RNLI Alternate Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Birthday fic for Robin. Betaed and edited by Kerry and LT.
JD looked at his watch and cringed, school was out. Most of the time he liked his shifts working at Aquarius. There was so much cool stuff crammed into the shop, filling every corner and crevice, that even though he worked there he knew he'd never learn it all. The New Age shop stocked clothes, home furnishings (in the form of cushions, rugs and throws), pottery, stationery, ornaments, games, candles, books, toys and jewelry. It was the jewelry that was the bane of JD's life. Hordes - well groups of three or four - schoolgirls would come in, look around the shop and wait for him to be available, before asking to try on some of the hundreds of items of silver jewelry. While he patiently handed a girl one ring after another, her friends would look at him, then whisper to each other and giggle, they never bought anything.
"Can I try that one?" the blonde girl in the slightly too tight uniform asked him.
JD glanced at the other three girls, then returned his attention to the cabinet. "Which one Miss?" he asked politely.
"The one with the dolphin on it."
JD groaned inwardly, at least two dozen of them had dolphins on them. He was on his third dolphin ring when his pager went off, beeping and vibrating, demanding attention.
Yes! Thank you Jesus! "Sorry, gotta go!" With that he was running for the door.
As JD sprinted down the hill toward the harbour he was almost run over by Ezra's Range Rover, which screeched to a halt in front of him.
"Thanks," JD said by way of greeting as he jumped into the passenger seat.
Behind them a horn sounded. Ezra looked in his rear view mirror. "We are obstructing our glorious leader," he announced, as they moved of again, headlights on, horn sounding to clear tourists from their path.
JD looked over his shoulder to see Chris' old Land Rover behind them.
In the end, six of them made it to the harbour in time and, since the sea was flat calm with hours of daylight left, Chris was more than happy to put to sea with just the six of them.
Vin, JD and Ezra were already casting off, as Buck jumped on board.
"What's the job?" he asked Chris breathlessly, having run all the way from his pub.
"You're getting slow, Josiah beat you."
"He was fishing off the harbour!" Buck protested.
"So, what's the job?"
"Horse, cut off by the tide."
"The Coast Guard - for all their fine qualities - are not known for their sense of humour," Josiah pointed out.
While saving lives was always the RNLI's first priority, they were always willing to respond to animals in danger. Livestock and pet dogs falling over cliffs and getting cut off by the tide were their most common animal call outs. The St Nicolas made light work of the flat calm sea as they sped toward the reported location of the stranded animal, a small cove just twenty minutes sailing time down the coast.
Dutchman's Cove was so named, because a Dutch smuggler had once used it, allegedly. Considering that it was almost totally inaccessible from the land, it seemed an unlikely claim, but then in Cornwall they never let logic get in the way of a good story. At the bottom of the low tide it was possible to wade through shallow water from the adjacent Soundings Beach, to reach the small cove. Unlike the near by sandy beach, the cove had only a small shingle beach visible at low tide, behind the beach was a series of rocky ledges leading back to a sea cave. A huge rock overhung the cave making any chance of winching the horse out, a non-starter. Although Soundings Beach was accessible by road, its strong undertow made it unsafe for bathing and small craft. Because of this, even in summer, it was usually only used by people exercising their dogs and people walking along the coastal path.
"Who reported this?" Ezra asked as they neared their destination.
"Some yacht crew looking for a place to swim, it was only when they got close that they saw the warning sighs. Apparently they didn't wait," Josiah told him.
There was no yacht in sight as they approached.
Chris cut the engine. "See anything?" he asked, picking up his own binoculars.
"Got her!" JD called, pointing toward the cave entrance.
"Her?" Buck asked, "How do you know it's a her?"
"'Cause she's got a foal with her," Vin told him.
While the mare was fairly easy to spot, the little foal behind her was almost hidden in the shadows.
"Great," Chris commented, putting down his glasses and pulling his hand over his face. "Right, JD?"
"How long before the high tide is up to them?"
JD cast an eye over to the cave and mentally consulted his tide timetable. JD was the only person any of them knew who could carry a whole year's tide times and heights in his head.
"About two hours before it's up to their feet, another hour and the foal's going to be in trouble."
"Damn, that doesnt give us much time. Right, lets launch the Y, me, Buck, Vin and Ezra'll go over and see if we can get them to swim for it. JD, get Casey on the phone, see if she can get the horse box down onto the beach."
The mare was having none of it. Four great big men, dressed in strange bright overalls with big white things on their heads - no way were they getting anywhere near her baby. She backed away from them, forcing the foal further and further back into the cave. They were all competent horsemen, Chris and Vin had been raised on farms, Ezra had his own horse and Buck had taken a crash course in riding and horse management after Sarah died. It made no difference, she reacted to all of them the same way, with fear. Horses are creatures of flight, when faced with danger they run. With the perceived danger coming from the sea, she just kept backing up into the cave.
"This is never going to work," Chris finally conceded.
"If we could get to the foal, we could carry it, and she'd follow," Ezra suggested.
"And how do you propose to get to the foal?"
"You distract her, I sneak around the side?"
"Ez that's suicide. If she gets you trapped in there, you'd have no chance," Buck protested.
"He's right man, never get trapped between a mare and her young," Vin agreed.
"Sorry Ezra, I'm going to have to veto that idea," Chris stated firmly. "But the principal is sound."
Buck looked at his friend with some confusion. "Meaning?"
"We need to get her calmed down enough to get to the foal and hope she'll follow." The others were about to protest that he had just said no to that plan, when he continued. "We get a vet out here and get her sedated."
"Now that is a plan," Ezra agreed, always a lover of modern conveniences that made life easier.
The vet Chris used didn't have any way to sedate a large animal at a distance.
"So who do you suggest?" Chris asked.
"Try Ross Carr, over at Chapel Zalah, he's the vet on call for the wildlife park."
Chapel Zalah was at least an hour's drive from Sounding's Beach.
"No one closer?" Chris asked hopefully.
"Not that I know of."
"Okay, thanks mate."
