More Than You Think You Are part two
I didn’t remember falling asleep. I only knew that one minute I was staring at the ceiling, looking forward to fruit juice, and then I was back in that red and black world of smoke and pain and screaming…
I came back to myself thrashing at the bedclothes with a nurse holding down my arms, saying, “Wake up, now. Come on, you’ll hurt yourself in a moment…”
“Wha-fuck?” I tasted blood and burning, and started coughing, even as I realized mentally that I was safe, that there was no fire, no one dying beside me in a haze of red and—
“Oh, shit!” I fell back on the bed and felt tears well up in my eyes. I knew there had been someone else in the car. I reached up and caught the nurse’s arms in a fevered clutch, and suddenly the fear I knew had to be on my face was transferred to hers.
“Tell me! Was anyone else brought in with me?”
“What? No! Let go!” She tried to shake my grip, but I held on like a drowning man and she was a life preserver. I couldn’t get the image out of my head, but I couldn’t bring it into focus either. I only knew there was someone there in the smoke and the flames with me, and now he—she—I didn’t know which—that person wasn’t here, and I was, and I felt like it might be my fault.
“Are you sure?” I demanded. “What about the car? I need to find out—I—“ I reversed myself and pushed her away, and she stumbled, nearly fell, and then we were almost wrestling as I tried to get out of the bed and she tried to force me back.
“If you don’t calm down,” she declared, “I’ll have to have you sedated. And restraints brought in.”
“Listen to me!” I was shouting now, and she flinched from the volume but I couldn’t help myself. “Find someone—find the people who brought me in here—I’ve got to know, dammit!”
Either I was weaker than I thought, or my dramatics had greatly increased the nurse’s adrenaline levels, and I felt myself shoved hard back down on the bed. She glared, and in that moment I was afraid of her, and hated her, and I wanted Constance and orange juice almost more than I wanted—needed—to know who—
When I didn’t push back against her hands as she held me pinned to the bed, the anger in her eyes turned first to suspicion, and then, as I continued to stare at her beseechingly and not fight her, suspicion gave way to something kinder, though no less controlling.
“If you can stay calm, sir, I can see what I can do for you. It’s been some time since you were first admitted, so it will take a while to get that information for you.”
“Define ‘some time’,” I muttered bitterly, and at first I didn’t think she even heard me. She fussed with the linens, treating blanket and sheets like restraints as she pulled them up over my chest. A quick check of the IV and she determined that I hadn’t damaged either the equipment, or myself and then she gave me a professional pat and a neutral look.
Before I could respond, she had turned and was out the door.
“Two weeks? Christ….” I don’t think I even realized I was speaking out loud, and I only noticed the tears when the door wouldn’t stay in focus.
I waited patiently through a doctor’s exam, less patiently through a nurse’s offer of water and juice, discovered patience again when I got a glass of ginger ale that both cooled my throat and settled my stomach, then settled for frowning impatience that wore me out. Not enough to sleep, mind you; that would have made the waiting easier. No, this felt like I’d run a marathon, possibly carrying a refrigerator every mile. I ached with fatigue, though I’d done nothing more strenuous than dream.
The last rays of sunlight were slipping through the blinds, and I had turned on the light above the bed to read some banal entertainment magazine that my ginger-ale bearing nurse had offered me.
Britney Spears was at the top of her game, apparently, and then there was a knock on the door, and I jumped a little.
The kid who walked into the room looked young enough for high school, I thought. It might have been his slender build, or it might have been the fine blonde hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. But the paramedic gear he was sporting suggested he’d done a bit better than the eleventh grade, and there was a cool business-like confidence in him that contrasted sharply with the hipshot, JD-cruising-school-halls gait he had as he approached the bed.
As he moved closer, I watched with something like admiration, and then mentally chastised myself even as I was having a bit of a personal revelation.
“Dude, you look like crap,” he told me, smiling as he said it and holding out his hand. I found myself reaching out without thinking; his hand was warm, his handshake professional.
“Of course,” he continued, “’crap’ is about a thousand times better than that ‘death on toast’ look you were sporting when we first brought you in.”
Suddenly, I recognized his voice.
“We’ve got a live one here,” I muttered thickly, and the paramedic managed to look both pleased and embarrassed.
“Wow, great memory,” he said.
“Uh, not so much,” I replied.
“Well, it’s a start.” He was stubbornly optimistic and I found myself answering his infectious grin with one of my own, albeit a shade weaker.
