Sticks & Stones

 Chapter One

 

 

It all started with an explosion of glass and the grinding of metal.

“Hey! Don’t ignore me!” Dana’s mother had said. Elizabeth Westbrook looked away from the road for just a second to scold her daughter for trying to cut the argument short. Her gaze diverted just long enough to miss the patch of black ice.

Rubber squealed as the vehicle fishtailed around the corner. Obscenities flew. Dana threw up her arms as the evening sun illuminated the tree directly in their path. Elizabeth frantically spun the wheel in the direction of the skid. The moment prior to impact seemed to last an eternity.

A nasty grinding crunch came right before a shower of tiny glass pieces fired into the car like a shotgun blast. The driver’s side window fractured as Elizabeth’s head made impact, and she slumped into unconsciousness. The car spun around after colliding and the opposite side smashed into the guard rail, which held. The whiplash smashed Dana’s head through the passenger side window, showering glass onto the snow. Her right side impacted the door frame, and her vision went fuzzy.

She came to a moment later, her movement difficult. What the…? Her thoughts raced as she yanked, finding herself stuck. A quick glance and her eyes went wide. The impact had shoved her through the plastic of the door’s interior; bracing her left hand against the frame, she shoved, and extricated herself from the broken panel. Her sight turned to the left. Oh God, she thought. Her mother moaned lightly, but blood trickled from a nasty spot on her left temple. Looking right, she realized she wasn’t going to be opening the door with the bent guard rail and a cliff drop past it. She pulled off her seat belt. A quick push and she slid her body onto the dashboard. She gritted her teeth and bashed her elbow against the windshield.

The first impact sent spiderweb cracks throughout the glass. She paused for just a moment to stare in disbelief. The second impact launched the whole windshield off its seal. Outside the car, she stumbled through the snow to her mother’s side door. She gripped the handle and pulled. It came off with a snap, and she tumbled backward. Her mind raced for a solution as she climbed to her feet. The rear driver’s side door, smashed in, no longer had a window. Her arm reached in and around, and a quick bash broke the driver’s side window outward. She stepped back and placed both hands on the windowless door. Her hands crunched down on broken glass and she pulled, not thinking about anything other than saving her mother. The door jerked. “Son of a bitch!” Dana shouted, digging her heels in and pulling. A wrenching sound gave way to a snap as the door came clean off. “Shit!” Her shout came as she tumbled to the snow. As she fell, the door flew out of her grip and sailed behind her. Lying prone, she saw her palms in front of her. There were no cuts or blemishes. She looked to her right arm and side; despite the impact almost fusing her with the plastic door panel, no cuts marred the skin beneath her torn sleeves. “Shit, mom!” She almost launched to her feet and dashed forward.

Elizabeth moaned lightly and struggled to turn her head. Dana reached over and unlatched her belt. Proper procedure didn’t occur to the girl as her fear took over. Reaching underneath the woman, she pulled her from the vehicle, carried her out, and set her in the snow.

“Help!”

She shouted and waved her arms, dashing out into the street as headlights came into view. The van skidded to a stop as Dana could hear the driver shout something and slam on the brakes. They both thanked their lucky stars he missed the black ice and skidded to a safe stop. The window rolled down and he stuck his head out. “Hey! What the hell are…” His voice trailed off as he looked. “Oh my God! What happened?”

“My mom’s hurt,” Dana said. “There’s no cell reception out here. Can you help?”

“Honey, I’ll do what I can,” the man said. He drove the van over to the side of the road. He climbed out of his vehicle and opened the back, rearranging things. She approached her mother. Elizabeth drifted in and out. Dana picked her up again. “Here, dear.” She loaded her mother into the back and climbed in. “Nearest hospital’s just ten minutes up the road.”

“Thank you,” Dana said.

They drove through the winding road, past the hilly region and into the small town. The sign read, “West Bordhaven” and the population of eighteen thousand. “Name’s Steve,” the driver, Steve, said.

“Dana,” Dana replied. Now that she had a moment to breathe, she looked down at her mother’s body, all one hundred and seventy pounds of it, that she’d pulled from a car and carried a good twenty feet to load into the back of a van. Could it have been adrenaline? Her mind argued at the possibility; after all, her right arm and side had punched through hard plastic with all its sharp edges and jagged points, with only a torn jacket and shirt to show for it. Her elbow had broken glass, and her palms had squeezed down hard on broken shards, and not so much as a bruise showed for it. She had no answer. Another thought came to her. She rubbed her right temple, which had smashed through her window. Nothing hurt or even stung, and she felt no blood. What was going on?

