For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
Swan Dive Into the Abyss
Quick Chapter Menu
Scott glided through the Indiana landscape. The wind aerodynamically flowed around him and the clicking of the chain through the derailleur and thin tires humming along the poured-concrete county road produced an hypnotic soundtrack for his escape.
Before he knew it, he was twenty-odd miles out into a corporate wheat field which was on a scale that would require satellite-guided tractor software and armies of combines mowing long yellow swaths into the formerly summer-green seas. They spread out in all directions with the road cutting a thin line.
The ministrations that the sound and sights and sensations produced in Scott were enough to keep him from crying. He didn’t want to cry anymore. And he was angry that he had been carried over that waterfall without a boat or a barrel not thirty minutes earlier.
As he got ready to go grab a last burrito from CookieSheet’s before she closed, the running water out of the faucet in the new kitchen sink he had installed early that day coaxed the remembrance out of the storage banks.
If he could just escape back to that warm-enough autumn afternoon time and space right now, just before the harvest season, he would go there, away from this maelstrom. Sure he would. Not. Because then he’d have to relive the events just before his escape from the house he lived in with his father; the house his father had sovereign dominion and absolute power over, of its content and inhabitants. Art Loader’s house.
When Scott deliberated on how he had just used the word ‘escape’ in his thinking back on the day of the fight with his father, it was not lost on him that he, also, had been looking to escape for the whole time he’d been in New Mexico. Was that what this was about - escape?
Escape. That day back when he was still in high school and Scott was living with his family in a renovated old Mennonite church on the outskirts of the small town his father had ‘escaped’ to, the standard and literal meaning was applicable to Scott finally making it through the front door, grabbing his bike from the ground and speeding away. His father glared at him and his mother stood behind him in tears and angry and fearful at the same time, watching her angst-ridden middle boy ride away from his home and from his mother, far into the distant afternoon, yellow in the light and blue in the shadows.
Yeah, his father had escaped to Indiana, his small family taken hostage across state lines for the sake of a better income and a known future with a hunting buddy’s new venture after the factory disaster. Having lived for a bit now himself, Scott could no longer blame him. When all else fails, escape.
That’s what he’d just seen on his way to CookieSheet’s in the early evening dusk. An escape of sorts. Among the patrons of the cafe it would be highly debatable as to whether the word escape was applicable or not. What with the diverse backgrounds and beliefs that were held by the inhabitants of a town whose founding was based on a device that could obliterate human lives and structures in a fiery instant, many could use the equally defensible rationale that The Bomb saved many more lives than it would take away.
Scott was waiting for Father Adrian to finish kneeling at the altar but he wasn’t sure that would be any time soon, given what had just happened. So he sat somewhat patiently, albeit uncomfortably, in the pews further back in St. Mary’s Church. Yes, he’d been in churches before, mostly when he was a kid, and he didn’t have anything against accompanying friends into them for various events, preferably festive, but the mumbo jumbo just bugged him. And that pious air that surrounded the practice. And yet. And yet. Father Adrian was not like any clergy he had encountered before.
Eventually, Scott noticed movement at the front of the church as Father Adrian’s large form struggled to stand up from kneeling for so long among the shining reflective gold ornamentation and candlelight. When he turned back toward Scott and descended the altar steps, Scott could see that some color had returned to Father Adrian’s face, but his eyes were still red and tears streaked his cheeks.
Scott thought he could understood Father Adrian’s condition. Anyone would.
It’s not every day that you see something you will carry with you the rest of your life.
Scott wasn’t looking for it. He was looking for something else. But you know how one thing leads to another, and then. In his mind, he was absorbed in the idea of escape while in his vision he was mesmerized by his favorite time of the day and the prospects of a decent meal at CookieSheet’s. Dusk presented a palette of dual light sources that blended together in way that Scott could never pull off even if he were a painter - which he was not. The pinks, purples, and blues of the sky were compromised by artificial light from streetlights, neon signs and the lamps and lights of homes that had awakened to the waning light outside in a perfect balance of color and contrast, unlike the overall warmth of the late afternoon sun.
