TB1'S LAUNCHPAD TB2'S HANGAR TB3'S SILO TB4'S POD TB5'S COMCENTER BRAINS' LAB MANSION NTBS NEWSROOM CONTACT
 
 
UNSEEN VOICES
by SPINKLE22
RATED FR
PT

Whatís it like to be trapped inside an unresponsive body? Gordonís take on the weeks following his hydrofoil accident.

Authorís Notes: Hi all! This was an idea inspired by Michael Morpurgoís ĎCool.í Itís based around a child in a coma who can hear everything that goes on around him, so I was thinking about how that might apply to Gordonís hydrofoil accident. I donít know how technically correct it is and I donít have any medical training , so Iím happy to be corrected on any of the treatment details. Secondly, I'm English, so I tried as best as I could to use American vocab/spellings etc., but apologies if I make any mistakes! Thirdly, huge, huge thanks go to quiller for all the tips and beta-ing! Spinky :D


Chapter One: Trapped
Chapter Two: Memories
Chapter Three: Doubts
Chapter Four: Edging Closer
Chapter Five: Awakening


Trapped

Gordon sat on the floor of his room, struggling with his Math homework. Adding, he could do. Along with a bit of subtraction and very minimal multiplication. As for long division - that was a whole new story altogether.

Normally, he'd just give up and tell the teacher it was too hard the next day. But he'd done that three times in the last month, and he wasn't sure how much longer his teacher could hold out.

He was interrupted by a short, single knock on the door.

"C'min," he called absent-mindedly, and didn't look up when the door opened. He could tell it was Alan, "What's up?"

Alan sighed and sat down on Gordon's bed, smoothing down the covers either side. Something about the way he entered made Gordon look up, and to his surprise Gordon saw tears welling up in Alan's eyes. Immediately he stood and sat down next to him.

"Hey, it's OK. It's all right." Alan shook his head and opened his eyes wide, looking up at his older brother. "You want to talk about it?"

Alan took a deep shaky breath and tried to relax. "These two boys keep being horrible to me at school, and I don't know what to do."

Gordon was shocked. "Horrible? In what way?"

"They laugh at me and keep asking why I don't have a mom in front of everyone. And they think I'm sucking up to the teachers because I got full marks on my Math test. And - "

"It's only because you're better than them," Gordon burst out, but stopped immediately. Dad always said it was good to let things out uninterrupted. "Sorry, Al, carry on."

"And they find it weird that sometimes Dad can't come and pick me up because he's too busy, so apparently I don't really have a Dad either."

"That's just stupid!" Gordon couldn't help himself. He put an arm around Alan's shoulders, and then remembered again not to butt in. He motioned to Alan to carry on, but Alan shook his head. He was finished. "First of all, Alan, you don't need to worry about them making fun of you because of Mom. That's ridiculous. For so many reasons. Second, you know you're better than them. They're jealous because you can do Math and they can't. Third..." Gordon hesitated, run out of things to say. "Third, why did you come to me and not the others?"

Alan shrugged. "I thought you'd understand better."

Gordon tried to hide the feeling of pride inside him as an older brother. He smiled. "How's that?"

Alan smiled back. "I dunno. You just would. So what are you saying I should do if they do it again?" Gordon thought for a moment before replying.

"Tell them that you've got a bigger - make that four bigger brothers who will back you up in any case, whatever happens. And then you can tell them to stuff their fingers up their - "

"Gordon! Alan! Dinner's ready!"

"Oh, cool! Dad said it was fries." Alan jumped up off the bed, wiping his eyes quickly.

"Are you OK now?" Alan turned to face Gordon and grinned. He stepped forwards and hugged him briefly before turning back towards the door.

"Thanks, Gordo. Much better. Now, c'mon! I'm hungry."

Gordon hesitated for a second. He wasn't sure if it was a good idea, but he decided to go ahead with it anyway. "Uh... Alan?"

"What?"

"Can you help with my Math homework? After dinner?" Alan laughed out loud, but nodded.

"Sure. Now let's go!"

Gordon grinned and leapt off the bed to follow Alan downstairs. Sure enough, the smell of salty fries began to drift up towards them as soon as they reached the landing. All troubles forgotten, they settled down to eat with the rest of the family.


Beep. Beep. Beep.

That's a sound I've grown to accept as part of the usual background noise in this place. It's funny, isn't it; something so small and regular is my lifeline - the one thing that's keeping me alive.

Every other beep - more or less - is accompanied by the pump of the air machine. That's doing my breathing for me.

I've heard before that sometimes people are 'awake' during comas, but I'd never really believed it. Until now. And I especially thought it would never happen to me.

John told me once. He told me about a friend of someone he knew, who, apparently, could hear everything while comatose. He woke up a couple weeks later, able to recall nearly every word his family, friends and doctors spoke around his bedside.

I remember thinking, 'that must have been torture, hearing everything but not being able to react.' But I dismissed it, like one of those newspaper articles you read about floods and disasters in distant corners of the world and say, 'that's terrible', and then go to lunch.

Except now that disaster was in my world.

Until you try it, you have no idea how horrible it is not to be able to move. I can feel, hear and even smell, but I can't move, or respond to what's happening. I can hear doctors discussing my condition, wondering aloud if I'm ever going to wake, and all I want to do is ensure them that I am, and beg them not to give up on me.

I'm also on life-support. I know this because of the heart monitor, with it's constant beeps, and the air machine pumping away next to my bed. It's one thing to know your life is in the balance; it's another to know that nothing more than a manmade machine is keeping it there.

I keep getting an image in my head of a light bulb blowing. A simple electrical fault causes a room to be plunged into darkness in that situation. Whereas in my situation...

As for the accident, I can't remember much. I remember beginning to panic as the speedometer hit 400 knots, and discovering that I couldn't slow the damned thing down. I remember a sudden close-up of the water in the windscreen, then confusion, pain, and darkness.

I 'woke up' a couple weeks ago, I think. Alan sometimes tells me the date and time, to keep me updated. Apart from that, time's hard to keep track of when you can't see a clock, can't see whether it's day or night. Since then, I've been drifting in and out of 'consciousness,' if you can call it that.

Dad, Grandma and my brothers talk to me when they're here. I'm so grateful for that. I always will be, I think, if - sorry, when - I wake up. Alan's always telling me I have to believe in myself.

He's here now. Just arrived. I can tell it's him by the way he opens the door. All the others open it quietly and carefully, for fear they might scare me or something by opening it quickly. Like Alan does.

"Hey, Gordy!" He says, coming over to the bed, like he always does. He probably doesn't know that I can hear him. Of course, the doctors have told them dozens of times there's a possibility that I could, but they're not certain. If only I could tell them I can hear pretty much every word - it must be hard talking to something that doesn't appear to be listening. Damn. If only I could tell them to keep talking: it keeps me hanging on in here.

Hi, Alan, I want to say, Long time no see! Like everything's fine. He sits down on the chair on my right, and puts a plastic bag down on the floor. I want to know what's in it.

"Today's Tuesday, by the way. Nearly three weeks after your accident. And it's six thirty in the evening. The others are all fine, before you ask. Scott's out with the others, but I think he'll be in to see you later. He, Virgil and John have taken Dad out for dinner. They say he's overdoing it, not giving enough time for himself. Do you know how much time he spends by your bedside?" Yes, I do. I can feel his presence, sometimes. Other times I'll lie awake for hours, thinking I'm alone in my room, when I'll hear a cough or shuffle from the side of my bed. Dad had been there all along. "Grandma's asleep. She's been spending a lot of time here, too. She cries, sometimes. I know she wouldn't want us to know, but I've seen her."

I know that, too. I've heard her sobbing by my bedside, stroking my hand because it's too broken to pick up and all I want to do is reach out and comfort her, to tell her it'll all be OK.

The door opens, and someone walks in.

"Hi there," a low male voice greets Alan. It's a doctor. Alan probably nods in reply, because he doesn't say anything for a while. The doctor breathes heavily and starts flipping through some pieces of paper - probably a clipboard. "Let's see," he murmurs to himself.

"Doctor?" Alan says, "How do you know that - well, that Gordon can hear what we're saying?"

I can, Alan, I swear! Why don't they know that? What's happening?

"That's a tricky question." The bed sinks slightly by my feet as the doctor perches on the end, "Nobody knows for sure. There have been reports of coma patients waking up, able to recall experiences from during their coma that they wouldn't have known otherwise."

