There was light, and it didn’t hurt. Maybe if she didn’t move, nothing else would hurt either.
No luck. The head wasn’t throbbing, but it held a background ache that made Persephone afraid to move. She breathed. The air was cool, but not chilling. It smelled stale and powdery. Nausea grumbled through her midsection and limbs. How could an arm or leg feel nauseous?
Persephone licked her lips and swallowed. The inside of her mouth felt dry. Her tongue dragged against her palate and teeth, against the inside of her cheeks. Was that called membrane? She couldn’t bring herself to think of it as a membrane. That sounded like something that was being removed during surgery or autopsy. It was the inside of her cheek. She arched her tongue to try to draw saliva. It felt like work, but it needed to be done.
She must be weak if moving her tongue was heavy going. She swallowed, sucked to get more moisture moving. It was working. It was going to work. She swallowed again. Almost normal now. Warm and smooth. You don’t think of the inside of your mouth being wet until it’s not. That draws your notice pretty fast.
Her mouth felt better. Not as sore as before she slept. She pressed her teeth together. A wrongness shot up from her teeth to the top of her head. It was focused just behind her right eye. There was probably a bump there. It felt stiff and sore. Maybe there was a bruise, too. She ran her tongue – no loose teeth. That was good. She hated going to the dentist. Concussions were no thrill either, but it didn’t look like she was going to be going anywhere for this one. The thought of trying to go anywhere was a wearying one, and she stopped thinking it.
Bathroom? Did she need to go to the bathroom? No. At least not soon. Good. The light wasn’t hurting her eyes, the inside of her mouth was mostly normal, and she didn’t have to get up to go to the bathroom soon. Should she take further stock of herself? Should she take further stock of the area around her? Should she try to contact anyone? Fear came with the last thought, so she let that go. She gave herself permission to just relax for a bit.
She fell back asleep.
There was still light when she woke again, but it seemed dimmer. How soon would it be dark again? She had no idea how long she had been asleep. She might have slept. Water in and water out. She should take care of that while it was light. Assuming she could move. She hadn’t yet. That was odd. Usually laying in the same position for a long time was painful. Not that she wasn’t in pain, but she really didn’t feel like moving.
Start with the feet. She flexed both feet, and one was stiff and partly numb. She flexed some more and could guess that the stiff one was outside of the blankets. So it was cold. Why didn’t it feel cold? Interference? What was that phrase? It would come. Something like burning.
She moved the feet some more, then shifted the legs. Her stomach didn’t appreciate it, and her bladder twinged. Next step. Don’t think. The light may be going. Unless it’s morning again, and the light will get brighter. Better not to assume. Assume the worst, or at least the inconvenient.
Assume that the light is going. Assume you need to move and find the water again. Assume that there’s something out there to find that will improve things. Aspirin might help. A real toilet. A mattress. The water. She flexed her hands and rediscovered the stiffness in her left hand. She flexed her arms. The arms were OK. She used her right arm to lever herself up.
Sitting up made her dizzy, but she knew to expect that. Something about the blood pressure dropping when you became more erect. It would be worse again when she stood, assuming she got that far. She waited to equalize. It happened. Her vision was doing okay. She tilted her head. Pain lanced though her cheekbone. She stopped, a tear leaking from one eye.
Right hand to the nape of the neck. Straighten the neck with its help. Wait. The pain echoed into the distance. Note to self. Don’t do that again. Persephone turned her head, gingerly, from side to side. Her neck was a little sore on the right side, but it she didn’t push it, it didn’t get too vengeful.
Right hand to the ground and shift onto the knees. That right hand and arm are coming in handy. Handy arm. Handy. Handy. Shift. Rise up on knees. How dizzy? Not too bad. Nausea. Sick. Had she been sick? Persephone looked around. The 3-ring binder had been pushed a few feet from the blankets and on the other side of it was a yellowish stickiness. I guess there was much heaving with little effect. Maybe I threw up the shot again. More likely it was bile.
She felt her abdomen heave in sympathy to the idea of heaving bile. To fight it she moved, trying to find a position that felt like a good one for standing. Did she hit the binder? Don’t want to know. Don’t look. Deal with it later. Stand.
