Have you ever run into an epic storm, been injured, and awakened in a strange place? A lot of folks experience confusion when reality finds them in a hospital, but Chris’s medical aid is not what you would expect.Riding Lightning
A lightning flash followed by the earsplitting sound of an exploding electrical transformer jolted Chris from her slumber. Now, bolt upright in the passenger bucket seat of the one-ton Ram crew cab, she turned toward the driver. “Where are we?”
“Damned if I know,” her gray-haired boss growled in frustration. “I can’t see a worth spit in this deluge. We may have missed our turn off. The GPS is worthless, and all I can get is static on the CB.”
Chris gave her iPhone a try. “No cell reception either! Can’t we stop until the storm eases up?”
“Don’t you think I would if I could find a spot to pull this rig off the road?” He had to shout to be heard over the thunderstorm and the CB static. “See if you can raise someone on that thing. Could be there is a place close by that we can put up for awhile.”
Chris unbuckled her seat belt to reach the unit, which was positioned closer to the driver’s side, and was occupied checking the bands most used by truckers when she heard Mr. Russell curse. She glanced up, but could barely discern the red hood of the pickup, let alone the road in front of it. Then a flash of lightning revealed a semi coming toward them. It was straddling the centerline, or where she estimated it should be. The driver of the oncoming eighteen-wheeler corrected his path at the last moment to avoid a head on collision.
The monstrous vehicle missed the cab, but ripped the side of horse trailer open. Above the sounds of the storm, crashing metal, and shattering glass she heard the screams of the three horses they were hauling. Then she was tumbling through the air. Chris felt an excruciating pain knife through her head as she impacted with a hard rocky surface.
It was difficult to determine the passage of time as she dialed back into reality. Pain was playing around the edges of her slowly functioning mind. How long had she lain in the rain? The fog was lifting from her mental process, but the downpour obstructed her vision. Still groggy, she attempted a sitting position only to fall onto her back. She made a valiant effort to call out to her companions, but nearly choked on the persistent rain. She slowly rolled onto her side and called out again, but her vocal cords refused to co-operate.
Chris couldn’t hear a thing other than the raging storm. Thunder echoed in her throbbing head. She felt warm breath on her face and in her ear. Someone was checking her out, but she couldn’t hear a voice.
Frustrated with her lack of response, he nudged her back. She groaned, so he stepped back, and waited for her to acknowledge him. She rolled onto her back, once more. Still, Chris had failed to speak to him, so he nudged her shoulder a bit harder. She screamed in pain; her eyes flew open. She had startled him. Backing away, he kept a watchful eye on her,
Chris was challenged to focus on the immediate area; it was very dark. She wondered if night was falling or it was the total lack of sunlight. Someone was out there, but she was unable to see. She figured since she was able to shriek like a banshee, she could try calling out once more. “Who’s There?” No reply. “Mr. Russell? Karen?”
Hesitant footsteps crunched over the rock-strewn ground; a twig snapped under his weight. Chris’s nerves were raw. She could feel his presence, but he kept silent. Suddenly, lightning lit up the darkness to reveal his huge form standing over her; another flash allowed her to see his big brown eyes as he kept his vigil. Her left arm was closest to him, but it hurt like hell and was essentially useless. She spoke to him in a calm voice. “Was that bump to my left shoulder really necessary?” She reached out with her right hand, slowly, so she wouldn’t startle him again.
He responded to her outstretched hand. When Chris made the connection he pulled her to her feet. The pain as he hauled her to a standing position threatened to return her to the void she had so recently escaped. She wrapped her good arm around his neck and leaned against his muscular chest; the move kept her from falling flat on her face. She feared losing consciousness, figuring that if she did she would never wake up. He stood, patiently, waiting to see what she would require of him.
“Well, handsome, let’s see if you and I can locate the others.” Each step was torture, but the fear of the others being in worse shape drove her on. She picked her way toward where she thought the road should be located. Flashlights and headlights lit the mangled remains of their rig.
When they’d started the short, but painful walk back toward the scene of the wreck he’d walked with her, and allowed her to use his body to support herself. Chris felt him hesitate. The odor of burnt tires, spilled diesel, and blood caused them both to momentarily lose sight of their purpose. They resumed the small climb back up to the highway when a huge sphere of lightning struck sending a charge through them both.
The storm had eased to a light rain as dawn broke. Boomer scanned the immediate area. He was hungry and thirsty, but he didn’t want to leave Chris. She was sprawled at his feet quiet and unmoving, but he sensed that she was alive. He was still standing guard when she, finally, opened her eyes. They heard voices. He waited to see if she would call out, but when she didn’t he remained silent. He was more focused on the dog-like creatures skulking in the trees below them.
