Thoughts: A Ramble at Night
Dues: LATE dues. (sorry)
Warnings: Serious HURT issues here. Angst. Pain. And not beta’d.
Once, not long after his guide had begun his training, Blair had asked which sense Jim enjoyed the most. At the time, the sentinel had only shaken his head and smiled. There was no way on earth he was going to answer that question. He had just known it would end up becoming the center of a series of tests if he answered. Blair was so intensely curious that the guide would be unable to stop himself from devising tests to understand why Jim had chosen a particular sense over the others. In the interests of protecting his guide from himself, and Jim knew just how far his own irritability on the subject would push him, he refused to choose.
Oh, that did not mean he forgot about the question. It just meant he never disclosed his thoughts on the matter.
Take tonight for that matter. Tonight, the ability to extend his eyesight was amazing. He was using his sight at two different levels. First, using the dials Blair had taught him to maneuver with such skill, he was working in a mixture of starlight and the faint light of the quarter moon. Normally, the low level of light would make it far too dark to free climb the steep cliffs. Between the tall pines and cedars that lined the edge of the ravine and the depth of the steep stone walls a normal man would be blinded by the darkness.
Instead, Jim could see the trail of cracks and ledges almost as clearly as if it were daylight. Well, he had to admit that he could not see color. The light was too narrow in spectrum for him to distinguish most colors. Everything was in differing shades of dark and light gray. He knew the color of the rock -- black shale; grayish-tan, crumbling limestone mixed with a harder band of granite; light, almost pink clay with bits of white mixed into it. The strata had been washed into view by centuries of erosion, landslides, earthquakes, and mining. Right now, it was shades of gray.
The starlight though, that was beautiful. Every time he looked up past the silent trees that watched him so impassively, the stars danced for him. Their bright silvery specks glittered against the heavy, brocaded black velvet that was the sky. The planets, the two he could see, stood out like gems of fiery color amidst the blue, yellow, and white diamonds he knew to be distant stars. For a moment it seemed he could almost touch them. He wondered if Blair would like a star to replace the lost silver earrings. It would almost be worth the stunned shock to ask his friend that question.
The sounds of the night were almost as interesting as the night sky. The trees were not really silent. They whispered encouragement and hope in the soft breeze. It was almost as if there was a group of spectators, ones who wished him well as they watched his climb. Their limbs brushed against each other, their own version of clapping with each successful foot of ground he gained.
An owl hooted, telling him there were no men nearby. He was safe from his own kind. The faint scurrying pad of a fox’s feet on the pine needles seconded that safety. Other nocturnal animals; a doe with her young fawn, frogs in the streambed far below, grasshoppers, or were they crickets – he could not remember at the moment – they serenaded him. And in the distant background, the faint thrumming that was a heartbeat. The sounds all coalesced into music. It was his private orchestra, one no one else could hear.
The wind sloughed past, carrying faint, enticing scents and persuading him to change from hearing to smelling. He let his nostrils widen as he changed the dials. He left a few a near zero – why suffer the smell of his own exertion? Especially when he could enjoy the spring night?
The fox was slightly musky, not bad, just different. The grasses and brush on the meadow above him perfumed the air enough to hide the scent of the fawn. The doe, on the other hand, stood out to his nose. Between his exertion and the hour, his stomach recognized that scent and growled. Jim ignored it as he reached for another handhold and another scent to categorize.
He liked the lack of city smells. The cold, biting, concrete-dust scent that irritated his nostrils was missing and he liked that. So was the harsh chemical scent of the cleaning agents that everyone used. Everything here was gentler, kinder, less intense. Whoa! Bear. That was not kinder and gentler. Musky, sharp, and pungent, it bit into his nose and he snorted. But it was on the other side of the ravine, so it didn’t worry him too much.
Jim’s distraction made him slip. He concentrated for several long moments, regaining lost ground and mapping out his next move. The oddly soothing scent of freshly disturbed soil and his own blood settled his nerves. He was safely clinging to the cliff wall. He had not lost too much ground.
It also gave him a clue as to what he could be most thankful to tonight. He readjusted his sense of touch. He needed to tell his guide about his newest discovery. He had learned a lot about his senses in the faint moonlight. He could separate his senses, almost as if there were multiple dials for each, as well as the main control dial. It allowed him to adjust for the things he needed to monitor and those he needed to ignore lest they distract him. And distraction could be deadly.
He let himself study the ground under his fingertips. The dust and eroded soil was like cool velvet. Its powdery consistency clung and cushioned his grip to the rock. The rock itself was a firm, unmoving, unyielding presence. He had learned to note the depth of the presence. If it was completely firm, unmoving, and unyielding he could trust it to hold his weight. If it faltered, softening, wavering, or even sounding hollow to his fingers, he must find another grip. He still was not sure how a touch could sound, but it did.
