TIME SPIKE – snippet 8:
With no one in the room but the two nurses, Barbara handed Jenny the tools she needed to cauterize the wound. “We have just about anything you need for emergencies. It’s the comfort measure materials we have trouble getting.”
Jenny looked at the gleaming metal tip and inwardly winced. This was going to be rough on the woman. The anesthetic was completely inadequate. But she would hemorrhage to death without it.
The procedure took less than five minutes. Twenty-five minutes after they started, Brown’s bandages were in place and the woman was asleep.
When Jenny finally sat down at the desk it was Barbara who spoke first. “I have to get some sleep. I’ve been awake for over thirty hours. I’ll be in the break room on a table.” She grinned. “That was some mighty nice work you did. Half the doctors we have here are druggies, doing community work to stay out of the slammer. They couldn’t have done it.”
“Thanks. For the compliment, and the warning about the docs. I didn’t know that. I thought they were hired by the state.”
“Some are, but some aren’t.”
Jenny nodded and made a mental note to nose around and learn which was which. “For a woman with no training in invasive procedures, you didn’t do so bad either.”
Barbara Ray’s smile was replaced by a look of worried concentration. “Yeah, well, Lylah was just talking. Working here, as short as we are and as violent as some of our emergencies get, you stay up on your skills. And you wind up stepping out of your area of official expertise fairly often. You just don’t talk about it. Not if you’re smart.”
Jenny picked up on the hint and decided it was time to change the subject. “How many of the psych docs are here as part of a plea bargain?”
“None. They’re here because they want to be.” Barbara shrugged. “They have to think they’re helping. It can’t be for the money. The state doesn’t pay enough for that.”
“How’s Brown?” Blacklock asked Jenny as she walked out of the examining room and into the wide hall that doubled as a reception area and rest stop.
“I think she’ll be okay. I’ve started her on I.V. antibiotics. That room is not exactly sterile. If I don’t give her something, she’ll get a hellish infection.”
She sat in a chair next to the door. “How long until the phones are working?”
“I don’t know.”
“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever gotten myself into,” she said ruefully. “No wonder you guys can’t keep nurses.”
The captain chuckled. “It’s usually not this bad. Honest.” He looked at Hulbert. “I’ve never seen anything like that… quake. Have you?”
Hulbert shook his head. “I just hope we don’t get hit with an aftershock.”
Five minutes passed. “I’m really out of my element and I’m betting you guys are, too.” Jenny pulled the rubber band from her hair and started re-applying it. “What’s up with the sun? And the barometric pressure. And that quake. And the way the sky looks. I have never seen such a blue sky.”
Neither man answered. They were looking at the floor, their brows creased, their elbows on their knees and their hands dangling between their legs, still and calm.
Jenny slumped in her chair. Exhaustion, caused from the tension of the last—she looked at the clock—four hours, washed over her. She had hoped this job would be easier than her last one. That, obviously, was not going to be the case.
She glanced to where Frank Nickerson was lying. In spite of the light and the noise, he was sleeping soundly enough that a soft snore could occasionally be heard. His gurney was parked in the hall, since there was no place else for him. At least no place convenient enough for a staff of one to keep a close eye on him. Jenny didn’t think he was in any danger, but medical emergencies had a tendency to occur when you least expected them.
Barbara was in the break room catching a nap. Lylah was asleep in the records room. Glasser had said the R.N. fell asleep as soon as she lay down. She had also said tonight was the woman’s third double in a row, and that she was usually very caring and giving. Very reasonable. Jenny had been assured that when Lylah woke up she would be a totally different human being. She would be glad Brown was fixed, and would go to bat for Barbara and Jenny if she had to. She was loyal to her nurses.
Jenny hoped so, but she wasn’t really too worried about what she had done. She hadn’t done much more than she was licensed in the state of Illinois to do. Plus, she was actually pretty good at the art of C.Y.A., covering your ass. She could do it without lying or stretching the truth. It was a matter of how and what you charted. She just hated the fact that she had needed help, and that need had put Barbara on the hot spot right along with herself.
Brown’s vitals were stable. The knife had, by some miracle, missed the intestines. That gave her a good chance of avoiding peritonitis, and just as good a chance of being back on her feet in a week or two. It would be at least a month before she’d be back to work, though, maybe as much as six weeks. But with a little care, the woman should do all right.
Jenny had to suppress a small smile. Brown was one of those black beauties who made most women jealous, including white women. She had the high cheekbones, huge black eyes, and full lips that were money in the bank for magazine models. Which she probably could have been, except she was too short and curvy. And according to the Barbara Ray, the C.O. was as good as she looked, too. She sang in the church choir, helped with the food pantry and spent every Thanksgiving cooking for those who would normally not eat that day. Prison guard or not, she was a kind-hearted sweetie.
