Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Eight

[Parts 1-27 are here. Thank you for reading Xo]


“It goes under his sweater,” James says, tugging at the collar of Alexander’s sweater to see underneath it. Alexander whimpers and moves away. “What could cause a rash like this? Has he been bitten by something? Have you seen any spiders around? Can spiders even live in the snow?”

Michael stands up to get a better look. “We’ll have to take his sweater off. We need to see how far the rash spreads and if there’s a definite start point. That will tell us more.”

James lifts up the bottom of Alexander’s sweater and the thermal shirt underneath.

“James?” Alexander whispers, struggling to open his eyes.

“I’m here, buddy.” James focuses on keeping the panic out of his voice. “I need to take off your sweater.”

“I’m thirsty,” Alexander mumbles, rubbing his eyes with his fist. James gets up and goes to the sink, returning with a glass of water. Alexander takes a sip and pushes it away.

“My tummy hurts,” he says, curling onto his side. “Can you hold me?”

James’ mouth feels like it is full of cotton. He puts the glass on the bedside table. “I will, but after I take off your sweater, okay?”

Alexander nods, but stays where he is. James crouches down beside him.

“You need to sit up for me, buddy.”

“My tummy hurts,” Alexander says again, cradling it with his unbroken arm.

James notices that he is taking short, rapid breaths. He tries not to show his fear. “I know, buddy. I know.” He turns to Michael. “Is there anything in the first aid kit that could help?”

“I’ll check.”

James turns back to Alexander. “Okay, buddy. I need you to sit up. I need to make sure you’re okay.”

Alexander sniffs as James helps him sit up.

“Good,” James says once Alexander is resting against the pillows. He feels his forehead. It’s warmer than it was earlier. “Alright,” he says, brushing the hair from Alexander’s eyes. “I’m going to take your sweater and shirt off now. It might hurt your arm but it will be over soon. Are you ready?”

Alexander nods. James hooks his fingers around the bottom of Alexander’s shirt and tugs it over his head, thankful they didn’t try to pull the sleeves over his broken arm when they were dressing him. Alexander cries out as the sweater jostles his arm, but it’s over his head in a few seconds.

“There you are,” James says soothingly. “It wasn’t so bad, right?”

Alexander bites his lip and rests back on the pillows. The rash extends onto his chest, down his right arm and under the bandage. James runs his trembling fingers over it. It’s smooth. He leans forward to get a closer look. Each red spot looks like a tiny bruise the size of a pin prick. He tentatively pushes against one.

“Does that hurt?”

Alexander shakes his head. He coughs and closes his eyes.

“There’s nothing for stomach aches,” Michael says, coming over with the bottle of Tylenol. “But maybe these will help?”

James grabs the bottle and reads the label. “How long has it been since he last had these?"

Michael picks up his phone from the table and turns it on. “About four and a half hours.” He turns the phone back off.

James opens the pill bottle and takes one out. “Can you swallow this?” he asks Alexander. Alexander nods so James gives him a pill and the glass of water from the bedside table. Alexander takes it and lies back down. James’ gaze trail over the rash.

“What could cause that?” he asks again, staring at where the rash disappears under the bandage. “It’s not raised, it’s not painful, he’s not scratching it…Are you itchy, buddy?”

“No,” Alexander says in a small voice. He shivers.

“We need to see where it starts,” Michael says, voicing the thought James didn’t want to acknowledge. “We need to see if there’s a bite or something. We need to…”

“We can’t take off the splint,” James interrupts. “We can’t put him through that again. Not again.”

“We need to know what’s causing the rash.” Michael puts his hand on James’ shoulder. “It could be a bite. We might need to stop the poison from spreading.

James’ heart skips a beat at the word poison. He feels light headed.

“There was a first aid book,” he says, standing up and shrugging Michael’s hand away. “There was a first aid book in the kit. Maybe that can help.”

He walks over to the table and picks up the book. He goes straight to the index.

“Why don’t they have a section about rashes?!” he mutters, thumbing through in search of something useful. He stops on the section about venomous bites and stings. “There’s nothing in here that looks close to that,” he says after a few minutes, scanning through the information. He flicks through the pages, feeling increasingly desperate. Alexander coughs again and opens his eyes.

“Will you stay with me, James?” He seems to struggle to catch his breath. “Will you lie here with me?”

‘”J,” Michael says. “We have to do it.”

James clenches and unclenches his jaw. His heart pounds in his chest so loudly that it seems to echo in the room.

“Fine.” He turns to Alexander. He tries to smile, to keep his face from betraying him. “Uncle Michael and I need to take off your bandage for a minute, buddy,” he says as calmly as he can. “It might hurt, but—”

“No, Alexander says, shaking his head. “It’s going to hurt!” He coughs more, spluttering for air. James picks up the glass of water. His hands shake, spilling it onto Alexander’s chest. James uses his sleeve to dry it and swallows against the lump in his throat. He can’t lie to him. He won’t. That would only make it worse.

“It is,” he says once Alexander stops coughing. “It is going to hurt a little but I promise we will be as quick as we can.”

Alexander’s eyes fill with tears. “Please no,” he whispers. “I’m scared.”

James sits down on the bed and runs his hand through Alexander’s hair. “It’s okay,” he says, looking over the rash again. It is contained to his right side. “It’s going to be alright. We just have to find out what’s causing this rash so we can help.”

Alexander shakes his head.

James turns to Michael, who is staring intently at Alexander. He looks deep in thought.

“Michael? Mike? Are you ready?”

Michael doesn’t answer.

“Mike!”

“I don’t think we need to take off the bandage,” he says softly.

James’ feels like a weight has been lifted from him. Just for a moment. The look on Michael’s face scares him too much to feel elated for long.

“We don’t?”

Michael shakes his head. “The coughing...The fever...I think…I think I might know what’s causing it all. I think I might recognise it. It’s been there this whole time, niggling at the back of my mind.”

James stares at him, waiting for him to go on. He doesn’t.

James’ body goes numb.

“What is it?” James asks, standing up. He moves closer to Michael. “Michael, what is it??”

Michael doesn’t take his eyes off Alexander. “My cellmate in juvie, he got a rash like that after he’d fractured his leg in a yard fight. He didn’t want to go to the infirmary, didn’t want to admit to fighting…”

“Michael!” James can hear the desperation in his voice. “What is it?? Michael!”

Michael focuses on James. He is even paler than he was before.

“The fever…The seizure…The coughing and his rapid breathing…I think it might all be connected. I think that rash, all of it…It’s because of his arm. I think…I think he’s leaking bone marrow into his bloodstream.”

******

Monday, 30 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Seven

[My Internet really did die.
The irony is not lost on me.
Buuuut it's back now so please accept my sincerest apologies for the wait in the form of a bonus post on this most holy day.

Parts 1-26 are here. Thank you so much for reading Xo

Ps, If you missed the exciting announcement, I'm now on Tumblr too! Huzzah! You should all come love me over there, too :p That is if you aren't sick of me yet. I'm still learning how to tumbl[r] so please forgive my ugly theme. I am working on it Xo]



"What were you going to say before?” Michael asks once Alexander is asleep again. “Before Alexander came out?”

“What?”

“I asked you if you wanted an out, and you said of course not, but sometimes…Sometimes what?”

James feels Alexander’s heart beating against his. “I don’t remember,” he lies.

Michael isn’t fooled. “J. Come on. You have to talk about this. You can’t keep it all inside. It isn’t healthy. You can’t move on until you start to deal with what happened.”

“Move on,” James repeats. “Move on? You think there is a move on from this? You think there will come a time when I’m not terrified that I’ll never see him again every time he leaves the house? You think there will ever be a time when the nightmares stop, for either of us?” He meets Michael’s gaze. “No, Michael. No. There is no move on. There’s cope with. And somewhat function normally. But there is no move on. There is no get better.”

“That’s how you feel now,” Michael says. “But people move on. Life moves on. It won’t feel this bad forever. I promise you it won’t. Hell, look at me. I thought I’d never move on from my problems. I thought I’d be strung out and drunk forever.” Michael looks at his hands and lowers his voice. “Do you know that night I came over? The night I…” He clears his throat. “I wasn’t just drunk, J. I was high too. I hadn’t been back on it for long, but…” He shakes his head. “I didn’t think I’d ever tell you that."

James is silent for a long time. “Coke?” he asks finally, remembering how the two of them spent a few dark months of their youth working for the drug dealers who lived around the corner. James had tried it once. Michael only managed to kick the habit after he spent a year in juvie for stealing a car.

Michael shakes his head. “Xanax. I got a prescription to calm me down and help me sleep better, you know, and…” He runs his hand through his hair. “I couldn’t be trusted with it.”

