Bethany Rossiter had been a fairly ordinary girl before she died and came back to life. A loving mid-scale family, only moderately broken (no tug-of-kids drama, mostly friendly parents). Pretty, but not super-pretty. Good student, she was a better cheerleader. Until she died, that is.
“God, I think ALL your entourage is here.”
Lihua, pronounced Lee-hwa, meant beautiful and elegant. It precisely described Beth’s closest friend and cheerleader squad mate. Like Beth clad in the short blue pleated miniskirt of all the cheerleaders, she was peering around a corner of the exit from the gymnasium at the stadium seating.
“Get back here, you idiot,” hissed Beth at Lee. “And stop calling my family an entourage.”
Lee tossed her long shimmering black hair over one shoulder and turned to skip back to her place in the formation waiting for the signal to run onto the football field. It was the next-to-last game of the California high-school football season and the air was perfect for a night game. A north wind had come down to Burbank from the eastern San Fernando hills and almost swept away much of the late-summer heat.
Mrs. Adams flipped shut her cell-phone, peered at Lee with a jaundiced eye, but said nothing to her.
“Five minutes,” she said to the squad, loosely organized to make it easier to run onto the field and take up their positions at the mid-field line.
“Everyone ready? No one needs to pee? Shoe laces tight? You know the drill.”
“Yes, Mrs. Adams,” came 20 voices in ragged chorus.
Blond sturdy Jillian Adams peered at her squad. A former Olympic acrobat and a history teacher she had volunteered to take over the cheerleaders three years ago. She was tough but fair and had slowly increased the fitness of her squad without sacrificing the innovative chorography for which it had been known under the former squad leader.
“Bethany? How are you feeling? Ready for the pyramid routine?”
“Yes, Ms. Adams,” Beth said, bouncing gently a couple of times on her pure white tennis shoes. At 5′ 1″ she was the smallest of the squad. She was also one of the most agile and so had been chosen this year to top the pyramid routine which would be done at half-time.
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.” The woman turned her head to better hear the loudspeakers mounted around the stadium.
“There’s our cue. Ready? Let’s go!”
The woman jogged toward the exit from the gym, then peeled off to stand just outside and keenly watch the 20 girls as they ran out onto the field.
Bethany’s accident came just after half time. The routine, ending with her atop the cheer pyramid, came off perfectly—a great relief to Beth. She ended the dismount, everyone went into a final pose, and froze. The audience went wild, some in appreciation, some relieved that the second half could begin.
Beth looked up in the stands. There were her parents, bio and step as Ken was fond of saying. Kendall was there, so was her sister Helen visiting from her first year of college. And her maternal grandparents and several other family members. Back of them was Miguel, looking for all the world like a body guard to the hoard of relatives in front of him. He was holding up a hand in an OK sign.
The euphoria lasted well over ten minutes into the game. Which perhaps was why Bethany was not fast enough scrambling out of the way of fast reverse on the field which sent three players hurtling across the sideline. They piled into her and she went down hard, head snapping into the turf.
There was a flash of light. And Bethany Rossiter, almost 16, died of a broken neck.
She was a dancing electronic ghost on an airless planet so close to its sun the blazing body took up a quarter of the sky.
She was a giant balloon-like stingray floating and flying near the top of a giant planet’s air, living like whales off floating plants like plankton.
She was a cat-like blue centaur on a garden planet with her husband and two kittenish children, one a girl and one a boy. There were two moons rising in a violet and chartreuse sky.
I’ve been watching Star Voyager too much.
She was a dolphin-like creature swimming just beneath the surface of an ocean whose choppy surface made a dancing, shifting “sky” over her. Below her long strands of sea plants sent long waving streamers up toward her.
She was a creature like the Creature from the Blue Lagoon, made seemingly for war with natural armor all over his body. But he was a poet on something like the Australians’ walkabout, bringing news to distant villages in the form of songs and chants and stories.
I’m a bard.
“…lucky to be alive.” It was her plastic surgeon bio mother. Just outside the private hospital room Bethany lay in?
“…if it’s luck to be paralyzed from the neck down,” her accountant bio father said unhappily. He was outside with his girlfriend Miri, Beth’s sort-of step-mother.
Where was Nicolas, Beth’s sort-of step dad? Two pair of footsteps answered her question. One pair belonged to Miguel. Beth knew that slightly hesitant step of his.
“Here,” Nicolas said. “Premium coffee. We had to go across the street to get it.”
“Yes,” said Miguel. “She IS lucky. She had no chance to come back from being dead. There is a chance from being paralyzed. Modern therapy can work miracles.”
Yes, it could, Beth thought. Mike would know.
She drifted back to sleep. And her dreams were of being alien creatures.
The dreams were not nightmares. In fact, they were of everyday life. For aliens. One was drifting in the dark between stars, working out complex mathematics which would let it navigate to a business conference near a far star. She/it finished a formula, gave a command, and went traveling through strange space dimensions far faster than the speed of light.
I’ve REALLY been watching too much Star Voyager.
In the next dreams she was a human—or human in appearance.
She was on the deck of a primitive sailing vessel carrying two dozen men. All shorter than her. She was dressed in a white robe which ended above her knees. They called her goddess.
Then she was again non-human, a flying creature a mile above the earth. Her wings were vaguely bat-like.
Then she was a wandering healer, driving a wagon behind one large placid horse. A knight in not-so-shining armor rode toward her.
Then she was again a healer, this time in a hastily thrown-up tent shielding soldiers brought from a battlefield a half-mile away. They brought her old companion to her. He was nearly a hundred years old, but would grow no older.
“How did he die?” she asked the men who brought him wrapped in a sheet.
“The foreign prince broke truce. They caught us by surprise. We must retreat.”
“No. Pass the word. Gather in good order and follow me.”
