Friday, August 31, 2012

The Country Life (part 4 of 5)

Chapter Four

Ryan had never considered himself to be much of an automotive expert. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, his mechanical proficiency was primarily limited to adding gasoline when required and using the filling station squeegee on the window. However, despite his extremely limited knowledge of the mysteries of the internal combustion engine, he felt very confident in his opinion that cars do not normally wind up with four flat tires simultaneously.

After exiting the vehicle, he had confirmed that all four tires were indeed completely flat by use of the emergency flashlight he kept in the glove box. He was now standing beside the car and staring at it, a perplexed expression on his face, when he heard a noise he would never forget.

The dog had continued its steady stream of barking the entire time Ryan examined each of his tires. Suddenly, just after he finished his circuit of the vehicle, the barking rose in pitch and ferocity to a heretofore unheard level. The noise sounded increasingly frantic when, all of a sudden, it cut off completely with a high pitched yelp.

Then silence.

Ryan didn't even realize he was running until he was already on the front porch. He rushed inside, slammed the door behind him and stood leaning against it, his breath coming in shrill, ragged gasps and his heart beating frantically in his chest.

" just...fine. Quit...being...stupid!" he berated himself as he tried to get his breathing under control. He closed his eyes and began counting silently to himself. By the time he reached 85, his breathing had more or less returned to normal and his heart had begun to slow down again. He felt a little bit more like himself again, and he thus began the same process most adults go through following a fright. Denial. His job now was to convince himself that his fear was entirely irrational. He locked the front door behind him, muttering "Just to be on the safe side," and took two steps forward through his entrance hall before every light in his house suddenly went black at the same time.

This time Ryan had to count all the way to 337 before he could begin to think clearly again. Once he was calm enough for a semblance of rational thought, he started slowly making his way forward.

"Just a blown fuse. Nothing out of the ordinary." His voice sounded strange and hollow and far too loud in the darkness around him, and he quickly decided to stop talking as he continued on his path through the living room, towards the back bedroom where the fuse box was located.

The pain in his shin was truly remarkable, as was the octave his voice reached as he crashed suddenly and violently to the floor. With the hand not holding his throbbing shin, he felt blindly for the object that had caused him so much pain. It was his coffee table! The very same table he had so skillfully maneuvered around just a few short hours ago when the dog had first awakened him. He wondered how he could have possibly drifted so far off course and felt to his left to use the couch to pull himself to his feet, but instead his hand found the piano in the darkness. Completely disoriented, he reached to his right and found the couch where it never should have been.

His brain was struggling to process the information it was receiving and Ryan was trying desperately to come up with some way for the layout of the furniture to make sense, when suddenly the truth hit him hard, sending a feeling of icy dread through his stomach.

The coffee table had been moved.

It should have been on the other side of the couch and instead it was between the couch and the piano. This realization led him directly to the next conclusion, which would have knocked him to the floor if he had not already been there.

Someone must have moved the coffee table since coffee tables were not known for moving themselves.

Ryan found that all of his prior impressions of terror were purely intellectual in nature.

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