Speed is a refuge when you're by yourself. Lucian moved swiftly along old smooth concrete pavement, taking rights then lefts prudently but swiftly, feet up, efficiently making his way down empty streets of empty storefronts gunning from corner to corner, block by block, of a vaguely familiar town. He knew the large Mercedes van couldn't keep up with him here on this bike, and he had a jump on it anyway. If it was following. Which he doubted somehow. What a bitching bike, too.
“Here” was a small town, felt like it, perhaps the outskirts of a larger one, the sky a blank overcast. No one out in this funny place. Why did I stop here for a beer? Is that what I did? He could feel that he just left a dim interior behind him somewhere. There had been conversation. A meet. It could be midday, or later, and I have time to get far from here before dark. More dark? Or just a feeling, like the feeling it was always this time of day in this place. He worked his way over to a four lane main street and felt relief. Did I know this was over this way? No traffic. None. No clue who was after him or why. Wasn't sure if anyone was after him specifically, or if he had just evaded a dangerous situation meant for someone else. Why am I worried about that van? What van? But fear, or the vague sense of worry receded. Glanced right and made the left he thought he had been looking for, twisted the big bike up through one and two to boomer gear, finally feeling good, ripping the quiet and pulling hard on the hangers.
Eyes pop open and see nothing but white. God, I got away with whatever that was. Not really white, though, beige? It's a bit uneven, brighter over …. there, and that's a window. Ok, that is the ceiling I was looking at. That's a window, this is bed, no this is hospital, I know a hospital room, and this is what they used to look like. There's a monitor, there's the bathroom, there's a radiator thing under the window, there's a shiny chair, I feel seriously small and thick, deep inside something. Maybe I didn't get out of it after all. What was it?
A machine was beeping softly, had been beeping, he realized, and a nurse bustled in, looking concerned but smiling.
“Right on schedule, you are with us again, Mr. Heck.”
He tracked her as a blur as she quicked around to his bedside and attended to the beeping machine. He tried to look up at her but his eyes worked independently of one another and his head shifted inside like a heavy bag of water. The beeping stopped.
“Whoom I with?” While blurting that, he felt the lower half of his face independently moving from the top of his head, his nose moving slowly in the middle. Odd sensation, and he thought about it. Almost shook his head to see what happened, but it occurred to him that might be a mistake. Felt completely relaxed, though, not moving limbs and not caring. I'll do that later.
“You're in good hands, a good team of surgeons has saved your bacon, Mr. Heck.”
I like bacon, he thought.
“The doctor will be in real soon, he wanted to hear when you waked.”
“Beautiful,” he said as she swiftly exited the room.
He looked to the window, and saw nothing much but light greyness, the sort of generic greyness outside when you're reclining in the chair for a teeth cleaning and waiting for the hygienist to return with your chart.
Then Kraque remembered the town, and the bike ride out of there, and something of his appointment there at the bar, someone he had to ask about something. Someone he didn't want to meet but would tell him about his … girlfriend? Wife? Did he have a wife? In dreams like that you always are looking for the key to the problem, or the end of the search, someone to tell you about something, fix everything or solve your problem, or what the fuck was it? What the hell was in that town? It's always so familiar, but a perversion or an elaboration of somewhere you know in reality, but off somehow. Like Heck. That's not my name. It's familiar, though. But what is my name? Is this still the dream? Seems real, this part.
“And it is.”
Were his eyes closed? How did the guy get in here and I didn't see it?
“Real. This is real.”
Kraque's mind moved past wondering whether he had asked out loud or not.
“Well you're the doctor, so you'd know.” Kraque took in the lab coat and stethoscope on a tall grey haired man that looked the part of a TV doctor. TV?
The doctor bent over Kraque and looked into one eye, then the other, holding up the brow over each with a practiced, gentle thumb. He regarded Kraque not unkindly.
“Yep, I'd know. Heck is your name. Lucian Heck.”
The doctor turned and headed for the door.
“If I say so, and I say so. A lot of trouble went in to being able to say that to you face to face, so be grateful. Just kidding. One of us will look in on you when you're home, and then we'll get you started.”
“Started on what?”
The doctor turned back to Kraque. “On therapy, of course! Kidding, kidding.”
Kraque watched him exit. He could just see enough of the hall from his bed, and the doctor pausing and looking right then left, as if assessing the quickest route, and making the decision to go right.
Therapy. But not therapy? Why would a doctor kid about therapy? Kraque remembered he hadn't moved anything but his head so far. Now he was afraid to try. Maybe I'm paralyzed, and that's why he was kidding! Fuck fuck fuck. He looked down at himself in the bed. Thought about what he would do if he was paralyzed. I suppose the question is what won't I do? Everything. Anything. He pondered the difference....