"Reports?"

"Yes. Also experiments have shown that brain patterns of coma patients often respond to what's going on around them. For example, doctors told a comatose woman to imagine speaking another language in her head, and looked at where the activity was going on in her brain. As it was, the brain scans showed the relevant area lit up."

"Wow," Alan says, "D'you think he can understand everything that we're saying?"

"Possibly, I don't know. It's highly unlikely at this level, but you never know." No - you don't, I can't help thinking. "Why don't you ask him later?" I don't know why I can hear things if it's so unlikely - maybe this is all one big dream and I'll wake up in my cabin at WASP the morning of testing the hydrofoil.

The bed shifts again as the doctor stands up and leaves the room. Alan taps his finger on the side of the chair for a moment, and then begins speaking again.

"Virgil's started writing a new tune on the piano. He says it just happened, like he sat down to play and it came out of his fingers. Says it's how he's feeling right now. I like it - I think you will too. It's kinda sad, but - I dunno, hopeful, if you get me."

I'm so glad Alan keeps talking. Some people, like old friends, come in and sit in silence. It's funny, I feel awkward then, even though there's nothing I can do to break the tension. Usually I'd crack a joke, but things are different now.

"Grandma keeps saying how the house is so quiet without you. It's true. I keep expecting to hear your laughter, or one of the others chasing you around the house for some ridiculous prank. I guess you don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone, do you? Believe it or not, I'd give anything for you to open your eyes right now and shout 'April fools!', even though it's not April." I wish I could do that. Oh, how I wish I could do that.

Alan keeps talking until my nurse comes in and says Scott's just arrived, and will be in any minute. Alan says he's got coursework to do, so he leaves now he knows I won't be on my own.

Just before he goes, Alan tells me what's in the carrier bag. It's the swimming trunks I've been wanting for ages, and he says I can't have them unless I wake up and learn to swim again. I appreciate it.

I wonder if they're the green ones or the red ones? He didn't say.

After he's gone, my nurse fusses around the room a bit, chatting away and murmuring to herself. I like her. She's called Lucy, like Mom. She's got a high, cheerful voice, and I imagine her as short and brunette, with rosy cheeks and bright eyes. I bet she looks great in her nurse outfit. She talks to me all the time, like Alan. Sometimes they talk to each other, and try to include me in the conversation.

"It's been rainy all day today," she says, as she fluffs up my pillows, "You're lucky you didn't have to go outside at all."

Lucky?


Scott read me a bit of one of my favorite childhood stories while he was here. Mom used to read it to me every night, patiently going over the same few pages every single time. I don't know how she did it! Hearing it again helps. I don't know if Scott knows that, but it reminds me of things I'm missing, like the sea, pictures of mom, my brothers...

After a while, Lucy comes in and says it's time for Scott to go. If I could move, I would object, and insist I was awake as ever. But his three hours are up. Apparently, I need my 'sleep'.

Pretty soon after Scott's left, I finally drift off. It's like normal sleep, but even more confusing. More like bursts of unconsciousness. I might wake up in the middle of the night wondering when breakfast is, or in the morning, thinking it's the middle of the night. Not being able to see completely messes up your sleeping plan.

Usually I'm out like a log, except tonight. I have a weird dream that I'm diving in a new and exciting cave, one that I haven't seen before. There are the most spectacular coral reefs, made up of blues, greens, purples and yellows - and fish I've never even heard of. I'm probably about 30 feet underwater, because I can still see the light trickling down. I'm not wearing any diving gear. I can breathe underwater. An electric eel swims past, startling me, brushing against my arm. It doesn't electrocute me though. Up ahead, towards the light, a whole school of fish dance about in formation, interrupted occasionally by a slightly larger fish. I'm having a lazy, relaxing time, hanging out with the new species, when I suddenly spot a dark hole that intrigues me. Intrigues me as much as such things can in dreams.

Curious, I approach the hole, which seems to grow in size as I get nearer. Looming open, threatening to swallow me whole like a giant, hungry mouth if I come too close. I can't see anything down there, not even when I shine my torch into the depths. Looking down at my hand, I can see it's my Octopus torch that John got me for my fifth birthday. Funny, that! I haven't seen it in years...

It flashes against my vision and I wake up. Damn! I really wanted to see what was down there! Only to be distracted by a stupid torch, one which I hadn't seen since I was seven or eight. Already the images of the weird fish are fading from my mind. I wanted to ask Virgil to paint them as soon as I could talk.


What time is it, I wonder? Is it morning yet? I listen for any giveaway signs - the faint singing of birds, clattering of cutlery as the restaurant downstairs prepared for breakfast - but there's nothing. The pump of the air machine and the beep of the heart monitor drone on endlessly, merging with the background sounds. The clock ticking suddenly sounds really loud. Mocking me, laughing at me, enjoying the fact I can hear it, yet can't see it. Is it late night or early morning?

I can hear shuffling outside my room, and people speaking in low voices. I strain to hear. That's the advantage of not having sight for so long - your ears become acute and sharper.

"...my shift is over. See you in a couple days!" Female voices.

"Have fun! I'm here until ten." This one is Lucy. Say the time, I urge. What time is it?

"I have a nice cozy bed waiting for me at home. I'm going to sleep until midday, at least. Anyway, Danny's waiting for me outside - gotta run. Bye!"

"See you," Lucy calls, and the quick pattering of feet disappear down the corridor. There's silence for a while, and then Lucy sighs, reminding me that she was still by my door. She sounds exhausted. Is she only staying on for me? After another moment's silence, the door opens slowly and she enters.

"Let's give you a wash, shall we? There's no point, and you're probably asleep right now, but I've got a bit of spare time." Lucy goes over to the sink in the corner and I can hear the tap running. She's wetting a flannel to clean my face. She does it a lot when I haven't got any visitors.

"I heard you gave the doctors a bit of a scare earlier!" Lucy says. I haven't got a clue what she's talking about and try to cast my mind back - but I can't remember anything.

The flannel feels cool and refreshing against my skin. The room gets hot at night, and I can't turn myself over. I don't know why I feel so hot, like a clam in its shell.

"I wonder what it's like, being trapped in a body like this." Lucy says, as she wanders over to my bedside and sits down. "The doctors say you can't hear me, but I don't think they know everything."

"Gordon?" Lucy leans closer, and I can feel her breath on my cheek, making the water evaporate and leaving my skin cold. "Can you hear me?"

After a few moments of painful silence, she gives up. I can hear her, but she doesn't know that. Nevertheless, she keeps talking. "Silly me. Even if you can hear me, you can't respond." She brings the cloth under my chin and down to my neck, humming a light tune. Like Virgil does.

She quickly wipes that area, and yawns. "I'd better go now. I'll just dry you off, and then get to my other patients. Only another couple hours 'til morning."

She stands up and fetches a towel from the sink. These towels are thick and warm, and I'm guessing they're white. Like the ones you get in hotels. She rubs it over my face and neck, and heads for the door.

"I'll be back later!" she says, then leaves. I wonder how many other patients like me she's had to deal with. Still, now I know the time! A couple hours until morning; that would make it around five o'clock. I could try and get some 'sleep.'

Memories

"Sit still."

"I am sitting still."

"No you're not." Virgil looked up from the canvas, holding his paintbrush away from the painting, irritation playing with his brow, "You keep fidgeting."

"How long are you going to be?" Gordon shifted again, trying to get comfortable on the wooden chair. He glanced quickly yet longingly out of the window.

"Not long. I'm nearly done."

"Really?"

"No, but the sooner you sit still, the sooner I will be."

"Fine." Gordon sat stock still, straight-backed and plain-faced. Virgil nodded, satisfied, and turned back to the canvas. He was just over halfway through when Gordon started moving, disrupting his concentration and changing position.

After a few minutes, Virgil paused again. "You've changed your mouth. Can't you smile a bit?" Gordon raised the corners of his mouth slightly and tried to speak without moving his lips.

"This okay?"

Virgil sighed. It was nothing like the bright smile he'd had when he'd first sat down, excited at the prospect of being drawn. He shook his head. "Try to look happy."

"I'm bored."

"Well, try not to show that in your facial expressions."

