This was a picfic prompt dating all the way back to April 22, 2013. I started the story and then it sat on my hard drive all this time collecting digital dust for 7 years. I finally finished it. It started out to be a Halloween type story but it had other ideas.
The Harrowing Escape Affair
Rain pelted against the cracked windshield with such ferocity the car’s wipers could not keep up with the sheer volume of water. Gusts of wind buffeted the small car threatening to blow it off the road. Between the rain squalls, the driver cast a wary glance skyward, not liking the low yellowish green and black clouds which hovered over the road ahead of him.
UNCLE agent Illya Kuryakin pulled the beat-up green Volkswagen Beetle over to the shoulder of the graveled road. As he pulled up on the handbrake he glanced over to the passenger seat where his partner sat slumped against the window half-asleep. Shadows played across his friend’s face as low clouds scudded across the mid afternoon sky, making the dark shadows under the man’s eyes appear more pronounced. Turning off the windshield wipers to quiet the slap, slap of the blades, he tried contacting the nearest UNCLE regional office with his communicator. No luck. He assumed the atmospheric conditions were playing havoc with the radio transmission. Illya spoke softly to his partner.
“Napoleon." No response. Illya spoke louder, “Napoleon! Wake up!”
Napoleon Solo opened his eyes and struggled to sit up as he realized they were no longer moving.
“Illya? What’s up?” He rubbed at his eyes while his other hand grabbed at the gun shot wound in his lower left back
“We have to find a place to stop. Judging by the look of those clouds ahead, I think we may be heading into tornadic weather or, at the very least, a hail storm. I, for one, have no desire to experience one of your country’s infamous prairie storms."
His last statement was punctuated with a simultaneous strike of lightning and crash of thunder.
"Do you think they're close behi...? Ahhh! Shit!" Napoleon clenched his teeth as his back spasmed from
Illya cast a glance down the road from whence they had just come then looked back to Napoleon. "I don't know, my friend. But the question is moot. You need to rest, and once the storm hits I doubt we will be able to travel."
"Keep going, partner, for as long as you're able.” Napoleon hissed as another wave of pain washed over him. "I'll be okay."
"Maybe a little farther down the road we will find some sort of shelter." Illya released the hand brake, coaxed the car into gear, and continued on.
Within five minutes the small car was again buffeted by strong gusts of wind produced by the leading edge of the storm. The advancing shelf cloud heavy with moisture swept toward them turning day into night. Illya turned the windshield wipers back on only to see the dry rotted blades disintegrate against the glass. Cursing under his breath, he spared a quick glance towards Napoleon. His partner was even paler than he was a few minutes ago and was beginning to perspire.
A flash of lightning revealed an old house, reminiscent of the prairie style Victorian homes of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, sitting on a knoll to the right of the road. Another flash allowed Illya to see broken window panes and peeling paint on the clapboard siding. A staircase of old cracked limestone steps led from the dirt driveway up three landings to a screened-in sleeping porch attached to the front of the house. The silhouette of bare branches from long dead trees framed the house on three sides. It was quite apparent that the house was abandoned and had been for a long time.
The Russian wrenched the steering wheel to the right to pull into the tumbleweed strewn driveway and shut off the engine. He eyed the house warily, trying to make up his mind whether they should take shelter there or not. The crack of lightning striking a nearby hill followed by a loud cry of pain from his partner made the decision for him. helped him decide. “Well, any port in a storm,” he muttered as he jerked the handbrake up. Illya climbed out the VW and moved around to the passenger side to help Napoleon. As he opened the door a gust of wind shook the car violently tearing it out of his grip causing it to slam shut on his left hand as he reached in to wake Napoleon. Illya yelped as pain shot up his forearm. Judging from the pain and the blood, he guessed several fingers were broken and maybe his wrist as well. He would have to worry about it later. Right now it was more important to get his partner out of the car and into the house. He reopened the door.
“Wake up, Napoleon. We need to get you inside.”
Solo’s eyes opened but he had difficulty focusing.
“I found a place for us to take shelter, Napoleon, but we need to hurry.” The Russian pointed to the house on the hill.
The CEA’s gaze followed Kuryakin’s hand. “Ah…Illya, I don’t think I can make it up there.”
“Not to worry, my friend, I will help you.” He leaned into the car to ease Napoleon out of the seat.
Together they began the climb up the limestone steps. Another spasm of pain enveloped Napoleon. His legs collapsed and both men fell to the ground. The motion tore at Illya’s injured hand. He gritted his teeth and bit back a cry of pain. Instead he focused on his partner.
