Post Tue Jan 03, 2006 6:54 am

Serenity

<font color="yellow" style="font-size: 15pt">An old one I'd almost forgotten I'd written. No promises on editing... I need to look more carefully at it. It was created almost 20 years ago, but has an interesting premise.
Serenity
<br>

Caressing the bronze disk, Danamarie leaned back in her wheelchair and stared off the cliff to the shimmering sea. Below, four kids played tag in the cove near the lagoon. She clutched the medal and a chill ran through her. The sight of children made her flaccid thighs ache. A year ago, a truck crushed her legs when she dove in front of it to save a boy. One instant of heroism; a decade of training destroyed. Even the tranquillity of this Caribbean paradise had brought her no closer to an answer. Why had she been punished for doing the right thing?

She brushed at her rusty blonde hair, shrugged in the tank-top, and lifted herself to unbunch the fabric of her skirt. She felt something uncomfortable against her hip and shifted in the chair again.

She put the Olympic bronze medal back in her pocket. She'd reached her allotment of self-pity for the day. Stupid as it seems, if I had it to do over... She sighed.

Scratching at her neck she winced as a throbbing shot through her skull. The feeling fled quickly. She felt a twinge of unease. That was the third attack since coming here.

Wonder what that pain is; a side-effect of the nerve damage? She'd have to ask the doctor. The feeling gone, she looked to the jungle valley behind her. Bordering the square demarcations of the cane fields were bananas, tamarinds and other tropical trees. The shrieks of parrots and monkeys echoed in the distance. She smelled salt, the pungence of heliotrope blooms, and smoke from the outdoor grills upwind.

Here on the island of Kirimalan, old people came to rest, the rich hid away, and cripples sought inner peace.

So far, she'd experienced little, if any, serenity. The question nagged-- where do I go from here? The doctors had reconstructed her broken bones, but not her shattered dreams.

Sand crunched under the wheelchair as she fought up the incline toward the smoke. Danamarie wasn't so depressed that the smell of good cooking didn't appeal. Peering over the edge, she saw smoke trailing up from the open air cookeries east of Serenidad. The little adobe town filled the west end of the valley. Built over the ruins of a Mayan city that flourished over a millennium ago, the streets and buildings formed a star pattern. She felt the breeze in her face. The wind had picked up.

The uncomfortable feeling nagged at her hip again. Probing, her fingers hit something hard and she pulled out the object. An orange wood carving of Chaac tinted a pale blue-green. She'd forgotten the doll given to her by an Indian villager as a ward against the god's wrath. The old woman had told her about Chaac and how he punished mortals with paralyzing bolts of lightning.

Danamarie laughed bitterly at the story, saying she had little fear of that now. Yet, the totem with its ugly squared-off features made her uneasy. The Indians were abuzz with what they said were omens of judgment. They claimed that the recent earth tremors were Chaac's footsteps as He walked among the living.

"Señorita?"

Danamarie turned her chair toward Lupe's tentative query. Even a yard away, the petite and soft spoken Guatemalan maid could barely be heard. She was so shy that Danamarie often wanted to shake her.

"Yes, Lupe." She had to answer or the girl would simply wait patiently until spoken to.

Lupe bobbed. "El mayordomo asks if he may see you, señorita." She pointed to the wheelchair. "You come now, sí?"

Danamarie nodded. Wonder what Mr. Garcia's house-man wants? Maybe Celeste is finally coming home. The Garcias owned a cane plantation. During the Olympic swimming tryouts she'd become friends with their granddaughter, Celeste. After the accident, the hospitalization, therapy, and a bewildering series of events she'd ended up staying here with Celeste's family. Business had delayed Celeste in Mexico city, but she would be arriving tomorrow or the next day.

Lupe trundled Danamarie along the gravel path toward the Hacienda. The whole hill was composed of sandstone fragments. The villagers had moved sections of the rock and filled the gaps with dirt and pebbles to make trails.