Gordon heaved a sigh and smiled a bit more. Virgil studied him for a moment and compared it to his half-completed picture. Thankfully, he'd already done the eyes, so he didn't need to worry too much about that. He considered trying to make Gordon laugh, but he wasn't in the mood. It would ruin both their focus.

"That'll do."

Another half an hour passed, with Gordon changing his position three times and Virgil refilling the red on his palette twice. Gordon had been still for nearly ten minutes when he shifted again and sighed.

"Done yet?"

Virgil grinned at his younger brother, seeing the impatience on his face. "Actually, yes. Just after I do this one little bit..."

He finalized the portrait by filling in the bottom right hand corner, and stood back to admire his handiwork. He compared it to Gordon, whose gaze had drifted into the opposite corner where a small spider was making its way up the wall. "There we go."

Gordon snapped out of his trance and looked up at Virgil, his eyes shining again. "Can I see it?"

"Sure." Virgil turned the easel around so Gordon could see the image. For a moment, he stared at it with his mouth slightly open, before his eyes turned to Virgil once more.

"You did that?"

"Yup."

"No you didn't! I'm sure it's a photo..." Gordon stood up to look at the image closely. Sure enough, he could see the rough marks Virgil's brush had imprinted in the picture. Virgil smiled proudly at the effect his picture was having on his younger brother.

"You like it?"

"It's great! No way should you be doing an engineering course. You could get millions if you became an artist."

Virgil made a face and shrugged. "Nah. Being an artist's never really appealed to me. It's great for a thing to do in my spare time, but not as a career."

Gordon smiled and took one last look at the picture. "What're you going to do with it?"

"You can have it, if you like."

"What? No way."

"Take it. My room's full of stuff, and I've got nowhere to put it. I've already given Scott his, and John his..."

"You mean I'm not the first?" Gordon pulled a comical face, "Gee, and I thought I was special."

Virgil laughed and took the painting from the easel, passing it to Gordon. "Be careful, it's still wet."

Gordon gingerly adjusted his grip and headed out the door, turning to smile at Virgil as he went. "Cheers, Virg! It's going on my wall."

Virgil chuckled at patted him lightly on the back. "No problem. It's a pleasure, anyway. Now dump that picture on your bed, so we can go challenge the others to a game of table tennis."

Gordon looked at the picture and sighed happily. What a great family he had. "Will do," he said.


I eventually do drift off, but the dream doesn't come back. It's one of those periods of blankness that confuses me when I wake up.

In actual fact, I am awoken by soft voices talking over my bed. Two very familiar voices, talking to me, to each other. I strain to hear the conversation.

"...Dad's coming in later. Say, what's this?" It's Virgil. He reaches down and picks up the plastic bag Alan left. It rustles as he looks inside. "Whoa, Gordy! Its - "

"Ssh, Virg! He's probably not meant to know. Sorry, Gordo, you'll have to wake up first. What is it?" Scott says to Virgil, and his voice gets a bit louder as he leans over me. "Aw, Gordon! You'll love it!" They're teasing me. Little do they know that I already know what's in the bag. Bless them. I'll tell them when I wake up. Or maybe I should play along for a bit first...

Which reminds me: I still don't know which color they are.

They carry on chatting for a while, but you can tell they're not as at ease as Alan and Lucy are when they're here. I know Scott feels guilty about it. He thinks he should have been there, and then maybe he would have been able to stop it happening. And Virgil - I think it just creeps him out a bit, seeing me like this. I can understand. I think it would scare me, too, seeing him, or any of the others, in the state I am in now.

But I'm glad they're here. I've looked up to them my entire life, and it feels good to have them both right next to me right now, whether they know it or not.

Scott stands up and stretches. "Man, I'm tired as hell. Can't get much sleep at night with you like this, Gordy!"

"Not that it's much better when you're awake, either..." Virgil says, and I can tell he's grinning. I want to laugh and tell them they'd better watch out.

"What time is it?" Scott says, and then answers himself after looking at the clock, "Ten o'clock. I'd better catch some sleep, and I'll probably be back later."

Ten o'clock... why does that ring a bell?

The door opens, but it can't be Scott leaving, because it's too soon after he spoke right next to my bedside. Instead, it's Lucy, coming in.

"I'm - oh, hey, guys!" she says, on seeing Scott and Virgil, "I was just coming to let Gordon know that I'm leaving now. I'll be back in tomorrow." She sounds even more tired than she did yesterday. I don't know how she and all the other night-shift nurses go on like this. They must get home and go straight to bed.

"Sure, OK. I'm leaving too, to get some sleep." Scott replies.

"That's convenient!" Lucy laughs, a light sound that fills the room. She turns to Virgil. "I guess you're staying here for a while?"

"I am."

"That's good. It's great for coma patients to get enough time with family members and close friends as possible. It also helps the visitors themselves, to get some 'alone' time with them."

There's a short silence before Virgil says, "Cool. I'll see you later then, Scott."

"Bye, Virg. Bye Gordon." Scott leaves with Lucy, and Virgil's left on his own. He doesn't know what to say for a while.

"Hey, Gordy - " he begins, and clears his throat, "You really need to wake up, you know? I don't know how we'd all cope if you - if you didn't."

It's strange. Virgil's normally the one I go to when I'm in trouble, and to hear him like this is disconcerting. He's normally so calm and sure of himself, though quiet and serious. I suddenly remember the piano piece Alan had told me about. Would it come up?

"Do you remember all those swim meets you did, all through junior and senior school, and every single time you'd be so excited for days beforehand. You irritated the hell out of us, with every word that came out of your mouth being related to swimming. And then after the event, you'd be talking about it for days still, because you got placed every single time." God, please don't remind me, Virgil. It's hard enough as it is, not being able to swim even once a week.

"It's difficult, Gordy. To start with, Dad just thought it was a phase, didn't he? We all did. But you insisted it wasn't, and you were right. You carried on, and look at where you were before you - before the accident." Virgil pauses. "We hardly ever visit the pool now, you know that? Because every time we do, we look up, expecting to see you splashing about in there with us, or about to perform one of your amazing dives into it. And we're disappointed - because you're not.

"Y'know, if you stay immobile for too long, your joints will seize up and you'll be all stiff! Your body's used to the training. You can't just stop like this!" It's an attempt at humor. Virgil knows, I know - we all know that it's not as simple as that. If only. From the way doctors are talking and people are acting around me, it's like every bone in my body is fractured, broken or shattered.

"Wake up, man." Virgil puts his hand on mine, and I can tell he's run out of things to say. Right now, there's nothing I want more than to wake up, and maybe find that all my injuries are somehow miraculously healed, so I can get straight back into swimming again.

No such luck. No matter how hard I concentrate or put my mind to it, my body just won't respond to my orders. If I can't tell my own eyes to open, how will I ever wake up? It's not as if it's too hard, or too painful - I physically can't get the message to other parts of my body.

It sucks.


The next few days pass in a bit of a blur. People come in and out, chatting, sitting in silence, and I drift in and out of sleep. It's been about three weeks, I think. I wonder what's changed, if any of them have had haircuts? John always looks weird when he has his hair cut. We used to tease him about it, which is probably why he tries to keep it long. John's been here twice in the last few days, and both times he's read to me from one of his space encyclopedias. We argue about which is the best, space or water.

"Here, Gordy - I've got proof. Space is better than the ocean, and I'm going to give it to you while you can't respond." He's such a sadist. He knows; I can nearly hear the grin tickling his ears. "Listen to this." He follows by reading a quote so fast that I can only pick up a few words, including 'space' and 'human race.' Then he shuts the book with a satisfied snap. "There. And don't try and come up with something better."

Dad's here nearly twenty-four seven. He goes out to use the bathroom and catch some lunch. I don't know if he's still there when I'm asleep. But every time I wake up he's here, either sitting in silence, talking to me or one of the others.

Grandma pops in sometimes too, to check on Dad just as much to check on me. Alan's right - he is overdoing it. If I could, I'd tell him to go and sleep for a couple days, have a shave and sort himself out. I don't know how long it's been since he's shaved, but I'm guessing a while.

Grandma's a lot more considerate than John for my feelings! She's not a sadist in the least. If she wanted to, she could bring in her freshly-baked cookies and hold them under my nose, knowing full well I can't eat anything. She's a funny old woman, is Grandma. She's so solid - you wouldn't think it, looking at her - but she's always been a rock in our family. I don't know where Dad, or the rest of us, would be now if it wasn't for her.