“Come on, Napoleon, no slacking off on the job.” He helped the wounded man back to his feet, with Napoleon leaning heavily on him. “Remind me to discuss with you the advantage of a weight loss regimen, my friend.”
The heavy oak door presented no problem for Kuryakin as he kicked it open, the rusty. deteriorated lock was no match for the strength of a determined soul anxious to get out of the weather. Puffs of dust kicked up from the floor as the two men shuffled across it. On the far end of the room was a couch and some arm chairs draped in old dust covered and yellowed sheets. Illya eased Napoleon down onto the couch. He positioned his partner so that he lay on his uninjured side.
“Stay here, Napoleon. I’m going to take a look around. Perhaps I can find something to use to bandage your wound.
“Some water would be nice, partner.” Napoleon couldn’t believe how thirsty he was. Neither man had had water in two days.
The two agents had recently been reluctant guests at the THRUSH satrapy outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. Both had been interrogated over three days before their captors let their guard down providing the agents an opportunity for escape. They recovered their sidearms and one of the communicators. Neither man was in good shape, but Napoleon was hurt further when a bullet from a THRUSH carbine caught him in his left side from the back. A lucky shot on the part of the guard considering the distance Kuryakin and Solo were from the perimeter of the encampment. The bullet was nearly spent before it plowed into his back. Although the potential damage was minimized due to the drop in its velocity, the bullet punched through Napoleon's skin and buried itself into the muscle of his back creating a great deal of pain and loss of blood.
Illya lifted his partner from the ground and threw him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry before stepping into one of the cornfields that surrounded the THRUSH facility. When he reached the road that lay to the east the Russian flagged down an old Volkswagen that had seen better days. Its headlights were missing, the muffler was barely held in place by baling wire, and the windshield was heavily damaged with spider web-like cracks in the glass. The driver stopped warily eyeing the two roughed up men. Having no time for pleasantries, Kuryakin opened the door and dragged the man out. Napoleon climbed in the passenger seat barely having time to sit before his partner bullied the ailing transmission into submission and headed down the old farm road.
“Hang on, my friend, I will see what I can find but I doubt there will be any. Stay here and rest while I check this place out.” Illya patted his partner on his shoulder before moving away to explore the house.
The Russian hadn’t taken more than ten steps in the failing light before his right foot broke through the rotted floorboards of what must have once been the parlor. He fell through to his mid calf. As he lost his balance he used both hands to catch himself. His injured left hand protested causing Illya to cry out in pain.
“Illya?” Napoleon’s voice, weakened by his ordeal called out, “Are you okay?”
Illya gritted his teeth replying, “I am fine. Just tripped and it surprised me.” He extracted his foot from the hole and continued his exploration.
The old house had little to offer. It had been stripped bare over the decades. Only a few pieces of old broken down furniture in the parlor remained and Napoleon was lying on the only piece of furniture that still stood on all four legs...barely. The wind whipped its way past the broken windows forcing rain into the different rooms.
Illya carefully climbed the stairs to avoid any further mishaps with rotted wood. As he explored each room he looked out the windows shielding his eyes from the rain. The darkness from the storm settled over the plain like a pall. Off to the north and east there was a small streak of light shining below the leading edge of the storm. He looked down the road in the direction from which they had traveled. Damn! A Jeep and truck were heading in the direction of the house and judging by the speed and the fact that the vehicles were obviously traveling together left Illya with no doubt regarding the intent of the individuals in those vehicles...THRUSH. Thanks to the flat landscape he could see they were still a couple of miles away.
As Illya made his way back to the head of the stairs he glanced out a south facing window causing him to pause in terror and awe. A gray funnel cloud dipped down and then up into a wall cloud before dipping down again, snaking its way to the ground. Instantly, dust and debris were caught up and wrapped around the wildly whirling tornado. Although a mile or so away it seemed hellbent on bearing down on the house.
Protecting his injured hand and arm as best he could, Illya flew down the stairs avoiding the broken treads. “Napoleon! Napoleon? Wake up. There is a tornado headed this way. We need to take cover.” He none too gently shook his partner awake.
Napoleon looked up through half opened eyes. It took a couple of seconds to focus and fully understand what Illya was saying.
“Illya, look for a storm cellar. In this part of the country most homes have them. Failing that we should get into the basement. If there is a storm cellar it would be a short distance away from the house.”
