Making the ladder itself took Brad and the Commander a good deal of time largely due to its overall size, and the fact that twice more they had to gather materials. It stretched for at least two hundred yards, and when it was finished, they had precious little tape left to add to it. Lefty had pulled down several trees made of cigarettes and stiffened papers to add the last, top-most rungs. The glove had helped break several dozen pencils into bits to help as well.
Abe, meanwhile, kept a rolling patrol, because they weren’t out of the woods yet (no pun intended). The Omni-Reaver was still out there, and likely not far away from them. Already they had lost Sam, and Abe wasn’t in any hurry to add to the body count of this little quest of theirs. From how the Commander had described it with Brad’s help, it could easily knock him down and pin him flat, killing him via suffocation. God only knew what it might do to someone like the Commander or the human with all of those blades.
“Well, it’s finished,” the Commander said at last, taking a deep breath and planting his hands on his hips. He looked up at the Great Teeth in the Sky, and shook his head. “No idea how we’re going to lift the damned thing up, though.” But Brad had an idea, and realized that his instincts weren’t dulled much, despite all of the weirdness around him.
He took the dental floss out of the bag the Commander had put down and smiled. “Bring me that eraser,” he said, pointing to one of the detached rubber nubs laying nearby. Lefty snatched it up and brought it over, and Brad tied one end of the rope to it. The length he had taken out of the floss container had been extensive, and had taken up much of the Commander’s free bag space, forcing Brad to discard his food on the edge of this clearing.
But it wasn’t long enough, he discovered, for what he had in mind. “Wait right here,” he said. He sprinted off back to the location of the dental floss, and began pulling out even more of the stuff. When he had what he judged to be enough, he called the Commander over to cut it, and returned to the original length. He knotted the lengths together, and started measuring it out by pulling the free end of the new length through his hands, keeping them a foot apart.
Though it took a while, he measured out five hundred yards of minty scented rope, just enough to hopefully do the job. “Hope you’ve got an arm on you, Commander.” The marine listened carefully as Brad explained what he intended to do, and commended the human on his ingenuity. After securing the end opposite the eraser to the top of the ladder, the Commander swung the first end around before hurling it up into the sky.
Brad’s vision was good enough to see that the space marine must have had some training in this sort of thing, because he accomplished his goal in one try. The eraser came back down, and stopped a foot or two over his head. The line was draped over one of the Great Teeth in the Sky. Using Lefty to stand on and grab it, Brad started hauling back on the line, effectively using a pulley to slowly get the ladder standing.
A good measure of time passed as they got the ladder up, but in the long run, Brad’s gamble paid off. With a little repositioning from the bottom, the ladder reached just up a little past the Great Teeth in the Sky. Brad breathed a sigh of relief; he was going to make it out of the Land of Bag and all of its strangeness. Yet the journey, while relatively brief, had its shares of annoyances, dangers, and pitfalls, he couldn’t help but think that overall, he would be better off for the episode.
While gathering materials for the ladder, he had come upon what he regarded now as the single most important thing he’d seen in the Land of Bag. It was another picture, one of himself standing beside Cynthia’s hospital bed while she held little Cole Jennings in her arms. All smiles, they were, and having folded the picture up and stuffed it in his pocket, he assured himself that when he escaped and came to, he would find it missing from his pocket. That would be the proof he needed that this had all been some strange dream.
But more than this evidence, he wanted the picture because it showed him precisely why he still carried on with Cynthia. He loved her, and he loved his son, both to degrees he hadn’t considered in some time. He wasn’t about to let a little irresponsibility with their finances ruin what he had. Brad turned to the Commander, Abe, and Lefty.
“Well guys, I have to thank you all for everything you’ve done for me,” he said, smiling. “It’s been a bit odd, but not without its benefits.” He was about to continue, when the entire area trembled under their feet. The company cast glances in all directions, and the Commander was, of course, the first to spot the source of the tremor.
“Oh God,” he rasped, pulling his mascara applicator/staff from the ground and holding it at the ready. “The Omni-Reaver!” Brad saw it next, slowly approaching from further to the west. A gigantic, lumbering beast on four legs, the Swiss Army knife had its scissors attachment out in front of it, methodically clipping trees from its path, causing them to crash to the ground and send the tremors they had all felt a minute before. “Go, Brad! Get climbing,” the Commander shouted back to him as the marine moved away from him.
