His face hurt. Graham’s bottom lip throbbed, and his chin felt wet, coated by a layer of blood that had run from his injured mouth. He grimaced, then opened and shut his jaw to make sure everything still worked. It did, but it was all sore. Even flaring his nostrils produced a sensation in his cheeks, not unlike the soreness one experiences in major body muscles after an impact in a car accident or an intense gym workout to which one is unaccustomed. The same discomfort assaulted his shoulders when he attempted to push himself up to his knees against the cold earthen floor of the cellar.
On his knees, Graham gingerly placed a hand on the back of his head where he’d felt the blunt object come down on him, then pulled it away with a wince and a sharp hiss. That hurt like hell, worse than the soreness from the fall.
His eyes had fluttered open in a blanket of complete darkness. The cellar had no windows, no door other than the one he had entered, and now probably only half its staircase. The uppermost segment of the stairs might still be intact, hanging precariously by whatever nails had been used to secure the stringers to the joists and the bottom of the door frame eight feet above his head. But the lower half he knew he had destroyed on the way down. He felt it and, moreover, saw it before his Maglite had died. Now that it was gone, whatever light there might be from the first-floor hallway glimmering through the planks of the cellar door and into this dungeon was not enough to enable him to see anything around him.
He was trapped, but at least he was able to move. There was that. The next question was how to find his way out of the cellar. Stupidly, he’d tossed his iPhone into the passenger seat of his Tacoma before he’d walked inside. He’d lately made a habit of leaving the damned thing where he wouldn’t have convenient access to it if something more critical needed his attention. The danger, of course, being that he’d stop paying attention to the critical task to check his Twitter feed or Instagram account, on which he could boast all of ten followers. Usually, he would have locked the phone in his glove compartment or placed it in a lower pocket of a pair of cargo pants, where he couldn’t feel its presence as much. This time, he’d tossed it through the window of his pickup, onto the seat, in his frustration with Patsy. He’d assumed he would only be inside the old place for a few minutes and was unlikely to encounter anyone on this lonely stretch of dead-end who might nab the phone, or even his pickup, for themselves.
“Thit!” he exclaimed to the darkness. His swollen and bruised lip had given him the thick and labored vocalizations of a dental patient suffering from paresthesia as the numbing agent begins to wear off. “Thit! I can’t believe I did that.”
From somewhere else, his father’s voice boomed: YEAH! PRETTY FUCKING THUPIDT YOU SISSY SACK OF SHIT. The sound rang inside his skull like a fire engine, making his eyes vibrate in their sockets. The old house dust and debris in his sinuses rattled like the ball bearing in an empty can of spray paint. Pain like railroad spikes ripped through the flesh of his scalp and sent him face-forward to the floor, elbows out. He clenched the palms of his hands tightly against his temples. Saliva flooded his mouth from somewhere in the back of his throat, where a lump had formed that was threatening to spill the partially digested cheeseburger and onion rings he’d had for lunch. He crouched in the darkness on the cellar floor until the sensations finally began to subside.
“Concuthion,” he said. “Maybe I have a concuthion.”
MAYBE, the voice boomed in his head again. OR MAYBE YOU’RE JUST A STUPID SACK OF SHIT!
Graham winced again, slapping his palms against his temples, and rolled over on his side. He wanted to scream, but the pain in his head was too much. Only a squeaky moan escaped his lips. Sometime later, the pain receded once more, and he was able to return to his knees. A concussion. Yes. That would explain the ringing in his ears. And the nausea. And the pressure against his skull. It was a concussion. He just needed to remain awake until he could escape the cellar or until rescue arrived. He couldn’t call for help because his radio lay shattered somewhere on the floor of the cellar along with his Maglite, and he didn’t have his phone. Patsy had probably already left for the day, assuming Graham would reach out to the sheriff’s department if he needed any assistance out here. Law enforcement and investigating potential trespassers on his own personal property was his job, after all, not hers.
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