Excuse me, but getting shot really hurts. It’s unfathomable until you understand. Yes, people get shot and run around, hopped up on adrenaline or anger, but those are simply more powerful things. The shock of taking a round, one round, astounded me.
I got shot in the shoulder, and to keep my arm from jiggling, I had to limp down the road. I felt ridiculous. Half a block away the parking lot fence ended at a narrow alley. On the other side a row of highrises had storefronts on their first floors. I ducked into the alley, limped past boxes, empty moving material, and three rows of hungry plants. When I slumped against the wall, they woke up and sniffed. Fat, gray tongues moved from green lips to taste the air. I could not rest here long.
I checked my arm. It was an in-and-out, with a tiny entry hole in the side and gaping exit wound in back. The bullet had made a right turn somewhere inside my shoulder. My collar-bone hurt across my shoulders. My fore-arm ached down to the elbow. I bled like a waterfall, like my shoulder had a spigot.
It wasn’t a clean, oh-golly-I’ve-been-shot-now-I’ll-fight-on wound. This one wound to one arm made me feel destroyed as a living thing.
Wow, I was in shock. I’d thought that took longer. My teachers had told me that it took a while, and they were not correct, which meant that Northshore–
I stared at my shoulder.
Make bleeding stop.
I took my wet clothes out of the gym-bag, which I’d kept somehow, folded my shirt into a pad, and belted it to the exit wound.
I got distracted because I could see clouds. The sky was full of them.
I took my pants out of the gym-bag, made a long pad, and wrapped my whole shoulder. I tied it down with my socks. I kept fading in and out, getting sleepy, so I popped the half-eaten roll of ambrosia wafers. That woke me up like a bucket of water, and I checked the dressing again, fixing a few loose points.
What was I going to do?
You know what I was going to do.
I got up, and used my right hand to slide my left arm into Aesthus’s sweater’s pocket. It was one of those long, two-opening pockets over my belly. I tucked my arm in there.
Then I checked the sidewalk and didn’t see Osret. I couldn’t see much of anything. The heavy overcast had made an evening out of afternoon, and the streets were grim and quiet. Someone would come for the gunshots, but I had a very small amount of time.
I walked back to the parking lot, didn’t see Osret, went in, checked the space between carriages, and saw Aesthus and Zenjin. They both lay dead, eyes open in expanding pools of blood. The package was gone. The saber was gone. Osret was gone. There were footprints in the blood.
That was a dumb thing to do, self, but I didn’t waste more time in self criticism. I got out of there without leaving a footprint in the blood, and headed westward, away from the ocean. I thought I recalled a temple to Maya that way, and she took all visitors.
I didn’t make it to Maya’s temple. I finally went down in a grove of cypress trees. They stood like teeth, elegantly sculpted into tall cylinders with pointed tops and rounded bases. All of them had their lower branches trimmed to hide the trunk, and low piles of mulch and tastefully arranged needles helped conceal the vulgarity of a tree rooting in dirt. Several offset lines of them followed a wide road. I was stumbling down the road when I fell over. I crawled away from the road and got somewhere hidden. All around me, silent trees pointed at the sky.
I fell asleep.
My dreams emerged from a peculiar blackness. I definitely dreamt of oblivion for a while. It wasn’t like a normal dream with images, houses like and not-like houses I’ve lived in, people I knew doing things those people would never do. I dreamt of nothing and blackness, an infinite stillness without fear, feeling, or thought.
And then images appeared like stars. They emerged in hints. It began with words my parents used to say, their accents, their sounds. My father had grunted a lot. He communicated with a bunch of ‘hmm’ sounds. My mother sang. My father actually sang pretty well too, and my mother always goaded him into singing more. Sometimes he sang under his breath and she would join the tune, and he looked like she’d caught him at something. And then she smirked, but he wouldn’t stop to let her ‘win’ so they sang a duet in the wagon or under it, where we lived when I was young.
Their voices appeared first in the darkness, and then came sights of the wagon. It was a big, boxy thing on four wheels with two horses. The horses smelled of sweat and animal, but they liked me so long as I approached from the front. The wagon had tall sides and a round top. It had a body of fabric and steel.