Escape, because of the night before and what he had to do now and how he might have to act. And because it was New Year’s Day and he wanted a new day or a new future or all of that in the form of an escape.
As the series of streetlights lining the Los Alamos Canyon Bridge magically turned on just as they came into view, Scott was struck by a succession of observations. The field lights of the Los Alamos High School just before and to the left of the bridge were lit up, a football game about to begin, and students, parents, and townspeople were milling around the front of the building.
Then he noticed a dark figure on the right-hand sidewalk that went across the bridge. It had black flapping wings and seemed to be flying along the bridge railing, the charcoal stick figures of bare tree branches that grew up from down below the bridge reached out to the colorful sky and he thought of the figure as a raven flying from the trees in the mid-winter scene.
As the Jeep began to cross the bridge, time slowed down with the realization that the flying figure was actually Father Adrian, his black priest’s cassock was open and flapping. He was running full out.
The scene was surreal. In what seemed like slow motion, the Jeep pulled up behind Father Adrian to the melancholy strains of an Italian opera that began playing in the background. Whether it was in Scott’s ears or only in his mind, he could not tell. Scott didn’t know operas from ocarinas but the song soared in his hearing, adding to his heightened alert from the sight of Father Adrian running. Scott could never have imagined the large scholarly clergyman’s appendages moving at such velocity and purpose and strength.
The priest’s gaze was fixated straight ahead, brow furrowed deeply. It was obvious he was yelling something very loudly in his agitated Italian song-speak. So out of character for him and his station.
Scott slowed the Jeep to match the priest’s kinetic gait, which all seemed even slower then, and he pushed the Down button for the passenger window. Father Adrian seemed to sense Scott alongside him and slowly turned his head toward the Jeep.
The look that was on Father Adrian’s face was the most chillingly expressive face he’d ever seen. There was anguish, pain, fear, urgency, and expectation. There was only a hint of recognition of Scott in it. The opera lulled as their eyes met for just a moment, the priest’s eyes large behind large lenses like Lee’s, beseeching Scott to either understand or to help. Scott couldn’t tell. Then Father Adrian’s head and eyes slowly turned back toward his pursuit of which was unknown to Scott, arms and legs flailing, his large gold crucifix swinging around his neck and behind him, his hair wind-whipped and his mouth resuming its shouting.
Scott could make out only a few phrases underneath the opera, but couldn’t associate them with any rational and conversational thoughts.
“Wait!”, shouted the priest. “Dr. Wongsun! I have a message for you!”
As Scott rolled on in quarter time, the aria began building again, the tenor’s voice propelling the Jeep forward until Scott turned to look for the object of Father Adrian’s fixation.
Ahead toward the center of the bridge was a white counterpoint to Father Adrian’s black. A man, Scott assumed, attempting to step onto the railing, one leg mounting the first horizontal pole of the railing and the other on the sidewalk. The white was a lab coat and it, too, flapped in the wind from the canyon below. Scott glanced back to Father Adrian who was still sprinting and yelling, obviously winded.
Somehow, watching the priest move like that had encouraged Scott to push down on the accelerator and before he knew it, still in slow motion, he was nearing the center of the bridge. The man had gotten both feet onto the first rung of the railing and was having to balance by leaning his back end out toward the street while holding onto the top railing, his upper torso cantilevered out over the empty space. He looked back at Father Adrian with an attitude of being harassed. Then the man glanced quickly to Scott with a look of curiosity that caused the same in Scott and they were linked in that moment with a “What are you doing here?”
As Scott passed the very same scientist he had seen the men in black visiting on his first day in Los Alamos, the aria rose further still, as if in one of The Godfather movies and the man looked away to put one leg up on the next to top railing. On autopilot and still in slow motion, Scott pulled the Jeep to the side of the bridge. He toggled the emergency flashers. He turned the ignition off. He looked back to see Father Adrian nearing Dr. Wongsun, still trying to communicate with the man.