The machine started beeping again, and the room got dark. The lights came on as a youngish asian man in a lab coat and stethoscope rushed in, followed by the nurse Kraque had seen before. He could see her more clearly now. Wasn't she a brunette? She went to the machine again on his left, the beeping stopped, and the man went around to the right side of the bed and began pushing Kraque's brow up and looking into his eyes as the first doctor had, this time with an exam light. “Lucian, how are you feeling? Any headache? I'm Doctor Chau. I performed your surgery. You are a hardy specimen, I must say. Quite a spill you had, and a minor miracle or two that you are with us at all.” The doctor straightened up.
“Indeed, the first miracle is that you were not so terribly damaged, considering the crash. The second is that we were able to revive you.”
“Oh yes, you were dead! Quite a long time, as things like that go. And now you are awake, and with us again. And whole.”
“Whole? You mean completely?”
Kraque looked down the bed. There's my feet, wiggle 'em. They wiggled. Oh God thank you. He lifted his hands, thank heaven again. Glad that's out of the way. I don't mind anything else now that I know I'm moving everything. Well, hold on, let's take that item by item.
“There are some people very interested in your recovery. Not the usual sort, not family. Do you have family? They should be notified that you're here. Does anyone look for you? No one has called, but the Army has sent a couple officers around to look in on you. This is fishy to me. You have not been in any condition to speak with anyone at all, but they have been troublesome in that regard.” Dr. Chau looked down at Heck and smiled. “I am a Colonel, so they bother me not at all. Besides, it is rare to have a patient die and come back. I don't want them to disrupt healing in a critical early stage. You have only just regained consciousness. You are a remarkable human specimen, you seem uncannily well, given what happened to you, but it would be unconscionable to jeopardize your condition, no matter how robust outwardly.”
Heck's head now felt like stone. Consciousness such as it is, he thought. He deliberately relaxed his neck. Quite stiff. Refocusing on the doctor, he said, “You said as things like that go; how do they go, things like what?”
Dr. Chau was the picture of immobile inscrutability behind round thick glasses.
After a moment he said, “You had ceased brain function. While we operated. That had been
anticipated, your injuries were grave, taken as a whole. You were then revived, after we adjusted a few conditions, that part was tricky. A neurosurgeon took over for quite some time. Then we continued to repair injuries and set bones and pin them. That part was not so much tricky as extensive and involved. One thing done after another, but not before. A series of procedures predicated one upon another, in order to get the desirable healthy result.”
“I have no casts, no plaster.”
“We are mostly past LCP now, the locking compression plates. Your fractures and even clean breaks are held in place internally by structures of nontraditional material, the angular stability of which allows stable fixation of your bones. That itself is not new, but the procedures and material are. So is the nearly immediate functional mobilization. You will be up and around considerably sooner than similar patients were in the past. Physically you are a straightforward situation. Your brain injuries and function is what concerned me. It's not that you had anything complex there either, but the neurosurgeon had to perform a couple crainiotomies to relieve pressure. Gives me a bit of a headache myself, thinking about it.” Chau stared, motionless, almost frowned, thought Kraque. Then shook his head.
“No worries, all is well with you Mr. Heck.”
He gazed in some contentment at the window, his breathing deep and even, feeling his body from inside.
He worked on his recall. Accident. This one how? There had been a few, he reflected, and the period of recovery was readjustment to a different state-of-mind. He knew the process well, and was unafraid.
I'll piece it together, I'm tough for this, he thought. He closed his eyes and began a slow hum that he could only barely hear with ears, but felt low in his chest.
Kraque shakes his head awake to find himself on the centerline of an empty two lane on a gorgeous summer day, sun showing a late afternoon on his right, engine rumbling beneath him on an empty road in the countryside. He locked his shoulders and arms tight, his ears pulled back and his forehead pulled up, hauling his eyes wide open. He realized he wasn't going fast at all. Fuck me! How did I drift off riding a motorcycle? I don't have a motorcycle. He slowed and moved to the roadside. “Not much shoulder”. Did I say that out loud? Used the foot brake. Noted the lack of a brake lever on the right. Came to a stop and killed the bike. A big old shovelhead. How do I know that? Feet down. Where the hell am I? He looked left over his black leather shoulder. Quiet, lovely, no one back there on a long straight stretch both ways, trees arching overhead, a summer forest cloister. He turned forward and centered himself on the seat, holding the grips, boots flat and equidistant. Fine leather jacket surrounding him as a close, valiant shield against danger. A refuge. Took a deep breath, began his mantra. Just a couple minutes and I'll know what's going on, I'll remember what to do....
He settled, and slowly fell into himself. The distance around him became palpable. He felt all his surroundings like echoes moving away and returning simultaneously in all directions. An unmistakeable sound in the distance behind him seeped into his understanding, and he knew what he knew. It came back to him. Another motorcycle rolled up beside him, the rider pushed up his visor.