I don't know if this is a short story or the beginning of a short story or what...but it's what's been rattling around in my head since yesterday afternoon.
Here! Let it rattle around in yours.
Darius Coville woke at precisely one minute after Midnight. He didn’t wake with a start but the transformation from deepest sleep to wide awake had been instantaneous, nonetheless. The first thought that occurred to him was to wonder how he knew the time precisely to the minute. He didn’t have an answer to the question, but he knew that he was exactly correct.
The next thing he noticed was how completely dark it was. It didn’t scare him at all, but this too, weighed on his curiosity. He was actually rather pleased with himself that the dark didn’t inspire any sense of panic. His mother would be proud of him if she knew. After all, he was little more than 11 years old and he could well remember being afraid of the dark just recently; and that was normal dark; the kind with shadows moving about, taking outlandish shapes and meanings in his imagination. This was an utter absence of light and even though it should be much scarier, it did nothing but add another item for him to ponder.
Something was truly different but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
He thought back. He recalled that the day had started like any other day with Momma hollering from the kitchen for he and his little brother Jake to come in for breakfast. He had been doing his morning chore of milking Honey Pie, the family’s one cow. Jake was still too small to handle the milking but he had recently gotten the job of tossing feed to the chickens and retrieving any new eggs in the coop.
After breakfast, Momma had made sure that Darius and Jake practiced their letters. School might be out for the harvest but Momma still made them keep up with their lessons. She had plans for her boys and those plans didn’t include scraping out a living on any Missouri farm, no-siree!
The rest of the morning had also been uneventful. Jake had been sent out to collect fallen apples from the tree behind the barn and Darius was kept busy splitting some logs for the woodpile. Eventually Papa came in from the fields for lunch and the family had all sat down together for a meal of Momma’s fried chicken (almost fresh from the icehouse), and sweet buttermilk. Lunch was eaten in silence after Papa had uttered a short prayer.
Darius had heard his father and some of the other men down at the town store arguing about whether or not a war was really brewing. Nobody there was overly fond of Lincoln, (Darius had learned a few new terms listening to that conversation), but neither were they all-fired eager to get involved in a fight they didn’t see as their own. There wasn’t a single slave owner in the county and the few freed blacks living there weren’t any trouble at all. That young’un, Thaddeus Washington was a fine blacksmith and when old Bart Johnson had died, all of his usual customers had taken their work to him without a word of complaint. Darius knew his Papa was a lot more worried than he let on.
After helping Momma clear the dishes, Darius was told he could take Jake down to the creek and see if they couldn’t catch some dinner. They chased each other and stopped to have swordfights with their cane-poles on the way down to the creek but it had only taken them twice as long to get there as it should have. That was fine, though. Momma wouldn’t expect to see them again for hours and as long as they brought back a few fine catfish, everyone would be happy. The fishing might be serving a real purpose on the farm, but everyone knew the boys had been let loose from chores for the rest of the day.
The day had turned awfully hot by then and Jake shucked off his clothes and jumped into the creek the minute they got there. Darius had yelled at him to come on out, that he’d just scare all of the fish away, but there was no heat in the rebuke. Soon, the two of them were both splashing in the creek and cooling off.
Jake was making a game of diving under water in one place and reappearing somewhere else, hoping to surprise his big brother. Darius just floated lazily on his back, enjoying the sensation of the cool water. The cool water and the quiet of the creek flowing and the breeze in the trees. The quiet.
Suddenly, Darius had realized that he didn’t hear Jake splashing or whooping any more. He’d looked around and hadn’t seen him anywhere. Frantically, he’d started searching for his little brother, diving and swimming underwater in the silty water. On his fourth dive, he’d come up hard against a large tree limb resting on the bottom. Somehow, Jake had gotten his ankle trapped under the branch and was trying to free himself. Darius tried lifting the branch, but that only forced his feet deeper into the muddy bottom.
He dug furiously at the mud and rock bottom trying to free his brother. With his breath burning in his chest, he fought a heavy rock out of the way and Jake was free. In the act of moving the rock, however, he had rolled it onto his own forearm. He was trapped himself now and knew he couldn’t hold his breath a moment longer.
Darius lay in that unusual darkness, just moments after he’d awakened and smiled inwardly, knowing he’d saved his little brother. He was glad to have that memory because he also remembered that it was the only thing he had to stack up against how much being dead sucked.