Scott opened his door and stood up so he could see above the roofline. He thought to shout something, but couldn’t get words out. Father Adrian was approaching the scientist. The man was now placing his right foot on the top railing, his lithe body bent, configured for maximum balance, surefooted. Graceful, even.
Scott moved around the Jeep and toward the sidewalk and railing, further toward the balustrade that separated the sidewalk from the moving traffic. Apparently, Scott was running, but he could not really discern what was going on with his own limbs. He may have said something while Dr. Wongsun stood up, his white trainers rocking a bit as his hands and arms wavered to achieve a steady stance.
The dusk was now gone and the light from the street lights cast the deep plunge past the railing into complete darkness. The scientist’s white lab coat, khakis, and new athletic shoes were stark against the night.
Father Adrian was alternating between yelling and what appeared as a fervent prayer or incantation or intercession as he lunged forward, reaching for the scientist’s legs. The aria crescendoed in Scott’s head as he witnessed Dr. Wongsun’s Great Escape. With complete concentration, the scientist brought his arms forward, then with a backward thrust he bent his legs and propelled himself up and outward as the priest’s hands brushed against the scientist’s right pant leg, not able to find purchase in the fluttering fabric as Dr. Wongsun completed a perfect, exacting, and beautiful swan dive away from the bridge and lights and his family and life in Los Alamos.
In his driven-forward motion toward the railing, Father Adrian’s sole focus was on somehow catching and latching onto the scientist’s leg or foot. He’d take anything he could get. Consequently he had no regard for the powerful inertia of his bulk in full throttle and he hit the railing, much taller than the man now diving away from the light and any salvation the Man of the Cloth could have offered.
Bent too far out over the abyss because of his height, Father Adrian’s hands and arms reached out to possess only nothing, and air, and failure. Then, his feet lifted up from the sidewalk, a real version of the David Blaine trick, the fulcrum of the railing becoming a scale of justice with his body the beam and the railing the balance blade that would determine his fate.
Dr. Wongsun was gone. He had escaped. And so Scott’s own focus shifted automatically to Father Adrian, who’s face was just registering the shock and grief of having missed the scientist, then having to switch to the dawning realization that he himself was about to take ungainly flight, like that raven, black winging into blackness, never to be seen again. In his efforts to grab back onto the railing to keep himself going over, the priest’s frocks and cassock frustrated the efforts of his hands and became entangled in the cloth as he teetered downward.
Scott suddenly found himself at the railing, teleported there from over the balustrade and magically appearing to engulf the large Catholic man with both of his arms, realizing his body was right up against the priest’s body, sparing no amount of intimacy. He could smell Father Adrian’s Old Spice aftershave and it reminded him of his own father because that’s what he used daily after shaving.
The priest was heavy and moving downward away from Scott but Scott held on as tightly as he was able, the muscles that he routinely had trained were thrilled to be used in such a complete and impactful way. Scott used the railing as his own pivot, his torso the lever for first stoping Father Adrian’s motion, then pulling him back up and over the railing, the two men finally coming to stand, the priest’s side pressed against Scott’s front, before Father Adrian sank to his knees, Scott slowing his descent to the sidewalk.
As the last notes of the opera faded from his mind to be replaced by the beat of his heart’s blood coursing through his ears, Scott came into realtime. He could hear Father Adrian’s sobbing as he held onto Scott to keep from fully sinking to the sidewalk. Scott’s head came up to see the lit bridge and street that had become crowded with people rushing toward the two of them, a few figures already poised at the railing and looking downward in shock and voicing the horror of the little of what they could see.
The lights of the high school further down and across were bright and Scott could make out students in groups, frozen in place, staring his way. A siren claimed the air and his ears as people reached him and the priest.
Scott looked down at Father Adrian who looked back up at Scott, mouthing words, eyes red-rimmed and wet and his left hand clutching the cross that had come back around. Father Adrian then spoke, a weak smile on his face.
“You’re a good soul, Señor Scott. The Hand of the Lord surely is upon you.”
“If only,” Scott thought.