They arrived at the hospital and EMTs approached with a gurney and put the semi-conscious woman carefully on and affixed a neck brace to her. A few minutes later and both Steve and Dana sat in the triage.

The woman receiving them turned to Steve. “So, are you related?” she asked.

“No,” Steve answered, pronouncing it ‘naw.’ He gestured. “I was just driving by and saw this girl waving at me. They were in a car wreck and I drove them here.”

The woman turned to Dana. “Do you have your mother’s information?”

Dana’s mind snapped to attention. “Oh, give me a minute,” she replied. Fishing through her pocket, she found her wallet. “I forgot to get my mom’s purse, but our address is the same.” She handed over her driver’s license.

The woman typed the information. “Insurance?”

Dana fished in her wallet again. “I’m on her insurance,” she said.

The woman photocopied the license and the card. “So, explain what happened.” She turned from her computer and focused on Dana.

The girl forced her thoughts to focus. “Um, I’m pretty sure this is how it went,” Dana explained. “We were talking, and she hit some ice or something, and then a tree.” She paused to remember. “After we hit the guard rail, I came to, got out of the car, and was able to pull her out. Then we got this guy to drive us here.”

The woman began typing. “What injuries did your mother sustain?”

How would she phrase it? She cleared her throat. “As far as I know, she hit her head on the driver’s window. If there’s any others, I don’t know.”

“Alright, that’s good,” the woman said. A thought occurred to her. “What injuries did you sustain?”

Dana snapped to attention. “What?” she asked. The woman repeated her question. “I feel fine.”

The woman regarded her suspiciously. “I’d feel better if a doctor checked you out.”

The thought passed through her head. “Fine,” Dana said. About forty-five minutes later, she found herself in a room next to her mother. Her mother’s wound had been cleaned and, apparently, examined more than once. She shook her head as she saw the woman, she’d been arguing with just an hour or so earlier, sleeping soundly with an intravenous anesthetic. How close had she come to dying? A tear dripped from her eye.

A knock sounded. She wiped her eyes and saw the doctor, a woman easily older than her mother, walk in. “Dana Westbrook?” The doctor said. “My name’s Doctor Farkas.” She held out her hand.

“Is my mom ok?” Dana asked, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“Your mother sustained a concussion and a fracture to her skull, but we’ll have to see how it progresses,” she explained. “We’re giving her medication and trying to prevent brain swelling. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

“Christ,” Dana said, letting out a heavy breath.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Doctor Farkas explained, “I’ve seen people survive nastier head wounds.” She looked at the chart. “I’d like to examine you, to be honest. The fact that you were in the same car as her amazes me.”

Dana thought about what she meant. A small chuckle escaped. “It amazes me too,” she admitted.

“Let’s go to x-ray,” Doctor Farkas said. “I want to make sure you’re not injured and running on adrenaline.”

They made their way to radiology. About a half hour later, Doctor Farkas stared at a set of x-rays she scarcely believed.

“You’re free of injuries,” she told Dana, shaking her head. “I guess God does work in mysterious ways.”

Another thirty or so minutes of waiting, the doctor came back in, and knocked. “So, what’s going on?” Dana asked.

“Someone named Mary Tanner is here to pick you up,” Doctor Farkas said, handing her a packet of information. “Your mother is going to be admitted for observation, but you’re being released because, well, there’s nothing wrong with you.”

Dana nodded and headed to the front.  She signed several documents and exited the emergency room. Mary met her at the door. “Oh my God, Dana!” Mary said, dashing and throwing her arms around her friend.

The girl said nothing in response. She simply hugged her friend and blinked away tears that finally decided to show up. A billion loose ends hung inside her head. How much of what happened did she experience in reality? Had she been almost fused with a car door? How could her head have punched through glass without a scratch? The confusion of the circumstances ate away at her. One thing she could not deny had been her release. They said her records showed nothing wrong with her. What did that mean? Did the accident not really happen the way she remembered?

She climbed into her friend Mary’s car. Latching her seatbelt and leaning back in her seat, she steadied her thoughts. They pulled out of the parking lot. The release notes fell to the floor as Dana closed her eyes. Mary regarded her.

“So, just what happened?” Mary asked. “You were in the car with her? And you don’t got a scratch on you?”

Dana collected herself. “Here’s what I remember,” she said. She turned a serious gaze. “We were arguing, we hit ice or something, and then we hit a tree. I come to, halfway through the door panel, head gone through the glass, no pain, no cuts.”

