Saturday, January 30, 2010

Whitlash - Chapter 2


Shit, shit, shit.
What do I...shit.
Okay, just hold on.” 

Get a grip, lady! Pull yourself together and focus. Argh, but how can I focus when my noggin feels like someone mistook the ear drum for a timpani? What's sprawled before me in the snow can best be described as a mess. In the lack of light, I can tell you that the voice appears to belong to a male. 

Ple..ease...

A male who seems to be in tremendous trouble. His frame quivers as he tries to turn his face upward to me. I stoop down and draw near to get a better look.

Holy organ relocation, Batman. Stomach has officially migrated to my throat.

Dinner will have to apply for a temporary visa. His eyes, though squinting, have locked onto mine. Dark sticky rivulets are running down his cheek in a way that makes me worry. Matted hair stuck to his forehead. I start to talk, but it comes out in a choked whisper.

"K-kay. How did you get way out here? Actually, nevermind—details later. Let's get you inside before you freeze to death. Can you walk?”

I get a headshake 'no' in response. First aid 101 comes flashing through my mind. All forestry employees are required to take the basics course, but typical takeaways are do-no-harm and call the professionals. This grownup girl scout can't guarantee our stranger that either of those mandatories will be possible. My dumbphone: dead as a doornail days ago when we first lost power. I checked the two way radio at lunchtime, and the airwaves returned more static than my hair up against a Van der Graaf generator.

If he has a spine injury, moving him could definitely make it worse...but leaving him outside? It can't be a hair above 13 degrees! He couldn't have just fallen from the sky like a trope in Henny Penny; that's Chicken Little, Chicken Licken, or the Stinky Cheese man for you extra literary types. He must've crawled here somehow. Maybe any damage is already done? Ugh. I'm terrible at these decisions

"What's your name?” 

Carson 

"Okay, Carson. We're about 30 feet from my house. I'm going to head inside for just a second, okay? Don't run off."

I toss him a half smile, and he tries to return it—but the grin winds up more of a grimace. Shooting upright, I dart back to the shack. After bounding through the front door, I scan the room for anything useful. A backboard would be great. A surfboard with straps? Yeah—right. Montana is landlocked. I've got a cardboard box, but it's no bigger than 18”x24”. He seemed tall (for a lumpy shape in the dark). Should've really invested in a sled. Don't have any plywood...This is hopeless! Where is my magic genie at a time like this? Think, girl, think! Blanket it is. 
But the radio...what if I can get through? I try it one more time. No response at base. None. The blanket plays therapist as I twist it back and forth in my indecision. Hypothermia and frostbite. I can't wait any longer. Living. I choose living. Inside we go.

Prize in hand, my whole body kicks into motion. I'm suddenly back by his side—kneeling down. I hear myself urging him to let me gently lift his shoulders and then his feet onto the blanket. Though I try to keep him straight as I can—it's virtually impossible without a second set of hands. Feels like I've nearly gnawed through my lower lip in concentration and nervousness. Last hurdle are his hips. Confounded ponytail dangles impolitely onto his torn jacket as I lean over while muttering apologies.

So sorry about this. Really sorry. I've gotta scooch your hips now. Heh—it probably seems like -- 'nice to meet you – can I violate your personal space?' ...that's a joke, obviously. Ack. I...” 

It's okay.

He manages weakly. That's enough permission for me. With two swift movements and a muffled gasp, I've got him fully onto the quilt. Carson's tense torso now slumps as he permits me to arrange his long limbs. I spring to the head of the blanket and grab the corners of my makeshift sleigh.

Ready?” I yelp. 
Ready. 

Two-six heaaave. Oompff.” 
Wow—the execution went much more easily when I was visualizing it 10 minutes ago. We're about six inches from the starting line. SECOND ATTEMPT!

Erggg. Improvement. That time I only half lost traction. Slow and steady wins the race.

Our progress is definitely slow—and if there's a snow hare racing us, I think he's probably already taking his hubris-filled nap. I turn over my shoulder to check on Carson. He's gripping the sides of the quilt for dear life. Rough day.

First rough day of many rough days to come for him, I imagine. The front stairs couldn't come soon enough. It seems like an eternity before we close the gap. Yet now here we are---and brilliant ideas have I none.

The blanket sled has gotten us this far, but we're three steps from almost cozy. Our stranger desperately needs almost cozy. The adrenaline and anxiety has me sweating and freezing all at once. Woah, I'm sorry – glistening. Some moron once said, “Girls don't sweat---they glisten.” That quotist obviously never smelled my gym bag. We sweat. I sweat. Don't even get me started on hot yoga. Why is that even a thing? Sounds like a Guantanamo technique. Dang it! I'm wasting time. Carson?