Chris listened to the unfamiliar dialect as the voices drew nearer. She couldn’t find the strength to call for help, and prayed Boomer would do something to attract their attention.
“Don ́ think those folks are from these parts, Billy Jo.” The voice sounded young, to Chris—perhaps a teenage boy.
“Na, Travis. ‘Taint seen ́em ́afore.” The second person sounded much younger, and Chris was having trouble following his speech pattern. Then, it became eerily quiet.
Travis winced as he passed by the broken remains of the man and woman in the road; the horses were ripped open, and it appeared wolves had been at all of them. Their belongings were strewn over the road and the side of the mountain below it.
“Ana ́ thin ́ good?” Billy Jo inquired as he spotted some interesting debris further off the road.
“Not much. Some blankets, pots, an ́ a stick or two of furniture that ain’t busted. The rest is kindlin ́—Billy Jo, hold up, don’t go off on your own.”
Furniture? What furniture? Chris couldn’t figure out that comment, unless the truck that hit them had been a moving van, but her memory was vague about the rain-shrouded truck. The last clear memory she had, before dozing off, was the detour on I-40. Traffic had been rerouted, and she never got the chance to ask Mr. Russell if they had made it to I-75 before the accident. She listened to the boys argue, as they drew closer.
Billy Jo ignored his brother’s warning. “Trav! Somfins ́ stirin ́down yonder.” Chris could here the mud and rocks moving as the boy hurried toward them. She feared they would all be buried beneath a rockslide. Boomer snorted at the careless boy. Travis was in hot pursuit of his reckless little brother. He skidded to a stop, raised his rifle, then lowered it, and stood as transfixed as his brother.
Before them stood a beautiful blood bay stallion. Large blotches of mud covered his hide, but where the rain had washed it away his coat glistened in the morning sunlight. He stood his ground while he assessed the threat level of the new arrivals. Travis was doing much the same. He had seen plenty of horses; they were prevalent on the farms and plantations before the war, but he’d never encountered one like this. The horse was unusually marked: no leg markings, a star dead center of his forehead, and his eyes were ringed with white. The white around his eyes would have been enough to unnerve most grown men. It was common knowledge when you could see the white of a horse’s eyes you had trouble. They were either terrified or mean as hell, but this one only stood watching them. Travis heard a soft groan. The horse responded by lowering his head to inspect the limp form in front of his mud-covered hooves. A hand reached out to stroke his muzzle; he nickered softly, and then looked at the boys again.
Boomer backed away as the boys approached Chris, but watched them closely for any sign of trickery. The older boy bent down and leaned over Chris.
The person on the ground was small—not much larger than Billy Jo—and covered in mud. It was obvious to Travis, based on the trousers, short hair, and strange-looking puffy vest, the injured person was a young male of indeterminate age. “Can you move?”
“No,” came the hoarse reply. “The others?”
“All dead,” he replied to the frantic question, as if it was an everyday occurrence to run across dead bodies scattered on the road.
“I think lightning hit me last night, and I can’t seem to move. My arm hurts, and my head feels like it is going to explode.”
Travis sent Billy Jo home on the old mule, they’d ridden to the scene of the wreck, to fetch their mother. “Go get Maw and the wagon. Looks like he’s hurt pretty bad.”
Travis was trying to figure out the strange question. Then the horse stepped forward a few steps. Maybe that was the horse’s name. Travis was afraid to move the injured person, and didn’t know how to render aid. So he sat next to the prone figure and talked. “Is Boomer the stallion’s name?”
“Is he injured?” Boomer was supporting her when she felt the charge flow through her.
“A few scrapes, bout all. The horse belong to you?” No answer. Travis examined the stranger’s face. The eyes were closed, and he was barely breathing. He wondered, for the first time, whether he should have sent his brother to fetch their mother; the stranger would probably be dead before they could come with the wagon. He scrutinized the strange markings on the horse that stood watching his every move. For the first time he noticed the white frosting on his hips. “You’re a strange lookin ́ nag! Put together nice, ́cept for those danged scary white-rimmed eyes. Could still be able to get a good price for you, if your friend goes on to meet the maker.”
Chris awoke in a strange bed, totally disoriented, and only vaguely able to recall the accident. Everything else was a jumble of nightmares and hallucinations. She scanned the dimly lit, sparsely decorated, room. Considering her battered condition, splitting headache, and the pain shooting through her left arm, a hospital was the most likely scenario.
