ALPHA

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Chapter 20: Rescue & Reality


WITHIN MINUTES… OR SO IT FEELS….

…the helicopter lands on the roof of a hospital.

I’ve never known this to be possible – but I guess I’ve never been flown in for emergency medical attention before. In the back of my sluggish, foggy brain, I know we’re still in B.C; yet there’s something in me that holds on to the idea I’ll be seeing my parents any minute.

Doctors and nurses lay me on a stretcher – fasten me down with Velcro so I’m secure – and begin wheeling me into the building and through multiple halls as they talk amongst themselves about my vitals, stats, and injuries. I think that they’re really going overboard, but my lack of responses to them makes it hard to communicate that yes, I’m fine, and really, I’m fine.

But actually… I don’t feel fine. There’s a stomach-turning feeling of dread and nausea now that I’ve come face to face with what I’ve been avoiding this whole time. Like before, I can barely think about Dax for more than two seconds before a part of my brain refuses to cooperate. I don’t want to believe he’s gone – I don’t want to believe that I’m responsible…

After I’m rushed through wing after wing, I’m finally parked in front of a desk while a tall, beardless, male nurse sets up a bag of intravenous fluids. Another helps transfer me from the stretcher to a hospital bed and then, with the sharp prick of a needle, I’m woozy.

The face of the male nurse is blurry as he leans in and asks me all sorts of questions.

What’s my name? Am I alright? Is there anyone he can contact?

I don’t know what to do or where to begin and time is going so fast – I need to slow it down. I need—

“A watch,” I scream. “Get me a watch!”

All of the staff look at me like I’m crazy before an attending doctor gestures at me with a tablet in one hand and shouts at the nurse. “For God’s sake, Hill, give him two milligrams of Naropin.”

My nurse – badge indicating the last name Hill – scrambles to administer the dose quick enough and attempts to soothe me as the hospital bed lurches forwards in motion. I hate it… it reminds me of the sensation of that sled – being dragged in a mindless stupor…

Then the slim point of a new needle stabs into the swollen tissue surrounding my leg wound and I sit up with a wince.

“There you go, this’ll get you breathing…”

I don’t understand what Hill is talking about until he’s pointed out how I’m wheezing. Though, before I can panic even more about the fact that I didn’t know I was panicking to begin with, the drug kicks in.

Enduring tremendous amounts of chronic pain without painkillers makes it so that once they take effect, it’s like I’m melting. The muscles in my body relax – I feel the tension in my leg ease up and my throat loosen. Things feel manageable.

But I’m still focused on one thought; one constant.

“Wh-what time is it?” I ask, though I’m not sure if my tongue is cooperating very well. It suddenly feels very puffy and large…

“Uh…” Hill glances at a beeper he’s carrying. “Eight o’five.”

My mind reels with this information; it’s too much on top of everything. It’s like being told that I’ve travelled ten years in the future; this is a reality I’m not used to and all of it is just so awful.

The doctor interrupts, shining a small light into my eyes.

“Young man I understand you are in shock but we need you to answer some questions. Just nod yes or no.”

I pull back from the flashlight – reminded of Wyatt’s on the night we met.

“Can you hear me?”

I nod slowly because it’s the least I can do – and there’s a pleasant, numbing rush of painkillers to my head that take away an ache I’m not even sure I knew was there to begin with. After the doctor removes the light he holds up two fingers and keeps my head steady with his free hand.

“Follow my fingers with your eyes,” he instructs in a way that is – disappointingly – not anything like how Wyatt would say it.

I cooperate anyway. I’m so focused on following his fingers side to side – up and down – that I do not notice the way other staff are inspecting my leg wound.

The doctor invades my space by placing both hands on my head and pressing his fingers gently around my skull.

“Do you feel this?” Nod. “Any pressure?” Shake.

He backs away and consults his tablet, marking a few things off before a different nurse – an older, shorter woman with grey frizzy hair – grabs his attention.

“Doctor, no signs of serious infection.”

“No signs of dehydration either,” the doctor mumbles. His eyes are narrowed suspiciously at me and there’s a violent flipping of my stomach that has my heart pounding like mad all of a sudden. I know what’s coming next. Questions I can’t answer – questions I have to avoid…

“First thing’s first, let’s contact your parents.”

8:18 PM MST

The clock in my hospital room is a life-saver. I am soothed by the slow, progressive ticking that marks each second.

Nurses and hospital staff have surrounded my bed and they work to get me settled. They adjust the IV drip, suspend my leg in a sling so it’s elevated, and apply thick brown goo to the raw gash. It doesn’t hurt at all thanks to the injection of painkillers. It’s hard to feel anything.

Hill left exactly ten minutes ago with my I.D. in one hand and a reluctantly given phone number for my parents in the other.

When he comes back, the doctor is with him and they’re arguing about something in too quiet of a tone to pick up. But as they approach, I know something’s wrong.

“Calix,” the doctor begins. “We’ll be transferring you to the Foothills hospital in Calgary.”

Hill’s jaw drops and he tugs on the white sleeve of the doctor’s lab coat and clears his throat in a way that suggests there are more important things to say.

Heaving a great sigh, the doctor references his tablet; totally emotionally removed from the situation.

“As I understand it, your brother is already undergoing surgery and your parents have requested an immediate transfer—”

“Wait – Daxton?” I ask, totally confused. There’s a nod as the doctor presses buttons on the tablet.

“Since they’re you’re guardians, and seeing that you are in stable—”

I can’t help interrupting again and there’s no Wyatt to stop me. “He’s a-alive…?”

“Yes – and you have been listed as a missing person in Alberta. I am transferring authority to the–”

"My brother?” I say again, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. I stop looking at the doctor and turn my attention back to the capable male nurse. “Isn’t he – wasn’t he…” I swallow the large lump back and force the words through. “I thought he was…dead…”

Hill’s look is sympathetic and even if it’s fake, or practiced, it’s better than nothing. He nods understandably and I’m just more confused than ever.

“He’s in critical condition,” the doctor says bluntly. “Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t as lucky as you.”

It’s like there’s a big dam inside of me. All this time, every single thing about Daxton – including the once indisputable fact that he’s dead – got stuffed to the side and I built a pretty damn good wall around it to keep it all there, in it’s forgettable place.

But now with the news that he’s actually alive – however barely – breaks it.

A flood is released.

I’m not sure what’s happening until strong hands are holding me down and the doctor’s voice is urgently calling for assistance. I can’t feel my limbs as they thrash around and it’s not until Hill is affixing some kind of breathing mask over my face that I calm down a little.

There’s a hundred different unidentifiable, complex emotions coursing through me and with my brain foggier than ever thanks to medication, I don’t really get a chance to sort through any of them.

8:45 PM MST

Male nurse Hill checks up on me.

I’ve been strapped to the hospital bed in complete silence this whole time. Rather than upsetting, the feeling of being restrained is kind of nice. I don’t want to know what else my body will do on its own. First scratching Wyatt’s face to shit, now manic tantrums in the ER.

8:46 PM MST

I consider the fact I might be crazy.

9:13 PM MST

Things are in motion.

I’ve been released from embarrassing straps and am currently enjoying the effect of all the drugs they pumped me with as they wheel me back through the building the way I came.

I struggle to keep up with all of the things they tell me.

Up on the roof I will be airlifted to the hospital where my parents and brother are. Mine is a special case they’re dealing with and I nod mutely at the end of their sentences. In Hospital time, every minute counts, so they need to get me out of here as soon as possible.

Hill walks me through what’s coming next and I appreciate it. He seems to have figured out that I need some kind of secure hold of the future.

“You’ll need to undergo surgery for those stitches,” he says, pointing to my leg. “It’s seriously the most incredible case of extreme survival I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how you did it – it’s awesome and all but your leg requires professional treatment. Those need to come out.”