Maelgyreyt did not wait. She strode from the tent, shedding her long robe. She washed age from her body as she approached the area where a small cluster of mounted knights gulped food and water and repaired their gear as quickly as they could. Servants rushed to equip and bring them new horses.
They stared at the tall naked woman. She ignored them and took up a long-sword. More than a man’s height, it was wielded from a saddle with two hands. To her hand it was as light as a wand.
“Healer? Is it you?”
She ignored the three men who rushed up to her and angled to one side around them to take up a second long-sword in her other hand. Then she was at the edge of the camp. She turned.
“Get yourselves ready. Follow me.”
Not waiting, she turned and sprang thirty feet or more to the top of a boulder. From there she could see down a long slope to where the invading eastern army was fighting a line of foot soldiers retreating before them. Around each end of the line mounted knights protected them from an end-run of eastern foot soldiers.
Beyond them on horses were the leaders of the foreign army. At their front and center was the eastern prince who had invaded her home country. And broken truce.
She flung her arms up and out. She screamed out her loss and hate.
It was not the scream of a human. It came from a chest grown large. It smote the men below as a hammer an anvil.
The avatar of the God of war began to run in long bounds down the slope. Its skin was the black of night. Strange armor grew to protect every vulnerable spot. Its eyes shown red.
It bounded high over the stiffening line of its countrymen, landing in bloody grass littered with the garbage of war. Then it was in among the horsemen and Hell had come to earth.
Her nose itched. Momentarily she forgot it at the conversation beside her hospital bed. A tall older black woman was lessoning a young male nurse on how to change a saline-drip bag.
“Nurse?! She opened her eyes!” The young man was short and Latino. Or maybe Italian?
The black woman whirled to stare at Bethany.
Curiosity satisfied, Beth turned her attention to the itch. She lifted a hand to scratch it. But couldn’t. There was an IV needle in the arm.
She tried to lift her other hand. It was tethered somehow.
Darn it itch! Go away!
Amazingly it did.
Beth relaxed back into sleep.
But not for long. She was awakened perhaps an hour later by three doctors trailed by the two nurses and an older nurse supervisor with short grey hair.
They approached her and the doctors began to examine her, the older one using a stethoscope while the other two looked at the instruments built into the wall or wheeled into the room.
She watched them with great interest. It was good not to be drifting in sleep and dreaming. Finally the older doctor focused on her eyes and spoke.
“Miss Rossiter? Can you hear me?”
Beth tried to answer but her mouth and throat were dry. Her breath came out as a raspy hiss. So she nodded her head. Though not well. There was some neck brace on her neck. It was so well padded she had not felt it until her neck moved against it.
“Don’t nod, Miss Rossiter. Your neck was injured. Now, answer my questions with three blinks of your eyes for Yes, two for No. Do you understand me?”
Beth blinked Yes.
“Good. Do you think you could swallow some water? It’s a bit tricky lying on your back that way. But if we tilt you and give you small sips you should be able to manage it.”
The grey-haired nurse—a supervisor?—was there with a plastic cup of water. The senior doctor tilted the bed so that she was half-sitting not flat on her back. In that position she was able to take a small sip of water.
Heaven! And interesting too. Somehow Bethany could identify subtle tastes in the presumably purified water.
After three sips with long pauses in between Beth tried speaking. She had to stop and clear her throat but managed a croaked question.
“What…happened to me?”
“You had an accident. You were badly hurt but you are improving.”
“As soon as we check you out some more we’ll contact them. They thought you were worse off than you are.”
The medical people all had thought that too. Though how Beth knew that she did not know how she knew.
For the next three or so hours she underwent a lot of tests. Some were incomprehensible. Some were not, such as tickling her finger tips and the palms of her hands, and doing the same to her toe tips and the soles of her feet, to see if she felt it.
Some were uncomfortable though not unbearably so. Such as when they rolled her into the long tube of an “MRI” machine and used magnets to probe her brain and spine. She had to hold very still and put up with a loud bang and buzz at each measurement.
When at lunchtime they rolled her gurney into a private room and put her in bed they also prepared to hook her up to an IV again. It was lunch time and she was getting hungry.
You learned to be pushy—or at least not to be pushed around—when you had an older brother and sister who were smart, attractive, and self-absorbed. Bethany’d had enough of being a good little patient.
“No,” she said when the nurse reached for her wrist. “I want to see a doctor.”
“There’s none available now, dear. Let me just hook this up to you and you’ll see one after lunch.”
“No. I want to see a doctor NOW.”
Her dreams had long since mostly faded. But she had been a grownup of some kind in all of them. She acted like one now, not raising her voice, not acting angry or spoiled, but matter-of-fact and firm.
The nurse turned a bit abruptly and left. A few minutes later a young man came in.
“Now what’s this I hear about you refusing medical care?”
He briefly studied the various medical readouts on the rolled-in instruments they’d hooked up before trying to hook up an IV. Then he took out his stethoscope and began to listen to her insides.
Bethany was silent all through this but by the time he put away the ‘scope she’d decided on what to say.
“I didn’t refuse THIS.” She waved a hand at the various wires attached to her. “Just an IV. It’s time I had some real food.”
“I’m afraid your stomach isn’t up to that yet.”
“I disagree. I KNOW I’m ready.”
He studied her for a moment. He was quite cute, she noticed. Slender but not wispy, dark eyes and eyebrows, slightly over-long dark hair. A long face with a slightly hawk-like nose.
“Very well. Let’s give it a try. We’ll start with a few sips of fruit juice and see how you react. But only if you promise to let us put you on an IV if it doesn’t work out.”
She had no trouble with a small bottle of apple juice served in sips with long pauses in between while the cute doctor monitored her machine body signs and observing her closely.
“Very well. Now let’s try some soup. What do you say to tomato soup?”
