Sidestory - Friday, June 5, 1931

by Julie

Donald had been wandering for over two weeks, penniless and completely alone. He still cried some nights, still felt a crushing sadness, an emptiness that, so far, neither liquor nor God had filled. If it weren't a sin--never mind Maeve's feelings--he'd have hanged himself. He tried to tell himself she wasn't worth all the pain he felt, but he loved her yet; she was still like a goddess to him. An unspeakably cruel goddess, now, but a goddess nonetheless, one who had complete control over his happiness (or the lack thereof).

He was nearing the ocean now; he could smell the saltwater. The road was wide and well-defined, barely dusty, but the trees all around were grown thick up to the path. Donald suddenly got the urge to veer off to the west, into the the trees. The last time he'd had the urge to do something, it was to propose to Maeve. The memory of that moment--of how wonderful it had been--put him near tears again. No wonder she hadn't loved him; a real man wouldn't cry.

Someone was crying, but it wasn't Donald. It sounded like a child, and it was really more of a whimper.

"Hello!" Donald yelled, not knowing if anyone would answer.

The air was silent for a long time, and then the child's voice said, "Go away!" Donald knew something was wrong, so he snuck ahead with his eyes wide open. A few hundred feet away, a faint blue light under a tree caught Donald's eye. A little boy, dressed rather poorly, was cowering next to it, so close it looked like his leg was shoved into the light itself. He soon saw Donald. "Go away," he repeated, sounding less insistent.

Donald hurried forward and knelt next to the child, whose foot was stuck in a two-foot-wide pit of glowing, blue liquid.

"Don't touch me!" the boy yelled.

"I won't," Donald said, sitting down next to him. The boy didn't look hurt, exactly, just tired and pale and frightened. He was fine-featured, and Donald instantly liked him. "What's your name?"

"Joshua," he replied, shaking his head.

"I'm Donald Quinn," Donald said. "Come on; stand up, and I'll pull you out of that puddle."

"Don't touch me!" Joshua repeated, shying away. "Just leave!"

"Not until you explain what's happening," Donald said.

Joshua looked at Donald with pale blue eyes that made him look like he was fading away. "There's monsters around Saxton, sir," he said softly. "Mama Abby told us to never go out into the forest, but Eli dared me, and I got trapped." He motioned to his boot, then tried to pull his foot out of the muck, but it didn't budge an inch.

"Then let me pull you out," Donald said, standing. "I'm stronger than you."

"I told you not to touch me! You'll get caught and drained too!"

"Drained?" Donald asked, shuddering. "Like--like your energy getting sucked away, and used for something else?"

Joshua nodded. "When the monsters come and check their traps, they'll finish draining me, and they'll catch you too, if you're here."

"Not if I pull you out first," Donald said firmly, and he caught Joshua by the shoulder. But the moment he touched the boy, Donald felt sick, as if his very essence was pouring out of him. He tried to let go, but his hand was stuck, and he felt himself being drained, just like he'd forced Maeve and Becky and the rest to be, four years ago. He felt faint, as bad as he'd been before he'd passed out in the restaurant. He was dying. But slowly he became aware of his surroundings again. Joshua was trying so hard not to cry, his lip trembled. Donald was still being drained, but he grew accustomed to the feeling. He was dying, but at least it was slow.

"You're not a freak, are you?" Joshua murmured.

"You are?" Donald asked. "What can you do?"

"Make things smell like chocolate." Joshua was so embarrassed, Donald restrained his urge to nickname the boy "Hershey." After an awkward pause, Joshua added, rather vindictively, "If you're not a freak, you're going to die quicker. You'll probably be drained all out before the monsters even come."

Donald wasn't afraid; actually, he thought it a fitting way to die, being drained for the sake of another--just as he'd done to the woman he loved. But Joshua was just a kid; he deserved better.

"Maybe they'll drain me and let you go," Donald said hopefully.

Joshua grimaced. "They're *monsters.* And you won't do much to fill them up."

Donald tried to pull his hand free again, but it was stuck like a powerful magnet. He could shift its position ever so slightly, if he pulled hard and slid, but he couldn't take his hand off of Joshua.

"You unlaced your boot, right?" Donald asked.

Joshua nodded. "Yes, sir. It was real hard to do it without touching the trap. If I got both hands stuck in there too, I couldn't even scratch my nose when I got an itch." He stood up carefully and tried to pull his foot out of the boot again, but it wouldn't budge. "It's starting to pinch my foot."

Donald rummaged through the pack on his back with quite a bit of difficulty, only having one hand free, and being unable to take it off. Finally he had to turn and let Joshua look through for him. "Let me know if you see anything that gives you any ideas."

Joshua dutifully emptied the pack, at least until he reached the loaf of bread Donald had bought at Torrance. When he heard the chewing (or perhaps gnawing; the bread was three days old), Donald turned around again to look at what they had to work with. Maybe he could tie his clothes together into a rope and swing it over a branch and use it to haul Joshua out. But a pair of pants and two shirts wouldn't get far enough to do much good, and he'd only have one hand to pull with.

