A THORNE REMAINING

 

By Jo Anzalone

(My tribute to Thane's "Tryst")

 

PART ONE:

 

 

 


Allison sat quietly, looking out the passenger window of the old green and

brown station wagon.  Her older sister, Adelaide, had pulled up to a stop in

the perfect position for her to get a clear view of the old house.


"Like arms, just like arms," she murmured to herself.

"What? What is?" asked Adelaide, running a hand tiredly through her short

cap of blonde curls.

"The trees," Allison explained. "The way those big eucalypts almost hug

either side of the house."

"Mmmupf," Adelaide returned, not in the least interested in Allison's

tendency to romanticize nearly everything.  She eyed the house warily,

with the eye of one who cared about the practicality of getting her sister's wheelchair up to the porch and through the front door. She'd taken a year's
lease on the place with the stipulation that a ramp be built up one side of

the four steps that fronted the long porch.  It looked somewhat steeper

than she'd prefer, but supposed it would just have to do.  That's what one

got by renting out of a catalog and not in person.

As Adelaide got out of the car and opened the rear hatch to remove

the wheelchair and open it up for her, Allison sat dreamily contemplating

the house. It nestled in a low hollow, surrounded by a small grove of

eucalypts on three sides, and backed by a smooth green hill that flowed

seamlessly into other hills.  The house itself was white, long and low with

that porch that went completely across the front and down the right-hand

side of it as well. It was a wide porch, with white railings and simple,

square columns, deep in shadow now as the sun sank toward the hilltop behind

the house.  Not far from that shorter, right-hand section of it, ran a small creek.  Even from where she sat she could hear the sound of it, singing its

little watersong as it rippled over the smooth rocks.

The house was called Thorneton, evidently after its owner, who was, she
had been told, very seldom in Australia any more. She liked, though, that
it had a name as houses with names given to them seemed more a part of
someone's life, somehow. It lay in the hills of New South Wales, halfway
between Armidale and Coffs Harbour, not far from the eastern edge of
Cathedral Rock National Park. She expected, were she able to make it to
the top of the hill behind the house, she might even be able to see some
of the tall, thin tors that dotted the park.

 
"You ready?" Adelaide asked, opening the passenger door.

"Completely," Allison smiled, truly eager to get inside Thorneton, to see
if its inside were as appealing as its out.

"Oof," Adelaide grunted, pushing the chair up the ramp. "I knew this

blasted thing was too steep."

Allison tried to help, pushing on the wheels, but it was a definite effort
getting to the porch. Both of them paused before going further. An early
evening breeze blew down the length of the porch, gently pushing a wooden
swing toward the far end. Nearer them was a cluster of old wicker furniture,
a love seat, two chairs and a small table with a clay pot and the dried remains

of what once had been a geranium.


Adelaide unlocked the double front door, glad that it was plenty wide for
easy passage of Allison's chair. Stepping inside, she flipped on the lights
then wheeled her younger sister into the entrance hall. The house was one
story, which was the main reason Adelaide had chosen it. All the bedrooms
were on that single level so Allison would have access to the whole place.

To the left off the wide hallway with its polished wooden flooring lay the
living room. She wheeled Allison there first. Though the house was old, this
room had obviously been renovated by someone with more modern tastes.

The ceiling had been raised and the white stucco of the room was crossed

there by a series of fat beams in some sort of dark wood. A huge stone

fireplace filled most of the far wall, its nine-foot long mantel made from

matching wood. The furniture was mostly covered in a rich brown leather.

Allison let her fingers trail along the arm of an easy chair. Creamy soft,

the finest leather available.

They went on to the right, through an archway into the dining room and
beyond that, the large kitchen, which seemed to contain every modern
convenience one could imagine. A door at the right side of the kitchen
led back to the far end of the central hallway of the house. The right
half of the house beyond the hall was given to a series of bedrooms.
Adelaide took possession of the one at the rear of the house, obviously
having been set up for female occupancy some years back. It was done
in light pinks and soft beiges and seemed very private, which is what
she wanted. Her divorce was a long and messy one and the stresses of it
were what had sent her out into the country in the first place. There
was a large desk where she could set up her computer and continue
writing her book.


Allison continued on through the house alone, peeking into rooms here
and there, waiting to decide which room would be hers. The front bedroom
was large and looked as though it had been set up to be the master bedroom.
She knew the morning sun would shine through its three windows that looked
out onto the front porch and was tempted to claim it, but there remained
one more door at the far right end of the house. She'd check that out
before deciding anything definite.

