It’s too cold. What the hell is going on? Ryan Matthews squeezed his eyes tight in concentration. The violent trembling of his extremities worked against him. I’ve been taught to deal with this. He forced his thoughts back to the frigid lessons and intense conditions all Navy SEALs were put through then tried again to move his arms. They were lead weights, impotent beside him. He struggled to move a leg. The repeated efforts were to no avail, other than to remind him of every ache and pain coursing through his body.
The muscles that he spent hours daily toning were failing him. They had forgotten the work they were able to do. The message simply wasn’t getting through to them. He tried to swallow but his mouth was dry, as were his eyes, making it excruciating to allow the lids to slide across the surface, but waging the war to open them was a waste of resources. He had already discovered that from this vantage point there was nothing to see that could help him.
What’s the last thing I remember? He fought against the pounding in his head, the throbbing in his temples. His hand wanted to rub some relief into his scalp but wouldn’t move. He growled in frustration. Australia. I remember arriving in Tasmania. He frowned. I have to still be here, but where… and why? Knowing the pain it would cause, and the futility of the effort, he forced his eyes open again. He was in a dark place, shadowy and cool with a strong odor that he was unable to identify. His frustration boiled – a tempest in a teapot as he once again drifted off on a sea of his own sweat.
He was floating, stretched out on his back, the sun shining warmly on his face, the waves beneath him gently undulating like a hula dancer’s hips. Her warm arms surrounded him, warming him up and stopping the shivers. He smiled, but only momentarily. The sun began to burn. More sweat formed on his face, his chest and around his neck. He wanted to pull his clothes away from his body to allow the cool air to rescue him, but still couldn’t move. In a brief moment of consciousness, he knew that he was in trouble; the mumbling voices he periodically heard only reinforced this conviction.
As quickly as he had warmed up, he began to cool off again. A wind from somewhere was causing him to shiver, but it made no sense that he should feel any wind at all; he was inside a building that he had never been in before. The voices were also unfamiliar to him.
A face pressed close to his. It was probably a female face, but he couldn’t be quite sure. It was round and wrinkled, with an abundance of hair growing on the top lip, but still he believed it to be feminine. In his present state, though, he knew he could depend on nothing that he thought was real. He had no idea where reality ended and some bizarre fantasy world began.
The mouth coming nearer to him was flat-lined. Small dark eyes had a glimmer of fear and concern in them. The voice was gravelly as it reassured Ryan that he would be alright, that he was being taken care of. He felt a blanket being pulled over his body, being tucked up under his chin and he sighed slightly as the trembling again stopped. This time, though, he fought the resulting need for sleep and rejuvenation. He knew that as quickly as the shivers subsided, the sweats would follow.
Sadly, his Hula dancer did not reappear. He was not transported to the warm and welcoming waters of the Pacific. He refused to let himself go there again. He had a job to do, a mission to accomplish and the first step was to understand where he was and how he came to be here. He needed to know who this person was who was tending to him, and who she talked to when she issued her orders.
After some mental wrangling, he remembered arriving in Tasmania and his reason for being at the Ravishing Ruby mine. There was no reason for him to be interacting with this woman. There had been nothing untoward about his trip or his work, so how did he make the leap from the mine to this stinky, cold, dark building.
He strained to hear more of what was being said. There were two distinct voices, but they were overpowered by the background noise, indiscernibly lost in a cacophony of groans, howls and yelps. Eavesdropping was not a possibility.
He lifted up his head only for a fraction of a second. An intense burning sting was like a hot javelin being driven into his brain from somewhere behind his ear and almost coming through his left eye. He wanted to remember what he might have done to cause the pain, but nothing came to him.
The voice grew louder. She was coming to him again, but this time she held a hypodermic syringe in her hand. Inside was an opaque substance, maybe white in color but Ryan couldn’t be sure in the dismal lighting. Once more his training kicked in. He had spent much of his time in the Navy as a medical aide. What the hell? His mind tried to scan through the bottles and vials in Doc Maddock’s drug locker, trying to shortlist what drugs it might be. Jesus, even if I can think of what it might be, there’s no way of knowing. It could be any fucking cocktail she’s brewed up.
He fought to get away, finally realizing that his arms were restrained. The fever-induced fog prevented him from moving effectively, but now he knew that it was not his muscles letting him down in his time of need. He tried to kick. His legs must have also been tied down. He was helpless. Even his mouth was too dry to allow him to scream, not that it would have made a difference.