Carson? Hey, Carson? Are you still hanging in there?

The lack of response puts the fear of Zeus in me.

No, no, no. Carson – wake up please. We're almost inside, I swear.” 

The returning silence sends a jolt through my body. He must've passed out in all the jostling.

I wish I had time or the mcgyvery where-withal to rig a ramp up those three blasted steps. Still no plywood. Mental note: buy plywood.

He has me outweighed by at least 35 lbs. I'm no weakling, but a [better not be] dead weight bridal carry is more than I can manage without going Hulk. Quick! Somebody make me angry!
No good. Too scared to be angry.

I guess we're going over the threshold Rambo style –that is, if Rambo lost his muscles and had no clue what to do. I hook him under the armpits and intermittently swear and 'sorry' my way up the stairs with his slack frame scraping unceremoniously up each step. Each bump against the wood makes ME wince. Oh hell. I am so...so..so sorry, Carson. It's a good thing you're not awake to feel this.

This is totally a lawsuit time bomb waiting to happen. I doubt I'm covered under good samaritan laws after all my bungling. More like bad samaritan flaws.

But...but I couldn't let him freeze to death in the snow --- just waiting to be uncovered in the spring à la some cryogenically preserved ancient Incan in the Andes! BLAHHHHH! Where's a medically competent superhero when you need one. 

Last step. MADE IT TO THE TOP! EFF YEAH, this feels like we've just ascended Everest's summit. The door does not want to stay open while I slide the tattered fellow through, but if I keep my right foot jammed out to the side, I think I can just manage to...

Oomf.” 

So, great. We're both on the floor. Me—having toppled backwards onto my arse, and Carson – still silent and slightly askew, but inside the mother flippin' house. Okay, kiddo. I'm going to straighten you out the best I can for the moment, and then make a fire to warm up this room a bit. Then we'll see what we're dealing with here. I'm so under-qualified for this. Why couldn't you have crawled to a doctor's house...maybe not in a snowstorm, preferably to someone with electricity....and access to emergency personnel? I'm about as certified as a pre-owned Kia to be tackling this situation.

By a stroke of marvelous luck, the embers help catch my new logs afire fairly quickly. The budgeting of candles has been pretty strict. I need to sacrifice at least one while trying to patch up the outside wounds. Let's waste a tea light. Might as well breathe a prayer while I'm at it.

While I breathe, I check to make sure he's still doing the same. Using the blanket sleigh again, I scoot Carson closer to the fire. The warm glow illuminates the angles of his jawline which is covered in a fine layer of scruff. For the first time, I can make out details. Now is not an appropriate time to admire the sculpting of his forehead. Now is the time to check for frostbite.

I'll start bottom to top. Feet first. Part way through unlacing his boot, and I've just remembered the point of this exercise and scurry off to get a pot of water heating. Three years ago, you could've heard me whine a lot about moving into a cabin with an economy-sized kitchenette and gas range. Call me spoiled, but I grew up on electric. That gas range---yah, it's my new bff. Gas range—you and I are buddies. You and I are going to make ourselves some hot tea in like 5 hours when I can pause again.

Our stranger hasn't moved. I resume the arduous shoe removal task. The caked ice in his boot tread is soaking my pants as it melts. Trying to perform this gingerly to minimize any skin damage, but at some point you have to give the shoe bit of a yank or the foot will never dislodge. What else am I going to do? Cut it off?

Mission accomplished! Next up, time to peel off the soppy woolen foot sleeves. Heather-grey Darn Tough socks, eh? At $18 a pop, the man's got priorities! And he's doubled up. His feet look fairly blanched – but the skin isn't hard or waxy. I'm no expert, but I'd wager he at least wont be losing any toes.

Grabbing the water off the stove, I fill a large tuppeware container. You couldn't strong arm or blackmail me into a tupperware party, but (at least for the moment) I don't begrudge my mom for loading me up with leftover-filled-kitchenwares last Christmas. Nothing like 5 day old Stove Top Stuffing.

The water temp checks out. Not too hot. As soon as I get his feet soaking, I've got to find a way to revive him--EVEN if his body is probably happier with the pain system's breaker temporarily flipped off. My sense of time is warped, but I think he's been out for almost 15 minutes. That's a super long time.

New frustrating experience of the day: trying to keep feet in tupperware when the foot's owner isn't awake or cooperative about holding them there. We just sloshed half the water on the floor.

Carson? Can you hear me? It's time to come back. You've been out a long time, and you're scaring the crap out of me. Hey, are you listening?”

I don't think he's listening. Men.