In my dream it rained and beat the roof. My parents and I took refuge inside, the horses grazed in the rain, and stars in lanterns filled the wagon with light and warmth. I was very young. My mom still carried me. My parents sang, and in my dreams, I fell asleep.
But inside the dream, the darkness didn’t return. For I dreamed forgotten dreams I’d dreamed as a kid, dreams of animals and plants. I dreamed of birds and goats, and they stepped from the real dreams I’d had, now remembered, to the dream I had under the cypress trees as I lay dying. Horses walked from inside out; fish swam through the air. In the way of dreams, things got fuzzy, and soon I lost the thread of which dream was which. People and characters moved without limits.
In the end, I opened my eyes and saw a man and woman, wrapped in trees and leaves. This was real.
I stared at them. They stared at me. We’d all surprised each other.
The two dryads were leafy people. They wore headdresses of laurel and clothes of ivy. They went barefoot. The woman wore many bracelets of wicker that rattled like windchimes as she moved her arms, and the man a torq of bamboo. They did not appear armed.
I put my hands up to show they were empty and said, “Hey.”
The dryads looked at each other.
“Hey,” said the man.
“How do you feel?” asked the woman.
“Pretty bad,” I said honestly.
“You got shot,” said the man.
“We were worried for you,” she said.
“We didn’t know if you were going to make it,” he added.
“I’m surprised I did,” I said.
The conversation hit a pause. I looked around.
They lived in a partially-underground forest house. Gnarled roots of something that smelled of pine formed a bubble overhead, one perforated with windows as the twisted roots passed from trunk to ground. A dozen windchimes hung from the ceiling, rattling when the tree moved in the wind. The air down here smelled of loam and old wood.
Two holes, doorways without doors, lead to other bubble rooms under the knurled roots of trees. One looked a lot like a kitchen and bath. A stream flowed through one wall to be diverted and split into a dozen lesser waterfalls and tubes. They all drained through a fault in the floor. The other had a bed. It also had some clotheslines, pegs, and several clean but organic shelf-structures. The shelves bent, the frames twisted, and the whole assemblies were packed tight against each other, placed in cunning and space-saving fashion. Her underwear piled on his. His shirts covered hers.
If they were anything like my parents, they were fighting for closet-space by stacking their stuff on each others. They weren’t angry-fighting, I bet, but they were definitely battling to see who’s shirts went on top.
My heart ached remembering my parents. I stuffed it aside. This wasn’t a good time to think about them, it was never a good time to think about them, but I slipped sometimes.
I checked my arm.
I’d been rebandaged. Uncarded cotton had been worked into smooth pads, no stray fibers emerging, and tied over the exit wound. They’d packed it deep in there. The entry wound was small enough they’d stuck a long, pointy leaf over it, one that stuck to the skin. It hurt like madness, and the cotton against the injury had turned reddish black, but there was still fluffy white stuff on top. They’d wrapped everything in some wide leaves and moss, likely for cleanliness.
I really didn’t know what to say. I figured I’d try to be polite.
“Thank you. How am I?”
The man made a face like he was stretching his mouth and stared at the ceiling, and the woman looked away. He sighed. She watched him and waited.
The man said, “You got shot. The shoulder’s pretty bad. Your humerus–” he drew his finger from elbow to shoulder “–-is broken at the joint, and scapula–” he pointed at the back of my shoulder “–is either bruised or fractured. The bullet looks like it bounced off the joint. You lost a lot of blood.
“You’ve got bruises and grip marks on your shoulders, sides, and hips. You had cold burns on your side, your knee was broken and you haven’t been staying off it well enough, multiple bruises in your hands like you’ve been fighting, and that shoulder. Ah, that shoulder.
“We operated, pinned, pegged, and set the bones. After that we cleaned that up, packed your arm, gave you stitches, and stuck you in a splint.” He degenerated into leafy babble, talking about the foliage wrapping my arm. The leaves formed a hard shell, reinforced with tiny vines and a peculiar mixture of moss. Wet and dried, it hardened into a carapace. He talked about stitches. He talked about my hands.
