I woke up thoroughly disoriented. It was mostly dark and I was in a bed with a lot of covers over me. I could tell that much from the weight, but not much more. And something was on my face. A weak, battery powered lantern was on the top of a dresser on the far side of the room and it gave me enough light to see my surroundings. If I had the strength to lift my head and look around.
Feeling the bed move slightly I turned to look next to me. It took a moment for me to recognize Dog, stretched out on top of the covers, his head on a pillow. Several white bandages were wrapped around three of his four legs, but other than that I couldn’t see much else.
The bandages brought it all back. The drive from Oklahoma to Idaho. The fight with the wolf to save Rachel. But what the hell was wrong with me? I remembered starting the climb back to the Jeep with Dog on my shoulders, but after that everything was a little fuzzy. And what the hell was strapped to my face? Reaching up I felt thick, smooth plastic, finally recognizing a large oxygen mask. My first impulse was to pull it off, but enough brain cells were working to warn me that if it was there it was probably helping me.
I turned my head the other way to check over the room, and the first thing that caught my attention was my rifle leaned up against a nightstand. Beyond that, someone was sleeping in a chair. Female, I guessed since long hair had fallen down and covered her face, but that was all I could tell. Trying to speak, I managed a weak croak and she jerked awake and reached up to shove her thick mane on top of her head.
“Hi,” Katie said, smiling. “How are you feeling?”
She stood up and quickly moved to my side. There was more movement from farther away, in the darkest part of the room, and a moment later Rachel stepped up next to Katie and reached for my arm.
“What happened?” I managed to whisper.
“You’ve got altitude sickness,” Rachel said, her long fingers pressing against first my wrist then my neck. “Your lungs started filling up with fluid and your body couldn’t get any oxygen.”
Apparently satisfied with my pulse, she placed one hand on my forehead and slipped the other under the covers and onto my chest. For the first time I noticed that there were several pillows beneath me, keeping my upper body elevated.
“You’re better,” she said with a smile. “Fever is coming down and your lungs aren’t nearly as bad, but you’ve still got a little fluid in them.”
She reached over my head and I looked up to see a partially empty IV bag hanging from a nail that had been pounded into the wall. Following the tubing with my eyes I could see it disappear beneath the covers and assumed it terminated in my arm. An unfamiliar machine rested on the nightstand, quietly forcing oxygen from a large tank into my mask. The mask covered most of my face, held in place with two thick straps that wrapped around the back of my head.
“Where are we?” I asked, a cough racking my chest as I spoke.
“Ketchum,” Katie said. “We’re squatting in a big, empty ski chalet.”
I took several breaths, trying to inhale deeply as I fought the urge to cough, but I wound up hacking even harder. Rachel slid her arm under my back and raised me slightly, holding me there until the spasms passed. Once I could breathe again Katie released one of the straps and raised the mask, handing me a glass of water. Gulping it down I glanced at Dog on the far side of the bed.
He was still lying down, but had lifted his head to look at me. I reached out and placed my hand on his back, gently rubbing. After a moment he put his head back on the pillow and let out a deep sigh. Katie took the empty glass and put the mask back in place.
“Is there a bathroom in this place?” I asked when the urge to pee suddenly hit me. I didn’t know how much fluid they’d pumped in from the IV, but I needed to get rid of some of it. Fast.
They both helped me up, Katie carrying the IV bag and supporting me as Rachel brought the oxygen tank and whatever the machine was. I was weak as hell and felt like I’d been worked over by Mike Tyson, but at least I was steady enough on my feet to go into the bathroom, close the door and relieve myself without an audience.
“This may sound like a joke,” I said when I came back into the bedroom. “But why does my ass hurt?”
Katie and Rachel looked at each other, both of them trying to suppress a giggle and a smile.
“What?” I asked, lowering myself onto the edge of the bed.
“You needed aspirin,” Rachel finally said. “You had a high fever and we needed to bring it down.”
“What’s that got to do with my ass?” I asked as I swung my feet off the floor and settled back onto the pillows.
“Um, well… you were unconscious and couldn’t exactly swallow them,” Rachel said.
“You shoved aspirin up my ass?” I said too loudly and started coughing.
When I could look up, Katie was grinning at me and holding her hand up in the air, just like a school kid admitting to something.
“I did,” she said. “We flipped a quarter and I lost.”
Both of them burst out laughing. I knew I was going to be OK if they were laughing at me. Several things ran through my mind, but I kept my mouth shut. What do you say to a woman that loves you enough to stick her finger up your ass to give you medicine?
“How is he?” I nodded at Dog when they stopped giggling.
