Give me strength when my will is weak
Give me strength when my heart is frail
Give me strength when life gets rough
Give me strength when my spirit gives up
From “Give me Strength” by Champs Ulysses Cabinatan
~ 9 ~
Running on Empty
Nick wasn’t sure how long he had been lying on his side in the car, but he had managed to dose off or pass out, he wasn’t quite sure which one. The pain and exhaustion had finally caught up to him as he closed his eyes in frustration. He never intended to sleep, in fact he had wanted nothing more than to stay awake and try to get help by drawing attention to the truck any way he could.
When Tim decided to keep him in the car, the disappointment he felt was overwhelming. He had concocted a plan on the drive to the store, to make sure that once he was inside he made eye contact with as many people as possible and count on his famous face to do the rest. All it would take was just one person to recognize him and be brave enough to approach for an autograph and he’d be home free. It would have caught his captor off guard as people would have swarmed around him. Nick then would have had security hold Tim there until the police showed up. Howie would be saved, the rest of the guys rescued and Nick would have been the hero, the little brother who swoops in and saves the day.
Of course that would have been way too easy. The light that was at the end of the very long and dark tunnel had become even longer and much more dark, when Tim decided to tie Nick to that steering wheel and go in all alone. He thought about yelling for help, but he wasn’t sure if Tim would be anywhere near and the last thing he wanted was another gag in his mouth. He was having a hard enough time breathing as it was. He was so weak, tired and dizzy; he thought that maybe if he just closed his eyes for a few seconds, he’d have the energy to figure out another plan.
The sound of rain pelting the windshield is what woke him. He was disoriented and alarmed but most of all mad for wasting precious time. He decided to kick at the passenger door as hard as he could. Maybe that would make someone look through the window and see him there. He was surprised to find how hard it was to exert that much energy. His kicking barely made any sound. He was weak and was running out of fight.
His next plan of action had to be convincing Tim to help his friends in the van. The rain made his worry escalate as thoughts of Brian, AJ and Kevin crossed his mind. It was possible that help had come by now and if that was the case then it was only a matter of time before they realized he and Howie were missing. Maybe the police were looking for them right now. He heard a few voices pass the truck so once again he kicked at the door and even yelled a little. If they heard, they didn’t care as the voices faded into silence.
He looked over at his hands. His wrists were really beginning to burn; he could tell they were irritated right under the ropes. Trying to twist his hands around he was hoping that would be enough to loosen the binds. If he could manage to break free, he could get to Tim’s rifle and have it in his hands, ready to greet him when he got back into the truck but instead he found himself closing his eyes once more not able to control that urge to just sleep.
This time the door opening is what woke him. “Looks like someone was sleepy,” Tim said as he placed five big plastic bags in the back seat before pushing Nick into a sitting position.
“Sorry I took so long, I wasn’t sure what exactly you would like to eat so I got some of everything. I spent a small fortune in there.”
Nick couldn’t believe he fell asleep again. “Are you okay Nick? You aren’t looking well.”
He felt out of it, like his head was completely detached from the rest of his body and all he wanted to do was sleep. He felt Tim’s hand on his shoulder trying to get Nick to turn to face him. “I asked you if you were okay.”
“You don’t look very fine.”
Nick was blown away by the irony of the situation. This guy caring so much about his well-being while making sure his hands hadn’t gotten loose while he was gone. He was literally tightening Nick’s binds while asking how he was feeling.
Once Tim was sure Nick wouldn’t be going anywhere he grabbed one of the bags from the back and started rifling through it. “I think I have something that’ll make you feel better.”
Nick looked away from Tim and out the passenger window just as two people passed by. A teenager and most likely her mother were getting into the car right next to him and for a brief second, the teen and Nick locked eyes. He thought he saw that look of recognition, but it could have also just been wishful thinking before she moved and Tim forced him to once again look his way.
When he turned to face the crazy man, he was holding a bottle of Gator Aide and a Hershey Bar. “I read that Gator Aide helps with dehydration and you haven’t really drank anything all day I bet.” He opened up the bottle and held it up to Nick’s mouth. The liquid felt good going down his throat and he found himself wanting to chug it. “Easy, nice and slow, you don’t want to make yourself sick.” Tim moved the bottle away and then opened the candy bar and did the same thing, “Take some of this too. It’ll give you some energy.” Nick took a few bites and then another few swallows of the juice before Tim put them aside and started the truck.
Tim looked surprised when he heard the grateful remark. “You’re very welcome my friend.”
“Did you decide if you’ll help my friends out?”
He nodded slowly, “I did.”
“The thing is Nick, I’m not sure I can trust you not to do anything stupid.”
“I promise. You have my word. If you help them out, I’ll be forever grateful to you.”
“Do you even know where they are? I mean when I picked you and Howie up, the two of you seemed completely lost.”
“I’m sure if you go slow and keep your high beams on, we’ll be able to see the fence. We broke through a fence when we rolled down the hill.”