Jenny sighed. Now that things were beginning to settle down, she found herself wanting to look at Andy Blacklock. She actually had to work at not staring at him. Finally, she caved in and gave him a quick glance—and discovered he was staring at her.
“How’s your wife doing?” she asked. It was her way of reminding him not to look too much, and remind herself not to enjoy his looking.
“The lady having the baby.”
“Oh. Kathleen.” He seemed flustered by the question. “She’s… just Kathleen. Not my wife. One of the midnight C.O’s. She’s got a husband and three other kids.” He shrugged. “She’s fine. I offered to let her wait this out here, in the infirmary, but she didn’t want to. She said she was too big and clumsy and this place was seeing too much action. She felt safer in the communication center. So I sent Keith Woeltje over. He threw his knee out, so he’s not much good right now. He’ll call if she runs into trouble.”
Jenny nodded, hoping he wouldn’t be able to read her feelings. Not his wife. Not his baby. Just Kathleen. She straightened in her chair a little then pushed the feelings that had surfaced back down. This was business. A job. You don’t date men you work with. It complicates things.
You dated Matt.
She stood up and stretched. It was time to start pulling the meds for the morning drug pass. It took well over three hours to set the meds up, and another hour to pass them. According to the sun, she was way behind schedule. But the clock told her, if she hurried, she might get it done before dayshift arrived.
If they arrived. She was starting to have her doubts about that.
Less than one hour after Jenny entered the large room with its three, twelve-foot long combination work table/medicine cabinets, Andy Blacklock slid open the metal door slot and said through the small rectangle, “Unlock the door. I’ve sent for Barbara. She’ll have to finish setting up for the morning med pass. I need all department heads in the administrative building for a meeting, stat. Joe is back.”
Jenny turned just in time to see him leave.
Department heads? Joe was back?
Jenny was the new nurse, not the head of the department. True, it was technically the midnight shift, and she was the only midnight nurse on duty, but that was just a technicality.
She sighed. She had always been the one in charge. Even as a new grad working an emergency room at a free hospital smack dab in the middle of the inner city.
Years ago, she had given up fighting the situation. Back then she was naïve enough to believe she hated being the one others looked to for orders. She had thought she preferred to follow. But her time in the jungles of South America had changed that. It taught her a lot about who and what she was. She was no follower. She preferred to rely on herself. She had more faith in her judgment and her skills than she did in anyone else’s. And time and time again, she had proven herself right.
She put the lid on the bottle she had just taken from a drawer and then locked the cabinet. She didn’t know who Joe was or where he had been but she needed a notebook and pen. Meetings meant new information. And new information usually meant new ways of doing things. Taking notes was her way of making sure she didn’t forget anything, or remember something wrong.
When she climbed the stairs to the upper level conference room she could feel the tension in the air. The guards rushing up and down were in full gear. More than a few wore bulletproof vests and helmets with faceplates pulled into the up position. Watching them in their black leather gloves, leather pants and knee pads made her feel foolish and frivolous, in her pale blue nurse’s uniform. Silently, she cursed the idiot who had picked out the balloon and heart pattern that decorated her top, and wished she had thought to grab a lab coat. The uniform, issued by the prison, was ridiculous in this setting.
The purple stethoscope draped around her neck looked just as silly. She slipped it off, folded its tubing, and shoved it inside her pocket. The guards were wearing guns. Big, black guns. Not candy colored tools.
She slipped into the conference room intending to grab a seat near the back, but was spotted by Rod Hulbert. He waved for her to join him at the front. He had saved her a seat.
“I know things look pretty bad, and they are,” Rod said, “but we have good people.”
Jenny nodded. “I hope so. What’s going on? Really.”
He shrugged. “You’re going to know soon enough. Andy’s going to have Joe give a detailed description of what he saw when he went to town. And since I’ve been out there, at least a little ways, I have a feeling it’s going to be an eyeball popper.”
“Haven’t you heard?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “The Mississippi river is gone. And if that mother has dried up and left us with trees the size of two-hundred year old oaks, town has got to be even more messed up.”
Gone. Two-hundred year old oaks. She could feel her stomach turn over and fought the wave of nausea that came with it. She didn’t feel the need to argue that those things couldn’t happen. Some instinct told her that they could, and had. The same set of instincts were telling her to jump up, run out of the room, find a dark closet and hide. To stay there and never stick her head into the sunlight.
Instead, she opened her notebook and checked to be sure the pen she had pulled from her pocket protector was a good one.
Jeffrey Edelman flicked the lights off, then on. Instantly, the room became silent.
Andy Blacklock was at the front of the room. Standing next to him was a man that made his 6’1” frame look small. “Quiet,” he said to the people in the room, who almost instantly obeyed him.
