Thomm Quackenbush, author

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05.31.07 10:25 a.m.

The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.  

-G.K. Chesterton

 




Hie Hie Orien Rose

As I stand in the common area at my school and watch teenagers indulge in adolescent drama, a very adult drama in the form of a pretty blonde woman descends the hill toward me. My stomach drops, as Emily doesn't come near the students unless there is food or entertainment in it for her. Her face is resolute and its look, distant.

"What's wrong?" I ask before she reaches me.

"Orien Rose was in an accident. She's in a hospital and Rhode Island. I need to leave immediately. Can you give me money?"

I hand over the contents of my wallet and wish her well with a kiss. I feel this trauma should absolve me of any and all responsibilities to the school for the next forty-eight hours, but the school does not agree. I cannot begin to care about the petty squabbles of these privileged children when the life of another is at stake and feel in a haze until I start getting reports as to Orien Rose's condition.

The details come slowly and I check the phone every few minutes, interspersed with telling the boys in my dorm to just quietly watch TV and not bother me. One message tells me that Orien is in critical condition. The accident was from boating. She took a boat propeller to the head, damaging her face and brain. She has always been such a spunky, willful girl and I can't help immediately worrying what this could do to her.

Emily was nearly a third parent to Orien Rose and is hanging together only by the threads of purpose. If Emily doesn't remain apparently solid, who will?

I feel this guilt because I am a member of a pattern recognizing species. I recall musing to Emily earlier what would happen if our imaginary daughter Shanti were as learning disabled as some of the kids at my school. I remember mentally playing out a scenario wherein I rekindle my friendship with Orien and Christine over Orien Rose's sickness or injury. I think about the fact that I stumbled upon and reread with great interest the story of Phineas Gage. None of these mean anything, but my pareidolia refuses to ease my guilt.

Worse, there is this small part of me that wishes I were there, but mostly to be with Emily. Her exodus from this hemisphere is days away and I want to spend every free second of it in her arms, even if those arms are also thrown around others who are suffering in ways I cannot imagine. My last message from her came at nine o'clock, telling me that Orien Rose was out of surgery and doing as well as can be expected in the circumstances.

Their clan gathered quickly and did rituals to help Orien Rose, since they were too far away to drive and offer sympathy and support in person that night. I can conceptualize easing a head cold with an invocation to fire, but I don't know the magick that can undo the damage of a propeller blade.


Emily comes home spent and fragile, having not slept in over a day and after having acted as the liaison between the nurses and her friends. She has been giddy, terrified, parental, terrifying, authoritarian, utterly punch drunk. She has been a nurse, a priestess, a friend, a sister, a mother, and backup for Orien on a ditty containing the verse "She tastes like honey from her head to her toes, singing hie hie Orien Rose."

Orien Rose is both better and worse than I can imagine. The blade of the propeller hit her twice. Once just above her mouth on the left side, cutting past - and through - her ear. Despite this cruel cut, all that was damaged (destroyed utterly) of her ear was her outer ear; she will keep binaural hearing as far as the doctors know. The other cut was the devastating one, slicing from above her eyes and through her brain. When Emily related this to me, she voiced what I was thinking, "basically, a lobotomy." The doctors say that they believe this occurred in a quiet area and there may not be extensive damage. The doctors amend that there may be some personality changes which have yet to make themselves apparent. Emily and Orien said, with gallows humor, that this may not be terrible. Owing to the fact that this happened in dirty salt water, the chance of infection was great. The doctors had to excise more of her brain and skull to try to stop it, essentially worsening the damage in hopes of forestalling death through disease.

Orien Rose is fighting it every step, pulling the tube from her throat and causing herself to vomit. The nurses have to keep sedating her to keep her from hurting herself. While she can breathe on her own at present, she is hooked up to a machine that will fill in for her lungs should she decide to take a break from respiration. She has her spunk and I hope that is enough to keep her fighting for her life. It is a kinder world with an Orien Rose in it.

Emily is astounded at the coincidences that prevented Orien Rose's death. Abby, her ten-year-old aunt and rescuer, was not even supposed to be on this trip but decided to come at the last minute. Emily said that is it like my book, that Orien Rose was supposed to have died and somehow bucked her fate. Further, Orien Rose and her father Orien always take the motorboat out alone, she sitting on the front of the boat. This time, Abby decided that she wished to come on the boat as well. Then, simply as a leisure activity, Orien decided to teach Abby how to start the boat from a dead stall and how to drive it. Had Abby not been there and had Orien not taught her how to start and drive the boat, when Orien Rose fell off the boat and under the propellers and Orien dove in to save her, there would have been no one to drive the boat to go back and pick them up. This Abby did, though the boat stalled four times. She then had to pull Orien Rose back into the boat on her own, grabbing Orien Rose from the back thus meaning that she did so while staring at Orien Rose's bloodied and exposed brain. Abby then wailed as Orien drove them back to shore.

It is a blessing that, after her breakdown, Abby was struck with amnesia for long enough to function.

All of this panics Emily. Tomorrow is the anniversary of her father's death and she worries more than anything that something hideous will happen to me while she is in India and she will be unable to do anything. It is her greatest and most consuming fear and one I can do little to assuage. I drive carefully, I avoid things to which I am allergic, I neither drink nor drug myself, and I am disinclined to ride on the fronts of boats but there is little one can do if the Fates decide to attempt some Rube Goldberg-like demise.

Little one can do but, as Orien Rose proves, not nothing.


Orien Rose gets much better than the doctors expect she could. They are truly baffled. When Emily tells me this, I wiggle my fingers and mouth the word "magick!" She, slightly more seriously, agrees that her recovery is in no small way because she had the backing of several covenfuls of witches.

She has the strength and wherewithal, despite very literally being sedated with heroin, to eat a popsicle. Yet even squinting has yet to occur to her. She speaks enough to communicate her thoughts and wishes, but is yet to be conversational. Still, she was happily talking about going to Free Spirit Gathering this year while she was on her way to the hospital, echoes of Phineas Gage.

She will not have a metal plate in her head when all of this is over. It seems that, aside from a pair of thin, long scars and some reconstructive work to give her a new ear, she will be externally whole. The doctors are removing a section of her skull, slicing it in half as one would do with an orange peel from the fruit, and overlapping it to create a thinner but solid skull. Her skull will heal and grow stronger as she ages, though she will have a helmet until then that will absolutely have to be glued the her head to keep her from tearing it off.

Her father Orien believes that all of this is part of his daughter's shamanistic quest. Emily wondered if this isn't too young, but Orien says this is right on track. Some part of me wonders if this isn't part of a justification, of making lemonade from traumatic head injuries as it were, but I know Orien better than that. If he says it could be part of her quest as a future shaman, I am willing to accept that.

A flock of reporters waits outside of her hospital door in hope of getting pictures or quotes from Orien Rose. Orien and Christine have been keeping the reporters at bay, deflecting them as best they can to speak of the heroism of Orien and Abby instead of the tragedy that befell Orien Rose. The hospital has given Orien Rose a protected designation, the sort of status given to celebrities. She may be only a human interest story to these vultures of the media, but they need blood and gore to drive it home. She has gone through far too much this week without being splashed on the front cover of a dozen newspapers. All she needs to know are how many people love her and work constantly for her health and happiness.

Soon in Xenology: Departure.

last watched: Dead Like Me
reading: Shadow of the Giant
listening: My Better Self

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Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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