“Come out?” I repeat blankly. For some reason, the only scary part is that a piece of Wyatt is going to be taken from me.

“Don’t worry,” he says, noticing the look on my face. “It’s a simple procedure.”

“Then what?” I ask, because it’s easy to keep this guy talking. We’re almost out of the building now – I hear the dull roar the air ambulance.

“After you’re stable, you’ll probably have to sign paperwork and field the media. They love a missing person’s story with a happy ending.”

I make a face at the reference to a happy ending. In my eyes, it’s not a very happy ending at all. In fact, I’m sad as fuck about it. It’s supposed to be a good thing that Dax isn’t exactly dead anymore but – the way they made it sound is like he’s not going to make it anyway. This yo-yo effect is messing with me. If he’s not fine, then I’ll have to watch him suffer; I’ll have to endure this unbearable guilt in ways I don’t think are possible…

“I don’t think I can do it,” I comment deliriously.

“You’ve come this far,” Hill encourages brightly as he rushes me outside.

There’s no more talking as everyone works quickly to move me onto a gurney and strap me down. I’m hoisted onto the helicopter and given hearing protection but I don’t remember wearing any on the way here. In fact, I don’t remember anything about the ride and, delightfully, I’m too drugged up to be capable of worrying about that fact.

As they communicate in doctor lingo, my nurse passes me his beeper.

“For the ride,” Hill says. “It’s not a watch but… keep it. I can always go down to administration and get another. Just take things one minute at a time.”

What I feel is close to wonder. I stare at the beeper in surprise like I’ve never known such an object to exist. I turn it in my hands and read the incredibly outdated digital display that shows the time and a variety of alert options.

“Thanks,” I manage – but by the time I’ve said it, Hill is long gone, we’re taking off, and I realize I’m fucking high as hell.

9:34 PM MST

My distorted reality comes to a halt as we arrive at the Foothills Hospital and begin our descent. I pocket the beeper and hope I get to see a clock soon even though I’ve done nothing but watch the time pass on the device. I can’t help how it’s comforting, familiar and constant – my useless brain can only handle one thing at a time.

I’m ripped back into time that is moving at the speed of sound.

Staff work to unload me from the helicopter and roll me forwards.

Then, suddenly, the faces of my parents appear in my line of vision. Although they’re pretty young, it looks like they’ve aged twenty years since I last saw them. They hurry along beside me and the first thing I notice is that Mom is sobbing hysterically – I must get my ugly crying face from her. Though, she’s not the only emotional mess. Dad’s eyes are red and wet-looking as they look down on me.

“Oh Calix – oh thank God. Thank God you’re okay.”

A million kinds of hurt that painkillers can’t fix stab into my guts at these words.

“Dax,” I manage. “Dad – where’s – Dax?”

A miserable sound escapes Mom at my brother’s name. She turns her face away quickly and lets my father speak.

“He’s – he’ll be fine Calix. Okay?”

“Where did they – find him?” I ask. A hand slides into mine and I’m too strained to figure out whose it is. I just squeeze it like a lifeline. “When – did…”

“A few days ago,” Dad answers in the most frustratingly vague way possible. Paintings on walls fly by as I’m wheeled along. I really wish that for one moment all motion would just stop because not only is it distracting but it makes me feel sick. “They picked up a distress signal on the Bow river. It was a bear attack.” Dad presses a fist to his throat and attempts to clear it with a cough. I know it’s taking everything he has to speak about it calmly but before he can go into any more detail, Mom stops him.

“Daniel! Shush – he – Calix doesn’t need…”

“Please,” I beg with a squeeze to whoever’s hand I’m holding. “Please I need to – know. I – I didn’t this whole time…”

“Oh honey – sweetheart –”

I cringe at the name as my mom runs a hand through my hair like I’m five years old with a fever. I hate the touch – the sensation – all of it reminds me of Wyatt and that’s something I don’t have the capacity to dwell about just yet.