"I'm glad I don't have to die alone, anyway," Joshua said when he'd finished eating. Donald cringed. Those fatalistic words even sounded stupid coming from a cute little boy. No wonder Maeve had tired of hearing him talk about his own death.

Donald still wanted to die, but he knew if he said as much, Joshua would hate him as much as Maeve did. He acted on the radio all the time--why not now? He almost felt brave like Jack when he said, "I'm not planning on dying yet. And we're stuck together, so I guess we'll just both have to figure a way to get out of this."

Joshua's eyes lighted on the bread knife that had been at the center of Donald's pack.

"Don't!" Donald said quickly, but not before the knife was in Joshua's hands.

"If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off," Joshua said, with a reckless grin.

Donald's free hand rested on a metal tin of hair grease. He still combed his hair and slicked it back every morning after he shaved.

"Wait!" Donald said. "I have an idea."

They wrapped the knife in one of Donald's shirts and smeared all the grease all over the fabric. It was tricky, but they shoved the dulled knife into the boot and slid it around until Joshua's foot was nearly loose. Then Donald threw caution to the wind and grabbed the boy's other shoulder, and pulled as hard as he could. The muck seemed to pull Joshua back towards it, but finally the boy's foot flew out of his shoe and the two captives tumbled free. Donald's hands were loosed too.

Donald heard a faint wheezing noise. "They're coming," Joshua said, looking around frantically.

"Run," Donald whispered, pausing near the puddle of muck. His pictures of Maeve were on the ground with his other belongings, and he was still instinctively protecting her. He glanced back just in time to see the direction Joshua was fleeing, and he caught the photos and was just about to run when he felt a cold hand on his neck. Instantly, he fell to the ground, stiffer than a starched shirt, and about as mobile. His eyes were open, but he couldn't move, couldn't even blink. He saw bony ankles and pale, bare feet in front of his eyes, but he couldn't move his head or even his eyes to see anything else.

"How'd he get out of the trap?" an icy female voice said.

"It wasn't him," said a similar voice, a male voice. "Look at the trap."

The cold hand left Donald's neck, and he turned just a little so he could see. There were two people, tall, and thin as corpses. Their eyes were bloodshot and sunken, their skin gray, almost black and rotten in places. They both had thinning blonde hair, but they weren't old, exactly, and their clothes looked comfortable and were very clean, which was somehow worse than if they'd been wearing rags. If they were freaks, they were the most frightening ones Donald had ever seen.

"Something got out," the male said, "and it wasn't *him.*" He motioned to Donald. "What if the one that got away gets help?"

"I don't care," the female said, returning to Donald. "They're cowards; they haven't fought yet. Anyway, I'm tired." She touched Donald's neck again, and it was like her fingers bored into his bones. It hurt much more than when the trap had drained him, but Donald couldn't even lift his hand to fight. He suddenly didn't want to die, but there was nothing he could do.

The woman yelled and let Donald go. "Ow!" A stone bounced from the female's head to the ground, leaving her cursing. Donald somehow got to his feet and glanced around. Joshua was hiding behind a tree, holding another stone, though since Donald could see him, he was sure both the monsters could, too. "Josh, run!" Donald yelled. But Donald stayed. He reached down for the greasy shirt the monsters had ignored, and held it by the knife handle underneath. The female monster leapt at him and Donald held the knife out, so she drove it right through her her own stomach. There was no blood, and she was still moving, so it hadn't killed her. But she stepped backwards into the trap she and her partner had set. Donald didn't stay to see if she was truly stuck; he just ran, powered beyond his normal abilities by the fear of death, or maybe the fear of something worse than death.

Donald found Joshua about a quarter mile away. Both were winded, and the boy had stopped running.

"Are you all right?" Donald panted.

Joshua nodded. "Are you?" he asked in a scared voice.

Donald was struggling to breathe, and his chest hurt. "Which way to town?" he asked. "They won't chase us there, will they?"

"No," Joshua said, "but my foot hurts."

Donald knelt and unlaced Joshua's boot, getting dizzy when he stood again. "It's hard to run with one shoe on and one off."

"I tripped," Joshua murmured. "I think I twisted my ankle. I don't...think I can run."

"Then we'll walk," Donald said firmly. "Come on; I'm not going to let them get you." Donald kept a fast pace, still afraid of the monsters behind them, and his heart was still racing. Somehow, they made it all the way to Saxton, and Joshua's friends or family--Donald didn't know which--gathered around him to make sure he was all right. As soon as he saw Joshua was safe, Donald fell to the ground, his heart finally slowing. He vaguely heard the voices of concerned people around him, and he was sure a woman leaned close to his ear, to thank him for saving Joshua. He felt an embrace, and hoped it was someone trying to help, until he realized it didn't matter, that it might as well be an angel. He was dying, but he didn't cry. Absolutely nothing on Earth was worth crying about anymore, and he went on to whatever comes next, far away from the world and everyone in it.

On to Friday, June 19, 1931

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