She heard the children's yells and laughter mingled with the crash of the waves. She glanced at the inlet where rugged sandstone formed a basin at the bottom of the cliff. The kids had run out across the rocks to the normally submerged coral head in the lagoon. The tide was out, leaving a mushroom-shaped wall thrusting out of the water. Breakers fountained up near where they played.

"Mira, Señorita, a storm comes." Lupe pointed out to sea.

On the horizon, the sky looked dark. Clouds loomed like a fast advancing army. During the summer, the locals kept a storm watch. Squalls could hit suddenly, blowing through in minutes. A drop in temperature and the winds picking up provided the only warning. Already, the breeze was whipping through her hair.

Danamarie felt a twinge in her temple. "Someone better get those kids out of the lagoon. Maybe you--"

A rumbling shook the ground. Rocks grated and trees swayed. A groaning sounded beneath them.

Danamarie's stomach tightened and her heart raced. It felt as if the whole cliff were sliding into the sea. Her chair lurched. Lupe screamed. Danamarie groped for a purchase. Chunks of stone tumbled with her. Lupe's cries came in bursts as if being pummeled from her body.

Danamarie hit once; twice. Her hands chattered across rough stone. The wheelchair clanked somewhere below. Amidst the buffeting, her heart's pounding, and her unvoiced shriek, Danamarie's hands found purchase. A jolt rang in her arms as her weight bore against them.

She focused on a branch caught between slabs. She couldn't look down. Over a thirty foot fall lay beneath her.

She no longer heard Lupe's shouts. What had happened to her or the kids in the lagoon?

The rumbling continued. Cascades of dirt and sand poured around her in a choking torrent.

The branch shuddered and gave under Danamarie's weight.

No place to go.

With a creak, the branch uprooted. Air whistled. A yawning blackness opened beneath her.

* * * * *

A sharp throbbing pulsed in her skull. The echoes of the tremor faded. Waves crashed and children shrieked.

She tried to roll over and realized she was staring at a stone wall chiseled with Mayan glyphs. To the right and left, she saw the remnants of carved and painted walls that once jutted toward the ocean. The quake had dislodged the debris that had filled this chamber. Millennia ago, the hill had probably been a huge edifice. Over time, the structure must have collapsed and been reclaimed by the jungle.

The air felt charged and a strange presence gripped her. Danamarie's heart stopped beating. The central image drew her attention. Mayan wind spirals, stylized lightning bolts, and sea symbols surrounded Chaac's giant head. Stylized quetzal feathers and rain symbols surrounded a blocky face with square eyes, gaping mouth, and an extended tongue. Polished chunks of jade glowed in its eye sockets.

They light grew brighter and a voice echoed in her head. Stupid as it seems, if I had it to do over... Danamarie's vision grayed and the landscape wavered.

Choose. The word reverberated through her.

A child's cry made her heart leap. She shook her head and realized she lay on a pile of rubble. The presence was no longer detectable now only a simple stone image stared at her.

From the corner of her eye, she saw a portion of a face and an arm sprawled over the rubble.

Lupe! Forgetting the fall and Chaac's ominous word, she clawed her way through the debris to the fallen woman. The Guatemalan lay in a heap. Arterial red pumped around a jagged splinter in her calf. Her dusky skin looked pale and the area around her temple had turned purple.

Oh God. Oh God. "Help! Ayúdanme!" she yelled.

No answer. The storm winds grew to a wail. Clouds black as smoke rushed over the ocean. Tongues of lightning flickered in the distance. She yelled louder. "Ayúdanme aquí! Help over here!"

More screams came from the lagoon. The sound hit her like the stab of a knife. She clutched her middle.

Her legs kicked.

An icy feeling raced through her. My legs! I moved my legs!

"Choose," Chaac's voice rumbled in her head again. The jabbing in her gut worsened.

Whipping her belt off, Danamarie cinched the leather around Lupe's leg to stop the bleeding. She couldn't treat Lupe's head injury. She made the woman comfortable, taking care not to disturb her neck.

She wanted to understand why this was happening, but she had no time. Part of her knew she could walk. The reasons didn't matter.

