Page 65 of Tripping on a Halo

She counted the third one out. “Three. Dayton, Ohio. 1986. A couple was having sex in a car. He died mid-thrust, and she was stuck underneath him. Died of hypothermia and dehydra…” She paused, her brow furrowing.

He waited for her to continue. She didn’t, and he guessed at the word. “Dehydration?”

“No, I’m fine.” She lifted the bottle of beer as proof. “What were we talking about?”

“That’s it.” He swiped the beer from her fingers. “No more alcohol for you.” Pouring out the bottle in the sink, he reminded her of the task.

“Oh. Right.” She started to launch into a fourth and he tossed her bottle in the trash and held up his hands in surrender.

“You know what? I give up and stand corrected. I will never question your Guardian Angel knowledge again.”

“Thank you.” She stood up and did a little bow, her right leg buckling, and she swayed before sitting back down. “God, I’m drunk.” She lifted a hand to her head. “I think the alcohol is making my headache worse.”

He came to her chair and bent over to get a kiss. That was another great thing about drunk Autumn. She seemed to relax her stiff stance against affection, a position he would eventually decimate altogether.

She gazed up at him, her lips parting, back stiffening, and her arms folded, limp-wristed, into her chest. He froze at the sight, his chest tightening, and examined her more closely. In his chest, threads of panic began to pulse. What the…

“Autumn?” he said quietly, trying to keep his voice calm while his heart galloped against his chest. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”

She looked at him, confused. Leaning forward, she tried to push at his chest and then, without warning, vomited all over the floor.

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He drove, his hand on her chest, keeping her upright, and dialed 9-1-1. The truck bumped hard, and she mumbled out a curse, her body curving around his hand. The operator answered, and he explained their situation, cursing the camp’s lack of physical address.

“We’re off Chat Franklin Road. If you can have an ambulance at the gas station by the boat ramp, I can be there in ten minutes. Maybe sooner.”

“You shouldn’t be driving,” Autumn said quietly. “You’ve been drinking.”

Yeah, well. The ambulance wouldn’t be able to get down the camp’s roads. He gripped the wheel tightly, answering the emergency operator’s questions and trying to keep the F250 on the muddy path. What the fuck had he been thinking, bringing her out here? Why couldn’t he have been a normal man and taken her on a romantic getaway to a beach resort, with a hospital and modern conveniences readily available?

“I really think you’re over…” Her voice dropped off and he looked over to see her head loll forward, heavy on its axis.

He cursed, jerking the truck into park and trying to lift her head. “She’s unconscious,” he told the operator grimly.

“Is her posture still decorticated?”

Decorticate posture had been a term taught to him in his EMT classes—the posturing characterized by a stiff frame, arms bent in toward the body, the wrist and fingers held on the chest. Autumn’s exhibition of the signs had been his first indication that something was seriously wrong. When his gaze had darted from that to her eyes, one of her pupils dilated, he had started to piece together the other symptoms. The confusion. Incoordination. Headache. It hadn’t been the alcohol. Something was seriously wrong with her—and her symptoms were getting worse.

He checked her. “Yes. Her legs are stiff also, they’re sticking straight out.” He racked his memory, trying to remember what decorticate posture had meant. It wasn’t a stroke, but it had been serious. Something with the brain.

“I’ve got an ambulance on its way, but it’s important that you get there as soon as safely possible.”

The woman didn’t need to repeat herself. He slid back over into the driver’s seat and jerked the truck into drive, flooring the gas and praying, desperately, that he wouldn’t be too late.

The ambulance was waiting at the closed gas station, lights flashing, the back doors open, paramedics ready. When he came to a stop, they were already pulling open the passenger door and rolling up the gurney. He launched out of the truck and to their side, barking out symptoms and timeframes, giving them everything he knew about her.

“Contact her next of kin,” the closest EMT said. “We’ll need medical history and to know if there are any health surrogates or advance directives in place.”

Advance directives. The words stopped him in his place, the thought of life-prolonging procedures, or Autumn’s incapacity… he raked his fingers through his hair, wanting to rip out every strand by its roots. He ran beside the gurney, grabbing her hand, but it was limp, her features slack, void of life.

“Where are you taking her?” He choked out.

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