Authors: Amanda Meredith
Tags: #Fiction, #Retail, #Romance, #Suspense, #Thrillers
I was in complete darkness, trapped in thick glue. When I tried to move, a raging fire swept through my body making me scream in agony. Except I couldn’t scream. The sound died in my throat with nowhere to go. I could hear things, like whispers down a long tunnel. I strained to listen but the noise faded into the black.
Sometimes I dreamed.
Libby, strolling down the shore of our lake. Drinking coffee as she leaned against the railing on the balcony. Holding her belly, round with child. Rocking an infant in front of the fireplace.
I had nightmares too. I saw the blackness swallowing me whole, stealing my breath, choking my cries for help. Snakes slithered across my body, sinking their fangs into my skin. My screams
were met with silence as they wrapped their scaly bodies around my neck, dragging me to my death. I heard that same evil laughter as they slowly killed me, echoing into the void.
Libby opened her eyes slowly, savoring the dream before it disappeared. Her hand rested protectively on her belly where in her dream, a child had been growing. She tried to hold onto the dream as it faded. She sighed, wishing it had been reality as she threw off her blanket.
She padded down the hall and filled a glass with cold water at the sink. Sipping it, she imagined what life would be like when Cole finally got back. How soon it would be until that dream became a reality.
Her cell phone rang, startling her. She dumped out her water and glanced at the clock. No one ever called her at two in the morning. A sliver of apprehension trickled down her spine. She reached for the phone on the third ring.
“Hello?” Horrible laughter echoed on the other end.
Her father’s voice. Libby gasped and blinked. The phone was still ringing. She hadn’t answered it yet. She shook her head, promising to quit drinking coffee before bed. She took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
“Elizabeth Michaels?” The voice was stern and articulated. Not her father.
“Yes, this is Elizabeth.”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry for calling so early but it was imperative that I reached you.”
“It’s alright.” She tried swallowing but her throat had gone dry.
“Ma’am, my name is Staff Sergeant McMurray with the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. I’m calling in regards to Corporal Colton Andrews.”
Libby slid into a chair as her knees buckled. “Not Cole, please not Cole.”
The Sergeant was still speaking. “Ma’am?”
“Is he dead?” Libby was gasping for air, barely holding the phone up.
“Ma’am, please,” he tried cutting in.
“Is he dead?” She repeated.
“No, ma’am. Corporal Andrews is alive.” The phone slid from Libby’s hand and clattered to the floor and she struggled to breath. She could hear the sergeant’s voice calling for her. She bent down and picked up the phone with a shaking hand.
“Ma’am, are you there?” He asked.
“Yes, I’m here,” she whispered. “What happened?”
“Ms. Michaels, you were listed as next of kin on Corporal Andrew’s paperwork with his parents after that.” The sergeant explained. “He has you listed as his fiancé.” Libby tried not to
cry at the information. Of course, Cole would do that. It was the only way guarantee the Corp would contact her.
“Yes, that’s right,” she finally answered. “What happened to Cole?”
“Ma’am, Corporal Andrews was very seriously injured in combat a week ago…”
“What?” Libby shouted the sound echoing in her hotel room. “He’s been hurt a week and I’m just now being notified?”
“Ma’am, Corporal Andrews was not wearing his identification at the time of the incident and was not able to be located right away. He was not conscious and able to confirm his identity. We notified you as soon as we could get DNA verification.”
“Oh my God.”
“We can fly next of kin to the nearest base if they are willing and able to go.”
“Of course I’m willing,” she sputtered. “Just where is it that I’m going?”
“He is being treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.”
“Germany?” She squeaked.
“Corporal Andrews isn’t stable enough to transfer stateside,” he answered. “We can fly you coach class to Germany and provide accommodations at Ramstein Air Base. It’s very close to the hospital. Do you have a passport ma’am?”
“I do. I’m in Chicago on business but I always bring it with me.” Libby’s voice cracked as she spoke. She heard the clicking of a keyboard again before he spoke again.
“There’s a flight leaving O’Hare in two hours, can you make it there in time?”
Libby answered. Her hands were shaking again.
