My ears rang at the sound of the scraping metal and squealing tires. The pain in my right arm was unbearable. I crawled out from the driver side of my car and struggled over to the other vehicle. The man inside was older, easily older than sixty. I tried my best to find his vein, any vein, to see if he still had a pulse. I couldn’t reach any place where I knew a vein was, and cursing myself for my lack of medical knowledge, I tried to pull him from his laying position across the two front seats of his old truck. My arm hurt too much, and I was too weak to move him more than an inch. I attempted to find a vein in his neck again until I noticed the stick shift impaled deep into his body.
I crawled backwards through broken glass and barely managed to stand. I began to walk, if you could even describe it as walking, to the farmhouse I saw down the street through blurred vision. The image of the man’s bloody side wouldn’t leave my mind no matter how much I willed myself to focus on getting myself help, and my tears refused to stop flowing for him.
The house seemed so far away. I fell on the road more than a few times before finally reaching the driveway that led to a barn and branched off toward the house halfway between the big red building and the road. It must have taken me twenty minutes just to reach the mailbox at the start of the gravel road from where the accident happened. It took another ten to reach the front porch as I grew weaker and my pain increased.
I knocked on the large door as hard as I could as I fell onto the wood beneath me, just barely able to make any noise. I managed to pull myself back up with my left hand against the trim around the door, listening to quiet shuffling just beyond the thick wooded barrier. I thought the man whom answered must have been close to the door. I can't imagine he could have heard my weak attempt at a knock if he were further in the house. When I looked up, I came face to face with the barrel of a shotgun. Still holding my injured arm, I winced from another stab of pain. A few seconds later, I heard the voice of the young man.
“What the hell are you doing on this land?” I glanced up to get a look of his face. He couldn’t have been older than twenty-three; about the same age as me. He had a handsome face with well-groomed black hair, and he was tall. It got harder to breathe. I tried my best to communicate with him.
“I need help.” The young man gave me a confused look. I noticed his hands were steady holding the gun, but there was no malice in his eyes.
“What…” he said, lowering the gun to point at the ground, “…I don’t- w-what are you doing? I asked you a question, why aren’t you saying anything?”
I breathed out a breath of sadness and pointed to my mouth, shaking my head. A look of recognition crossed his face seconds before I fell once again. I heard the loud thud of the shotgun against the wood and felt strong arms trying to hold me, cautious of my injured arm.
“I need help,” I tried again. I couldn’t see the look on his face; I was in too much pain to do anything but hold my arm. I listened to him slide his gun into the house and felt his large hand caressing my back.
“Okay, come on,” he said, lifting me up so I didn’t have to walk. “Let’s get you inside.”
He carried me into the house and closed the door with his foot. It seemed effortless for him as he walked me over to the large L-shaped couch in his living room, laying me down gently and fixing pillows behind my head. Even though I was fairly heavy, he had no problem moving me. I didn’t see him leave the room as he retrieved a white box with a red plus sign on the lid. He kept moving in and out of the room, gathering things. All to help me, I assumed. I focused on my breathing and kept hold of my arm across my waist, trying my best not to get my blood on his soft, light brown colored couch.
“Here,” he said quietly, lifting me by my back, “can you sit up for me?” I did my best to do what he told me but had barely enough strength to meet him halfway. “Take deep breaths, okay? I’m gonna clean your arm and bandage it up. It’ll hurt, but just keep breathing through the pain. It’ll make it easier on you.”
With skilled hands, the stranger cleaned as much of the blood from my arm as he could, and checked the wounds. I think he was looking at how deep they were, to see if any needed stitches. He wrapped a lot of white cloth around my arm after applying disinfectant and salve to each wound, even the small cuts. He finished with a tan wrap around the white cloth, securing it with little metal pieces that stuck into the fabric. The man then gently tried bending my arm at the elbow, only causing me minor pain. I guess he was checking to see if it was broken. He continued his investigation of the rest of my body, taking care of and putting bandages on all the cuts and bruises on my legs, left arm, and my forehead. Those didn’t take as long as my arm did.
