A NOVEL

by

CHRISTOPHER P. SIMMONS
An excerpt from the midst of the book

“Ok, time to go.” Ryan Cowan set his wallet between his legs, the smart phone atop it. He placed his left hand on the phone, and raised the gun to his right temple. Ryan cocked the hammer, slid his finger over the trigger, and thought of Annie one last time. “I hope you were right, Sweetie. You always believed in miracles. I hope you got one. But I’m...” he swallowed. “...I’m all out of miracles.” He gently squeezed the slack out of the trigger. He took his final breath.

*Ding, ding* “What the...?” Ryan set the gun down on the passenger seat and stared at his phone... he had a text message! And two bars! FEMA EMERGENCY ALERT: SEND TEXTS ONLY! PLZ NO VOICE CALLS! RESCUE: TXT SOS,# alive/dead to 90125. Wait 4 reply. LifeLoss: TXT # dead to 77345. PLZ 1Tweet, 1FB! Ryan laughed at his miracle. He texted, “SOS, 1/0 buried at 11718 Shelley 90266.” He hoped against hope that they would find him before his air ran out. He then typed into Annie’s phone’s text window. “Buried in car at home. Love you.” Whoever saw this message might not know where ‘home’ was, so he retyped. “Buried in car at 11718 Shelley, MB. Love 2 my wife and baby boy.”

Aside from yet another final declaration of love, he secretly hoped someone might see his text and put him at the top of the rescue list as a human-interest story amid the earthquake and tsunami coverage. Certainly, the media had to be crawling over the place. Ryan sank back in his seat, wondering who else he could text. No Facebook account or Twitter. He slowed his breathing. Closing his eyes, Ryan thought about Annie’s heartbeat. *Tiddle link* “Voicemail?” He didn’t recognize the number. “They didn’t say anything about not getting voicemails,” he whispered. Ryan waited for the overtaxed system to deliver his voicemail from an unknown caller. Probably a client who wanted to sue the government for not preventing the tsunami. The tsunami that buried me in my car. “Hello... My name is Pablo. Everything the priest says is true. Tell everyone.” Ryan’s heart beat faster, his lungs defying his will to remain calm as they sought unavailable oxygen. The excitement of the voicemail, the hope that maybe Annie had survived and had tried to let him know, mocked him. Instead, he’d received a random call for a wrong number. “I... don’t even know a Pablo... what priest?” The last time a priest had said anything to him, he had been quite young. And if Annie were correct, not much of what he’d said had been true. “Great! My last contact with the world is SPAM!”

Father Calucci glared at the infernal phone as it seemed to mock his immortality... his two thousand years of living, which fostered ineptitude with modern devices. But if Ryan knows what to do with it, he’ll have to get here to do it. Calucci forced his intellect to the task. He pushed the

button and found the telephone icon. “How did Pablo know that Ryan would get this phone?” He figured out how to open the address book. He scanned for Cowan. Every name had an Hispanic origin, nothing Irish. “C’mon, phone...” Calucci’s Irish rose up. “I’m trying to call Ryan Cowan...” “Calling Ryan,” the robotic phone replied.

The thought of some cholo named Pablo ebbed from Ryan’s mind as he tried to breathe and find his gun. He put the barrel on his temple and started to squeeze. The blast from a trumpet section playing his college fight song interrupted him... again! He fumbled to answer it. The caller ID read “Pablo”. “Hello?!” “Ryan Cowan?” “Yes!” Hope had flagged him down. Now if hope could only help Pablo get him out of here, against the odds that Pablo might be in Venezuela for all he knew. He again dropped the gun into the seat, because hope can stop a bullet. “Ryan, I’m Father Calucci. Where are you?” “I don’t know. I’m buried...” His parched throat failed him. He coughed, and saw stars. “I’m in my car, near my driveway.” “I’m at your driveway!” Calucci carefully crawled to the edge of the eroded hillside. “There is a lot of sand down here. Can you honk your horn?”

Ryan pressed three times. The Fiero’s horn, a real horn from the 80’s, blared into the wet sand. He waited. “Ryan, I can barely hear you. Can show me where you are?” Calucci managed to put the phone on speaker. He tied a bowline knot to a part of the house that would probably hold his weight - if he knew where to rappel. He grabbed a football-sized piece of concrete from the broken driveway. “Ryan, I’m going to make a thumping sound. Tell me if you hear it.” He cast the concrete into the lawn with all of his might. “Did you hear that?” “Maybe.” “I’m going to try another spot.” He hurled the piece as far as he could. Its trajectory added more speed than he mustered the first time. It pummeled a two-foot crater in the sand dune. “Yeah! I heard it. I can’t tell which direction.” “Again...” Calucci hurled another chunk, this time to the left. It cratered. “Closer. One more,” Ryan urged. Calucci found a smaller piece and cast it well to the left. “Father... did you throw that farther away? I think it was on my right. The others were on my left, I think.” He coughed profusely. One desperate measure remained. He grabbed the pistol. “Father, I’m going to try to show you where I am. Watch for it. If I don’t make it, tell Annie I love her.” He pointed the pistol at the glass sunroof and fired. A shower of tempered glass down rained onto his head, stinging his face and burying the cell phone in cubic diamonds. His right ear howled in agony. The packed sand hovered over his head. He pulled his feet up under him, took his last easy breath and began to burrow upward with a

