I end up thinking about Erenel a lot during the next couple of days. When I’m busy, I can make myself forget. But other times, I find myself trying to imagine his world: his people, his house... do houses even exist in the Otherworld?
Lisa and Milly notice the change in my behaviour, but I don’t tell them anything. This even surprises me. Since we became friends, about five years ago, we’ve told each other everything. I try to imagine telling them about Erenel. Milly wouldn’t say much, of course, and Lisa probably wouldn’t believe it. No, he is a secret that I have to keep to myself.
It’s totally incredible that Mum and Dad haven’t noticed a difference in my behaviour. Even my horse has noticed, for heaven’s sake. Seamus is so unsettled when I ride him round the field on Tuesday evening that I actually feel nervous when I hoist myself into the saddle, something that hasn’t happened for ages.
“Give up, Seamus, you little beast,” I growl at him when he plants his hooves and tosses his head for about the twelfth time. I jab him in the ribs with my heels, clinging on tightly and cursing as he arches his back and jogs moodily in the opposite direction. I tug on his reins and drive him forwards. “We’re going my way, Seamus, get over it,” I grumble, knowing that showing him who is boss makes absolutely no difference to his behaviour. When Seamus acts like a sulky teenager, normal methods have absolutely no effect at all. I wonder if Lisa has a pair of spurs that I can borrow.
“Two more quick little circles, then we’re done,” I tell him soothingly. It doesn’t work. Or perhaps it does, but not in the way that I want it to. Either way, Seamus lowers his head determinedly and suddenly springs into a choppy canter, arching his back. The unexpected increase in speed throws me forwards, and I automatically stick my hands out to blindly cling to his neck.
But his neck isn’t there.
It doesn’t happen in slow motion. I don’t suddenly obtain a sixth sense for a split second. I don’t even hear the sickening crack of snapping bones. All that I see is a flash of white fur, and for a millisecond I see the mud below.
My right hand hits the ground first, and I topple sideways into a sort of sitting position. I struggle to make sense of what is going on. I fell off, obviously, but what has happened to my arm? Why does it hurt so much?
My arm, though it’s covered by two layers of clothing, is visibly bent between my wrist and elbow.
I scream, and scream, and scream. The pain is so great that it has shocked any tears out of my system. I hear Dad running towards me, and Mum rushing into the house and grabbing the car keys and shouting to Dad about which hospital we should go to.
Dad manages to carry me into the backseat of the car, although he’s told me for years that I’m too big to be carried.
Mum seems remarkably calm, just sits by me and strokes my hair, making soothing noises and telling me how brave I’m being. Dad, bless him, starts playing my favourite CD and makes his usual terrible jokes about the lyrics, but I can’t focus on it, even when my howls subside and cold shock starts to set in.
I whimper quietly to myself, staring blankly out of the window. Everything happened so quickly, I still can’t make sense of what is going on. Please, please, please let this be a bad dream.
The eight mile journey to the hospital might as well be eight light-years. Mum dashes inside the building the second the car stops and returns a moment later, with two nurses and a wheelchair in tow. The nurses are lovely; sympathetic but firm and encouraging. They manage to manoeuvre me out of the car and into the wheelchair, which is actually quite comfortable. I earn lots of kind glances from various people in the hospital as I’m pushed towards a treatment room. If it wasn’t for the pain in my arm, I’d be enjoying the whole thing.
When we reach an available room, I’m helped into a bed on wheels and propped up comfortably with half a dozen rolled up towels. The arm on my fleece is cut away – I wasn’t ever that keen on that lime green checked material anyway – and the damage is revealed.
I’d had all sorts of dreadful images of shattered bones poking out of my arm, so I’m very relieved to find that all my skin is still intact, though there’s still a nasty bend halfway down. My arm is examined very carefully until the nurses reach a conclusion. Apparently I’ve broken my arm. Top quality work, girls. Pair of geniuses, you are.
Before I’m whisked off to have an x-ray a plastic syringe is shoved up my nose. I’m told that it is morphine and that I have to inhale it. I obediently sniff on the nurse’s command. It’s vile, an unpleasant sensation at the back of my throat. It tastes like cool, scratchy air flavoured with petrol and black pepper. Swallowing doesn’t help, and I’m not allowed a drink. Reassuring me that the feeling will go soon, the nurses leave together.
