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Green Grove, Chapter 3

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.

"At first, I wasn't going to say anything because it is really only a rumor," said the nurse, in a conspiratorial but cautious tone. "But, one of the day-shift nurses has a boyfriend who works at the dining house and he said..." She got no further than that before a voice interrupted her from a bed across the room.

"Nurse?" It was the old woman who snored; she was awake now, and trying to sit. "Can you help me?" She was cold and needed another blanket, and the nurse had to leave Krystle and Stacey hanging while she went to fetch one.

Stacey let her held breath out in a ragged sigh that was half-growl and half-moan, before falling over sideways to writhe on her bed in pretended agony. "I can't take this anymore," she said, her voice strangled by frustration. Neither she nor Krystle had been lying down, or even pretending anymore, but sat up on their beds, wide awake.

For some reason, Krystle's heart began to pound, hard, after the nurse volunteered to reveal something that both she and Stacey were sworn to keep to themselves. What a night. She wore the blanket that had covered her for her visit outdoors with Chips like it was a shawl. Stacey had pulled her own covers up and over her bare legs for warmth and became tangled in them, during her thrashing, and she had quite a struggle returning back to a sitting position without doing further injury to her burned hands and foot.

"Ow, ow, ow," said Krystle, after she thoughtlessly tried to clutch her left side and knocked her hand against her casted arm, which ended up hurting her twice as much. "Don't make me laugh anymore, it's killing me."

Luckily, before either could suffer any more self-inflicted injuries, on top of their very real ones, the nurse returned to finish her tale. As they had both guessed while she was gone, so it barely was a surprise, an Orlando Bloom sighting had happened just the day before. The boyfriend of the day nurse swore he saw him pass by a window. It was unconfirmed, and possibly a hoax, because the day nurse was a big fan and always wished that Orlando would visit here, and her boyfriend loved to play pranks on her.

"I almost told you about it a few times, tonight," the nurse concluded, confirming both of their suspicions about her shifting-eyed behavior earlier. "But it would be just like him to tease her like that, and you are leaving in the morning, so I didn't want to get any hopes up for nothing." she shrugged, and then moved closer to Krystle's bed. "Hey, kiddo, how's that arm?"

"It hurts, I accidentally moved it." Krystle was grateful to be asked about it and the nurse promised to bring her some more medication after she took care of something else first.

"Thank you," Krystle said. "And thanks for telling us about the Orlando sighting. It's kind of cool waking up in a place where a real movie star might be visiting. It's kind of like being in Middle-earth, you know?"

"It's better!" exclaimed the awed Stacey. "He's real, he's a real guy, we could meet him!"

"Not right now you can't," said the nurse. "After you are discharged to your parents, then you are on your own to do what you like. Until then, you belong to us, so to speak. It's the law."

If the nurse thought she had done either of them a favor with her gossip, she was sorely mistaken, for Stacey was determined now to do the only thing that could be done by a true fan, under the circumstances, she was going to go right out and find him and she wanted Krystle to come with her.

"It's practically an unwritten law," vowed Stacey, shocked that Krystle did not leap out of bed at the idea. "It's like breaking out of a prisoner of war camp if you are a soldier, you have to at least try."

"Stacey, we aren't soldiers," Krystle pointed out. "Or prisoners." She did not add that she was in too much pain to want to do more than lie very still for a very long time. As soon as she heard about the prankster boyfriend, she dismissed the rumor about the Orlando sighting as not important enough to jump up out of her bed to investigate.

"Maybe you aren't a prisoner, but I am. You can just check yourself out, but I can't. I have to wait for my parents, and I know they won't let me stay around to find Orlando tomorrow. So I am busting out of this joint."

"I think you watch too much television." Although Krystle would have loved to have met Orlando Bloom, the actor, she did not have him confused in her mind with Legolas, the elf. It would be nice to meet a movie star, true, but not nice enough to aid and abet Stacey and possibly be breaking a law.

"Come on, don't be so negative, live a little." Stacey bounced with impatience. "I only want to see if we can get a peek at him."

"In the middle of the night? We don't even know where he is staying, or if he is even here. Maybe he was just passing through." Krystle could not believe how much she sounded like her own mother to herself. Stacey already had an answer.

"The clinic people told my mom that there is only one place to stay in this town," she said, holding up a fat bandaged finger to illustrate her point. "One hotel, and it's not a very big town."

"You are crazy." Krystle's whispering voice grew shrill. "What do you think you are going to do, sneak past everybody in some hotel lobby wearing your hospital gown and go knock on doors?" This time thee was a long silence before Stacey replied.

"I could say that I am looking for my parents and check out the layout."

"Check out the layout?" Krystle shook her head at the flat-out wrongness of her response. "No, she said, "Stacey, hon, listen to me. This isn't a video game, its real life."

"I know that, and I am going to live it." Without saying another word, Stacey hopped off her bed, with her blanket draped over her shoulders, and grabbed her crutches.

