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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Escaping the Dragon, #4 (Low Fantasy Serial)


Entry 4
Date: Don't Care
Locale: <redacted> Comic Book Universe

So, today didn't meet my expectations, and that's really saying something. Something good!

So, if you flip back you'll see last night I slept behind the dumpster, and I wasn't in the best of spirits. Well, halfway through the night I heard a woman scream, like right by my head, and some men—well, I don't have to finish the thought, really, you get it. Men like that are why I hate dolphins. Male dolphins will separate a female from her friends and not let her eat or sleep or anything until they have their way with her, and that “ga-ga-ga-ga” cackle dolphins make sounds pretty damn human at times.

It took me a second to get my bearings by the sound. You don't want to burst into a fight and get stabbed, but in this case, my sleepy head said “element of surprise”--and me and the whole pile of black trash bags tumbled forward. Three screams. “What the f—“

I'm not bleeping it out because I don't like cussing, I'm bleeping it out because he didn't get to finish the word. A heavy trash bag full of metal cans and glass impacted his face first. Someone stabbed at me, but I had another black trash bag, a thick one, between me and him. I jabbed my hand down on the stabber's wrist; his grip loosened on his knife as I beat him over the head with my can-bag.

“My knife,” I snarled. I dunno why, but I did, and it sounded freaky. Very throaty, hissy. Like demon freaky, dragon freaky. He flipped out just for an instant—just enough to widen his eyes and let go of the knife. “Mine!”

So there I am swinging my trashbag in one hand, jabbing around with the knife in the other, and I've got this circle of like three more dudes around me. The woman's scrambling for her purse spilled on the ground—I guess they let her go for a moment when the trash-monster appeared? I'm screaming, “go, go, go woman!” and cussing like my mouth's on fire, because one more dude totally has a knife and the other two aren't quite as surprised anymore. We break a gap between two dudes and the lady makes a break for it, and I do something really dumb.

I probably should pause here to explain or point out that abilities and sometimes even attitudes aren't conserved between dimensions. If you're a dimension-traveller you already know that. But that's why even though I teach martial arts, meditation, and magic in one universe, I'm a scrappy little idiot in another—okay not an idiot, just my body there doesn't have the muscle memory. I know, cognitively, what I should do in a fight, but I'm not used to doing it. Matter's still conserved, and I don't get to take bodies from one dimension to another, so, you know, there's that. Sometimes abilities bleed over. I haven't quite finished researching why they do and when they don't—if I could, oh man, that would rock—because of this whole Dragon mess. But anyway, that's my excuse for why my tone changes from dimension to dimension, and for what happened next.

See, the woman more or less escaped, but one of the guys charged after her—and instead of just whacking him again with my trash bag I dropped everything and leapt at his neck from behind. It was instinct—my whole everything said “NO YOU DON'T.” Because I know I'm not a very fast runner; I know that once he got going I'd never catch up before he got her—but honestly I should have just stabbed him. I just don't really like stabbing people.

So—present tense again—I'm totally stumbling around open at my back while I've got this dude in a goose-neck choke hold, and he's clawing at my forearm and grunting and someone behind me straight up stabs me.

But I don't even get to feel more than the tip of the knife in my shoulder-blade before two grunts, two thuds, and then two big silences fall behind me. We stagger around, this guy and me, in almost dead silence except for his whole silly “trying-to-breathe” thing. My back's stinging. We kinda turn, and I see a friend of mine standing there all tall in pink with the K.O.'d goons at her feet, biting her lip like a kid scared of asking the teacher something. Me and Mr. Wants-to-Breathe do another turn. She's kinda twiddling her hands, trying to look somewhere else. He jerks backwards and knocks me against the dumpster. She's got her hands in her skirt pockets. I totally know what she wants to ask.

“Uh...do you want me to take care of him?”

But she doesn't want to make poor little non-super-powered me feel bad, so she doesn't.


Awkward.

I did finally stabilize that blood choke, and Ladypants—okay, let's call her Estrella—and I went out for midnight munchies. That's why I said the day really didn't meet my expectations. I mean, I hadn't seen her in forever. And get this—she didn't just happen to come by. She'd been looking for me! For me, specifically! Score!

