A New Novel in the Making
I'm working on a new novel. Here's the seventh chapter of it. Let me know what you think about it. You find a Facebook comment form below the text. I post each new chapter when it is completed. The first chapter is here: Chapter One
Was It Quick?
Caroline still sits in the swing, rotating it minutely left to right to keep warm. Fred gets up from the other swing and starts sweeping the ground with his feet, stirring up the many leaves and kicking the fallen apples around.
"You just let them lie here?" he asks. Then he picks up an apple and takes a bite.
"You shouldn't eat fallen apples. They rot very quickly on the ground."
Fred holds up the apple and turns it around in front of his eyes, at a very short distance to see it clearly in the dark.
"It looks fine to me," he says, still chewing.
"And they get worms."
Fred spits, and lets the apple fall to the ground, kicking it far away with a sudden burst of energy. He looks up at the trees.
"So, did you just let all of them fall? Didn't you pick any?"
"Not this year."
Fred is silent for a while, glancing at her. Caroline's swing has stopped completely. She sits with her ankles crossed right below the swing, and her feet poke the ground. Fred looks at her face, which is turned towards the ground, then at movement of her feet. He leans his head way back and looks up at the crowns of the trees, as if searching for remaining apples. He opens his mouth and holds his breath shortly before speaking.
"Was it quick?" he asks with a voice so weak it barely reaches Caroline.
She shivers and crosses her arms over her chest, raising her shoulders towards her ears.
"Seven months," she replies. "The doctors said it was extremely quick to be AIDS. But seven months..."
"I mean, when it... ended." Fred sticks his hands deep down the pockets of his pants.
Caroline's feet stop poking the ground below her. That makes Fred stare at them. So does Caroline, crouching so much it looks like she may fall out of the swing, face first. Her mouth is moving slightly, but not opening, as if chewing something. The faint breeze makes the fallen leaves rattle ever so slightly.
"The end was instant. The very end. Thomas grabbed my hand and pressed it so hard I almost screamed."
Caroline holds up her hand in front of her face. Fred stares at it with wide open eyes.
"But it felt soft," she continues. "I could feel the strength of the grip. The bones in my hand were pressed together. Still, it was gentle, somehow. Warm, too. Pleasant."
She slowly turns her hand back and forth. Fred clenches his fists inside his pockets.
"Thomas kept on squeezing my hand, and he stared right at me. His mouth opened, just a little. I couldn't even see his teeth. He said, like a whisper, but still very clearly: 'Light!'"
"Light? Was it?"
Caroline glances at him, raising her eyebrows.
"No, it was dark. His eyes closed, but he held on to my hand. It felt good, like it was finally all over. Like he was at peace. Like saved."
Fred's hands relax in his pockets and he exhales, his chest sinking.
"That's beautiful, isn't it? Isn't it? What a way to go!"
Caroline lowers her hand, not looking at it any more. She shakes her head. Fred opens his mouth in a sudden inhalation.
"Then he let go of my hand. His eyes opened wide and he stared straight ahead. At nothing. His face got all stiff and twisted, and it stayed that way. Frozen. I could see in his eyes that life had left him - and I saw the horror. That was the last."
She is silent. Fred moves very slowly to the empty swing and sits down on it carefully, making no sound at all, not even any creaking from the wooden pole holding the swings. After a while, Caroline raises her head and looks straight at the house in front of them, which is pitch black except for the light from some of the windows.
Fred clears his throat, watching Caroline for a reaction. There is none.
"Were you alone with him when it happened?" he asks softly.
"Mom was out shopping or something. Dad was hiding in their bedroom."
Fred waits for it, but she doesn't reply. He gives his swing a little push with his feet, but then lets it come to a rest again.
"My father prayed," he says with a darkened voice.
Fred shrugs his shoulders, as a tiny grunt escapes him.
"Oh, he prays for everyone. That's his thing. It makes him feel like some kind of Jesus, I guess. He says it's the greatest power there is, because it speaks to God. Or maybe he means that it speaks to the greatest power there is. Anyway."
"I thought he didn't really approve of Thomas, and wanted you to stop hanging out with him."
Fred turns his head away. He grabs both the ropes of the swing and holds on hard.
"I asked him to."
"You asked him to pray for Thomas?" Caroline blurts out, her voice suddenly louder. "But you don't believe in that, do you?"
"Much good it did," Fred mutters. "I guess his heart wasn't in it."
The hint of a smile passes over Caroline's lips, but is gone in an instant. Her lips tighten and her mouth is firmly closed. She glances at the house again. The kitchen light is turned off.
Fred asks hesitantly, almost whispering:
"Was it... painful?"
He looks right at her, his eyes moist and his cheeks blushing so much it is visible in the weak light from the house and from the moon, partially appearing between dark clouds.
"Dying, no," Caroline replies firmly, and pauses before continuing much slower. "But death - yes. Death was a shock. I could see that in his face."
She grabs Fred's arm. It makes him jerk so that he almost falls off the swing. Caroline leans in on him, until their faces are so close they can feel each other's breath.
"Don't die, Fred!" Caroline urges him, like a plea. "Don't ever die!"
All the chapters posted so far: