Monday, June 4, 2012
YA Science Fiction/Romance
Death Changes Everything
I stalled at the edge of the creek, transfixed by Claire’s hair.
The long strands fanned out in wisps and rode the surface of the water. Why would my sister go swimming with her clothes on in the middle of December? She floated about ten feet out, her foot stuck on a large log, the slight current rocking her body in a gentle sway.
Clarity struck with the force of a sucker punch—shattering my lungs, knocking my breath across the muddy ravine, driving me forward. Clarity screamed—Do something, Kate. Do something now!
“Claire!” I stumbled down the embankment and sloshed through the murky water, my socks squishing inside my shoes.
I dropped beside her. Struggled to flip her over. The icy water soaked me up to my waist, saturating the ends of my hair, numbing my lower body.
A tangled mane plastered her face. I brushed it away. Wished I hadn’t.
She stared at the blue-black sky. But she didn’t see me. She didn’t see anything—her pupils fixed and dilated. Her eyes—one blue, one green—looked even more out of place frozen like that.
I pushed myself up, scraping my palms on tiny jagged rocks on the creek bottom. I slipped my arms under her and locked my fingers together at the top of her chest. My waterlogged jeans clung to my legs like a suit of armor—slowing my progress, weighting me down.
The effort to drag Claire to the bank brought me to my knees. I yanked her once. Twice. Three times. Her body finally slid across the rocks. I took slow steps. Pulling. Dragging. Heaving.
My shoes cleared the water. One final tug and I collapsed on the damp dirty ground, Claire on top of me. My numb fingers shook against the cold, wet skin on her neck where I was supposed to find a pulse.
“Claire?” I put my hand on her chest. She didn’t move. “Claire! Please.”
My hair blew across my face, blocking my vision. I shoved it out of my eyes and crawled out from under her. At almost full dark, we were too far down the embankment for anyone to see.
“Someone help me! Help me!” I yelled anyway, a frenzied tornado churning in my gut.
No one came.
Wind slashed across my sopping clothes, cold and vicious, biting my skin. My hands shook. I bent close to Claire’s face. No breath. We needed to get closer to the road. The creek only sat back twenty feet or so. Someone would drive by. Someone had to drive by.
I gripped her still form and pulled, gaining about a foot up the slope. I yanked harder, screaming her name with each inch of progress. Halfway up, I stumbled. Tripped over a rock. Hit the ground. Something sharp cut into my jeans right by the left back pocket. Tears burned my eyes. My arms ached, like someone stretched them too far.
Why wasn’t there anyone to help me? “Please! Please. I need help.”
I forced myself off the ground, clamped my jaw, and kept pulling. We made it to the small grassy area by the bridge, under the tall bright lamp where someone might see us, my legs so shaky I was sure if I took a step I would crumble next to my sister and we’d both die here.
No one stood on the bridge. No one walked the trail. No one drove down the street. “Help me!” I screamed and then remembered 911. I had to call 911.
I patted my empty pockets, picturing where I’d left my cell on the dash in my car—parked next to Claire’s Beetle in the four-space alcove down the street.
Should I leave her and get it?
No, I couldn’t leave her alone. How many precious seconds had I already wasted standing on the bank trying to make sense of what was happening?
I sunk to the ground on my knees and tilted Claire’s chin. Her blond hair fed the ground like a soft stream. How much water did she swallow? How long had she been there? I hadn’t been too far behind her. Ten minutes? Fifteen?
I pinched her nose. Pressed my mouth across hers. Blew into her icy lips. How many times? How many times? How many times?
My thoughts scattered, darting into the deepest drawers of my mind, plucking out useless knowledge. I’d taken CPR. A hundred years ago. Why didn’t I pay attention?
I blew into her mouth again. Three times. Three seemed right. I placed my palm on top of my other hand and searched for the right place on her chest. I slammed my hands over where I thought her heart was—a sob wrenching from my throat with each compression. I checked for a breath again.
I was doing it wrong. She was dying. And I was doing it wrong.
A shock of heat burned through my sweatshirt in the form of hand-size imprints.
My heart throttled into overdrive. I screamed and lost my breath somewhere in the chasm between terror and shock—imagining—I don’t know who—behind me.
The large hands lifted me off my sister. A guy in a dark leather jacket anchored a knee on either side of Claire and began harder, stronger compressions—his hands steady, moving in a controlled rhythm.
A short crack came from her chest.
He’d broken her ribs.
My compressions had been too light. How many minutes had I cost her?
My breath came in short pants. I fell against the grass and stared at the stranger hurting Claire—no helping Claire—he was helping her.
He jerked his head my direction, reached in his jacket, and tossed me a slim black phone. “Call 911.” A lock of dark hair fell over his forehead and stayed there.
I grasped the cell, barely able to feel my hands, and touched the numbers. My finger slipped, skimmed the 8 instead of the 9. Two times. Three times. Come on! I closed my fist, stretched my fingers. You’re wasting time.
I finally typed in 9-1-1 in the right order.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“My sister…” My jaw chattered. The words got stuck behind my teeth. “I tried CPR. I couldn’t…I forgot…how.”
“Ma’am, what’s your name? Give me your location.”
“Kate. It’s Kate. We’re by the creek.” I glanced around. A savage urgency hammered my heart, driving it out of my chest. Water. Trees. Dirt. The large wooden bridge.
“Ma’am, what city are you in?”
“Plano.” I gasped. “No. Richardson. By the bridge over the creek.” How had I forgotten the street?
The guy on top of Claire gave her two long breaths, paused, and took the phone. He rattled off our exact location, unzipped his jacket, and resumed giving Claire compressions.
A long shiver stole my breath. Could Claire feel the cold? She wasn’t shaking. Her wet hair bunched on the grass in a mangled mess. Her only movement in direct correlation with the stranger’s violent assault on her chest.
“Ein, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs—” Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. He whispered words that didn’t make sense.
He was sweating while I slowly froze. I scooted closer to my sister and rubbed my arms—like that would make me warm. Helpless, useless, and relieved in the same moment that help had come, I watched the stranger pump my sister’s chest, force life into her slack mouth with his own, then do it all again.
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