“Jesus,” James says softly. “I’m sorry.”

Michael looks up. “Why would you be sorry?”

“Because…I knew. I knew things were bad and I didn’t confront you. I didn’t know they were that bad; I didn’t know you were using again, but I…I knew you were struggling and I didn’t say anything. I guess I didn’t know how to or didn’t know what to say or was just trying to avoid an argument…” He breathes out. “I don’t know. I’m just sorry I wasn’t there for you.” He looks at Alexander. “Michael…” he says softly. He has to ask. He has to know. “When you were…When you were on the cliff…” He tightens his jaw. “When you made that decision to let go –”

“I was worried the whole thing would collapse and we’d both be killed,” Michael interrupts. “I was trying to save you.”

James nods and looks up. “I know. I know. But do you think…Do you think that maybe, just maybe, there was something more that made you let go? Do you think that maybe you…” His voice trails off. He doesn’t need to say it. He doesn’t want to say it.

Michael holds his gaze for a few moments before answering. “Okay maybe,” he says softly. “Maybe part of me thought that if…If I went that way…If I died so you could live, maybe it would make up for all the bad shit I’ve done in my life. Maybe it would somehow make it okay. And also…I wouldn’t have a chance to fuck up again. I wouldn’t have a chance to disappoint you again.” He turns away.

James stares at him. There’s a hollowness in the pit of his stomach.

“I’m sorry,” James whispers again. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me the most. I’m so sorry, but Michael, you have never disappointed me. You’ve worried me. You’ve scared me. Hell, you’ve angered me. But you have never disappointed me. We grew up in the same house, remember? I understand why you do what you do. We both know I’ve done some bad shit in my life too. I could never be disappointed in you. If anything I’m disappointed in myself for not being there for you. For letting you struggle alone for so long.”

Michael turns back to him and gives him a small smile. “You were there for me, though. That’s the point. As I said before, you are the reason I was able to pull myself together. You, James. And now I don’t feel the way I did then. I don’t spend every day searching for my next fix. I’m no longer going out to clubs every night and buying pills off the guys I met in juvie. I may not have been on coke or meth yet, but that’s where I was headed. That’s what would have happened if I hadn’t dealt with what was going on. You gave me the reason to do that. You gave me the strength I needed to pull myself together. But you’re right; it hasn’t gone away entirely. I still struggle with it every day. Every day is still a matter of cope with or function somewhat normally. But every day it gets a little easier. Every day looks a little brighter. That’s how it will be for you, too. I can promise you that. You think you’re alone in this, that you have to deal with it by yourself, but you’re not and you don’t. One of the strongest things you can do is ask for help when you’re not coping. You taught me that.”

“You’ve always been stronger than me, Michael,” James says, lowering his gaze. “And I don’t know if…” He hesistates. “I don’t know if I can get through this. I really don’t. Every time I close my eyes, it’s like I’m back at the boatsheds.” He chews the inside of his cheek. “I see him standing there. Full of terror. Bruised and beaten. Small and alone. I did that to him. Me. How am I meant to live with myself after that? How am I supposed to move on knowing that I am responsible for the worst thing that ever happened to the person who I love the most in this world? How??”

“You start by accepting that it wasn’t your fault,” Michael says gently. "You can’t blame yourself for what those weak, pathetic excuses for human beings did. You took Alexander out of a hellish situation with that scumbag who called himself a father. Don’t discount that. Who knows where Alexander would be right now if it wasn’t for you.”

“He wouldn’t be lost in the snow with a broken arm and a fever,” James says bitterly.

“True. He wouldn’t be here. He would be with that piece of trash who was refusing to feed him. Do you remember that? Do you remember how underweight he was? Do you remember his bruises?”

James reluctantly nods. He'd rather forget.

“Exactly,” Michael continues. “That piece of trash was so much like our stepfather. So much like him. You took Alexander out of there, J. You saved him. Remember how we would hide under our beds at night and pray for someone to rescue us while that piece of shit beat our mother up and down the corridor? How he’d come into our room once she’d passed out, looking for a new punching bag? How he’d –”

“Stop,” James whispers. “Please stop.”

“I’m just trying to make you see. I’m just trying to make you see that what you did for Alexander was what we always hoped someone would do for us. He probably prayed for someone to save him like we did. And you did. No matter what has happened since then, you did. You saved him, J. You gave him a safe place to grow up. You showed him that he is loved and valued. You did that. You can’t possibly let things that are out of your control take that away from you. From him.”

“I need him to be okay.” James stares at a loose thread on one of the blankets. “I just need him to be okay and healthy. Happy. I have never wanted anything more in my life.”

Michael nods. “I know, J. I know. But he can’t be happy while you’re in this state. He’s a smart kid. He knows you’re not okay. And just like you can’t be okay when he’s hurting, he can’t be okay while you’re hurting. You have to start fixing what’s broken inside you. You have to face the darkness and overcome it.” He looks  at Alexander. “Both of you do.”

James takes an unsteady breath in. “I’m not…I’m not sure how to do that.”

“You talk about it. You admit how you feel without feeling ashamed for feeling that way. You can’t face what you don’t acknowledge.”

“I feel…” He searches inside himself for the real answer. The one he’s been afraid to even think up until now, as though thinking the words out loud would somehow make them real. “I feel like…” He tugs the lose thread on the blanket. His voice is barely audible. “I feel like I almost wish we had died. Both of us. Some days I almost feel like that would have been better if we had died together and didn’t have to live through this aftermath. This pain. God, I’m a terrible person.” He doesn’t look at Michael. He’s afraid to see the disappointment in his eyes. The horror at what he’s just said. He wishes he could take it back. Rewind time and never say it.

“Look at me,” Michael says. “James. Look at me.”

James hesitantly raises his eyes.

“You are not a terrible person. You are not. You went through something beyond horrifying. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Hell, every person’s worst nightmare. To have the person you love taken from you and hurt in that way…It would drive anyone to do and feel irrational things. Then just when you started to put your life back together, some fucking moron decided to pull the rug out from under you. Honestly I can’t even think about that Dr Tate without wanting to take a baseball bat to his fucking knee caps.”

James shakes his head. “I don’t mean I wish Alexander was…” He can’t even bring himself to say it. “I don’t mean that. I just mean…Watching him going through all this pain…Hearing him scream night after night…Seeing how this has…How this has broken him…” He bites his trembling lip. “Sometimes I just wonder if it would have been better if…If…” He can't say it. “I don’t know, Michael. I even don’t know what I’m saying. This is all so fucked up. All of it. I would do anything to take this pain away from him. Anything.”

“Yeah,” Michael says softly. “I know. But this, what you’re doing, keeping it all inside…It isn’t helping him. It isn’t helping either of you.”

“So what do I do?”

“You keep talking about it. You trust people to help you. Me. Mom. Maybe a professional down the line. You stop pretending that you have got it under control when you so clearly don’t. You start to face what happened head on, and you help Alexander to do the same. This isn’t the end of your story, J. It’s not over yet. You are not going to be broken forever and you are not alone in this.”

James runs his fingers through Alexander's hair. “Michael, I…”

Michael smiles. “I know, brother. I know.”

James smiles back. Alexander stirs and rolls closer to him. James looks down as his head lolls to the side. His hair falls away from his neck.

James’ smile falters and falls from his face. His breath sticks in his throat.

A thick, red rash creeps its way down the right side of Alexander neck, winding over his shoulder and under his sweater.

“Michael. Michael, something’s wrong. He has a…He has a…”

“Rash,” Michael says, paling. “He has a rash.”

******

Friday, 27 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Six

[Parts 1-25 are here. Thank you for reading Xo]



“J.” Michael shuffles outside holding a mug. Steam rises from the top. “Here.”

James barely acknowledges his presence. He pushes the shovel back into the mound of snow. His back hurts and his shoulder feels like it might slip out of place for a third time, but he doesn’t stop. He can’t stop.

It has to be here. It has to be.

“James,” Michael says, louder this time. “I made you some cocoa. You’ve been out here for hours. You need to take a break, brother. Come on; I used the generator to make us some of that canned soup. Come inside for a while. You need to eat something.”

James tosses a shovelful of snow onto the increasing pile a few feet away from the cabin and returns to the mound. He pushes it into the snow with more force than is necessary.

“It has to be here,” he says, carrying away another shovelful. “It has to be.”

“James –”

“I can’t stop, Michael. I have to find it before it starts to snow again or gets dark. I can’t stop.”

“You have to eat, J. You can’t do this again. Last time –”

“Last time??” James laughs bitterly. “Oh, you mean the time my kid was kidnapped and beaten half to death by some sadistic bastard? You mean the time I almost got him killed and got you shot? That time??”

