Don't Blink

        The sidewalk was cold under her; she could feel the dampness soaking into the knees of her jeans.  If she could had shivered, she would have, but her body was a thousand miles away, and fading fast.
      dont blink...dont close your eyes...
        But her eyes were heavy and scratchy, and she was feeling warmer now, and the rough concrete was getting smoother, and she put her head down, and she was....

        She awoke to a nightmare of pain.  It flared out from her chest, enveloped her in burning liquid fire.  Cold air played across her breasts.  She couldn't get her breath;  something hard intruded into her mouth, down her throat.  She felt her stomach retch, then the pain washed across her again.
      She tried to reach up and grab the white coated man that hovered over her, but there was no connection between her arm and her brain.  She saw her hand flopping aimlessly in the air, saw the tubing running from her blood spattered arm into the hanging bag.  There was a flurry of movement, then her arm was pinned and she bounced again, floating caught in the pain and the fire.

      She tried to raise her head but it was too heavy, too unbalanced.  She could see nothing but a thin line of light coming in underneath her half-closed eyelids.  She floated down a hallway, lights flashed above her.
      Then there was a bright light hanging above her and the cart came to a jolting stop.  She reeled in nausea again, then everything was white and snowy, and she closed her eyes again.

      god what a shame...thought Doctor Steve Likes, as he gently peeled back an eyelid and shined the light into the patient's eye.  She looked like she had once been pretty, she was young, she was in shape, in fact, other then a large hole in the back of her skull, she looked as if she had everything to live for.
        The pupil contracted, sluggishly.
        He checked the other one.  It momentarily twitched, then nothing.  He absently brushed a tear from her cheek.
        what a damn shame...
        "Let's prep her for a CT scan," he told one of the nurses.  She nodded.
        Now he checked the extent of the injury to the brain.  The paramedics in EMS 12 had reported a much larger injury than the one he saw, but it was still bad.  Looking at her, he could see where they'd assumed the trauma to be worse than it was: long hair flowed down the gurney and blood rushed along it, swirling red patterns on the white sheet and dripping down to the floor.  It looked as if four people had already bled out in the tiny trauma room.
       The blood made a pattern like a spider on the floor.
        Dr. Likes didn't notice it.  His mind was still on the ambulance report.  He pulled the computer printout and compared it to what he was seeing.
        but's not like Patterson to make a first-year mistake like that...  he thought.
        The team was cutting off her leather jacket and sweatshirt now.  The flesh beneath was white, no evidence of a tan.  Dr Likes noted the peppering of the lower back with shotgun pellets.  They were red and bloody, but looked more like a swarm of angry bees had had their way with her, instead of a sawed off shotgun.
        well, she was wearing a leather jacket and a thick sweatshirt...could have been a glancing shot...not
        he checked the notes again.  The police report was ammended to it.
        two direct shots from less than ten feet away...what the hell?...
        Then he noticed the scars.  A network of thin blue lines, almost like tattoos, ran across her sides, her back, her breasts.  For a moment, Dr Likes forgot her injuries and just stared at the elaborate patterns crisscrossing her body.
        One of the nurses gasped.
        what are those?...  gang tattoos?...
        But even as he thought it, he knew they were no ordinary tattoos.  They seemed scratched into the skin.  It looked like the work of a lifetime of razor blade cuttings, the lines were so thin and elaborate.  And they were not the work of some scratcher with a coloring book, either.  These whirled crazily, forming some sort of patterns along her muscles.
        Dr Likes knew they were something important, some sort of language, perhaps, but then the patient gasped and her eyes flickered open.
        "Doctor, she's conscious," one of the residents said unnecessarily.
        Steve grabbed her hand.
        "Can you hear me?  You're at Chicago Mercy Hospital.  You've been shot.  We're going to have to..."
        The woman's stare stopped the words in his throat.  Then she grimaced - in pain, he thought - and growled deep in her throat.  He felt a hot pain in his hand, and looked down at it.
        The woman's nails
        she didn't have those a second ago
        were digging into his hand, making bloody trails down the palm.  Then she opened her mouth and let out a noise.
        The patient began to howl.
        Steve was frozen.  The howl sounded like all the loneliness in the world voiced in one voice.  It was the shout of the disposessed, the cry of the abused, and the moan of the dying all rolled into one.
        Then she fell back onto the gurney and was silent.
        Everyone was still for just a second, then the room exploded into activity.  Steve stepped back into the corner of the room and let the technicians prepare her.  Electrodes and wires appeared as if out of nowhere.  White gauze covered her large bleeding broken places.
        Steve watched as if in a fog.
        He had seen something in her eyes.
        Then she was whisked out of the room, down for a cat scan and other proceedures, and he quickly bandaged the scratches.  Some part of him knew that he had seen something unknowable, and ultimatly alien, to him and his life.
        Then his pager went off, and the next of the dying was brought before him.  His mind fixed on this one as it had fixed on the others, and the memory of the woman and her eyes was fading already.
        By the time he had the chance to go to the cafeteria for lunch, he had the whole experience neatly filed in the back of his head.
        One of the residents commented on the "howler", and he had to think which patient he meant.  Then he asked about her condition.
        "She's in ICU.  They had to do a cranial on her.  Pressures were sky high.  She's on the way out."
        Steve regarded his chicken sandwich with more seriousness than it deserved.
        "What a damn shame," he finally said.
        As the cleaning crew prepared Trauma Room 3 to be used again that night, one of the women with a mop looked down at the blood smear on the floor.  The maintainence staff was used to blood and body fluids; people leaked when they were here and that was a fact of life.  But this night, the markings on the floor looked like the face of a large wolf.  She pointed it out to her partner, who saw it too.
        But then again, last week, they'd seen Elvis' profile in a puddle of vomit, so it was nothing special or anything...

