Sunday, August 17, 2014

Part 44



There were no good places to pull off.  Trust me, we both looked.  All we could do was keep driving.  We did stop long enough for me to jump out and get plastic and duct tape to try and do something about the freezing cold air coming in the windows.

I jumped back in the cab and Jace was holding Sunny and muttering to her.  I couldn't understand what he was saying.  I should have tried to do something more for him, for both of them, but I was too busy trying to get the repairs done quickly so we could keep going.

"She's not dead Jace," I told him when he finally put the truck in gear again.

"Not yet," he answered in a papery voice.

"Maybe not at all.  I don't know yet.  There wasn't that much blood.  The ... the wood thing even just fell out on its own.  The wound will need to be cleaned out but I can't do that yet.  Her pulse is jumping all over the place but it is still there.  I ... I think this is shock or something.  I've got her bundled up the best I can.  We just need to find some place we can stop.  Until then ... just drive."

Like I wrote though, there weren't any good places to stop.  Two hours later, two agonizing hours, we finally pulled into Ojibwa State Park.  It was a little place that straddle a small piece of Hwy 70 right at the Chippewa River.  Jace pulled right up to the Welcome Center and after we checked the place out - and I broke us in by crawling through a small window in the staff restroom - we carefully got Sunny out of the truck and laid her in front of a wood stove.

Jace jumped and nearly hysterical yelled, "Dammit!  There's no wood!!"

As calmly as I could I told him, "Yes there is.  There is a lean to out back.  I saw it just a minute ago."

Doc - and I hadn't thought of him in a while though I suppose his inadvertent lessons will always be with me to some extent - had always said that being calm was sometimes the best medicine you could give someone.  After getting Sunny out of the truck and really looking at the wound I had become convinced there was nothing I could do for her.  What I had originally thought were tears of pain weren't.  It was some kind of fluid leaking from behind the eye socket.  I won't go into the gross parts.  Suffice it to say that I had to clean the ruined and dead tissue out to prevent infection.

I don't know if I was being calm or cold.  What I do remember is being less concerned that Sunny was going to die and more concerned about whether or not she was infected and wouldn't.  I had no idea what kind of goo, if any, had been on the wood that had been used by the puss brain.

After bringing in a pile of wood and getting the fire going Jace all but collapsed.  It reminded me of how he was after Sammy and John-John died.  As minutes turned into hours and the day faded away I became more worried about him than about Sunny.

"It's my fault," he mumbled.

Those were the first words he'd spoken since he'd gone looking for the firewood.

"No it's not," I told him offering what little comfort I could come up with.

"Yeah.  Yeah it is.  Everyone that I promise to look after dies."

"I'm not dead," I reminded him.

"For how long?"

Nothing I could say after that could induce him to speak again.  He refused to eat the soup I fixed.  I had to keep draping a blanket around his shoulders to ward off the cold that was seeping in. If you took more than a few steps away from the stove you could see your breath.  I couldn't sleep, I was too wired.  I'd also found a stash of colas and had warmed one up to drink - caffiene and memories of my mom doing this flooded my brain and kept me occupied on something beside the silent lump that Jace had turned into.

About midnight Jace finally sat up and said, "You know, you're right.  You aren't dead."

I blinked at him more and more worried at how he was acting.  "No kidding," I told him wondering what was going on.

But then he started acting more normalish.  "I ... I've taught you almost everything I know.  Now it is just a matter of practice."

"Not everything.  You still said I've got more work at navigating by the stars.  And my trap placement needs some serious work.  You also said you were going to teach me how to fish with a basket."

"That's nothing," he said with a more optimistic shrug than I'd seen in a while.  "Practice and a half way decent book will make sure you get that down."

"You can learn this stuff from books?"

"Sure," he said.  He wasn't grinning but he wasn't grimacing either.  He was tucking a blanket more firmly around Sunny and brushing the hair off her face.  What else could either one of us do?  Death was a fact of life even before puss brains became the top predator in the world.  I was just glad to see he was trying to accept reality and not off in la-la land.  When he spoke again he said, "I thought you said your brother was a Boy Scout.  They have all of these manuals for that sort of stuff."

"Yeah, I know.  But my brother's troop always had real people come in and demonstrate or teach them so that they could sign off on the paperwork for the badge.  Or they would go to camp and learn from an older scout.  That sort of thing."

"Look, it isn't that hard," he said getting up and walking over to a display case of books.  Using a small pen light he looked at their spines and then grabbed a few and brought them back.  He also snagged something from behind the register.

He tossed the books in my lap and then took the something - which turned out to be a package of cocoa - and poured it and some hot water I had in our kettle out of habit into a mug.

"Open that one up that is on top.  See?  All sorts of instructions for constellations and how to identify and use them.  And two of those books are on backcountry hiking and camping skills.  What I haven't covered should be in those books.  You don't need to overthink stuff, you just need to make sure that you pre-think stuff."

"Pre-think?" I asked as I sipped his peace offering of cocoa.

"Yeah.  Like having a plan before you need one."  He sat down beside Sunny again but reached back and pulled a pillow off the bench there and threw it to me.  I put it between my back and the wooden column I was leaning against and got a little more comfortable.

Then Jace continued.  "Some people survive because of dumb luck but not as many as the movies make it out to be.  And then you have a few people that are uber-survivalists that can survive just about anywhere you drop them into.  But mostly survival isn't about the equipment you have so much as the equipment you already have," he said tapping his forehead.  "Pre-think something before you put your foot in it."

Rephrasing what he said I told him, "Think before you act."

"Exactly.  But don't think something to death either.  Think, then use what you know, and get it done.  Trying to gather too many supplies or make a different plan for every situation imaginable is just as much a recipe for disaster as not thinking at all.  Keep a basic pack with you at all times, even just walking around camp.  Then when something happens you'll have the basic skills and basic equipment to formulate a plan through quick thinking.  Got it?"

I yawned.  "Yeah.  I think so."

I leaned forward to put another log on the fire but he stopped me and said, "I'll do it.  Why don't you take a break, or at least zone for a while.  I'll ... I'll take care of Sunny.  It's the least I can do."

"Don't Jace.  Don't make this about you ... or me.  It just is.  Bad things happen.  And sometimes ... sometimes people leave our lives.  It isn't a matter of fault or blame or anything.  It just is the way it is."

He looked at me for a long time before nodding.  "I can see why you would think like that.  Part of me is glad you do."  We were quiet for a few more moments and I started to slide deeper into my coat.

"Get some rest DeeDee.  You're going to need it.  Tomorrow you learn to drive."

That woke me up.  I sat up and asked, "Seriously?"

"Yeah, seriously.  I should have taught you before now.  I just didn't want to admit that ..."

"That what?"

"Nothing.  Just get some rest.  I'll take care of Sunny."

"You sure?"

"Yeah.  Yeah I'm sure."

I hadn't meant to sleep.  It wasn't 'til later that I realized why I had suddenly gotten so tired when I had been so wired just moments earlier.

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