Last Ditch Effort

Last Ditch Effort

Chapter 17

“Herbert!” Aaron cried. “What are you thinking?” 

Herbert dropped from Aaron’s hands. “Do you want to save my Dad and end this or not?” 

Aaron dropped his hands to his sides. His mouth fell open when he looked at Herbert. He looked and sounded like a general on the edge of battle. 

“Mom is doing what she needs to do,” Herbert declared. “They’ll get the police. But I’m not missing the chance to save Dad. All I wanted was to get out of this house, but now—” Herbert gazed across the garage at the frozen trolls. His eyes met Aaron’s, full of collected anger.

Aaron clenched his jaw. “Sometimes you gotta risk everything to get everyone,” he whispered. “Let’s do it.”

In silence, the boys mounted up their strength on the verge of hell. Theirs was a rescue mission, and absolute monstrosities awaited them. Though they had no idea how bad it was about to get. 

Aaron rolled his head back on his shoulders and closed his eyes. His mouth made a small opening, like he were whistling. He exhaled through it and leaned on his toes, wincing in pain and grabbing his side.

“How is it?”

“It really hurts,” Aaron replied, rubbing his ribcage. “Those stupid trolls did a number on me. But I’ll be alright. What’s your plan to get out of here?” He asked. “Nothing makes sense and we can’t use the doors. I’m not about to wander through monster dens hoping to find the way.”

“The door in my room never disappeared,” Herbert replied. “I regretted it at the time, but—thank God, I didn’t close it when I went through. It leads to the dungeon. There was a lot of stuff to tie someone up and torture them. I think that’s where my Dad is.”

“But how do we get to your bedroom?” Aaron asked.

Herbert walked to his father’s car. A rope was curled on the hood, hanging out of the black vent overhead. “With this!” Herbert lifted it. “I threw it down after I came through my bedroom.”

Aaron leaned over the hood and peered up the dark hole. “Where does it go?” 

“A kitchen,” Herbert continued. “Not ours. Theirs. But it should lead to my bedroom.”

“How do you know?” 

“I don’t have a better plan.” 

Aaron stared up the dingy tunnel. He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Okay,” he sighed. He climbed onto the hood of the car and grabbed the rope. He pulled it and it went taut. In resolute silence, he reached up and propelled himself into the tunnel. 

Seeing Aaron disappear took Herbert aback. His stomach turned a little, but then he remembered he was brave now. He climbed onto the hood with the grace of a fawn on a frozen lake. He fumbled and looked up for Aaron. 

Aaron’s body flailed above and disappeared into the vent. The shadows smothered all of him up, but his angry mumbles floating down into the garage.

“You coming, butthead?” He hollered, and Herbert smirked. 

With splintered fingers and painful pulls, Herbert climbed to the vent. In the darkness, he found Aaron wedged between the sides of the aluminum tunnel. Herbert imitated him, and it took the weight off his hands and arms. 

The boys scooted up the shaft, holding the rope and wedging their bodies as counterweights. They didn’t say much to one another except things like “are you alright?”, “you still there?”, and “how long does this stupid thing go?”. 

It was uncomfortable, to say the least. Sweat dripped from their noses. Dust and dirt covered their hands and smeared their faces when they wiped the wet hair from their eyes. The dust gathered wet clumps of nasty soot on their faces that got caught in the corners of their eyes and mouths. It tasted dry and powdery, and made them spit a fit. But after a while, it was too much work to gripe and spit, so they learned to hold their mouths wider and try not to swallow any of the stuff that collected on the ends of their tongues. 

They couldn’t see anything except the little light that peeked around Herbert’s body from below and a sliver of yellow light above them where the rope came through. Without those, the boys would have thought they were deep underground, below a cavern, hanging over some dangerous cliff, and on their climb out. Herbert wondered if all rescuers have to go through something like this to get to those they need to help. Aaron wondered if this was what babies felt like when being born. 

The boys neared the shrivel of light. The door to the dumbwaiter shaft had been closed by someone, but the rope pinched in the opening and let the crack of light through. Aaron didn’t know about the chef or beast in the kitchen, but he didn’t trust any part of the house were safe. He paused underneath the cracked door and leaned his back flat against the shaft. His spine cracked and his forearms shook. He let go of the rope and pushed his wet hair behind his ears. 

Music was coming through the wall from the kitchen. It was a crackly old recording of a woman singing over horns, piano, bass, and drums about Georgia being on her mind. The low bass rattled the aluminum walls on every fourth note, and the woman’s voice sounded sad and happy at the same time. The style of music was one of those that fancy grown-ups like to listen to at expensive dinners and parties. Aaron imagined it coming from a record player like his grandfather, Mr. Mewbourn’s. 

The dumbwaiter door flung open above his head. Light and music gushed down the shaft. Aaron closed his blinded eyes and bowed his head. Someone above him made a gruff sound and threw a ham bone onto Aaron’s head. It fell down his side and rolled onto Herbert and down the rest of the dank shaft. 

Aaron looked at Herbert, looking up at him. He was covered in black globules of dirt and dust. His eyes were red, and his hair matted against his forehead and cheeks. 

Eh!” A voice cried from above. “What’s this?” The boys looked up, afraid they were discovered. Another voice replied something. “Well, it’s hanging down this shaft, you dimwit!” The first voice hollered. Then the second replied again. “Yeah, I bet, you stupid fool.” 

The boys guessed they were talking about the rope. They eyed one another and Herbert awkwardly shrugged, like you can imagine someone who is hanging from a rope and wedged between two close pieces of metal would. 

The boys heard another loud voice and a knife sawing paper. It was someone cutting the rope. It zipped down the shaft, and Herbert slipped as it flew. Aaron reached his hand in the nick of time and grabbed his collar. It gave him enough of a moment to prop his body against the shaft and let go of the falling rope. 

The boys stared at each other like their life depended on it. Herbert’s heart raced and his face was shaking. Aaron reached his hand under Herbert’s armpit and pulled to help balance him, gasping for breath, feeling like his ribs were about to snap in half. Herbert nodded his head at Aaron and breathed easier. 

Aaron looked up the shaft. The rope was gone, but the door was left open. He slid his foot up four inches and rotated his opposite shoulder with it. Then his other foot, and the other shoulder. Herbert imitated him again, and they made the rest of the way to the open door. Aaron’s hand gripped the bottom edge of the opening and pulled his head over the gap. He peered into the kitchen to see a feast for a party.  

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