"Sorry I couldn't help more, good luck."
Carr, was keen to help. He promised to be with them as soon as he could. At Buck's suggestion, Chris contacted the Coast Guard control room and asked them to arrange for a police escort for the vet. For most of the drive he had a traffic car in front, in full 'blues and twos' mode, and that cut the hour long drive down to forty five minuets.
While they waited, they kept their distance, hoping the mare would calm down and move back out of the cave. Casey arrived with the horsebox, making JD wish he would be in the inflatable boat that would pick up the vet from the beach. As it was, all they could do was wave to each other.
Ross Carr turned out to be a young and enthusiastic Scotsman, with a soft Boarder's ascent and flaming red hair.
"Ay, I can see the problem," he commented. "I take it she won't let you get close?"
"If we approach, she back's up into the cave, always keeping the foal behind her. We thought if we could get the foal out, she'd follow," Chris explained.
"Good plan, if you can get to it."
"I can give her a very mild sedative, just enough to make her more placid. Then you should be able to get a halter on her and get the foal out - hopefully."
"How are you going to get the drug into her?"
"With this." He pulled out a full size tranquilizer gun. "But not from that." He pointed to the Y. "I need something more stable."
While Buck, Chris and Ezra stayed in the Y, Vin and the vet returned to the St Nicholas. Lifeboats are designed to be as stable as possible, so in shallow water, on a calm sea, there was almost no deck movement.
With the Y safely positioned out of the line of fire, Carr took up position on the prow of the lifeboat and took aim. At that very moment, a high speed, irresponsibly over powered motor yacht, in the hands of three drunken teenagers, whose parents had more money than sense, approached from behind. Josiah had the engine of the lifeboat on to keep the stabilizers operative, Chris had the Y's engine idling, the combined engine noise was enough to cover the arrival of the speeding boat until it was almost on them. Then, just as it was almost close enough to be heard, the teens cut their engine, just as they made a huge sweeping tern.
Carr, closed his finger on the trigger. The huge bow wave from the motor yacht rolled toward them. He began to squeeze. Out of the blue, the wave hit the stern of the lifeboat. He pulled the trigger just as he was thrown off balance. The dart was fired off at right angles to the boat. The wave hit the Y, rolling it alarmingly, causing the men onboard, who were totally unprepared, to suddenly trim the boat's weight.
Chris' curses were so loud the boys on the boat must have heard them, because they suddenly gunned their engine again and took off.
"JD get the name of that thing!" Chris bellowed.
"I got it!" JD shouted, his binoculars still up.
Vin was looking at the horse, all the shouting had got her more agitated, now waves were braking over the rocks, splashing up as high as the foal's chest.
"We need to do this!" he reminded them.
Carr shook his head. "Not until the deck stops rocking."
"That could take sometime, the waves are going to lap back at us from the rocks," Josiah pointed out.
"I can do it," Vin said softly.
"What?" the vet asked.
"I can make the shot, just tell me where you want it to hit," Vin told him calmly.
"No, no I'm sorry, I can't let you do that."
"I was a sniper in the Marine's, no offence mate, but I'll bet I'm a hell of a lot better shot than you."
"Very likely, but you have to be licensed to use this thing."
"Who's gonna know?"
The vet looked over at the agitated horse and clearly terrified foal.
"He can do it," JD confirmed confidently.
Carr didn't seem to find the endorsement of a teenager much comfort, but it was clear something needed to be done and fast, the tide was still rising.
"You are sure you can do it?" he asked.
"Okay, but I did it, no matter how it turns out, I did it - right?"
"Whatever you say."
"It'll take effect in a few minutes, but it won't last long, so when you hit, they better set off. Hit the rump."
Vin's aim was true, the dart with it's red tufted end was clearly visible, sticking out of the mare's hind quarters.
As soon as it was clear the horse was hit, Chris put the Y in gear and they set off. As soon as they were as close as it was possible to get, he cut the engine.
"Buck stay here, me and Ezra 'll get them."
With that command, Chris and Ezra dropped over the side and began to swim for the cave. By now the water was up to the little foal's knees and its mother was looking a little woozy. She stood with her head down watching them approach, but not moving. Chris clambered out of the water and on to the rocks. Behind his back he held the halter Casey had brought with her and handed over on the beach. Moving slowly and carefully so he didn't slip and startle the mare, Chris approached the horse with his hand out.
"Hello pretty," he said softly. "Got lost didn't you?"
He moved a little closer. "But you're a good mother, you've been keeping your baby safe."
He was almost close enough to touch her. She threw her head and nickered softly, but she didn't move away.
"Now you have to trust us to protect both of you."
With the halter rope in his hand, he slipped his arm under the horse's neck and brought it up on the far side. Very slowly he moved his other hand up to take the rope and pull it down. He had her. She fussed a little as he put the halter on, but in the end it was a relatively simple procedure.
"Okay Ez, get the baby, but watch her legs."
Ezra nodded and edged along the cave wall. The foal was scared and nervous, but it was still small enough for Ezra to be able pick it up and carry it to the water. That didn't mean it was easy to carry and as he was preparing to enter the water it managed to give him a solid kick to the nether region. Ezra let out a painful grunt and stumbled, almost losing hold of the squirming animal in his arms.
"Buck, get over here and help Ezra!" Chris called, as he spoke he looked up, in time to see Buck and the boat disappearing.
"What the hell?" Chris exclaimed. "BUCK!"
Unfortunately his shouting made the lightly doped horse throw her head.
Cursing - softly - he waved his arm at the men on the lifeboat, who looked more than a little confused. Chris pointed at Buck, who was now headed out to sea. Vin pointed at the horses, but Chris shook his head and pointed at the Y, which was now speeding away from them. Vin shrugged his agreement and turned to say something to Josiah on the bridge. In seconds the St Nicholas was turning to follow the small inflatable.
"What is going on?" Ezra managed to gasp out.
"Not a clue, but when I get my hands on bloody Wilmington he better have a good excuse. Come on, we're in for a long swim."
