A "Santa Maria" Story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria Series
"Hello, Miss Montgomery. Try to sit still. You are in the hospital, Saint Miguel's. You will be fine and your baby is fine."
Bree had just opened her eyes and was trying to focus on the blurry shapes in front of her when one of them spoke. She blinked several times as her eyes adjusted to the bright light of the room she was in. The blurs slowly resolved themselves against the glaring white walls, becoming recognizable as people. An attractive Indian woman was standing there, wearing a simple cobalt blouse and charcoal slacks with a white doctor's coat over the outfit. She held a clipboard and her neck was adorned with a stethoscope. To the woman's right was a tall, black man with close-cut hair. He was wearing the typical aqua scrubs of a nurse or intern.
"What?" Bree forced out, her voice soft.
"Nurse Johnson, please get some ice chips. I'm Dr. Darshana Ranjani. I've been attending to you these last three weeks. You suffered a head injury during the earthquake. You've been a coma for that time, but you appear to be responding well and during the coma there was no distress to your baby." The doctor placed her hand on Bree's arm in a comforting gesture.
"Please, what baby?" Bree managed to ask. Nurse Johnson returned with cup, placed it at Bree's mouth, and tilted to towards her. Bree was overjoyed at the comfort the cold wetness the ice chips brought; as they moistened her dry tongue, mouth, and throat, she relished the water more than any meal that had ever crossed her palate.
"It is not uncommon in these situations for memory loss to occur. Rest assured, Miss Montgomery, it is typically temporary." Doctor Ranjani smiled.
Wait, that isn't right. I can remember. Oh God, do I remember. The falling stone, the battle. I wish I didn't remember.
"No, that's not it," Bree mumbled softly through the ice chips she was still keenly sucking. "I do remember..." Did she say earthquake? "I remember being hurt."
The doctor removed her hand so she could read the clipboard she carried. After scanning the documents it held for a moment, she spoke. "You are only ten weeks pregnant. It is possible that you were unaware of the pregnancy, but we can deal with all of that later. Right now I want to do a few quick tests, and then I imagine your mother will be here. She is quite eager to see you. We called her when it became clear you were emerging from the coma." Bree drew a deep breath through her nose and the doctor began her tests, starting with having Bree follow a light. After several minutes, Dr. Ranjanit seemed please and excused herself. Nurse Johnson followed after he assured Bree he would check to see if her mother had arrived.
What the hell is going on? I can't be pregnant. I certainly can't only be ten weeks pregnant. Wait, no. It's not possible. And how bad was this earthquake? What we did down there caused an earthquake. How many people not involved with this died? Oh, God. How many wouldn't have died if we had just let the Ghost Lords do as they wished?
Tears began run down Bree's cheeks and, as if on cue, her mother entered the room.
"Oh, baby doll!" Bree's mother quickly came to her daughter's side. "It's all right. You're fine, you'll be just fine. And the baby." Bree shot a look of surprise at her mother. "Shhh, baby, they had to tell me. You couldn't make medical decisions for yourself and the baby was factor that had to be taken into consideration. I'm not mad at all. But honey, I need to tell you something-".
Bree cut her mother off. "I know about Duncan," she said, renewing the flow of tears.
Her mother pulled her lower lip in and grasped her daughter in a tight hug. "Oh baby doll, I'm so sorry," her mother said, desperate to make it better. The two just sat there, embracing each other and crying. After a few minutes, Mrs. Montgomery removed herself and retrieved a package of facial tissues. She gave one to her daughter before using one herself. "Well, the good news is that all this heartache has brought your sister home from Hollywood."
"Mel's here?" Bree asked, a smile hinted at by her mouth.
"Oh yes, baby doll. Melanie is parking the car. She should be here any moment."
"She shouldn't have come. She's too busy with the movie."
"Oh, that Stalking the Night business? It's done. Awful business if you ask me, horror movies." Her mother finished with a wave of her hand.
"Oh come on, Mom, it's a paying gig. The first step in her becoming a real actress."
"And don't I know it! I've had to help her out most months. I mean, it's not as if it's a strain. Your father left us well taken care of, and with my wedding consulting business we don't have to worry. Well, until now. The hospital stay will cost us, and who knows when I'll have another wedding to plan, what with the earthquake and all."
"Mom, just how bad was the earthquake?"
"Oh, baby doll. Bad. Very bad. A 6.8 and the epicenter was directly under Santa Maria. A lot of people died and still many are missing." Bree broke into sobs. "Oh hush, baby doll! It will be okay. We will come through this. We Montgomery's always do." The door opened.
"Hey there- oh, Bree!" Bree's sister's smiling face changed to a look of concern as she quickly headed to the bed. "Mom, what's wrong?" Mel sat on the opposite side of the bed from her mother.