It's hard to keep the frantic at bay. I pour a second bowl of water and kneel up at his head. There's a gash running from his hairline through his eyebrow. With a sacrificial cloth (fat chance I'll get the stains out of this), I wipe the tacky blood away. A second gentle wipe with the rag. As I go for a third pass, his eyebrows knit together and a great slurp of air is drawn into his lungs. Next a cough, and another gulp of air. His eyes shoot open and search wildly but blindly around the room.

I grab his hand without thinking and try to bring him back to this century.

Stay with me, okay? You're alright.” That's a lie. Definitely NOT alright, but hey, I should target comforting...not honest, don't you think?

Squeezing his hand for encouragement (because what's a little hand squeeze after you haul someone around like a sack of potatoes and take off their shoes), I try to get him talking.

Can you tell me what month it is?” 
Feb-february. 
Good! What about your high school mascot.” 
Um, the..the Huskies. 
Fierce. Okay, last one. For all the lucidity marbles: Batman or Superman?” 
Spiderman. 
ERR, wrong! You failed. The correct answer was obviously Batman. Spiderman wasn't even in the competition.” 

I think he tried to chuckle but the chuckle turned into a cough and the cough turned into a groan. His left hand shoots to his side, and his right hand stays gripped in mine. Hard.
Where does it hurt?” I find myself asking – somewhat stupidly.
Through gritted teeth I hear the reply: Everywhere. 
I know it's difficult---and everything is definitely THE WORST, but try to be a bit more specific. Maybe we can figure out how to make it not everywhere. Probably just somewheres.” My voice softens and trails off at the end.

He releases my hand and breathes rapidly—sucking air in and out irregularly. I once babysat for this 8 year old who would have panic attacks if her book collection wasn't alphabetized. This looks a little like the start of that—only way more rational.

I place a hand on his shoulder to steady him (or myself). “Talk to me, Carson. You've gotta stay with me this time.” 
M-my ribs. A-and hip. A-and back. 
What about your legs?” 

His eyes screw closed and he's silent for a minute. They're burning. 
Burning? What do you mean burning?” I scramble around and rest a hand on his leg. “Can you feel this?” 
A solemn headshake 'no'. Removing a foot from the basin, I lightly pat it dry and draw a finger across his arch.
What about that? Not ticklish?” 
I c-cant... 
The two word sentence echos around in my head. I bite my lip, and turn away from him. Suddenly, there's something really interesting across the room. Really, really interesting. Yes, I must investigate--- leaving without a word, I walk quickly to the bathroom. Sans flashlight, I move by memory. If there were any light to reflect my face in the mirror, I'm pretty sure I'd see someone with blood shot eyes and moisture accumulating in the corners of those red ducts.

Now is not the time to cry. I support myself against the sink edge and let my forehead rest on the mirror. Suck it up, lady. Put those feelings in the crapper. Feel for something else.

Feeling blindly in the medicine cabinet, I find the gauze, athletic tape, and neosporin.

One or two affirmations later, and I'm re-emerging from the bathroom—supplies in hand. Carson is lying with his eyes closed and fists balled. I nudge him gently, and he cracks open one eye.
Can I patch up that forehead of yours?” 
Response nod in the positive. After cleansing it again, I swab neosporin over the gash. Germs be gone! I'm armed and dangerous.

Cradling the back of his neck in my left hand, I use my right to place the non-stick gauze and wrap him up with the athletic tape.
As soon as you recover, you're going to kill me,” I giggle.
I only had pink tape --- and you look AMAZING. I want to liken you to a cross between an 80s workout star and a pirate.” 

Gently replacing his head onto the blanket, the exhaustion hits me. It has to be 4am by now.
The radio—I've gotta try it again. Thank heavens for batteries. The two-way was for work emergencies. This definitely seems like an emergency.
Ten minutes of effort---and no avail.

Dehydration. I don't even know what happened to this guy, but I do know I'm an idiot for waiting this long.
Fishing out a rogue gatorade from the tiny kitchen, I offer it to Carson. The unnatural purple stuff tastes wretched to me. The label claims this flavor is: Berry Rain. More like berry radioactive. Who could drink that much sweet and salt at the same time? Blech. I'd rather drink unicorn pee. It's around for emergencies...like the radio. -----the gatorade that is. Not the unicorn pee. If I had unicorn pee, I'd be selling it on ebay in an instant.

Grrr, why don't I have any straws? Well, why would you have straws, dummy? Unnecessary disposables. I've systematically eliminated all I can. 40% for the environment, 60% because there's no trash removal here. I have to haul my own or burn it. Call me lazy.

Let's try a spoon instead.
Returning to the fireside, I clumsily offer him a spoonful. 

