June 2022 Flash Challenge, Day 5
It happens again; my rope doesn’t hold, and my right thigh rockets into the boulder again, breaking my leg cleanly and pushing two ends of the femur through the back of my thigh. Again.
The pain is the most excruciating sensation I’ve ever known, and for the first five minutes, I can only howl in pain. Then I go into shock. Sheila tries to control my symptoms and nurse me to some level of coherence so that we might discuss solutions. Again.
My scream ripples away from us, echoing down the canyon walls away from us. Again.
When time resets, it always begins with the impact. If it would restart a second or two earlier, perhaps I could do something differently. Tuck my legs somehow and avoid hitting the boulder, or hit it at a less severe angle.
It’s the shock of the impact that will eventually drive me mad. Sheila tries to keep me sane and my spirits high, but we’ve replayed this loop so many times. She is exhausted. I can see it in her eyes. No one likes to see someone they love suffer, over and over, and be unable to do anything to help.
I’m losing my mind. I have no idea how many times my thigh has slammed into the knife-edge of that black boulder, but it has to be hundreds. Sheila probably has a better idea of how many times we’ve replayed our little loop, but she shrugs the question off whenever I ask it. It is irrelevant, I suppose. But still, when is enough enough?
There is one thing she might try, but she refuses.
We see the shimmering dome sitting 800 yards above us and extending that far in all directions. It was only chance that put us in the epicenter of this dome. More than once, Sheila has gone to scout the perimeter of our enclosed space. She has thrown rocks through the field of light. Fearing they might explode or ricochet back, she ducked. But nothing. Then she stared intently as she gently lobbed the rocks and pebbles at the barrier. She saw them penetrate the dome, quickly grow transparent, then vanish.
We’ve played the “what if” games until we’ve exhausted all possibilities of what the shimmering demarcation line and the disappearing stones might mean. We believe the time looping phenomenon is restricted to the area under this shimmering dome. That is the only way we can explain the disappearing rocks.
Sheila is afraid that if she were to go for help, escape through the light dome, and go get help, she wouldn’t be able to return. It would be a one-way trip, and I would be trapped here, alone inside this bubble of looping time forever. This space has become its separate bubble in time. The rocks that slide through the dome grow transparent as they re-enter real-time, time in the outer world, the world where I’m not breaking my femur every 2 hrs 22 minutes 22 seconds.
While we’d heard rumors that the military was conducting hush-hush experiments in the labs on the edge of the desert, we laughed them off and scaled the fence to find some of the best intermediate rock climbing walls in Utah.
There certainly was no dome of light when we parked our car four miles up the road. It was November 9th when we hiked in here. Will it still be the ninth if we ever get out of here? As it is, I can neither stand nor walk at all. The pain causes me to pass out anytime we attempt to get me to my feet.
The crack of the femur is a vulgar sound now. Wrong for so many reasons.
We settle ourselves as best we can.
Sheila is looking distant. What is she feeling? Powerless? Helpless? Sad? The pain of seeing me injured hundreds of times, unable to do anything to prevent it or help.
She cries softly. I pull her to me, hugging her tightly despite the extra pain the actions cause me.
Her soft cries become sobs.
Somehow we fall asleep.
The crack of my exploding bone is a rifle shot.
Every time it takes me a few seconds to realize that it’s happening again. I tentatively reach behind my thigh and feel the jagged femur ends poking through my thigh. I wish I could suffer silently. I’m tired of being so vocal. I’m sure Sheila’s memories come back quicker. Surely she must be tired of the harshly barked expletive?
When is enough enough?
How long do you let an aged dog suffer before doing the compassionate thing?
I scream and scream and scream.
Sheila looks traumatized.
We can’t go on like this; this is hell.
I grit through the pain and pull myself as upright as I can. I force myself to take several slow, deep breaths.
Pulling my pack to me, I mentally review its contents even as I open it.
We aren’t gun people, but we are safety conscious. We have a modest first-aid kit and other things.
I find the zippered black bag as I remember the salesperson that sold it to us after our first hike.
I unzip the plastic bag and lift the black flare gun.
Will it still fire?
“Yeah, Scott,” she says, turning to me, seeing the gun in my hand.
Her moan is a piercing sound that cuts me to my core but doubles my resolve to release this woman I’ve loved as intensely and as purely as I knew how.
“No, baby,” she cries.
“I love you, Sheila. I always have, I always will. Please go, please…,”
She’s crying now, but she stands up.
She sees the truth. It’s the only solution, the only path forward for us. But I don’t want her to see this. This final act of cowardice, this sacrifice.
She comes to me, lowers herself, and kisses me gently. She tries to say something, but her words are lost.
She walks away, sobbing.
I will wait for a while. I don’t want Sheila to have any more memories of this before doing what I have to do.