Dazed & Confused
The warm darkness broke suddenly with cold light. Ariela sat up in bed with a start and then, without a thought, attacked the woman sitting next to the bed. The struggle was brief. Ariela was weak, the woman she had attacked was relatively strong and, once Ariela’s initial fight response abated slightly, she realized that no one was trying to harm her … at the moment. The woman she had attacked had not attacked in return. Rather, she spoke calmly while subduing Ariela as gently as possible. Faintly, though, Ariela recalled being in grave danger. She couldn’t recollect any specifics but the sense of dread remained like the smell of sulfur after a match has been extinguished.
Was she safe now? Ariela wasn’t sure. Her mind raced. She glanced frantically around the room looking for any indication. Nothing.
As she dropped back onto the mattress, exhausted from her struggle, it dawned on Ariela that she couldn’t remember how she ended up in the bed where she now lay. Her memory was blank. Her thinking was clouded.
“You were shot,” the woman next to the bed spoke calmly and quietly. “We brought you here and I patched you up the best that I could. You’re on the Johnson farm near Union Creek.”
Ariela blinked and then stared blankly at the woman. The words weren’t making sense. It was like the Charlie Brown special when Charlie’s teacher spoke.
“Wah waaah wah, wah waaah waaah wah,” was what Ariela heard.
“My name is Laura,” the woman continued. “I’m a physician assistant. I performed your surgery.”
Ariela blinked again and shook her head to try to clear the cobwebs. Big mistake! Pain exploded like a flash-bang grenade inside her skull. Light-headed and more than a little nauseated, Ariela closed her eyes and tried to make the pain go away. Tears streamed down and trickled onto the pillow under her head.
“Here, take this,” the woman was speaking again.
“Take,” registered in Ariela’s brain. She opened her eyes. The woman was holding a pill and a glass. The items looked familiar. Ariela understood what the woman – Laura, was it? – wanted her to do.
“Take,” Ariela repeated the word to herself and then reached out for the pill and the glass.
Ariela held the pill but the weight of the glass was too much. It began to slip between the fingers of her left hand. Laura noticed and grabbed the glass before it could fall.
“Let me help you,” Laura’s words were starting to make more sense.
Ariela blinked again as the woman took the pill and put it up to her lips.
“Open,” Laura opened her own mouth to demonstrate to Ariela.
Ariela mimicked the movement, parting her lips. The process was painful but not nearly as bad as shaking her head. Laura slipped the pill under Ariela’s tongue and then put the glass to her lips.
“Drink,” the woman instructed.
Somewhere, deep in Ariela’s memory the word found its home.
“Drink,” Ariela repeated. It sounded more like a moan than a word.
The water passed her lips and washed the pill down Ariela’s throat. She swallowed reflexively and then sputtered slightly as a bit of the water started to go down her trachea. The cough set off another explosion of pain in her head. Ariela closed her eyes and again tried to will the pain to go away.
Later in the day, a man who her doctor called David stopped in to check on Ariela. He didn’t introduce himself.
As he talked, Ariela found herself looking deeply into his eyes. She could see danger and compassion. His brow was furrowed with concern – not for her well-being, Ariela realized, but for the well-being of those around her. He obviously did not trust her and, in her heart, Ariela couldn’t blame him. Friend or foe? She struggled with the very same question. Why were these people helping her? Why had they brought her back to their home instead of taking her to a hospital?
Hospitals. Memories of medical facilities flooded Ariela’s brain. Some were bright and clean in beautiful buildings. Some were dark and dirty, housed in tents. Ariela struggled to make sense of the images.
As David spoke, Ariela noticed that he carried a pistol on his hip. She had also noticed that Laura carried a revolver. Why did they all carry guns? This seemed strange to Ariela yet somehow right. More confusion.
David explained to Ariela what he knew of her story – precious little. They had found her near the home of a local drug dealer, shot in the head. She had been armed with an empty and apparently unfired pistol. They believed it was the drug dealer who had shot her but were not absolutely sure.
“Why no hospital?” Ariela carefully formed the words. They still sounded as though spoken by a child just learning to talk.
“The hospitals are all closed down,” David’s matter-of-fact response suggested to Ariela that this was something she should have known.
David’s face softened a bit. “You really don’t remember the crash?”
The look on Ariela’s face confirmed her confusion.
“Several months ago,” David began, “the world’s economies plummeted into one big collective crash. Chaos ensued. There was rioting and looting and … much worse.”
Ariela saw a pained look cross David’s face.
“Wuss?” Ariela couldn’t pronounce the “r”.
“Yes, much worse,” David looked out the window.
Ariela could see anguish in David’s face. He appeared to be a man who had seen things … and done things that had left him scarred. His tough exterior belied his pain but his eyes gave him away.