After Dad and Grandma, Alan's probably my most frequent visitor. He doesn't have as much to do as Scott, Virg and John, and usually he'd spend his spare time with me anyway, messing about and playing pranks on the others. He's probably bored most of the time. He bounds in, cheerful as ever. I don't know where he gets his energy from!

"Hey Gordy - hey, Dad. How's it going?"

"Morning, Alan." Dad.

"And what a morning it is, Gordon! The sun's shining, the sky's blue. Don't forget about those trunks - you can have them once you're swimming again. By the way, Dad - Virgil says to make sure you're home for dinner, because he wants to show you something, a new picture he did or something."

Alan just doesn't stop. I bet he lights up the room when he comes in. He chats away, about everything - except for the color of the swimming trunks - and anything. I'm glad. Scott talks too, sometimes about the news and sport and what's going on in the world. Apparently there are floods in India at the moment, and the world's biggest aquarium has opened in France. He says he'll take me there when I wake up.

Dad's breaking up. If nothing else, I will hang on to everything just for him. I don't think he could take another family death. I don't want to think about that.

I think it's afternoon. People have been dropping in for quite a few hours now, so it has to be nearing evening. Usually when your eyes are closed, you can tell if it's light or dark, but this is different. Either hospital lighting stays the same all the time, or I've lost the ability to do this due to inactivity in that part of the brain.

Dad's in the chair, but he's not asleep. I can tell by the way he's breathing - it's not slow or irregular. I've always wondered about that chair. It's light enough to lift to different places around the bed, but comfortable enough to sleep in.

It's tense. I think he's staring at me. I want to crack a joke or something, to lighten the mood. I don't know how long he sits there for - a few minutes? Few hours?

Finally he moves. He sighs and puts a hand on my forehead, as if he's feeling for a fever. He's shaking: ever so slightly, but still trembling.

When he speaks, he's using his low, authoritative voice, although there's a slight tremor. I try not to notice it.

"Gordon Cooper Tracy," he says, "What will we ever do if we lose you?"

Doubts

"Psst... Gordon? Are you awake?" Gordon woke with a start to the sound of John's voice calling his name and a light tapping on the door. He sighed and turned over.

"What?"

John's outline was silhouetted against the bright landing lights, and Gordon squinted to make out his form. John held a finger to his lips.

"Come with me, quickly."

"What?" Gordon repeated, and looked at the luminous clock on the wall, "It's half three in the morning."

"I know! We've got to be quick. Come on!" John crept away from the door and Gordon couldn't help but follow. He was intrigued to find out what John wanted. They tip-toed down the hallway and into John's room, where he shut the door behind them. "Come and have a look."

John walked over to the window, which was swung wide open with his Christmas telescope pointing outwards towards the sky. Gordon let out a tiny cry of delight - it wasn't often John let others touch his telescope.

"Wait a sec, I'll just check it's in the right place." John glanced through and nodded to himself, satisfied. He stood back and invited Gordon to the telescope with a flourish. They shared a smile and Gordon approached the eye piece, wondering what John wanted him to see.

Right in the center of the circle was a bright dot, with a hint of red. Gordon frowned. It looked just like any other star.

"What is it?"

"That's Mars." Gordon's eyes widened. He'd been learning about the solar system at school for the last two weeks.

"Really?"

"Yep. Maybe on another day I could show you Venus and perhaps Jupiter. Jupiter's got two moons that you can see."

"Wow!" Gordon turned back to the telescope and stood in awe of the red planet. "Does Mars have any moons?"

"It's got two, but they're too small to see from here. I'll need a better telescope. Jupiter's actually got over sixty-three moons."

"Why've we only got one?" John sat down on his bed and smoothed out the covers. He enjoyed talking to people about space and sharing his interests, and Gordon was a particular favorite for his enthusiasm.

"I don't know. Maybe it's because we're quite a small planet. Jupiter's got lots because it's the biggest."

There was silence for another few minutes as Gordon watched Mars, taking in its simple appearance and watching for any change. Eventually he stood back and smiled at John.

"Thanks for showing me this, John. It's way cool!"

"Really cool," John absent-mindedly corrected his little brother, standing up and taking a look at the planet himself, "Thanks for taking an interest!"

Gordon threw his arms around his brother's waist. "That's okay. I'm tired now; I'm going to go to bed. Night, Johnny!"

"G'night, Gordo," John replied, and Gordon shut the door as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb John. He pattered lightly down the hall back to his own room and snuggled under the blankets. He couldn't wait to see Venus and - hopefully - Jupiter.


I have the dream again. The fish are all back, with their many shades, shapes and sizes. They dance around for a while, sometimes in formation, sometimes in their own little worlds. The different colors seem more intense than last time; they sparkle and flash and wink at me in the light from the sun. The rays come down in straight lines and light up the coral reef.

Suddenly I remember the hole that had been there last time. I turn, and like a shock I see it - sitting there, open and beckoning, unmoving. It seems larger somehow.

Something's different. Last time, the hole was exciting, but there's something that's changed - this time it's scary, intimidating. But I'm still curious.

It's like something's holding me back, giving me second thoughts. How do I know what's there? What if there's a shark lurking in the depths, waiting to eat whatever came its way? What if I got lost - couldn't find my way out?

On the other hand, it's a new hole, and new places can't go unexplored. I can't help myself. I swim closer, with caution this time. I flash my torch around, remembering this time not to look and get distracted. Still nothing. The darkness looms closer, and the colorful fish are soon forgotten as this new and exciting wonder fills my vision.

Again, I hesitate. I'm right on the border between the hole and the reef. On one side of me, there's darkness; nothing, and on the other there's a whole world of bright colors and new fish I might never see again if I get lost.

I'm torn, and my doubts decide for me. I wake up, back to the cold smell and warm temperature of my square hospital room. I spend so long trying to make a decision that I'm awoken by voices again. Scott's, again. He has a thing with waking me up at important points in my dreams.

" - don, for God's sake, snap out of it."

"There - no, it's okay, Scott, he's back with us." Dad says, but his voice is shaking slightly.

"What happened?" I'd like to know that too.

"The brain signals went low again, but they've come back up," says the doctor.

"What do you mean, again?" Dad demands. Does the doctor - Dr Moore - mean I slipped dangerously close to death for a second time? I don't even remember the first. What if it happens a third, and this time I'm not so lucky?

"It happened a few days ago in the middle of the night, but sorted itself the same way it did now."

"What happens if it doesn't sort itself out?" Scott asks. He's moved around to the same side as Dad, probably so they can both face the doctor.

I hear a slight movement as the doctor shrugs. "Maybe we should discuss this elsewhere, Mr Tracy." Dad settles back in the chair.

"That would be nice. Another time though, doctor. I want to spend a bit of time here."

The doctor leaves and Scott and Dad don't say anything for a while. I'm trying to work out what they're doing, thinking or looking at, but they're not making any sound at all. Soon Scott moves back round to the other side of the bed and sits back down.

"Are you sure you're OK?" He's not talking to me but to Dad - he's using that voice. The grown up one, the 'I'm-really-more-mature-than-my-brothers' one. "You look like you haven't slept in years."

"I'm fine, really. A bit tired. Then again, aren't we all?" It is Dad.

"Not as tired as you are. When was the last time you got home for a good meal?" I'm not hungry, but I'd give anything to eat something, to feel the sensation of nutrition going down my throat, rather than through an IV tube.

One of my doctors enters before Dad can reply - Dr Grey. He has a brisk walk, authoritative and business-like. He never shows any emotion.

"Mr Tracy," he says, and approaches the bed, "How's he doing today?" Unlike most people, Dr Grey never talks to me. I don't know why - maybe he's had some past experience that puts him off. Or it's just not in the job description.

"He just scared us with some low brain signals, but he's okay now," Scott says icily, "Isn't it your job to tell us?" Not many people like Dr Grey. I wonder if he's got a wife or children.

He doesn't reply, but busies himself around the room, checking various things. Dad and Scott start talking to me for the first time since I woke up.

"Guess what, Gordo?" Scott says, and hesitates. "Ah... Dad, am I allowed to tell him?"

"Sure, go for it. I don't see why not." Dad definitely sounds tired. He's got this resigned tone to his voice that I didn't notice before. But I want to know what the surprise is...