Thank you. Though, *cough* I think my arms are the last properly-functioning survivor. 
He says it wryly as he reaches up for the bottle, but...well...I guess he forgot that left arms and left ribs are proximate. Creases flit across the uncovered portion of his forehead, so I urge the bottle into his other hand. Gratefully, his shaking arm places the bottle to his lips.
He only lets a few drips miss.

I take the drink from Carson when he's finished. Next we struggle with his damp, ripped jacket. This is a delicate dance of cooperative effort when trying to spare his torso any more abuse. The layers below seem dry enough, but I see a tremor roll through his shoulders.

Standing up without a word, I remove some quilts from my nest and transfer them to Carson's makeshift bed. Arms aching. Vision bleary. There's no room for speaking. We fall asleep 5 feet apart as the fire crackles on. 
________________________________________________________________________ 


Friday, January 29, 2010

Whitlash - Chapter 3

- Carson's view -


“Aunt Bea – why didn't you tell me sooner?”

Because I didn't want you to worry. You're always worrying – just like your mother. Nothing but worry, worry, worry.

“Of course I'm worried! I have every reason to be.”


And when you're not busy being worried, you're being reckless like your father! I'm FINE.

“You're not fine. How bad is your headache?”

I am fine. Just get me a glass of water, and quit your yammerin'.

No recourse but to bite my tongue and turn away. GRARGH! But she's like a bighorn when she's starting an episode! Totally rammy. I need some time to ruminate about how to goat her into telling me important things--without making her feel sheepish. It's enough to make a man go on the lamb....I kid, I kid! Couldn't ditch her at a time like this.

Oh Aunt Bea, what am I going to do with you? If I'd known her insulin supply was low six days ago, I would've driven out before the snow got so deep. This living arrangement is straining and draining-- an odd mix of obstinence and obligation.

When the power's back up, I'm phony phoning the institute to tell them that Mt. Brown has blazed out and burned to the ground. I'm leaving the country and moving downtown. Maybe I'll relocate to the Long Island Sound – or just change my name and then never be found.

Eh heh. Biggie smalls is rolling in his grave. I have no future in rap. And poet laureates? I formally apologize. Thank goodness for verbal filters. The mind of one Carson Gallagher is a scary, scary place. Though the mind of someone who occasionally refers to themselves in the 3rd person? Yeah. I've been in this house too long. I swear I used to be perfectly socially adjusted.

Shining the flashlight into the mostly-useless fridge, I grab the Brita pitcher and pour a small glass. It's cold enough here that nothing needs refrigeration, but there's some comfort to maintaining familiar habits.

When I get back to Beatrice, 
she's moved to the lazyboy and has her hand resting across her rapidly rising and falling chest. She's out of breath just from changing chairs.

My voice is soft with her this time.
“Aunt Bea, drink this.”
I let her start sipping, so I can talk without immediately being rebuffed.
“I think the snow is going to slow up this evening. Do you remember Herb Davis from the Christmas Eve Service? He has a kid with type I. I'm going to take the snow mobile, and see if we can borrow some of his supply. Don't say no. I already decided.”

Beatrice's face darkens. My legs ready for the incoming force of her repudiation. And it comes. And I stand for it. And it lasts about 15 minutes. When she's emptied her lungs, Bea looks down at her black orthotic shoes. Three steps forward, I lean down and plant a kiss on the top of her spiral permed head.
“Love you, too. I'll be back before you can miss me.”

It had been mom's idea. When the research grant took me to Mt. Brown three months ago, mom was the first to insist I move in with her aging sister. The conversation went something along the lines of: It'll be so convenient—you know there's no rental market up there. Besides, your Aunt could use some help around the house. I'm sure you two will be peas in a pod.

We're more like two watermelons in a pea-sized pod. The house is tiny and her personality large. I guess my stubborn streak is shining these days, too. Our genes are ripe with it.

Bea's kitchen hasn't changed since the 70s. Yellow linoleum floor, gold flecked laminate countertops, and a puke-green pastoral scene wallpapered behind the dinner table. Lights don't need to be on to envision it. Her one car garage is through the kitchen on the right. The key rack jingles merrily as I feel around for the palm tree shaped keychain. This piece is a real gem. It's one of those snow globe types filled with liquid and glitter. Scrawled on an angle in gut-wrenching pink papyrus font it reads: “MERRY CHRISTMAS, KEY WEST!”

Key West key chain. Clever.

Bea and Hank must've saved up for a romantic trip to Florida years ago. I miss my Uncle Hank. He was always good for a piece of bazooka bubblegum and a big-fish story.

Key located, I head into the garage. Nope. Too cold.

