Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whitlash - Chapter 5

Heroine's view


Commander to base---commander to base--- I need visual positioning back-up, over. 

I'm hovering at the forward reaction control system module trying to figure out why the heck our altitude keeps shifting. Stationkeeping isn't supposed to be this hard! As I reach in to recalibrate a flux sensor, a sparkling glow rises up just beyond the shuttle's nose. What are those? 

The glow seems to be dancing back and forth --- shimmering like Earth's ocean spray in the sunrise. The glow is made of many pieces, but they're moving as one. It seems like they've begun a vibrating hum. There's no sound in space---how can I hear them---are they inside my head? And why isn't base responding? BASE! COME IN!

Oh heck—the glitter is swarming me! They're rushing forward and coating my helmet visor. I can't see! The soft hum has crescendoed to a loud groaning. My ears are filled with it—shut it off! TURN IT OFF! GET OFF OF ME! A scream breaks through the din. 

I bolt upright. Panting, but awake. A moment passes before I get my bearings. Yes, I'm back on earth. Yes, I'm in my blanket nest. Yes, there's still groaning. Groaning? Oh, heck – Carson! 

My hand reaches out for the battery-op lantern. On all fours, I crawl over to Carson. His face is contorted in pain, and I have to touch his arm before he realizes I'm there. He looks up at me sheepishly.

Sorry, sorry for waking you. I..I must've tried to roll in my sleep. 

Sure enough, his legs have tangled awkwardly. Without asking permission this time, I gently return them to order. He swallows hard, and I watch his small adam's apple bob.

Thanks. 

“Don't mention it. I was just having the craziest dream about cosmic aliens. Nightmare actually. You inadvertently probably just saved me from having my eyeballs sucked out into the eternal vacuum of space.” 

Heh - pleasure to be of service.
He winces, but finishes the wince with a grin. It's gosh darn frigid in here. I grab a blanket from my pile, wrapping it over my head and around my body like a chilly babushka.

“Hey...so tell me what happened to you?”
I feel like I've been more than patient with that question. For all I know, Carson murdered someone and was locked away for life; not content to serve life behind bars, he fell from the prison walls while staging his escape. Maybe I'm harboring a fugitive!

He draws a long, shallow breath into his chest and blows out the air before answering.
Short version or the long version?

“The version with a happy ending.”

Oh? Are we playing choose your own adventure? *cough * If so, I'd like to flip back a few pages.


“Did you get attacked by an abominable snowshark?” 

He gives me a quizzical look. I think I catch a hint of amusement, but it's hard to tell. Speaking normally seems to hurt, so he begins again in a hushed tone.
How did you know? I was on a snowmobile, when suddenly a snowshark came reeling down an embankment and butted me off my sled. I tried to fight back but, well...I lost.
A brave grimace takes his chin.

“What are you--crazy? Why were you out in this weather?”
I'm stage whispering, because it seems odd not to match his volume.

Me? Crazy? I'm not the one who believes in snowsharks.

Fair point.

I was on an errand.
His face suddenly washes over in dread, and I wonder if the pain has just replanted its hooks.

Aunt Bea...I need to get to her right now.

“Hold on, hero. You're not going anywhere right now. Unless anywhere is a hospital. In which case, yes—as soon as possible.
Whatever milk and eggs, Aunt Bea sent you out for can definitely wait.”


Insulin. She's diabetic...and she..she'd run out...

Annnnnnd now I feel like a beeyotch. Cripes. What am I suppose to say to that? A silence hangs between us, and I'm reticent to shatter it with my clumsy consolation lines. Instead I switch off the lantern.

“I'd better save the batteries. Best I can anyway...”


He says something in reply, but it's whispered too softly to be deciphered. I lie down on the floor beside him to hear better, my head positioned beside his which is turned away, and urge him to repeat.

I said...I said I'm scared...
“For Aunt Bea?”
Yeah. For Aunt Bea and...well...
I understand immediately. If my properly functioning legs suddenly went AWOL on me, darn tootin' I'd be scared. The anguish is palpable. It's weighing on me like a lead apron when you go to get an X-Ray.
I hear a quiet rustling and then feel a hand pressing into mine. It's his turn to squeeze my chilly fingers, and I return the gesture: one of solidarity in our being scared shitless.

“Carson---”

He turns his head to face me.

“I'm scared, too.”

The quiet is loud. It speaks volumes to the fact that we're in way over our heads. The radio better get its butt in gear before the batt disappears.

Can you—tell me things? Just talk about anything, if it's not too much trouble. Anything distracting. Could you start with your name?

Instantly, my ears are ablaze with heat. I hadn't even thought to introduce myself in all the scurry! Is there some anti-hero for ear blushing? Red Rudolph the bashful? After relaying some courteous basics: name, hometown, age, siblings, favorite food, biggest fear (taxis or maggots...it's really a toss-up), and other banal trivia pieces, I decide to tell him the first story that comes to mind.