"Well, we're getting a swimming pool. In the garden, where the old shed is. You can practice whenever you want!"

A swimming pool? That's great! I want to jump up, hug them and scream for joy - anything. The closest one's about three kilometers away from the house, and now I'll have one on my doorstep!

There's silence, and it doesn't match up to the excitement I'm feeling inside. I can tell they're staring at my face, willing me to wake up and shout 'Yes!' The doctors say that sometimes coma patients have woken up with great shocks and surprises. Sometimes even anger.

I hope my situation doesn't resort to that.

The tension is broken by Dr Grey. Until now, I hadn't realized that he's stopped as well, listening to Scott.

"A pool?" He says, moving closer, "Why are you telling him this?"

"You don't understand," Scott says, "Gordon loves the water. He'll be ecstatic."

"No," Dr Grey contradicts, and sighs, "You don't understand. He won't be able to use it. He's got permanent back damage. I doubt he'll be able to walk again, let alone swim."

What!?

He has to be lying. It's the anger thing - it has to be. He's saying something shocking to try and get me to wake up. I'll thank him for it later.

Scott stands up, pushing his chair back in the process.

"Scott..." Dad begins, but trails off. He's probably got that look on his face that says he's angry - very angry.

"Don't 'Scott' me!" He's furious, to talk to Dad like this, "He has absolutely no faith in Gordon, none at all. Gordo's one of the most strong-willed people I know, and if he wants to walk again, he'll walk again! And run, and swim. I don't think you understand that your patients have personalities too. It's not just - 'they'll walk,' 'they won't - ' it's about determination!"

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't talk to me about my job, young man. I find it's better not to let patients get their hopes up; it's too much trouble later on. Now, if you'd - " The doctor's trying to keep cool, calm and professional, but I can tell he's irritated.

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't put my kid brother down like that - especially right in front of him like that! And you told us yourself that you couldn't tell the full extent of the damage until he woke up, so how can you make judgments like that?"

"Scott Tracy - " Dad tries again, but Scott's in full-rant mode. He can't stop until he's got it out of his system.

"...And making an effort to walk again is too much trouble? How the hell did you come up with that one? Do you do your job by putting patients down while they're defenseless, so you won't have to deal with their disappointment when they wake up? Well, let me tell you this - "

"Scott, stop. Now." It's Dad's voice again, this time with authority. It's the voice that makes us all stop mid-sentence and reconsider.

Scott comes to a halt, breathing hard. Counting to ten, I imagine. I've rarely known him to be this stressed, but it makes me proud.

He speaks again, lower and slower. "I'm sorry, sir, but if you're going to say things like that, please say them outside of this room. And if you feel the need to discourage Gordon ever again, you'll have me to deal with."

Dr Grey shuffles out of the room after a mumbled apology. Scott sighs.

"I'm going to grab some fresh air. See you in a bit."

I feel a surge of affection for him, and I'm deeply grateful for what he said. But there's one thing that's still nagging me, and I've only realized it now - Dr Grey wasn't just saying that to try and wake me up.


Dad's talking to me. He doesn't do it very often, but I like it when he does. He has so many more memories, so much more experience than the others. And his voice is comforting, too. It reminds me of when we were younger and we'd wake up in the night after a nightmare, and he'd come rushing in, talking in soothing tones and just being there.

"Do you know what your first word was? I don't know if I ever told you this."

I believe he mentioned it once. Water-related, I think.

"We were taking you to an aquarium to see the fish. Me, you, John and Lucy. Alan wasn't born yet, and Scott and Virgil were - " He pauses, trying to remember, "Yes, that's it. A birthday party. Anyway, we took you along the tanks, showing you the various fish. The look on your face..." He chuckles as he relieves the memory.

"You were awestruck. We'd been trying for weeks to get you to say something. Momma, Dada, anything. You never did. Nothing ever appealed to you. At the aquarium, we got to the end of the row, and there was a tank full of crabs, I think. Yes, most likely. And then - "

Dad tries to continue, but he starts laughing and he can't stop. Usually, his laughter is rare but it's infectious, and I can't help thinking I should be laughing along. I want to hear the end of the story.

"You - your face lit up and you pointed at the tank, at a particularly big crab at the front." Dad stops and tries to compose himself, "And you said - "

He's off again. He can't stop. What did I say?

" - you said - 'crab.'" Oh. Disappointing. Dad's laughing again. He can't contain himself. What's so funny? Sure, 'crab' is a bit of a weird first word, but he's nearly in hysterics.

Oh no - there's more. "Only you couldn't quite pronounce the 'B'. The nearest sound you could make was a 'P,' and you went around the whole day, saying - " Dad can't finish, but I get the idea. My first word was 'crap.'

Charming. Now it all makes sense - why Virgil smirked at John last time I said 'crap.' Funny. Real mature.

"What's this? Gordon's first word?" It's Scott. I didn't realize he'd come back in - he must have done so while Dad was laughing. I didn't hear Dad reply, but he probably nods through his giggles, and Scott laughs too.

"We looked like a right weird family, carrying a baby round that said 'Crap' every five seconds. I don't know where you picked the word up from, though."

"I haven't got a clue where he got it from," Dad says, finally getting a hold of himself, "But I'm sure glad you did. It had us amused for days."

...It was kind of funny, I guess. But I still can't shake off what Dr Grey said earlier.


"Hey, hey, hey!" Lucy's here, her cheerful voice filling the room. "How's it going?"

She starts humming as she wanders over to the sink to wet the cloth. It's not really a tune, just something she's making up on the spot. Virgil does that a lot.

"Your doctor had a bit of a moan with me today. Dr Grey. Didn't say exactly what was bothering him, just something about disrespectful patient relatives. Then again, he's always moaning. I feel sorry for you, having him as a doctor!"

Inside I smile. Good for Scott. Lucy carries on chatting away.

"My boyfriend proposed to me today! I couldn't believe it - it was the best proposal ever. And my ring - oh my gosh, to die for! I'll show it to you when you wake up." No wonder she's in such a good mood. She talks more while she washes my face, about her new fiancť, about her best friend's new shoes. I want to share her joy with her, but I'm just not in the mood.

I tune back into what Lucy's saying.

"Her brother was in a car accident, poor guy. Lost the sight in one eye, which is vital to him because he does archery. He was so good at it!"

At least he can walk, I think to myself. It sounds horrible, but I can't help it.

"He was top-standard, apparently. But it's his aiming eye that was affected, and he's really struggling with judging distances, that sort of thing. I don't know much about archery, but from what Annie's told me, the future doesn't look too good. I don't know what he's going to do." And what am I going to do? At least he can bloody walk.


I don't know how many days have passed since Dr Grey's scrape with Scott. I haven't seen him since - it's been my other doctor, Dr Moore. He's a lot nicer.

I'm not one to drown myself in sorrow, but then again, I've never been in this situation before. It's like all the faint hopes I had have faded, and if I do wake up, I can't be bothered to try and walk again. It would be useless.

People come, people go, but even Alan can't lift my mood. He doesn't know what Dr Grey said; I'm guessing the others haven't told him. It's probably not very significant for them.

What is the whole point in them keeping me alive if I won't be able to walk? Dad knows - they all know - that a life without swimming for me wouldn't be worth living. Drastic, I know. But it's true. Why don't they just turn the bloody life-support machine off?

"Gordon?" Scott enters, slowly and cautiously. Oh God - I didn't mean that. Don't tell me they're going to turn it off!

Scott clears his throat. "He didn't want to tell you himself. He was a bit nervous."

Oh, Jesus, why did I think that? An image of a light bulb being switched off suddenly appears in my head.

"Anyway, I hope you don't mind." Mind? Mind!?

No, Scott, please! I didn't mean to think that! God, Mom - anyone - please don't let them turn it off! I promise I'll learn to walk again!

"...recorded it for you. You want to hear it?"

Hear what? A death song? A sending-me-to-heaven song?

He clears his throat again and moves nearer to the pillow end. Then he puts something heavy on the floor and stands up.

"Well, here it is. Alan's heard it - he says it's good."

He bends down again and presses something. Somehow I don't think it's a plug switch, or an on/off switch - I'm sure if he was going to turn me off he would have come up with some better last words.

There's a click, and then soft piano notes drift up from the floor. Virgil.

