When Ramsden became aware again, his hearing filled with the white noise of voices speaking in the distance. The next sensation was that he was comfortable. He lay on what felt like a bed and the temperature was pleasant. He tried to move his arms and legs and exhaustion washed over him, threatening to pull him back into unconsciousness. Foregoing movement for the time being, he decided to try opening his eyes.
At first the brightness made him close his eyes and blink several times before the vision of a white ceiling with halogen lights came into view. Turning his head to the right he saw he was in a small room with medical equipment. Turning his head to the left revealed more equipment and J.J. slouched in a chair asleep, drool running down one corner of his mouth and collecting in a wet spot on his shoulder.
“Hey,” Ramsden croaked and felt the scratchiness of a dry throat. J.J. came slowly awake and then more quickly awake when he saw Ramsden looking at him.
“Well about time,” J.J. said. “Welcome back to the land of the living.” J.J. gave a half-smile as if he made a bad joke and realized what he had just said.
“Ah, yeah, sure.” J.J. poured some water from a pitcher into cup sitting on the nightstand. He helped Ramsden sit up, then slowly offered the cup to Ramsden’s lips. The water felt cool and enlivening. It was the best thing he had ever tasted or remember having tasted. I wonder if this is what someone stranded in the desert feels like after suffering dehydration, he thought to himself.
After J.J. put the cup back on the nightstand, Ramsden tested pushing himself up higher in the bed and succeeded without passing out. The exhaustion seemed to have lessened.
“How are you feeling?”
Ramsden gave a small shrug and equally small grin, “How do they say it, ‘Rolled hard and put away wet’.” J.J. nodded in understanding. “Then times that by ten.” J.J. chuckled.
“You should see yourself. Something’s changed.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t ever remember you having any grey hair or crows feet around your eyes.”
“I don’t,” Ramsden said defensively.
“Well you do now.” Ramsden reached a tentative hand up to his face and felt around his eyes. Something was different.
“What happened?” Ramsden asked with a lingering discomfort in his throat.
A pained looked crossed J.J.’s features and he hesitated. “You know me. Give it to me straight,” Ramsden said.
“Let me think. . .I probably should start back in the cave when I heard the shouting,” J.J. said as he began to pace around the room.
“I knew I couldn’t leave you to get something done without getting into some kind of trouble,” he said with a weak laugh. “But when I went up top, I found it raining again. You know how visibility is in a downpour like that. Apparently Paco, our guide, was yelling because Marion clenched her hand then fell over convulsing. He was so scared that we’d blame him, he didn’t know what to do.”
“Blame him for what?”
“Nobody blames him or you. . .”
“Me? What are you talking about?”
“It seems Marion leaned against a tree when the rain started. She didn’t see the Bothrops snake between the roots of the tree also taking refuge from the rain.” J.J. stopped pacing and put his hands on the edge of bed looking down at the floor. Tears fell to the floor. Jude and Silvia chose that moment to peek in the door. When they saw what was happening, Silvia came right over and put her arm around J.J. She led him out of the room.
As the door closed silently on it’s hinges, Jude shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot. He finally said, “How are you feeling?”
“What’s going on Jude? What happened to Marion?” I need to get out of this bed. I need to find out what happened to Marion, to the portal, to how I got here.
“Hey. Hey. Back down big boy. You still need lots of rest. Doctors say they have no idea what happened to you and how your body seemed. . .drained. . .of signs of life. It was a faint heartbeat that grew stronger through the days that gave us hope.” Ramsden let Jude place a pillow under him to prop him up better.
“Marion is dead, Ram. Snake bite and an allergic reaction. Even with our pack of anti-venom it was too late the second it happened. J.J. tried to resuscitate her and wouldn’t let any of us pull him off her when it was obvious he was doing more damage than good. We found you several feet away in a comatose state as if you were dead. So we used the sat phone and called for an airlift out of there.” Jude took a seat in the chair vacated by J.J. Ramsden could see the man looked tired as if he too had been awake for hours. His long, gangly legs made him look awkward as he tried to get comfortable in the chair.
“What about the portal?” Jude stared at the ground as if lost in thought. Ramsden was about to ask again, when the other began to speak again.
“The water gushed from the cave for exactly fifty-nine minutes, then stopped. The water emptied from the tunnel and chamber. Before you ask, yes, we had to wait for the rescue chopper anyhow, so I went back down with the camera. The cave may be a perfect circle, but it’s also at an angle throughout, as if they knew they’d have to drain water out. Or that is what the big stone door is for…they close it in case of emergencies like the one we had. Either way, the portal was gone. No trace.” Sitting up and leaning closer to the bed.
“Ram. I was able to review the video footage in the five days you’ve been in here.”
“Five days?!” Ramsden said incredulously.
“Tell me about it. Regardless, it looks like the portal took on a mind of its own and kept growing even when you stopped your chanting.” Ramsden nodded as confirmation.
“Ram. When you started the process to open the portal, did you know how to close it?” Ramsden froze. His mind reeled. Did he? Had he been spontaneous and reckless like he normally is? Did he not know how to close the portal? Wasn’t that the first part of the formula he had figured out?
“I’m not sure, let me think a second.” He let the formulas float before his mind’s eye. He saw what he did to open the portal, but it had gone wrong. What was wrong with the opening? No. Stop! Focus!!
“Yes, I think I may know how to close it.”
“J.J. looks up to you. You’re his adopted brother. By Marion was his adopted mother. He’d never ask, but why didn’t you close the portal when he called for help?”
* * *
Silvia kept her arm around J.J. She wasn’t the motherly type, not like Marion who had been everyone’s mother in some fashion. She was in charge of Logistics and Research, which often translated into she made sure they all got fed, had a place to sleep and kept he bills paid. Silvia felt an emptiness as if she had left a tire behind and was trying to ride a bicycle with only one wheel. Like the bike, something was imbalanced now with Marion gone.
“Why is she gone Silvia?” J.J. croaked through his tears.It was strange for Silvia to be sitting here comforting the physically strongest person on their team.
“I don’t know, she just is. And we’ll all miss her lots,” Silvia didn’t know what to say. Does she try and tell it to him straight and to grow up and take it like a man? Did she believe that was the right reaction or the he had it in him to do such a thing? I mean it was as close to his literal mother without being his biological mother.