Deeds of a Master Archer
By J. H. Bográn
Los Angeles, November 13, 2006
The doorbell loudly rang, but nobody showed up. Douglas Rhodes rapped on the front door. Still nothing. It was hardly the first time he arrived to an apparently empty house. He chuckled to himself as he passed his hand over the few stubs beginning to grow on top of his Marine-regulated shaved head.
Stepping down from the porch, the old wood creaked under Rhode’s heavy black military boots. He walked toward the garage where he found nothing but the decades-old black oil stain on the floor. Mrs. Johnson was not home. Going around the house and checked the corner window on the second floor shut tight. He frowned, then a cold droplet of water splattered on his hand. He looked up and examined the air conditioner unit right next to the window. Doug sighed, pulled out his cell phone from his khakis, and quickly typed a text message.
Old habits die hard, he mused. His friend Tom Johnson always wore headphones while surfing the Internet, rendering a doorbell useless. Douglas imagined his friend slouching over the computer, clicking frantically on the mouse with his right hand while holding a large plastic cup filled to the rim with soda in his left.
By the time he went around to the front door, Tom stood in the doorframe. Nearing six feet in height, he had the thin but hard body of a professional basketball player. He wore faded jeans, an old loose Lakers T-shirt, and a big smile on his face. Walking up to meet him, Douglas smiled as he spotted a large red plastic cup in his friend’s hand. They embraced as only life long friends do: without shame, without fear. It has been three years since they'd seen each other last. Doug was about to embark on a tour of duty in Iraq and Tom was back from college with a major in Literature History.
“I thought you’d never come back from the war,” Tom stood back.
“And I thought you’d never graduate!”
They were both twenty-four. Having known each other since grammar school, they grew up together and always kept in touch once they went their separate ways after high school.
“It’s good to see you.”
“Yeah, come on in,” said Tom.
Doug stepped into the foyer. “What is it good-ole Mrs. Johnson wants us to move this time?”
“The washing machine down in the basement. She finally got a new one. It’s coming tomorrow.”
“I don’t think she’s paying us this time,” Doug fondly remembered how many jobs they had done on the house since Mr. Johnson abandoned the family some fifteen years before.
“Not really. She offered the same she paid for mowing the lawn.”
“Five bucks! Hell no, I rather do it for free.”
“That’s what she figured, I guess. But she said she’d leave a six-pack in the fridge for after we’re done.”
They shared a laugh, and crossed the foyer that reached the door to the basement below.
“Okay, let’s move the damn thing then.”
“Nah, let’s get some advanced payment,” countered Doug.
He went directly to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and true to her word, there sat a six–pack of beer waiting for them. Doug grabbed two cans, returned to the basement door, and tossed one to his friend.
“I thought I’d see you on the beach this morning,” commented Doug.
“Me too, but my mom ran over my board.” A sad and painful expression filled Tom’s face. It had taken him three years to save up enough money to buy it.
“For some reason, mom thought it a good idea to park in reverse so she could speed out the next morning. When she was backing in, she didn’t see the board in her rearview mirror and didn’t stop until she heard the loud crack,” Tom concluded with a grimace.
“Yeah.” He shrugged. “She brought it to the shop. They said they might be able to fix it, but it’d take a couple of days.”
Doug followed his friend down the stairs into the dark basement. A single bare light bulb hung from the ceiling. It took a few seconds for Doug’s eyes to adjust to the dim environment. Turning left, they passed a room that held a couple dozen canvases. Mrs. Johnson’s favorite pastime was getting busy with brushes and oil colors. The room was littered with paintings in different stages of production, from sketches to those just awaiting a finishing touch. The laundry room could be seen from the door of the makeshift art studio. She claimed the thumping of the machine actually soothed her as she reached out for her muses.
“Remember that time we were playing hide and seek?” asked Tom.
“You mean the time you hid inside the machine?”
“Yeah,” Doug chuckle.
“Yep, I thought your mother had a heart attack when she opened the door and you busted out of there!”
Tom sighed, his expression dreamy as if reliving that day.
With all his might, the war veteran pulled the weighty old-model machine a few inches away from the wall while Tom unscrewed the two hoses. Just as he was pulling the last hose, his cell rang.
“Hello?” There was a brief silence, then, “Oh, hi, Mom. Yes, we’re in the basement moving the washer now. Where do you want us to put it?”
Doug sat on the dusty floor, not minding a little dirt on his pants, especially after his stint in the desert of Iraq. He sipped his beer as he watched his friend talking into the phone, Tom rolling his eyes at his mother’s questioning.
A sound similar to a passing truck filled the room. Doug turned to face Tom, his eyes wide with surprise. The faint sound grew louder until it caused the house to vibrate. The single light bulb swayed, throwing dancing shadows all over the room, and the floor shook as the dryer rocked, hitting against the wall.
“Earthquake!” Tom’s voice was a cross between a squeak and a shout.
He dropped the phone as he rushed towards the door. Doug realized he could not get all the way up, so he desperately crawled on all fours reaching the door ahead of his friend.
A deafening thunder preceded the cracking by a split second. The crack moved like a lightning bolt through the wood floor from the outside wall, following the direction of the door.
“Tom!” Doug stretched his hand to get a hold of him.
Tom lost his footing, and fell through the gap. Only his hands were visible as he gripped the edge.
Without thinking, Rhodes flew through the air, landed on his stomach, and caught Tom’s hand just as Tom let go. Tom’s other hand felt sweaty when he grabbed Doug’s wrist. Their eyes met, Tom’s wide with fear, pleading not to let him drop. The rumble subsided as the shaking stopped, Doug breathed with a sense of relief.
“It’s over,” yelled Doug.
Doug pulled until Tom secured a foothold. The soldier changed position to better haul his friend the rest of the way up, and slowly, he got on his knees. Tom finally reached the edge, with half his body out of the gap.
Not a second later, the movement resumed more vigorous than before. Doug heard the glass break on the small basement windows.
“Shit!” yelled Tom.
The gap widened even more, this time taking both men who had been sitting on the border. Doug’s elbow hit hard as he flipped to face the wall. With his outstretched hands he tried to get hold of something, scratching with his nails and ignoring the pain. His fall stopped with a jolt as his hand found a protruding edge to grasp. He caught a glimpse of Tom having the same hard time, a nasty cut bled on his friend’s left cheek.
The earthquake stopped as quickly as it began and the basement turned deadly silent. Doug wondered if it was a quiet prelude to a bigger storm. Moments later, his theory proved right. The great wood framework of the house creaked louder and louder until the house collapsed in on itself. The ceiling collapsed, and with a strenuous bang, struck the very spot where they had been sitting before the second quake. Debris found its way through the crack, and hit both young men. Tom, with a piercing scream, fell into the chasm.
Another meteor-like piece of wood grazed Doug’s right temple. He closed his eyes in pain. Letting go, he opened his eyes only to see the dark edge grow smaller and smaller as it slipped further and further away. He screamed but heard nothing, though he felt the strain on his throat. Doug’s last conscious thought before everything faded into pitch black was that the temperature was dropping rapidly. Too rapidly.