Sun, 20 September 2009 - 8:46 pm

Shark attack

While I was worrying about the big picture, smaller pictures, much closer to home, collided while I wasn’t looking. As a result, the infirmary was full, and most of the patients were my friends.

I was getting ready to slip into the admin building when they started coming in. One minute the infirmary was as echoingly silent as always; the next the door banged open and it was full of voices calling and bodies helping each other inside.

I didn’t recognise the first couple, but then I saw Terry holding a hand over his eye, and Dale behind him with blood on his face. I stopped abruptly when I saw Thorpe hauling someone along with him; I knew who it was even before I saw him. And I knew suddenly who those first two were.

“Is this your idea of ‘in hand’?” My first words to Thorpe weren’t kind. My heart was beating all out of rhythm as I helped him get Matt onto a bed. There was a lot of blood on both of them.

“He’s been stabbed,” Thorpe told me and I saw the cloth tied around Matt’s leg. I shouted for Simon through the lump rising in my throat. I had to blink rapidly to see past the denial in my head – all I could hear was ‘no, this can’t be happening, no’.

Then Matt grabbed my hand and I looked at him. His face looked terrible, cut and swelling already. He tried to say something, but he couldn’t get his split lip to work properly. I shushed him, tried to soothe him, told him it would be okay. I stroked his hair and squeezed his hand. I hoped so badly that I wasn’t lying to him.

Then Simon was there, nudging me out of the way, and Peter stepped in to help. The medic told me to see to the others and I stumbled off to do that. Anything but standing there uselessly while my best friend was in trouble and pain. Anything but looking at his battered face.

Thorpe waved me off, so I went to assess the damage on Dale and Terry. They had been victims of fists and feet, not blades; I think Matt was the only one who was victim to a knife. From the looks of the boys’ hands, they gave as good as they got. Both of them were quiet and unhappy, one of them refusing to look at anyone and the other sneaking worried glances at Thorpe. With no ice, the best I could do was clean them up and give them a damp rag to put on their swollen eyes and lips. I knew that the cutouts would scowl about wasting that much water but I really didn’t care.

By the time I was done with them, Simon was working on one of the Sharks. He said that Matt had lost a lot of blood, but he should be all right. He’d been given something for the pain and was asleep.

One of the Sharks was unconscious; another was splattered in blood, but I don’t know whose. The third was nursing his arm – possibly a broken wrist. I tried to feel sorry for them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Finally, I went to look at Thorpe. He was standing stiffly between Matt and Dale’s beds, glowering at everyone. He shook his head when I went to start cleaning him up, but there was something in his face. The set of his jaw, the pallor to his skin. There was something wrong but he didn’t want to admit it there in the open infirmary. Damn him and his pride.

“Fine. If you’re all right, you can help me get more supplies,” I said and dragged him off into a side room. Closing the door behind us, I told him to sit on the gurney in there. To my surprise, he did as he was told.

He was hurt a lot more than he let on. Even after I’d cleaned up his face and hands, he still seemed taut and pained. I had to make him take his shirt off before I found the reason: his side was a mess of purple and black. He stopped me when I went to fetch Simon and said he didn’t want anyone else to know. Not even Dale; maybe especially not Dale.

I’m nowhere near as good at that kind of thing as the medic is, but I did my best. Thorpe was willing to put up with my clumsiness while I tried to figure out if anything was broken. He’s got a couple of cracked ribs, maybe worse, but nothing too dangerous. I strapped him up thoroughly just in case.

“What happened?” I asked him while I worked. I didn’t think he’d tell me anything out there with the others.

For a moment, I didn’t think he was going to tell me at all. “I don’t know how it started,” he said finally. My mind started to fill in unpleasant possibilities but he continued, “I think they went after Terry.”

That wasn’t one of the options I was considering. “Terry?” He’s just a kid. I managed to feel even more sick about the whole thing. I thought Terry was just quiet, shocked because of the fight, but it could easily be more than that.

“We had words with them days ago. We thought it was sorted. Then I went to see what all the noise was about and found them fighting. Matt was already there.”

“So you waded in to help out.”

“Sure.”

I looked up at his face and his frown, and there was a sudden pain in my chest. I haven’t always agreed with Thorpe, but I’ve never regretted trusting him. He’s like a big brother, protective as a bear, and I know he got battered so badly because he took the heat off our friends. I would have hugged him if it wouldn’t have hurt him. Instead, I said I was sorry for shouting at him and felt so wretched I wanted to burst into tears.

Thorpe looked at me like I was about to do something unsettling and went on in case words could avert it. “It was going all right until one of the Sharks pulled the knife. Then a simple punch-up turned into a….”

“Clusterfuck?”

“Yeah.”

I took a deep breath and felt less like crying. “Is it going to always be like this?”

“With them?” Thorpe shrugged with his mouth; it was too painful to move his shoulders. I had to help him put his shirt back on. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

 

When we went back out into the infirmary proper – with Thorpe carrying fresh bandages – there was a cadre of cutouts cluttering up the place and the General standing in the centre. The Sharks were in the middle of blaming the whole thing on the Seekers, while Simon and Peter stood on the sidelines and wiped the blood off their hands.

“You don’t believe their bullshit, I hope,” I said.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” The General was, apparently, not having a good day. I wasn’t in the mood to sympathise. He ordered all of those who didn’t require further medical attention back to their respective dorms before the rain came. He gave me a pointed look and I just as pointedly went to stand by Matt’s bed. I exchanged a glance with Thorpe, and the big fireman gave me his burden of bandages on his way to rejoining the other Seekers. He’ll look after Dale and Terry.

The infirmary emptied out after that. I wanted to talk to the General but that really wasn’t the time and I didn’t want to leave Matt again. Simon said that I didn’t have to stay, but I think he knew that it was pointless trying to get me to leave. He and Peter moved the unconscious Shark into another room, which meant that I didn’t have to look at the damned guy across the room.

I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have helped with more than the cleanup. I wish I knew how to fix this. I want to beat into them how wrong all of this is. I want to shout at them until they understand. Even I know that it’s pointless.

Matt’s still asleep. Whatever Simon gave him really put him out, but at least he’s not in pain. I’m still sitting beside him, returning the favour that he did for me when we got here. Not that I need to; neither of us keeps track of that kind of thing. He’s hurt so I’m here.

I hope he wakes soon.

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