Illya strode over to the nearest windows. Then went from room to room looking out all of the windows. Finally, he saw what must have been the doors to an underground shelter. The doors were covered with tumbleweeds and overgrown vines. There was little chance that he would be able to clear the doors of the dead vegetation and get them both to safety in time. He looked skyward into the black swirl of the tornado. He went into what must have once been the kitchen. He found a back door with a breezeway leading to what must have been a storage shed. Illya raced to the shed and flung open the doors frantically looking for a place that would provide at least a sense of safety. What he found were walls covered in farming implements. Scythes, sickles, axes and other tools hung with layers of dust from decades of disuse. If the wind tore into the shed they would be cut to ribbons. The basement. It was their only hope. He turned to run out of the shed when he tripped on a latch to a trap door set in the dirt floor. Illya hit the ground hard, jarring his arm. The pain shot up his arm to his shoulder taking his breath away. He didn’t have the luxury of babying his injury. He jerked at the trap door which opened more easily than he had expected. The door led to an old root cellar just big enough to give the two men some shelter. As Illya raced back through the breezeway to get Napoleon, large baseball size hail began hitting the house with a vengeance. A couple crashed through the breezeway’s roof. One hit him a glancing blow.
“Napoleon! Get up! I found some shelter!” Illya ran up to his partner and none too gently grabbed the man with all the strength he had in his good arm and started dragging him towards the back door. “Come on, we do not have much time. The tornado is nearly on top of us. Move!”
Few things in the world frightened Illya. He knew Russia had tornadoes, however he had never personally witnessed one. At least one could actively defend oneself against an enemy such as THRUSH. How does he fight a tornado? He couldn’t shoot or bomb it or negotiate with it.
He half carried, half dragged Napoleon through the breezeway. He glanced to his right only to see that the massive cone shaped whirlwind completely filled his field of vision. With an adrenaline charged push he practically threw Napoleon into the root cellar as he clambered in behind him. He reached up to pull the trap door shut only to find it wouldn’t close. The low atmospheric pressure tugged at him threatening to suck him right out of the cellar. There was a brief lull in the wind for not much more than a nanosecond, but it was enough to allow Illya to pull the trapdoor closed. The hinges protested but he was able to close it and secure it. Illya sank to the cellar floor totally exhausted. Next to him Napoleon groaned.
“Are you okay, Tovarisch?”
“I will live. And you, my friend? I am sorry I treated you so roughly. There was no time to be gentle.”
Napoleon chuckled, “No worries, Illya. I just...”
Whatever he was going to say was drowned out by the loud roar of the tornado passing overhead. The sound louder than a hundred locomotives barreling towards them or fighter jets flying mere feet above them made talking impossible. The hatch door rattled mightily against its frame as if demons were fighting to enter and rip the cellar apart. Dust rained down from the beams filling their ears and coating their faces. Both men felt their ears pop painfully as the barometric pressure dropped. Just as they thought the trapdoor would fail the rattling and cacophony ceased. The wind stilled. Blessed silence surrounded them. Nearly three long minutes passed as the two men waited to make sure all was safe.
“Illya, I think it’s okay to open the trapdoor, now.”
“I will give it a try. Napoleon, there is one other problem. I spotted two vehicles headed our way. I got the distinct impression they were looking for us.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now, I’m feeling a need to get out of here. The smell of rotted potatoes is a bit overwhelming.”
Until Napoleon mentioned it, Illya had not noticed the smell. He was too distracted by the dangers of the storm. Napoleon was right, the root cellar reeked of old rotted vegetables. He turned his attention to the trapdoor, released the latch and pushed against the door. It didn’t budge. He pushed harder, but it only gave a little. “Napoleon, I need some assistance. Are you up to helping me push against the door? Something is keeping me from opening it.”
“If it means getting out of here faster, I’m your man.”
Together they heaved their shoulders against the door. As they pushed up several objects slid off the top of the trapdoor with a thud. Illya worked the door all the way open. He climbed out and leaned down with his right arm to help Napoleon climb out of the cellar. As both cleared the root cellar they looked around. The late afternoon sun reflected off the wet dormant grasses turning the landscape to gold. The supercell that spawned the tornado had moved off to the northeast bathed in golds, reds, and orange. “It is beautiful!”
“That kind of ‘beautiful’ damn near killed us, Illya.”
They turned around and took in the destruction that surrounded them. The house no longer stood on its foundation. It had imploded and was no more than a tossed about pile of wood and masonry. Some of the bricks from one of the chimneys had fallen through the shed roof and landed on the trapdoor. The farming implements were gone. Illya pointed to one of the trees. One of the hatchets had pierced the trunk and was imbedded up to the heel of the blade. The turned back to the rubble. Inexplicably, the couch on which Napoleon had been resting earlier hadn’t moved. The parlor was gone, yet the couch remained untouched.