I remember in the accident that my right arm had been stretched out to the passenger side, while the rest of me was behind the wheel and protected by an airbag. The passenger airbag failed to deploy on impact. My arm was nearly shredded by the broken windshield, and would have broken from bending back behind me if the passenger seat didn’t stop it from moving in that wrong angle. The man in his old truck swerved out of control and rammed the passenger side of my car from the front. He would have hit my driver side and killed both of us if I hadn’t turned the wheel to the left. Even so, it made my car roll once over and land upside down. All I could think to do was crawl out and see if the man needed help. I didn’t even grab my phone or bag.
The kind stranger took me out of my memories by covering my legs with a blanket that had triangles and lines neatly patterned on it horizontally, with a black bird in the middle. It seemed hand-made but was clearly top quality. I looked down to his first aid kit and noticed that only a few bandages were left. The rest were on me. There must have been almost a hundred in the kit before, all varying sizes. I felt bad that he had to waste them on my cuts. He reached for my face and felt around my jaw. Most likely trying to see if there was some physical reason he could identify to explain why I couldn’t speak. He sighed and left the room with the supplies he brought in, coming back with a green-tinted glass and handing it to my left hand. I began drinking the water slowly.
“Your muscles seem fine,” he said quietly. “No bone damage with your head, only a minor cut on your forehead. So why can’t you speak?” I handed the empty glass back to him and tried to communicate. He gently grabbed my left hand and stopped it from moving. He held it in the air for a moment before placing it on my lap and exiting the room once more. When he came back, he handed me a notebook and a pencil. “Will this help?” I nodded and took the pencil in my left, the notebook in my right. Good thing I was left-handed, or I might not have been able to write.
“I am mute,” I wrote. “I can’t talk.” I turned the notebook towards him. He blinked at the page and looked back to me in shock.
“O-Oh…I, uh…I’m sorry.” I shook my head at him and wrote on a new page.
“It’s okay, you didn’t know.”
“So, that was sign language you were doing?” I nodded. “Okay. I don’t really know sign language. Or I guess you already know that.” He chuckled nervously.
I figured he must have been tired from tending to me, so I pulled my legs, still a little sore, off the couch and turned to face him fully. I then patted the spot next to me for him to sit too. He stood up and repositioned the blanket so that it was covering both our laps instead of just mine. It took me way too long to finally notice at that moment that below his t-shirt, the shorts that I thought he was wearing weren’t actually shorts. They were boxers. I immediately felt terrible that he rushed to the door for me so fast and then tended to my injuries, so focused that he didn’t have the time to put on actual pants. At least I had comfy shorts on, this poor guy wasn’t even wearing pants!
“I’m sorry you didn’t have the time to put pants on,” I wrote. He laughed heartily.
“You know, I didn’t even think about that when I went to answer the door.” I gave him a look to show him I felt bad. “Don’t worry about it, I don’t pay enough attention to anything.”
We shared a carefree smile, and I shook my head at him. I began to look around the living room we were in, noting how big it was. His L-shaped couch covered a lot of ground and had one side facing a big tv on the wall with pictures of people with tanned skin and black hair just like his. They extended around the room, mixed in with a few photos of pretty views of the desert that filled the area around his house. I looked over to where the dining room was, past a wide entryway, with a big table that sat eight people. My eyes finally landed on the shotgun laying on the floor in front of the large wooden door that he carried me through. I heard him sigh behind me and I turned to look at his troubled expression. He must have noticed what I was staring at.
“I’m sorry about earlier. When you came to the door, I mean. I just…” He looked really torn up about it. I was confused by that. I showed him the notebook.
“Why were you so scared?” After a long moment of silent contemplation, he let out a heavy sigh.
“I keep having this dream where a girl with an injured arm showed up knocking on my door,” he confessed. “Nobody ever comes out here on the reservation, so I was a little paranoid, I guess. I grew up with my grandpa always telling me ‘you never know when níłchʼi,' spirits, 'are going to show up. Can’t assume they won’t take the chance to attack you.’ And the girl never said anything to me in these dreams, just stared blankly at me. And that kinda freaked me out.” He nervously fidgeted with his hands. I showed the notebook to him.
“Me not talking must have scared you.”
“Yeah, a little. And living alone really makes you really paranoid of other people, you know?” He wore a nervous smile as I turned to the next empty page, readying myself to respond. “I’m really sorry for that. And…” He leaned closer, inspecting my face. “I don’t know, you just- your eyes look so familiar, like they were exactly the same as the girl…I mean, exactly the same.”
