The next installment to continue the tale of Lacunae – Here’s Chapter 4. It’s a long-ish one again, but figured I’d keep it together this time, as some people read out of sync with Ch.3
I hope you’re enjoying it so far – feedback in the comments always appreciated!
If you missed Lacunae: Chapter 1, you can go right back to the beginning and read it HERE.
The walk home highlighted damage from the earlier quake. Most of the townsfolk were going about their business as if nothing had happened but Cooper noticed shop workers re-assembling displays and could see the local convenience store was lacking its window. Fragments of glass littered the walkway and staff were redirecting pedestrians away from the hazard.
The further Coop travelled from the centre of Verdura, the less damage he saw. Although some routes appeared to have surface cracks that he was sure weren’t there on his morning walk, it seemed buildings in the outskirts had avoided major destruction. Perhaps they had all over-reacted in O’Rourkes.
As he entered his own, unscathed driveway, he could see Mrs Bradford busying herself in the kitchen. He had little time to cross the threshold of his home before she swooped in and grabbed the bottle her son was carrying.
“What took you so long? We won’t have time to chill this properly before dinner now. And hi, thanks, how was your day?” The exhausted features of Cooper’s mother melted into a smile that had helped heal many. Nurse Eva commanded strength and beauty despite long hours.
He bent down to kiss her head before retrieving the wine and placing it in the freezer.
“Oh, not bad. Fairly slow day. Had an earthquake, place got semi-trashed. No big deal. How’s Trent?” Cooper turned down the heat on a pan attempting to erupt faster than Mount Ludlow.
“That boy seriously panics! I’m sure he was expecting me to amputate his forearm. But he’s fine. Severe bruising, that’s all. I managed to convince him he didn’t need emergency care – St. Austen’s will have enough to deal with this weekend. Anyway, Max took him home. Think he needed a lie down.”
“I don’t know why you didn’t just order takeout and relax. Is the eternally paranoid one still fretting?” he asked, watching Eva return to a frenzied dance around half prepared dishes.
“Coop, don’t be cruel. It really has ‘Ris spooked, you know how she gets. She’s calmer now, Max seems to have helped that.” They exchanged knowing smiles. “And you also know how much your father hates takeout. Besides, it’s months since we’ve had a family meal together.”
His mother poured neat whisky into a glass and handed it to Cooper. “Here, go speak to him, let him see you’re okay. He’s… it’s been a tough few hours.”
“Yes, I’m sure sitting in first class is all kinds of torture,” replied Coop, a double coating of contempt on every word.
He instantly regretted his comment as she squeezed his hand, looking at him with that direct, no-nonsense gaze that could have quelled the most disruptive patients into willing guinea pigs. All previous warmth was temporarily on hold.
“Not tonight. We need to be together tonight.” She released her look and grip simultaneously. Cooper, taken aback by the intensity of her tone, was left with his father’s drink: a living dumb waiter.
He took a deep breath and wandered into the living room, to be greeted with a scene from a Hallmark movie. Iris was beaming at their father, fussing around him as they pored over photos from his trips abroad, whilst Joseph Bradford laughed and made frequent encouraging remarks to his daughter. Cooper didn’t think he could stomach all the nostalgia and fake sentiment.
Lost in a loathing that surfaced far too often these days when he was around his father, he put down the whisky on the coffee table and slumped into an arm-chair.
“Son.” A single-worded greeting, without looking up.
“Not like you to cut a trip short in favour of family time.” Cooper’s curt reply went unchallenged as his sister bounced over.
“Aren’t these fantastic? They’re from Dad’s research trip in Italy. His team sent a remote camera down into Vesuvius last week.”
Cooper gave the images a cursory glance and shrugged. He didn’t like admitting it but he wanted to look at the photographs more closely – his father’s research work had always interested him – yet that would require a civil interaction, something Cooper felt they had both forgotten how to achieve.
Joseph reached across the mahogany table for his whisky. “There’s no point trying to get your brother interested Iris. He gave up engaging his brain in anything more taxing than menial chit-chat a long time ago.” Cooper’s father sipped his drink, eyeing him from the aged, leather sofa.
