Survivors

Introduction

This scene was deleted from “Aftermath”, the first chapter of The Painted Man/Warded Man. It takes place right before the survivors (including Arlen’s uncle Cholie) are found. Arlen is asked to crawl into a collapsed house to try and help salvage the foundation. Its main purpose was to introduce the survivors to the attack and allow the reader (through Arlen) to experience a bit of what they had gone through during the demon attack.

Why It Was Cut

This cut was mainly just due to length. I had been asked to reduce the book’s word/page count by about 10%, and so I was hunting for scenes that could lift out of the book harmlessly. This little bit was nice, but it wasn’t exciting enough to keep.

Scene

“Arlen!” Jeph called, breaking his reverie. Arlen looked up and saw his father waving him over, so he put down his burden and ran to where the men stood by a collapsed house.

“Yes, da?” he asked.

“There’s a root cellar under this house,” Jeph said. “Bil Baker said he helped dig the hole ten years ago. The floor hasn’t collapsed, and we think we can save it if we move the stones in the right order. We’ll need the cellar to store whatever wood we can salvage.”

Arlen looked at the house, and saw several of the larger stones bound with thick ropes tied to mules. There was one mule whose tether rope was still loose. Bil Baker held the end and looked at Arlen expectantly.

Arlen’s father knelt in front of him, bringing their eyes level. “That stone there,” he said, pointing to a particularly large piece, “will collapse everything if we pull it from the top, but none of us can fit into the pile to secure the rope lower. We need you to crawl between the stones and tie the rope closer to the stone’s center. Can you do that?”

Arlen looked at the pile. It looked like it could collapse any minute. “What if the stones shift as I crawl in?” he asked.

“Then you freeze where you are, and back out slowly,” Jeph said. “The mules will be holding the big stones in place. They won’t fall on you.”

“What if I get stuck?” he asked. Bil Baker held the rope up. “Tug two times if you get stuck,” he said, “and we’ll dig you out quick.”

Arlen swallowed hard, not comforted at all by the words.

“You don’t have to do this, Arlen,” Jeph said, “but all the other boys your age are too big to fit, and we’d rather not send one of the young ones.”

Arlen frowned. Reminding him that he was smaller than other boys never filled him with confidence. But this was something he could do that the others couldn’t.

“All right,” he said, “I’ll do it.”

“Good man,” Jeph said, squeezing his shoulders.

Bil Baker tied the rope around his waist in a slipknot, and clapped him on the back. “Remember; two tugs,” he said.

“Two tugs,” Arlen echoed. He took a deep breath and moved closer to the pile to get his bearings, deciding on his approach. Nimbly, he scampered up the rocks to a hole wide enough to admit him, and disappeared.

It was cool in the pile, and it smelled of ash, like a fireplace gone cold. Arlen moved deeper, towards the keystone, squeezing between tight cracks. His shirt ripped, and he scraped his hand against a jagged rock. Blood mixed with the cold muddy dirt on his palm as he paused to examine his hand in the dim light.

There was a thump on the floor. Arlen froze, terrified that the pile was about to collapse, but everything seemed stable. He moved on, finding the keystone and tying off the rope. Breathing a sigh of relief, he turned to make his way back out.

Again there was a thump, deeper within. Arlen looked longingly at the daylight filtering in, but his curiosity got the better of him. He had to crawl on his belly to move forward, and the stone cut at his back, making him feel trapped. Distantly, he heard his father call, wondering what was taking so long. But he heard the sounds more clearly now, and kept on. His hand closed on a metal ring on the floor, and he used it to pull himself along.

In the dim light, Arlen saw a ward drawn on the wood floor by the metal ring, a curious sight inside. The floor thumped at him repeatedly.

“Is someone there?” he called, pressing his ear to the floor. He was answered with more thumps and muffled voices. There were people trapped under the floor.

Feeling as much as looking for the edges in the scant light, Arlen realized the trap door was hopelessly pinned. He tried to dig it free, but a shower of stones rained down on him, and he quickly dismissed the idea.

“Be strong!” he cried, thumping the floor. His father always told him that on hard days. “We’ll get you out! I promise!”

He made his way out of the pile quickly, waving his hands.