Her body agreed she could take tomato soup. It took a little while to get a tiny bowl of warm soup delivered. While they waited Jason (his nametag said) casually hitched up a hip onto the bed side and they chatted. He seemed very friendly and interested, but Beth knew this was just his bedside manner.
That didn’t keep her from fantasizing about him accidentally meeting her at, maybe, the mall. And them sitting in the food court and chatting more. And the relationship going on from there….
But then the soup arrived.
The small bowl of soup was enough for Beth. She was satisfied and getting sleepy. She agreed to having the IV again and he personally inserted it.
As she dozed off she thought of what else he might insert in her. And laughed at herself. She must be getting well if she was thinking about sex!
More tests in the afternoon were interrupted halfway by her plastic surgeon mother, arriving in all her tall majesty wearing a white doctor’s smock. She was tall, red-headed, sexy, and assertive. Bethany was proud to have her as a mother.
Her mother held her gently and, surprisingly, wept. So Beth had to play the grownup and pat her mother’s back and stupidly say “There, there” and other meaningless comforts.
Her mother had just repaired her makeup when her father arrived and more tears flowed. No surprise there. He had always been the more openly emotional one.
And when he took control of himself Beth’s step-father and her brother Kendall arrived, and then Beth’s maternal grandparents. And shortly thereafter her paternal g’parents (as Ken liked to say).
When a couple of aunts and uncles showed up the stern grey-haired little nurse supervisor put her foot down. They were all exiled to the nurse’s lounge at the end of a hall except for “Dr. Rossiter” (who’d never taken her husband’s name and actually was Dr. Corcoran) and Bethany’s biological father.
As they were herded out Ken looked back at her and winked. Beth grinned back at him.
Soon more relatives arrived and the earlier arrivals were exiled to a waiting room on another floor.
Last to arrive (in her hospital room, anyway) was family medic Dr. Chu-Thi, a short slender Vietnamese woman with an easy colloquial manner hiding a core of steel. She put a stop to all family visits and bade the nursing staff to contact the doctor supervising the tests.
Shortly she, Beth’s mother, and an older doctor who apparently was the supervising doctor were in the hall outside Beth’s room, where he was being verbally roasted by both women for not contacting them sooner.
“Poor man,” Beth thought, not without some amused malice, “He may never get over this.”
A few final tests were OK’d and performed. By then it was dinner time. Much discussion by the test supervisor and Bethany’s doctor, with her mother weighing in, got Beth thin chicken broth with Jello and milk for dessert.
She ate this insubstantial meal with great enjoyment, then complained to her mother that she needed more food. Her mother disagreed. It had already taken a three-way discussion bordering on three-way war to get this much. Beth gave in, vowing privately to push more the next day.
The visiting hour that evening saw more than two dozen people cycle in and out of Bethany’s private room. By the time it was over she was ready to go to sleep early.
Her dreams, what she remembered the next morning, were ordinary: endless replaying of testing and the visiting hour.
Breakfast at least paid lip service to solid food. It was runny scrambled eggs, toast soggy with butter substitute, and orange juice.
Bethany was licking her plate absolutely clean at 7:00 AM when Dr. Chu-Thi walked in the door.
“How do you feel this morning?” she said, removing her stethoscope from a pocket and cupping the “ear” in a hand to warm it up. This was one of the many small thoughtful touches which had kept her for five years as the Corcoran-Rossiter family’s personal physician.
Beth gave her plate a last lick and put it down. “Hungry. Full of energy. I’m leaving today.”
The doctor blinked but otherwise kept a poker face. But Beth had noticed it.
“It’s too early, dear. We need to keep you here where your condition can be monitored.”
“I am now perfectly healthy. I was quiet through all the tests yesterday but I was listening carefully. I didn’t understand most of the jargon. I did understand that absolutely nothing is wrong with me that can’t be fixed at home.
“I have to regain muscle mass. I’ve lost all body fat. My coordination is shot. Careful diet and exercise will fix that. I am leaving today.”
The doctor wasn’t willing to accept that. The two went around three times before Beth gave in. She’d used an old tactic on the doctor, one a smart younger child had long ago hit upon: Ask for a lot, give up enough to get what you really want.
Her mother arrived at 9:00. Bethany was ready to work on her. Different tactics would be needed for Dr. Corcoran.
She started with the knowledge card as soon as they’d exchanged hugs and Ryanna Corcoran was assured her daughter was well.
“I want all my school books and notebooks and my laptop. And a cell phone so I can talk to my teachers. I have three weeks of work to catch up on.”
“Dear, you can’t catch up. I’m afraid you’ll have to repeat this semester.”
Seem to give up but don’t. Another of the tactics a smart youngest child learned early on.
“Well—you’re probably right. But I’ll feel bad if I don’t at least TRY.”
“Very well. But remember that your number one job is to get well. Don’t push so hard it will get in the way of that. And don’t be disappointed if you can’t make up your lost time.”
Bethany gave a brilliant smile. “OK! Now, what happened while I was…asleep?”
Satisfied she had set her daughter straight her mother began to fill her in on family gossip and, predictably, what was happening with herself.
When afternoon visiting hour arrived so did her brother Kendall and uncle-in-law Miguel. They were dressed in their working uniform: tough jeans, tee shirt covered by a loose and very tough leather jacket, light boots. In their SUV she knew they had various weapons. The two had a small security firm which did body guarding, bounty hunting, and site guarding. A couple of their sidekicks were heavily into electronic security.
Mike was a bit tall for a Latino, strong, and showed his Indian ancestry in his face. Ken was a little over six feet, smoothly but massively muscled, and handsome. Twelve years older than Beth, he’d always been very protective of her. Which today showed in a heavy bag of books. He swung them up onto the narrow rolling table which served as a dining surface. Then he leaned over and kissed a cheek. She kissed him back on his rough cheek. She knew he’d shaved this morning but already he had a shadow.