“And I wonder whose fault that was?” His tone was low, measured, but Cooper could feel his breath quickening, the toned muscles in his arms tensing in anger. Professor Bradford had laid the bait and his son was too easily enticed.
“Now, now gentlemen. We can either continue with this passive-aggressive display of testosterone,” Eva approached the doorway, unpinning her thick mass of caramel curls from a sloppy up-do. “Or we can eat. I know which I’d rather do.”
His mother raised an eyebrow, giving a pointed look in each of their directions, before collecting the emptied whisky glass. Cooper knew her words were a non-negotiable instruction, rather than the choice she had presented them to be.
Dinner passed by in silence, from Cooper at least. He sat in a sullen cloud of his own making, listening to his father talk about his recent trip to the Continent, punctuated by excited squeals from his sister and laughter from his mother.
There was a time, not long ago, that he would have relished these family meals and joining in with the banter. Joseph Bradford may have been a taskmaster when it came to his son’s studies but Cooper loved his stories of past adventures, with an admiration that bordered on idolising him. When the Calvert House fiasco knocked the professor from his pedestal, it was hard for Cooper to process. As much as he now hated sitting through a forced family gathering, he resented his father more for taking that joy away.
The sounds of Star Wars’ theme tune escaped from Cooper’s pocket. He knew better than to answer his phone at the table, kicking himself for not checking it was on silent.
“I suppose it’s good to know that your generation still speak to one another, rather than communicating in those blasted cartoon faces. Eva, did you hear that Oxford English chose one as their word of the year? Bloody ridiculous!”
“LOL… you’re just not on fleek Joe. You need emoji goals!” Eva’s playful eyes taunted her husband.
“Mom, stop. Please! You totally don’t get how to use them either. You’re both so embarrassing!” Iris rolled her eyes but her laughing suggested she loved what she was hearing.
Cooper managed half a smile. His mother trying to sound cool might have been lame but he was pleased to see her relaxing. A rare occurrence these days.
His pocket vibrated, revealing a text. It was Jenna.
Where r u? I’m waiting. You knw I don’t like waiting. Call me – if you wanna collect… xx
Attached was a coquettish image of Jenna, her smouldering green eyes looking up at the camera, which she’d expertly angled down to show her tanned cleavage. Hungry for more, Cooper typed a quick reply, his phone hidden below the table.
Dad home, have to eat here. Call l8r. Looking forward to pay day. More pics?? xxx
Cooper looked at his watch: it was just after 8.30pm. That still left plenty of time to stop by her house to pick up whatever payment she had laid out for him. His mind wandered, imagining what she would, or wouldn’t, be wearing.
Another vibration halted his daydream.
LATER? I’ve got better things to do than wait for you to arrange a booty call. Deal’s off the table.
“Dammit!” Cooper kicked out, rattling the crockery.
“Somewhere you’d rather be, Cooper?” His father glared at him across half-eaten dessert.
“Well, yes, actually. Loads of places I’d rather be than sitting here, listening to everyone playing happy families. I’m going out.” Coop pushed back his seat and made to leave.
Joseph’s next command was laced with threat. “Sit. Down. You are not leaving this house, not until I give permission.”
“What the fuck? You turn up with little warning then start laying down the law like you’re grounding a ten year old. I’m a grown man!” Cooper headed to the door.
The professor slammed his fist on the table, startling his family and stopping his son mid-step. “It’s not safe! I want you here.”
“No, Eva. He needs to hear this.” Cooper could see his father was shaking, but he didn’t look angry. He seemed afraid.
Iris’ eyes were wide, her gaze bouncing back and forth between father and son. “Why isn’t it safe? Mom? What’s going on?”
“Let’s clear the table honey, help me in the kitchen. It’s just about the earthquake. Dad’s over-reacting because he’s tired. Aren’t you Joe?” Eva guided her daughter into the adjacent room, away from a possible panic-attack. Her eyes communicated unspoken words to the girl’s father.
