Well. It’s Halloween. Figured this was a good a time as any to toss out the first chapter of a horror novel I’m working on. Enjoy.
Douglas W. Nyback
When your son dies so do you.
These are certain facts. Facts like how in the Rocky Mountains there are incredible orchards with majestic trees, overlooking sheer cliffs. Like how certain trees, over certain cliffs have rope swings, with tires at the bottom that have been there for too many years.
Facts like how when the setting sun hits him just right you can’t quite see that it’s your son climbing that rope too high. You can’t quite see that the kids at the bottom are swinging the tire back and forth, getting more and more vehement in their desire to see your son fall due to a lack of parental supervision.
As you’re paying your bill you can’t quite make out that he’s not laughing but screaming.
There are so many factors that go into creating the worst case scenario. When your son’s up too high, in a position to fall—by the time you realize it—you’re thinking, at worst, broken bones. Maybe a broken neck. At worst.
Factors you don’t take in are the elements.
It was years of cold mixed with rain that caused the rope to snap.
It was the wind that carried him over.
Gravity has malice. The assumption is that She’s relentless, but she’s not. When the rope your son is climbing snaps She gives us a moments pause. He hangs there, the rope he’s holding slightly slack, and there’s this look of shock on his face. A look of dawning horror. A look of realization.
With kids there are never consequences. It’s how they can rollerblade down steep slopes and crash into trees then just brush themselves off.
With kids there are never consequences until there are. This realization was my son’s last moment. Gravity gave him that.
The rope broke while the tire was swinging towards the cliff face. My son was six so he didn’t weigh much. He was looking right at me as his expression bled from pride to certainty. He felt the pull of the tire and if he had let go of the rope he would still be alive. But he felt that pull and he grabbed on to the only thing he could.
The tire was from a big rig, the kind that eats roads like children.
By the time I heard the screen door slam shut behind me I was six or seven strides into a dead run. By the time I heard the apples settle my son had hit the ground, the tire building momentum.
The way he fell, he shouldn’t have been able to keep holding on to the rope. Had both his arms broken along with his jaw when the left side of his body rebounded off the too-hard-earth, he would have lost enough motor control to go limp. But it was only his left arm that snapped. It broke clean and compound, the sound, like a brittle twig and a grown man’s scream. The skin around his jawbone tore.
As my feet pounded three of my son’s teeth into the ground the tire flung itself over the edge.
All around, people were screaming, but none as loud as me.
My son was quiet. He just held on and was pulled.
I dove for the edge of the cliff, just as he flew over, his limp left arm trailing behind him. I reached for it.
A factor you don’t think about is weight.
I grabbed his left wrist but with the compound fracture and the tire’s weight, at the point of most dramatic tension something had to give. His skin ripping was like fabric ripping, but wet and messy. Veins and arteries stretch before they snap, like elastic bands. By the time his head bounced of its first outcrop I had the good sense to let go of his arm.
With all that he had just been through, I couldn’t help but feel relief when I was certain he was dead.
Just because he was dead didn’t mean he stopped falling.
He never let go of the rope.
His name was Aaron.
This was the moment haunting me when I first woke up in the Endless Hotel.