“How’re you doing, Sleepy?” He’d called her Sleeping Beauty the day before. Now he was in his usual abbreviation mode.
“OK. Mike. Get your sorry ass over here. A poor sicko like me deserves another kiss.”
Miguel smile slightly and leaned over to peck her cheek. She returned the favor.
Mike pulled the book bag off the serving table and replaced it with a computer notebook case. Beth quickly opened it and extracted her cell phone. Flipping it open, she checked to be sure she had enough bars to make a call from her room.
“Yeah!” she said, laughed, and flipped it closed.
Mike turned a sardonic eye toward her brother. “Told you,” he said, added scornfully “Books! How can I know your sister better than you do?”
Her phone and notebook had been the real goal of her argument with her mother about studying. But as soon as it was hinted she was a gossip and not a scholar her contrary nature surfaced.
She lay the phone onto her bed and gestured at the book bag.
Ken picked the bag off the floor and placed it on the bed by her side. “Are you really going to try to make up for lost time?”
Bethany had privately agreed with her mother about how unlikely it was that she could catch up. But she’d made a stand and now had to stand by it.
Besides, she couldn’t let Lihua graduate a year ahead of her; the two were going to UCLA together and super-smart Lee needed her more worldly friend to keep her out of trouble.
“I certainly am,” she said with a raised chin and a superior look.
“So. What are you two up to?”
As soon as the two were gone Beth opened up her phone and texted a flock of Hearts to her Homegirls and Homeguys at the HomePlace web site, following the trail of pink icons by She’s baa-ack!
Then she struggled down from her bed and with two hands lugged the notebook bag over to a wall which had a small fold-down table. She let the bag flop flat onto the floor, unlatched the table, and pulled it down to latch into a support surface for her laptop.
It took two hands to lift the bag onto the table, then pull out her notebook computer, position it, and plug in the power and network connectors. She turned it on, pulled a visitor’s chair with a bright blue plastic back and bottom over to face the desk, then slumped into a sitting position before her computer. It took her several minutes for her heart rate and breathing to settle to a comfortable rate.
Then she went to her HomePlace page, wrote up a brief summary of her situation, and sent it to her Homies.
Lastly she struggled back into bed. The exercise had been good for her. It was a lot easier than she’d expected.
It was about 4:30. Her BFF Lihua would be out of classes for the day and (likely) on her way to cheer practice, or even there already. Football season was over but basketball had just started.
Beth had a momentary pang at the thought. If she really tried to catch up to her studies there was no way she could do cheerleading.
Well, she couldn’t anyway until she got back into shape. It had taken Miguel months before he’d been able-bodied again.
When Lee answered her phone Bethany spoke loudly in a gruff voice. “HEY, GIRLIE. I WANT A GOOD TIME.”
“Besty? Is that you?”
“IT SAYS HERE ON YOUR HOME PAGE YOU KNOW HOW TO GIVE A GUY A GOOD TIME. DO YOU DO AROUND-THE-WORLDS?”
A shriek answered her. “It IS you! Are you all right?”
“God! Not after having my ear drums burst.”
But there was no answer. Instead Bethany heard Lihua yelling at someone that Beth was on the line. Several someones, judging from the gabble that answered her.
In moments Lee was back on the phone, breathless. “How are you?”
“Fine. If you don’t count having muscles limp as a noodle and not an ounce of fat anywhere.”
“We heard you were dead. Then in a coma. And if you ever came out of it you’d be paralyzed from the neck down. Coach cried.”
Then: “I cried.”
“As well you should, an excellent person such as myself dying young.”
“Don’t joke about it. Ah, what happens next?”
Then in an aside. “Hush. She says she’s fine and is about to say what happens next.”
“Next I have therapy and eat a lot. Probably awful healthy food. Shudder.”
Then Coach was on Lihua’s phone and Beth had to reprise her conversation with Lee—minus faking someone looking for a prostitute.
“Well, we are all immensely relieved to hear you are well, Bethany. Now I think you should get back to resting and we should get back to cheer practice. Keep in touch, dear.”
“Thank you. I will.”
Then Beth had to tell Lee when visiting hours were and her friend hung up her phone.
She was no sooner off her phone than her sister Helen was on it, demanding an update on Bethany’s condition. It took some convincing to keep her from flying up from San Diego in the middle of her college school week.
The visiting hour that evening was busier than the night before as more of her “entourage” wanted to see and touch her to convince themselves she was truly going to survive her ordeal. Finally Bethany spoke up.
“I love you all. But could you give me the last few minutes with Mom and Dad?”
The room was cleared, but not quickly, except for her and her mother and “biodad.” Her step dad Allan had herded everyone else out of the room and trailed after them with a last smile at Beth and a wave.
“We have to discuss my food situation. I’m not getting enough. It tastes OK. And they’re now on a solid diet, pretty much. But I need more of it. I can feel it inside of me.”
“Dear, you have to stay on a proper diet to get better.”
“I know. But I KNOW I need more. And I need something a little different. I have this craving for milk. I think I need more calcium. My bones need it.”
Dr. Corcoran opened her mouth again but was stopped by Beth’s father. Robert Rossiter was normally so easy-going that even those who knew him well were shocked when the hidden steel showed itself.
“And you’ll have it. If I have to pull you out of this hospital myself. And get you another doctor.”
Ryanna Corcoran closed her mouth and looked stubborn for a moment. But she knew her ex-husband too well to fight about this.
She sighed. “Very well. But let’s do this sensibly. Suppose we get Dr. Chu-Thi to increase the quantity by 10% and see if that works for you. And adds perhaps another pint of milk. Then if that works out we can consider other changes. Do you think you can go along with that?”
Bethany’s smile was like the sun breaking through clouds.
Her sister Helen called shortly after the end of the visiting hour. Bethany and she chatted for almost another hour. Finally Beth’s normality reassured her enough to get her to delay coming “home” another day, till the weekend.