Ezra had got his voice back. "Soundings isn't exactly my favourite spot to swim at the best of times. Let alone with a struggling foal in my arms."
"Would you rather stay here while the tide comes in and the drug wears off?"
"What the hell is Buck doing?" JD asked.
"Not a clue kid, but Chris is going it have is guts for garters for this!"
The two of them were standing at the prow, while Josiah guided the lifeboat, in pursuit of their friend. So far Buck had just headed out to sea, but now he was beginning to weave, making erratic turns.
"Oh my God!" The voice of Ross Carr suddenly blurted out, as he came to stand behind them.
"Oh my God, what?" Vin asked.
Ahead of them the small inflatable made a sharp turn, heading toward the land again.
"I take it this isn't normal behaviour for him?"
"Hardly," JD assured him.
"That first dart, it did sort of go in the direction of the boat. Do you think it could have...? Did I hit him?"
All three men turned to look at the boat, which was now making a series of wild turns. "Oh shit!" Vin exclaimed. "What will it do to him?"
"Um, well if he'd had the whole dose he'd be out cold - I think."
"Come on man, what will it do to him?"
"Look, I'm a Vet, not a doctor, how much does he weigh?"
"Yes, how heavy is he?"
Vin looked at JD, who just shrugged. "Um, well he's about six three, leanish but strong, about fourteen stone?" Vin guessed.
"Thats about 90k, oh shit!"
"Well he didn't get the full dose, that's enough to put three Rottweilers to sleep!"
"So, assuming he got part of the dose. What happens?" Vin asked worriedly.
"We need to get to him, now!"
The sea had turned into a psychedelic carpet, every ripple, every wave left a shimmering rainbow in its wake. He lifted his hand and moved it in front of his eyes. It was as if it was in slow motion and could see every frame. He wasn't sure where he was or why, he didn't know who he was, he wasn't even sure what he was - but none of that seemed to matter. There were these feelings of nausea and dizziness but it wasn't him who felt ill, that was someone or something else.
In front of him there was a castle, a huge fairy tale castle, with towers and turrets and flags. It had a drawbridge, flanked by windows that made it look like a face with an open mouth. It was so inviting. As he headed towards it, the drawbridge turned into a mouth, inside it was a long tunnel. He wanted to see what was at the end of the tunnel.
So far the swim hadn't been too bad. Once the foal was in the water, the mare followed with no hesitation. Now Chris guided her so he was swimming beside Ezra. Ezra, for his part, was very grateful for his life jacket, as he struggled to keep the little foal's head above the water. He could already feel the undertow tugging at his feet, trying to pull him along the beach, away from the safety of dry land.
"What the hell is going on?"
Both men turned to see Casey, perch preciously on the rocks.
"We don't know," Ezra confessed.
"What do you think you're doing? Get back to the beach!" Chris ordered.
Casey ignored her boss. "You know this place is not safe, I brought the rope from the horse box. I tied a bit of drift wood to it, just don't pull it until I get it tied off to the back of the truck."
With that, she braced herself and hurled the lump of wood out into the sea, it landed just ahead of the two men and the horses. It took a little while for them to reach it, but once Chris had it in his hand, Casey began to scramble back along the rocks to the beach, uncoiling rope as she want. Once on the beach she tied the rope off to the tow bar. Then she gave the men a thumbs up sign. With the help and security of the rope, progress to the land was much speedier.
Eventually both men staggered out of the sea. Ezra put the little foal down, it was a little wobbly for a few moments but soon found it's feet, then it shook itself vigorously. Chris led the mare over to her baby. She lowered her head and nuzzled it, making sure it was okay.
"Come on, lets get them loaded up, we need to get back to base and find out what the bloody hell is going on," Chris commanded.
"NO BUCK!" JD shouted desperately as the little orange inflatable turned toward the cliff. "TURN! TURN!"
But it was no good, At full speed, Buck sent the Y hurtling at the sheer cliff wall. Josiah had had the big boat at full speed, but they were too close to the rocks now, he was forced to back off or risk ramming the cliffs. It was like watching a train wreck, you know its going to happen, you know its going to be bad and there is not a blessed thing you can do about it. The little boat hit the cliff head on at full speed. The bow reared up, throwing Buck back. He did what amounted to a back somersault over the stern and the outboard engine, which was still running.
JD gasped, his hand coming up, in an instinctive gesture, to cover his mouth.
The momentum, created by the still turning propeller forced the small inflatable even higher, until it was vertical against the rock face, then it flipped over, landing, with it's hard, ridged hull on top of Buck's inert form in the water. JD and Vin didn't hesitate, they didn't say anything, they just went over the side and into the water, striking out for the wreck.
When they reached him, he was floating - thanks to his life jacket - face up. His eyes were closed and he was unresponsive. They said nothing to each other, they just took hold of him and began to swim toward the boat.
Josiah and the vet pulled Buck onboard.
"Lie him down," Carr commanded.
With Josiah kneeling behind Buck's head and Carr on his right side, Buck lay motionless on the deck, as JD scrambled on board.
"Buck!" he called, as he came to his friend's side. "Talk to me mate."
"Hush," Carr commanded, desperately trying to concentrate.
"JD, take the helm and get us home," Vin ordered.
"But I " Dunne began to protest.
"JD," Vin cut him off. "Do it."
It would be best if JD was kept occupied and, for now, away from Buck, at least until they had some idea about Buck's condition.
"Okay," JD agreed reluctantly, moving forward to the wheelhouse.
With JD out of earshot, Vin turned his attention to Carr. "Well?"
"Have you got a stretcher, one that will immobilize him?"
"Yes," Josiah confirmed.
"Then we treat him as a spinal injury. Considering the way he was thrown into the water, it has to be a real possibility."
As they worked, Josiah spoke, explaining everything they were doing and why. Buck's eyes were now open, but in every other respect he seemed to be unconscious.