“J…”

“This is my fault,” James spits, shoveling more snow. “Everything he’s been through is because of me. All of it. He was kidnapped because of me. It was my idea to come to the snow. I thought it would help to get him away from that fucking brain-dead doctor and take him to do something fun. Me. Every single decision I make just makes things worse. Every move I make only serves to hurt him more. Honestly, it might just be the best thing for him if I starve to death out here.”

Michael takes a sharp breath in. “James, you can’t mean that. You can’t believe that.”

“Why not? His life has been hell since we met. I thought I was helping him; I thought I was saving him, but I’m the one he needs saving from. Me.”

Michael limps over to him and steps into his way, stopping him from shoveling.

“Move, Michael,” James says flatly. His dead, robotic voice scares Michael even more than anything he’s said.

“You have to stop this,” Michael says, putting his hand on his shoulder. “Remember what I said yesterday? You can’t fall apart. You can’t…”

“Fall apart??” James interrupts. He clenches his fists around the shovel. “Fall apart?? Look at me, Michael! I’m in fucking pieces!! There’s nothing left to fall! There’s nothing left!”

“James, you –”

“And you can get down off your fucking high horse, Mr Let Me Go,” James snarls, shoving Michael off him. “You can stop pretending like you’ve got your shit together because I know you’re just as fucked up as I am. Why else would you have done that, huh?? Why??”

“I explained that, J, I wanted…”

“You wanted this to be over!” James yells. His dispassionate determination dissolves and everything he’s been holding in comes rushing out. “You wanted to stop feeling this way! You wanted the nightmares to stop! The fear that when you open your eyes he’ll be back at the boatsheds with that psychopath using him as a human shield! The terror every time you get a goddamn letter! You wanted to stop feeling like if you take your eyes off him for even a single second, he’ll disappear! You wanted to stop needing to count his breaths and heartbeats just to know he was alive and with you! You wanted it to stop and you were ready to take the fucking easy way out!!”

He takes a jagged breath in, realising what he has said.

“Is that what it’s like for you?” Michael asks. “Is that how you feel?”

James doesn’t answer. He looks down at the shovel.

“Is that how you feel? Like you want an out?”

“Of course not,” James says roughly. “I mean not really. But sometimes…” He meets Michael’s concerned stare. “Sometimes…”

“James?”

He looks over Michael’s shoulder. Alexander is shivering beside the cabin. James is by his side in a second.

“Buddy,” he says, picking him up. “What are you doing out here?”

Alexander coughs and nuzzles into his neck. “I woke up and you weren’t there. Then I heard yelling.”

“I’m sorry, buddy,” James says, rubbing his back. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”

“Are you angry at Uncle Michael?”

James swallows uneasily. “No, buddy. I’m not angry at Uncle Michael.”

“Are you angry at me?”

“What? No! Of course not! Why would I be angry at you?”

“Then why are you yelling?”

James bites the inside of his cheek. “Because…”

“Because you’re scared?” Alexander asks. “My teacher said that sometimes people yell when they’re scared.”

James feels sick. “Yeah, buddy,” he says softly. “I was yelling because I was scared.”

“What are you scared of?”

Losing you.

“Come on,” he says, avoiding the question. “Let’s get you back inside where it’s warmer.” He glances over his shoulder. Michael is still standing by the mound of snow. “Come on, Mike.” He feels weak. Empty. “Let’s go inside.”

James carries Alexander inside and puts him straight back into bed. He sits down beside him.

“How are you feeling?”

Alexander lies back against the pillows. “My throat hurts. And my head. And my arm. And my tummy.”

James puts his hand on his forehead. He’s warm, but not as hot as he was earlier, which is just as well. It’s too soon to give him another Tylenol.

“Are you hungry?” he asks as Michael comes inside. “Uncle Michael made some soup. Do you want some?”

Alexander shakes his head. “Is someone coming to find us. Is someone coming to take us home?”

“What about come cocoa?” Michael says, coming over with the mug James rejected. “It’s sweet and chocolately and delicious. How about you drink some?”

Alexander shakes his head again. James takes it from Michael.

“Come on, buddy,” James says. “Can you just drink a little? For me?”

Alexander sighs and reaches for the mug. He takes a couple of sips.

“It tastes funny,” he says, giving the mug back to James.

“There’s no milk in it,” Michael says from across the room. “It’s just water. Still good though, right?”

Alexander hesitates, but nods. Michael chuckles. “Yeah. You don’t have to lie to me, kid.”

Alexander settles back onto the pillows and turns to James. “Can you stay with me? Please?”

James looks out the window. The storm clouds that were gathering in the morning have gotten denser. He wants to say no. He wants to keep searching for the car.

He wants to stay with Alexander.

“Alexander, I…”

“Can you hold me?” Alexander asks. “And tell me a story?”

James cracks.

“Of course,” he says, taking off his gloves, boots and jacket and climbing onto the bed. “Of course I will.”

A small voice at the back of his mind tells him that he’s making another terrible decision. That he should be out there digging through the snow, not sitting around doing nothing. Alexander crawls into his arms and rests his head against his chest.

“I can still hear your spirit,” he says softly. “He’s even louder today. Is he angry? Is he trying to get away?"

James wraps his arms around him. “No, buddy.” He rests his cheek on top of Alexander's head. “He’s right where he wants to be.”

******

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Five

[Parts 1-24 are here. Thank you for reading Xo]


“JESUS!” Michael yells as James approaches the cabin. He’s standing out in the snow, looking highly strung. “What the hell, J?? I wake up and you’re gone! No note, no indication of where you’d gone or if you were okay…What the hell were you thinking?! What if something happened to you?!” His eyes fall on the still-bleeding lump on James’ forehead. “And I see something DID happen to you! What the hell, brother?? Why didn’t you wake me??”

James ignores him, walking around to the other side of the cabin. The side that bore the brunt of the avalanche.

“Is Alexander okay?” he asks without looking at Michael. The snow is piled high, almost reaching the roof of the cabin. He looks out into the distance. There’s a relatively clear path between the trees. A car or truck could drive through there.

“Alex is still asleep,” Michael says, shivering. He folds his arms across his chest. “Where did you go?? Why didn’t you wake me?? What happened to your head??”

“You needed the sleep,” James says, starting to dig into the mountain of snow. It has to be under here. This is the only place it could be. It has to be under here. “Did you take Alexander’s temperature?? What was it?”

“What are you doing?”

James pulls the keys out of his pocket and tosses them to Michael. “I found the park ranger. He had the phone on him.”

“What?!” Michael starts, staring at the keys. “Did you—”

“It doesn’t work,” James says, returning to the snow pile. His fingers feel like blocks of ice and are about as effective at digging through the snow. He looks around for a shovel. “The battery is dead or the phone is broken or something. What was Alexander’s temperature and when did you last take it?”

Michael looks at James, trying to follow his train of thought. “I haven’t taken his temperature yet,” he says, frowning. “I woke up and found you missing. My thoughts were on how I was going to find you.”

James stops looking for a shovel and turns to go back inside the cabin. His brain feels like it is firing too many synapses at once. He can’t get his thoughts straight.

“J!” Michael calls. “Where are you going? What is going on?? Where is the park ranger?? Talk to me!!”

James goes inside the cabin. Alexander is still asleep, but his face is flushed and he is squirming. Michael follows James inside, still holding the keys.

“James,” he says, leaning heavily on the back of a chair. “Stop. Start at the beginning. I’m completely lost here. Why are you digging in the snow? Where is the park ranger? Where is the satellite phone?”

“His fever is back?” James takes off his gloves, picks up the thermometer from the table and walks over to the bed. He crouches in front of Alexander and puts his hand on his forehead. He feels even hotter than he did last night. James swallows and pushes the thermometer between Alexander’s lips. Alexander opens his eyes.

“It’s just me, buddy,” James says softly. “Sorry to wake you. You might need another pill, that’s all. We just have to check.”

Alexander doesn’t answer, but he allows James to slide the thermometer under his tongue.

“The park ranger is dead,” James says flatly, waiting for the thermometer to beep. “Looks like he passed out in the snow and was eaten by wolves or bears or something.

“What??” Michael says, still scrambling to keep up. “He’s dead?!”

The thermometer beeps.

One-oh-two point one.


James tries to keep his face neutral.

“Michael,” he says, pulling the blankets off Alexander. “Tylenol.”

“He’s dead??” Michael repeats. “Where? Did you see any bears and wolves?? Were you attacked?! Oh God, is that what happened to your head?? Are you hurt anywhere else??”