After Goodbyes Beth slid off her bed and went into the bathroom to pee. It wasn’t until she was back into bed that she realized she’d had no trouble getting out of and into bed. In fact, she’d accomplished the tasks with almost feline grace.
That night she dreamed strange dreams again. She was Maelgyr again, but before she’d become “Maelgyreyt” (whatever that meant). She was running for her life but knew it would be saved in something she thought of as the DemonForest. Then she was Maelgyreyt, a healer who needed only to touch someone to make them well. Then later she was something very like a demon herself, all black armored flesh and blood-red eyes and immense strength from whom even armies fled.
Bethany woke from that with clear memory of a scene of slaughter arrayed all around her on a shockingly green and beautiful field. But instead of wanting to vomit at the butcher-shop bloodiness which she had caused she was grimly calm, certain that she had protected a country from invasion which would have caused wholesale and even bloodier slaughter.
She sat up and filled a plastic cup half-full of chilled water from a plastic carafe. She drank it slowly, reflecting.
She was not crazy. The memories were as clear as her memory of going to the bathroom just before falling to sleep. She knew not what they meant, but it SEEMED as if she had lived as someone else before. And there was no urging for her to do anything, horrible or otherwise. Her mind and desires were her own, and they were ordinary.
She could tell no one about her dreams. Unless they caused her to do something awful or dangerous or nonsensical.
She slid out of bed and approached the worktable on which rested her laptop. But instead of opening the computer she bent lithely to where her heavy book bag was lying underneath the table, enjoying the slide of her muscles underneath her skin, the certainty of her movements, a feeling of immense strength quietly kept in reserve. She lifted the bag and began to slide books out of it, then paper notebooks and pens and pencils, and arranging them neatly on the work surface.
That done she returned to bed and easily to sleep.
The next morning her breakfast was substantially larger and she had two pints of milk instead of one. She watched the morning news on TV as she ate, then relieved herself in the bathroom and brushed her teeth.
At the worktable she readied her computer and sent off an email to each of her instructors. Each expressed her desire to catch up the three weeks she’d been out of circulation, but she tailored each to match what she knew of her teachers.
For instance, for her sophomore Honors English class she emphasized how much she enjoyed the books she’d been assigned to read. For her Geometry math class, in which she was earning a mere C average, she said she had realized that she was not applying herself fully and that her accident had make her think more seriously about her education.
At 10:00 she had to temporarily abandon reading the literary selections after those she’d done before her accident. A Nurse took her in a wheelchair to the first of her physical therapy sessions.
It began with a very fit black man wearing a blue shirt, white tennis shorts, and tennis shoes doing several simple tests of her current physical state, establishing a baseline. Bethany faked difficulty walking a straight line, bending to touch her toes, lifting her arms above her head, and so on.
Next he attached her with several wires to instruments recording such measures as heart rate and cardio nerve activity and put her on a treadmill. She grasped two high sidebars to help her keep her balance while the walking belt began moving at a slow pace. Gradually it began to speed up, forcing her to walk faster.
The regular thump of her feet on the belt and the hum of the electric motor which drove the belt began to have an almost hypnotic effect. She began to focus ever more inward on the workings of her body, her muscles flexing and relaxing, the steady movement of air in and out her body, her blood’s flow. Not intending to, she told her body to improve its working as the demands on it picked up. And it did.
Till Bethany noticed that the therapist was frowning and realized he was noticing unusual results in his instruments. He was expecting her to have more and more trouble as the stress increased till it began to approach too much. NOT to have no trouble at all adapting to the stress.
So she began to fake having that trouble until she gasped, “That’s it! Shut it down!”
Instantly he pushed a button and the belt slowed more and more till it stopped.
“Very good, Ms. Rossiter. Sit down here and rest a bit. Want some water?”
After a minute she faked summoning up her energy and stood, wavering, on her feet. Then she did several exercises to build up her wasted muscles: ten shallow knee bends, ten push-aways from the wall like easy pushups, and so on.
She’d had absolutely no trouble with any of the exercises. She was sure she could do hundreds instead of ten.
Her faking was too good. The therapist insisted on having a nurse’s aide push her back to her room in a wheelchair.
She lay in her bed on her back and thought about what had happened. Her body, even as weakened as it had been, had changed during the session. It had become stronger and more agile. Come to think of it, she’d been changing that way ever since she woke up.
It reminded her of all the silly superhero comics Ken had loved when he was a boy. Someone got bitten by a radioactive spider and became able to climb and jump like one. Someone got bitten by a strange wolf and became a werewolf.
She also remembered what happened when the superheroes went public. They were admired a lot, but even more they were feared and hated.
“Here you are! You’re getting a hamburger today!”
The student volunteer who wheeled in her lunch wore a pink-and-white striped frock. She was maybe twenty but seemed much younger, maybe because she was awfully perky.
“Oh, yum!” said Bethany, smiling at the woman, who arranged Beth’s food on her rolling table and left with a cheery Bye!
The burger was dietetically balanced and bland and the fries salt-less. But thankfully there were several packets of catsup to make up for that. And the milk came in the form of a milkshake still icy from the mini-frig part of the serving cart.
After lunch Beth retired to her worktable. She had an email on her computer from her English teacher. She was willing to help Beth try to make up her lost work but urged her not to be too ambitious. Getting well had to come first. Repeating a semester is not the end or the world, you know!
There was also one from Lihua written during her lunch hour. It had several short addendums from other cheer friends, most of them pretty silly. But they made her laugh.
Then later an email from her World History teacher, business-like and willing to help but not encouraging. It did include a list of selections from her history book. Beth began on them. She’d already caught up on her literature reading, even gone a bit beyond into what everyone was reading next week.
Just after dinner she got an email from her math teacher.
