This must be how it feels to come back from the dead, I thought as I struggled to open my eyes. Every inch of my body, especially my uncooperative eyelids, felt heavy as lead. I heard a sound, a plaintive moan, and only when another voice spoke did I realize the moan had come from me.
The other voice said, "Awake, unfortunate woman!"
That voice and its biblical-sounding manner of command were unfamiliar, so alien to my ears in both language and tone that fear coursed coldly through me and broke my leaden bonds. I opened my eyes.
Immediately I wished I had not. I was lying stark naked in a strange bed, in a strange room, with a man I had never seen before in my life standing over me. I had not the slightest idea in the world how I'd come to be here.
Whatever this was, whatever I had done now, whatever horrible mistake I'd made, I couldn't face it. I closed my eyes and turned my head away. That is, I tried to turn my head, I meant to turn itbut the pain was so severe, and my head was so heavy, that I doubt I moved at all. Instead I was sinking. Everything went black, and I was glad of it.
Goddammit!" Michael Kossoff swore aloud, adding several more obscene words under his breath for good measure. As the sky stopped spinning overhead, he began to assess himself and the situation.
His collarbone was broken on the left side. He was certain of that much, due to the pain that ensued when he tried to move his left arm, and where the pain was located. He lifted his right hand and felt his face, which appeared to be intact, beard included, though he had the very devil of a headache. Without looking down he moved first one leg and then the other. Flexed his ankles; wiggled his toes inside his shoes. Everything seemed in working order except for the shoulder, and that damned throbbing in his head.
He supposed he could have been unconscious for a while; in fact, on further thought he believed he must have been, because of the initial dizziness combined with a certain sluggishness of mind. He wasn't yet entirely sure what had happened. He did know he was in no way ready to sit up, so he closed his eyes and put his ears to work.
Michael heardand felta vast silence around him; the unnerving sort of silence that one notices when for days there has been steady sound in the background, then suddenly the reassurance of that steady sound is gone. Yes: The comforting, lulling hum and clack of the train moving swiftly over its tracks was now missing. He listened harder: Within the disturbing hush there were people crying, moaning, sobbingand for one terrifying, irrational moment Michael wondered if he had finally died and gone to hell.
"Where I belong, several times over," he muttered, aware even as he did so that Fremont would not agree with this last point.
Fremont. . . .
Along with her name, her face filled Michael's mind: the murky depths of her green eyes that always made him wonder what she was thinking; the quirk of her mouth; that dark reddish hair as stubbornly straight as her narrow, uncorseted backbone.
Michael lay for a moment not caring where he was, just contemplating, with an aching pleasure that was quite different from the other aches in his body, how much he loved Fremont Jones. Even betterindeed the cause of a sudden, revivifying warmth that coursed through his whole bodywas knowing that she also loved him.
But then, in the blink of an eye, all pleasure vanished as he cried aloud, "Oh, my God! Fremont!"
Someone kept poking and prodding at me, when all I wanted was to sleep. If I moved, it would hurtthat was my one thought. Yet this poking about on my person had to stop.
As forcefully as I could, I said, "Stop that!" And then, with the greatest reluctance, I opened my eyes.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" I asked the strange man who was examining my anatomy as minutely as if I had been a specimen for dissection in a laboratory. Perhaps I was. Perhaps I had died, or some ill-informed person had thought I was dead and shipped my body off. Dimly I recalled knowing a woman that same thing had happened to. . . .
But no, on second thought that was not likely, for most definitely I lay not on some cold, scientific-looking metal trolley but in a bed, on a mattress that might have been comfortable had I not, overall, hurt so much.
"I am examining you to determine the nature and extent of your injuries," the man said gruffly. He may have intended to smile, but obviously he did it so seldom that his face had forgotten the corners of the mouth were supposed to turn up.
"I will thank you to desist and give me back my clothes," I said, injecting a note of outrage into my voice as best I could. Then I crossed my arms over my breasts with great difficulty. I would have drawn up my legs, but I could not; they refused to cooperate with me. Nor could I raise my head. I said, "You are a doctor, I presume?"
"No," he replied, making no move whatever to cover my nakedness, "I am not a doctor. I am your savior."
More biblical language. "A likely story. Savior, my foot!" I scoffed, but without conviction. Perhaps I really was dead.
My mind refused to work with its usual efficiency. I wanted very much to escape back into unconsciousness, where my body might rest and my thoughts attain oblivion. Yet my brain, which is undoubtedly my most reliable organ, argued against that. For one thing, judging by his odd vocabulary this man could be a dangerous fanatic; certainly he was no savior. Second, around fanatics one had better stay awaketherefore I would.
I strained my peripheral vision in an attempt to ascertain if there might be someone else in the room who could assist me. Preferably another woman. But I couldn't see around my fanatical savior. He was a large man, standing so close that he completely filled my visual field.
"You should be grateful," he said. "I could have left you there to die."
"A likely story," I said again. But I wondered, Left me where?
"You have a serious head wound and were bleeding profusely."
"Do you always completely undress people who have wounds upon their heads?" I inquired, emphasizing the final word. Speaking at all required tremendous effort. I was trying hard to be my usual insouciant self, but I was a long way from hitting the mark.
He turned his back without response and moved away from the bed. I forced my
head to roll to one side, intending to scan the room, and immediately became
nauseous beyond my ability to control. I vomited all in one horrid projectile