Links in the Chains; Boards Upon the Back by Jay Wilburn

The Music Be The Food flash fiction event continues with round five. This time, the song is “Even In Death (2016)” by Evanescence.

Give a listen to the tune and then read the next flash fiction piece, by Jay Wilburn.

Links in the Chain; Boards Upon the Back

The furnace threw sparks as it flared between orange and white heat. He hammered more links into his chain and poured water over them to darken the metal with steam filling the roof of his cave. It would be easier without the chain, but breaking it wasn’t an option – only adding to it. The damned thing was so heavy already and ached his old muscles, but he had to drag it out farther each day.

He set down the hammer next to the anvil and opened his fingers, hearing the knuckles crack three times each. He hauled the sack onto his back and passed the boards over his shoulder into it one at a time. The wood was no longer fresh and straight. He used gnarled logs and driftwood pitted deep with holes. New trees were extinct from the landscape around his cave and mountain, so he was reduced to scavenging from dead and abandoned things.

He scooped the nails into the pouch on one hip and he set the carpenter’s hammer into the loop on the other hip. Then, he was off. Every other step was a haul, dragging the full weight of his chain down the face of the mountain behind him.

At the bottom, he reached the beginning of the road. Few stones remained and the edges were lost and worn invisible. The oldest crosses lined both sides with rotting meat and ragged clothes hanging from rusted nails and spikes. He could still smell them, but the odor was weak. The stench would grow in the miles ahead as did the numbers of bodies spread out farther and farther from both sides of the road.

He passed mile after mile of death until bodies still bleeding from fresh wounds and crying from new, raw pain begged him at both shoulders. His head ached from the noise and his scalp burned from the sun overhead. The heat on his bald skin went from bright red to white blisters as the day wore on and the screams grew.

The crosses gave way to countryside, houses, and cities. Between them were battlefields and blight. He lifted the suffering bodies from the ground and hammered his gnarled wood into crossbeams. He used the same nails to spike them on and lift them up into crucifixion. They screamed anew and cursed him. They railed about broken promises. They cried about injustice before begging for mercy and salvation. Men confessed. Women bargained. Children stammered in confusion and asked for God.

He moved on.

He pulled a teen from the passenger’s seat and nailed her mangled body onto a driftwood cross beside the street next to the missed stop sign. Her bashed skull lolled on her neck and she stayed quiet as a result, but she would scream at him tomorrow, he knew.

He dragged a boy out of the backseat. The young man had bled out a lot, but he still fought and kicked against the man on the chain. It took an effort, but he lifted the boy up on a cross next to his sister beside the street. The boy started screaming and yelled out at his sister next to him to wake up. The man on the chain left the mother unconscious behind the wheel. He left the drunk man sleeping in the other truck as well. They would realize what was lost when they both woke up later.

The man on the chain dragged the full weight of the links farther down the road as his pack of boards grew lighter on his back.

He lifted a man off the table in an operating room. The doctors and nurses all clawed at the dead man’s flesh to try to hold on, but the man on the chain was stronger. He crucified the lost patient on the curb outside the hospital naked with the chest still open and the ribs separated.

He took bodies from more accidents. He lifted up the oldest people away from their families and reunited them with more family on the side of the road on crosses of their own. He took those who took themselves with guns still in their hands, pills piled in their bellies, or ropes around their necks. Even when they lifted themselves up, the man on the chain had to nail them up a few feet higher.

He saw her again. He had reached for her when she was a child. He reached for her twice more as she grew older and nearly brushed her flesh both times. Now here she was again. Her hair was fallen out and her flesh clung to her brittle bones. Poisons pumped through her veins trying to kill a bundle of cells lumped together in her scarred chest. Her breath came shallow and life was pain for her. But still she gripped the arms of her chair until her knuckles faded from arthritic red to white.

This was finally the moment and she would be his on the side of his road with him forever. He would look up at her each time he passed day after day. He would think about all the times she slipped away from him. He admired her from all the years of pursuing her. Hell, he might even have loved her by this point.

He reached again, but the chain pulled up short. This couldn’t be happening again. He lunged forward, but the chain pulled taut and his fingertips drew short of reaching her once more.

His joints ached, his back throbbed, and his muscles quacked from the day’s work, but he turned his lips up into a smile anyway. Even in her haggard state, she had outpaced him one more time. She limped just out of his reach before she rested again. He still had boards on his back and nails in his pouch, but he was out of links in his chain for today.

He would return to the cave and forge a few more for tomorrow. He would need many more boards too.

The man on the chain watched her for a few moments longer where she sat so close to him, but just out of his grasp. He listened to her breathe. He watched her scarred chest rise and fall with a sense of wonder. Her purple eyelids remained closed as he watched her. Sometimes she opened them and sometimes she saw him. Today, she paid him no respect and gave him none of her attention. She rested herself for tomorrow’s journey.

He turned away and left behind the soft music of her breathing for the angry cries of the ones lifted up on both sides of his road. They shivered with the growing darkness of night and the endless pain of eternity, but they never stopped shouting out at him as he gathered his chain and returned to his cave with the full weight of the links.

He fired up his furnace and melted more metal in its white hot belly. He lifted his heavy hammer to add to the links in his chain. And he thought about her. He wondered how she felt, walking on aching bones with no chain to drag and he felt jealous. He thought about the day he would reach her, lift her up, and hold her forever. His lips drew into a smile as he hammered more links and poured more water. Steam filled the roof of his cave.

The new links grew dark, cold, and ready. He stacked more boards onto his back one by one by one. And he remembered the music of her shallow breath.

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