Chapter 23

Tom groggily forced his eyes open. He reached for the remote to turn on the overhead lights. Struggling to find it, he started to realize that this wasn’t the hospital room. As the pain overtook him, he struggled to catch his breath while he surveyed the room. The pale brown colors, the bland d├ęcor and the second bed made things click. He was at a hotel. He struggled to access the blurred memories of how he wound up here.

Wanting a better look, Tom leaned forward to get into a prone position. The burning sensation in his chest and gut forced him to abandon that plan and fall backwards onto the bed. The sting was so severe that he started to sweat. The cold droplets ran down his skin. Worried it would hurt even more, he tried his best to suppress a shiver. He carefully reached to pull up the blankets when he noticed the sheets covered in blood. He let out a gasp.

Neil walked into the room, holding a bag of groceries.

“Ah, you’re awake,” said Neil, noticing Tom looking at his bandage. “Yeah, that’s not looking so great. I have some supplies.”

“It doesn’t feel so good either. Where the hell are we?”

“We got ourselves a honeymoon suite,” joked Neil

“Dude, I’m just not in the mood.”

“I bet a lot of people say that exact thing in this room,” joked Neil. He noticed the look on Tom’s face and realized that his attempt to keep things light fell flat. “Sorry Tom. We’re in Mondale.”

“Mondale? That’s 4 hours from home.”

“Yeah, it sure is. Another nice big city where we’re off the radar, sitting pretty in a seedy motel where we’ll be safe. I made a bit of a tough call after you passed out, but I figured that anonymity is a priority.”

“I see.” Tom motioned to the grocery bag. “What’s in the bag?”

Neil grimaced. “It’s late and I couldn’t find a pharmacy. I’ve got extra absorbent feminine napkins and a bunch of tea bags.”

“What?”

“Well, black tea should help stop the bleeding and the pads will work as bandages for now. There was a convenience store a block away and that’s all I could find at this hour without leaving you alone too long. I really didn’t want to leave at all, but that wound was looking too serious to leave alone.”

“Wait, what? Tea? Are you sure about the tea?”

Neil raised his hands and made a calming gesture to Tom as he spoke. “Yes, I’m very sure. You get it wet, apply it to the wounds and it’ll help coagulate. While you were passed out I looked at it - the wound definitely reopened, but it looks like the stitches are intact. I’m hoping that means it’s something we can take care of ourselves and stay safely under the radar, at least for tonight. Problem is, we’re going to want to do it now, before whatever drugs are left in your system wear out. Do you trust me?”

“I guess. I just wish I healed like you. I vaguely remember gunshots.”

“Shots were fired, but nobody was hit. Not even me.”

Tom nodded and opened his mouth to reply before shutting it. He struggled to talk. His vision started to blur around the edges. He felt sick to his stomach as the room spun. He closed his mouth.

“You’re not looking so hot, Tom. Just close your eyes and rest. You can’t keep losing blood. You have no color left in your face. Rest up.”

Neil walked to the bathroom and walked back with the ice bucket full of hot water and a pile of towels draped over his shoulder.

Struggling to speak, Tom managed a few words. “How do you know this’ll work?” he asked.

“Just trust me, Tom, please,” responded Neil, “I know a thing or two.”

Tom nodded and closed his eyes.

Neil started tearing apart the tea bags and pouring the loose tea into the ice bucket. As he did, Neil found his mind wandering. The sight of blood and the smell of the tea triggered a memory buried deep within.

“Hey, Buddy,” spoke the voice in Neil’s head. “Buddy, can you hear me? Buddy, what’s your name?”

With that, the room faded out around Neil. He was somewhere else. He could smell the dirt inches from his face, the pain in his leg burning. He was back at the car crash site.

“Hey, Buddy. I need you to stick with me here, can you hear me? I need your name”

Neil screamed at the man. “My wife. The car. Leave me. SAVE THEM!”

A woman walked up. “Oh Jesus!” she shouted as she laid her eyes on Neil.

The man turned to her. “Jesus indeed, Diane, you’re not helping.” He turned back to Neil. “Hey, Buddy. I’m gonna need a name here. I’m Will.”

Neil smacked Will’s hands away. “Not me,” he shouted, “Save my wife! She’s pregnant!”