“I thought you had moved in with the Shadow, after—well, after.” She stirs her milkshake with her straw. “After.”

“After Jake died,” I said. “I was there, it's not like—I dunno, not like you can sanitize it for me.”

“I know.” She doesn't say anything else. She puts her hand on my little face and waits for me to answer her first question.

Now's a good time to mention that in this dimension I'm like ten or twelve years old.

Yeah.

And having been an adult, I can say behavior's definitely influenced by both physiology and social expectations. You really feel different urges in a little girl's body. And it's harder for the Dragon to grab on to children, for that reason.

Or it should be. But I wasn't always a child in this dimension: an unfortunate accident saving Estrella from a giant time-moth actually reversed my age just a few months before Jake died, and that's why Estrella feels bad saving my life, and let me take down that one guy by himself. I used to be kind of a superhero. I had the power to “borrow” powers—just for a few minutes, but when you're part of a huge team of superheroes that's hours and hours of unimaginable awesome! When you're alone, not so much. But if you're fighting someone with powers at least you can even the odds for a bit, and you've got the element of surprise, so—anyway, being Wildcard rocked.

But I'm not Wildcard. I'm a kid in a sweatshirt twice my size sitting on my knees in front of a chocolate malt at a run-down little retro drugstore in the depths of some ugly ugly city.

“What are you doing out here, sweetie?” Estrella doesn't wait for an answer. “Why do you not come live with us?”

“What us? I don't know most of the people who live there now. Our old team's all kinda gone their own way.”

“Do not say that!”

It's her biggest fear, to lose us all to a drift like that. I should know better.

“I'm sorry,” I say. “That's—not what I meant. I just mean that everyone doesn't live all together anymore.”

“We still run missions together. You could live with me.”

“I—I don't know why. I just don't...Look, I'm pretty much a civilian now. What are you gonna do with someone who's just going to get injured? Someone you'd have to rescue all the time? You're pretty much asking a kid to live in a danger zone. You know you're always a target. And you know I'd love to, but is it fair to you all? No.”

She smirks. “I would—how you say—I would buy that if you did not put yourself in danger every single day. I heard about some of the things you did for the Shadow. And I saw you just now.”

“Okay, okay, that's fair. I mean, being a kid doesn't make me useless. All that experience still adds up to something. And I'm using that something. Something little, but something!”

“But you would be safer in a team, with us.”

“You wouldn't be.” I lean in, jaw tightening. “Jake wasn't.”

Tears well up in her eyes; they make a knot in my stomach because I'm not crying, I can't cry, I want to cry, but I can only tighten my fists and feel my knees tremble as she slides over to my side of the table and wraps her arms around my shoulders. “Oh sweetie, sweetie that was not your fault!” she cries. “Please do not let that ruin your life, you--”

“Strey, I can ruin it on my own,” I mutter.

I needed Jake. He helped me fight my Dragon. No, more than that, we'd pretty much killed it. After months and months—and years on my part—finally it'd receded into something tiny and manageable, especially after I turned into a kid. No one else knew it still existed, no one but him and me. And this is after everyone else tried to help me fight it. After all my friends gave up on me, after I lost my place on our team, after I got kicked out of the dimension, after one of my dearest friends brought me back in, after all the tough love and therapy and yelling and not yelling and meditation and everything we'd all tried—Jake helped. Probably because he, like me, had his own issues, and trying to help drag him out of his muck forced me to climb a little out of mine.

That's why I'm cognizant enough to write this, really.

And I kind of realized that, right in the middle of the conversation with her. Realized that my fear wasn't of the Dragon eating my friends, it was of my weak powerless little self getting them into trouble. My Dragon didn't kill Jake. A bullet did.

And in a dark and twisted way, that gives me hope.

“Estrella...Strey,” I said. “I can't come live with you guys. I can't be responsible for that liability. But...I can come spend the night while I figure out how to get stronger.”

“I'd—I'd like that.”

So tonight I'm sleeping in a little cot, in a little studio apartment, and I kind of figured out my next step.

I'm going to get the Shadow to train me.