Mum is poring over some of the paperwork that the receptionist handed to us on our arrival, and Dad’s on the phone to Jack, so I take the opportunity to properly look at my surroundings. The room is fairly small but bright, with my bed, a few chairs and a metal table with scary looking instruments on it. Behind my head, there’s an unidentifiable, but nonetheless scary machine fixed to the wall. I feel like I’m on the set of ER, and I wouldn’t mind a bit if George Clooney strode into the room.
Erenel, I suddenly remember. Curse this boy, curse him and his warnings. It can’t be a coincidence that, a few days after he turns up, I have a riding accident. What happened to his grand promise of protection? I hate him. I hate his arrogance, his cryptic words, and his superiority. Didn’t he say that he shared my pain? Well, I hope it hurts. And I hope that he can’t take morphine.
A short, plump young nurse with bottle-blond hair enters the room, interrupting my hateful thoughts. “Hello, Natalie,” she says, smiling widely. “I’m going to take you to have an x-ray now.”
She quickly disables the brake on my bed and shoots me out of the door at an alarming speed. I’m whisked through a maze of long corridors, asked my date of birth by lots of people in pale blue uniform, and steered into the x-ray room. I’ve had an x-ray before, so I know what to expect. The whole thing is over in a couple of painful minutes, and I’m told that I’ve broken both bones in my forearm, but that it will mend well with a plaster pot on it.
I’m driven back to the treatment room on my bed by the same nurse, who leaves me in the same spot and hands Mum another piece of paper to be signed. “An orthopaedic surgeon will be with you shortly,” the nurse tells us. “He’s really nice,” she adds, winking at me and waddling cheerily out of the room. I twist myself round as much as my propped-up arm will allow and stretch my legs luxuriously, kicking my riding boots off carefully on to the floor. This is the most comfortable I’ve been all day. My arm doesn’t hurt; I’m warm; I feel drowsy from the morphine now, and I’m undeniably in good hands.
I suddenly feel something vibrate against the top of my leg. Scrabbling around in my tight jodhpur pocket with my good hand, I extract my phone, and see that I’ve got a message from Lisa:
where are you??? I’ve just come to the field and seamus is wandering round with his tack on but with no rider...
I’d completely forgotten about Seamus. Understandable, considering the circumstances. I quickly text a reply:
You won’t believe this, but I fell off him and broke my arm, so im in hospital now... can you take his tack off for me??? thanks
My phone starts vibrating frantically about ten seconds later. I flip open the lid of my phone and hold it to my ear.
“Natalie!” Lisa squeals down the phone. “Oh my gosh, are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I reassure her. “But is Seamus OK? I left him tacked up, he –”
Lisa snorts. “Stop fussing, it’s taken care of. I want details! What exactly happened?”
I tell her the whole story, every single detail. Lisa is silent, apart from a strangled squeak when I tell her exactly how much my arm was bent.
“So I guess you won’t be at school for a while,” Lisa muses when I’ve finished. “Lucky you. There’s a massive French exam in a couple of days that I’ve not revised for. Can I ride Seamus and see if I can break my arm too? Or, even better, my leg, ‘cause I wouldn’t be able to get to school in a wheelchair.”
I giggle. Lisa can always make me laugh no matter what. “Lisa, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
“Can’t you at least wish it on your best friend who’s about to get herself a detentionAnd I’ll probably get grounded when the parents find out that I’ve not been revising.”
Mum catches my eye and starts pointing at the door and miming at me to put the phone down. The doctor must be coming. I say goodbye to Lisa and hang up quickly.
Two men enter the room. One’s very young, with brown hair and eyes and a pleasant, honest smile.
He shakes my good hand and sits down on a chair by my bed. “Hello Natalie, my name’s Dr. D’Angelo, and I’m an orthopaedic surgeon. This,” he waves to the man behind him, “is our plaster technician, Alan.” Alan’s quite old, but he’s ruddy-cheeked and bright-eyed and looks as fit as an athlete. The only visibly aged part of his appearance is his grey hair and bushy moustache.
I smile in reply to Dr. D’Angelo’s introduction, not really knowing what to say. What does ‘orthopaedic’ even mean?
“I’ve got a few questions to ask, if that’s OK,” he continues. He’s obviously Italian, with a lovely soft accent. I like him already.
I nod. He must think that I’m a mute.