I salute your willingness to catch up on your studies. However, given your past performance, I would urge you to focus on getting well rather than studying. In fact, repeating a semester might be the best course for you. Perhaps going over the work you’ve done so far would make it clearer to you.
Heat grew in Bethany’s body as she read. She immediately began an email back which said Listen you sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch…
She deleted that one before she went further. Her next email she completed. It was icily superior, citing his numerous limitations as a teacher. She didn’t send that one either.
Better to cool for a while.
Then came visiting hour. Because of the number of her visitors they were allowed to use the nurse’s lounge for the floor. This included Lihua and two other bestys, Beth’s fireteam as her former-Marine brother called them.
There were also a couple of her other cheer mates and other friends, including her gay boy friend, Gerard. Gay boy friends for girls were a rage this year, but Beth had known Jerry since kindergarten. For the sake of the oldsters in the visit he’d toned down his act, even leaving off his eye shadow.
“Ooh,” Beth murmured in his ear. “What a great sacrifice. Next you’ll be loaning me your makeup. Does your love know no bounds?!”
“Yes, dearie. Leaving darling Steve to your predatory feminine wiles.”
Steve was an absurdly handsome tall blond senior who was dedicated to his studies. He was determined to go to an Ivy League college and make a big swath in the world. He didn’t date, though there was a rumor that he had college girlfriends. Beth and Steve had mooned over him for months.
She laughed and passed on to greet another friend from school.
Her current reading for World History, Culture, and Geography was on the Middle Ages. It included the waves of invasion of Russia and Eastern Europe by the Mongols.
Shortly after beginning this section Bethany put down the book and stared off into emptiness. She was remembering…
Maelgyreyt the demon came down amidst a group of horsemen. They stabbed her with long spears and rode close to strike with short swords. Her armor was impervious to points and edges. Her two long arms and the longer swords made butchery of all about her. Bodies were hacked in two, heads rolled….
The heads had Oriental faces. Mongol faces.
Beth began to skim, then to skip, then to fan the pages of the book. She passed what she sought and had to page back to it: a sidebar box with a pale blue background labeled Legends Surrounding the Invasion.
It had three short sections, one each on the vampire Dracul, werewolf Maksim, and demon Malgur. The last was taller than a mounted horseman and had foot-long claws. For almost two centuries whenever the Mongols invaded its section of Hungary it appeared until the hordes quit invading Hungary altogether.
Could she have come across this section before her accident and made up Malgur/Maelgyreyt fantasies?
No. The memories were too clear, too detailed.
Her phone vibrated. It was Helen. She was going to arrive tomorrow, Friday, after dark and stay the weekend.
Bethany woke at what she thought was about 3:00 in the morning. If so, she’d had four hours of sleep, since her official lights-out was 11:00 in the evening and she’d had no trouble getting to sleep. Or staying asleep. Until now.
She turned onto her back and stared at the ceiling, thinking back over her day and the days before.
Something very strange had happened to her. Everyone now believed that the first reports of her accident had been mistaken. She had NOT died, her spine had NOT been broken at her neck. The magnetic scan a few days ago had revealed her spine to be in perfect condition. But Beth believed she had died for real, and her body had cured her broken neck. It had just taken three weeks to do so. Job done, her body had then woken her.
And the dreams?
They didn’t act like dreams. None, even the earliest, had faded quickly when she’d become awake as most of her dreams did, fading so much after an hour she could not even remember she’d had them.
The earliest HAD faded. But the way memories normally did. She still remembered her first aliens: the electronic ghost, the balloon-like stingray, the cat-like blue centaur, and all the others. Some of the visual memories remained vivid, such as the two moons rising in a violet and chartreuse sky perhaps an hour after sundown, with a giant striped planet filling half the sky below the moons. None of the sci-fi movies her brother Kendall had dragged her to had ever had any of those images.
Strangest of all, she still remembered having six limbs, cuddling her two kits on each side of her with her middle arms while running one of her top hands over her husband’s round fuzzy skull, her chest full of the warmth of love.
Another fullness aroused her now, to go to the bathroom. She slithered lithely out of bed to pee. There wasn’t much to get rid of, but it had been something to do.
Then she was hungry. Damn it, she had hours to go before she got food!
And the inner ache vanished.
One sensation gone, she felt another: a need to stretch her legs.
She wrapped her robe around her body and slid her feet into her bedroom slippers, both brought to her on her second day awake. Then stealthily she peered around the corner of the open door of her room.
To her left was a door leading to a stairwell. The dimly glowing red EXIT sign above it her tempted her, but the door was alarmed. Unless she was making a getaway she’d have to be satisfied with the hallway to her right. There was a full forty feet of darkness before the night-time glow of the nurse’s station.
She made a half dozen satisfying laps between her room and almost to the nurse’s station before she got too close to the station at the wrong moment and one of the nurses saw her.
“Miss Rossiter, did you need something?”
“Just more water.”
“Well, get back to your room and I’ll bring you more.”
Back in her room and in her bed, with a new plastic thermos of chilled water by her bedside, Beth decided to go to sleep. And instantly did.
Breakfast was larger than the day before, as per the doctor’s instructions. She was still hungry at its end. She decided to go scavenging.
She judged the sickest patients to more likely have left-over food. The first was too sick, across the hall from her, newly arrived and still sleeping. The second, closer to the nurse’s station and across from her, was eating heartily. Bethany said a cheery Hi! and crossed the hall again.
Jackpot! The woman was just picking at her food but was alert enough to smile wanly at Beth.
“Hi! I’m right next door. I’m Beth.”
Bethany walked across the room and extended a hand to shake. And got a shock.
She could see inside the woman. A liver cancer had been operated upon. But some remnants remained. The cancer would come back.
A part of her reached out and killed the cancer. A part which came from Maelgyreyt, she knew without a doubt.
It all happened inside a single second. But that was long enough for the woman to stare at her.