“Hrmm.” Tim grunted as he continued to drive. Nick could tell this was becoming some kind of sick game for him.
“Please, they will really need our help especially since it’s been raining.”
“Hrmm…” He said once again before suddenly bursting out into laughter, “I’m just playing with you silly, of course I’ll help your friends.”
Suddenly Nick, who was ready to fall asleep again, opened his eyes wide in shock and excitement. “Really?”
“Yes, really, I bought them a lot of supplies to help get them through the night; blankets, flashlights, food and water.”
Nick was suddenly overcome with emotion and began to cry. Maybe this nightmare would end after all. His crying was cut short though when his creepy captor placed his arm around Nick’s head and pulled him in close for a hug, “No need to cry, I’d do anything for you and Howie. You’re my new family.”
Nick tried to pull away which angered Tim, his demeanor suddenly changing from sweet to sour in about a half second’s time. “Don’t pull away from me boy! I was being nice to you!” He pushed Nick with such force he actually hit his head against the passenger side window.
Nick’s heart was racing, thinking he had blown it. Now Tim would never help out his friends, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, I’m just not a touchy feely type person.” A lie, but how would he know that?
Suddenly Tim morphed back into the calmer version of himself, “Sorry for losing my temper. Did I hurt you?” He actually looked concerned.
“No, I’m okay.”
They rode for a while in silence, except for Tim’s whistling. “Crazy people always whistle.” Nick thought to himself, it was a random thought but anything that would help him stay awake was a good thing. He once again was fighting the urge to close his eyes and sleep. Any energy the juice and candy gave him didn’t last long enough to make an impact. He had to be strong and stay awake for his brothers. He needed to help Kevin, AJ and Brian.
Tim slowed his truck down and put his high beams on once they turned off the main road and onto the smaller rural one the accident had taken place on. “Okay let’s keep an eye out.” He said. “Would it be on my side or yours?”
Nick turned his attention to the window, “Is it okay if I open the window so I can see a little better?” He sounded out of breath and he felt it too. He felt like he had been running a marathon when in truth he had done nothing more than shift in his seat.
Tim hit the control switch that allowed Nick’s window to go down. “Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t sound very good.”
“I just think the crash is starting to take its toll on me, it’s been a long day.”
“You mentioned you rolled down a hill?”
Nick nodded never taking his eyes off the road, he felt like they were getting close now. “Yeah, I was in the back of the van…I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and I kind of got jolted all around.”
He hadn’t told anyone this and it felt kind of good confessing it to someone, even if it was a lunatic who happened to be holding him hostage.
“I guess I should have made you wear your seatbelt in here then, huh?” Tim snorted but then added sympathetically, “Is there anything I can do to help you out?”
Nick looked Tim’s way, “I just want to get to my friends. We can worry about me later.” He squinted as they rounded a curve, “Wait! I think I see a break in the fence…this is it!”
Tim moved off to the shoulder and shut the car, quick to turn off his lights just in case other cars were to pass and notice the fence.
Nick looked over at Tim and nodded, “I’m positive.” He took a few deep breaths hoping he would be able to make the trek down the hill. He was beginning to have his doubts.
“Okay well, here’s the deal…” He stared at Nick with great intensity, “We will bring these supplies down to your friends and then we will leave. If you try anything or if they try anything I will shoot them all. I don’t care about them Nick, actually it would make my life a whole lot easier if they didn’t exist in the first place, so don’t think I would even hesitate to kill them.”
Nick knew without a doubt this man was telling the truth so he slowly nodded, “I promise, but I know them, they’re not going to just let me leave with you.” That much he was sure of. There was no way in hell Kevin, Brian or even AJ would let him just walk away.
“Then they’ll die.”
“Maybe if you untie me…”
“Not a chance.”
“Tim, you have to promise me that as long as I do what you ask, you won’t kill them.”
He nodded, “I won’t kill them, Nick. But I’m not going to go out of my way to keep them alive either. That’s up to you.”
Nick nodded feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. Tim smiled and grabbed two of the five bags from the back and then got out of the car, walked around to Nick’s side and opened the door. “Let’s do this quickly; you know poor Howie has been trussed up all alone for a while now.”
He grabbed both bags and his rifle and ushered Nick forward; stopping just long enough to grab a flashlight out of one of the bags when he realized it was too dark to venture down there without the aid of any light. “You’re going to have to carry one of these,” He handed a bag to Nick who had to hold it with both hands since he was still bound. The weight of the bag proved too much for him in his current state and he fell to the ground. “Come on…it’s not heavy.”
“Sorry but the ropes are making me off balance.”
Once again Tim looked mad and frustrated. Nick found himself being lifted back to his feet by one arm, “Fine, I’ll untie you but if you try anything…”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife. Grabbing Nick’s hands he cut them free, the first time without ropes around his wrists in hours. “Now take this and let’s go.” Once again he handed the bag over as they made their way towards the hill. Each step Nick took felt like he was carrying 500 pounds.