When the questions start, they don’t seem to stop. How big is Seamus? How did you land? Are you otherwise healthy? What did you do immediately after you fell? How did you get to the hospital today? He even draws a black arrow on my right shoulder, in case there is any confusion in the hospital about which arm I’ve injured. Doesn’t that giant, impossible-to-miss bend sort of give it away?
After a bit more chit-chat, Dr. D’Angelo stands up and holds my arm out perpendicular to my body. I grit my teeth in pain. Does he actually realise that this hurts?
“We can tell from the x-rays that you’ve slightly displaced your ulna,” he tells me. I know from biology lessons that the ulna is the smallest of the two bones in my forearm. “That means that the ends of the bones have moved apart and can’t heal properly, so I’m going to manipulate your arm before we set it in plaster.”
I gulp. This sounds painful.
He places one hand on top of my arm, right on the bend, another underneath, and pauses. “Do you want some gas, so you won’t feel any pain?”
I shake my head. Much as I dislike the sound of having my bones shoved around, I really don’t care for the idea of inhaling the foul-smelling stuff that filled the Chemistry lab at school last year when somebody accidentally left a gas-tap open for about twenty minutes. We had to evacuate the room and stand outside for absolutely ages.
Dr. D’Angelo smiles. “You’re very brave. Wish all my patients were like this!”
He squeezes his hands together, and I nearly scream. Unbelievably, it almost hurts more than the actual break.
I can almost feel my bones moving around inside my arm and, when the pain doesn’t feel like it can increase anymore, Alan, the older man, wheels a small metal table towards me. He and Dr. D’Angelo support my arm on a stand and start wrapping it in several layers of bandages and cotton wool and wet plaster, from my knuckles to just below my shoulder.
He carries on talking while he works. “We’d normally ask you to come back in a few days to have your arm set,” he says, turning to address my parents as well. “But this is such a bad break, so I don’t want your arm to be out of place for any longer. Otherwise, we’d have to look at operating.”
I must have looked worried, because the men smile reassuringly. “Of course, I’m sure we won’t have to go down that road,” Dr. D’Angelo continues. “I’m confident that your arm will heal well. I’m going to get you back here a few times for x-rays to make sure that your bones are healing as they should. OK?”
I nod. “Cool. No problem.”
Alan’s hands have reached my shoulder, blending the plaster together.
“Because of the displacement, it’s important that your arm stays as still as possible,” Alan explains. “That’s why the plaster pot is so long.”
I’m even allowed to choose the colour of my pot. After a few moments of deliberation, I choose bright pink. I’ve got to keep this pot on for seven weeks, so I might as well go for a colour that I like. It’s brilliant – my arm looks like it’s been dipped in fluorescent paint.
My plaster is soon finished and set and the doctor declares it perfect. I move my arm back and forth experimentally. It feels strangely numb, as though it doesn’t belong to me. He fits a soft blue sling with a Velcro strap around my arm so it’s supported by my neck. I’m helped out of the trolley and told that I’m free to go.
The journey back home seems considerably shorter than it did on the way here, and the speed bumps don’t affect me as much either. Mum and Dad chatter away cheerfully to me for the whole journey and, the pain in my arm reducing by the minute, I find myself growing happier and happier at the thought of the relaxed weeks ahead.
Mum pampers me like crazy when we get back home. She cooks spaghetti bolognaise with heaps of parmesan on top, my favourite meal, and sends Dad to the shops for ‘a little something to help us get over the trauma’. I’m glad to find that he interprets these words as a DVD and a new box of my favourite hot chocolate mix.
Jack may seem like a lazy, lanky lump of a teenage boy, and most of the time he is, but he’s really nice when he wants to be. This evening, he’s super-kind to me and even walks down to the corner shop for the latest issue of my favourite magazine.
Much to my delight, Mum calls school to let them know that I won’t be in for the rest of the week, as my arm is still very tender. Despite my passionate protestations, Mum requests that the week’s homework is posted to us. Oh well, things could be worse.
Now that I think about it, things could have been a lot worse. Seamus could have trampled on me, or I could have broken both arms, or my leg, or even my neck. I could have had a right-angled bend in my back instead of my arm. I feel a little weak at the thought, so I force my mind away.
People send me ‘get well soon’ texts all evening, and some friends from our village drop by with a card and a supersized bar of luxury milk chocolate.
I could totally get used to this.