Once Buck was safely secured in the stretcher they carried him below to the survivors cabin. As they did so, JD turned in his seat, fighting the urge to abandon his post and run to Buck's side. With Josiah backing down the steps it was Vin who made eye contact with him. Not a word was spoken, but a whole conversation past between them.
Look after him for me.
I will - trust me.
I need him.
With that Vin disappeared into the cabin.
"How long until we get back?" Carr asked.
"About twenty minuets, maybe less," Vin told him.
"Okay, lets do the basics, ABC- airway, breathing, circulation."
The neck brace, that was helping to keep Buck's spine immobilized also kept his head tilted back at the correct angle to maintain an open airway. He was breathing on his own and had a good colour. If he was breathing, his heart was beating. With the basics covered, Vin went about conducting a head to toe check. He was trained to do this, they all were, but with Nathan normally on board, they had all been relying on him for first aid care, he'd been letting his skills atrophy.
Think! he chided himself.
As he worked, Josiah kept up his running commentary, describing what Vin was doing at every stage. It wasn't until he reached the lower leg that he found any obvious injury. On his left leg, the fabric of his waterproofs was torn and bloodstained. Splitting it and the jeans under it, all the way up the leg, revealed two, deep, curved gashes, one to the side of his thigh, just above the knee and one to the calf, behind the knee.
"Looks like the prop caught him," Vin commented, even as he was reaching for the first aid kit.
The ugly, ragged wounds were still bleeding freely, but not profusely, as Vin dressed them.
"Did you find any other injures?" Josiah asked.
"Not so far." Vin looked up at Carr. "What is this drug doing to him - exactly?"
The vet looked him in the eye. "I don't know for sure. We did a course, on the possible effects of an accidental dose. But to be honest I don't remember that much, other than call 999."
"You don't remember!?" Vin all but made it an accusation.
"Look, in vet school, if you don't have to demonstrate it, take a test about it or write a paper on it, it doesnt get much attention. It's just the way it is, there is too much to take in. All I remember was someone saying that everyone's experiences were different and that it was a bit like an LSD trip."
At that Josiah all but hissed as he drew in a breath. "That is not good."
"You ever do that - LSD I mean?" Vin asked.
"Once, in my youth, when I really believed that man could learn to make love and not war. Once was enough, believe me. Right now he may not know we're here. He probable doesnt know where he is or even who he is, he may not even know what he is. I hate to think what he was - is - seeing."
No one said anything for what felt like an hour, but was probably only a few seconds.
"Of course, physically, it should have the same effect on him as any other mammal - hopefully," Carr continued.
"A loss of muscle control and sensation. They told us that hearing remains but it's distorted." He looked down at Buck. "We better wash and cover his eyes, his blink reflex may be effected."
"How long is this going to last?" Vin asked.
"I don't know, or rather I can't tell. We know he didn't get the full dose, but we don't know how much he did get. Besides, I honestly don't know how fast a human metabolises it."
"Okay, you two stay with him, I'm going to relieve JD. Buck, you hang in there." With that he patted Buck's good thigh and left.
There were voices, or at least he thought they were voices, because he was having difficulty holding on to the concepts of humanity and language and self. If they were voices, they were a long way away and sounded as if he was underwater, or they were, or well he wasn't sure he cared. The voices were an accompaniment to the light show. It was wonderful. At first, when he could sort of see the world around him - a fantastical ever-changing world - the lights were only on the edge of things that moved. Now he was in total darkness and the lights had taken flight, they were alive, dancing before him, an ever-changing pattern of rainbows dancing and waving in front of his eyes. It would have been even better if he hadn't felt so nauseous. He tried closing his eyes, just to get a short rest from the light show, just until his stomach settled down a little - except it didn't work. Either he couldn't shut his eyes or the lights were in his head, which it was he didn't know or care, he just wanted a brief break from the lights, just for a second or two.
In a horse box it would normally take ten minutes to drive from Sounding's beach to Chris' farm, but with two strange horses - one a young foal - on board, Casey was taking it very slowly, especially around the corners, so in the end it took twenty minutes. Leaving Casey to unload the animals and ring around the local horse owners to identify their equine guests, Chris and Ezra took off for the town at a run, since both their cars were parked on the harbour side. They were both fit men, and so despite there heavy clothing and boots, it took them less than six minutes to complete the one mile, down hill run. What greeted them as they arrived, was an ambulance, several members of the shore crew and a pacing Nathan Jackson.
"What's happened?" Chris asked, once he'd got his breath back.
"Apparently Buck's been hit by a tranquilizer dart," Nathan told him, sounding more than a little incredulous.
"Oh shit!" Chris exclaimed. "Damn it, you wait 'till I get hold of those bloody kids on that speed boat!"
Nathan looked at Ezra. "Speed boat?"
"I'll explain later, do we have an ETA?"
"Any time now I believe."
"There!" Tiny shouted, as the bright orange lifeboat came into view around the headland.
Inevitably, a good size crowed had gathered, waiting to see the lifeboat come back and curious to know why an ambulance was waiting on the quayside. Ezra, Tiny and a policeman kept them far enough back to ensure Buck's privacy and the safe exit of the ambulance.
"Someone should go with him," one of the paramedics suggested.
"I'll go," JD volunteered instantly.
Chris wanted to go, Buck had been his rock so often, he wanted to be there for him, but he recognised that they weren't as close as they once had been. JD lived with Buck, they were as close as any brothers.
"Go ahead," he conceded.
Why couldn't he move? He should be able to more - right? Right, he had a body, so why couldnt he move? He tried to move, but since he didn't understand how his body - that he now had - was put together, it was hard to determine what was working and what wasn't. The lights had faded a bit, which had let his stomach settle a little, but he was still in the dark. At first the darkness had been fine, because he didn't know it wasn't normal, now he wasn't so sure, somewhere at the back of his mind he was beginning to think darkness was wrong. Should he worry about that? The voices were getting clearer, he still couldn't work out what they were saying, but at least one of them sounded familiar - familiar was good, right?
There were just so many questions, they made his head hurt. Perhaps if he had a little sleep, just a short nap, then maybe he'd be able to understand things a bit better.