“Michael!” James says, louder than he intended. “We can talk about this later. Right now I need the Tylenol. Now.”

He hears Michael pick up the pill bottle and limp over to the sink. He comes over with the pills and the water. Alexander eyelids droop. James puts his hand on his flaming cheek.

“You need to take this before you go back to sleep, buddy,” he says, standing up and lifting Alexander into a sitting position. His body is floppy and his skin is slick with sweat. He coughs and closes his eyes.

“Come on, buddy,” James says, sitting down on the bed beside him and drawing him into his arms. “Once you take this you can go back to sleep.”

“I want James,” Alexander mumbles. “I want…” His voice trails off and he appears to fall asleep again.

James looks at Michael. “We can’t give him a pill like this. He might choke. But he needs to take it. His temperature is one-oh-two-point-one. Is there any liquid stuff in the first aid kit?”

Michael shakes his head. “No, nothing…I guess it’s adults who stay here so…” He looks down at the pills in his hand. “We could crush it. We could crush it and mix it with water. Wake him up long enough to drink it. He’s less likely to choke on water than a pill.”

James looks down at Alexander. He twitches. His cheeks seem to have taken on a deeper shade of red.

“Do it,” he says, putting his hand on Alexander’s forehead, hoping his cold skin will help. Alexander twitches again.

Michael doesn’t waste any time. He puts a pill into a plastic bowl from the cupboard and finds a wooden spoon in one of the drawers. He uses the handle of the spoon to crush the pill, pounding it until it becomes a fine powder. He tips out most of the water in the glass and scrapes in the powder, mixing it with a teaspoon.

“He should be able to drink this in one go,” he says, handing the glass to James. “But it won’t taste very good.”

James takes the glass. “Alexander,” he says, patting him on the arm. “Alexander. Wake up, buddy. You need to drink this.”

Alexander mutters something James can’t understand. His eyes remain closed.

“Alexander,” James tries again, louder this time. “Buddy. Open your eyes.”

“James,” Alexander mutters. “Where’s…James…”

Michael goes over to the sink and returns with a damp dish towel. James takes it and dabs it on Alexander’s face. He stirs.

“There we go, buddy,” James says. “Open your eyes and drink this, then you can go back to sleep.”

Alexander’s eyes open a crack. He finds James’ face.

“Are we home now?”

“Sit up, buddy,” James says, ignoring the question. “Drink this.”

He helps Alexander sit up.

“What is it?” Alexander whispers. His head lolls on James’ chest. James raises the glass to his lips.

“It’s medicine. Drink it in one go.”

Alexander clumsily reaches for the glass. James helps him hold it steady as he gulps it down like a shot. He cringes as he tastes it and pushes the empty glass away.

“Good job,” James says, putting the glass on the bedside table. “Good boy.”

“A pink one,” Alexander mumbles, closing his eyes and resting against James’ chest. “Not that…Not that one…”

“Is it the pain?” Michael asks, taking the glass to the sink. “Is that what’s causing the fever?”

James stares at Alexander. His lips move soundlessly, muttering inaudible words. He coughs.

“I don’t know,” James says, brushing his sweaty hair off his forehead. “He’s been coughing a lot. It’s probably a combination of the pain and getting sick from falling through the ice.” Saying the words out loud sends him spiraling back into the memory. Into the terror. He grits his teeth.

Michael sits down on the chair beside the bed.

“There must be a car or a truck here,” James says to distract himself, stroking Alexander’s hair. “The ranger had keys. And he must have driven here, right? He must have.”

“That’s why you were digging through the snow,” Michael says, breathing out in understanding. James nods.

“It has to be under the snow. He must have parked it beside the cabin and the snow covered it. Who knows, maybe he was going to call for help when he passed out up there.”

“Was he…Was he attacked by the wolves or bears? Do you think that’s how he died?”

James shakes his head. “No. It didn’t look like he was fighting to get away. I think they found him after he was already dead.”

Michael rubs the back of his neck. “That’s probably better.”

James nods. “Yeah.”

They both fall silent, watching Alexander sleep. The twitching has stopped.

“What happened to your head?” Michael asks after a few minutes, standing up and hobbling over to the first aid kit. James watches him go. His leg seems even worse.

“I tripped and hit it on a rock,” he says. “I’m fine. How’s your leg feeling?”

Michael returns with antiseptic and gauze. He drags the chair to the other side of the bed and sits down beside James. “You know,” he says, cleaning the cut on James’ forehead. “Leg-like.”

“Michael…”

Michael tapes a square of gauze over the wound. “It’s fine,” he says, standing up. “I’m fine.” He puts the antiseptic back in the first aid kit and sits down on a chair by the table. He rubs his thigh.

“Michael, you –”

“Look, even if my leg were to fall off there’s nothing we can do about it right now, so just forget about it, okay?”

“You could take something to help with the pain.”

Michael sighs. “We’ve been through this. We need to keep the Tylenol for Alex. I’m fine, brother. Really I am. Now please just drop it.”

James wants to argue, but he doesn’t know what to say. Instead he looks out the window. Storm clouds have started to gather.

“I need to get out there before it starts to snow again,” he says, turning back to Michael. “I need a shovel. I won’t get anywhere with just my hands.”

“There’s one in that cupboard over there,” Michael says, nodding to a long door on the other side of the cabin. “I’ll get it.” He starts to stand up.

“No,” James says, extracting himself from Alexander’s grasp. Alexander stirs and mumbles, but doesn’t wake up. “You stay here and watch Alexander. I’ll do it.”

“I can help,” Michael says, frowning. “I’m not an invalid. I can help.”

“We can’t leave Alexander in here alone,” James says, walking over to the cupboard.

“You’re just saying that because you think I can’t handle digging through the snow.”

“Partly,” James says, grabbing the shovel. He turns back to Michael. “But mostly I’m saying it because I mean it. Please, Michael. Stay here. Look after him for me.”

Michael can’t argue with that. He sits back down. James gives him a small smile and puts the gloves back on.

“Do you think it will work?” Michael asks as James reaches the door. “After being under the snow for God knows how long…Do you think the car or truck or whatever will work?”

James pauses. He hand lingers on the door knob.

“I have to believe it will.”

He opens the door and goes outside before his brain has a chance to entertain the possibility of the alternative.


******

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Four

[I just wanted to say thank you for all your love and support in response to my blog post yesterday. I heart you guys so big. For reals. Thank you. It is the reason I am able to post this today (though in all honesty, I'm posting from my bed. But I got out of my bed to get my laptop so progress, right? We won't talk about how I dived back into the pillow fort like the hounds from hell were after me.

Parts 1-23 are here. Thank you for reading and for being seriously awesome. Xo]


James doesn’t go back to sleep. Once Alexander’s breathing had returned to an almost normal rhythm, he and Michael got him dressed and put him back to bed. It took a little convincing, but James had managed to make Michael to swap places with him once Alexander was asleep. Michael had fallen asleep in minutes.

James sits in a chair beside Alexander, watching him breathe. His breathing seems laboured, like it is an effort for his lungs to pump oxygen in and out of his body. James touches his forehead. It’s still warm, but his fever has gone down. He thanks God for small mercies.

A few hours later, as the sun begins to rise, James stands up and stretches his cold, cramped limbs. Both Alexander and Michael are snoring softly. He picks up Michael’s discarded jacket and pulls it on. The warmth from the radiator had started to fade a few hours ago, causing the temperature inside the cabin to drop. He adjusts the bomber hat over his ears and pulls on the spare gloves before picking up Michael’s phone and quietly heading outside.

The sky is a brilliant orange as the sun rises over the mountains. The ground is piled high with fresh snow, but for the moment it is not actively snowing. He turns on the phone – Michael had turned it off to conserve the battery – and holds it above his head, watching the signal bars for any flicker of hope.

There is none.

He begins to walk up the nearest slope, holding the phone up and staring at the screen. His shoes sink into the soft snow, making it difficult to keep moving. Still he pushes forward.

I just need to get higher, he thinks, barely watching where he is going. I just need to get high enough.

Suddenly the porous snow disintegrates from beneath him and he falls forward, hitting his head on a frost-covered boulder. Michael’s phone slips out of his hand and slides down the slope, stopping a few feet behind him. He stands up and rubs his throbbing forehead. His glove comes away bloody. He scowls and scoops up a handful of snow and presses it against his head as he walks down to retrieve the phone. He’s only taken a few steps when something catches his eye.

What is that?

He stops, squinting against the morning sun and peering into a cluster of pine trees a few hundred feet to the left of him. He takes another step forward. A flash of red blows in the wind.

A scarf.

His heart leaps into his throat.

There’s someone else out here.