“Once upon a time...okay, this isn't going to be a good fantasy story so forget I stole the opener from things that end happily ever after. Anyway, once (we'll leave it at once), I was a wee child of 8 or so. Naturally, I'd managed to get horse-crazy...because that's what we do, right? Parents absolutely love it when their progeny beg them every Christmas for the pony that they know is wholly impractical and they'll never under any circumstances get. ANYWAY, I was at that stage. I'd compromised with once-a-week lessons at a pony-filled barn about 20 minutes away. Of course I still held out for the great Christmas surprise (which would never come), but riding Daisy, the grass-stained lesson mare, or Beau, the oh-so-slow quarterhorse, was good enough to make me squee with happiness.

Now, it just so happened that one magical week per summer, the barn held pony camp. That's not one day of equine fun per week, but 7 hay filled days of romping about doing tack-up-drills and memorizing horse parts. Did you know that the top of the horses tail is called a dock? Now ya do! It's not to be confused with the hock, gaskin, cannon, or stifle. Oof—getting sidetracked. So anyway, it was smack dab in the middle of the best week of the summer, and my mom had this giant, horrific suburban SUV. It was multi-tone grey, and the interior always smelled like burnt graham crackers. We're talking a seven seater monstrosity.

So, naturally I'd scurried into the back of the rusty SUV, and my sister occupied the center next to baby bro in a car seat. Mom was rocking the past-prime perm behind the wheel.

The car smelled different somehow that day. Less grahamcrackery and more rancid, wet upholstery-y. I also get this weird premonition that someone is watching me, too.

We're still sitting in the garage when I can't stand the creepy feeling anymore. I turn my head to the left and popped up next to me are two paws. Connected to the paws is this gaunt, half bald panting dog...only it's not a dog. It's a fox. It's a super sick fox with soapy drool, looking oddly pleased that someone has finally noticed him. He hopped down from the seat and scratched vigorously at his mangled ear.

I've never been a screamer. This has served me well throughout the years---jumpy, but not screamy. Quietly, I alert my stressy mom—who doesn't believe me til she turns and looks. We evacuate the car slowly, roll up the windows, and close the doors. She calls the local game warden who comes and congratulates me for not getting mauled in the head. But ya know what? I missed pony camp that day, because the vehicle of was deemed a contagion hazard until thoroughly cleaned.”


What happened to the fox?

He's still softly whispering even though my own volume has risen to dramatic-story-telling levels.

“We nursed him back to health and he became a charming family pet named Reginald.”

Really?

“Not really. You caught me. No....that's the worst part—turns out he had really, really bad sarcoptic mange, and...well... I'm not sure he lived happily ever after. Game warden took him away permanently. I think I remember crying about it because I wanted them to make him better but it was too late, and no one cared. Life isn't fair.”

That wasn't a very cheery turn to the story....


“I know! Sorry! You said talk about anything...and well...”


No, no, it's okay! Thank you. The distraction...it worked. You sound like you were a pretty swell kid.


“Nah, I was probably a terror. Precocious and spunky. Bad combo.”

That's the best kind.

I blush again, as he weakly coughs. His broad shoulders curl forward, and I catch myself in both worry and admiration. They're darn nice shoulders, okay? Don't judge me!

ANNNND THEN...and then...crap. 

Ugh, I just had a horrible moment of clarity. He's probably, how should I phrase this delicately, he's probably not going to realize when he has to relieve himself. Should I...should I mention it? I'm going to totally humiliate this total stranger who is already in a compromising situation. Which is worse? Trying to sort out some type of plan or ignoring it and dealing with the aftermath? Hmm, if it were..if it happened to me, I'd prefer the preemptive measure. Pissing myself in front of a best friend would be embarrassing enough---but someone I just met? Okay. Yes. Yes I'll mention it. Time to steel yourself, nerves.

“Carson, I'm sorry in advance for what I'm about to stay.”


Uh oh...

“Uh oh is right. Quite simply put---what happens when your body decides it needs to pee?”


A look of half amused horror criss crosses his face.
...I hadn't considered it. And now I can't not consider it. I...um. Well...

I hold up a finger to give him a second to fumble for his thoughts.

“Let me look in the kitchen. I'll be right back”


Grabbing the lantern, I head to the mini-kitchen for some serious on-the-fly brainstorming. Can we first universally acknowledge that all tupperware drawers are complete anarchy? I rifle through on a hunt for the funnel, but it turns out the pesky fella was camped-out in the lazy susan. Recycling bin—what are you hiding...anything useful? A coffee can will do nicely if I could just find some sort of tube. Tube...what sort of tube would I have in this house? Ehhhh ---hmmm. Garden hose? There's a short garden hose by the washing machine next to my trowels and seed packets biding time until the precious springtime thaw. Oh gosh. But how to attach the hose to funnel....

Duct tape solves everything! I grab the silver roll from the drawer along with a clean dishtowel. The hose is only about an inch and a quarter in diameter. Somehow I need to punch a hole. With a church key opener and a mallet, I manage to triangle puncture the side of the can---and make a terrifying noise. With a little more effort, I've opened the hole to accommodate the tube. It's not a clean job, and it's not pretty, but it'll work. I return to the fireside with arms full of crazy.