The next thing he was aware of was that there were more voices and more sound, all kinds of sound all around him. It was confusing and even a little scary, none of it made any sense. The familiar voice was still there. The sounds were closer to words now, but he still couldn't make any sense of it. All he had was that one familiar voice, and he hung onto that.
JD walked beside the stretcher as Buck was wheeled into the A&E department. He had taken hold of his friend's hand and he wasn't going to let go of it any time soon. A doctor, older than JD was used to seeing in the accident and emergency department, was waiting for them.
"This is the lifeboat man who got shot with a tranquilizer?" he asked.
"Buck Wilmington," the paramedic confirmed. "Believed to have been hit with a dart full of this stuff." He handed over the phial the vet had used to fill the dart. "Drug company help line number is on the back."
"I see it. Believed? Are we not sure he was hit?"
"No one saw it go in." He looked at JD. "That's right isn't it?"
"Oh, um, yes, he seemed to be okay, then he just took off - in the Y." The doctor looked blank. "It's a small inflatable dinghy with an outboard," JD explained hastily. "Anyway, he just took off, he swerved a few times then he just drove it into the cliff side, hit it head on."
"The vet said the effect of the drug on a human would take five to ten minutes to kick in, that ties in with what they saw, also he said he couldn't have had the full dose or he'd have been out cold as soon as the drug hit him."
Acknowledging the paramedic, the doctor turned back to JD. "What happened when he hit the cliff?"
"The boat went up against the cliff, Buck was thrown out and then the boat landed on top of him. We - me and Vin - we jumped in and pulled him back to the lifeboat. Once he was on board, I took the helm. It was the vet who took care of him after that."
"Well don't worry, he's in good hands now." The doctor turned back to the paramedic who started rattling off medical statistics, which JD didn't understand, other than the discussion about his lacerated leg.
"Why are his eyes bound?" the doctor asked.
"The vet said the drug affects the blink reflex, he did it to protect his eyes. He also said the paralysis should be wearing off by now, but he wasn't sure, since he's never tried to tranquillise a person."
While they had been speaking, another doctor, and some nurses had moved Buck onto a hospital trolley and attached various monitors. After establishing that Buck was still breathing for himself with no apparent difficulty, they proceeded to give the doctor a whole list of readings.
"Very well, first things first. We'll check his responses and then get him up to imaging, I want a full body scan and spinal x-ray. If he can't feel anything, he can't tell us where he's hurt."
"What about his leg?" the junior doctor asked.
"It's not bleeding at the moment, we leave the dressings on until we know what our priorities are."
The blackness had been okay, the lights were still there but he had sort of got used to them. He hadn't been able to get any sleep - which was annoying - but at least his hearing was improving, he'd even picked out a few words. The voice wasn't familiar, but he'd heard the word 'scan', he was sure of that. Now suddenly there was light, lots of bright white light and it had chased the dancing, swirling lights away.
It was the familiar voice. That was good. A face came into his line of vision, it was not human, rather a terrible, distorted, travesty of a human face. That was bad. He was sure he shouted, even screamed, but there was no sound, he wasn't even sure his mouth opened.
The thing - what ever it was - said something else, but he couldn't work out what it was, the only word he understood was 'okay'. Okay? It wasn't okay, nothing about the whole situation was in any way okay! He had to get away! But try as he might, he couldn't move. There was a sort of tingling, he wasn't sure were it was, but he was fairly sure it was him who was tingling, at least he hoped it was him.
"Hello?" JD leaned over so Buck could see him. "Its okay, you're okay. You can't move because they have you strapped down. Dont worry, you'll be okay, the doctor's 'll take care of you."
Buck had stared up at him, deep blue eyes that were filled, not with recognition, not with confusion, but utter terror. The more JD tried to tell him he was safe and everything was going to be alright, the more terrified he looked, opening and closing his mouth silently.
JD looked at the doctor. "What's wrong?"
The doctor took hold of Buck's hand and pressed his own finger down on to his patient's thumbnail. There was no reaction.
"I suspect his vocal cords are still paralysed. Give it time Mr Dunne, there is no reason to think the effects of this drug won't wear off fairly fast. Now we need to take him to imaging. You can go with him as far as the treatment room doors - alright?"
JD forced himself to be calm. "Okay, thank you doctor."
They were taking his clothes off! He didn't have much feeling, he couldn't look down and see exactly what was going on, but he was fairly sure that was what was happening. What the hell were they doing that for? He didn't want them to do that, he wanted them to stop and leave him alone, but he had no way to tell them that. They put some sort of gown on him, he couldn't feel it, but it looked very flimsy, what he'd seen of it. Before he could even begin to work it out, he was moving, he could feel that, and he could see the lights - at least he assumed that the bright white streaks above him were real lights and not in his head. If only there was less noise, if only the things all around him would just stop talking and give him time to think. They put him in a machine, a huge white thing. He didn't know what it did - what if it made him like them? Buck didn't think he'd ever been more scared, it was one thing to stand up and face your enemy, be it a man or the sea, but to just lie there, unable to move, hardly able to understand, that was worse than any storm or mad man with a knife.
There was nothing for it, just as soon as he could, he was getting out, away from whatever madness he had fallen into. The tingling had found a home in his arms and legs. He tried wiggling a toe - just as a little experiment and was pretty sure it moved. For now he'd lie doggo, pretend he was still helpless, until he was strong enough to get away.
After the scanner, Buck was taken to x-ray. JD paced nervously outside for his friend, his brother. The doctor had told him, that while Buck was unable to move or speak, he could still probably hear, so JD had been talking. He wanted Buck to know he wasn't alone, that there was someone with him.
After x-ray, they placed Buck in a side room back in the A&E department. JD stood there - with Buck's head and neck still immobilised, he couldn't move his head at all, so JD stood where Buck could see him. As he stood there, talking about anything and nothing, he was sure that there was more recognition in the deep blue eyes that never seemed to leave his face.
He hadn't been clock watching, but he was sure it wasn't that long before the doctor came back with some papers.
