by Than Pence
Henry has to get home. Mother nature has other plans.
|Darkness ahead makes the high-beams useless. Don’t forget Anna’s insulin rattles around his head like a moth in a jar. Henry lurches in his seat, the turn coming quicker than usual; the words were distracting.
The flooding didn’t help.
Rain had lessened about fifteen minutes ago, but he still can’t get home. The roads have almost all been closed off by floods. Judging by the last call, his daughter isn’t doing well. He swears loudly, his dashboard soaking it up. Don’t forget Anna’s… He shakes his head and bites his lip, keeping measured weight on the gas. Ahead of him, inky countryside is all he sees, save what his headlights reveal.
Several signs salting the surrounding area have ultimately led him down this final chance at getting home. Pepper Drive is asphalt. Once he crosses into Shepherd County, it’s dirt and gravel bits. With reluctance, Henry knows it is his last chance at making it to Anna and Sharon, the white pharmacy bag his precious cargo.
In the distance, his headlights catch a yellow speck. His heart sinking, he slows enough to read the sign: High Water Ahead. It is a sign that looks to always be there, closed up until there’s an emergency. Like a Bible.
Doubt nags at Henry. He rarely comes up Pepper to get home. It forces him to drive the back roads and through Tormen Woods. Not too familiar with the road, he doesn’t know if the High Water Ahead has just been opened or not. That sign on Sycamore stays open. He continues.
Time on the road bolsters his confidence, inspiring him to press the gas harder. Henry is certain no water blocks this path home. The lights snag a glint of green and he knows Shepherd County is fast approaching. Should be fifteen minutes, Little Anna.
Buzzing in his lap draws Henry’s attention. Service isn’t reliable on this end of the county, but he knows a text can push through. Sometimes. The screen reads where are u anna needs shot
“I’m sorry I forgot!” he shouts toward his dashboard, his confessional. “I’m sorry!”
The sound of the road shifts and the reflecting light turns from gray to muddy brown. It almost looks red.
Instinctively, Henry starts tapping the brakes. Tormen Woods is ahead. He drives on, the lights appearing to become dimmer as he approaches. “It’s an illusion,” he mutters. “The trees are soaking up the light.”
He enters the woods. The trees unnerve him. His speedometer reads thirty but it feels faster. The trees whoosh by like hitchhikers waiting to be picked up.
Henry swears again, hitting the brakes. The headlights catch a white splash. The mud makes him swerve, inspiring a gasp, but he does stop.
Opening the window, Henry peers out and sees the water cut through the woods, laying waves against the sliver of land that is meant to be a road. Swearing again, Henry sits back. In sitting down, he makes contact with his phone and is forced to read Sharon’s text again.
Anna needs shot
Henry grabs the Pill Box bag, his phone, and the Maglite. The temporary river before him, Henry wonders how it can be so loud. He shoves the phone into his pocket and tucks the bag under his arm while he grabbing a stick. Poking the fast-moving water before him, he quickly judges to see how deep it is before tossing the stick. His truck won’t get through, but he could wade across and hoof it the rest of the way home.
It isn’t ideal, he knows, but Henry has to make it to Sharon. To Anna.
“I won’t forget!” he yells into the night. “I won’t EVER forget again, alright?”
The forest doesn’t reply.
Trudging into the cold water, one hand holding the flashlight and the other holding the insulin high, Henry moves. The water is strong.
At knee-deep, Henry sees that he has roughly ten feet more and…
His footing gone, Henry falls back, a rolling stone his temporary nemesis. The insulin held high, he puts his other arm behind him, palm down. His flashlight is beneath his palm and his thumb is beneath the flashlight. Emitting a groan, Henry keeps that position until he finds his footing again. He tries to pull the flashlight up but can’t: his thumb can’t hold anything.
Standing, he feels that his pants are wet on the front and Henry knows his phone is ruined. Determination to beat this obstacle begins to fill him and Henry takes a deep breath and then screams as he moves forward. High steps bring him to the other side before he knows it and he starts a mad dash through the forest.
Fitness hasn’t ever concerned him, but something produces a spark that night. He is running, his arm high, the white bag reflecting light when it could, a beacon shining sporadic in the dark.
The forest road makes way for a field road and eventually a paved one. Henry continues to run, ignoring cramps. His thumb, likely broken, sends a shooting sting into his chest every few beats. Still he runs. His phone doesn’t provide him any guidance or reminders or updates about Anna. It’s wet, which means its dead. The dead don’t speak.
Heaving now and running, the phone rings loudly in his pocket. Terrified, he fishes it from his pocket with his fingers, wincing away his thumb pain. Swapping the medicine and the phone, he tries to answer it with his right hand but can’t. The signal is gone, but not before another message is read.
Tears fill his eyes and Henry starts running faster than before. The pain is gone and before he even realizes any time has passed, he is home. Sharon greets him, her face a cake baked with anger, sorrow, gratitude, and fear. Henry knows it will be all right once he sees his little girl get her insulin shot.
Word Count: 996