The world crashed back around Todd, coming at him all at once and landing hard on his head. Everything was a jumble of noise and light. None of it made sense for a few minutes. Turning his head to the side to take a look around made his vision white out from a lash of pain thundering up his neck and through his skull. That prompted all his other parts to start talking to him.
Everything hurt—even his toenails and hair.
Something cool and soft washed over his forehead and down his cheek. He swallowed thickly, opened his eyes with far more care this time, and croaked out, “Nick?”
Wincing, he moved his arms until his hands were under his sides, pushed up and back until he was more or less sitting. A second, much slower glance around, and he realized he was propped on pillows in a bed. Not his bed. Not the bed he and Nick slept in at Jimmy’s. Not any bed he’d ever been in before. It was small, only big enough for one person, creaky, and not very comfortable.
A hand pressed to his shoulder. It was too small to be Nick’s or Jimmy’s. “Go slow and take it easy. You were very lucky.” The hand was talking to him in a decidedly female voice. “You’ve asked for ‘Nick’ a few times. Who is Nick? Can you tell me anything?”
“I’m—” Todd’s voice cracked and betrayed him, refusing to work properly. It was thick and gravelly.
“Here. This will help.”
A cup of cool water was held to his lips. The liquid slid down, cutting a path through the parched area that was his throat.
“Thank you.” He managed to take the cup and hold it for himself.
“I can give you medicines for the pain and nausea, but I wanted to be sure you didn’t have any brain damage. What can you tell me?”
Todd squinted and focused on the voice and the woman it belonged to. She was sitting beside him in a chair, so he couldn’t tell her height. Somewhat on the heavier side, but not fat, proportionate. Her gray hair was pulled back into a long ponytail, and her kind brown eyes crinkled when she smiled.
“Um…my name is Todd Ruger. I was passing through and got caught in a quake. Where am I?”
“About fifteen miles inside West Caldera. The quake was right on the border. There is—was—a small village between this town and there. We’ve had search parties out for two days now. Found quite a few survivors. You’re in one of the hospitals we’ve set up.”
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