"You are going to break your neck," said Krystle, not whispering now, to show she was serious. "Stacey, don't make me call the nurse over to tie you down to your bed."

"Oh, don't worry," Stacey snapped back. "I'm not going anywhere. Where's your sense of humor? I am just going to get some practice, okay?" With the injured air of being accused unfairly, she crutched around her beside her bed a few times and seemed to concentrate solely on establishing a rhythm. "I need more room to do this," she declared, and then was out the door into the hallway, giggling.

Krystle was in a quandary after glancing over at the nurses' desk for help. Neither of them was there. Should she call out? If they were in the same room, but out of her sight, then they must have heard Stacey hobbling and giggling her way out the door. She waited.

Now, just the day before, Krystle had wondered, more than once, if she would be more suited for teaching teenagers than young children. She wondered no more. The job she applied for near Sacramento was in an elementary school, where she was not going to be in charge of anyone that she could not pick up and carry, and Stacey was a convincing example that she had made the right choice.

Quietly, she slipped off of her own bed and followed. It was not hard to catch up with Stacey, she was just outside the door, untangling a crutch from the slippery blanket.

"Do you need some help?" Together, they adjusted the cover in a more practical fashion for crutching around. Krystle was not much help with one arm, so it was a slow process, and she hoped that one of the nurses would come to investigate.

"I just want to peek out the door again," whispered Stacey. She lifted the back of the blanket she wore up over her head like it was a hood and crutched up to the double doors. "See what I can see."

"Alright." Krystle did not have any trouble keeping up with her. "But I am going to be right next to you so you better not try anything funny. You look like a ghost now, with your blanket like that."

"I know what my hair looks like," said Stacey, pushing past her. "I don't want Orlando to see it." Before Krystle could reach out and stop her, she was out the doors, crutching along the graveled driveway like a pro, although not a very fast pro. The ground proved slippery and there were a few yelps of alarm when the crutch tips slid or stuttered on the uneven surface. Her forward momentum, and teenage stubbornness, propelled her forward.

For a few moments, Krystle turned in circles trying to decide what to do. Go back and find a nurse, scream for help, or chase after Stacey? Her side hurt, and if she left the clinic then she would not get her pain medication, and she would probably be breaking some kind of law by not telling anyone about a minor running away. She was out the door and into the dark before she could think anymore about it.

"I can't let you go running around a strange town by yourself, can I?" She had it in mind that she could persuade the unruly teen to return to the clinic if she stopped trying to keep her inside. "What if you went missing and got carried off into the woods by a bear or something?" It was spooky outdoors, they were surrounded by forest, and the clinic was apparently built on the outskirts of Green Grove.

There were no street lights, and it grew darker the farther they traveled away from the clinic, but not too dark to see. A few sleepy birds chirped from the surrounding trees, the sun would be up soon. They moved across a large graveled area meant for cars and the ambulance, which was the only vehicle parked there. Its gleaming white surface hovered over the surface like a strange space craft in the pre-dawn gloom. Stacey, however, did not seem spooked and forged ahead, leading the way.

The road there was narrow and led to a bridge; the sound of rushing water could be heard as they drew nearer. It had a sign beside it which read, "Welcome to Green Grove. Home of the Famous Crooked Valley Hot Springs."

It was a short bridge, they could see the town just beyond it, but Stacey insisted it was significant. What if the river below it was enchanted? And did not Rivendell have a bridge? She had read that far into the books. The dark sky began to lighten, thin and shifting shadows thrown by stationary objects, like the tall trees that dominated the horizon, started to appear.

Although she resisted the idea of being in a supernatural setting, Krystle began to feel odd as they moved across the bridge. What if Stacey was right and they were moving into an enchanted realm? The idea itself made her feel a little giddy, added to the murky dimness, and the sound of water, perhaps. After they had crossed, she looked straight upwards into the darkest part of the sky, where the stars were giving up their last twinkles of the night. There was the Big Dipper, right where it should be.

"This is a just a normal small town," said Krystle out loud, relieved. The road widened dramatically after the bridge, and buildings were crowded right up to the edge of the sidewalks, which were made of wooden planks. Nothing special about that in the middle of a forest. The main street was twice as wide as a more urban town or city, which was actually normal for a former mining or logging town. There were no cars parked out in front of any of the buildings. "I smell bread baking, don't you?"

They passed a bakery with lights on in the back but a darkened front window and 'closed' sign in the door. An unusually large frosted cake sat on display; its three tiers were separated by miniature pillars and each tier was decorated in different shade of icing, the colors were difficult to tell in the dark, and with different styles of decoration. Krystle's hungry stomach reminded her of how long it had been since she had eaten.

"Oh my gawd! Look!" Stacey tugged Krystle past the beautiful cake and into what looked like an alley between buildings, but turned out to be a small dirt road that clearly led for a long way in a straight line before it veered off into the trees behind the bakery. But that was not what Stacey wanted her to see, she was pointing up, and there, on the outer wall of the building next over, was a small sign, which said, "Tolkien Cabin tour times: request within."