He grabs Michael’s phone and runs down slope towards the scarf, refusing to slow down even when the snow trips him over three times in a row. As he gets closer he can see the person sitting under a tree, looking out into the distance. He calls out to them.

“HEY! HEY! HELP! HEY YOU! I NEED HELP!”

The person doesn't respond. He speeds up and yells louder.

“HEY!! EXCUSE ME!! HEY!! HELP!!”

They don’t seem to hear him.

It is only when he is almost there that he realizes his mistake. He stops abruptly, covering his mouth to keep from screaming. What is left of the person is propped up against the tree. He can see it is a man now. Was a man. Bits of him are missing, probably eaten by wolves or bears. The snow around him is tinged in pink, although by the looks of the snow covering him, he’s been there for at least a few days. James starts to back away, feeling queasy. But the logo on the man’s jacket makes him stop. He’s seen it before. He stares at it, trying to remember where.

On a sign in the ski lodge.

Colorado Parks and Recreation.

He gasps.


You’re a park ranger.

He stares at the body, praying with every fibre of his being that the man had it with him when he died. That it’s here. That he found it.

He sees it.

Tucked into the man’s bloody pocket.

The satellite phone.

He inches forward.

Just do it, he tells himself. Just pull it out of his pocket. 


He takes another step. The man’s frozen face stares back at him. James tries not to wonder how he ended up here.

He holds his breath.

Takes another step.

He reaches forward. His fingers brush the tip of the phone.

He takes another step.

He curls his fingers around the phone and pulls.

It takes a little manoeuvring, but after a moment the phone is in his hands. Frozen blood coats the surface, gathering in the cracks between the keys on the keypad. James wipes it clean with his glove. He swallows. His mouth is suddenly very dry. His heart thuds erratically. He presses the power button.

Nothing happens.

He stares at the screen and presses the power button again.

The screen remains black.

He presses the power button over and over again, growing increasingly frantic, refusing to believe that their only hope for calling for help is lying uselessly in his hands. He looks at the dead park ranger.

Maybe he had a spare, he thinks desperately. Or maybe he had his own.

He crouches down in front of him and puts the phone down in the snow.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, gritting his teeth and running his hands all over the man’s mangled body. Rigor mortis has set in, making it impossible for James to move or manipulate the man’s body in any way. Nausea rolls through him as he searches all the man’s pockets, desperate to find something, anything that will help. But after a couple of moments, he is forced to give up. Apart from his wallet, a set of keys and a handkerchief, the man’s pockets are empty.

“I’m sorry,” James whispers again, standing up. “I’m so sorry.”

He picks up the discarded satellite phone and turns away. He can just make out the cabin in the distance. He can almost see the ranger coming out here, innocently walking towards the trees with no idea that he would never see the cabin again. Never sleep in the bed again. Never see his family again. James bites the inside of his cheek, overcome by an overwhelming desire to see Alexander. To hold him. To know that he is okay.

He is halfway down the slope when the realization hits him with enough force to knock the air out of his lungs.

Keys.

The ranger had keys.

Keys means a car.

******

Relapse.

When I first started this blog in 2013, I had planned for it to be entirely anonymous. I didn't want anyone I knew in real life to read it or to know about it. I wanted to be able to be honest without fear of it interfering with my 'real' life. I wanted to keep my online life separate from my real life. I wanted to be invisible.

Yet over time I became friends with the people I met online -- real friends, not artificial hey-how-are-you-that's-cool-okay-bye friends -- and so the line between real and online began to blur. Those lines blurred further still when I started meeting said online friends in person, mainly at concerts held by the band which we bonded over in the first place.

This now puts me in an awkward position because while I love my friends (I really do love you guys, you know), I am fearful of being as honest on my blog as I originally intended. Not because I don't trust these people -- they are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met -- but because honesty often leads to worry, which is never something you want to make your friends do. So I'm going to preface this with a disclaimer, brought to you by Coldplay: It's no cause for concern.

Sometimes (often) the only way I can make sense of things is to write about them. As we all know by now, I've been writing it out since I could hold a pen. It’s how I deal with things and process them when everything becomes too overwhelming. When I was a kid I would even write in code so no one could read it because some thoughts are better left private, but I needed to get them out of me. That is probably the case with the thoughts I'm currently having, but for the sake of what is left of my sanity, I need to write it out of me. Maybe I will post it. Maybe I won't. That's hardly the point right now.

It is currently 1:30pm on a Monday afternoon and I am still in bed. I am writing this post on my phone because the distance between my bed and my desk where my laptop resides is insurmountable. In the last week I have only left my bed to go to work and to feed my (poor neglected) dogs. That is all I am capable of doing right now because I have done that ugly word that sounds like a curse.
I have relapsed.

My heart actually sunk when I typed that. Like I was confessing that I murdered someone or something equally as horrific. As though saying "I am not doing okay" is something to be ashamed of. But I am ashamed of it, so much so that I lied to you all about why I couldn't post Orange Sky last week. I said that things weren't working as they should, and that is true, but the thing that isn't working is me. The broken useless thing is me. Not my laptop or my Internet as I led you all to believe. I am sorry for deliberately misleading you.

It's tough to admit this when so much of my blog is all yay-things-get-better-keep-fighting-believe-in-yourself-all-we-need-is-faith-rainbows-butterflies-unicorns. I feel like it makes me a liar and a hypocrite and a fake and a pathetic mess. It makes me want to go back and edit every one of those posts with a giant THE GIRL WITH WORDS IS FULL OF SHIT AND HASN'T BEEN ABLE TO STOP CRYING FOR THE LAST TWO WEEKS STRAIGHT SO DON'T LISTEN TO A WORD SHE HAS TO SAY. I nearly did that a couple of times, actually, but then that would be admitting I had a problem and God knows you can't do THAT. You told everyone you were better, remember? So suck it up and stop your snivelling. You're embarrassing yourself.

There's a difference, I think, between a relapse and a stint in the dark and twisty place. Being in the dark and twisty place is like being in prison for a minor crime. It's horrible and you hate it and you're cold and scared and alone, but you know your sentence will end and you'll be allowed out. You will be sent back into the world with a new appreciation for life and a clearer perspective. You will feel proud of yourself for getting through it and not letting the darkness win. You will tell yourself that you are definitely better – maybe not better better but better than you were because in the past you wouldn’t have made it through the darkness at all.

A relapse is different. A relapse is a life sentence in solitary confinement with the possibly of the death penalty. A relapse tells you there's no way out. Things are never going to be better. You will never see the sun again. You will never be free again. You will never be okay again, you will never smile again and you will be alone in your cell until the day you die, which, if you are lucky, will be sometime in the near future.
A relapse is so much harder to deal with than a stint in the dark and twisty place.

So what do you when this happens? I'm going to be honest here and say I don't know. I don't know what to do. I'm in solitary confinement and I see no way out. The things which used to help – God, Mars, the magical unicorn that is Jared Leto, words, my puppies, crazy amounts of cleaning -- aren't helping right now. Mainly because I'm not actually letting them help. I'm avoiding all the things that could help like the plague because I deserve this. You don't deserve to feel better because this wouldn't be happening if you were a good person. This wouldn't be happening if you hadn't xyz and remember that time you abc and also you efg and what about when you hijklmnop. You did the whole damn alphabet. You brought this on yourself and so now you have to accept the consequences.

Of course, logically, I know that's not true. I know I shouldn't let the darkness destroy my safe places, but right now my broken side is stronger than my logical side. My logical side has fought through long enough to go, you know what, write about this because that will help, but I don't know how long my logical side can hold down the fort. I don't know how long it will be before I turn off my phone and go back to staring at the ceiling.

I guess the point of the post is this: I am not okay. I can't begin to express how much I hate saying that, but sometimes just saying it out loud (is it still out loud in print?) can help. If writing it gets it out of me then posting it is like letting it go. Sometimes the temptation is to curl up with it after I've written it and let the darkness fester and grow until it blots out every trace of sunlight, but right at this moment, the remaining logical side of me is strong enough to tell me not to do that. Whether or not that results in things looking a little brighter remains to be seen. But I have to try, right. At least that's what they always say. When you're ready to give up, remember why you held on so long in the first place.

Sometimes it's hard to remember.