Okay, okay --- retreat long enough to grab my gloves – then back out....but I'm not making eye-contact with Auntie. Even Mom would admit that Bea could sis-kabob her with just a stab of her skewering glare.

I skulk down the hall to Kyle's room. Kyle, my redneck (but genial) cousin, is in college at Troy State University---and, while he learns microfinance between games of beer pong, I'd settled into his room back home.

As an adult, it's totally bizarre intruding into someone else's living space. I feel like such an interloper. So far, I've been careful not to leaf through any marble journals or mess-up his cased Randy Johnson baseball. When Kyle comes home on break, I'll thank him for letting me crash in his bed (even if my feet hang over the edge a little bit), but those magazines I found while unpacking my clothing into his drawers? I do NOT want answers.

It's getting late. Better get a move on before the Davises turn in for the night. Parting the mustard taffeta curtains lets me gaze out at the falling snow. I've seen heavier. It's now or never. Time to proverbially saddle up: two layers of wool socks, under armor shirt, long underwear---don't mock it til you try it, canvas pants, Moosejaw fleece, knit beanie, Kyle's smelly motocross gloves, and my Uncle's old Carhartt hooded jacket. I feel like the Michelin man moving around in this much clothing. *Shrugs * No one to impress anyway—better warm than sorry.

While I'm trying to sneak back down the hall, the tell tale snow gear swishing gives me away, and Aunt Bea starts squawking.
You really don't have to go, 'Son. At least take your cell phone.

“Can't! The batt's dead. I'll call you from the Davis' house before I ride back. At least the landlines are working.”
I don't like this one bit. You're going to make an old lady die of angina! If I so much as...

The sound of her admonitions are instantly muted by the thwack of the back door shutting.

I've stuffed my pockets with two importants: a precious flashlight and a package of hostess cakes. You know, the kind with a crumb topping and 85 bajillion grams of saturated fat. The flashlight is for safety. The crumb cake is for motivation. I can't eat it til I'm back in this garage.

NO SLEEP TIL BROOKLAND – suddenly changes to NO SNACK TIL HOMELAND and plays in my head on repeat as I ready the snowmobile. I like to think the Beastie Boys could get behind this rendition.

Someone graciously thought to toss a sheet over the snowmobile last year. Making like a magician ripping a table cloth from beneath a perfect dish setting, I grab the sheet and pull it off with a flourish. MISTAKE. Cough—gag! 365 days of dust flies with fury into my lungs. Hopefully I'm more mechanic than magician, because this thing looks like it needs work.

Mental checklist: Spark plugs, oil, gasoline, coolant, fuel filter, chain case oil – errr, so how am I supposed to marco polo all this stuff in the dark? Hmm, I'll settle for an oil and gasoline check. The rest---well---sorry ski-doo. The 24 point inspection will have to wait.

After a full hunt (hide and go seek is more fun when you're eight), red gas can is located between a genuine, vintage Skip-It (probably last rhythmically slammed against the asphalt in 1994) and a box of tacky Halloween decorations. Yellow jug of Pennzoil is fortuitously nearby.

It takes a few minutes of finagling and a few more minutes of mild swearing before the snowmobile roars to life. No more time to lose. I push my classy, neon ride out of the garage and hop on.

Right now you're probably think---how cool! Carson fixes things, researches stuff on mountains, affectionately cares for his ornery aunt, and rides snowmobiles like a pro. Basically he should be in the X-games with an I <3 Auntie tattoo on his arm. Hold on, hold on friends – lest you form misinformed positive opinions of me. Sorry to disappoint, but I have no plans to do sick 360s or handstands on this thing as I fly over hills. I've ridden this ski-doo a few dozen times on winter trips up here, but I'm much more of a hiking, trail biking, book-loving fellow. Athleticism runs in my family, but I'm no meathead.
Meathead...do people even use that word anymore?

HOLY SMOKES it's cold out here. Would've loved to call ahead, but I've got their phone number in my cell...and well...I've already been over that powerless tragedy. No google maps to help me now. It'll all be dead reckoning and trying to pick out frosted landmarks in the dark. Yep, now or never. Helmet on. Safety first, kids.
____________________________

There's a 70% chance I've made a wrong turn. There's 43% chance I've made 2 wrong turns. There's a 13% chance I've made 6 wrong turns---but heck, I don't even remember making 6 turns. I'm not lost. I just need to backtrack and reorient---that's all. I'm not stubborn either. Never.

It's probably been about 40 minutes since I left Bea's one floor rancher. Honestly, I thought I would've been there by now. Pretty sure I crossed over Breed Creek ten minutes ago, but --- now it's hard to tell with the swirling snow---but I'm pretty sure the creek is coming up again.