On her next waking, Chris deleted any thought of having made it to a hospital or clinic. Well, I’m not dead she thought. She didn’t figure dead people felt the immense pain that wracked her entire body. She’d heard there were places in the Smokeys where time seemed to have stood still, but this room was extremely backwoods, and didn’t bode well for her level of care. To top everything off, she didn’t recall where her identification and medical cards were. Probably in her handbag, which had been in the cab of the pickup last she could recall seeing it.
“Good morning!” a cheerful voice greeted Chris, its owner tied back the thick drapes.
Chris squinted at the sudden intrusion of sunlight. “Good morning.” Her voice sounded as painful and raspy as it felt.
The woman halted midway across the room and looked at her askance, before hustling to close the door. Her bright warm smile had turned into a worried frown as she approached the bed; she seated her large frame on the side of the bed, and patted Chris’s hand. Then she proceeded to place her other hand on Chris’s forehead. “Fever is gone.”
Her nurse was comforting, and Chris hoped she would answer some of her most urgent questions. “Where am I?”
“You don’t know?”
“No. I can’t remember much after the accident.”
Her mocha complexion deepened as a frown increased the worried expression in her dark eyes. “Folks here bouts call me Hester. You remember your name?”
“Chris.” Her name came out weak, barely above a whisper.
“Child, tell me you ain’t a Yankee!”
“Does it matter?”
The folks in this here house don’t take kindly to Yankees. They’d like as not throw you back down the mountain.”
Chris filed away Hester’s reference to a house, not a hospital or clinic. “Terrific! Just what I need at the moment—people who don’t know that stupid war ended a long time ago.” Chris sighed deeply and closed her eyes against the pain behind them.
“Tell me, Little Miss Yankee, who won our stupid war?”
Chris’s eyes popped open to the sight of a tall, lean, blonde woman standing in the doorway. She was austere. Her hair was tied back in a tight bun, and her high necked long cotton dress was covered by an off-white bib apron. The forty something newcomer appeared to have stepped out of another century. Chris wondered if the person who was standing at the foot of the bed, peering at her with the intense blue eyes, also wore bloomers.
“I take it you aren’t willing to share the outcome with us?”
Oh boy, she thought, how do I answer that? “I’m sorry,” She choked out, “what did you ask?”
“Who won?” Her voice turned more hostile.
“No one.” Chris felt that imparting the outcome to this woman was not in her best interest.
The newcomer stood glaring down at Chris. Then the frightening woman crossed her arms and struck a more menacing pose. “You telling me the war comes down to a draw?”
“No, I only meant no one ever wins in something so destructive.”
“Hester, fix our guest some broth.”
Chris noticed the subservient way Hester curtseyed to the other woman. “Yes ́um.”
“And Hester, not a word about our guest being a Yankee.”
Hester nodded, and gave Chris an encouraging smile before retreating and closing the door behind her. Chris felt like Dorothy in the presence of the Wicked Witch of the West.
“Do you feel up to some conversation?”
More like some interrogation Chris thought, but maybe her interrogator could also supply some information. “I suppose so. How long have I been here?”
“You’ve been flat on your back since Travis, Billy Jo, and I carted you home four days ago,”
“We buried what the wolves left.” Tears rolling down Chris’s face onto the pillow that cradled her head prompted the next inquiry. “Were those folks your kin?”
Chris struggled to control her voice. “No. I worked for them. They were good friends,”
The older woman eyed the frail girl skeptically. Perhaps she was an indentured servant. “Where were y’all going?”
Chris struggled to rid her mind of her grief, and control the increasing pain within her body. Thinking and talking were fast eluding her, but she attempted to answer. “Home.”
“Where were you coming from?”
Chris made one last attempt to comply with her inquisitor “Raleigh, North Caro….” Her voice faded as she lost consciousness.
Hester tended Chris. She fed her, bathed her, saw to the changing of her bedclothes, and even helped her relieve herself. Chris found the whole process extremely embarrassing, but Hester seemed to enjoy her assigned tasks and brief conversations with her patient.
Hester’s hefty, big-bosomed, form and sunny disposition were an immense comfort to Chris. Her nurse was the one constant as she drifted between murky oblivion and moments of clarity.
She had more lengthy visits with Hester, and vaguely recalled return visits from the scary blonde woman. Her surroundings continued to confuse her, but her nurse dismissed her disorientation as due to the effects of the laudanum that the sawbones who’d set her arm had prescribed. Hester’s reference to the doctor as a sawbones didn’t do a lot to relieve her patient’s mind.
Somewhere between worlds Chris began to have horrendous nightmares. Whenever she was alone during her wakeful periods, she would try to piece together what had happened.