"Good news. We can't find any major injuries and most significantly, there is no spinal injury. So we can take the collar off." With that he moved to Buck's side. "Mr Wilmington, if you can hear me, I'm going to take the neck brace off now."
As he worked he explained that, while Buck had no broken bones or internal bleeding, until he was able to feel and speak, they couldn't be sure he had no injuries other than the cuts to his leg.
"For a start, torn and pulled muscles don't show up on scans or x-rays, we'll just have to take it slowly." He finally lifted the collar away. "I've also had the full tox screen back and it's looking good. The physical effects will fade fairly fast, the neurological and psychological effects may take a bit longer, but there is no reason not to expect a full recovery."
"Hear that mate, you're going to be just fine in no time," JD told Buck enthusiastically.
"Okay, I'm going to take a look at these leg injuries now," the doctor told them.
JD then looked on with some trepidation, as the dressings were peeled back. The two biggest wounds were much deeper and more ragged looking than JD had been expecting, but apparently not as bad as the doctor had feared.
"Those don't look too bad. I'll have a nurse come and clean them up and put on temporary dressings. I'll have someone from the plastic surgery come along and determine how best to close them."
The nurse came along to put on the dressings, she talked as she worked, explaining what she was doing.
"The doctor from plastics will be along as soon as possible," she assured, as she left.
Buck had more and more feeling, it was almost coming back at a rush. One moment all he could feel was a tugging on his leg the next moment there was a blinding flash of pain. He wasn't sure he'd reacted to the pain, but since the two creatures in the room didn't look at him he had to assume he didn't. They were both looking at his leg, the one that hurt. He was still finding it hard to understand what they were saying, it was as if all their speech had been slowed, making it hard to follow what was being said; the blinding headache he was developing didn't help either. But if he closed his eyes and really concentrated, he could make out most of the words.
Someone left, the female. The other one, the one with the familiar voice, went on talking. As he listened the voice conjured up images. A boy, in his teens, dark hair falling in his eyes, bright energetic smile. It was a good image - but who was it? Someone he knew, someone he liked. A friend? Who this person was, who he was, remained elusive, it was like a treasure that was just out of reach, yet he almost had his fingertips on it. A pub, he had the feeling he knew this boy from a pub.
Then the creature stopped talking, the room fell silent. NO! Keep talking, I almost had it! As much as he wanted the thing to keep talking, he was still pretending to be paralysed, so he lay still.
After a short time, there was a scraping noise. The door opened and he heard the voice.
'Going to the loo'? What's that? Well doesnt matter if it gets him out of the way.
Then the room fell silent. Time to get the hell out of hell!
He opened his eyes. There was no sound. That was good. Now all he had to do was get up. Planting both hands firmly on the side of the bed he pushed himself up.
Shit! Bad idea, bad idea! His head swam, his stomach threatened to rebel, but he refused to give up. So he just sat there, supporting himself on arms that were trembling with the effort, panting, waiting. Waiting for it all to pass, waiting to gain the strength to get way before whatever happened to the others in this place happened to him. Little by little the nausea passed. His arms were burning with the effort, either he sat up more or he gave up and lay down. Concentrating all his will power he moved his legs to the side of the bed. They felt heavy and one of them hurt like hell, but they did as he bid them. Finally he was sitting on the side of the bed, legs hanging over the side.
Okay Buck, you made it, what now? BUCK!? Is that me, am I Buck? Can't be, doesnt sound like a real name. I'm sure I'm not the kind of bloke who's called some dumb yank name like Buck.
Lying in bed, he hadn't had much of a chance to look as the floor, now that he did he wished he hadn't because now he felt sick all over again. The floor was moving, sort of undulating.
This place just gets worse.
Forcing himself not to look at it, he let his feet slip down far enough to touch the floor. It felt cold but flat. He tried to stand and instantly put his hand out to grab the bed. His legs trembled and the room spun. Nonetheless he wasn't going to give up, so he just stood there, waiting for the spinning to stop, or at least slow enough to let him walk to the door. By the look of things it would take him three paces to get from the end of the bed to the door, three paces with nothing to hang on to. Eventually the room stopped spinning, although the floor continued to do its impression of the sea, and he set out. At first he edged along the bed, until he was at the end of it. There he stopped for a moment, getting his balance. His legs still tingled a little, but they seemed to be holding him.
Now or never, they wont leave you alone for long.
He set out for the door, moving as fast as his legs would move. He figured that if he did start to fall, his momentum just might carry him the rest of the way to the exit. In the end he made it on his feet. Flushed with success he took hold of the door and opened it a crack. There was a lot going on out there. Figures, grotesque, distorted creatures moved about, the floor rippled and bent, some of the walls seemed to bend in toward him. He stayed where he was for a moment, leaning on the wall, eyes shut, listening - the voices, he could understand them. At least he could understand the one's that passed close to him, not that what they said made any sense. Finally, he opened his eyes and found he had to squint, the lights were so damn bright. He looked up and down, searching for a way out. At one end of the corridor there seemed to be doors - doors were a way out.
There's too many of them, a weapon, I need a weapon, no way are they getting hold of me!
He looked around again and spotted a box with heavy looking objects in it. Edging out into the corridor he felt in the box and found something with a sharp blade. Ignoring the blood that was now running from his hand, he began to edge toward the doors, keeping his back to the wall for support and protection.
JD came out of the toilet, his hands still wet. For a second he didn't notice anything amiss. He began to stroll down the corridor, he was planning to stop at the vending machines and get himself a Mars bar and a coke, before heading back. He was almost at the door to Buck's room when he spotted his friend. Wearing nothing but a flimsy hospital gown, he was edging down the wall toward the doors that lead to the rest of the hospital.
"Buck!" he cried out in alarm, before he'd even thought about it.
There was no reaction, he didn't even look around. JD quickened his pace, running around Buck so that he was in his line of vision.
"What are you doing up?" he asked.
Buck stopped and stared at him, a look of pure horror on his face.
