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Green Grove, Chapter 1

By: Mary A
Beta: Malinornë
Disclaimer: I dare anyone to sue me over this one.
Timeline: Now
Summary: A young woman wakes up in a strange place after a car accident.

"Wake up, dear, stay with me now," the woman's voice said, again, and it was a peculiar voice. Friendly yet persistent, excited yet not hysterical, rushed and yet repeating the same thing over and over. The bed was shaking, too, how irritating. There were other sounds beside the voice, which were unrecognizable at first and slowly became clearer.

"I'm awake," she muttered, again. How many times had she said it? Hundreds of times? Thousands? This must be a fever dream or something very like one.

She could hear a high-pitched wailing sound, the crackle of what seemed to be radio static, and a dull roaring noise underneath it all. Other voices, male voices, were talking, too. Through closed eyelids she could tell that colorful lights were flashing. Someone was holding her hand...? And then, the pain would return.

Down her left side, from her shoulder to her toes, a wrenching, tortuous spasm of fire would sizzle if she woke up too much. It made her feel woozy.

"No, it hurts." And then the dive back down into the darkness and the quiet. Blissful darkness, merciful quiet, but always it was only temporary.

"Wake up, dear, stay awake now."

"No, please, it hurts." She tried to turn her head, it would not move. "Please make it stop."

There was something over her mouth, something that muffled her voice, no wonder no one could hear her. She tried to remove it because if they heard her then they would make the bed stop shaking and leave her alone.

"Don't move your arms." Gentle hands restrained her. "Hold on, we're almost there," said the woman's voice. "Open your eyes and let me see those baby blues."

"They aren't blue, they're brown." But no one could hear her, so why try? Time to dive back down into the darkness, ah that was better.

"Wake up, I need you to wake up now," said the woman. "Stay with me."

"No, I won't." Stay with her? There had to be some way to escape.

The bed finally stopped shaking and the wailing noise was gone, but it was only a momentary relief. Now the bed was being jolted and lifted, there were brighter lights beyond her squeezed-tight shut eyelids, clattering noises, and shouting voices. Fresh pain shot through her body.

"Make it stop!" But no one could hear her scream because no sound came out of her mouth, just air. It was like a nightmare, only this was not a dream, this was real.

Now she did want to wake up and stay awake, no matter how much it hurt, if only to somehow get away from whatever it was that was holding her down, they felt like straps. Her eyes would not open; something was making her feel paralyzed, like a voice, or maybe music, was that possible?

Everything changed. She felt nice and normally sleepy, with no more pain, or jarring, or shaking, or lights. Her attempt to scream must have drained her and it had all been replaced by a soft blurry fogginess with an occasional chiming sound, and she slept.

"Wake up, Krystle." A new voice, no more 'dears', and as clear as a bell, no more wailing or static or roaring background noise, said her name. And when she opened her eyes, a complete stranger was staring down at her. A woman or a man? "Don't worry, you're safe." It was a woman. But she had short, short hair and wore something odd around her neck. A stethoscope?

"What? Who are you? What are you doing?" Krystle tried to sit up, completely disoriented, groggy, and frightened. There were tubes in her nose, now, but whatever it was that had covered her mouth was gone. What was happening? Her arms were not strapped down anymore, either; the left one was a dull throb of pain. She tried to feel whatever it was that was choking her throat like a too thick turtleneck sweater.

"I am trying to help you. Don't move your head, it might be dangerous. We have to take a picture of your neck first, and you need to keep this arm still, okay?" The woman wore a lilac-colored jacket over a pale rose blouse that somehow still had a clinical appearance in style, despite the pastel shades. She tapped on Krystle's left arm; it was stiff, strapped to something hard that kept it immobile. Her other arm had a tube attached to it, which was in turn attached to a clear plastic bag with fluid that dripped out slowly, and something was clamped, but not too tight that it hurt, on her index finger.

"Be still and try to relax, I need to look at your pupils," said the woman, who must be a nurse, or maybe she was a doctor. Now that she was close enough, Krystle could see a name badge on her blouse with a small red cross on it. It was just a blur as a tiny penlight was shone into her eyes. "You were found unconscious on scene and I want to make sure that you don't have a concussion."

"What happened?" Her world was beginning to make sense again. This was some type of hospital, which was obvious now, from the standard green-hued curtains that surrounded her narrow cot-like bed, to the overhead light that seemed as bright as the sun. The chiming sound resolved itself into the sound from some type of monitor close by.