The door, brown wood with a series of set-in panels, was closed as she
wheeled up to it. She had no idea why, but she paused, her hand on the
knob, as a sense of excitement began to fill her. She'd felt it rising
ever since they'd left Coffs this morning, growing with each mile they
traveled westward. Then, as she'd sat there in the car, looking at the
house, she'd had this odd sense of "home", as if, somehow, she were
returning where she belonged. But now, her hand almost tingled as she
touched the knob of this last room. The heart of the house lay beyond.
She knew it without knowing how she knew it. Closing her eyes, she

breathed quietly, feeling like a child on Christmas morning, about to
open a long-hoped-for present.


"What are you doing?" Adelaide called out down the hall.

"Checking bedrooms," Allison replied, turning her head to look back at her

sister.

"Well, I'm going out to the car to bring in the luggage. Hurry up and decide

which room you want so I'll know where to put yours."

When Allison heard the smack of the screen door, she turned the knob,
letting the door swing slowly inward. With just a slight push on her wheels,

she rolled forward inside the room, holding her breath. She looked quickly

from side to side, then let the breath out through parted lips with an audible

sigh. This was it. If she had thought the eucalypts hugged the house, that

was nothing to the way the room wrapped itself about her in greeting.

 
The room was paneled in light brown wood, the panels cut into deep-set
squares that played games with shadows and light. The floor was also
polished wood, easy going for her chair, with only a small area rug
in a deep, velvety blue beside the bed, matching its solid blue spread.
Instead of windows on the wall to the right where one might expect to find
them because of the front porch, book cases had been built in floor to
ceiling, with one large, central space given over to a framed oil painting,
hung low over a huge desk.

It was the wall straight ahead of her, though, directly across from the
doorway that took her breath again. A central set of French doors was
surrounded by a series of connected windows that started at the ceiling
and went down to built-in window seats, padded in that same deep, rich
blue, so that from either side of the French doors to the corners of the
large room, one could sit and look out.

 
She wheeled over to the doors, unlatched them, and rolled out onto the
side porch. Yes, there was the stream, curving through the eucalypts
so closely she could see the sparkle of late afternoon light on its ripples.

Closing her eyes, she sat there, just listening to it, letting the breeze

ruffle her shoulder-length blonde waves.

 
Adelaide, unheard, came up behind her, watching her sister for a long
moment. Allison was 29, never married, probably due to the wheel chair
as well as her tendency to disappear into herself, into her own private
world. She was an artist, a very good one at that, and illustrated
children's books with her clever watercolors. Perhaps it was just as well

she'd never married, Adelaide thought, remembering her own unhappy
experience with it. She felt very protective of her younger sister and
knew it would have been a rare man who would have been good enough for

her anyway.


"You like this one?" she asked.

Allison started slightly. "Very much," she smiled, turning her chair toward
her sister.


"I noticed the skylights in the room. Will be good for your painting."

"Skylights?" Allison hadn't seen them, so entranced was she by the wall of
glass overlooking the stream. "Great! Yes, this is definitely the room for me."

She didn't mention the enveloping sense of peace, of "arrival" she felt here.

She was home. That was simply it. She belonged here and she had come home.


He lay on his side in several inches of mud, trying to support his head with
his left arm, to keep his face up enough to breathe. Damn, but he had really
fucked up this time. It had been two full days now since he'd lost contact

with Dino. Everything had gone wrong. Everything. Somehow the kidnappers

knew they were coming. It had been nothing less than total chaos, total

disaster from the get-go.

 

They'd barely hit the ground when the chopper exploded above them. Two
of his team had bought it right then from the burning debris that crashed

down. He and Dino had managed to scrabble away...just barely. He'd dived

into the jungle, landing on a rocky outcropping that took out his communications gear.


Dino was somewhere on the far side of the flaming chopper. Then they were

there. Maybe a dozen of them all at once. He was too busy firing to count.

Gunfire from beyond the chopper told him Dino was alive, was fighting his

own battle. He was being forced back, away from the crash site, away from
Dino.


Clenching his teeth, he took down three of the men then turned and

dashed through a dense area of undergrowth. Then it had come. Two

almost dull thuds into his back and his gun had flown from his fingers as

he sprawled forward into bushes that held him for a moment then broke

under his weight, sending him tumbling, rolling down a nearly sheer

mountainside.