I really want to end this post on a positive note, but I don't have one. All I can say is this: relapses happen. It is tough to admit to them or to ask for help because but I thought you were better. But the thing we all have to remember is horrible things do happen. Maybe the horrible thing is happening inside you instead of to you or around you, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Happiness in the face of that, that’s not the goal. Feeling the horrible and knowing you're not going to die from those feelings, that's the goal.* I'm still working on that. I will probably be working on it for the rest of my life, to be honest. I don’t think that depression and the various other alphabet soup of disorders that I have are something that you ever fully recover from. You just get better at managing them. Right now, I am failing miserably at managing them. Right now it’s a good day if I find the will to get out of bed and feed myself. Right now it’s a good day if I can go for more than two hours without my eyes doing that annoying leaking thing. Right now I am so far into the dark and twisty place that I am absolutely convinced that I will never see the sun again, but in the words of my favourite dark and twisty scary and damaged individual:

So there it is.
*Totally a Grey’s Anatomy quote.




Sunday, 22 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Three

[Parts 1-22 are here. Thank you so much for reading Xo]


He’s underwater.

He gasps for air, but there isn’t any.

He screams, but the sound sticks in his throat.

Silence hangs in the air.

He gasps again, breathing in a lungful of seaweed.

Not seaweed.

Hair.

Alexander.


He opens his eyes, taking a jagged breath in. He pulls Alexander’s hair out of his mouth and sits up, squinting into the darkness. He rubs his eyes, trying to make out the shadows in the moonlight and orientate himself. Michael is still asleep in the chair. Alexander is curled into a ball on his side, facing away from him. He’s shivering. James pulls up the blankets, intending to cover him. His fingers linger on the material.

It’s damp.

He feels around, realizing with a jolt that the whole of Alexander’s side of the bed is damp. He looks up at the ceiling, searching the dark shadows for a leak. Beside him, Alexander whimpers. James puts his hand on Alexander’s back. His stomach drops.

He is covered in sweat.

Alexander mumbles and rolls over, turning towards James. James touches his face. His cheeks are even warmer than his back. James tries not to panic, instead scanning the room for the first aid kit. It’s still on the table beside Michael. He carefully gets out of bed, trying not to disturb Alexander or Michael. He stops beside his clothes and squeezes his pants in his hand, finding them dry. A quick check tells him all his clothes are dry so he tugs them on before getting the Tylenol out of the first aid kit. Alexander stirs and wakes up.

“James?” His voice shakes.

“I’m over here,” James says, getting out a pill and taking a glass over to the sink. “I’m just getting something to help you to feel better.”

Alexander pulls the blankets off his legs.

“No buddy,” James says, filling the glass. “Stay there. I’ll be over in a moment and we’ll see what we can do about those damp blankets.”

“I’m thirsty,” Alexander says, standing up. “And my tummy hurts. And my arm hurts too.”

“Lie down. I’ll bring you a glass of water.”

Alexander doesn’t listen. He shuffles forward. Sleepiness has made him clumsy and he bangs his knee into the corner of the bed, but he doesn’t cry out or react at all. He stops in front of James and stares at the glass in his hand. James sighs.

“Here you go, buddy,” James says, handing it to him. “Take this, too.” He gives him the pill. Alexander swallows it and drains the glass.

“Can I have more water?” he asks. James takes the glass and refills it. He hands it back to Alexander and brushes the hair out of his eyes. Sweat has plastered it to his forehead.

“Let’s get you dressed,” James says, going to get Alexander’s clothes. He crosses the floor and pulls them off the make-shift line.

“James?” Alexander whispers.

The tone of his voice makes the hair on the back of James’ neck stand on end. He whips around in time to see the glass slip silently from Alexander’s hand, shattering on the floor beneath him. Alexander wavers. James lunges forward, catching him before he hits the ground. Shards of glass slice his knees and feet, but he barely even notices. The commotion wakes up Michael.

“What’s going on?” he asks in a panic, tugging his leg off the chair in front of him and sitting up straight. He rubs his eyes. “What’s happening?”

James opens and closes his mouth soundlessly, unable to form a coherent thought. Alexander trembles in his arms. His eyes don’t focus on anything. His breathing is erratic.

“Alexander?” James whispers. “Can you hear me?”

“God,” Michael says, standing up so abruptly that he knocks over his chair. “What happened?”

“Alexander?” James whispers again, not hearing Michael. “Buddy?”

Alexander’s eyes roll back into his head. His body hardens and his fingers and toes curl over.

He starts to convulse.

“Alexander!” James screams. Terror ripples through him. “Alexander!”

“Roll him on his side!” Michael yells, coming over to help. “And make sure there’s nothing he can hurt himself with!”

James is immobilised by panic. He stares at Alexander, too terrified to think straight.

“Roll him on his side, J!” Michael repeats, awkwardly dropping to the floor beside James. A shard of glass cuts into his thigh. He ignores it and takes Alexander off James’ lap, avoiding the shattered glass and rolling him onto his left side. Alexander convulses for a few more seconds and then stops, becoming perfectly still. James holds his breath. His hands hover above him, too afraid to touch him.

Too afraid to even breathe.

“Alexander?” Michael says quietly. “Alex?”

Silence.

James feels close to passing out.

“Alex?” Michael says again. “Alex!”

Alexander coughs. His eyes flutter open.

“James?” he whispers. His eyes roll around until they settle on James. “James?” he repeats. He bursts into tears. “I want to go home,” he sobs, sitting up and crawling into James’ arms. “Please can we go home!”

James holds him, feeling the after-tremors still rippling through his body. He squeezes his eyes shut and doesn’t say anything, afraid that if he opens his mouth he’s either going to scream or throw up. Or both.

“Come on,” Michael says, using the cupboard beside him to drag himself to his feet. “He can’t stay out here like this. He needs to get back into bed.”

Alexander’s cries intensify, becoming the kind of shuddering sobs that make it difficult for him to catch his breath. He starts to cough. James drags himself to his feet and shuffles over to the bed with Alexander in his arms. He stops, staring at the damp blankets.

“These are wet,” he whispers hoarsely. “Damp with sweat.”

He turns to Michael. Even in the pale moonlight, he can see the fear on Michael’s face.

“There’s no others,” Michael says as Alexander’s coughing fit intensifies. “You’ll have to—”

James doesn’t wait to hear the end of the sentence. He puts Alexander down on the dry side of the bed and helps him sit up, crouching before him and rubbing his back.

“It’s okay, buddy,” he says, trying to keep his voice from shaking. “It’s okay.”

It takes a few minutes for Alexander’s coughs to slow down and stop entirely. Tears roll over his flushed cheeks.

“My arm hurts,” he sobs, reaching for James. “And my tummy too. And my head. And I want Astro. Where is Astro?”

James’ heart sinks. Astro is out in the snow somewhere with the ice skates and Uncle Michael’s cane.

“Buddy,” he starts. “Astro is…”

Alexander starts to cough again, cutting off his sentence. James looks at Michael helplessly. Tears cloud his vision.

“Michael,” he starts, but he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what to do. Michael stares at him just as helplessly. He doesn’t know, either.

“Just breathe, buddy,” James says, turning back to Alexander and putting his arm around him. “Just breathe. Like this, see? In…” He takes a deep breath in. “And out…” He releases it. He wipes his face and moves around to make eye contact with Alexander. “Come on, buddy,” he says as steadily as he can. “You can do it. In….And out…In…And out…” He does this for several minutes until Alexander starts to breathe normally on his own. Every now and then a shudder still runs though him, but the coughing has stopped. He takes a fist full of James’ hair and closes his eyes. James swallows and turns to Michael. He doesn’t need to say it. The look on Michael’s face tells him that he already knows what he is going to say. They need to get out of there. Soon.


******

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-Two

[The last of the double posts while things are somewhat working. Parts 1-21 are here. Thank you for reading. Xo]



“We need to fix your hand,” Michael says after a few minutes. James doesn’t take his eyes off Alexander.

“My hand?”

“Yeah,” Michael says, going back over to the first aid kit. “Looks painful.” He returns with a bottle of antiseptic, cotton wool and some gauze. “This might hurt.” He soaks the cotton wool with antiseptic. “How did this happen?”

James manages to take his eyes off Alexander long enough to see what he is talking about. Several deep gashes run across the centre of his palm and his knuckles and split are bruised.

“I hurt my palm in the avalanche,” he says, turning back to Alexander. “And I hurt my knuckles trying to break the ice in the lake.”

Michael doesn’t ask any more questions. He cleans and bandages James’ hand in silence. Alexander mutters something about snow angels and rolls over, turning away from James and sliding further down the bed. His hold on James’ hair loosens.

“He’s still too warm,” James says. “We need to cool him down.”

Michael puts the antiseptic and remaining gauze back into the first aid kit and returns to the bed, picking up the jacket he’d found in the cabin.

“I might wear this then,” he says, trying to smile. He pulls it on and puts on the spare gloves too. James notices for the first time that his breath is coming out in vaporous puffs.