“Your tickets, flight schedules and base passes will be waiting at the main entrance. We’ll have a car waiting for you in Frankfurt.” Libby hung up the phone and stared at it for a few minutes. Then snapping out of it she grabbed her suitcase and started throwing things in it. She called for a cab, grabbed her cell and the picture off her nightstand before sprinting out the door. She stopped at the front desk to check out, filling out the address form to mail anything she had forgotten to grab. Then she called her producer to tell him she was now on her way to Europe.
Libby caught her plane on time and arrived in Frankfurt nearly nine hours later. A young woman in a marine uniform was holding a sign with her name on it when she finally got through the gate at customs.
“Ms. Michaels, I’m Lance Corporal Carlton.
I’ll be taking you to Ramstein.”
“Thank you, Lance Corporal, but I’d rather go straight to the hospital.”
“If you wish, ma’am,” she answered. “This way.”
Libby followed the woman through the airport to a car waiting in the lot. Libby was thankful the Corp had sent a car; the signs were all in German and the streets all went in the wrong direction. Between that and sheer exhaustion, Libby was sure she
would’ve gotten lost or in an accident trying to find the way herself.
“You might want to rest while we drive,” the Lance Corporal suggested. “It’s about an hour and a half drive.”
“No,” Libby whispered, though she was utterly exhausted, she was too worried about Cole. “Do you know Cole?”
“Corporal Andrews?” The Lance Corporal gave her a sympathetic smile. “Everybody knows Andrews.” She smiled again. “He’s one of the best squad leaders in the 2nd.
And a crack shot. He gave a sniper training course a few months ago… hit a 2-centimeter target almost 2 miles away with high winds. Dead center…” she trailed off when she saw a tear sliding down Libby’s face. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“Call me Libby, Lance Corporal,” she whispered, wiping the tear away. “I’m sure Cole has a much better gun now but he used to shoot tin cans from that far away with his old 30.06.” She
smiled when the woman’s jaw dropped in shock. “He tried teaching me but I could only shoot about half as far with the same accuracy.”
“I’m so sorry, Libby,” the Lance Corporal whispered.
“Do you know how bad it is?” Libby questioned as she watched the trees flash past.
“Some of the guys from my unit were talking the other day. One of them has a cousin in Andrew’s unit,” she paused before continuing. “Look, Libby. They don’t fly family over here unless it’s pretty serious.” Libby only nodded and stared out the window. She
wouldn’t lose hope. Cole needed her to be the strong one now.
Libby was surprised at how quickly her escort got her through security and to the intensive care unit of the hospital. Her heart began to race as she signed in at the nurse’s station. Lance Corporal Carlton squeezed her arm in sympathy before turning away. Libby watched her walk down the hallway for a moment, feeling utterly alone. A young nurse with a German accent led her to a room down the hall that was darker than the rest of the unit. Libby tried to swallow the lump in her throat as she stepped into the room.
There were so many bandages on his body that she wouldn’t have been able to tell it was
him if she hadn’t seen his name on the chart hanging at the end of the bed. Wires and tubes seemed to be coming from everywhere, leading to multiple monitors and machines. Cole’s body was trembling, his arms and legs twitching beneath padded restraints. Libby stopped, bile rising in her throat. The nurse continued to pull her forward towards the bed.
“He looks better now than when he first got here,” she murmured, laying a hand on Libby’s back. Libby’s hand was shaking as she reached out to touch Cole’s fingers. His hand twitched and she pulled her hand back quickly.
“It’s a pseudo-seizure,” the nurse explained.
Libby’s voice was shaking.
“A pseudo-seizure,” she repeated. “They have the physical symptoms of a seizure except that the EEG is completely normal. He’s being kept sedated but his muscles are still able to twitch.”
“What is wrong with him?” Libby asked, reaching again for Cole’s hand as it continued to quiver. His hand stilled when she finally touched him. “In layman’s terms, please.”
“There’s quite a bit wrong at the moment, I’m afraid,” the nurse answered as she pulled a chair closer to the bed for Libby to sit in. “We’ll start off with his head and work our way down.” Libby nodded, unable to speak.
“Corporal Andrews sustained a traumatic brain injury as a result of an explosion. The impact caused his brain to bounce in his skull and swell. Luckily, in Corporal Andrews’s case, he sustained a skull fracture as well but it has actually helped relieve the pressure on his brain by giving it more room to expand. Dr. Heinrich did drill a small hole to insert a probe for monitoring the pressure. It started dropping yesterday so the swelling is going down.”