It's not a death song! I was so caught in the moment I was thinking irrationally. It's the piece Alan told me about - the one Virgil came up with.

God, talk about paranoid, Gordon! The music's good. One of Virgil's best, I think. It starts off intense, deep, moving chords and low harmonies over the top. It's in a minor key - I mentally thanked my ninth-grade music teacher - and it's passionate. I can just imagine Virgil sitting at the keyboard, playing his heart out. The pain and horror of watching a brother go to his death come out in the occasional clashing chords, and it makes me want to cry.

The music changes. The chords move up, playing higher notes lightly and slowly. Images of a still body flash into my mind, carried away on a stretcher, paramedics rushing around with painfully dubious expressions, time slowing down.

Pictures of a corpse-like figure attached to countless machines and fed through a tube. Me. What had my family been through?

The tone changes again. The melody becomes light and happy, in a sad kind of way. It breaks my heart, and I find myself thinking of my brothers: the good times; the arguments; the fondest memories. Scott, trying to get me up in the mornings in time for school.Virgil, trying to make me keep still while he painted my portrait. John, sneaking outside together in the dead of night to show me a constellation in the sky. And Alan - turning to me for help and guidance when he was struggling at school.

God, I so wish I could see their faces again.

I want so much to be with them, racing each other to the end of the garden, wrestling and dunking each other on occasional pool visits.

How could I ever live without these things?

The music rises still, and there's another surge of hope. Stuff you, Dr Grey. I'll walk - just you watch me. There's a satisfied feeling as the piece continues for a bit, then gradually comes to a close. I'll thank Virgil for that when I wake up.

Scott stands up when it stops.

"Well, there you go! I hadn't heard it before now, but Al's right - it is good. I just dropped in to give it to you. I'll be back in tomorrow. For now - goodnight, little brother!"

He leaves. I wonder if it affected him as much as it did me.

The memories have reminded me that I have a whole life ahead of me. I can't just give up, over something my doctor said. As soon as I wake up, I'll work harder than I've ever done before to walk again.

Waking up would be a good start.

Edging Closer

John hasn't been in much lately, unless I've been asleep when he's called. That would make me feel guilty if he has... pouring his heart out to someone who won't listen! I think I had the accident at the worst time for him. He's so busy with his work.

Scott's been in a lot more instead. Maybe it's his over-protective big-brother thing kicking in, just in case Dr Grey says something again. Dad's been home and had a nice break, and I'm glad. It wasn't a nice feeling, knowing he was putting himself through all that trauma just for me.

The urge for proper food gets more and more intense every day. I find myself dreaming about eating a donut or sitting down at the table just before dinner. Asking for seconds, dessert...

"...The End." The book snaps shut and Scott sighs. To be honest, it's not my favorite read. I can't even remember what it's called. I tuned out towards the middle, when things started to get extra boring. It's not a long book. John read it to me once, but it never appealed to me.

"Listen, Gordo..." Scott leans forward, "About what your doctor said the other day - "

Jeez, here we go. I get it. Don't listen to him.

"Don't listen to him. Get it? He doesn't know what he's talking about."

Yeah, right. That's why he's a doctor. That's why he's fully qualified to take care of patients like me and give accurate diagnosis.

"And I know he's a doctor, he's qualified etcetera." Sometimes I swear Scott can read my mind. I experience one of those moments when he shocks me by replying to my thoughts. "Well guess what? I've known you for longer than he has - way longer. And I know you'll give up at nothing to get yourself on your feet again. Right?"

Right, Scott.

Scott laughs. "I just got this mental image of you rolling your eyes and saying 'Right, Scott,' just like you always do. Ah, man... why don't you wake up and do that for me?"

Scott's always had this weird ability to read us like books. I guess he's the most experienced out of all of us, having four younger brothers. Sometimes it's a good thing.

"But seriously, bro, I have 100 faith that you'll wake up and prove him wrong. He had no right to say that, especially right in front of you. I don't know if you even heard it or not, or registered it, and if not... then I'm glad. I'm not going to repeat it. He made me so angry... I probably would have hit him if Dad hadn't been there. I was probably overreacting. He only said it once. But I'm not used to you like this, Gordy..."

His voice cracks, and I feel my heart break. Hearing someone is upset is one thing; being the cause of the upset and not being able to do anything about it takes it to a whole new level. Scott's like Grandma - he's strong. He rarely cries, or shows weakness. I guess since Mom died, he

feels a kind of parental responsibility. I don't make a show of it, but I have an awful lot of respect for big brother.

He's openly sobbing, his head resting near my stomach. He's shaking, too.

What's wrong with me? Even one of my brothers, crying, won't wake me up. Am I that self- centered? Not even the burning desire to reach out and comfort Scott, for once in my life, will wake me up.

Scott swears a lot in the next sentence, but I won't repeat it. He hardly ever swears, and I can tell he's really distressed.

"...God's sake, Gordo, wake up, will you? You don't know what you're doing to us. Dad can't take another death - I don't think any of us could. Why don't you snap out of it - right now - and wake up?"

Silence.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The heart monitor on my left.

Pump. Pump. Pump.

The air machine that's breathing for me.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The damned clock that won't leave me alone.

But nothing's changed. Not my heart rate, not time - not anything. Scott's crying, and I won't wake up for him. He's been staring at me for the last few seconds, and he lets go and collapses back into his original position, still trembling. He touches my hand, like Virgil did.

"Sorry, man. I didn't mean to shout. It's just..." His voice is all shaky. He doesn't need to finish; I understand. I feel exactly the same way. "It's just we... well, you're one of us, and we couldn't bear to lose you. Hell, I'll even let you get away with as many pranks as you like when you're awake."

Really? That's a new one. I noticed the 'when,' instead of the 'if.' He didn't even hesitate before he said it. Maybe he really does have 100 faith in me.

A great idea for a joke just occurs to me. Shame I can't carry it out, though... I was thinking of opening my eyes and saying 'Really? In that case, I might just reconsider..."

I'm beginning to miss John. I haven't heard from him properly in ages. Dad and the others pass on messages, like 'John says he's sorry he hasn't been in a while. He's really behind on the workload.'

But for days on end?

Maybe it's me being self- centered again. John's allowed to spend some time away, get some fresh air. I should stop thinking about myself all the time - that's what Dad always used to say when I was a kid. He hardly says it any more.

Whether I finally did, or he just gave up, I don't know.

It's funny how many things you notice when you've got so much spare time. Little things. Like the food trolley that passes by the door six times a day, taking various items to and from the cafeteria.

In every twenty-four hours, the clock goes a little bit more out of sync with Dad's watch. In the silence that stretches out while he's here, I can make out the tiny ticks from his wristwatch.

There are two annoying birds near my window. They do this call-and-answer thing every now and again. It's OK, but after a while it really gets on my nerves. I can hear them, even though the window's shut.

"Hey, little buddy!"

It's John!

Speak of the devil! He sounds puffed out, as if he was in a hurry to get here. He hasn't called me 'little buddy' in ages, not since I was ten or so. It's probably because now Alan's grown taller than me, I'm the shortest in the family.

Or maybe he just wanted to remind himself and me of what life was like when I was awake.

John sits down and makes himself at home. I hear him pouring himself a glass of water from the jug that Lucy sometimes leaves.

"First of all: I'm so sorry I haven't been to visit in ages. I've been so busy with everything, and most of my work involves using my telescope. You've got a useless view out of this window, so I couldn't use it here!

"It's four weeks today since your accident."

He pauses and leans closer, "I think that's enough sleep for now, don't you?"

There's silence for a few seconds, but again, nothing happens. John continues as if nothing's happened. "I have another quote for you, just in case you've been thinking up comebacks while

I've been away." He doesn't have a book this time, and he starts quoting from the top of his head. This one's even longer than the last one, and I've never even heard most of the words in my life before. I don't understand a word of what he just said, but then again, who does? At least he's acting normal.

"Scott told me what the doctor said the other day."

Oh God, here we go again.

"I'm not going to go on about it, I'll just say that I completely agree with Scott. Whatever Scott said to you, he's right."

John has a habit of often contradicting our expectations. He never quite goes with the flow, and constantly surprises us with the way he reacts and thinks about different situations.

He's also a man of few words.

I can tell he's tired today. Apparently he's been really busy with workload recently. Coming to see me must be a big break. In fact, I'm grateful that he chose to spend it with me.