Beth dropped her hand and gave her brightest smile. “Mind some company?”
“Not at all. What happened to you, dear?”
“Oh, they’re not sure.” She sat. “They first thought I’d had a broken neck. But that was wrong. I’m fine now. Except for being hungry. The food here! It’s not enough.”
“I have the opposite problem. Too much food for my appetite. You’re welcome to my apple. It’s just too much trouble to chew.”
Bethany nipped the apple, dropped it into her robe pocket, and briefly laid a hand on the woman’s arm. Her Mael memories sent a command into the woman’s body to increase her appetite.
“Well, thanks! But you really must finish the rest of your food. Got to get well, you know.”
“Do you know, I think I will? You must be a good influence.”
“Oh, it’s this cheery disposition of mine in mornings. It drives my brother Ken crazy!”
“Why don’t you sit and talk a bit?”
“I don’t want to tire you out. But I’ll be back later. Eat up now!”
That set the tone for the rest of the early morning, some wins, some strike outs as far as food went. About halfway down the hall breakfast hour was over and nurses aides began to clean up. Beth scored a couple more apples with some quick slight-of-hand. She was very fast when she wanted to be now. Almost a super power, she thought with a smile.
However, she kept visiting until she’d met everyone on the floor. Two more people needed her esoteric healing powers, but most people were on their way to health without her help.
Beth thanked Heaven for that. Being a super healer could take up a lot of her time!
She was back in her room and had hidden away her contraband when her doctor showed up. As expected. Which was the reason Beth was hiding her food instead of eating it.
After an exam and a consult of her chart the tiny Vietnamese woman said, “You are recovering very fast. Keep this up and we’ll let you out soon.”
“It can’t be soon enough for me!” Beth gave her a brilliant smile. “I can’t wait for some good unhealthy extra fat and salt!”
The doctor took up Beth’s computerized chart and made a notation on the slate’s electronic face. “I think we can safely increase your fat and salt intake a bit.”
Hah! Good old Little Bit, Kendall’s private nickname for the doctor. Of course, at 6’3″ and massive just about everybody was “little bit” to Ken.
Bethany wished she could grow a bit taller. And felt some process deep within her start up.
She blinked and focused her thoughts inward. Darned if her body—the Mael part of her understood—wasn’t starting a growth spurt!
Beth thought of that for a moment. Then she shrugged. Her super-healthy body was doing well by her so far. But she’d be alert to any problems with extra height and use the Mael part of her to fix them.
Then it was time for the morning visits. The hour only consisted of her grandparents. Which wasn’t the happiest of combinations. Her “MGparents” were kind of starchy; it had taken Beth’s mother a long time to recover from their overly conservative ways. Her “PGparents” were loosey-goosey. Naturally the two men didn’t get along, though their wives were able to mellow both out a bit.
Even more unhappy a visitor was one of her older cousins. He was a groper. More than once he’d gotten his hands on Bethany’s boobs or bottom. She’d solved that by avoiding him.
But no more. When he tried it this time, while her gparents were momentarily diverted, she leaned over and whispered in his ear.
“Touch me and I’ll break your fucking hand.”
He got a shocked look on his face and left the room. Though twice her size, she’d put all the fierceness of her Maelgyreyt warrior self into her face and body, and he could have had no doubt she meant to at least try it.
The warrior part of her also showed up in her morning physical therapy class. She insisted on walking to it, though the nurse’s aide trailed along with her wheelchair to insure she was available if Bethany needed it. Then in the gym Beth did three times ten of each exercise and asked the therapist for more exercises. She (the black man of the previous day was busy with someone else) agreed to let Beth do a few more and stayed close to monitor the girl’s progress.
During lunch Bethany did more scavenging. She was less successful; mid-day people apparently simply had better appetites than early-day people. But the appetites might also have been because Beth was tweaking their health.
Nevertheless, she did well enough she only had to dip into her contraband for the more perishable items she’d liberated that morning. The apples and oranges and packages of nuts stayed hidden for deep-of-night snacking.
Then she studied her history after lunch. She’d always enjoyed it, but it was more interesting than usual. Her memories of Maelgyreyt’s world made what she read more real.
At afternoon visiting hour only Ken and Miguel showed up. Everyone else were apparently waiting for the evening.
Beth got a short rundown of their latest work, bodyguarding a celebrity the night before at a movie premier. She teased them about the horror of wearing suits, something neither of the men enjoyed. Even though both showed up to great advantage; her relatives were good-looking men, she’d always thought with pride.
She told them what she’d said to her gropey cousin.
Ken stood up from the guest chair, furious. “I’LL break his fucking hand! And his fucking head.”
“Hey, cool it, Ken Doll. I already took care of him.”
Mike looked at Beth thoughtfully, then at Ken looming over the two of them. “I think she’s right, Ken. I know the ass-hole. He won’t risk it again. But…”
He shifted his gaze to her. “I think we should give you some martial arts training after you get well enough for it. You can’t go making threats like that unless you’re ready to back them up.”
Ken sat down. “Well, maybe. Maybe some aikido.”
Bethany was delighted, or maybe the martial Mael part of her was. “I want to learn karate!”
Mike said, “No. That doesn’t suit your body type or the situations you’re likely to be in.”
Maybe he was right. But not for the reason he thought. If Beth’s body continued to improve or adapt the way she remembered Mael’s body doing, she might punch her fist all the way through someone.
“So what’s aikido?”
It was a sort of super-judo, more of a defensive art than an offensive one. It depended a lot on using a stronger opponent’s strength against him and used lots of circular motions.
At her puzzled frown Ken jumped up. “Here. We’ll show you. Mike, stand up. I’ll be attacker, you defender.”
Miguel looked to the heavens for patience, then stood. Ken threw a slow punch and Mike slid just as slowly to the side. His arm nearest to her brother moved up and turned in a circular motion which pushed Ken’s arm to the side.