“It’ll be okay. We’ll tell you everything once you’re out of surgery Calix... we’ll be right here.”

“Surgery?” I cry. “Right now?” They nod. “Don’t – no – I don’t want – to go… don’t let them take my stitches!” I shriek at the top of my lungs because suddenly I’m being told this is as far as they can go and I’m rolling away from them. “Don’t leave me!”

I writhe against the Velcro straps to get one last look at my parents.

Mom is covering her mouth to conceal the way she’s blubbering. Her wide, green eyes are stricken – horrified – and I know I’m making things worse.

I breathe heavily and stare at the new nurse beside me. She’s tall, and beautiful, and once upon a time I’d probably have taken a fancy. But I’m not interested in the least as she works on my IV and inserts some kind of new drug. I’m not sure if I ask out loud what it is but her eyes make contact with mine and she offers a trained, sympathizing smile – much like the one Hill gave me.

“Count back from ten, dear.”

Nothing sounds easier. I start immediately.

Ten… nine… ei-ght… se—ve—n…

5:09 AM MST

I stir and take in my surroundings, spotting the clock on the wall and identifying the hand placements with lightning fast recognition.

A dull beeping noise fills the small hospital room and it kick starts my brain. As I wake up, I realize my skin is prickling – like when your foot falls asleep – but it’s not just my foot, it’s my entire body. I hate the feeling and I try to shift, finding it harder than ever to move my limbs.

Mom and Dad are hovering over me again within moments. I realize that hours have passed since I last saw them but thanks to the anaesthetic it doesn’t feel that long at all.

I’m grateful to see their faces.

I’m grateful to be alive.

But there’s also so much more on top of all of that.

It could be worse, I tell myself strictly in the best impersonation of Wyatt I can. Dax could be dead.

5:12 AM MST

Parents launch into a million questions that I stay silent through.

What happened? How did you get stitched up? How did you survive?

I try looking anywhere else but directly at them and that’s when I notice the person in the bed beside me.

“Daxton?” I croak. My brother’s face is swollen and half covered in tight bandages. A rigid cast sets his neck straight. Breathing tubes are shoved up his nose and he’s in a complete coma-like state of sleep. Finally, I figure out the source of the beeping is the multiple monitors he’s hooked up to. I look to my parents, and they emotionally recount Dax’s story using the pieces of information they know.

Turns out, Dax had a bit of an adventure himself. As Dad explains it, Daxton was found unconscious with no identification on him after authorities received a weakened distress signal from the GPS. They found Daxton washed up and unconscious. Thanks to Dax’s criminal record (assault at nineteen), his fingerprints were on file and police called my parents in the middle of the night.

“And we thought – we thought you…” Mom chokes on her words – the emotion is too much for her but I know exactly what she’s feeling, after all.

Dad glances seriously over at Dax’s lifeless form.

“Lost a lot of blood – now he’s battling flesh eating bacteria from the river…”

“That idiot…” I breathe seriously. “He even had the bear spray…”

My voice is calm and distant as I stare over at Daxton’s figure wrapped in gauze; it makes my parents uneasy.

“Calix… what happened out there honey? How – how did you and your brother get separated?”

Here it is. The crippling terror of this existence I’ve been trying to avoid; the truth – it threatens to burst from me. If I wasn’t physically unable to, I’d be running for the door. I know if I open my mouth, I’m going to say a lot of things I’m not supposed to – or just can’t deal with…

Then, I get a second look of Dax and this time I lose it.

“It’s my fault,” I admit, and as soon as I do, everything comes out in a rush just like I guessed. But this admission feels good in an awful kind of way. “I was stupid… I-I let him go off alone because I was tired. He took the gear so he could – could get water… told me to stay put and he’d be right back. I just wanted him to go do it… but he never came back!” I sob. “He never... Dax! I waited and waited while it got darker and HE DIDN’T COME BACK!”