“He’ll heal,” Rachel answered. “Chewed up pretty bad, but fortunately nothing vital. He got IV and some antibiotics so infection shouldn’t be a problem. All I’m worried about is rabies.”
This got my attention and I turned my head to look at her.
“It’s remote, since I’m pretty sure the wolf wasn’t rabid, but still possible,” Rachel said when I just lay there staring at her.
“He’s going to be fine,” Katie interjected with a stern tone. She knew that the one thing in the world that could make me blubber like a baby was losing a dog.
“What happened after I passed out? The last thing I remember is starting the climb up the ridge from the lake.”
Rachel gently lowered me back onto the pillows and returned to the chair she’d been sleeping in. Katie squeezed onto the edge of the bed, bumping me over with her hip. Normal for her. Despite the fact that I’m more than 100 pounds heavier and at least twice as broad as her, she’s always pushing me over to make room for herself. I’d never admit it to her, but I’d gotten used to it and kind of liked it.
She told me about the two of them dragging me and Dog the rest of the way to the Jeep followed by the drive out of the mountains. Then she relayed the events at the hospital and the drive around Ketchum until they located the house we were in.
“You have to be more careful than you were in the hospital,” I said when she finished with her story.
“Seen you do worse,” Rachel chimed in from the darkness before Katie could respond.
Katie looked at me, grinned and leaned over to kiss me on the forehead.
“You’re still hot,” she said after her lips touched my skin.
“So are you, sweetie,” I grinned, but she was no longer in the mood for banter.
“His fever should break in the next few hours with the fluids and aspirin. He needs rest.”
Katie brushed the back of her hand across my cheek, kissed my forehead again and moved back to the chair closest to the bed. Once she was settled she picked up her rifle and rested it across her legs before tilting her head back to get some more sleep.
I lay there in the darkness, hand on Dog’s back and tried to fall asleep. At first it didn’t seem like that was going to be possible, but before I knew it I woke up to bright sunshine at the windows. Dog wasn’t on the bed any longer and when I looked, both Katie and Rachel were gone.
The bedroom was large with dark, heavy furniture. I was still propped up on pillows in the king sized bed and felt about a hundred percent better than when I’d woken up during the night. The sheets were clammy, drenched and cold underneath my body. Apparently my fever had broken.
Throwing the pile of blankets to the side, I peeled the sheet off that was covering me. An IV needle was in my right arm, securely taped in place and I glanced over my head to verify there was still fluid flowing. A half full bag of saline was connected to me. Sitting up I paused on the edge of the bed, evaluating my condition.
All things considered I felt decent. Weak as hell, needing to pee again, but better than I expected. Across the room I could see the bathroom through a wide door and after removing the O2 mask and standing, I grabbed the IV bag off the nail and toddled across the thick carpeting. Walking showed me just how weak I really was and half way across the room I had to stop and cough.
Reaching the bath, I stepped onto the ice-cold tile, noting a bucket of water sitting on the floor next to the toilet that hadn’t been there the night before. I relieved myself into the bowl, then poured some of the water in to flush the waste into the sewer. I was mildly surprised, and proud, that one of them had thought of how to use the plumbing.
I was wearing nothing but a pair of briefs that were sweat soaked, cold and sticking to me. Returning to the room, I looked around for the rest of my clothes but didn’t see them. I checked the large dresser, hoping the homeowner had something in my size, but only found drawer after drawer of panties, bras and nightgowns.
“What are you doing?”
I turned to see Katie standing in the doorway, a large mug in her hand holding something that steamed.
“Had to pee,” I said.
“Looking for clothes, weren’t you?” She said with an accusatory tone, her free hand balled into a fist and resting on her hip.
“You’re not going anywhere except back to bed.”
Katie came forward, set the mug down on the dresser and took my arm. I caught a whiff of the hot coffee and snagged the drink, turning away from her when she reached for it.
“You are feeling better,” she smiled. “Take a seat in the chair and I’ll change your sheets.”
The room was cold, no central heat keeping the house nice and toasty, and by the time Katie was finished I was shivering despite the hot coffee. She tossed the dirty linens through the door and disappeared into a walk in closet next to the bath for a moment, returning with a clean pair of underwear. After helping me change, she got me back in bed and stretched up on her toes to hang the IV bag on the nail.
“Where’s Dog and Rachel?” I asked.
“He needed to go outside and Rachel is making sure he’s moving around so his injuries don’t stiffen up too much.” Katie shoved the heavy chair closer to the bed and sat down looking at me.
“Fill me in on this place,” I said. “Are we safe for the moment?”