And then I won't be a liability ever again. Until the Dragon comes back. And you know what? When he does, I'll be stronger. Because Jake believed we could kill it.

And we can.

Entry five

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Escaping the Dragon, #3

To read from the beginning of the diary I found in the belly of a dragon, read here.

December, 2011
Behind a dumpster in the rain

 Dear...whoever.

I haven't written this diary for a while. And it's not because everything's gone great, and I haven't needed it. It's because the Dragon's surfaced so much I can't even write.



I can't get a second to type about the Dragon because I'm too busy being the Dragon. Screaming and bouncing from dimension to dimension, out of control and locked away, smiling in one world while in the other I'm growing scales and licking things that I definitely should not--



I'm shuddering right now. Shuddering, not because I'm horrified—which I wish so much I could be, I want that, I don't want to lose feeling but the feeling slips away the worse this gets!—but because I'm wet with engine oil and grey rain, and catching a cold.



So back in Science Fiction world, I didn't end up telling the Grandmaster. We sat down on opposite sides of that little floating table, our warm candied wine steaming between us, and I looked at his face, opened my mouth--



And noticed a wrinkle.



Multiple wrinkles. My stars, he's getting older. I remember his youth—the idealistic, brash cover to an uncertain man trying to find his way in a disordered universe by building a Monastery of justice—and his controlling aging phase, during my teenage years, and now? Now friendlier eyes peer out from between rolls, like old little groundhogs popping out of the hills back home.



I love the peace of those hills, and the presumptuous curiosity of the groundhogs, something children share and he's somehow rediscovered, and I could not break that. After all, he's not a dimension-traveller. What does he know of otherworldly viruses? And what do I even say? “I've come to consume your reality in dark pleasure and blood, because I'm actually not myself anymore. I'm turning into a Dragon.



So I did not tell him. I went on tour with my little apprentice, and presumably that's where I still am. I don't know, because I haven't been there for a while. I let the smiling, cocky face of my subconscious sit in for me, joking and drinking and driving under the thick wall of separation my conscience manages between whatever reality I'm actually in and whatever realities I safeguard on autopilot. Sometimes, when I really don't want to miss anything, I “freeze” a reality—which really just means I pull all the way out, and then pop right back in at the point in time that I left, with no one else the wiser. But I didn't want to do that because a part of me wants to spend time with my apprentice, and another part wants to make damn sure I'm not actually there to ruin his sweet, rebellious little mouthy life. So I'm there and not there.



If only I could do that for every world, no one could get hurt. The virus lives in my consciousness.



No, it's run amok. But I've let it run amok in a world that, well, honestly—it was pretty mangled to begin with. I haven't really added anything out of the ordinary. It's a multidimensional mess, complete with ridiculous physics, mass murderers, and weirdos dressed as various animals and toys duking it out over the high rises like it's some kind of circus up in here, some kind of practical joke on all of us ordinary people while we hope to God someone shows up with a Candid Camera.



On the bright side, I think as messed up as I've been over the past month, I've managed to get some really messed up people to seek help for themselves. Like bonafide therapy help. And they're not afraid to come to me about their issues—multiple resurrections and dimensional rifts and trauma and lack of parents and such—because hey, I've got issues, too. Real issues. Not silly little trifles like drug addiction or even normal murderous tendencies. (Yeah, Comic Book Reality is that bad. Everyone's a druggie or a murderer.) Surprisingly, I'm pretty good at helping with these issues.



But now I'm alone again.



Because one of “they” was repulsed by the Dragon. Not just like emotionally—that, too—but literally thrown into some other dimension, and I don't know how to find him.



And one of they is dead.



Shit. Shit, no, I can't talk about that. I need to, so people know, once it beats me, what actually happened. But not right now. I just

can't



I'm gonna go lie down behind a dumpster and pretend to sleep until the sunlight comes back, or I catch a cold and die. Oh man, wouldn't that be convenient. As far as I can tell, El old Draco can't really do anything with dead brain matter. He'll be trapped in there. He'll rot with me. Unless I've already infected someone else with him. Which I don't think I have. I don't tell the stories he wants me to, the actions he makes me live in here, and I know I caught him in a story so I know that's how he's transmitted.