The door opens quickly and someone enters. They stop abruptly at the sight before them. "John! Hey, son, it's good to see you." It's Dad. He walks over to the bedside and they share a brief hug before Dad sits at the bottom of the bed, next to my right foot.

"Hey, Dad. Thought I could take some time out to see Gordo here. Has there been any change?"

"No, not really. The doctors say that he's stable, the fractures are recovering - slowly - and right now it's just a case of waiting until his body decides it's ready to wake up."

John sighs. "It sounds crazy, but I was kind of hoping I'd get here to find him awake already."

"It's not crazy. All of us think that whenever we come here. You'll open your eyes in your own time, won't you, Gordon?"

"How're Scott and the others?"

"They're fine. A little tired and underfed, but other than that, they're doing OK. Alan's coping especially well. I'm surprised at him. He's grown up a lot." Now Dad's said that - I realize it's true. Alan's been so mature about the whole thing, and coping incredibly well. I'm suddenly so proud of my younger brother!

"That's good. Virgil and Scott?"

"Fine, fine. Virgil wrote a piece of music and got Scott to play it to Gordon. That's helped him a lot, I think. Scott - well, to begin with..." Dad trails off. I know what he was going to say.

"What?" John presses.

"...to begin with he was a bit...scared, but he's OK now." He was going to say that Scott felt guilty, but stopped because of me. He didn't want me to feel responsible for Scott's guilt.

It's funny how much you learn about human nature when people sit by your bedside and pour their heart out to you.

"Oh." Dad must have sent John a warning look, because John accepts this explanation and the conversation moves on.

"Actually, it's really good you're here, John, because we were all planning on coming in this evening. All of us, including Grandma. You think that'll make you feel more at home, Gordy?"

It probably would, yes. I'd like that, actually. I can't remember the last time we were all together. And it'll be nice for them to get some real company too.


The fish are bigger and brighter than ever. The light's a bit dimmer down here - maybe I'm a bit deeper than I was last time. Even so, the fish are more spectacular here. A group of blue- and green-striped clownfish swim past, and I start laughing.

Water enters my mouth as I open it, but it's not a problem. It's not even salty.

It's amazing. I've seen many incredible coral reefs in my lifetime of scuba-diving and exploring, but none come close to this. The hole's there too, but I don't want to go down there yet. I will do, but first I want to make the most of this.

The water's warm, not even a hint chilly. It's like bathing. Like the first time, I can breathe underwater without apparatus, and it feels great. When I was a kid I wanted to be a fish. I used to design these weird and wonderful creations on the inside covers of my textbooks at school.

There aresharks here, too. Friendly sharks that I hadn't noticed the first time round. They're swimming alongside the smaller fish, showing off their spectacular mouths and their teeth-covered skin.

I lounge around for a while, just watching. I wonder if the fish can see me, or register me. Either way, I'm not making much difference. I'm right in the middle of it; there's no gap around me.

Finally I stretch and notice the hole again. It's bigger than how I remember. Taking a last glance at the fish, I head off towards the inky blackness, not turning around. There's a strange attraction pulling me to it: something that I've only just noticed but has been there throughout.

Again, it looks dark and intimidating, but I push the thoughts away. I don't want to be put off again. It swells in size and seems about to engulf me, when a sudden flash of movement happens and there's someone blocking my path, shaking her head. A mermaid. She looks vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place it. She looks panicked, desperate to tell me something ≠

- and I notice that she's gesturing wildly upwards, as if she wants me to get away from the hole -

I open my mouth, but start to choke. Suddenly I've lost my ability to breathe underwater - what's happening?

There's something stuck in my throat, and I'm beginning to panic. Everything seems to fade and move further away as the thing in my throat swells and takes over my mind. I try to swim upwards towards the surface but I can't move, my legs and arms are locked to my side as if I'm in a straightjacket.

Someone grabs my shoulder and squeezes it, but I still can't see anything but darkness. The hole has filled my vision and I can't see anything - not the mermaid, nor the fish - not even the ocean. I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping it will all just go away...

As if from very far away, there's a voice. I strain to make out the words.

" - it's OK, calm down. Is he on his way?"

The sound seems to grow stronger and louder as I make sense of the words. I open my eyes a crack, and there's a blurry figure above me.

"Hang on in there, OK? Just try to breathe - Dr Grey's on his way."

Dr Grey? Since when has he been in this dream...?

The thought's left hanging as realization hits me. I'm awake! I must be - that blurry figure was Dad, I'm sure of it! The next few moments are an unclear mess of loud voices and blurry vision, for me, as people rush in from every corner of the hospital it seems to sort me out. The thing's moving in my throat, pulling - it must be a breathing tube, or something like that. I hadn't been aware of it before, but when my body started acting independently it made itself known.

There's darkness at the corner of my vision again. I'm suddenly so - tired?

" - back with us - "

" - heart rate's quite fast - "

" - be over in a few minutes - "

" - removing it now - "

" - losing consciousness again - "

The voices begin to fade once more as I slip into the blackness and give in to the overwhelming sense of exhaustion. I've never been so drained in my life.

Awakening

"Get up. You've got school in an hour."

"No."

"Gordon," Scott sighed, sounding frustrated, "I'll have to call Dad."

"I don't want to get up. It's cold. Can't I have five more minutes?" Gordon pushed down further under his quilt, curling up as small as possible.

"No. Remember what happened last time? You ended up being half an hour late for school, and we don't want that to happen again."

"It won't. I promise I'll get up in five."


"Wake up, Gordo." I said five minutes...

Suddenly I remember where I am. I've heard those words often enough in the last few weeks, but this time there's a gentle shoulder-shake to accompany it. I'm confused. Distant memories are flooding in my mind: an indistinct figure of Dad; lots of voices; a strange sensation in my throat. It's gone now, and for the first time in ages I'm getting a rush of cool, fresh air down the back of my mouth. I didn't know what I was missing.

"Come on, man. Open your eyes." This voice is higher. Alan.

I do; just a crack. But the sight of it sends them into loud whoops of joy. Damn; my head hurts. Dad's leaning over me again, and I can see Alan's blond head over his shoulder. Or it could be John... I can't tell - my eyes won't focus properly.

I try to speak, but my throat's dry and sore from misuse.

"He's awake! He's awake!" It's definitely Alan. He moves aside and two more faces are shoved in mine. I think its Scott and John. I open my eyes a bit wider - yep, that's John.

"Hey, little buddy!"

"Don't you ever do that to us again!"

"Whoa, guys... give him some space! He's probably confused as hell right now." Virgil. The whole family's here! John and Scott move back, and Virgil comes into sight. "You overslept - just a little bit!"

Dad laughs, a deep rumbling sound that we don't hear that often. It's infectious, and as the others join in, I can't help but smile, painful as it is.

"How're you feeling, son?" he asks, once he's calmed down. I try to shrug, but I can't. Why not? I thought the only reason I couldn't move was because I was in a coma...

"I can't... I can't move." I manage to croak out, and Dad's face is suddenly serious. My vision is pretty much restored now - almost. He plants a comforting hand on the side of my face.

"Of course you can't. You're in a full-body cast. You won't be able to for quite a while, but don't worry." His eyes flicker with defiance as he says this next bit, "You definitely will be able to." He's probably remembering Dr Grey.

"In the meantime, we can take advantage of you not - " Alan begins, but to my immense surprise, Scott cuts him off.

"There will be no taking advantages. If anyone does try anything, they will get their ass kicked - by me. And I will know about it, because Gordon's going to tell me, aren't you?"

For a moment I can't hide my shock, and he must notice because he laughs. I've suddenly realized he's had a haircut, but he's the only one. John's got the same old mop as he's ever had. Virgil's got a bit of stubble. I'm not sure whether he likes it, or if he just can't be bothered to shave.

"He hasn't asked the questions yet," Virgil says, his eyes glinting.

"What questions?" This time it's John, a flash of confusion passing over his face.

"You know the ones." Virgil puts on a pathetic voice, "Where am I? What happened?"

Alan snickers and adopts a similar tone of voice. "Who am I?"

I frown in confusion. They don't realize that I know exactly what's happened in the last few weeks, and that I've been awake through half of it. Suddenly I feel guilty. How am I supposed to tell them that I know what they've been saying to me, if they weren't intending for me to hear it?

