It’s good to be back after being out of things for a couple of weeks. This week’s prompt was finger and admittedly it took me a few attempts to find something to work with. I got inspired by randomly remembering the Zen riddle about the monk being chased to the edge of a cliff by a pack of tigers. He climbs down on a branch and finds himself confronted with the tigers or a drop…and I just took it from there.
Angel craned her neck up and swallowed hard against the acrid smoke taste and the blood that flowed from where she’d bit into her cheek when her car went over the guard rail. Her stomach churned and her legs didn’t feel quite right at all, but those were the least of her problems. No, the thing that was most on her mind was the intricate tread of the tire and how it was spinning just feet above her head. The grooves seemed to meld together the longer she watched it, and she would have been hypnotized by the slow, shaky rhythm save for the strands of her hair that itched across her face, damp with what was probably her blood from the crash. She didn’t dare move a hand to her forehead to find out since both were otherwise occupied clinging to the tangle of branches jutting out of the overhang for dear life.
Any minute someone will come save me. The police, a tow truck, something. Someone has to have seen the car crash! Painful seconds crept by and no toes peeked over the edge of the embankment, no voices called to her. Her mouth was clenched shut, her muscles giving over full concentration to her hands. Sweat and blood slicked her palms and her arms began to shake with the effort of holding up the rest of her body. Any second now!! This can’t be it. I’ve got an audition at the conservatory in an hour. I’ve got to meet Brad tonight! Her mental to do list was both a comfort and depressing depending on which way she looked at it. Below her, a sheer drop led to the ravine she’d been terrified of crossing on nature hikes as a little girl. How ironic that her fears of snakes and bugs weren’t the real threat.
She hoped the burning in her eyes was because of sweat and not anything else, but it was hard to tell at that point. No matter how she tried to dig her toes into the dirt wall of the overhang, her pumps just weren’t made for the job at hand.
Splinters dug into her fingers and everything from her wrists down to her biceps burned. Angel could feel the skin on her palms give way as she slowly slid down the length of the branch she was clinging to, her feet kicking helplessly into open air. No…not now. Not when I’ve got things to do! There has to be a way out! Her mind panicked.
She was sure it was either blood loss or trauma that made her imagine that the branch was sprouting fingers of its own, until they reached down and lifted the hair from her face, allowing the cool April breeze to ghost over her skin and kiss and sting the cut on her forehead.
“What?” she managed to croak as her vision started to blur and her body began to grow numb. To Angel’s horror the long fingers that had played so many concertos, that had run up and down the keys of so many baby grands in long sequences of arpeggios, the fingers that she’d always counted on to be strong and nimble began to relax without her consent. “No!”
“Would you fall or take my hand?” It took her a minute to realize that the branch, itself, was talking. Her mind was too terrified to come up with something like that. Tiny tendrils unfurled from the bracken that was quickly sliding out of her grip. They were gnarled like the branch but seemed to be flesh and bone and extending right out of the dirt embankment.
Angel tilted her head up and winced at the pain in her neck as a low grinding noise above her caught her attention. The tire had stopped rotating but was now slowly rocking towards her. “Who are you?” she whispered, sweat and tears streaking her face as she struggled to hang onto her only means of escape.
“There’s no time,” the voice explained, though it sounded like a taunt. “Come with me or you’ll surely fall to your death.”
Loose dirt and gravel trickled and slid over the edge of the guard rail above her as the car tilted lower. Her own fingers cramped and kept going slack. Wasn’t there a Zen riddle like this? Something about a monk falling over a cliff and tigers over head? What did he do? What did he choose? Was there an answer?
Through her blurred gaze she could make out a fissure opening in the embankment, and the fingers that grew and stretched out to her looked like nothing she’d ever seen before. They came from some other place that wasn’t of any normal time or location. Long, thin, and glittering like mica, they uncurled towards her and waited in open invitation. You don’t know what’s at the other end of that hand, she reasoned.
The creak of bending metal and the crunch and groan of her car above her made her stomach turn. She couldn’t look below her; she knew what waited there, anyway. I could just as well be going to my death. Isn’t the devil you know better than what you don’t know? The car was so close the top of her head nearly touched the mangled front bumper. Not that she really wanted to really get intimate with the devil she knew.
What do I do? She was oddly alert, strangely and suddenly focused and coherent. There was no scenes of her life flashing before her eyes, no sudden salvation. All she had was a rock, a hard place, and a choice.
Angel swallowed hard and although it went against every instinct she had, she reached out a hand and screeched when almost immediately the fingers on the hand still on the branch let loose, unable to hold her weight on their own. Warmth encircled her wrist and before she could scream or question herself, she was drawn right into the embankment and pulled straight through. I guess the only way I’ll find out what’s on the other side is by going there, was Angel’s last thought until she managed to catch her breath and open her eyes again.