Carson's eyes widen. Do I detect terror? Yes possibly.

Wha...what's all that for...

I can't help but throw my head back and laugh a little—not at his situation, but at his restraint. If someone came at me with a funnel and garden hose, I'd say back the hell up.

“Supplies! Here's my plan --- funnel goes into garden hose, duct tape secures funnel into hose, garden hose runs down the inside of your pant leg but rests on top of your leg. Hose passes through hole into coffee can and terminates there as the collection receptacle. The tricky part is going to be making sure it's all on a decline. Oh! And the towel goes under the funnel...just in case, and to prevent any rubbing.”
He looks rightfully mortified.

“There's definitely no guarantee this will function---but it's worth a shot, right? Got any other ideas? Look, if it doesn't work, I swear I won't mention it, make fun of you, or ever bring it up until armageddon.”


I get a reticent cocked eyebrow, a pursed lips, and then a slow sigh.
Okay.

We work together to feed the tube down his pants leg. While I rig up the coffee can by his feet, he positions the towel and funnel. After everything is situated (best it can be, anyway), I drape a blanket back over top of him.

Can't get worse right?

“Hey, don't sweat it. The storm will stop soon. We'll get help. No one will ever know about this, and...and”

I think about the 'and.' What does happen after this? Do we keep in touch? The meeting was so unexpected, but at the same time...I feel like we've broken all these personal bubble courtesy time-line rules just by necessity. What are the social protocols? Should I send him a card when he's in the hospital? Do I visit? Do I just move on like this never happened?
I shake my head to get out of the thought path. More here and now. 

Carson is looking away from me. I'm guessing he's feeling ashamed and emasculated. I feel for him—I really do. He's basically trapped. A burning log falls in the fireplace sending out a friendly little plume of smoke. Warm sparks settle on the hearth, and Carson suddenly spasms into a sneeze. 

Ahhhhh. Screw it all!

“Hurts?”

Yeah...like an effer.

"Like a mother heifer? That's an oxymoron! Heh.
It so cold already, but do you think we should ice your ribs?"


That sounds like the worst idea I've heard all night—even worse than that joke---but yes. Probably should.
More jolly green giant. I shudder as I pull the bag of peas from the inoperative freezer. Still frozen of course—but the whole thing is mostly just acting as a holding tank. He flinches as I press the bag –wrapped in a thin towel-- to his side.

“Sorry!”
Don't say that—you're a saint. Thank you.He whispers it through clenched teeth. His right arm crosses his chest and softly brushes against the back of my wrist (holding those peas).
Thank you...really.

He closes his eyes, and I decide it's probably a cue for more distracting needed.

“So, do you want to hear about the time I got my head stuck between the banisters at the Franklin Institute?”

Do I ever.

He chuckles softly, and I settle back into story telling mode. My animated recounting and silly gesticulations fill the cold cabin air. An hour later and we've both fallen asleep---this time only inches apart. 

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14 comments:

  1. okay, i seriously doubt i can wait another whole week for an update... fells like an eternity!!! <3

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    1. Unfortunately, I think you might be the only one still reading! Ah well--

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    2. Of course not.
      I read it all the time
      But it just ends abruptly and leaves me so upset :)
      Can't you make it longer?

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    3. Are you kidding? This is amazing! I can't wait till next week!

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  2. No....not alone. I read all the posts. Most of which end abruptly in the middle of the story. Hope this one goes all the way. To the end (: can't. Wait till the next post!

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  3. Still reading too :) I actually woke up earlier than I usually do just so I could read it before going to work. I am just so so so excited to see where this is going. I am really anxious to see what happens once Carson gets to the hospital.

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  4. LoL, we're reading it! I like your story please don't stop writing.

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  5. I'm reading here too! I like how you are going from her point of view to his to hers again. Can't wait until daylight to see what happens. Keep up the fantastic writing!

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  6. Me too. Loving it. Too funny. Keep it coming.

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  7. Of course, your story and imagination is just too good. Thank you for your regular updates, I am very exited to see what happens next. (even if I have some difficulties in understanding a lot of your words and expressions (no native speaker)...;-) Thank you!

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    1. I write a bit oddly--even for a native speaker, so don't feel bad at all! If you ever want a simplified version of a chapter (or section of a chapter) or have any questions about what something means, feel free to email me at staying.anniemouse@gmail.com ---it just makes me so happy that you've stuck with it!

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  8. I'm still reading too, and looking forward to each update. I don't check this site daily but am really enjoying this story - would just like the chapters to be a bit longer and more frequent!! Please continue writing, I want to continue reading! Thanks

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  9. Help, Help! I can't stand the suspense!

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  10. Could never stop reading this amazing story! Just got bogged down with work, and I'm a month behind having time to read anything at all. You have loyal followers! :)

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