Eff it, I was trying to follow the main roads, but when the creek comes up again --- I'll follow the bed. It either has to lead toward Mount Brown or away towards the “main town.” Hah, main town. That's a good one. All 5 houses of it. Naturally, the Davises live in one of those five---the one with lilac shutters. Either way, I should reach familiar territory. It'll mean cutting across some property lines to keep with the creek, but no one is going to notice or give a rat's ass in this weather.

I squeeze the brake lever with my left hand and the ski-doo comes sliding to a standstill. The engine continues to rumble beneath my legs as I plan my route forward (the stones throw distance I can see). Thumb throttling back to life, machine and I take off over someone's fallow field. Pines flank the creek, so I stick as close as I dare to the tree-line. Over the hills I bound, and then I settle into a groove.

When the loud hum of the craft drowns out all other sounds in the night, your brain starts talking louder to be heard. My mind wanders to the farthest corners. Is hubba bubble tape reliably 1.8 meters and about the joy killing fall of bubble wrap. Will X-files be tarnished by reviving the series, and how are claw machines actually rigged? Rising stock price of lithium, and whether it's hard to speak a tonal language when you have a cold. Can you even imagine having laryngitis and speaking Hmong? Are all the word meanings altered by your squeaking voice, or can you keep the rising and falling tones when you're projecting at an octave higher than normal? If you were trying to ask about the price of lithi....

The loudest sound I've ever heard in my entire life comes shrieking through my skull. I vaguely feel like flying but also falling or maybe floating. Nope, definitely falling. Falling. Flipping? Falling. FMPFHH.


Nothingness.
_______________________________________

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Whitlash - Chapter 4

Carson's View

Nothingness feels warm. I want to stay in the nothingness. I should stay. Ack, but something pesky is urging me that nothingness is code for dangerousness. Goneness. Emptiness. Worldlessness. Shut up. I want to stay...I want to...no, that isn't right. Somethings not right. Carson, wake up. Wake up right this instant.
My eyes blink open, and the bright white pain strikes me like lightning. FUUUUUUUUUU---- Then the panic. I'm sucking air through my teeth in wheezy spurts. 
Calm down. Calm down right now!

Get ahold of yourself--situation analysis time: I appear to be wedged between the roughness of...roughness of bark. Tree bark. Okay, tree on one side of me and neon plastic on the other. Sled—get off, I can't...I can't breathe. Get off. Please. 

With my unpinned arm, I yank my helmet off my head. Air. Gulps of it, but it's filled with smoke. Coughing -- it hurts. Why does it hurt so much?

The engine is still running. I lean my weight into my shoulder and push hard into the shell. Two tries and the mangled mobile veers and hitches. A splintered piece of the frame swipes my forehead as the ski-doo launches into another pine. I barely feel it. Something warm is running down my temple now---and the irony of having just taken off my helmet doesn't escape me. Even here.

Safety first, kids... right?
Body inventory:
Head – check. Bit of a gouge, but fine. This incessant ear ringing, however, I could do without. 

Shoulders –  check.
Arms – partial check. My left is going to have a helluhva bruise.
Torso – ribs... yep. That hurts. Probably cracked a couple. Every inhalation is miserable. I'll just not breathe. That'll work.
Back – I tip forward gingerly away from the pine. Testing. As my spine sets in motion the lightning bolt strikes me again. FUUUUUUU....

I'm panting. What happened to the no-breathing resolution?

Everything is swimming before my eyes though it's so dark I can barely see anyway. Focus. Focus on a sense. Focus on taste. Mouth is dry – I run my tongue along the back of my teeth ---at least I haven't lost any teeth. Think of a good taste. I need to ground myself. Hostess. I feel for the crinkly package in the jacket pocket. Still there---flatted but intact. Reaching for the package with my right hand, I manage to rip the cellophane with my teeth. The texture is crumbly. Duh, it's a crumbcake. Crumbs and cake.

I chew slowly—soaking in all the details. The moisture in the cake---the grain of the body. The ease with which it gives way to my bite. When the sweetness hits my tongue, only then do I nearly cry. What the hell am I supposed to do now?
Stupid hostess...emotions the mostess. I indulge in the moment for just that--a moment. It's not safe to let me linger longer.
One bite only; the rest back in pocket--I'm not in Brooklyn. I'm in woodland.

Okay, what happened here---put the pieces together, Carson. I likely rounded a corner and launched right into a ridge. The ski-doo must've tossed me like a bouquet, and old evergreen here broke the fall. More like broke me while I fell. But how did...I guess the snowmobile caught up, and well, I can still hear it puttering out in the dark. 