The breeze flowed over him, teasing his naked back, cooling the hot sweat that covered him. Actually he was not longer certain his back was covered in sweat. That was definitely the best part of the night’s journey. He could completely ignore his discomforts. Oh, he knew they were there. But they were dialed down to become something insignificant.
Once he reached the top of the cliff and his truck, he would no longer be able to dial them down. Once he reached his radio and called for help, he would be able to hold on until that help arrived. But that would not be easy. Right now the other senses, the ones he was letting roam, they were grounding him. Keeping him sane and alive.
For now he could not smell the scent of human blood. It was a perfume his nose and brain would not register. The blood that marked his ascent was neither visible nor present. Not his and not Blair’s. He could not smell his own fear or the stench of his sweat. And he knew he was covered in both. He could not afford the distraction.
He could not feel pain. And for that he thanked God, he thanked Blair, he thanked his spirit guide, and he thanked the genes he sometimes hated more than life itself. He could not feel the bandages that held the splint to his left leg. He could not feel the bones move or grate against each other. He felt the leg when it hit an outcropping -- just enough to know that it was going to be seriously painful later. He knew his fingertips and palms were raw, bloody, and in worse shape than his leg. But he had to climb, so he dialed down the pain. His back and shoulders must ach. They had to be sore from the climb – he had been climbing for hours and it was not an exercise he was accustomed to performing. And that did not include his monster headache. The first thing he was going to ask for was a painkiller. He was going to need it.
The sight of his truck brought him up short. Jim stared in amazement. When had he crested the rim of the ravine? He grimly locked his dials in place. He focused on the beauty of the night and on his mission. He had to crawl to the truck. The passenger door was closest and he had a spare key tucked under it. One hundred yards was a mile of effort, but he made it, marveling at the beauty of the meadow flowers in the fading light.
He reached the radio.
“Simon?” He broke every radio protocol he had ever learned. The dispatcher’s voice went silent and he could hear the individual blades of grass rub against the wheels.
“Unidentified caller, this is a police channel.” The dispatcher’s voice was clipped and annoyed.
“Captain J. Ellison, U.S. Ranger, serial number…” Somehow the words did not fit the situation and Jim knew it. But it was enough to silence the anger in the woman’s voice.
“Detective Ellison?” The voice was gentle now and he pictured her face. April was a nice woman, her voice a subtle music on the night dispatch lines. And she was great at her job – manhandling or coddling officers at need. He wondered why she was coddling him, he did not need it did he? “Where are you?”
Mechanically, he listed the directions to where he was, in the meadow above the ravine known as Devil’s Trap to the locals. He gave the star reference too, just in case.
“Detective Ellison?” April’s voice was soft as she spoke to him. He heard other voices on other channels around her – all of the agitated. “Do you need medical assistance?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He replied softly. “Sandburg’s at the bottom of the cliff. He has a pair of broken legs, a concussion, some broken ribs, and a dislocated shoulder. The one rib came through so I bandaged him before I left him down there. He needs help.”
There was a painful pause before April spoke again. “Jim?” She had never called him by name before, and it surprised him. “Did you climb the cliff?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He replied, letting his pain dial slip when he bumped his head on the seat. God that hurt! Everything blurred for a moment.
He must have made a sound because April was calling him again. “Jim, what are your injuries?”
He looked down at himself. “Do you really want to know, April?”
“We need to know so the EMT’s are prepared.” She replied softly.
“Oh, okay.” He let the dial slip up a little so he could accurately judge his injuries. “Cracked ribs, number 4 through 6. I broke my tibia and fibula, at the ankle. Um, I broke the ankle too – talus and something else.” He paused, fighting the pain. He could hear someone whispering to April, telling her to keep him awake. “I’m awake. Just… give… minute.” He paused again. For a moment, he thought he heard sirens, but it faded. “I tore up my hands pretty bad, April. I can’t feel them though.”
“Ellison!” Simon roared over the radio.
Jim forced his eyes open. He must have passed out. There was too much information from the pain dial, so he patiently dialed it down again. Much better, now he could listen for the sirens. They were getting closer. He let his hearing switch to the still body at the bottom of the cliff. Blair’s heart was still beating.
The younger man had hated the idea of Jim climbing the cliff, but what choice was there? They could have both remained down in the ravine and died just like their informant. As it was, they had enough evidence now to put away a rather nasty group of thrill-seeking murdering kids. Sometimes, Jim did not know if the pain was worth the effort they put forth. But tonight, it was. His senses had kept them alive. That made all the trouble and pain worth suffering.