"Is that a hotel down there?" Stacey had not even noticed the sign about Tolkien's cabin and Krystle decided not to say anything. The last thing she needed was to be dragged off into the forest by the gullible teen. The hotel turned out to be a second hand store, and the sign that Stacey mistook for a vacancy sign said 'used junque' in fancy scrolled letters, it hung by chains under a larger sign that had the store's name. Krystle had to pull Stacey away from the window.

"Look at that necklace."

"What about it?" Krystle did not even bother to look.

"It looks just like a magical amulet, like it possesses powers. We should buy it."

"We? Buy it? With what?" Exasperated, Krystle flung her arms open to display a lack of any worldly goods beyond a thin blanket and a thinner hospital gown. Which was a mistake, her injured arm throbbed with renewed pain. They were both startled into silence by the sound of approaching footsteps on the wooden sidewalk, although they could not see anyone around them.

Without thinking, Krystle pulled Stacey down the sidewalk towards the bakery and ducked between the buildings where the dirt road lay.

"Maybe they will let us touch it, or put it on?" Stacey asked, whispering, still thinking of the necklace. "That would be all it would take, if it is magic."

"Will you be quiet? Someone is out there..." Frantically, Krystle tried to think of what she could possibly say to explain their presence, prowling about in a strange town dressed as they were, with crutches, a cast, and bandaged up like, well, like accident victims.

They were near the bakery again, and Krystle's stomach growled so hard from the aroma of baked goods that she had no doubt they were about to be caught, and she hoped that no one would press charges against her. Why did she follow this girl?

After a few heart-banging moments, the sound of the footsteps could no longer be heard. Krystle could not tell if they had moved farther away or if the person who made them was just around the corner of the building. Above their heads, lights came on in the windows of the building they were hovering next to. Stacey saw the sign on the wall.

"Tolkien's cabin tours!" She managed to keep her squeals in a whisper, but her obvious gleeful excitement was only one more obstacle.

"No! No cabin," hissed Krystle, her whole left side was one big aching knot. "We are going back..."

"Look over there!" Stacey crutched a few steps further down the odd little road, the sky was mostly gray now and light blue at the horizons, toward a wooden sign stuck in the ground. She read it out loud; "This way to Tolkien's cabin." With an arrow. Krystle covered her face and groaned.

After Stacey promised that she would meekly and swiftly return to the clinic if they just took a fast and tiny peek at the cabin, Krystle relented. As they moved down the road, they were surrounded on either side by orchards, probably apples. The backs of the bakery and the other buildings were camouflaged by bushes and the fruit trees, it was almost as if they did not exist. The forest loomed before them, dark and great. If not for the approaching dawn, she did not know if she could have gone within it.

As it turned out, the log cabin was in a clearing, behind a natural fence of berry bushes and other shrubbery, and there was no need to go into the forest at all. Tolkien's log home did not look very magical to Krystle, but it was a cleverly built structure, set back from the road with a gated entrance and a walkway to the front door that was paved in log rounds.

The sun had not topped the trees, yet, so everything was still in shade, but it was light enough now to see how pretty everything was. Rambling roses, various vines, and creeping ivy grew in a riot of semi-tamed wildness over the gate, the fence that circled the cabin, and the cabin itself. Someone had kept the walkway clear, but the rest of the yard inside the fence was overgrown with bushes and weeds. It looked like it was once a nice place to stay for a summer vacation, years ago.

Stacey found the wooden pathway slippery with dew, and she moved very slowly now. Krystle beat her to the front door. There was a small table set on the porch with a tin bucket labeled 'donations for upkeep' set on top of it. It was empty.

On the door of the cabin was a plaque, certifying that this was the genuine, and historical, part-time residence of JRR Tolkien, with dates. Another hand-lettered sign, covered with peeling plastic, cautioned visitors to proceed with care. Visiting hours and formal tour times were listed.

"Rats," whispered Stacey. "Maybe we can see in the windows." She tried some, Krystle tried others, they all were curtained. The floor boards of the cabin's front porch squeaked and rattled as they searched for a view of the interior.

"Maybe we should give up before one of these old boards breaks underneath us," said Krystle. The sun was up, and if a search party had not been launched for two missing clinic patients, then one would be, shortly. She imagined blood-hounds and men in flannel shirts carrying shot-guns, hunting them down like fugitives.

"Just let me try something," said Stacey, and she turned the knob on the front door. It opened. The room within was nearly pitch-black dark with all the curtains blocking the brightening day.

"I hope there's no one living inside there." Krystle cautioned, although she did not think Stacey would walk into a stranger's home uninvited. That would be trespassing. Or breaking and entering? Either was not a good idea.

"There's one way to find out," answered the willful teenager, and she walked right in.

To be continued in Chapter 4

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Posted: August 15, 2006

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