"Come on back to bed, you shouldnt be up yet."
Buck continued to stare at him. There was something in his hand, which was covered in blood, blood that dripped onto the floor.
"You've hurt your hand." Now that JD looked at his friend, he could see that there was a lot of blood, not only from his hand, but his leg was also bleeding again. It had soaked through the dressings and was now running freely down his leg, leaving a trail on the floor and wall behind him. "Come on back and lie down."
JD reached out his hand, it was just an instinctive thing to do, he wanted to help his friend.
The moment he touched Buck there was an instant reaction, it was as if he had been hit by an electric shock. He pulled away so fast and so violently, he began to over balance. JD reacted as any friend would, he took another step forward and reached out with both hands. Taking hold of Buck's arm he steadied him, pulling him back up right.
The second he was balanced, his back against the wall, Buck grabbed JD, pulling him in and spinning him around. The young man felt something cold against his throat. It took JD a few moments to realise it was a Stanley knife and this was no friendly bear hug.
"Err, Buck, what's going on?" he asked nervously.
"You can't have me."
"Have you? I don't understand, please let me go." He could feel that Buck was weak, he could brake away with little difficulty, but with the razor sharp blade at his throat he couldn't move even a fraction of an inch.
"You cant turn me into a monster, I won't let you."
JD didn't think he had ever heard anyone sound so terrified or so desperate in all his life and that scared the hell out of him. He looked around, hoping someone had seen what was happening, but there was no one, everyone was too busy doing their job or looking out for their own loved ones.
"Buck listen to me "
"Dont call me that, it's not my name!" Buck told him angrily.
"Okay, okay. Look I dont know what's going on, but I'd never hurt you, or let anything or anyone hurt you."
"You're one of them," Buck snarled, beginning to edge toward the doors again, forcing JD to move with him.
"One of who? Please tell me, I don't understand."
Buck almost laughed. "Maybe that's what they do to you, maybe they take your brain when they turn you into a monster?"
"I'm not a monster, I'm JD, I'm your friend - please Bu " The knife pressed a little harder against his throat. "I'm sorry, please let me go."
Buck seemed to hesitate, JD had the feeling he was about to let him go, when someone screamed. Instantly the grip on his arm became vice like. Suddenly there were people all around them and he just knew Buck was beginning to panic. That was really, really bad.
It felt like an eternity, people were talking, someone said something about calling security, someone else mentioned the police. JD just knew the whole situation was getting out of control.
"It's okay, please, listen to me, no one is going to hurt you or do anything to you," he pleaded, trying to keep the panic out of his voice.
"Shut up you thing, I don't know what you are, but you've stolen my friend's voice. What have you done with him - huh?"
"It's me, JD, please believe me, no one has done anything to me."
Someone in the crowed said something about getting someone down from the psychology department. The noise around them rose and Buck moved back a few more paces. The trouble was, he was moving not to the exit as he clearly thought, but deeper into the building, toward the people not away from them. Suddenly the crowed seemed to part, as someone shoved their way to the front.
Chris had never been so worried as he drove as fast as he dared to the hospital. When he arrived, he expected to ask some questions to locate his friend. He didn't expect to see a huge crowd and to hear Buck's unmistakable voice in the middle of it. Shoving his way to the front of the throng, he was greeted with a sight what would haunt him for the rest of his life. Buck, bare foot and only wearing a flimsy hospital gown - bloody, wide eyed and terrified, holding a knife to JD's throat.
"Everyone shut up!" he commanded, as if they were his crew and he had every right to tell them what to do.
Surprisingly the place fell silent.
Chris made his way forward, so that he was standing a few feet in front of the throng. "Buck? What's happening?" he asked softly.
"Don't call him " JD tried to warn.
"Don't call me that, it's not my name!" Buck snarled.
"Yes it is. You are Buck Wilmington and you are my friend."
"No, you can't be, you freak!"
Chris had no real idea what was going on, but then Nathan had warned him that the drug in Buck's system could act a little like LSD.
"Listen to my voice, you know me, I'm Chris, I'm your friend."
Buck shook his head.
"Listen to me, don't trust your eyes, listen to me, you know my voice."
"Yeah and his too!" Buck shook JD a little. "You things have stolen my friend's voices - what did you do with them? Did you kill them, or have you stolen their bodies and turned them into monsters?"
"There are no monsters here, just people, people like you."
"NO! I dont look like that!"
"No you don't, and neither do we. You can't trust what you see right now. You are Buck Wilmington, you own the Lifeboat Inn in Four Corners and you are the deputy coxswain on the Four Corners lifeboat. We were called out to rescue a mare and foal that were cut off by the tide. We had to have a vet come and tranquilize the mare, he used a dart gun - remember?"
Chris had no way to know if Buck did remember any of this, but he'd stopped moving back and he was looking at Chris.
"One of the darts hit you. The drug, the one that was meant to tranquilize the horse, its making you see things that aren't there, it's messing up your memory. Believe me, I'm you're friend, we've known each other for years, you were my best man when I married Sarah, you were my son Adam's godfather. That boy you're holding a knife to is JD. He's just a kid, he lives with you, you took him in, gave him a home. If you hurt him you'll never forgive yourself."
"You look so " Buck tried to explain.
"I can't see what you can see, none of us can, so you have to listen to me and believe. What you're seeing isn't real, you're hallucinating. Think about it, think back to what's been going on."
Buck wanted to believe this man, he didn't want the world to be full of hideous freaks, mockeries of human form. The new thing called himself Chris, and that sounded familiar, he had a vision of a slim man with blond hair. The thing in front of him was slim and had blonde hair so maybe it could be true, maybe he was hallucinating? He wanted it to be true. JD? Chris called the one with the familiar voice JD. He tried to put the name and his vision of the dark haired teenage together - it was a perfect fit.
Please let this be true, 'cause if it isn't, I'm going to lose everything.
Chris was talking about a boy called Adam. Buck saw a boy, no more than six, auburn haired, laughing and shrieking with joy, the memory brought a great sadness.