“Was shooting me one of the things he ‘had’ to do?” Ariela wondered. “Am I only here to assuage his guilt? Am I only alive because he feels obliged to me some how?”
Ariela’s mind began to swirl. With it came a bout of dizziness that made the room spin. Within moments Ariela was in the bathroom vomiting and trying to stay upright on her hands and knees as the vertigo continued.
David helped Ariela back to the bed and then left her alone with her thoughts.
Little by little, Ariela progressed. The spells of numbness came much less frequently. The dizziness faded away. Ariela’s speech became more normal and her thought processes much more acute. Ariela began to walk to rebuild her strength. She found a couple cans of beans in the kitchen cupboard and used them as weights. Within days of waking from her coma, Ariela could do a few push-ups, a few sit-ups and a few weight reps with the bean cans. She could walk a mile and was looking forward to jogging a little bit.
Then, Ariela faced her worst fear – the mirror. She’d glanced at her reflection only briefly over the last few days. Never long enough to really study the damage done by the bullet. Alone in the house, Ariela walked tentatively into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Her fingertips trailed along the wall to the light switch and then flicked the cool plastic button into the upright position. Light flooded the room. Ariela turned slowly to face the mirror … to face her fear. Catching sight of herself, Ariela leaned forward getting as close to the mirror as she could without fogging it with her breath.
The scar rose, red and angry like a mountain range out of the plains. A single line ran from the bridge of Ariela’s nose, across her eye socket and then split into a “Y”. One divergent path turned upward toward her scalp while the other seemed to drift lazily downward toward Ariela’s ear lobe. A crater sunk into the side of Ariela’s skull, its rough edges protruding through the once-delicate skin.
Ariela gently touched the edge of the crater with the pads of her fingers then followed the rough edges around the crater’s oval shape. She wanted to pluck at the heavy threads that held the skin of her face together but thought better of it.
“Who did this?” Ariela wondered aloud. “Was it David?”
Her mind raced, randomly trying to collect thoughts and memories. David’s face flashed before her eyes. He was angry and bloody. The smell of gun powder filled her nostrils. Bile rose in her throat. Her body flushed and then went cold. Ariela could feel anger welling up inside of her. Droplets of sweat formed on her brow and ran down into the scar on her face. The salt of the sweat stung. Ariela reeled and dropped to her knees on the hardwood floor. Her breath was ragged. Her legs were rubbery. Her arms trembled. Ariela felt as though her brain would explode as it thrashed, trying to put the pieces of her life back together.
When Ariela woke, she was back in bed. Laura hovered over her fussing and clucking like a mother hen.
“What happened?” Ariela looked up at Laura.
“You passed out in the bathroom,” Laura gestured toward the open door.
As Ariela looked through the door, the mirror seemed to mock her. She could almost hear it laughing at her monstrosity of a face. Ariela felt anger begin to rise up inside of her again. As the anger rose, Laura turned her back to work with something on the nightstand. The butt of her .38 revolver was almost directly in Ariela’s face.
Did she dare? Did she have the strength … the quickness … the dexterity? Ariela hesitated only for a moment and then reached for the pistol, deftly removing it from its holster and sliding it under her pillow all in a single, fluid movement.
Ariela lay back breathing heavily as Laura turned around to offer a pain-killer.
“No, I’m OK,” Ariela declined the offer. She wanted all her faculties at their sharpest. She wanted nothing to dull her mind … or the pain.
“All right,” Laura replied. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
As soon as the front door closed, Ariela was out of bed. She snatched the pistol from under her pillow and strode as steadily as she could out of the bedroom. As she was crossing the dining room toward the front door, David walked in.
Ariela raised the pistol as David closed the door. Time seemed to freeze. David’s piercing gaze locked onto Ariela’s face. She noticed he didn’t flinch or shrink back in horror as he squinted slightly to focus on her good eye.
“The scar doesn’t bother him at all,” Ariela decided. “Neither does the gun. It’s like he knows that I won’t shoot him.”
Ariela tried to pull the trigger but something stopped her, something she didn’t understand. She squeezed but it was like squeezing against a steel ball instead of a double-action trigger. Ariela realized that she and David were talking but the conversation didn’t really register. Every ounce of brain power, every iota of strength was focused on trying to pull the trigger. Her hands began to tremble. Her arms grew weak. There was a roar inside her head like an oncoming locomotive.
“One asterisk,” Ariela found herself mumbling.
The conversation took a strange turn from there. David was now holding the gun suggesting that Ariela must have a military or law enforcement background.
“I have to get out of here,” Ariela was close to panic as the thought raced through her mind. “I have to get away from this man.”
Ariela brushed past David and nearly launched herself through the front door.