Better get up and turn it off. Better...
Better....not.
Struck a third time. It makes me dizzy this round. My hands flail to regain balance. The striking point is in the small of my back. Everything radiates from there like a hot poker. I draw my left leg up underneath me for balance, and nothing happens.

Holy shit. Nothing happened. My left leg did not draw up underneath me for balance. I told it to—but it didn't. It didn't. Why didn't it! Move darn it!

Neither of them are moving. I reach down a slap my thighs. Nothing. It's like they've fallen asleep while marathoning Lord of the Rings. There's a vague burning in them, and my hip --- the top of my hip hurts like a mother flipper. The snowmobile must've crushed into it. Don't panic, don't panic---crap, too late.

Breathe and hold.
..

Exhale. Oww....
Deal with it, ribs. Adam had a spare ribs---be Adam.
Who am I kidding? I'm going to die out here, aren't I? This is it. I'm going to die, and I'll be remembered by the empty hostess pouch clasped in my cold, stiff hands.
Aunt Bea is going to whisper, “I told you so,” over my barely thawed corpse.
No, I refuse to give her the final word on the matter. Heck, I've never been to Rome or pegged out all 23 Dr. Pepper flavors. Death must wait.

As I close my eyes, I try to formulate a plan. Loose scheme is to crawl til someone finds me---someone, anyone, or die trying. Maybe I have a fairy godmother who could wave a wand. Alien abduction would be perfectly timed right now. I'd settle for a tardis.
The longer I dawdle, the better the chance that I never get moving at all.

Slowly lowering my chest down to the ground, I fight against the flashes behind my eyes---the very alluring ones whispering, “Rest---just resign. Succumb to the fade.”
I won't.
Flattening to horizontal, I lever my body one or two arms lengths forward---hoping my legs will follow behind. They're twisted and uncooperative. Reaching back, I struggle to unhook the knees from one another.

This has to be a bad dream. This can't be real life. I used to do sprint sets for fun, and now I can barely get my legs to just trail behind me. What a sick joke!

The icy wind whips my cheeks raw as I start to army crawl through the deep snow. It's slow and grueling, and I fight with sinking into the mashed potato layer over the earth's crust, but I manage a few feet without blacking out. Heading into the 4th foot, my chest cries out in retort. Shooting pain through back and side inspires a blood curdling yell into the deep night. The sound bounces off some unseen objects and returns in a faint echo. No one can hear me. There's no one here to hear me.

I rest my head on my sleeves in front of me. If this is it....I do have regrets. Wish I'd been easier on my dad. Given him more grace. Forgiven him for –well, you know what for.
Oh, and I wish I'd tried out for that play in 7th grade. Just like its name, I'd made Much Ado About Nothing and how it'd effect my middle-school cred with the other kids. Lesson learned too late in life: everyone's a dork. 

I wish for the average things too--the ones everybody regrets. Should've travelled more. Should've learned another foreign language (pretty sure the Latin I took doesn't count). Who wants someone whispering authentic Ovid romantically in their ear? Yeah---and there's that one. Really flubbed that one up. Romance. Forever on the back burner, always playing second (or 80th) fiddle to academic ambition. Academics don't keep you warm at night. Academics don't cry at your funeral.

Too late now anyway. I'm going to go out like a popcicle. Wonder what flavor I am---hmm, I bet I'm one of those ones with a lame joke printed on the stick.
What did 0 say to 8? ---Nice belt!
Or maybe I'm more of:
What happens when you illegally park your frog? ---You get TOAD!

I prop back up on my elbows as I start to tell myself horrible jokes.
Where should dogs never shop? ---At the flea market! 

With each rotten punch line, I pull myself a little farther. 
Why did the doctor send the duck to collections? ---Because he didn't pay his bill!

Soon, I'm army crawling along at a steady clip. That excruciating pain? Oh, it's still there.
Why did letter A and B go to the beach? ---To find a C gull!
The snow in my face and sleeves? Not going away.
Why can't you watch a movie with a cat? ---They always hit paws!
The jokes are wretched. They're not funny at all. Nothing is funny about this, this night, this whole situation, but suddenly I'm slithering along on my belly and laughing like a maniac. Realty seems warped. Delusions are creeping in.

What do you call a mathematical parrot on a hunger strike? ---A polynomeal
I can't tell if I've been crawling for minutes or hours. The crashed sled is no longer audible, so it either ran out of gas or I've crawled out of ear shot. Every muscle protests each inch forward. Indulgently, my eyes close as I continue to pull along the ground. Behind the lids I see a kaleidoscope of colored fragments.

This has to be it. 10 more paces, and I'm giving up.
9.
8. What a waste...
7. Sorry, Aunt Bea...
6.
5. Do I smell smoke?
4.
3. That's definitely smoke.
2. Holy crap, holy crap it's...
1. It's a house.

