and opened the door.  Graham backed her into the room, kissing her neck, her cheeks, her wonderfully soft, wet mouth. 
She moaned plaintively.  The door swung closed behind them, and a darkness that promised freedom enshrouded their embrace.