“Oh shit,” Mary whispered.

“I broke the windshield, got out, and got my mother out by pulling the door off,” Dana said. She paused to let her friend glance at her and then back at the road. “Yeah, I know how crazy it is.”

“I don’t know about that,” Mary replied. “It’s still amazing that you got your mom out, no matter how you did it.”

“Anyway, thanks for picking me up,” Dana said.

“No problem,” Mary replied. “I just hope your mom’s ok.”

Dana skipped over the thousand different responses she had, and simply said, “Yeah. Me too.”

After a twenty-minute drive, they arrived at the Westbrook house. Dana invited her friend in, but Mary declined and headed home. After her friend left, Dana sat in silence in the living room for a long few moments, trying to process what had transpired. After deciding she wasn’t going to get answers until she tried to find them, she went into the kitchen and looked around for a moment. A decision made, she wrapped her arms around the refrigerator. She expected her back to cry out and her legs to refuse to function. Instead, she found the enormous appliance hoisted into the air. The surprise caught her so off-guard she almost stumbled. She set it down with a light thud; it felt almost weightless to her. Her hand shot to cover her mouth. Her eyes closed and she took a deep breath and let it out. Her eyes opened, and then shot to the drawer by the sink. Her hand passed over a fork and selected the steak knife. The sharp tip poked the skin on the back of her left hand. She expected pain, sudden and intense. Instead, she felt only the pressure as the blade bent and curled. The knife, tip curled upward, devoid of blood, clattered to the inside of the drawer. The slight indent in her skin, not so much as bruised, popped back to normal.

A laugh escaped her mouth as the absurdity hit her. The most likely explanation couldn’t be more obvious, she thought. The car accident had caused her brain damage which resulted in this very vivid hallucination. Still, her mother was in the hospital, and she wasn’t. Somehow, she doubted her entire experience was all in her head. At times like this, she felt, it was a relief she’d graduated high school early. Not having to go to school the next day was a huge bonus. She’d left her job at the pizza place and didn’t start her new job at the community college book store for another week. This gave her time to pause and reflect.

Her body meandered to the living room and she sat staring at the blank television screen for a good minute. Moisture escaped her eyes. A finger unconsciously wiped away a tear, and she stared at it for a second. Right then, the magnitude hit her, and the tears flowed. She scrunched her eyes shut and cried out loud for a good while. Her mother could be gone by the morning and the last thing she’d said to her was an argument. Hallucination be damned, the sound of her mom’s head hitting glass, that nasty crunch, would haunt her. After what seemed like forever, her body reclined in the seat and a pair of fingers wiped her eyes. She gasped, panting for a moment, and forced herself to stop crying. Alright, logic argued in her brain, mom’s in the hands of medical professionals. There’s nothing more that she could do from here. She reached for the remote control.

Her hand met air. She looked over and saw the painting on the wall at eye level. The painting, she realized, that hung up high.

“What in the…?” she wondered out loud.

She looked around and saw herself floating above the couch. The moment she realized it, though, she fell. Shaking her head, she got up and headed upstairs to take a shower. She couldn’t process this without hot water, she knew. Throwing off her torn jacket, her damaged shirt, and shoes, she sighed with each step. Off came her jeans and underwear. As she unhooked her plain-looking bra, she examined it for damage. It didn’t have any. Thank god, she thought. A chuckle made it out. This size is two hundred dollars.

In the shower, she cranked the water. The house’s water heater responded in kind. Steam rose like geysers into her nose and eyes. The water, as hot as it could be, didn’t burn her skin. Turning it to the other extreme caused ice cold rain to splatter her face. She found she could tolerate the cold with impossible ease. She sat on the shower seat. Questions she’d never imagined having raced through her mind. Was she crazy? Or, she knew, an even crazier possibility. What, she wondered, if this was her new reality? What did it mean? A question lurked up out of the darkness and stepped into the light; what, if it was real, would she use it for? She cranked off the tap and sat there, dripping, contemplating notions other people might be put away for. Grand aspirations? She didn’t have any, not really.

As she toweled off and dressed, her teeth grit as another terrifying thought occurred to her. Whatever happened next, it was highly unlikely this only happened to her.

In the weeks to come, more people with abilities would emerge. In time, people would look to numerous events as the start. But it hadn’t started with any life-altering, world-shattering event. It all began with a frightened eighteen-year-old girl contemplating the days to come.