“Will there be any permanent damage?” Libby’s voice was barely a whisper.
Broken bones, damaged organs, scarred emotions, they could all heal. Brain damage was permanent. Irreversible.
“You never know with a brain injury, Ms. Andrews.
But it wasn’t too severe and the swelling started going down quickly. The MRI, CAT scan and SPECT scan all looked fine. It looks like the only issues he may have to deal with would be psychological.”
“What else?” Libby asked with a stronger voice.
“Please, call him Cole,” Libby whispered, as she stroked his hand.
“Cole’s right femur was broken and had punctured through his thigh. The bone nicked the femoral vein, which again, was lucky.”
“Had the bone nicked the artery, Cole would’ve lost his leg and more than likely, his life. The artery wouldn’t have been able to deliver the oxygenated blood to the lower leg and the tissues would have started to die very quickly. But it was the vein that was nicked so the lower leg still received oxygen before the blood was lost. It seems that Cole was in and out of consciousness while he was trapped and was able to use his belt to create a tourniquet above the wound and use a bootlace with part of his shirt to apply continuous pressure to the wound. It would’ve been extremely painful to put pressure on the leg but he managed to stay conscious long enough to control the bleeding.” She pointed towards his leg, which was thickly bandaged.
“Will he lose his leg?” Libby almost
couldn’t ask but she wanted to know everything.
“He had surgery yesterday to put a rod inside the bone. Since it was an open fracture everything inside the leg
has been exposed to the elements, the chance of severe infection is very great. He’s on some very high-powered antibiotics but we’re keeping a close eye on it. There’s a slight chance, especially if he develops a bone infection, but the doctor shouldn’t have to amputate.” Libby let out the breath she’d been holding and squeezed Cole’s hand. She took another deep breath.
“He has 3 broken ribs; one of them punctured his spleen…” Libby gasped. “They didn’t have to remove it though.” The nurse explained. “The rib basically kept the bleeding to a minimum. When he got here, they removed the rib and the bleeding wasn’t too serious. It basically healed on its own.”
“What are these other bandages?” Libby pointed at various parts of Cole’s body. He seemed to be hurt everywhere, except for the hand she was stroking.
“Cole had some pretty severe gashes and burns,” she explained. “A few of the ones on his arm and the back of his neck will require skin grafts. A broken nose and some shrapnel embedded in the cheek muscle. A plastic surgeon will remove it later.” She paused, seeing the tears sliding down Libby’s face.
“His wounds are pretty serious…mainly the brain injury and leg but he isn’t nearly as bad as we’ve seen here.” She seemed to shudder involuntarily as she explained. “The seizures are a bit complicated though. The doctor thought with the brain-swelling going down that they would taper off but they seem to be happening more frequently. In fact, this is the longest time he’s gone between them today, since you got here.” She smiled. “You know, it’s been my experience that there’s some things medicine can’t fix.” Libby looked away from Cole for a moment. The nurse was smiling at her. “I think he needs you.”
“What can I do?” Libby’s voice was hoarse with tears as she looked back at Cole.
“Just love him for now.” The nurse chuckled, reaching over to squeeze her shoulder. “Talk to him and love on him. The hardest parts will come when he starts therapy.” She chuckled a little to herself but then stopped when she realized that Libby
wasn’t catching onto the joke. “Sorry,” she mumbled with a guilty smile.
“It’s alright.” Libby smiled back. “I think you’re entitled to a little humor with all the things you probably see here.”
“The doctor will be doing rounds in a half hour if you have any questions for her and I’ll be right down the hall if you need anything.” Libby only nodded as the nurse left the room.
She nudged the chair closer to Cole’s bed, careful to avoid the tubes and hoses. She leaned forward and laid her lips on his hand, listening to the sound of the respirator breathing for him. His hand began to twitch again and Libby picked it up carefully as she leaned forward.
“Cole?” She tried to control the shaking of her voice as she whispered. “Can you hear me, Cole?”
I was in another nightmare, my body on fire. I
was trapped, being strangled by snakes as they choked the life out of me. The laughter echoed in my head, making the pain unbearable, drowning out the sound of my own screams.
Libby. I needed to think of Libby. I tried to picture her face, her smile, but everything in my head was so blurry. I wanted to scream her name but I
couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t see Libby in the darkness.