An ambulance must have brought her here, and that explained the shaking bed, the wailing siren, and the lights, of course. There was something else that she was forgetting, or trying to remember, what was it? But it escaped her.

"There was a thirty car pileup on Five with a big rig explosion thrown in, a real mess," said the nurse as she examined each eye. "Tule fog. You're one of the lucky ones." After setting the penlight down, she felt Krystle's head and face while she spoke. "You look pretty good, does your head hurt?" She touched a tender spot and Krystle winced.

"A little," Krystle said, confused. None of that was what she was trying to remember. 'Five' referred to the interstate highway, numbered five, which was the road she had been driving on.

A mist was just beginning to creep over the blacktop, she could also remember that much, right at sundown after she had finally reached the freeway. She did not recall, however, that it was a 'tule' fog, coming from the nearby marshlands in the central valley. That particular type of fog was legendary for being the most dangerous kind. It literally blinded drivers because it was too thick to see through and could draw an opaque blanket of solid grayness over a windshield in a matter of seconds.

A pile-up was always bad, cars with blinded drivers crashing into other cars with blinded drivers that were crashing into other cars, and on and on. It was something that every seasoned driver in California feared to find themselves involved in.

"Are you a doctor?"

"These days, I'm what's called a 'lump'," answered the woman with a shake of her head and a rueful chuckle. "Nice, huh? The official title is Licensed Urgent Medicine Practitioner, L-U-M-P, lump." She shook her head again, as if she could not believe she was saying it. "Call me Netty, please."

"Where am I?"

"Right now you are in the Green Grove Urgent Care Clinic, we caught some of the overflow." Now Netty was feeling Krystle's arms, legs, belly, pausing only to ask if this or that hurt, while she continued speaking. "And you are lucky I am here tonight; the regular docs usually don't get anything in here more severe than sunburns and poison-oak rashes this time of year."

Krystle had never heard of a place called Green Grove before in her life, but she had never been this far north in the state either. She was returning home, to Chula Vista, after visiting the campus of a small private school in a suburb near Sacramento, to apply for a teaching position. There was something tickling the edge of her mind again, as she thought back as far as she could, but it slipped away again.

"I don't... remember anything about being in an accident."

"That is normal; you had a big shock, and maybe broke more than just your arm. I think your insides are just fine, though." A thermometer was thrust under Krystle's tongue. "If you do remember at all, the events might come back in small snatches, but it is more likely that bump on your head means you had a minor concussion and that can wipe out any short term memory."

Netty was no-nonsense in her manner but smiled brightly and spoke gently. Krystle stayed still and answered questions about what day it was and the name of the President of the United States. While she did so, Netty felt her pulse and used a blood pressure cuff, and the more clinical things that she did to her, the less afraid Krystle felt.

Her left arm was in a splint, Krystle was informed, and her neck was in a brace. Her shoes were removed and she could feel her toes being wiggled and manipulated, which made her send up a silent prayer of gratitude.

"How long was I unconscious?"

"The paramedics said it was only for a few minutes, but that you kept drifting in and out on the way here," answered Netty, cheerfully, as if that should be good news. "They were answering another call and saw you get hit."

"Oh, wow, I remember that," said Krystle, feeling a bit embarrassed now as she recalled the ride here, and her attempts to escape from what felt like a nightmare.

"I will be right back," Netty promised. "I want pictures of your neck before we take that brace off. Your left arm is broken, but I want good pictures of that, and the rest of your left side, too."

"Pictures?" Asked Krystle.

"X-rays. While I go tell radiology to set up for you, the clerk wants to ask you some questions to get your chart started for me."

"Can I make a phone call?"

"Sure can," answered Netty. "We'll get one in here after your x-rays are done."

Despite the promise, it seemed to take hours to finally get a phone in her hands. After the 'pictures' were taken, and were being assessed, Krystle had some blood drawn. Next, the tube in her arm and the neck brace were removed, although a soft collar was put on to replace the latter. There were stitches to be put in her scalp and a cast on her arm, also. Every part of her body seemed to hurt worse, when it was all over with, than when she had first arrived.

She had plenty of time to think about whom she would call when the time came.

Unfortunately, the people Krystle wanted to see the most, her parents, were out of town, visiting friends of theirs who lived out of the country. No one was expecting her home, which meant no one would be worried, at least, and that was some small comfort. Other family members that she considered might not be awake, it was getting so late now. But she had to try them anyway, how else would she get home? No one picked up.