“I’m Trace, “ he said. “Nurse Ratchet tells me you were wondering about, you know, uh, what happened.” He looked a little less sunny at that prospect, but whether it was because of the information he had, or the nurse in question, I couldn’t say. And a moment later he was summoning up another smile.
“Car accident,” I said quietly. “That much I know.”
“Yeah, helluva wreck,” he confirmed sadly. Unhappiness clung briefly, and then he was shaking it off like a puppy jumping out of a tub. His shifting emotions were almost making me dizzy. “But hey, you’re okay now, right?”
“Well, I’m working on it,” I told him. “But I need to know what happened.” I gazed at him with a sick feeling in my stomach that no amount of sunny grins or handsome features on his part was going to quell. “Was there someone else brought in with me?” I had lowered my voice without meaning to, and he leaned closer to hear me; I could smell his aftershave, and something smoky underneath.
“No,” he replied immediately. Then a pause, and “but there was…” And his voice trailed off.
I clutched at his sleeve, feeling a headache starting to knock at my skull as those weird, shifting hues of red started firing up in my mind again.
“Tell me,” I implored.
“Are you sure, dude? I mean, uh, you’re looking a little green…”
“I want the truth,” I told him flatly, and my stomach did another slow roll as a queer sense of déjà vu stole over me. “The truth…” I repeated softly.
“There was, uh—“
“Another car?” I asked, cutting off what I suspected he was going to say.
“No,” he replied quickly and earnestly. “It—uh—looked like a single vehicle accident. Maybe road conditions…”
I tried to remember rain, or ice, or even an unlucky moose, but all that came to mind was bright light, a horrible screeching noise, and then red—
“Most of the car was wrapped around a tree; and on fire.”
He must have seen something in my eyes, because he immediately looked contrite and gave my arm a clumsy pat.
“Aw, shit, man, I’m sorry; I’m wigging you out. I should—“
“No,” I shook my head vehemently. “No wigging. Just tell me.”
He gave me a skeptical look. Wondering how much the guy in the hospital bed with the IV and no recollection of his own name could take, I suppose. And then he gave it to me in a steady practiced speaking voice, and I didn’t dare interrupt.
“The fire was pretty much out when we arrived on the scene; localized, it hadn’t done much but smolder a few of the surrounding trees—someone had called in the site as they were driving by, I guess. Cell phones and driving, not always of the good, but in this case…anyway, it was hot, and we had some toxic fumes—paint, electrical stuff frying, the usual. Masks take care of it.”
The smoke smell was growing, tickling my throat and making me want to cough, even though my mind knew I was breathing clean if recycled air in an antiseptic hospital room.
“First approach, and we could see someone in the car, although we were pretty sure we weren’t going to be much help—a shitty call, but still part of the job. So we’re trying to see how we’re going to get the body out, it being all tree-crushed and blocked, and my partner, he’s calling for the F.D. guys, for some equipment, you know, and I look in the front window.” He took a breath, seemed to be evaluating how I was reacting to his words, and then continued. “Windshield was starred, of course, but I got up close.
“I could see a body then. Still seat belted, for all the good it did, but turned in the belt towards the driver’s side. Arms extended, which is rare for a burn victim. No driver, though. That’s when I was able to determine that the window was smashed out on the driver’s side.
I think I melted my boots a little running around to the other side of the car. You have to understand the smoke was still pretty thick, and when you get a fire that intense and localized, it stays hot long after the flames are out.”
I coughed a little, then, and my skin started to feel warm. But I couldn’t tell him to stop now.
“Nearly missed you at first. Typical road crap under and around the car, and it looked like maybe you rolled under it—turning over or something? Anyway, most of you was under the wreck, but I saw your hand….and then I saw your hand move.”
He tried to give me a strong ‘and we saved the day—and you’ look, but I knew we were both thinking about that other body—that other person.
“As far as I can tell, your passenger pushed you out of the car. Probably saved your life.”
Something caught me then; the bright light was back, like the fluorescents were starting to catch on fire, growing brighter and brighter, and I could feel myself bringing my arms up to shield myself from that light, knowing it wasn’t going to help, but unable to stop myself. And then came the scream, and another one, and I could feel heat, burning, and hands on me.
“Dude? Shit!” I heard dimly, and then a woman calling out for help, crying and choking, and I was choking too, and shards of burning glass were cutting into my skin.
And then I was Alice, back down the rabbit hole for another extended holiday….
End part two