Chapter 3: Chutes and Ladders
For the first time in his life, there were a lot of things House didn’t think about.
He knew they were rolling, but he didn’t think about how many flips they did. He knew they must have been pulling about 5 Gs, but didn’t think about relaxing before the blood drained from his head. He knew there were other people in the car, but he didn’t think about helping them. He didn’t think about dying, he just assumed he would.
For some reason, he’d always thought that stuff like this happened in slow motion. Maybe it was from watching too many action movies, or those crash test videos where you can see the evolution of whiplash in frame-by-frame clarity. Or maybe it was from hearing too many recounts of ethereal plane crashes where the experience was all peace and little fear.
But their crash wasn’t slow; it didn’t seem dramatic or poignant in any way. And if it was, he probably wouldn’t remember it being so. Because House remembered before the crash, and he remembered afterwards, but the time in between was simply the seconds that got lost in chaos.
It took some work to piece together what happened, like solving a particularly tricky math problem with only half an equation. After he thought about it, he wasn’t much farther than before, but it was a start.
He remembered the glass breaking on his side. Weird, because he was sitting on the left and they were rolling to the right. That’s when he remembered that the glass broke before the car tipped, he couldn’t remember how, though. He remembered the glass peppering the side of his head, like little pine needles that tickled more than they hurt. He remembered leaning to the right too far, and reaching through the window to keep himself in his seat. He remembered the traces of glass there slicing his palm, and how the blood on his fingers felt warm against the freezing air outside. It hurt, and he lost his grip, and he slid into Wilson. He remembered Wilson putting his hand out to stop him, useless of course, as he zoomed shoulder-first into his best friend. He remembered hearing a couple of loud pops. That hurt, too. He remembered being jealous of the air bags in the front seat. No, now he was jealous. Then, he wasn’t thinking about the front seat. He remembered something cylindrical and black whacking him in the neck, landing with a thud on the top of his thigh. His right thigh. That hurt too, a lot. He heard somebody yell. Wait, was that him? He remembered the black thing going airborne again the next time they went upside down. He realized it was his cane. It came to rest on the dashboard some time after pelting the driver in the back of the head. He knew somehow that it had killed her, that someone had just literally died as a result of his cane. He tried to remember the driver’s name, but could only see her face, her occupation, the people around her.
He opened his eyes. It was bright, which wasn’t abnormal, seeing as it was still daytime. He was looking at Wilson.
Technically, Wilson was looking at him, and obviously had been for a while. Upon House waking up, he took a breath as if he’d spent the majority of the last five minutes under water. The aftermath of which was an exhale that blew a lung-full of hot air on House’s face.
Thankfully, Wilson was a believer in the Tic-Tac.
When waking up from a traumatic incident such as this one, there tends to be a range of acceptable responses that the typical person would give, such as “What happened,” “I’m fine,” etc.
House wasn’t a typical person.
“Is she dead?” he asked.
Wilson tilted his head a little, his face still uncomfortably close to House’s. “What, who?”
But House couldn’t remember who, so he asked the question again, hoping that Wilson would understand that his cane just killed somebody.
“Is she dead?”
“You mean Cuddy?”
There it was, Lisa Cuddy. She was his boss. And now, she was dead.
Wilson looked to his side briefly, at some person unseen to House. “No, House. No, she’s not—nobody’s dead.”
House closed his eyes. Good. He remembered that if Lisa Cuddy died, he would lose his job.
He’d also lose a friend, but he wasn’t interested in trying to remember that part.
“House, stay with me!”
He opened his eyes to Wilson’s face again, remembering that it was probably a bad idea to close his eyes for long periods of time while Wilson still thought he was on the brink of death.
“Tell me what day it is,” said Wilson, messing up House’s hair as he struggled to look at a cut on his forehead.
House swatted his hand away. “Tuesday, and I’m fine.”
“I mean the date.”
“I don’t remember, but not because I’m concussed, because normal people have to ask for the date sometimes. I think it’s the 14th of November, 2006 though, since you have your panties in a bundle.”
Satisfied with that answer, Wilson leaned back on his knees to get a better look at the rest of House’s physical state.