“Cole has developed a pretty severe infection,” Dr. Heinrich explained as Libby stared numbly at her. It had been over two weeks since Cole was injured and he was still in a medically induced coma. “It isn’t in his bones but the deep muscle tissue of the leg. We’re going to remove some of the muscle that’s infected before it gets any worse.” She knelt down in front of Libby. “I will do everything I can to save his leg, Ms. Michaels but I want to be very clear with you. Saving his life is the priority.” Libby nodded and watched with fear as they began preparing Cole to move to surgery.
Two days later Libby was in another room, just as dark as the first one had been. Cole
was being kept near the operating room in case he needed to go back into surgery. His pseudo-seizures were getting worse, though his head had healed enough for Dr. Heinrich to remove the probe. She was going to bring him out of his medically induced coma but he would have to be heavily sedated to keep him from flailing too much and injuring his leg further.
“We’re going to slowly reduce the medications that are keeping him unconscious,” Dr. Heinrich explained. “It will take roughly 24 hours for the anesthetic to wear off completely. We will be monitoring pressure and brain function as well as his heart rate and blood pressure. We might have to put him back under if his body
isn’t ready. Do you understand how this is going to work?” Libby nodded. “I want you to talk to him. It might help him stay calm when he’s able to hear and understand you.”
“He can’t hear me now?”
“No one knows. The brain is very complicated. He can hear you, certainly, but whether his brain can process that information and understand what he’s hearing is another matter.”
Eight hours later, Cole still
hadn’t moved. Libby had fallen asleep, her head resting on the bed next to his hand when the heart monitor alarm woke her. It seemed like every monitor began going off at once and Libby jumped up, seeing that Cole’s body was convulsing. His arms and legs jerked against the restraints. Nurses rushed in, checking monitors, adjusting levels but Cole continued to shake. They paged for Dr. Heinrich and she arrived minutes later.
“Heart rate at 140, BP 160 over 120.”
Dr. Heinrich nodded as the nurse spoke, looking at the EEG report as it printed out of the machine.
“Libby, I want you to talk to him,” she explained as she put a stethoscope onto his chest. “He’s starting to wake up and his brain is trying to process everything
it’s feeling. He’s going to feel pain, the restraints. He’ll be extremely confused. He should be able to hear you.” She moved the stethoscope to the other side of his chest. “We’ll see if he can calm down but if this keeps up we’ll have to put him under again, okay?” Libby nodded and stepped closer to the bed.
“Cole,” she whispered, leaning down towards his ear. “You have to fight, Cole.” Her voice was louder as she spoke. “You have to be strong now.” His body still convulsed. “I love you so much, Cole. I always have.” She was crying now. “I won’t lose you now, damn it! You have to fight.” She kissed his face as she murmured, praying that he could hear her.
“You have to wake up now Cole. You still have to propose to me, you know,” she teased through her tears as she continued to squeeze his hand. “We’re supposed to get married, Cole. Start a family and grow old together. So you have to wake up Colton Andrews! Dammit, wake up!”
I saw a flash of light. I gulped in air as the snake around my neck loosened its hold.
Another flash of color.
I moved my arms. More snakes began to loosen their hold. An image flashed across my mind. She was sitting on the rock at our lake, staring out at the water.
The snakes were losing their hold. I could move my arms and legs now. The image flashed again in my mind. Libby had turned to look over her shoulder, smiling at me.
“I love you.”
“Libby!” My voice finally broke through the barrier in my mind. I felt my body
being freed, one last snake trying desperately to hold on. The image flashed again. I was sitting next to Libby, kissing her.
The snake was suddenly gone. The darkness was fading but the light was too strong, hurting my head. I’d never felt so exhausted in my life. In my mind, I closed my eyes and drifted off into a peaceful sleep.
Cole’s body suddenly stilled. The monitors that had been beeping loudly suddenly went silent.
“Oh no!” Libby cried out looking at the doctor desperately.
It’s fine, Libby,” Dr. Heinrich assured her. She pointed at the monitor and Libby saw the line of Cole’s heart rate rising and falling rhythmically. “Heart rate 80. Pressure 117 over 75. He’s doing great, Libby.” Libby fell into the chair sobbing, her head resting near Cole’s arm.
“You did it, Cole.” She murmured. “You’re alright.”