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"How long has this been going on?"
Jen turned toward her brother in the Jeep's passenger seat.
"I want an answer, all right?" Matt continued, sounding considerably older than his fifteen years.
Jen swung back to the road and glimpsed the red light above her. She hit the brakes and heard the grinding screech in the last instant before the eighteen-wheeler barreled through the intersection and struck the Jeep Cherokee broadside. It spun across the road like a top, twisting and turning until the passenger side wrapped around a telephone pole in a shower of glass and steel.
Jen didn't remember much after that. There was the blistering bang of the air bag inflating, followed by the taste of blood in her mouth and the odd feeling that her teeth seemed to have shifted. Her vision was blurred and her head ached horribly. It hurt to breathe and something heavy was pressing against her chest. She managed to look down and saw that the heavy object was the steering wheel wrapped in the billowy shape of the deflated air bag.
I'm trapped ... .
Regaining awareness was like being reluctantly stirred from a deep sleep. She fought it every step of the way, preferring the dark to the reality around her.
A soft moan drew her gaze to the passenger seat. For an instantshe saw no one and was disoriented enough to believe she had been alone in the car. Then she glimpsed her brother Matt slumped against the seat back, shrouded from the face down by the floppy remnants of the air bag on the passenger side.
There were people at the smashed-in window on the driver's side by then, urging her to stay calm, not to move. But Jen tried to shimmy herself free and stopped when a surge of agony like hot lightning cut into her pelvis. She shrieked in pain and a man by the window smashed the remaining glass aside and plunged his hand through to press against her shoulder.
"Let go of me!"
"Don't move. Please. You shouldn't move."
"My brother! Help my brother!"
Jen thrashed to free herself, groping futilely toward Matt, coming up short. More hands jabbed through the window to hold her down. Jen fought them and her pelvis exploded in pain again.
The sound of sirens came next, picking up cadence as they drew closer. Jen closed her eyes, and when she opened them the firemen were surrounding the Jeep. The hands upon her now were those of paramedics. One of them spoke comfortingly to her before trying to cover her face with something heavy. Jen flailed and stripped it free. A fireman angled a Jaws of Life apparatus that looked like a huge pair of mechanical pliers to Matt's side of the Jeep. Once again the hands joined in against her. Jen's face and body were covered again and the rest of her held firmly in place.
The sound followed while she continued to struggle, a sound like an engine idling followed by a quick rev and a pop! as the Jaws of Life separated the passenger door from the Jeep's frame. The hands restraining her let up enough for Jen to shake free of her hood in time to see a flurry of handseasing Matt out from beneath what had been the dashboard. A brief surge of relief filled her until she saw the blood. It was everywhere, the seat soaked and darkened by it. As the paramedics held Matt still and attached a collar to his neck, more of it flooded from him in huge rivulets to the Jeep's floor.
"Hold her still!" one of the paramedics ordered, continuing his examination of Matt, stopping when he came to one of the boy's legs. Jen could see him hesitate then. Her eyes flashed downward and caught a glimpse of her brother's shredded jeans matted with blood.
"I need a leg splint here!" the lead paramedic ordered, and another scrambled to get it.
A wave of nausea struck Jen and then her view was blocked by the paramedic who had come back with the leg splint.
The man's eyes gaped as he helped steady Matt's leg. "God, he's lost a lot of blood ... ."
"Keep your damn voice down!"
"We can't move him like this."
"The hell we can't!"
The chief paramedic worked furiously, barking orders as he immobilized Matt's leg. Whatever he was doing was out of Jen's line of vision, adding to her sense of helplessness.
What's going on? Jen wanted to ask. What's happening?
But the words choked up in her throat. She could barely swallow.
"This one's stable!" a voice near her roared, and only then did Jen realize other paramedics had been working on her as well.
"Matt!" she managed to scream finally, and the men looked at each other from across the twisted remnants of the front seat.
"Okay," said the paramedic working on Matt, "we're going to move him."
"Christ," from another, shaking his head.
More hands pushed their way in toward Matt.
"On my mark. One, two, three!"
The hands worked in unison and Matt glided gently outward, a trail of blood left dripping in his wake as the paramedics eased him toward the sunlight. Jen gagged and felt bile spill up into her throat. She swallowed it down and managed to shift enough to see four of the hands holding Matt's splinted leg like it was precious china. The acrid, coppery stench of blood filled the cab, as the hands lowered him to the pavement out of her sight line.
"Vitals strong!" a voice blared from over her.
"Blood pressure 170 over 110!"
"Strong breath sounds!"
"Let's get the Jaws over here!"
This last command uttered while an oxygen mask was lowered toward Matt.
"What are they doing? What's going on?"
"Try to relax," a voice soothed.
"I want to see my brother!"
She watched the paramedics working over him with frantic precision, readying IV pouches and lowering needles into that nether region below the Jeep's passenger-side running board. She could see their upper bodies and uniforms splattered with Matt's blood, latex gloves dripping with red too.
One of the paramedics shielded Jen's face with his coat. Then the low groan of the idling hydraulic pump for the Jaws of Life turned to a soft rumble as the machine separated steel. She heard her door bang to the pavement and then felt hands probing about her belly and hips.
"Okay," a voice said in her ear, trying to sound soothing, "we need to fit this collar on you."
The paramedic lifted the coat from her face and Jen turned her eyes back toward Matt. "I'm all right."
"I need you to turn to the front."
"I want to watch my brother."
"Your brother's doing well. He's stable. We need to get you out now."
Jen might have continued her protest if the paramedics on the other side of the Jeep hadn't hoisted Matt's spinal board gently upward and moved it toward a waiting ambulance.
The next moment Jen felt the collar being clamped into place around her neck, keeping her head fixed so she couldn't turn it.
"Okay, let's get her out."
She fixed her gaze downward, afraid of the sight that awaited her as the paramedics eased her legs out from under the dashboard.
Copyright © 1998 by Jon Land