Brad took one good look at the Omni-Reaver and the Commander, and knew the space marine stood no chance against it. Neither, for that matter, did Lefty or Abe. Abe was essentially helpless, and Lefty could be quickly cut apart by those scissors. He took a step forward to go to the Commander’s side, but Abe rolled up in front of him to bar his path. Lefty started sprinting to the Commander’s aide, and Abe glared hard at Brad. “Don’t you dare,” he said, admonishing the human. “This is your chance, Brad! You have to escape before that beast can tear the ladder apart.”
“But he’s going to get himself killed,” Brad shouted. “And Lefty too! That thing will knock you flat and let you suffocate! You’re all going to be slaughtered,” he protested, trying to move around the penny, who rolled into his way quite deftly.
“You don’t get it, do you,” spat Abe. “If you don’t get out, who’s going to look after your son? Who’s going to explain your absence to the Great Keeper, the one you call your wife,” he asked more calmly. He shook his head, and looked up at the Great Teeth in the Sky. “All things have their role to play, son. We’re going to do our part. You have to go and do yours.” With that, Abe rolled away toward his companions, who stood at the ready, the Omni-Reaver approaching with malicious slowness.
Though he could hardly stand to, Brad grasped the ladder and began his ascent. The makeshift structure was a little unstable, but he made steady progress up, refusing to look back down despite the shouts and snarls he heard below him. Higher and higher he climbed, finally looking back down when he judged he was three quarters of the way up. What he saw dismayed him, but did not entirely surprise him. The Commander was still on his feet, but he was missing an arm. Lefty crawled up behind the nimble Omni-Reaver on three fingers. Two had already been sheared off. Lastly, the menacing multi-tool appeared to be sitting on something on its rear end, most likely Abe.
But the dead President had been on the money, he thought (no pun intended). He had things to do. Turning his face upward, Brad continued his ascent. When his head came level with the Great Teeth in the Sky, all around him began to swirl and blacken, and he felt himself losing his grip on the ladder. Once more he felt the sensation of being in orbit, and dropped further still into absolute darkness.
“Bradley! For God’s sakes, wake up!” Brad could hear Cynthia weeping as she shook him roughly, and he thought he could hear Cole as well. He was blubbering incoherently, and as Brad’s eyes fluttered slowly open, they both fell upon him like rabid animals, kissing and hugging him as he tried to sit up. His head hurt like a bitch, and he had the vague sensation of having fallen quite hard on his back. Though his vision was a little blurry, he could see that he was once more in his house’s entryway.
“Cole? Cyn,” he said, trying to test his voice, which he found was rather weak. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“Cole found you passed out on the floor,” Cynthia informed him, wiping away tears from her cheeks. Brad looked at her, and found the wellspring of concern in her eyes somehow horrifying and comforting. She must have thought I was dead or something, he thought. How long was I in the Land of Bag? If I was found on the floor, how come I’m still home? Shouldn’t I be in a hospital?
“How long was I out,” he muttered, trying to regain his feet and finding his legs had little or no strength. He sat back down, and Cynthia brushed his hair away from his eyes.
“About twenty minutes,” Cole said, wiping his own face and trying to sound unaffected, unconcerned. Twenty minutes, Brad screamed in his mind. How the hell is that possible? Then again, this only supported his theory that the whole thing had been a dream.
“We should take you to the hospital,” Cynthia said, grabbing her keys off of the small table where her purse sat.
“No, that’s okay, I’m fine, really,” Brad said, waving her off. “But I’ll tell you, I had one hell of a dream,” he said as they helped him to his feet and into the living room. He sat down heavily on the cream colored couch there across from the television. Cynthia sat on his left, Cole on his right, and both leaned against him. He assured them that he must have just been overly stressed, and Cynthia offered to go make him some coffee. Cole asked if he wanted to play some video games, and Brad agreed.
When both were out of the room, Brad smiled. It had been one hell of a dream, all right. He shifted his position on the couch, and felt something move in his back right pocket. He reached in, and pulled out a wallet-sized picture of himself standing beside Cynthia as she held Cole in the delivery room. His heart pounded in his chest for a moment. Cynthia came in with his coffee, and sat down next to him with one hand on his leg. “Are you all right,” she asked.
“I’m fine,” he said, putting the picture away for safekeeping. “I was just thinking you could use one of those nice, small purses.”