I tilted my head and signed, “mine look the same?” I then remembered he didn’t know sign language and reached to write it down for him. I was too used to signing in conversation and giving immediate replies. It felt awkward to write everything and took too long.
“Heh. It’d probably be useful for me to learn sign language, wouldn’t it?” He chuckled and I smiled with him before tilting the notebook for him to read.
“My eyes are the same as the girl in your dream?”
“Yeah, just the same. All hazel and pretty, and-” He immediately blushed when he realized what he had said. “I-I mean, well they just- you know, they look nice?” He looked away and kept rambling, further solidifying his embarrassment. “I guess you get told that a lot. Not that they look like another person’s, but that they’re beautiful and I, uh, I just…” He trailed off and I felt both amused and bad for him. Not bad enough to not let him suffer in his embarrassment, though.
I finally poked his shoulder and showed, “just my eyes look like hers?”
“No, you…” He hesitated as he looked me up and down, possibly registering what I looked like for the first time since answering the door. “You look exactly like the girl I saw in my dreams. Or, I guess maybe it was you that I saw in my dreams. My grandpa would say the good spirits told me and guided you here.” I nodded at him. He looked up and around the room. “I always think that when he left me all this and the land, he left good spirits to take care of it with me. That probably sounds really weird to someone who didn’t grow up hearing about all that, but its what I was taught.”
I shook my head quickly and wrote again. “It’s not weird.” He smiled for a second before reverting to his thoughtful expression from before.
“In my dream, you didn’t have any visible injuries or blood on you, though. You were obviously in pain, but just stood there and held your arm. I kept asking what was wrong the first few dreams, but after a while I got kinda angry that it kept coming back when I'd fall asleep, and I just kept asking ‘what do you want,’ ‘why are you here,’ stuff like that.”
“So why the gun?” He grimaced at the paper.
“Because I knew I wasn’t asleep, and when I saw you through the window I didn’t think about anything else but that dream, and my grandpa’s warnings about evil spirits, and I just…” He shrugged and put his head down. I leaned down under his head and waved to get him to look at me again. I held up the notebook after he straightened his back against the couch.
“I get it. I wouldn’t have even opened the door.”
He let out a laughing sigh and placed his hand on my knee, still covered by the blanket I now guessed someone in his family had made. He stared into my eyes for a long while. It must have been at least a few minutes before he shook his head and took us out of the trance we didn’t realize we both had gone into.
“Uh, you in any pain? Do you want me to grab you any medicine?” I shook my head.
“I’m just a little bit tired," I wrote. "I only need to lay down for a little while.” He nodded and stood up. And there were the boxers again, taunting my inconsiderateness once more.
“Okay,” he said, contemplating something for a moment. Then he smiled at me. “Do you want a big bed or a little bed?”
He moved his arms to gesture a caricature of my two options. I smirked back and spread my arms wide, careful to keep my arm from hurting. He nodded in agreement as if that's what he would have chosen too. I tried to stand up, but I winced a little. He held his hands out to stop me.
“Hang on, let me help you. I don’t want you to strain yourself.” Thank God for nice muscles that result from years of hard farm labor, because he lifted me up from the couch with no effort at all. “I’ll take you to the spare bedroom downstairs. It has the biggest bed.” I left the notebook and pencil on the couch with the pretty blanket and let him carry me downstairs.
He opened the door to one of the spare bedrooms in the basement and closed it with his foot before carrying me across the dark room, unable to turn the light on with me in his arms. He laid me down in the middle of the huge bed and sat on my left side facing me. He reached over top of me to check the bandages on my right arm, making sure they were secure before carefully laying it back at my side and keeping his hand on the bed next to it. Then he looked up at me and stopped at my eyes again. Eventually, he leaned down and kissed my forehead lightly.
“I guess I should say good night,” he whispered. He chuckled a little as he looked down at me. “Good night, dream spirit.”
Despite his words implying that he should leave, he didn’t move. He stayed there, leaning over me for a long time. At first, I found it a little odd that I didn’t mind in the slightest. Once he finally moved closer, the way he and I wanted him to, it occurred to me that we still did not know each other's names. But, for some reason, that didn’t bother me at all. Neither did the fact that he never left the bed that night.