        In and out, the blue respirator kept up a steady rythem for the woman, who now lay bandaged and sedated in an alcove across from the nurses' station in ICU.  Thin green lines traced her every move on a screen, disappearing as quickly as they appeared.  The nurses had smeared vaseline on her lips to keep them from cracking.  The bottles and bags hanging from the IV stand threw abstract shadows across the bed.  She never moved.
        Shift change came and went, and she never moved.
        And again, and again.
        Her chart was designated Jane Doe #803.  Sappho had lost many things along the way, and now she had lost her name as well.

        Much later, after leaving the hospital, Steve dozed on his couch.  He didn't do this often: he had a perfectly good bed and a warm woman waiting there for him, but tonight he was strangely troubled and jittery.
        He was halfway through the third level of Mortal Kombat when sleep finally caught up with him.

        And then he was running through Lincoln Park, little seven year old Stevie, chaising Daisy, he and his brother's much beloved mutt, and in front of him Daisy trotted and wagged her tail, barking happily and enjoying the game as much as he....
        daisy..alive again...back to stay?...
        And then he saw the truck, lumbering down the side street, and Daisy running faster, loping now to cross the street before he could catch her, and he tried to shout, to stop her, to stop the truck, to say something to save her, but it was too late and he was only seven and his legs were rubber and the ground turned into quicksand and then and then and then....
        And there was a sickening thud and daisy flew through the air and landed against the curb and the truck, pipes belching dark clouds of exhaust into the cool spring air just kept rolling down the street, never noticing the small boy screaming crying running to the animal it had carelessly hit...
        Daisy rolled her eyes to look at him as he threw himself to his knees dirtying his good pants and mom would be mad later but he didnt care about the pants didnt care about anything except daisy who now looked at him through watering eyes and tried to lick his shaking hands while he petted her and wished he could help and put his head on her side and wept and wept and the rainwater soaked into his pants and the cars went by and nobody stopped.
        But the look in daisy's eyes...
        And then suddenly he was big now, he was steve and not stevie anymore, and he could help when people were hurt, and he was standing in the trauma room looking at Daisy lying on a gurney and then he was looking at the woman today, with the same eyes as Daisy had and the same dying howl as Daisy had howled and...
        "Baby, WAKE UP!"  he heard his wife call to him, then he started awake on the couch, the playstation controller still gripped in his sweating hands.  Warm arms held him, and he burrowed into her sweet-smelling hair.  After a minute, she pulled back from him and looked at him quizzically.
        "You," she tapped on his chest, "are overdue for a vacation, mister!"
        He laughed and scooped her into his arms.
        And later, lying in bed, she turned to him and whispered in his ear,
        "Next time you fall asleep in front of that game..."  she balled up a fist and waved it in front of his face.  He smiled.
        "I...dreamed about a dog I used to have...funny, I havn't thought about her in years...I was really small when she died."
        "I'm sorry baby," she cooed.
        "I can't remember...there was something else, but..."  he searched his brain, but whatever else he had dreamed was gone.
        "Goodnight baby," she said to him, playfully closing his eyes with her long cool fingertips.
        No more dreams bothered him that night.

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And then what happened...?