"You crashed the hydrofoil, Gordon." Scott says, watching my face closely for any signs of realization or shock. None come. I try to hide the fact I already know, and try to move the conversation on. They think I don't understand. I'll tell them later.

Alan says they opened the window just a couple minutes before I woke up.

"So? What's the significance behind that?"

"Well, it let the smell of salt water get in, and that was probably enough to wake you from miles away," John interrupts, and I frown at him.

"What?"

"From the sea, dumbass," Alan says. The sea? Just the thought of open water is relishing to dwell in right now.

"No-one ever said I was near the sea. You could have told me earlier!"

"What, you mean like, the first thing we say to you after you wake up? Oh, look, Gordon's awake! By the way, we're right by the sea! Now we'll just go find some doctors to remove you're breathing tube that's preventing you from breathing..." We all laugh. At least Alan's normal.

"Well, yeah..." I trail off as a petite woman enters the room and beams at us all.

"You're awake at last!" My eyes widen as I recognize the voice and realize who it is. Lucy's nearly exactly as I imagined, but blonde instead of brunette. Short, round, a jolly face to match her jolly voice, and she's got an air of joyfulness about her that's as infectious as Dad's laugh.

"Lucy?"

"That's me! Nice to see you awake, at last!"

"I thought you were a brunette."

Scott bursts out laughing. "I think I just detected a hint of disappointment there!" I scowl at him. He knows it's not true. I'm just surprised, that's all! It's weird to imagine someone one way for a month, only to realize that they're the opposite.

Thankfully, Lucy sees the funny side as well. "Aw, Gordon - I'm sorry! Anyway, I'll leave you six to yourselves and go check on my other patients. Give a shout if you need me!" She picks up her bag and bounds out of the room. She reminds me of Alan.

Speaking of which... "Al, what color are the trunks?"

Alan stops short and stares at me, giving me a spectacular view of the inside of his mouth. "Wha - how did you know?"

Damn, I'd given it away. Curse me and my big mouth! I was planning on asking him later. "Uh... figure of speech," I faltered, but Alan's frown just deepens.

"No, really - were you actually awake?"

"What's this?" Virgil steps in, looking between me and Alan. Scott, John and Dad fall silent too.

"Were you?"

"Kind of..."

Alan gazes at me for a few more seconds, and then sits back in his chair. "Whoa - that must have been hell."

I try to shrug, but stop when there's a sharp pain in my shoulders and I remember I can't. I attempt to create the same impression with my eyes, but I'm not sure it has the same effect.

"What color are they? It's been bugging me for ages."

Alan grins. "Sorry, I thought I told you. They're green. You want to see them?"

I shake my head. Suddenly I'm really tired again, and my eyelids begin to droop. Scott shakes my shoulder, and I quickly try to hide the grimace. It's too late - Scott saw. "Crap, sorry. Are you okay? I didn't mean - "

"I'm fine." I open my eyes again, and he's staring at me in concern. Then his face relaxes into a smile.

"You're not tired already, are you? You've been asleep for nearly a month!"

"Waking up from a coma takes a lot of energy, you know. He's done well to last even this long!" Virgil grins and ruffles my hair.

"Well, Gordon's always had an endless supply - "

"Jefferson Tracy!" Scott's interrupted by a voice from the door. We all turn to the source of the voice, to see a short woman with her hands on her hips, a scowl on her usually friendly face.

"M - mother," Dad stutters. I try to disguise my grin. It's not often Dad's lost for words!

"Why have I not been notified that my grandson is awake? You know full well I should have been alerted straight away - "

"I'm sorry, mother, it completely escaped my mind!" Alan can't help but giggle. Scott glowers at him for Dad.

"Well, it's not good enough. How long's he been awake?"

"A couple hours..."

"A couple hours!? Surely a couple minutes is enough time to pick up your phone and dial my number? I'm ashamed, Jeff - I really am!" She hasn't even looked at me yet, I don't think. But now she turns to me, her harsh expression quickly swapped for a joyful one of delight.

"Gordon, dear!" I admire the way Grandma can change in the space of a few milliseconds. "It's so good to see you looking so healthy." She comes over to the bed, dropping her bag in Dad's lap on the way, and plants a kiss on my forehead. Normally it would have made me squirm, but things are different now.


It's a week since I woke up, and things are getting back to 'normal' around here. When someone helps me lift my head I can see the sea out the window. Occasionally I'll see a boat sailing past on the horizon, and that gives me more determination to prove Dr Grey wrong.

Dr Grey hasn't given up with the negative attitude. Then again, Scott hasn't given up the positive one. I'm so grateful for that. Everything Grey says, Scott contradicts behind his back. He'll never give up on me, and knowing that is enough to keep me going any day.

Lucy reminds me of Alan, in a way. She's bouncy, blonde and doesn't stop talking. She showed me her engagement ring earlier, and the excitement was clear in her sparkling eyes. I don't think I could've asked for a better nurse.

I've heard a lot about the technical side of things that people discussed only outside of my room or while I was still unconscious. Thankfully no-one else was injured in the crash - I capsized the hydrofoil at least a hundred meters from the shoreline, and the debris was carried away further out to sea by the wind.

I've been given a run-through of my injuries, but there's so many I keep forgetting. I'm also on a lot of painkillers and in a full body-cast, so I can't really feel what's working and what's not. Apparently I did something to my spine, on top of all the broken bones, so even after they're healed it'll be a while before I'm moving again.

Dr Grey has other opinions, however, which I prefer not to think about.

When my arms and legs have nearly healed, I'll be out of the body-cast and able to start physiotherapy. Dad's paid for one of the best to come in.

During the crash I took a knock to the head which explains the original reason for my being unconscious. Then I slipped into a coma on the way to hospital - in a helicopter, I learned from my brothers - and remained in one for just over a month.

When I got to the hospital, I was suffering from a lot of internal bleeding and was in surgery for a long time. No-one tells me exactly how long, because - understandably - they can't remember because they weren't counting the hours, but from their expressions I can tell it was a pretty harrowing ordeal for them.

I'm thinking it'll be a long time before I'm out of here.

On the other hand, I can't believe how lucky I am. The wreckage has been investigated and re-investigated by experts, who decided that my life had been saved by the large piece of debris that knocked me out, because it protected me from the smaller, sharper debris that flew about like knives.

The wind was all over the place that day. And, as Grandma insists, only God could have made sure it was blowing the opposite direction from the shoreline at that minute.

For now, though, the whole family's here again. Virgil's by the window, finishing off a picture, John's talking with Dad and Alan's watching Virgil draw. Scott's next to me, talking to me.

Grandma arrived a few minutes ago. She's a funny old woman, our Grandma. She's spent the last month crying to herself, pleading with me to wake up, and now she's acting as if she knew it would happen along.

"I told you he'd wake up, didn't I, Jeff?"

She's sitting next to Dad on my other side, one hand in Dad's and the other on my forehead. I learnt so much about them all while I was in my coma.

I haven't felt this much at home in what seems like such a long time. It's not often we're all together. Throughout my coma they came in their small groups and on their own, but never all at the same time. Maybe that's why I woke up when they did. Maybe it was the smell of the sea when Alan opened the window.

Or maybe my body had just healed enough and was ready for me to wake.

I don't know - I don't think I'll ever know. It's not a bad thing.

Virgil's being his own serious self, painting and playing the piano a lot - so I've heard - at home. Every time he looks at me there's this unspoken happiness in his eyes that he always got when I used to win my swim meets and Alan got his A's and A stars in his reports.

John quietly sits there. He's got an air about him - he just trusts that everything will turn out okay. Alan's keeping us all upbeat with his endless talking and bottomless energy. It makes me wonder where he gets it all from. I hope he's looking out for himself!

It's moments like these that I treasure my entire life. I'll get Virgil to draw it later. This reminds me of those fish...and wasn't there a mermaid, too?

I'm sure that was important, but the image is fading quickly from my mind, and when I try and remember all I can see is a shadow of a face, flowing blonde hair and a hand, waving me away from the hole and pointing upwards. Guiding me upwards.

I can hardly remember them at all now. It doesn't really matter. There's a whole ocean out there for me to explore anyway, as soon as I'm able to. There's a whole world out there.

I just can't wait.


Huge thanks to all my reviewers along the way, and quiller for being beta :)

I hope you all enjoyed it - please review!

Spinky :D

 
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