“Joe Schuler has just gotten back from town and is ready to give report. You will be hearing what he has to say at the same time I hear it. I’m willing to do things this way as long as the information given out in these meetings goes no further until I say it does.”
“We won’t be telling the others?” Terry Collins asked. His face was flushed.
“They’ll be told. Everything. Nothing held back.” Blacklock looked around the room. “There will be no secrets. None. But there’s no sense terrifying them. That situation never helps. We will give ourselves enough time to decide the best approach to dealing with things. Then when we tell them the bad news, the newest problem, we will have some sort of corrective action in mind. That will make it easier for them to accept. And no one goes off half-cocked, crazy with fear.” He sat down in a metal folding chair facing the audience.
“Lieutenant Schuler, go ahead.”
Joe nodded, then began talking. His voice shook, but Jenny knew it wasn’t from stage fright.
“First things first. Don’t nobody boo me, and don’t nobody call me a liar. I didn’t cause the things I’m going to be telling you and I’m not going to be saying anything that isn’t the God’s own truth. Even though I find it hard to believe it myself.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “First, the road to town is gone. It leaves the prison, goes for about a quarter mile then stops. It looks as though it’s been cut at a 120-degree angle. One side is blacktop; the other is ground cover. I say ‘ground cover’ instead of grass because whatever the stuff is—I didn’t recognize any of the plants—it isn’t grass. Some kind of ferns, is what most of it looked like. Waist high ground cover and trees. The trees are big, too. I didn’t recognize them either, except for a number of gingkos. But whatever kind of trees they are, they’ve obviously been there for decades. At least. And out in the distance, I could see trees that were even bigger. Huge things. Trees that have to be hundreds of years old. Could be thousands of years old, for all I know. I thought they were redwoods at first, but Jeff Edelman says my description doesn’t quite match. The one thing for sure is they’re conifers. In the distance, that’s it. Only conifers.
“It took me over an hour to get to what should have been the city limits. The truck couldn’t go but about a mile or so and I had to walk the rest the way. I found this where I guessed the police station should have been.”
He held up what looked to be an unadorned, well-worn pocket watch. Instead of a chain, a strip of leather hung from the ring above its winding stem. “The man who used this was leaned against a stump, dead. He was dressed in old-fashioned garb, like for a parade, but different. And from the insect infestation and deterioration of the body, I would say he had been gone for several days.” He set the watch back on the table. “That man was all I found. There is no town. No railroad tracks, no cars, buildings, factories, or streetlights. Nothing. No people.” He shrugged. “No living people, anyway.”
“What happened to them?”
Joe shrugged again. “It wasn’t a bomb or anything like that. This is something else. Nothing is destroyed. It’s just… vanished.”
He waved toward the outer wall, to the area beyond. “And I don’t think this is just a local situation. If the sun is wrong here, it’s wrong all over the world. And, according to Rod Hulbert, the river is gone. It hasn’t dried up. It’s gone. I talked to Jeff Edelman about it. He said moving that much water would have affected other things in other places. It would change things over a wide area. According to him, since the Mississippi is over two thousand miles long, if it’s bed is gone, things have to be messed up all over the world.”
“That’s right,” Edelman said. “It’s as though the planet quivered and everything is now different. The tower guards have been spotting strange animals prowling around the perimeter of the prison, and even stranger looking birds. Woeltje says he saw a creature with a hell of a wingspan flying over the prison just a little after sunup, that wasn’t anything like any bird he’d ever seen. And there has been an increase in temperature as crazy as what we’re seeing in the plant and animal life. This is November and it’s eighty degrees out there. And the sun rose six hours ahead of schedule, in the northwest. And last night, the stars were wrong. They were in the wrong place, and there were too many of them.”
Jenny swallowed, working at staying calm. She could tell by the reactions of those around her, most of what Edelman was saying was old news. But for her, it was all new. She could feel the sweat on her palms and on her upper lip. She looked at Hulbert and knew even though he had already heard most of it, he was taking the situation no better than she was. He looked calm enough, but his respirations were up to sixteen. That was high for him. He was in such unusually good shape, his resting respirations were usually around twelve to thirteen.
Kathleen, the C.O. in charge of the communications and control room, stood up. “I have a husband and three children in town.” Her voice changed to almost a wail. “Where are they? What does all this mean?” The man sitting in the chair next to hers put his arm around her and drew her back down into her seat. Her quiet sobbing filled the room, driving home what had been said.
Andy stood and Joe returned to his seat. “It means we have to get ready for a long stay.”
Hulbert nodded his head and sighed. “Well, I guess now we know.”
“Know what?” Jenny whispered.
Hulbert looked at her and gave a thin grin that held no humor. “We know we’re fucked.”