As I creep into the immaculate dorm with only the ominous sight of dusk to guide me, I dump all my clothes on the floor and crash into the bed nearest to me. The pillow smells of posh aftershave…and strawberry laces? As the comforting scent lulls me to sleep, I have just enough time to check who the bed belongs to as I look in the passport beside me.
Glenn smells like strawberry laces, apparently.
I just can’t help myself to miss this opportunity. I want to know as much about Pemma as possible, not in the creepy way, but more in the way of fascination. I silently open the door to my dorm, and judging by the light creeping through the heavy curtains it’s almost dawn. I glimpse around the dimly lit room for my enigma girl, to find she’s sleeping in my bed- purely by accident, I assume. I daren’t get any closer but I try to memorise every bit of her- the soft curve of her shoulders, the tiny flyaway hairs that seem to glow in the dim light like a halo, the shallow rise and fall of her small body. I can’t imagine what she’d do if she knew I was here, but I imagine it would involve some kind of extreme violence. She’s like a porcelain doll with a weapons arsenal at her disposal- a living oxymoron.
Our first activity was mountain hiking, of course. After a short introduction to hiking and how we must not, at all costs, wander off the beaten path, we were allowed to travel in our partners and explore the wilds around us. The sharp scents of the pine mingled with damp earth really freshens the air around us, and whenever I look at Pemma, everything looks a little brighter too, even though she herself is a walking cloud of negativity.
We talk in absolute silence- I can tell she doesn’t want to talk, but as I get more and more exhausted, as we push ourselves further and further up the mountainous hillside, I finally snap.
“Why are you so damn angry all the time?”
“I’m not angry. I just don’t like people like you.” Her voice remains passive.
“People like me? I try to be kind to you and all you do is throw it back in my face.” I stop walking as I suddenly turn angry myself.
“Boys, you’re all the same. You’re driven by lust and food, that’s it. You’re all so selfish, you don’t ever care about others’ feelings. You never do anything…kind. Girls too, all they want to do is make my life worse.”
This takes me aback. Pemma had just opened up to me, as my enigma unfolded itself. Maybe this girl isn’t as superficial and harsh as I had previously thought.
“I offered my umbrella to you, and I volunteered to be your partner for this when nobody else would, I helped you carry your things to my room. Was that not kind?”
She looks physically shocked as I said this, as though a wave of realisation had hit her. As white as a sheet, she turned to me with wide eyes.
“…I know, I’ve just been trying to ignore it. After my father left us, and the way the boys act at school, I thought you were all the same. I think that because it’s easier, it’s easier to forget that there are people out there as complex as yourself.”
During the heated argument we had obviously gravitated towards each other, now our shoulders are pressed against one another, forcefully. I could just turn my head and my face would be inches from hers- but right now my teenage impulses are not the dominant ones here. I’m severely annoyed with her, but also starting to become more sympathetic as she invites me to empathise with her.
This girl was still opening up to me, and I felt like I could really have a friend- one that wasn’t fake, that wasn’t simply satisfied with material objects and small talk, and it was only when I heard distant howls from the woods and the crunch of pine needles underfoot did I realised that there were animals in these woods, and we were off the beaten track.
I had just opened up to someone about my feelings for the first time, and now wild animals were near us. This day could not have gone any worse.
My bottled rage peaks, and I burst. “You damn idiot! You’ve gotten us lost! You’re supposed to be looking at the map, now we’re going to be eaten by wild animals!”
I see the terror in Glenn’s eyes as we both realise what’s happened, and I desperately tell him to look for our footprints in the dense pine needle riddled floor, hoping he’ll forget my sudden outburst.
“Quick, follow me.”
My hand is suddenly grabbed by a larger, more reassuring one as I’m pulled through the thick woods at an alarming rate. I should not have let my guard down, especially at a time like this. We could hear the wolves, still howling, edging ever nearer; taunting us.
My legs are being surged forward by a power that I can’t control, as the boy in front of me dodges trees and leaps over logs, carrying me in tow.
Thankfully, the end of the path is in sight, but the wolves hadn’t howled for a while. I pray they’ve left.
As we hear dozens of footsteps in the undergrowth behind us, we know we are not alone.
I hear the crunch of pine needles behind us a fraction of a second too late. Pemma is just behind me, still holding my hand, until I see a grey blur separate us.
The bulk of grey growls at her, edging closer. I can’t let this happen. Without thinking, I leap onto its back. Not in the heroic way, but more in the clumsy way as I realise I have no idea what I’m doing. The fur feels coarse and rough beneath my hands, as I attempt to pull the thing back, away from Pemma.
I’m pushed to the ground- forcefully and painfully. The crushing weight of the wild dog above me makes my ribs ache, my lungs gasp for air. I hear Pemma in the distance, shouting for help, as if in a different world to me. Her voice sounds miles away yet still audible, distorted yet understandable. I struggle to hear, as by body focuses more on the sharp pain in my abdomen, the hulking beast above me snarling with malice, its jaws contorted into a mask of hunger and desperation.
It turns its head once again to my abdomen, which feels like a bite? The adrenaline rushing through my veins distorts what I feel. However, I hear a second set of growling and gnashing teeth, as I feel a sharp pain in my head. It’s not until I feel the immense weight of the wild animals above me lighten slightly, do I pass into a dreamless sleep.
I scream at the top of my lungs for help, and luckily the park ranger was not too far from where we were. I was torn between trying to tear the beasts off of Glenn, or searching for help. There is no way I could fight the dog, it’s far too huge.
The ranger sprints toward us, clad in forest green, with a dart gun in hand. One swift movement and two objects are swiftly shot through the air, making the large beasts fall alongside Glenn.
Everywhere is blood. Glenn is coated, the wolves are coated, the pine-needled ground is coated, and when I run to pick him up, I’m coated too.
As you would expect, Glenn is rushed to hospital via an air ambulance, and as his partner, I feel obliged to go with him. He’s unconscious, and the paramedics won’t stop fussing over him, a large bandage around his head, and another around his abdomen. Blood seeps through both.
My phone buzzes, and I’m notified that the school trip has come to an abrupt end, to my delight. I call my mother to tell her, but I have a feeling I’ll have to stay with Glenn until he stabilises. I’ve never felt a responsibility toward someone like this before, but it is partially my fault he is as he is- I was part of the reason we left the track, after all.
The air ambulance hardly skims the looming pines around us, taking the fastest route possible. I should admire the view- but for some reason, I feel sad. Glenn means nothing to me, and I feel sad.
The hospital smells of bleach and dying people. I don’t like it. The unnatural lighting from the bulbs above welcomes us, and I’m pushed aside as he’s rushed into another room. A nurse, with kind eyes, comes towards me.
“Is he your friend? He’s in theatre right now, and I think he’d appreciate it if you were here when he woke up.”
“No, he’s not my friend,” I say stubbornly, “but I will wait for him.”
The nurse smirks, before gliding off in her clicky shoes across the tile, turning around to give me one last look. There’s nothing to look at, so I stare at her back. Her sweetness has put me in a bad mood.
I wait for hours, in this damn waiting room. Very few people come and go, giving me nothing to look at, but I realise I have no idea where we are. Are we in a town? A mountain hospital in the middle of nowhere? Not that it matters, I can leave when Glenn wakes up.
The sweet nurse bustles through the double doors to the waiting room after what feels like hours, with a fake smile plastered on her face, her hair cascading loose from her cap.
“I’m glad you stayed to make sure he woke up, but bear in mind he has suffered a lot of organ damage and blood loss,” she says, with a strained voice, “…follow me.”
The funny thing is, it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d waited hours, or days, or weeks, for him to wake up.
Glenn is in a coma.