Danamarie slid down the hillock of debris. Reaching the bottom she didn't hesitate. She hit the ground trying to run and stumbled forward on legs that felt like cement posts. She didn't have time to rejoice. The cries kept pulling at her. Like a drunk on stilts, she careened toward the two children on the corral-head, now gesturing and yelling at the seaward side. The water level in the lagoon was already dropping as the tidal surge caused by the quake neared shore. The swells would soon become giant breakers as they approached land.

She hobbled onto the reef, mystified at her ability to walk but driven to keep moving. When those waves hit shore they would crush anything on the outside of the reef.

Danamarie stopped by the two young girls and stared into the boiling chop. "Dónde estan?"

Mahogany eyes wide they pointed down to the reef base and the surging water. "Allá! Allá abajo!"

The thunder of the waves grew. She heard splashing.

"Mamá!" Two more voices joined the first, high with terror. A tiny hand clawed at the edge of the reef.

The surge kept them trapped under the lip. She knelt and tried to reach. Stretching to the limit, she could only touch their fingers.

"A mayordomo, córrale!" She pointed to the villa and pushed the children toward it. "Apúranse!" Hurry!

Danamarie watched the girls run off. The man wouldn't get here in time. The pain in her stomach had become excruciating. She saw rip currents heading out to sea, feeding the incoming wall of water.

You can leave. Damn guilt. Your legs work-- walk away. This is someone else's responsibility.

Choose. She stared at Chaac's face on the wall. "You can't do this."

Seconds ticked by. Walk away. Don't be a sap twice. That's what they want to know. Will you be stupid again? You threw your future away for a boy you didn't even know. Now, she must choose between life and death; three lives or hers.

Three strangers, damn it. You can walk. Her gut burned and her head pounded. Why did she save the child before?

Because it was right.

Danamarie jumped in.

Water foamed around her and she fought to keep her head above the surface.

"Ven acá!" she called.

The children floundered toward her. She grabbed the smallest, a girl. As the water ebbed, she kicked away off the bottom and shoved her onto the reef-top. The child tumbled, then stood, bleeding and battered, but alive.

Danamarie felt the waves closing in. A breaker slammed the shoal and shoved her toward the reef. She fought free, grabbed the smaller of the boys, and heaved him to safety.

She screamed and gestured. "Córrale! Fuera de aquí! Vete a casa!" Hurry! Get out of here! Go home!

Her body felt on fire. Her legs grew weak. The reprieve had only been to set her up. She felt the last boy grip her arm. His black hair was slicked back from his squarish face. He fixed her with wide jade-green eyes, his expression strangely calm.

Only you and me now. She grabbed him around the waist and pulled him under with her as another wave hit. Pain shot through her back as the turbulence shoved them into the reef. They surfaced. She glanced out to sea; a few instants before the big waves hit. If she climbed out now, she could save herself.

The boy turned wide eyes on her.

Hell. She timed the push. As the water-level peaked, she lifted him toward safety. He grabbed the edge, scrambled up and turned to watch her.

Maybe I have time to-- A crest slammed her into the coral. Her head smacked the ledge. The world spun. Despite the turbulence, she found the boy's gaze. His green eyes drew her in.

You have chosen.

The next wave hammered her into blackness.

* * * * *

Danamarie awoke to a hand patting her cheek. "Señorita?"

Thunder rumbled. Her vision remained blurry, but the voice sounded like the mayordomo. Drops of rain struck her face. She was lying on her back in sand. What had happened? She remembered hitting the rocks.

How did she get inside the reef?

"The doctor is coming. We have Lupe. What were you doing out there, Señorita? You were lucky you got ashore."

She tried to shift her legs. They didn't move. She sighed. She rescued them for nothing. The rain fell harder and angry tears welled in her eyes.

"Had to try to help them," she choked. "Damn it. No choice. Did it for nothing."

Danamarie stared up the cliff toward Chaac's image.

"Sí." He took her hand. "We'll get you out of the rain."

You didn't have the right. She'd been paralyzed twice now.

Danamarie jerked her hand away from the mayordomo and pounded a fist against her lifeless thigh.

Her foot twitched.