“Here,” James says, starting to get out of the bed. He gently unhooks Alexander’s hand from his hair. “It’s warm in here. Lie down and get some rest.”

Alexander’s eyes flutter open. He looks around the room in a panic. His eyes settle on Michael.

“Uncle Michael,” he says in a small voice. “Where’s –”

“He’s right there,” Michael says, pointing to James. Alexander turns around. The panic on his face vanishes and he wriggles onto James’ lap, falling asleep again in seconds. Michael gives James a small smile.

“First of all, you’ll freeze to death out here given that your clothes are soaking wet. And second of all, he needs you. You. I am a poor substitute.”

“But –”

Michael picks up the discarded bomber hat and pulls it on top of the woollen hat he is already wearing.

“I’ll be just fine, brother. It’s much warmer in here than it was out there, and I survived that. We all did.”

James glances at the pile of snow that fell into the entrance when he opened the door. It has started to melt.

“I guess this place is insulated enough to retain some heat,” he says, looking through the single window at the snow drifting down from the sky. He runs his hand through Alexander’s hair, trying not to hear his desperate, fearful screams echoing in his mind.

He knows he will never forget them. They will haunt him forever.

“Michael…” he says in an effort to distract himself. “What are…What are we…” He can’t bring himself to say it. He takes a silent breath in. “No one knows we are here, Mike. No one knows to look for us.”

“It will be okay,” Michael says, sitting down heavily on a chair. He rubs his thigh. “We’ll figure something out. There must be something that we’ve missed. This is a park ranger cabin. There has to be a satellite phone here or something. There has to be. We’ve just missed it.”

“But what if it’s not?” James asks, finally saying what he’d been thinking since the moment they arrived. “What if we are wrong?”

Michael is silent for a long moment before he answers. “What else could it be? This is a national park. Some random person couldn’t be living here.” He kneads his thigh. “No. It has to be ranger cabin. There has to be a phone here somewhere. I mean there’s a generator, canned food, blankets, a first aid kit…They can’t have all that and no means of communication. That just doesn’t make sense.”

James chews the inside of his cheek and doesn’t say what he is thinking. Michael yawns and stretches out his leg onto the chair in front of him . He folds his arms across his chest.

“I think for now we’d do well to get some sleep,” he says, shifting into a more comfortable position. He glances over at James’ and Alexander’s clothes, which he has strung across a make-shift washing line attached between the other two chairs.

“I’m not convinced those will be dry any time soon,” he says, watching the water drip onto the floor. “We might have to see what else we can do. Maybe run the radiator from the generator just until the clothes are dry.”

James frowns. “There’s a radiator? So why the hell are you sitting there breathing out frost?”

“We need to preserve the gas. I had a look around; there’s only a gallon spare at most. Once that runs out, we won’t have any power. We can’t waste it.”

James would like to argue, but he knows Michael is right. Although neither of them has said it, they both know it is too risky to venture out into the snow again, especially now that they have no idea which way to go. They have to stay in the cabin until help arrives.

James tries not to wonder how help will know to arrive in the first place.

“Okay,” he says, looking at his dripping clothes. “Run the radiator. At least the cabin will heat up while it’s on. Hopefully it will retain enough heat to take the chill out of the air.

Michael nods and gets up. He takes the clothes outside first and wrings out as much water as he can before bringing them back inside. He sets up the radiator and angles it so that it blows its warmth onto the clothes. He sits back down and massages his leg.

“Maybe you should take something,” James says, watching him. “Are there other pain killers in the first aid kit?”

“Just the Tylenol,” Michael says, pushing harder on his thigh, “and we need to keep that for Alexander.”

James shakes his head. “You can take a couple, Mike. Seriously. You’re in pain.”

Michael stops rubbing his thigh. “I’m fine,” he says, crossing his arms. “I don’t need anything.”

James wants to get out of the bed and force feed him a couple of pills, but he doesn’t. Instead he looks at Alexander, who is still sleeping peacefully in his lap.

“He’ll be okay,” he says, although he’s not sure if he’s trying to convince himself or Michael. “Take a couple of pills. You’ve pushed yourself far too hard lately.”

“I’m fine,” Michael repeats.

“Michael…”

“I said I’m fine, brother,” he says firmly. “Now drop it.” He pulls his hats down further until they nearly cover his eyes. The room has already started to warm up. It’s becoming almost pleasant.

“I think we should both sleep for a bit,” Michael says, yawning again. “I’ll search through the cupboards again in a few hours. I must have just missed the phone. I’m sure I’ll find it with fresh eyes.”

James nods. Between the warmth of the bed and the increasing warmth of the cabin, he’s feeling drowsy. Michael reaches for his phone on the table.

“I’ll set an alarm for an hour from now so I can get up and turn off the radiator. That should be enough time for the clothes to dry.”

James is already settling down to sleep. Alexander tangles their limbs together and snuggles into the crook of his neck. He mumbles James’ name.

“When my clothes are dry you can take the bed,” James says, yawning.

Michael doesn’t answer. James looks up. He’s already fast asleep.

******

Orange Sky: Part Twenty-One

[Parts 1-20 are here. Thank you for reading. Xo

Ps, I know I said yesterday that I'd post this in the morning and it's currently eight o'clock at night (my time) but some things are still not working as they should. Certain things are just broken and useless, but I'll keep trying to fix it for you guys. I'm sorry. I'm trying. Xo]


Michael comes back inside, shaking the snow off his jacket. He puts his phone down on the kitchen table and sits down on a chair, lifting his leg onto the chair in front of him.

“I went as far as I could without losing sight of the cabin. There’s no signal out here. Too many trees, or maybe the blizzard knocked out a tower or something.” He grimaces, massaging his leg.

James can feel Alexander’s shallow breaths on his neck. He pulls the top blanket off himself. The bed is becoming too hot. It’s making him feel claustrophobic.

“Michael,” James starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. Michael meets his gaze.

“I know, brother,” he says. “I know.”

Michael drags his leg off the chair and hobbles around the cabin, searching the cupboards again.

“Maybe I missed something,” he mutters to himself. “This is a park ranger cabin…Surely they must have some form of communication.”

“It doesn’t look like it’s been used in a while,” James says despite himself. “Maybe…”

Michael stops and turns around.

“Don’t say it,” he says, shaking his head. “Just don’t.”

James bites the inside of his cheek and doesn’t say anything more. Michael resumes searching the cupboards.

“Oh!”

“What?!” James’ heart flutters in his chest. “What did you find??”

Michael pulls a long white box from the cupboard. A first aid kit.

“This is good,” Michael says, putting it down on the table. “We can use this.”

“Maybe there’s a phone in there,” James says, daring to hope. Michael opens it and silently searches through the contents, occasionally putting items on the table. James holds his breath.

Michael’s shoulders slump.

“No phone,” James says quietly.

Michael shakes his head. “No. No phone. I just don’t get it, you know? I don’t fucking get it. How could they be out here with no means of communication? What if they needed something? What if something happened??” He picks up an empty wicker basket from the table and hurls it at the wall in frustration. The noise wakes Alexander.

“James?” he whispers, struggling to open his eyes. “James?”

“I’m here,” James says, adjusting his hold on him. “You’re okay.”

“Are we home?”

James can’t bring himself to give him the answer. Instead he looks over at the first aid kit. Michael has taken out a few bandages, a sling and a book. James can just make out the title. A Quick Guide to First Aid.

“Listen, buddy,” he says, bracing himself. “Uncle Michael found a first aid kit. We’re going to…We need to bandage your arm and put it in a real sling. Okay?”

Alexander squeezes his eyes closed and shakes his head.

James tightens his jaw. “Yes, buddy,” he says, feeling Alexander’s heart beat against his. It’s much too fast. “We have to. It won’t hurt as much when it’s properly bandaged. Do you think you can do it?”

“No,” Alexander whimpers, pushing his face into James’ neck. James can feel warm tears sliding over his collarbone. “Please no.”

James almost caves. He almost says okay, buddy. We’ll leave it alone. But he can feel the heat coming off Alexander from under the covers. He can feel the way his arm has swollen, feel the way his skin has tightened and stretched under the pressure of the break and the way it has been thrown about over the last few hours. And even though he can’t bring himself to think it, he knows what happens to untreated breaks. He closes his eyes, unwilling to acknowledge the thought. Acknowledging it would make it real, and it can’t be real.

It can’t be real.

“You’re going to have to be brave, Alex,” Michael says from the table. “You’ve been so brave already. You’re the bravest kid I know. You can do it. I know you can. James and I will be right here. It will be over soon.”

Alexander shudders and takes a deep breath.

“Okay,” he whispers, staring at James through tear-soaked eyes. “I can be brave.”