IT'S A HOUSE! A HOUSE WHERE PEOPLE LIVE! Tears stream down my face. I'm not stopping them. Probably shed more tears today than I have summed over the last decade. Though my body shivers and shakes with the effort, I start the great incline up to the home. There's no bootcamp to prepare your adrenaline glands for this feat. My reserves are 130% tapped out.

A quarter up the ascent, I try to cry out for help, but the strange voice emanating from my mouth is too garbled and strangled to be heard. Sound lodges in my throat and comes out like a vocal sloppy joe.

FLASHLIGHT. That's right—I packed a flashlight. Digging it out of my pocket, what was once screwed together as one piece feels alarmingly like many pieces. Fingering the remnants, I can pick out the batteries and the spring as well as several sharp shards. Must be a crash casualty. Welp, guess I won't have to worry about creepily shining the light into any windows, or flashing morse code to get someone's attention.

Half way up. I can't. I can't move anymore. I can't. My lungs are wheezing---the ice cold air biting at my nose. I've tried three times to make it another foot, but I can't. I keep collapsing back into the fluff. C'mon, Carson. Man up. If you can't move your way out of it, think your way out of it. 

“Hellllp...”
That was a lousy attempt at a yell. So raspy and faint, no one could possibly hear---let alone be woken. GOSH DARN IT! Slamming my fist against the resistance-less snow doesn't help, but I do it any way. So frustrated and exhausted that these childish impulses feel totally justified and cathartic. Grabbing a wad of snow, I pack it and hurl the ball up the hill in disgust.
The frozen projectile lands short of the house by about 20 feet. Huh, not bad. I pack another and repeat the game. Closer that time! My third shot is wide.
Artillery production begins as I line up my newly manufactured white cannon balls. Not top of the line in this fresh fallen snow. A bit powdery, but I'm banking on those years of pitching little league to compensate. After 8 or so attempts, I finally land a shot. The cabin up ahead is a nebulous target in the dark, but my scatter plot precision is narrowing. I'm honing in my spread. After landing 5 successful blows on the little house (that would feature excellently on syrup labels), I ready my next shot. As the snowball departs kyle's glove, I hear a pop in my side and a new rush of pain rocks my entire frame. I find myself let out a yelping, “Eeeeyaaahh,” as I curl in on the anguish.

Two minutes pass. I lie motionlessly--wracked in bone shaking agony. Then the sweetest, most timid voice pipes through the wind.

H-hello?...A-any-one out here? You...b-better watch out. I took karate w-when I was like 10 so, so whatever you are, you'd bes..
I try to answer the faceless voice, but my words swell, choke, and dissolve before they form anything coherent. The invisible stranger strikes up again. This time she casts a little more sass and an inexplicable Ghost Busters reference. I cough quietly and then manage a stammering appeal.

“mmmmpft. Help....please...”


Oh glory, whoever you are please hurry. Please---find me faster. There must be a rift in the space time continuum because cold molasses runs faster than these seconds. Our horrible game of echo-location finally concludes, and I hear the soft voice above me murmur.

Shit.

The panic that had gripped me earlier has caught hold of her. She erupts in a slur of panicked curses, as I struggle to raise my head to meet her face. And then...and then there she is. The loveliest sight for sore eyes in all the world. Sure I would've been grateful at this point if Jabba the Hutt had found me—and maybe it's the gratitude, pain, or immense relief talking—but here I find I'm confronted with beauty incarnate.
Oh...
Oh crap. Crap, crap. —things are fading and sliding again. My vision is swirling. I'm squinting to keep from blacking out, but ...no I don't want fries with that... Huh? What's that? Calvin Coolidge did not invent kool-aid, did he? Voice sounds come muffled from underwater. Someone is asking me questions. I think I'm answering them.

There--I've agreed to something. Oh hell, oh hell that hurt. Am I moving? It feels like I'm moving. Maybe that's just...yes. Yes, I've always wondered what it would be like to have been born a pinball. Got the instant replay! No, nevermind—ow, oof. Thunder cats, hooo...

------blackness-----

When I come to, everything is a blurry glob. Slowly the angel's face comes into focus. Features sharpening into view a bit at a time. Still beautiful. Sure an objective observer might rate certain features on their own as slightly flawed, but to me they draw together to form a perfectly imperfect angel. She's speaking kindly and looks concerned as she dabs my forehead. That smarts a little, but it's nothing compared with everywhere else.

These concussion-test questions are easy-peasy. Peter parker picked purposefully. Ugh. Consciousness is overrated---and so is superman.
______________________________________________

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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