Persephone stood. The blanket fell away. She shivered a little, but it wasn’t really cold. It was just that she was hurt and needed warmth and support. She swayed, but didn’t feel like she was going to fall over. Try a step. Which foot was stiff? She flexed her knees. Both feet felt usable. She stepped. It went well.
She didn’t seem to have much energy. Make a plan. She walked toward the light. It was farther away than she had expected, but was a bigger opening in the ceiling than she had thought. Was that good? She had to stop and rest a couple of times before she was standing in illumination.
Standing in the light made everything outside the light dark and impenetrable. She stepped back out. There was a stack of milk crates to one side of the light, but nothing else. Well, except for the leaves and twigs and dust. Persephone heard a bird up outside the tunnel.
Is it a tunnel? Let’s assume it is. Remember where the blankets are.
Persephone looked back and could just make out the blankets she had left. Good. Seeing the blankets is good. What else could she see? She walked around the lighted area, looking out into the dark. Was that a desk? Don’t go yet. Keep looking. There were metal cages against a wall on one side. They were empty. In another direction there was a stack of something covered by a tarp. Try the desk, then.
The desk was against another wall. Two walls on opposite sides – that fit with the idea of a tunnel. There was a door in the wall. Persephone couldn’t open it. Later. She couldn’t open the desk, either. There was a suitcase against the wall on the other side of the desk. I was laying flat and at a random angle to anything else nearby. She recognized it. It was hers.
It was an old plastic suitcase. In full light it would be green. She didn’t remember packing it. She knelt. She paused. Kneeling worked. She was no dizzier than she had been. She reached out and rediscovered the fact that her left hand was stiff and sore. That would be embarrassing if I wasn’t too filled up with pain and tired to, what was the word, something like value. Something like a hug. I’ll think of it later. The eyesight came back, the words will too. And the phrase . . . counter irritant. That was it.
The locks on the suitcase were open. Persephone lifted the lid. She hadn’t packed this. This was the way that her father packed a suitcase. He had a superior memory and a superior method of packing. She could get more in, but he had things arranged to be used. That was superior. To hear him say it, at least.
Layers. That was the way to fight the cold. And it would be cold again. She thought about dragging the suitcase into the light, but the thought made her weary. It was light enough here for her to see, if these were her things. It was dim, but she knew her own things. She slid her hand into the space between the neat stacks and rifled, pulled out a t-shirt and a Hawaiian shirt and a zip-up hoody. She pulled off her sweats top and redressed. It took a little longer than expected, but not as long as she had feared.
There didn’t seem to be more than one set of pants and they were heavy jeans. Dad saw jeans as a week-long thing. The upper half of the clam of the suitcase was filled with dresses, skirts and a ruffled blouse. Not useful.
Persephone checked the zip-compartments in the sides. Toiletries, underwear, socks. Ah. There. Leg warmers.. Persephone sat on the desk and took off the sweat bottoms. She put on the leg warmers and a new pair of socks, fuzzy ones. There must be a skirt that would fit over those. Then she’d be covered, but it would be easy to go to the bathroom, especially in the dark while she was hurting.
Yes, one of the skirts was a double thickness knit that came down to her knees. It actually was as grey as it looked in the dim light. It was old and stretched out, but would work nicely as hospital gear. She slid it on over her head and settled it onto her waist. If she was cold, she could wrap a blanket around her.
Her vision darkened and shifted. She closed her eyes. When she opened her eyes, her vision was back, but the light was dimmer. Get water. Where was the water? Persephone walked back to the light, then turned and walked back to the blankets. Did she have the strength for more? It didn’t feel like it, but dehydration was a bad thing. Falling down in the dark and sleeping on cold concrete was bad, too. Have to decide.
She walked beyond the blankets. It was getting darker and darker the farther she went away from her atrium. Her atrium. Her desk. Her bed. Her drain. She was walking blind, now. She shuffled and waved her hands in front of her. It felt like calisthenics. Eventually, she touched a crate. She felt grateful that she hit it with her hand instead of her foot, and that it didn’t hurt. It was the crates with the pouches. She took one to check out. The water crates were to the left. She pulled three bottles out, hugged them to her chest, with the pouch.