I hadn’t realized how many of the nereids had tried to take a chunk out of me. The dryad doctor drummed his fingers on a table. I tried to look innocent.
After several long seconds wherein the doctor obviously had a lot to say he was sorting through, he made a decision.
“You can imagine my surprise when I found you on my doorstep. Mortals are not allowed within Hyperion.”
I’d been waiting for that, trying to get ahead, and when he asked, I still had no answer. The first thing that floated to the surface in my head was, “Oh, this? Of course. It’s a disguise.”
That stopped him. “Disguise?”
“Yes, yes. You mean the appearance?”
“I’m hiding myself.”
“Then who are you? You have the ears and eyes of a dryad, but not the color.”
“I wouldn’t be holding the disguise well if I told you.”
“What is your name, son?” he asked. He corrected himself. “What shall I call you?”
“Remus. And you?”
He was doctor Lammet and his wife doctor Melia. She was a pediatrician. He worked trauma care.
I’d passed out in an ideal place. Thanks be to Limatra. Or had I been lucky?
Either way, I thanked him. “I appreciate your help. So, in regular terms, how am I doing? I assume I’m going to live?”
He exhaled heavily. “You tell me. Are you going to go pick a fight and open up all your injuries again?”
“Maybe,” I admitted.
He snorted. It wasn’t my fault.
“You’re not out of the woods yet,” he said, adding partially to himself, “And I’m not quite sure what to do with you.”
“Medication, words of encouragement, and send me on my way.”
“How about a bill and you stop getting shot?”
“Sorry. Got mugged. No cash.”
“Of course not. This is Hyperion. Which pantheon should I send the bill to?”
“Dr Lammet, I’m in disguise. That’s exactly the sort of thing I can’t talk about!”
He looked at me like he’d just drank poison.
“I’m going to have to file with Saffron Skies, aren’t I?”
Saffron Skies was a bastion of the titan’s government. When you did work for Saffron Skies, you should be proud to wait for your lords. They work on Heaven’s time. This is why we’d tried to kill Mallens.
I smiled ingratiatingly. He didn’t look like I’d ingratiated myself.
“The problem is, Remus, that there are two different medication paths for you. I saw you had ambrosia in your pack, and it will help you. But if you’re mortal, it will also burn out your life. Those are good years you’ll lose. If you’re a spirit or Celestial, your string is long.
“So be honest. This matters. Are you mortal?”
I looked him dead in the eye. “No.”
“And this?” he waved at me generally.
I shrugged and looked innocent.
“Any medical history? Are your parents healthy?”
His ears perked up. “Sorry to hear that. How?”
“Violence,” I said. “It’s not catching.”
“Says the man shot and beat up.”
“Doc, you’re being a little hostile here.”
“Because I’m tried, I’m just tired, of patching people up and seeing you go off and do the exact same dumb things that got you here in the first place. You’re wasting my work, and I don’t appreciate it.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“It always is. Stop getting shot, vessick.”
Vessick doesn’t really translate, but it means what it sounds like.
“Your bedside manner could be improved.”
“Your patient manner is shtuttick!”
Again, exactly what it sounds like.
I shrugged with one shoulder.
He sighed again, said something unfriendly, and went into their kitchen. I heard him going somewhere in there, but the small doorway didn’t show him. Dr Melia didn’t follow him with her eyes.
“You young men,” she said quietly.
I had no reply to that, and she didn’t pursue the matter. She turned her back on me to tidy medical equipment into storage, and we waited for Dr Lammet.
A short pause later, he reappeared with a cotton sack. We went through the contents together. Willow bark, to be chewed, bandages and dressings, to be changed, a pair of extremely nice scissors, ointments, pills, and antiseptics. He even gave me a small mirror.
“Try to have a medical professional change your bandages. They’re mostly on your back, so you won’t be able to see them. But if you do have to do it yourself, use the mirror.”
He held up two vials of tiny slices of honeydew bathed in nectar. He didn’t give them over.
“Remus, honey dew is illegal for a mortal. They will catch you. Are you mortal?”
“No,” I said again.
He stared into my eyes for a while before handing the packages over. I put them in the gym-bag with everything else.