“Adam, hold him still. He’s twitching too much.”
Yes, Australia. Her accent made the Crocodile Hunter sound normal; it was thick and drawn out especially at the vowels. Ryan tensed as the needle sank into his shoulder. He could feel the thick, cool contents empty into his tissue. Now he could only wait to learn what she had administered.
For the first time he was aware that he did not have a shirt on. She knelt beside him… only a thin mattress, or maybe a blanket, separated him from the hard concrete floor. Based on the draft and cold, he realized that he had no clothes on at all. A pillow was under his head, a blanket covering his body. The smell in the room seemed stronger and grew fouler by the minute. It was a pungent, strong and musky, making him think of bears or wolverines. There are no bears or wolverines in Tasmania.
The second voice now had a face to go with it. It was male, much younger than the woman, and somewhat vacant. The owner of the voice was a mountain of a man, tall and square by birth, not training. When he spoke, his words were limited, carefully annunciated and slow to escape from his lips. He seemed to consider what he had to say for an excessively long time before spitting out the words. Ryan knew many of the traits that accompanied autism because of his own son. This person in front of him did not fit the profile.
The large-browed Adam took the syringe from the woman then passed a pan and a cloth down to her before disappearing into the shadows. Ryan’s muscles tightened as he waited for whatever she had planned. He was surprised when she dipped the cloth into the basin, carefully pulled it back out and twisted it to force out the excess water. She set the cloth on his forehead. It felt cool and refreshing. She left it there for a moment then used it to wipe off his face. She finished by running it though his very short chestnut hair.
Adam appeared again, silently handing a mug and bowl to the woman. She set them down on the floor beside Ryan’s pillow, and for the first time, finally addressed him.
“We need to get some fluids into you. You’ve got the fever. It’s those damn mozzies out in the swamp. No one ever thinks about Ross River Fever till those damned little blood suckers with wings takes a bite out of ya.” He felt the pillow and his head thereon, being gently elevated, realizing that Adam was now on the floor near his shoulders. The woman dipped a spoon into the bowl then lifted it to his lips. “It’s chicken broth. Made it myself.”
Ryan had no choice in the matter. The spoon was pressed against his lips then poured down his throat. He had no strength or ability to fight it. After the first taste, he welcomed the warm liquid. It could be dirty dishwater, or laced with rat poison, but it tastes damn fine.
After a few spoonfuls, the pillow was lower to the ground to give him a chance to breath and rest. A minute later, the process started again.
“The soup should make you feel better, and give you a bit of strength. Once you have some food in your stomach, we’ll give you some aspirin to help calm the fever. We’ll get rid of those chills and have you feeling up to snuff in no time.”
He nodded, unsure of her message. Her words were lost to her accent and the feeling of cotton being packed into his ears and head. The background noise made it that much harder to know what she had said. He was sure he heard the barking of dogs in the mix now – normal dogs, big dogs, but dogs just the same. He was both relieved to at least identify something familiar around him and concerned as to the breed, personality and purpose for the animals.
A bottle of Tylenol materialized from behind him, apparently handed to the woman by Adam. She opened it and dumped two caplets into her hand. “You aren’t allergic, are you?”
Ryan replied by trying to shake his head, but the pain from the movement was agonizing. She popped the pills into his mouth and lifted the mug to his lips. Luke warm tea washed the pills down. Thankfully she gave him two more tastes of the liquid before his head was again lowered.
“Hope you don’t have any allergies,” she grinned at him. Her teeth were yellowed and several were missing. “That shot I gave you should help to take care of that fever. I didn’t have any for people, just animals, but I think I got the amount right for a bloke your size.” She laughed, or rather cackled. “You are one hell of a well built bloke, aren’t ya?” She poked playfully at his arm.
Her actions confused him even more, despite feeling better because of the food and liquids. I’m being held captive, tied up and incapacitated, yet she is nursing me? If this was just to help me, if it was charity and concern, why the hell would she tie me up? If this was about an act of aggression, why care about my health? Like the dogs barking in the background, it was a puzzle. In his present condition, Ryan couldn’t find the pieces to start putting it together.
The medication, the exhaustion from the fever and the food in his stomach were too much of a challenge. His eyes lost their fight, closing tightly as he went in search again for his Pacific hula princess and her warming charms.