Cooper was uneasy. He’d never seen his father look scared. Angry, more times than he could count, but this was new territory. He sat back down, watching the professor remove glasses to rub weary eyes. Cooper noticed his father’s beard was more silvery than last he remembered.
Joseph inhaled, taking a moment before his reply. “Cooper, look. I know you hate me for what happened with college. I’m ashamed of how I behaved, how you were ridiculed for my outbursts. I’m most ashamed of how it changed our relationship. I’m not good at this sort of thing but it’s time I put things right.”
This was not what Cooper had been expecting. He opened his mouth, ready to respond but Joseph raised his hand, requesting silence.
“Please, let me say what I need to. I’m coming home, to stay. I want us to move forward and hope you’ll let me repair the damage I caused. But first, we need to overcome the situation with Mount Ludlow.”
“The volcano? What’s that got to do with us? They’ve evacuated Romanside, we’re nowhere near.”
“It’s not simply the eruption I’m worried about. It’s the incoming storm. My studies indicate that a culmination of factors will produce favourable conditions for a phenomena last experienced 200 years ago. That’s why I came back as soon as I could.”
“Phenomena? The news mentioned possible acid rain. You’re acting like there’s far more to it.” Cooper was intrigued. This was better than having to work out their issues.
“A similar set of circumstances occurred in these parts in 1818. An eruption coincided with a severe storm and an unusual number of deaths followed, across Ludlow Province.”
Cooper shrugged. “Breathing problems? That’s not unusual for the time, didn’t everyone die of Consumption?”
“Many were recorded as that, but there were others that couldn’t be explained. There were stories of bizarre pregnancies and mutilated bodies, along with sightings of…something. People were panic-stricken.”
His father’s face was serious but Coop couldn’t help laughing. “Hang on. You’re a scientist. You’re not swayed by this mumbo-jumbo, folklore rubbish, are you? This is Iris’ area of expertise.”
Professor Bradford was a paleo-biologist, studying ancient climates and meteorology to understand flora and fauna of the past. Cooper was having a hard time believing he would even consider this as evidence.
“Cooper, it’s real. I can’t fully explain it yet, but other incidences have occurred world-wide. Always after a volcanic episode, always with weather conditions like we’re about to experience. Examples on every continent, going back centuries.”
“Tales, Dad. Humans create them to make sense of things they don’t understand. Next you’ll be telling me about sky demons as they cart you off to the asylum.”
“I’m used to the derisive comments, Cooper. Few in my field put any credence in what our team has uncovered. But until the threat has passed, I want you to stay home with your sister. Humour me at least, so I can try to keep you safe,” He stood, his statuesque frame sunken, fatigued. “I’m sorry for how I’ve treated you son. I’m going to bed, we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
Cooper watched the well-regarded professor leave the room, a man who had only ever been interested in facts and figures, now weighted with worry by sinister storytelling.
That night, his own dreams were troubled. Images of Jenna, standing naked on a mountain, aroused him until her flesh began to blister, the heat from molten lava flowing around her and searing the skin from her bones. He stood immobile, a spectator on an ethereal sideline, unable to reach her as she drowned in the liquid fire.
His sister and father appeared, Iris screaming until her breath was spent, with saucer eyes pleading to an invisible force that dragged them away, raking bloodied lines across their faces. The ground rumbled and shook, increasing in ferocity and distilling the urgent voice of his mother, calling to him over and over.
“Cooper? Cooper, wake up. It’s started.”
He opened his eyes, disorientated. Eva was kneeling beside his bed, gently shaking his shoulder. “Hmm…what has?”
“The eruption. We’ve been called in. Your Dad left for Harrington an hour ago. St. Austen’s has asked me to go in. Seems not everyone evacuated in time, some are being airlifted for treatment. I want you to stay home until we call, keep Iris settled. You understand?”
“I’ve got a shift…”
“Just do this for me, please.” She kissed his forehead and walked through the darkened room. Pausing in the doorway, Eva turned back to her son. “And call your friends. You all need to stay safe.”
Credits: All words copyright of Aloada Bobbins. Image from mightwarriors.com