Without knowing it, my hands making fists. I have nothing to hit except my numb, useless leg and thanks to the drugs, there’s no pain as I get a few good whacks in. Then Dad intervenes and he holds me in a tight embrace just like Wyatt would and I hate it. I fight and punch and thrash against my own father in an attempt to get away and when he finally releases me I go flying backwards.

I fume – reminding myself to not answer anything else.

5:31 AM MST

Thanks to my episode, I’m given more drugs and I drift off into a long, heavy sleep.

4:16 PM MST

I don’t care that I’ve spent so long in a drugged stupor.

I wake up, push a button on the side of my bed, and it alerts a nurse who bustles over almost immediately.

“It hurts,” I tell her, referencing my leg, and I don’t need to say much more than that because she twists the IV drip and increases the dosage.

7:15 PM MST

The police take statements from my parents and close the missing person’s case.

I am free to escape this reality again. I pull out the beeper and delight at watching the minutes pass.

9:05 AM MST

My silent treatment prompts a request for a psychiatric evaluation.

The adults are frustrated with my lack of cooperation. Everyone has questions and the fact that I’m not answering them makes them mad. I don’t have a lot of brain power under the effect of this drug but I also don’t want to say anything about Wyatt – even accidentally – because I’m stupid enough to do something like that.

Unfortunately for me, my new doctor is just as frustrating as the one in Cranbrook.

“Did you hear that Calix?” she asks irritably. “Dr. Fredericks will be assessing you tomorrow morning.”

“Mmhmm.”

I pick at my new stitches – they’re perfect, professional, and don’t hurt as much – but they’re not Wyatt’s and I frown at them miserably.

I can’t decide between missing him, loving him, and holding on to this ever-depleting anger I feel towards him. In the end… he lost so much more than I did. I’m not sure how to justify my anger or my actions any more. No matter how I look at it, there was definitely no need to rip his face off.

4:56 PM MST

Doctors tell us that Daxton’s brain shows signs of activity.

For the first time, my heart leaps with hope.

11:15 PM MST

When Dax wakes up, we’re all there to see him. I’m even leaning my weight onto my good leg and hanging over the railing of his bed.

Groggy, dark brown eyes slowly focus on Mom – then Dad – and then finally on me and he sits up with a jolt. In fact, the cords shoved up his nose come flying out of his face and he becomes frantic at the sight of me.

“Calix!” he exclaims with a voice so hoarse I barely recognize it.

I scramble forward at once and admittedly, I’m not very gentle as I climb onto the hospital bed and embrace him. We hug like long lost brothers though it’s not that extraordinary – it’s literally what we are. I forgive him for everything, and I tell him I’m sorry for everything. I feel the relief in his body as he lets out unsteady breaths against me.

“I thought – I – didn’t know if you–”

“I looked for you,” I insist. “I did. I tried Dax honestly… I couldn’t see you and it was so dark. I kept shouting for you but I didn’t know where you were… I was so scared.”

The tight, anxious feelings rise up in me and there’s no Wyatt to make them go away.

Dax squeezes tight though.

“By that time, a bear got me – near the river,” he says, out of breath. “I managed to scare her off with the spray – start swimming… I tried to stop the bleeding – so worried – thought I was going to die. I kept thinking about you… hoping you were safe…” He looks pale, and weak, but at least he’s conscious.

“A bear… a bear chased me too,” I admit letting out all small details I’ve been keeping from everyone else. “Down a hill but…” and here I stop because that’s as far as my story can go. The memory of Wyatt shooting the cub, stooping low in the grass, and inspecting me with his bright flashlight is too overwhelming.

He saved my life. He took care of me… and even when I got more selfish by the day he just kept giving me what I wanted.

Wyatt rescued me and how did I thank him? I remember my last words to him and a sob escapes, then another; I hold on to Dax so tightly that three nurses have to pry me away.

My first moment reunited with Dax and all I can do is cry about Wyatt...

I can’t stand myself at all.

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