It was here that House got to take in the physical state of Wilson as well. The man looked like shit. He was pale, pale enough that even his eye color seemed faded and dull. He had a cut over the bridge of his nose, his left cheek seemed to puff out more than usual, and his hand was swelling before House’s eyes as two of his fingers were aimed clumsily at 45 degree angles . He’d appeared so intense and together close up, but from where he was at the moment he looked downright fragile, struggling to stay upright.
“So, you’re okay?”
House had forgotten that Wilson could speak. In fact, he was surprised the guy could sit up.
Then House took in the question. His instinct was to say “I’m fine,” but he wasn’t sure he actually was. Not that it stopped him before.
The only thing that hurt him was his leg. Granted, it felt like it was about to fall off, but as long as it was just the one thing, he’d be fine. He went to put his hand on top of his thigh and see if it’d swelled to the size of a tractor-trailer or a small elephant when he realized that he wasn’t ‘fine.’
He made a noise similar to that of a chainsaw starting up and cursed repeatedly.
“What’s wrong?” asked Wilson, coming closer again.
When House had stopped cussing (which he did more in anger than pain), he said, “My shoulder’s dislocated.”
He had sort of a guilty tone when saying it, as if he were revealing a secret about his sexuality rather than admitting a medical problem.
“You want me to pop it back?” asked Wilson, relieved that the problem was a least fixable.
“Nope, actually I kinda like it dangling from my torso, completely useless. You should try it some time.”
Wilson sighed tiredly, “Sit up. This is going to hurt.”
House obeyed, clumsily pulling his wrist onto his stomach so his arm wouldn’t sway like a rogue slinky on the way up. He sat up sideways, stripping his right arm of any responsibility. It was the first time he had the opportunity to take in their surroundings, surprised these surroundings weren't the car, but rather the surroundings of a place about 20 feet away from the car.
The slope they came off of looked even steeper from below, as did the other slopes that currently caged them in, with the exception of a little canyon of sorts, skinny and treacherous, that led God knows where. The car was totaled, smashed inward from every direction, and altogether looking like a molten Hot Pocket. This was good though, because now Chase could get a car that didn’t scream,“Please don’t have sex with me!”
“Where’s Chase and Cuddy?” he asked, not wanting to turn his head for fear of angering his disobedient shoulder socket.
“They’re behind the car over there, but I think they’re okay.”
House had already gotten to his feet by the time Wilson finished the sentence and was now stumbling over the to the car.
Wilson stayed behind momentarily, for the first time in his life having more trouble getting up than House. He felt dizzy, but he didn’t remember bumping his head. He stood up, promptly finding his face in the snow seconds later, immensely thankful for House’s preoccupation with reaching the other two. When he was finally able to stand with some competence, he wiped the snow off his side before it melted through any more layers of clothing.
But it wasn’t snow. It was blood.
At first he was confused, wondering if it was House’s blood, or maybe just slushed Gatorade, but he looked over to House, eyeing him up and down and seeing nothing that would indicate a cup of blood had just leaked out of the guy. And they hadn’t packed Gatorade.
Wilson tried wiping it off, pulling up his shirt and watching the red stuff stick to his jacket. He took a clean part of his shirt and raked it across his side, knocking the wind out of himself as the burning pain that followed took him off his feet.
He looked back at House, making sure he wasn’t watching before he lifted his shirt once again. It wasn’t House’s blood, and it wasn’t Gatorade. He tried to get a good look at where it was coming from, growing frantic when he realized that he’d need to stop bleeding before he could see anything at all. He took off his tie and slid it under his shirt, wheezing as he tied it as tight as he could tolerate around his midsection, hoping that it wasn’t too high or too low. He then pulled over his shirt, tucking it in, and keeping it tight around his abdomen. He finished by zipping up his jacket, and from the outside, you really couldn’t tell much was wrong.
He scrambled over to where the others were, a little short of breath, but not much worse for wear. House was leaned up against the remains of the car, looking an odd shade of green after his trek across the tundra. Cuddy was huddled over Chase, but turned when she heard Wilson approach.
“Hey, where have you—are you okay?”
Wilson stumbled, barely able to catch himself after a recent surge of light-headedness. He gave a sheepish smile, indicating his apparent clumsiness.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m fine.”