Will allowed Neil to flail a bit. “Listen Buddy. I’m a doctor. I happened to be driving by.” He pointed. “That’s my camper over there. Can you focus on it for a second? It’s right there. And right next to it, there’s a crew over there trying to lift the semi off the car. I can’t help them do that, but I can help you and you’re bleeding bad. Whether or not your wife makes it, that’s out of our hands. But if she makes it, she’ll want you to be alive as well.”

“Neil. The name is Neil.”

“Great. Neil, now like I said, you’re bleeding bad. That leg is in terrible shape and there’s a ton of arteries in there that we need to pack. The bad news is that I’m apparently a shitty doctor who doesn’t have a first aid kit that’s worth a damn with me, but the good news is that my wife loves the hell out of tea and I have a shitload of tea bags that will do in a pinch to stop the bleeding.” He turned to the woman. “Diane, wet all of our tea bags. As many as you can find, preferably black, but we’ll take anything.”

Diane was transfixed on Neil’s leg.

“DIANE,” shouted Will, “Stop staring at Neil here and get me some goddamn tea bags. Now.”

The words shook Diane out of it. She immediately ran towards the camper.

“It’s gonna be fine Neil. Despite not having a first aid kit, I’m actually really good at what I do. I’m a great doctor.”

Neil felt everything fade away. He closed his eyes, shook his head and cleared his mind. When he opened them back up, he was back at the hotel room again, looking down at Tom, wound completely covered in a thick layer of tea leaves under some absorbent pads. He sighed and mopped his brow with his forearm. He took a second to double-check Tom’s wound for fresh blood. When he was satisfied, he started the cleanup. First he gathered the soaked hotel towels and collected the ice bucket and brought them all to the bathroom. He looked back over his shoulder and it seemed like Tom was completely passed out.

“That’s probably a good thing,” Neil thought to himself.

In the bathroom, Neil started running water in the sink and set to work trying to clean the towels. It was fruitless, but as it became more and more difficult he got more and more frustrated. He scraped and scrubbed the towels with his hands, he rubbed them together, he worked frantically until they started to show signs of wear, but they were not getting any less red.

Frustrated, he threw everything into the bathtub and looked in the mirror. He was covered in blood, up to his elbows. His knees buckled and he fell to the floor crying.

Neil was shaken by the flashback. In the back of his mind he always denied he had PTSD. The bad dreams were just that, bad dreams. But this waking nightmare, this vivid recollection shook him to the core. He replayed the accident over and over in his mind and evaluated how it colored and re-framed everything that had happened since. Conrad, his newfound abilities, his father’s death, Tom’s near miss. Seeing everything in this new light was all so overwhelming.

Uncomfortable, drenched in sticky, soggy, bloody clothes, he continued to weep as he finally faced and processed everything he had been repressing. Bit by bit, tentatively, he came to terms with everything that had brought him to this very moment.

Walking through his life with this new perspective was terrifying. He had hindsight on his side, highlighting the mistakes he made. There were a ton of them. He was so rude to Tom. He was so unwilling to get the help he needed. He prioritized revenge and made a bad situation worse. A lot of this was on him.

As Neil took this personal inventory, he became more and more determined. He realized that identifying the mistakes he had made meant that he had grown enough to recognize them. That feeling left him empowered.

Confidence growing, he made a conscious decision to move forward. He concluded that the old Neil died in that car accident and that after the cannon, he was given a gift – the new start he needed to push forward in life.

“Being able to start over is overwhelming,” Neil thought to himself. “I’m going to need to focus on a single goal. Pick a next logical step.” He decided that it was time to embrace his curse. It was time to get his abilities under control.

“If I can control something as awesome and powerful as electricity,” he reasoned, “I can get anything under control.”

Neil got up and took off his shirt. He threw it in the bathtub with all the other bloody laundry. He wandered out of the bathroom and settled on the floor cross-legged.

He didn’t know where to start, so he focused on Rebecca and on his father. Neither of them would have wanted him to give up on life, so he thought of them as he started to meditate. He would keep them in his mind while he fought to become a slightly better version of himself.


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Comments

1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

I did some research on emergency coagulants - tea is apparently a good one, the more you know, I guess. I played around with moving the point of view from one character to another on this chapter. I hope it flows well. Feedback always appreciated.

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Written by Richard Belzile

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