The winds had carried the Volkswagen approximately 400 yards to the north where it landed on its roof leaving it completely flattened. Another half mile up the road a red Jeep, lay on its side its driver lay pinned under it. An old white Chevy pickup stood flipped up onto its nose, its hood crumpled like an accordion all the way to the fire wall. A body wearing the blue uniform of THRUSH hung halfway out of the opening where the windshield had been.
Napoleon looked at Illya’s left hand. His arm and fingers were grossly swollen and stuck out at crazy angles. “How did that happen?”
“The wind, car door, and my hand had an argument. My hand lost.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It hurts like hell but can be fixed.” He pulled the communicator out of his coat pocket relieved to see it was still in one piece. “I think it’s time to call for a taxi.” He handed it to Napoleon. “Would you do the honors? I think I need to sit down for awhile.” He stumbled toward the couch and sat. He leaned head back and instantly fell asleep.
The sound of an UNCLE helicopter landing below the hill woke Illya. He noticed Napoleon had staked a claim to the other half of the couch and also slept. Illya poked Napoleon gently. “Our chariot has arrived, my friend. It is time to get the hell out of here.” Two UNCLE medics hiked up the hill and helped the battered agents to the helicopter. In a matter of minutes they were on their way to the regional headquarters and medical care.
Napoleon Solo limped down the hallway at UNCLE’s New York headquarters as he headed to one of the research labs. He leaned slightly on the cane he held in his right hand to take the pressure off the left side of his torso. The wound was healing quite nicely and truth be told, he really didn’t need the cane anymore, but oh how the women around him gave him their undivided attention! He decided to exaggerate his wounded condition and milk their collective sympathy to his advantage.
He stopped at the lab. Illya sat at his desk, his left arm was in a cast from his fingers to above his elbow and supported in black sling that matched his turtle neck and dress pants hung around his neck. Napoleon chuckled to himself. Several of the female lab techs hovered over the Russian.
“Illya you little devil,” he muttered.
“Excuse me, ladies. Do you think I could take my partner away for awhile? I promise to bring him back, but Mr. Waverly wants us in his office.”
The techs all giggled and moved away from their subject. Illya, blushing, met Napoleon at the door. “Napoleon, I am so glad you came to save me. They were practically smothering me!”
“Sure, partner, glad to be of service. I can tell you were suffering terribly at their hands.”
Illya smiled slightly. “Yes, Napoleon, it was quite something to endure.”
Napoleon merely smiled and handed his handkerchief to Illya. “Well, my poor mistreated friend, you might want to wipe off that lipstick on your cheek before seeing the Old Man.” Oh how he did enjoy seeing Illya blush!
The meeting with Mr. Waverly was satisfactory on several levels. The two agents found that the satrapy where they had been held captive had been completely destroyed by the tornado. There were no casualties except the buildings but THRUSH wouldn’t be causing trouble in that neck of the woods for a while. The owner of the Volkswagen had been found and was the proud owner of a brand new Volkswagen. The county where the abandoned house was located had planned to bulldoze the house the month before but procrastinated in doing so as it was not a high priority. The tornado simply saved the crews the time it would have taken knocking the house down. And best of all, the Old Man granted the two agents a week of rest and relaxation!
Illya stopped Napoleon at the exit in Del Floria’s store. “Would you like to get together tonight for dinner and just relax?”
“Sure. Come over to my place and I’ll have dinner delivered. See you at 7 PM.”
Both men ate in silence. When the dishes had been cleared from the table they moved into Napoleon’s living room. Naturally, their discussion turned to their previous mission.
“Illya, we need to send a thank you note to the Lancaster County authorities.”
A puzzled look and quirk of Illya’s left eyebrow asked the wordless question.
“If they hadn’t procrastinated in tearing down that house we would have had no place to take refuge. We more than likely wouldn’t have survived that storm.”
Illya lifted his glass of wine, “Then I raise my glass to them and procrastination.” They both drank to the toast.
Napoleon grabbed the television section of the paper. “Let’s see what’s on tonight. Want to watch a movie?”
“What is showing?”
Napoleon took a look. His face paled ever so lightly. “Never mind.” And tossed the paper down.
Puzzled, Illya picked up the newspaper section. On the inside page was a full page ad. See for the first time broadcasted
in technicolor The Wizard of Oz. Illya dropped the paper as if it was on fire.
“You know, Napoleon, I am really quite tired. Both of us should get some sleep. Good night.” He rose from the couch and without another word left.