“Alright,” James says, although the very thought makes him sick. “Okay. Close your eyes. I’ll be right here. It will be over before you know it.”

Alexander closes his eyes. James looks over to Michael and nods. Michael brings over the bandages and the sling.

“We need to splint it,” James says quietly. “We need to immobilize it.”

Michael hunts around the cabin. Alexander whimpers as James sits up. Michael returns with an old newspaper, a plastic serving spoon and a stick.

“The newspaper,” James says, reaching for it. “And some tape.”

Michael gives it to him and gets the tape out of the first aid kit. James folds the newspaper into a stiff board the length and width of Alexander’s arm and secures it with tape.

“You ready?” he asks Michael. Michael nods. “Okay, Alexander,” James says, hoping he doesn’t sound as terrified as he feels. “I need you to lie flat on your back. I’m going to pull back the blankets just enough to see your arm, and then…Then I’m going to take off the dishtowel and wrap it in the bandage instead. Is that okay?”

Alexander squeezes his eyes shut tighter. His bottom lip trembles and tears run down his cheeks. But he nods and rolls onto his back.

James swallows the bile rising in his throat.

“Okay, buddy.” He pulls back the blankets. “Okay. Count to two hundred in your head. We’ll be finished by the time you get there.”

He prays that is true.

He looks at Michael. Michael gives him an encouraging nod.

“Okay,” he says to himself. “Okay.”

He unties the make-shift sling. Alexander bites his lip. Hard.

James grits his teeth and reaches for Alexander’s arm. He barely touches it before Alexander starts to sob.

“It’s okay,” James says, sliding the newspaper splint underneath it, trying to move it as little as possible. He thanks God that it seems to have realigned itself with all the movement. He couldn’t bring himself to set it. “It’s okay.”

Alexander’s sobs grow louder. He starts to count out loud.

“FORTY SEVEN FORTY EIGHT FORTY NINE…”

“Bandage,” James says through clenched teeth. Michael gives it to him. James swallows a second wave of bile. “Hold his arm up a little so I can bandage the splint in place.”

“NINEY EIGHT NINETY NINE…”

James works as quickly as he can, trying not to let his hands shake. When he’s finished bandaging the splint in place he grabs the sling and puts it across Alexander’s chest.

“Put his arm down,” he says to Michael. His voice trembles. Michael does and James secures the sling around Alexander’s neck, crossing his arm across his heart.

“ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN…”

“We’re done, buddy,” James says, covering Alexander with the blanket. “We’re done.”

Alexander stops counting. The sobs return. He reaches for James with his good arm, wrapping his fingers into his hair and clinging to him. James rubs his back, careful not to move his arm.

“I’m sorry, buddy,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

“P-p-p-please can I go home,” Alexander sobs. He buries his face in James’ hair. His warm forehead is pressed against James’ neck.

“We will soon,” James whispers, holding him as close as he dares. “We will be home soon.”

“Please,” Alexander mumbles. “Please.”

James turns to Michael. “He’s warm,” he says, trying to keep his voice steady.

“That’s good,” Michael says. “He needed to—”

“No,” James says. “He’s too warm. I think…I think he has a fever.”

Michael stands up and goes over to the first aid kit. He returns with a digital thermometer.

“Put this under his tongue,” he says, cleaning it with an alcohol swab and giving it to James.

James takes it. “Alexander,” he says gently. “I need to take your temperature. I need to put this under your tongue.”

Alexander mumbles incoherently, but he doesn’t resist. After a minute, the thermometer beeps.

“One-oh-one.” James feels like he can't breathe. “All that pain…All that movement of his arm…The cold must have been keeping the fever at bay, but now…” He can’t finish the thought.

Michael pales and takes back the thermometer, returning to the first aid kit.

“Please can I go home,” Alexander mumbles. “I want to see James.”

James puts his hand on Alexander’s flushed face. “I’m here, buddy,” he says, taking off his bomber hat. “I’m here with you.”

“James,” Alexander mumbles. “I want to see James.”

“Alexander, I—”

“JAMES!” Alexander screams. “Please can I go home I want James I want to see James please let me see James!”

James feels like he’s been punched in the stomach.

“I’m right here, Alexander. I’m with you. I’m here. I’m here.”

“Where’s James?” Alexander sobs. “Please let me see James! I won’t tell anyone! I just want to see James!”

“Alexander!” James says, starting to panic. “Alexander! I’m here! Open your eyes! Look at me! I’m right here!”

“James,” Alexander sobs. “I want James.”

“Michael,” James says, looking up. “Michael, he –”

“He thinks he’s back with the kidnappers,” Michael says, pulling a bottle out of the first aid kit. He looks as sick as James feels. “He’s hallucinating.”

He grabs a glass from the sink and holds it under the faucet. For a few horrible moments nothing happens, then the tap splutters into life and coughs dirty water into the glass. Michael keeps tipping it out until the water runs clear. He washes the glass and fills it, bringing it over to the bed.

“Alex,” he says. “Alexander. This will make you feel better. Take this.”

“NO!” Alexander screams, flinging his good arm out and knocking the glass out of Michael’s hand. “NO!! I DON’T WANT IT! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME TAKE IT! I WANT JAMES! LET ME SEE JAMES! LET ME GO HOME! I WON’T TELL ANYONE! I WON’T! I JUST WANT JAMES!”

Michael picks up the glass and fills it up again. “J,” he says, limping back over. “He has to take this. It’s Tylenol. It will help with his pain and reduce the fever.”

“He thinks I’m Grady,” James whispers, staring at Michael without seeing him. “He thinks…I hurt him so much that he thinks…”

Michael puts down the glass and the pills on the bedside table and puts his hand on James’ shoulder.

“Look at me, J,” he says firmly. “You can’t fall apart. You cannot fall apart. Alexander needs you. You need to be strong for him. You do not get to fall apart.”

James stares at him. He blinks, releasing the tears that had gathered in his eyes.

“He needs the Tylenol,” he whispers.

Michael nods. “Yes.”

James turns to the bedside table. Alexander is still sobbing and mumbling into his neck.

“He can’t think you’re Grady,” Michael says, picking up the pill bottle and taking one out. “He wouldn’t be holding onto you like that. He knows you’re James. Some part of him knows.” He hands the pill to James. “We have to get his fever down,” he says, picking up the glass of water and giving it to him. “He has to take it.”

James swallows and turns to Alexander.

“Buddy,” he whispers hoarsely. Even though he’s been out of the blankets for at least ten minutes, his skin is still warm to the touch. “Alexander, I need you to take this pill, okay? It will make you feel better.”

Alexander shakes his head and squirms away from him.

“I want James,” he sobs. “I want my daddy.”

James’ hand shakes enough to spill water onto the bed.

“Okay, buddy,” he says. “Okay. If you take this pill I will take you to see James. If you swallow this and drink this water, I will take you to see your daddy.”

Alexander looks at him. His eyes are glazed are unfocused. “Do you promise?”

James nods. “I promise. Just take this and you…” He can’t bring himself to say it. He can’t bring himself to lie.

“I can go home?” Alexander asks, taking a shuddering breath in.

James doesn’t answer.

“Will you take me home?”

James looks down at the pill in his hand.

He needs to take it.

“Yes, Alexander,” he whispers. “I will take you home.”

Alexander snatches the pill and gulps it down with the water. Some of it spills down his chin, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

“I want James,” he says, handing back the glass. “You said I could go back to James.”

“I know, but—”

“YOU SAID! I WANT TO SEE JAMES NOW!”

James tries to put his arm around him. “Alexander, I—”

“NO!” Alexander roars, pushing him away. “YOU’RE A LIAR! YOU PROMISED! YOU LIED!” He tries to fling himself out of the bed but Michael catches him, holding him in place. Alexander starts to scream.

“JAMES! JAMES! JAMES!”

“Alexander!” James cries, trying to gather him into his arms. “I’m here! You’re safe! I’m here!”

Alexander bites him and tries to escape. He knocks his broken arm against Michael’s body hard enough to make him gasp. He stops struggling and allows Michael to put him back into bed. Tears roll down his cheeks.

“Where’s James,” he repeats over and over again. “I need James. I need to go home. Please let me go home.”

James tentatively pulls him into his arms.

“I’m here,” he whispers. “Look at me, I’m here. You’re safe. I’m here.”

“James?” Alexander mumbles. His eyelids start to close. “Don’t…Don’t leave me.”

“I won’t,” James says. His voice shakes. “I’ll never leave you.”

Alexander’s body relaxes and his fingers find their way into James hair. His heart rate slowly starts to return to normal. James watches him as he drifts off sleep. 


And counts his heart beats.
******