They then showed a couple more movements. She began to see how it worked. Instead of using equal but opposite force to stop a large force, they used much smaller force to redirect an attack away from oneself.
Or, in another action, help the attacker’s motion along to send them off balance.
The men sat down as Miguel said, “An important part of this is seeing just what the bad guy is doing and going to do. Being watchful, and keeping calm enough so your emotions don’t get in the way of understanding the situation.
“And being faster than he is. That’s where being small is an advantage: your nerve paths are shorter so your reaction times are shorter.”
“You make it so clear.”
Ken said, pride in his voice, “That’s why he’s a sensei. Not just a master doer but a master teacher.”
“You’ve got to teach me!”
“Our hours are too irregular. But you’re in luck. There’s a dojo just a couple of miles away which has a good teacher. You’ll also have a variety of other students to practice against. That’ll teach you to adapt to very different attackers.”
Dinner that night was satisfying; she had hidden away a good deal of food. Better, she had enough to eat something during the night after lights out.
Also satisfying was the visiting hour. Helen had just gotten in from San Diego and come directly to the hospital. Bethany and she hung onto each other and wept a bit.
Then she read till lights out, devouring two bags of nuts to quell her hunger.
She woke at 3:00 or so in the morning. She’d had enough sleep. And she was hungry. A couple of apples and an orange fixed that.
As she ate she remembered her math teacher’s email. She opened her laptop and re-read it.
Her emotions cool, she was able to admit he’d had some justice in his attitude. She’d never enjoyed math and had never applied herself.
But he was still being an ass-hole. Warmth grew inside her again, threatened to turn hot.
Not a good idea!
And suddenly she was perfectly calm.
This body of hers was so changeable, so responsive to her wishes! Which could have minuses as well as plusses. Beth knew enough psychology to know repressing emotions could have bad side-effects. For one, if she was perfectly successful she might make herself into a zombie that like that robot in one of the sci-fi movies Ken coaxed her to see with him.
She pulled her math textbook from its slot among her other textbooks, got back into her bed, and opened it to the lesson she’d been on just before she died. A few paragraphs in she was lost; she’d sloughed over some groundwork at the beginning of the section.
She turned back to that beginning and very slowly and carefully began to read, not skimming as she usually did but letting each part sink in before she went beyond it.
Why, this stuff was beautiful!
It was like that old clock she’d once seen opened up and running, dozens of precisely machined gleaming gears turning in a symphony of motion. All parts sharp-edged and shining.
An electric shock went through her. This wasn’t her memory!
She let the book flop closed and stared into the dimly lit hall before her. But she wasn’t seeing the hall. She was seeing across time and space at a clock she’d seen when and where she was a teen-aged boy. Who was an apprentice to a—clockmaker? In—Switzerland?
She opened the book again to where she’d kept a finger saving her place. Read slowly and carefully.
The black text against the white paper seemed somehow blacker than black. The simple figure curving up and down seemed cut into the page with a razor. It was like a painting by a master artist, somehow. Everything balanced, everything related to everything else.
Faster she read, then faster still. But not gobbling. Drinking it in.
The end of the section, four chapters, came to an end. She’d done the last of the exercises, chewing on them like candy. She didn’t bother to check her answers in the back of the book. She knew she’d done everything right.
Whoa! Her little bedside clock said she’d worked straight through two-plus hours.
Bethany stretched, worked her shoulders. But out of habit rather than need. She felt relaxed, not at all stiff or sore.
She should get some sleep. She slithered to a position on her side, placed her head on the pillow, and slept.
Breakfast was nicely satisfying if still not enough. Her scavenging afterward netted her less than the day before. More patients were finishing their food, courtesy of Beth’s tampering with their health. And because she stayed longer in her fellow patient’s rooms. She’d never paid all that much attention to old people before except a few from her “entourage.” But Dorotea three doors down was a professional opera singer who’d traveled all over the world and was very good at describing those places.
Her only morning visitors were her Mom and biodad and step-dad.
“Where’s Miri?” she asked her biodad.
Allan told her his girl-friend didn’t want to intrude on family matters.
Bethany nodded but after they left she thought a bit. Maybe she and Helen had been a little hard on Miri. Maybe they could be a little friendlier. She WAS making her father happy.
Physical therapy went by fast. She did her thirty reps of each exercise smoothly and easily and wished a bit for more to stretch her body. But she was already recovering from her ordeal so fast that she might freak out her therapists.
Afterward she was tempted to jog up and down the stairs between floors to stretch her body further. But they were too public.
So went her weekend, full of study, scavenging for food and socializing with the other patients, with visits from family and friends.
After breakfast and a visit from Dr. Chu-Thi the doctor phoned her parents and asked them to come to the morning visiting hour for a meeting. A fact Bethany found out at the meeting.
Besides Beth and the doctor there were both her bio parents, her step-father, and Miri. Beth and Helen had been friendly with her in the weekend and it had paid off, apparently, by making her feel easier about considering herself part of Beth’s family.
Dr. Chu-Thi began by saying how pleased she was at Beth’s recovery.
“All the tests we’ve given Bethany, up to and including my check of her this morning, indicate she’s had a complete recovery. An almost miraculous one. Friday I was already considering suggesting that she go home. But I wanted the weekend to be absolutely sure. If you approve, we’ll release Bethany right after lunch.”
Predictably her father Allan had been concerned about her “early release” but he was eventually brought around to the doctor’s opinion. The meeting ended with a great deal of jubilation all around. Beth made sure she gave Miri a big hug upon parting.
Beth visited opera singer Dorotea and a few other patients on the floor to say Goodbye. Then after lunch she was dressed in clothing brought from home by her mother, put in a wheelchair, and wheeled out to the driveway in the front of the hospital to the car driven by her mother and accompanied by her step-dad.