"Adam's dead," he stated, almost surprised that it was him speaking.
"Yes he is, but you're not, nor is JD, why don't we keep it that way? Put the knife down, let JD go and let us help you." Chris took a step closer. "Come on mate, it's Chris, you know you can trust me, I've never lied to you." He took another step.
"Only you," Buck told him, he was about ready to trust Chris, but no one else.
"Sure thing, just me."
Slowly, very, very slowly Buck lowered the knife.
"Can I have it?" Chris asked.
Buck didn't hold the knife out, he just let it clatter to the ground. Almost simultaneously his legs began to buckle. JD made to steady him, but stopped instantly as Chris called to him.
"I promised it would only be me," he reminded as he darted forward and caught his friend.
He eased Buck down to the floor, so he that he was resting up against the wall. "It's going to be okay," he reassured.
"Don't leave me alone with them," Buck pleaded.
"I'm not going anywhere, I swear, I'll be right here."
Forty eight hours later, Buck's system was drug free. He'd had a short operation to close the deep lacerations to his leg. The new laceration to his hand had been stitched and he'd had a lot of sleep. All his friends had been to see him, Inez had scolded him for scaring everyone, but had then kissed him on the cheek - Buck said that made the whole thing worth while. His memory was working again, although he didn't remember the boat crash. He did remember the hallucinations and he wished he didn't, but he did.
Chris came to pick him up. "JD wanted to come, but I claimed seniority," he explained.
"Meanie!" Buck retorted.
"I'm the boss, I get to be mean sometimes. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine, just need to get out of this place."
"Why do people chose to do it?" Buck asked, as they drove home.
"Do what?" Chris asked.
"Drugs, if that is what it's like, then I can't understand why anyone would do it. You hear about drugs, you're told how bad they are, you see what it does to people, but - well I always assumed it was 'nice' even enjoyable - otherwise why do it?"
Chris wasn't sure he was meant to be answering these questions.
"I mean, I could have done drugs when I was a kid, they were there to be had, easy - you know?"
Chris didn't know, he had been born and raised in Four Corners, and while he knew it was probably different now, in his day there were no drugs, or at least none he ever came across. Of course, most of Buck's childhood was spent in the roughest, most notorious red light district in Plymouth, so their childhood experiences were hardly comparable.
"I guess," he finally said, not wanting to kill the conversation.
"But I knew it was wrong, same as smoking, it's fun, it looks cool, but it's bad for you. Except it wasn't fun, it was " Words failed him.
"A nightmare?" Chris offered.
"And then some."
"I don't think I'm the right person to ask."
Buck turned in his seat, grimacing slightly as it pulled at his leg. "Why?"
"Alcohol is a drug too you know? Addictive, destructive, unhealthy."
"You're not addicted to alcohol," Buck stated firmly.
"No I'm not, but I could have been. If someone hadn't been there to pull me back from the brink."
Buck turned back so he was facing forward again, staring out of the window. "I didn't do that, you did it for yourself."
"Couldn't have done that if I was dead, or if there was nothing left to come back for," Chris reminded. "All I can tell you is that the drug, my drug of choice - it let me hide from reality, I didn't have to face things, I just drank them away."
"I still don't get it. If you need to escape reality - drink. Like you say, it works. Booze is cheaper then drugs, it's legal and it's available."
"Maybe it's just because it is illegal that people want to do it, thumb their nose at the system. Oh I don't know, I guess I don't really understand it myself," Chris admitted.
There was silence for a while. Then Buck said. "What am I going to say to the kid?" He looked down at his hand, now swathed in a fresh white dressing. The blade had cut deeply into his palm, but had missed the nerves and tendons.
"You don't need to say anything to him, you've said you're sorry every time you've seen him, since you woke up and saw the real world again. He understands you weren't right in the head."
"Chris, I held a knife at his throat."
"You thought he was a monster."
"Not an excuse."
"It was good enough for the police," Chris reminded.
The police had concluded there was no case to answer, they hadn't even bothered to get a statement from Buck, since the doctors told them it would certainly be inadmissible, given Buck's medical condition at the time.
Buck let his head rest on the window, aimlessly watching the hedgerow as they drove along. "I didn't believe him, he told me all the things you were saying - or he tried to - but I wouldn't listen. Why did I listen to you and not him?"
"I don't know. Maybe because you've known me a lot longer, maybe because I'm the boss. Stop beating yourself up over something that wasn't your fault."
Buck didn't respond. The next thing he knew Chris had pulled into a lay-by and switched off the engine.
"Now you look here, Buck Wilmington, you are not going to go around carrying this bull shit guilt trip you're on!" Buck opened his mouth to protest but Chris cut him off. "I know you - remember. I spent years blaming myself for Sarah and Adam's deaths. What if I hadn't gone to the pub after the market? What if I'd been home sooner? What if I'd bought Sarah a car of her own? Then they wouldn't have been walking down that lane, they wouldn't have been hit, they'd be alive now. Well it doesnt work, it wasn't my fault and this isn't your fault, it was an accident, it just happened. Sometimes shit just happens and there isn't a damn thing we can do about it! That guilt nearly cost me everything, my farm, my health, my self respect, your friendship, maybe even my life. I'm not going to let you go down that road, not even one foot of it - do you hear me?"
Buck stared at him for a long time, finally he let a small smile spread over his face. "Yes boss," he finally admitted. "Am I still allowed to get JD a present?"
Chris thought a moment. "Depends on what it is."
"Pint of best and bag of home made fudge?"
"That kid sure does love fudge!" Chris agreed laughing as he restarted the engine. "Okay, but only if you make enough for me as well."
"Hell if I do that, I'll have to make enough for everyone."
"Good! I like mine coffee flavoured."
"You'll be lucky, you'll get chocolate, like everyone else and be grateful. By the way?" Buck asked.
"What happened to the mare and her foal?"
"Oh they're fine, Casey found the owner, back were they belong; blissfully unaware of all the trouble they caused."
I guess that makes it worth the trip, then, Buck said with a wry smile.