golf putter, shoveling the sand from his vertical tunnel into the passenger footwell. Adrenaline, hope, and the cool air moistened by the ocean’s oxygen-making plankton gave Ryan his second wind. The car filled quickly with sand, but he couldn’t reach any higher. He took the putter and created a cone up into the castle-perfect sand. He’d packed the sand in as much as he could, and drilled as high possible. Now, he had one last ace to play before he folded. He raised the pistol into the cone-shaped cavern. “Alright, Father, I’m going to try to make the sand move. Watch for it. I don’t have much time.” He muted the cell phone, placing it in his shirt pocket. “You have an eternity, my son. Have faith.” “Yeah, right,” he said to the muted phone as he pulled the trigger. The sound died in the sand. A portion of the cone collapsed, about to bury him. He was all in. He fired the pistol three more times, and then he waited. Calucci heard the thumping, but the sounds were too dull to provide direction. “Try again, Ryan. Ryan? RYAN?” He heard no response but three more shots underground. Nothing happened. The sand didn’t budge. He checked the phone. Their line remained open, but he hadn’t heard the gunshots in the speaker. Three more thuds sounded underground. A few grains of sand rolled down the forty-foot long slope, twenty feet down. Calucci hoped that one more salvo would confirm the spot. He’d found a tool for digging. But dig where?

Ryan shook his head to keep the sand out of his nose. With the sand pressing against his chest, he had trouble enough breathing. When I fire these last bullets, enough sand will dislodge to bury my face. Two minutes later, I’ll be dead. He fired. Sand covered his face, and the ringing in his ears couldn’t fill the silence of the sealing of his tomb. He couldn’t move his head. The last hint of light from the pistol sparkled in his retinas as total darkness overtook him. Stars skated before his eyes. Will I see that tunnel of light I’ve heard about? If anything, he felt as if he were falling into endless darkness.

Calucci leapt over the precipice, haphazardly rappelling down to where the sand had jumped, then slumped. His palms burned as the sailboat’s sheet line zipped through his right hand. His left hand dragged his miracle - a fifty-foot garden hose, fully pressurized. Even as he prayed for help, he offered a prayer of thanks for the foresight of the Manhattan Beach engineers, whose planning sustained their water supply, even after the Big One. He gripped the nozzle and blasted a gully from where a slight indentation signaled Ryan’s last shot. He then blasted aside the sand, sending it down the gully. He tried to ensure the water didn’t pool, just in case Ryan had an air pocket for himself. He thrust the hose into the mounds of wet sand. Brown water flowed out. He paused a few seconds as he tied his line off, enabling him to paddle the muddy slurry out twice as fast. He crammed the hose under full power in as deep as he could, pressing his face against the wet sand to reach the last inch.

Just then, the hose nozzle clanked against something metallic. He released the nozzle and felt the cold steel. “The GUN!” Calucci fired the water jet just above the gun barrel letting the water pour. The water pooled around his hand. And like a woman pregnant for long, he prayed for the water to burst.

Rumbling filled Ryan’s head. A red glow emanated from everywhere, as if the glowing were within his eyes. The red grew more pervasive as warmth built within his being. He grew uncomfortably hot. The falling stopped. The rumbling muffled. Feeling submerged, but fed by an umbilical cord, he felt released from the need to breathe. Buoyed by nothing, he floated in the tranquil void. Is this Heaven, Hell, or the labor pains of my next birth? Buoyancy became pressure, even peristalsis, as if being squeezed out of a birth canal. Dark floating became a halo plunge from halfway across eternity in the blink of a blinded eye. He fell into a rising shaft of light. Severed from the magnificent void, his lungs screamed in revulsion at the air that violated them.

A melon-sized air bubble burst up over Calucci’s hand, and the pool of brown water flushed downward. “AAAAAIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!” Calucci recoiled in terror at Ryan’s primal scream. The priest screamed an equally primal hallelujah. The urgency of extracting him before the sand collapsed on him prompted Calucci to aim his own personal Diluvian fountain of the deep beneath Ryan’s face.

“Can you kick your feet?” Encased in sand, Ryan required this life-saving trick. When the younger man began to sink into the quickening sand slurry, Calucci reached for Ryan’s elbows and pulled against the sucking, lifting him so that his head just caught the setting sunlight. Using his hands like giant forceps, he twisted and jerked Ryan from his sand womb. Calucci drew Ryan into his makeshift lap, dangling from the taut line on the slope of the new dune. Ryan’s chest heaving, he struck Calucci as an homage to Michelangelo’s La Pieta.