The only other person likely to answer the phone that she could think of, and who would be willing to drive this far, wherever this place was, this late at night, was her best friend, but she got a busy signal when she tried. Netty returned with some pain medication that looked like ordinary aspirin to Krystle.

"No narcotics for you," explained Netty. "Not with a head bump. Did you reach your folks?"

"No one's up," said Krystle, with a sigh, and hung up the funny little portable phone that had been brought to her bedside and plugged into a socket in the wall. "Or they are talking to someone else."

"You are going to be moved to an observation room now anyway, and you will have a regular phone, and a more comfortable bed."

"Observation?" That sounded serious and here Krystle had thought her injuries were not very severe. Uncomfortable, yes, but certainly not life-threatening.

"Standard procedure with head and neck injuries, even mild ones. That means you can't leave until morning, anyway. Maybe you can get some sleep, first." For the first time since she had realized where she was, Krystle thought of her own bedroom at home. A real pang of homesickness washed over her and she wished desperately, and in vain, that she was there, instead of here.

"Chips!" Krystle cried out suddenly as she attempted to leap down from her bed, only to be stopped by Netty. At last, the nagging thought that had been trying to get her attention all night had finally come clear. "Oh no! I forgot about Chips!"

"Whoa, whoa, take it easy," said Netty. "Don't be jumping up like that. Are you that hungry? I can get you some chips."

"No, no, no." Krystle was distraught and frantic now. "I mean my dog, Chips, that's her name. She was in the car with me. Oh, god, what happened to her? Do you know?"

Krystle was calmed down and taken to her observation room while phone calls were made to the ambulance service. The missing Chips was located. She was spending the night, as an honored guest, in the local jail, and had been taken there by a deputy who was also a volunteer fireman, after having been brought along in the ambulance to the urgent care center by one of the paramedics. Most amazing, she had not bitten anyone.

There were small televisions attached to the wall next to each bed in Krystle's observation room, which was more like a ward than the private cubicle that she had imagined. She was not alone, either, for there were several other victims of the pile-up who had been brought in. There were nurses here, too, dressed in buttery yellow smocks, who sat a desk in the center of the room to monitor them.

Next to Krystle was a chatty teenage girl, with one foot and both hands swaddled in bandages, who giggled constantly at an older woman across from them who snored in her sleep. There was not much to watch on television; Green Grove was apparently not wired to cable and the choices were limited. Not much besides a few local network running stale reruns of boring shows with long commercial breaks, and the two of them sat up and talked instead of resting.

The easily amused girl's name was Stacey, and she was a high school student who had been in a bus returning from a football game when the pile-up happened. Her hands and foot had first degree burns, but should heal fast, she was told.

"I'm in the pep band," Stacey explained. "Clarinet." She lifted her bandages, "I hope these are better by next Friday, but at least I didn't hurt my mouth."

Stacey hated a boy named Charles and loved her band teacher, Mrs. Myers, and worried long and loud about her best friend, Lizzie, another clarinet player, who had been taken to a different hospital because her burns were worse. Her own parents had already been by and were staying in a local motel to wait for her release in the morning. She had a mild head injury, too. No stitches. Krystle could barely get a word in edgewise.

"Do you know what the worst part is?" Stacey asked, apropos of nothing, and not waiting for Krystle to answer, replied to her own question. "Waking up after a car wreck and not being in Middle-earth."

"You're right!" Krystle was tickled to find another Lord of the Rings fan so close at hand. "This sucks! If you take the trouble to drive into a perfectly good fog, then blam!" She pounded her bed with a mock-angry fist. "You should be there."

"Lothlorien," offered Stacey, dreamy eyed. "Just imagine it. Waited on hand and foot by beautiful elves."

"Ick, no," said Krystle, holding her palm up like a stop sign. "Mirkwood for me, or nowhere." She was suddenly weary, and still achy despite the medicine, and she had to lie down. "Maybe if we fall asleep now, we will wake up there."

Stacey giggled in reply at the thought and then declared that she could never fall asleep in a strange bed, so that would never work.

"Me either," said Krystle, yawning. "Besides, I have to go get my dog out of jail, first, anyway."

Stacey giggled for a long long while over that.

To be continued in Chapter 2

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Posted: August 12, 2006

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"Long live Thranduil, great Elf-king of Greenwood!"