 
He turned his head now, looking back up. Didn't look like there was any easy

way down and the men had not pursued him further, figuring him for dead.

How far down was it anyway? Maybe a hundred yards or more and he'd come

down it, bouncing from ledge to ledge, from bush to bush into blackness. How

long he'd lain there, he had no idea, but probably well into the next day.

A pouring rain had brought him back to consciousness and he opened his mouth, thirsty beyond belief, gulping in what he could. The ground beneath him had

turned to mud immediately and he was left trying to keep his face out of it.

Hour after hour.


Both his legs were broken. That was evident. Something was terribly wrong

with his right shoulder and arm and his rib cage shrieked at him with

every breath. But it was the two bullets, not more than an inch apart, that

had plowed into his left kidney that let him know he was on his way out. A

whole damn lot of his blood had mingled with the mud.

He made it through a second night, not at all sure how he did. His vision

was blurring in and out by now and his hands were going numb and cold. He

was thirsty again, tried to strain out far enough to lick some water off a

large leaf nearby, but the movement shot him through with so much pain he

had to pull back. Well, what did it matter if he got water or not anyway?

He'd be dead of his wounds before he could die from thirst. He chuckled

slightly, finding that somehow funny.

Finally he could support his head no longer and rolled onto his back, letting
the bullet wounds settle into the mud. The brown ooze of it came up the back
of his head, over his ears, blocking out the jungle sounds completely. He
closed his eyes, waiting, feeling his life ebbing away beneath him.

 
On the dark, inner curves of his lids, a scene began to form slowly. Thorneton.
Home. How many months since he'd been there? He'd lost track of them.

Why? Why had he stayed away so long? He couldn't remember. He and Dino

had started their own kidnap and rescue company and were busy right off the

bat, going from assignment to assignment. That must've been it.


Thorneton. His grandfather had named it that back in the 20's when he'd

built it himself. His father had been born in the house and he, himself, nearly

had when he started to come so quickly they'd almost not made it to the

hospital in Coffs.


He'd always wished he had been born in it. At least he'd grown up in it. A

clear mental image of his room came to him. It was the one at the end of

the house where the porch overlooked the stream. His stream. He knew every

rock in it, every inch of its banks, had fallen asleep every night of his boyhood listening to the sound of it through his bedroom window. When he was grown,

when his parents had died and the house had become his, he'd had that end

wall taken out, replaced entirely with glass doors and huge windows so that he

was less separated from the stream. With his ears now filled with mud, it

was somehow easy for his inner being to lie there and hear the ripples of his stream. He smiled, his lips cold, tinged with blue.

Dino practically fell into the little clearing. "Oh, God! Oh, fuck!" he moaned,
catching sight of Terry. He fell to his knees beside his friend, his hands

hovering a moment over Terry's chest. He looked quite dead. Still, he slid

his arms under the camo jacket, lifting, pulling hard to get his upper torso

out of the mud. Finally he sat back, pulling Terry with him so that he was

semi-sprawled across his lap. His own hands muddy, he tried to wipe the

clinging mud off the sides of Terry's face.


Terry's lids fluttered, opened. He managed a weak, lopsided grin. "You're

late."

"You are damn fucking lucky I found you at all!" Dino spluttered, blinking

back tears.
 

Terry looked at him, his eyes quiet, serious. "Not going to make it," he

murmured. "You know that."

"I know nothing of the fucking kind," Dino almost shouted. "You're the

best damned partner I've ever had. You're not allowed to fuck out on me.

You hear that?"

Terry's eyes closed a moment, his breaths steadily becoming more shallow. "Thorneton," he whispered, almost inaudibly.

"What?"

"Home," Terry said, opening his eyes with great effort. "Wish I was there."

 

Indeed, he was almost consumed with the desire, even the need to be there.

He had to be there. He just had to.


He couldn't feel his legs any longer. A cold heaviness was creeping up his body.

He had no idea if he'd earned heaven or not, no idea what would happen to

him next. Looking one last time up into Dino's eyes, he managed to say,

"Australia. Instead. Let me have...Australia."

Dino felt Terry's body go completely limp then heavy with that empty solidness

of death. He leaned over him, burying his face on Terry's chest. "Fuck, fuck,

fuck!" he gritted, over and over and over.

 

 

ON TO PART 2

 

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