Hoo, I shoulda written about that first. That's probably what's most useful to any interdimensional researchers out there. You know, because there are so very many of us.



Eh, I'll get to it tomorrow.



Or is that it talking? Oh gosh I can't think about this right now. It's lying-down time. It's weird how safe a thin bit of smelly green metal can make you feel, really. People die all the time on this street—just outta spiteful perversion, too, so a homeless-looking whelp like me's not exempt—but squeezed in behind here, with black trash bags piled up around any and all clefts and openings, I'm really invisible. I like that. The small area almost makes me feel like it can't find me either. It can't fit back here.



You can't fit here, Dragon. There isn't room.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Medfacts #3: Stabbed in the chest part 3: Lung laceration and hemothorax

As always, we're dissecting health realism for writers—what really happens when your heroine gets stabbed in the lower right side of the chest? We've dissected puncture wounds, and now we're talking full-scale broadsword or spaceship-accident lung laceration. This goes in more than 4 cm and leaves a long gash, not a puncture, in her lung.

Now you can't save her life by just draining out the air in her chest. We're now talking surgery to remove a damaged lobe or sew the lung back together, and that's a whole 'nother ballpark. That's not going to happen on your fantasy battlefield. Maybe in your scifi story. You'll need super-fine surgical thread, for one thing, and in addition to getting air out of the pleural space now we have the added problem of having to open her up to sew up her lung (which of course lets more air in).

Where's the line between the puncture wound and the wider laceration? You'll know partly because most likely your heroine won't just have air in her thorax—she'll have lots and lots of blood filling it up, too. Don't all cuts bleed? Sure, but usually you bleed outside, not inside your body, and the small stealthy puncture we've dealt with previously probably won't gush blood. But now? That diamond-studded space-sword will have cut intercostal (between ribs) blood vessels on its way in--it's too big to have missed these big vessels--and you'll start filling her chest with blood. That blood build-up's called hemothorax. It also pushes on the lungs and sucks. A heroine with hemothorax will feel kind of like her chest is burning: the blood is so warm, both as it's gushing into the cavity and onto her skin outside of the wound, that it actually feels distractingly hot, like boiling.

If she's been stabbed with a large sword like this—or say a surprisingly solid shard of glass from a bar-fight—it's likely you'll also have lacerated or damaged the intercostal nerves just below each rib. That means that, in addition to the heavy pressure pain she feels all over her chest, she'll have a very intense, specific, stinging, stabbing pain near the stab wound. “Won't a stab wound always hurt, even if you don't nick a nerve?” Sure, but not like this. Our original scenario--knife between the ribs 4 cm in, just enough to puncture a lung—could even happen in a crowded bar, stealthily, where she feels a nick in her side and doesn't really know she's been stabbed until she starts dying. Pain fibers are the slowest nerves in your body, you know. But the giant sword-thing we're talking about now? Oh, she'll know right away. Partly because of the GIANT SWORD in her face, but partly because this will sting, burn, and ache all at the same time. Maybe if she's lucky the sword lacerated the nerve completely, in which case she won't feel the rib pain as much as she feels the crushing in her chest. 

This unsalvagable scenario doesn't give your heroine much time, but it's a good way to do a choking, suffocating goodbye, if you're the kind of meanie who kills off characters. Survival after this injury takes intensive recuperation, so it's probably not the most realistic injury choice for your MC leading up to another mission, battle, or story climax; this needs to be THE climax injury of the story, unless your story's about recovering in a hospital for a long time.

So I think we've covered the most common lung trauma you get in a typical novel adventure; we're gonna finish up thorax next time with the left side of the chest (hint: your heart's over there!), and then do a quick special on getting shot. We're making your novel a little more realistic with each knowledge tidbit!

Go back to the previous post, or the next post, in this series.

All information from Grant's Atlas of Anatomy, Lippincott's Illustrated Q&A of Anatomy & Embryology, Moore's Essential Clinical Anatomy Third Edition, and the January 2010 article by Nishiumi N., et al, on pulmonary laceration in the Annal of Thoracic Surgery.