Turn toward the light. Persephone half smiled. You told people with head injuries not to go toward the light. At least you did that in certain kinds of novels. If the light came with surcease from pain, it would be hard to turn away at the moment. Persephone dropped a bottle. Left it lie. She shuffled back to the blankets. Dropped the bottles and pouch by the blanket. Not near the binder. She wanted to drop down on the blankets but forced herself to plan ahead just a little more. She shuffled, trying to remember where the drain was.
Her head began to throb as her strength waned. No. She had gotten ready for this. Find the drain. There it was. She gathered her skirt up in a bunch and crouched. She wasn’t sure that she hit the drain, but would deal with that later. She shuffled back toward the blankets and discovered, when she arrived at them, that she needed to release her skirt to empty her hands. She picked up the top blanket and toed the bottom one into person shape.
She lowered herself to her knees, positioned herself and laid down. She was down now. She hadn’t passed out. She was laying down. Oh, yeah. The water. She felt around. One of the bottles was near enough to grab. She’d have to sit up to drink it, though. She was tired. So tired. She’d drink later. Was that dangerous? Maybe. But she had gone past where she wanted to rest three times already. Three times? She’d count up later. If she had an IV and a catheter she could sleep until she was well. She’d make a mental note to wake up and drink water. She’d do that.
It was getting dark. Was that her eyesight again? Was that dangerous? She’d find out later. Or not. Depending.
Care. That was the word. Like value and like a hug. She’d care later. She would.
It was dark when she woke up again. Her mouth was dry. It was cold, but there was a cocoon of warmth in the blanket. Even her feet were warm. She flexed her feet. She could feel them both equally. Good.
Dry mouth. There was water near the blanket. She had worked to bring the water. It was there for her. She felt around. Found it.
Now. Could she sit up? Did she want to? Not really. But her mouth was dry. Remember the left hand is sore. Put down the bottle. Lift up with the right hand. Good. Sitting. Drink. One mouthful. Swallowing was hard with a dry mouth. Half a mouthful next. Swish it around. Stop. Wait. Swish some more. Swallow. Better.
She drank in slow sips, sitting in the dark. There was a rustling overhead. Owls were quiet. Maybe a bat. Bats were okay. She kept sipping. How long should she drink. She swirled the bottle. It still seemed mostly full. How big was the bottle. Could she estimate a proper amount to drink. It was biggish. Maybe 32 ounces. Eight ounces was one serving of water. But she hadn’t been drinking enough for . . . how long?
Say a third to half of the bottle is more than enough. Unless it feels like I’m going to throw up. Does it feel like that? A little. Go slow. Slowly. Think of something else. Counter irritant. Care. I care about getting enough water. I care about throwing up. I care about making a mess. I don’t want to think too far ahead because thinking hurts. Next sip. Keep sipping.
Thinking calls up fear, too. Fear takes more energy than I have. The pain will go away eventually. Sip. Swish. Not a third yet. I don’t want to deal with the fear but I’ll be able to eventually. Sip. Fear is the little death. Sip. Where did that come from? It came from somewhere. Sip. Swirl. Almost enough.
No more rustling. Sip. Getting cold. Need to tuck the blanket around me better. It’s sagging off of one shoulder and letting the warm out. Sip. Wiggle toes. The socks are still on. Feet are a little cold. That always happens when we’re camping. Other people just don’t know. Where had that come from. Sip. Tears came, warm on her cheeks. Not many. Sip. Good. Dehydration was a bad thing. Counter irritant. Care. Suitcase by desk. Atrium. Birds. Camping. Concussion. There are three bottles of water and a pouch of something. Sip. Swirl. Enough. Where’s the lid. In the hand. Thread it. Try again. Still dark.
Persephone cuddled the blankets around her. This time she folded some of the lower blanket into something like a pillow. She curled into a grub shape and thought of camp fires. Camp fires show in the dark from a great deal off. And out in the quiet, you can hear the voices around the fire from a great deal off. You can hear laughter and songs, or stories or conversations or arguments. She drifted away, trying to remember the words of an old Girl Scout song. Something about giving me a rose in the wintertime. It was a warm song.
Persephone drifted off. Later she dreamt of a used car salesman trying to sell her a puffy looking car that was lipstick red on the outside and white on the inside. She heard her father’s voice saying “he’s a weasel.” And he did look a little like a cartoon weasel. She knew that the inside of the car only looked white and new because it had been coated with shoe polish. If she sat in it, it would crack and rub off on her.