"Oh, Melanie, I'm not sure. I think it's just stress from everything that-" her mother started to say.
"Ooohhhhhh!" Bree screamed, her arms darting to her abdomen as an alarm signaled from the equipment surrounding the bed. "Mom! Oh it hurts!" Before Bree's family could react, nurses entered the room and asked them to leave so they could tend to Bree. Melanie took her mother's arm and escorted her to the waiting room.
Rod smiled at his blue-haired boyfriend, Ant. "You know, you're wonderful for helping me do this. I didn't really know Duncan well, but with Mac missing, I figure somebody needs to pack Duncan's things up for his family. Seeing all his pictures of him with Bree is hard, though. She loved him so much. I can't believe he was Ghost Lord."
"Well, Rod, I don't know if we'll ever know the true story of all of that, but it was clear in the end he was there to do the right thing. He died doing the right thing, and without him we wouldn't have won."
"Ant, hon, I'm not sure we won. I don't think anyone won. How many people died in that earthquake? City Hall collapsed and killed everyone inside, including that Deemer guy who led the Council Dictum. The marina and Playa Del Oro may never be rebuilt. Hell, Enid's shop was destroyed. She's missing. Mac's missing. I can't get a hold of Diasuke or Oliver. Duncan is dead. My father is in the hospital with a collapsed lung and shattered pelvis. My aunt is dead and her son is still missing. No. There were no winners."
"We had no idea that the Téjon would trigger an earthquake as a last resort to protect that stone."
"It's not just a stone. I mean, it was the Shaman, too. Now she's been set free and the wrongs of the past have been righted, but at what cost? Her soul is free and how many died?"
"How many souls were freed from enslavement by the Ghost Lords?" Ant asked.
"I don't think this is the kind of thing you can measure on scales. Oh, Ant. I have to find a way to sleep at night." He dropped the books he had been packing, fell to his knees, and began to sob. Ant was at his side in a second, encircling him with his long, wiry arms. "What the hell were we thinking? What the hell were we doing? We just blundered into all of this. We had no idea what was going on and none of these fucks who did would tell us a damn thing. Now Bree and I have killed hundreds, maybe thousands of people. How the hell am I supposed to live with myself?"
"Rod, you can't blame yourself. You mustn't. We all did what we thought was the right thing to do."
"The right thing has never felt so wrong." Rod kept crying and Ant did his best to kiss away the tears.
Diasuke stopped typing at his computer when his doorbell chimed. He cautiously moved towards to door and looked through the peephole. "In the name of the Dragon!" He quickly opened the door and confirmed what he had seen through the door's eyehole. "Mac? Mackenzie Nolan? I cannot believe it! You are alive! Come in, come in!" The dark-haired man waved his surprise guest in. The tall, handsome blond entered. They began to shake hands and then pulled into a hug. "Please, sit down." Diasuke led Mac over to the camp chairs that had been set up in the empty front room of the apartment. Mac sat down. "Would you like some tea?"
"No, thank you. You're a hard man to get a hold of when the city is the wake of a disaster."
"Well, sorry. I lost my cell in the battle and my home is condemned. Tell me what happened. How did you survive? None of the Gamin said they skipped you out."
"All in due time, Diasuke. I want to know what's happened here."
"Well, as far as I know, the stone in that ritual was lost. It was somehow the power of the area, and without it the power has decline greatly here. The Maven Praesidium has disbanded, as has the Council Dictum. In our world, Santa Maria is no longer considered a great Place of Power. I mean, some never acknowledged it to begin with as it was considered too new, and with this magic gone now, I fear they may have been correct. Many have left the city, or will soon. My group is leaving, save for my sister and myself. We are only staying to help with the relief effort. Once Santa Maria is back on its feet, we will be assigned elsewhere."
"I see. Well, Diasuke, I can tell you I feel the absence of power myself, but I will be staying. Besides it being my home, Enid's left me in charge."
"What?" Diasuke said, in a volume that suggested a shout.
"Yep, I'm the new Guardian of Santa Maria."
"But there's nothing left to guard."
"Oh, Diasuke, you couldn't be more wrong. If nothing else, there are the people. Directly or indirectly, we caused this earthquake, and I for one am going to try and make amends." Diasuke nodded. "Now, since you're staying, there are a few things I need to tell you about. Perhaps some tea is a good idea." Diasuke got up and started making tea. It was the beginning of a conversation that would last well into the night.
"Oh, Doctor Ranjani! How is she?"
"Bree is fine. The distress was actually with the baby, who is also fine. The baby has stabilized and has shown no signs of further distress. Bree is sleeping now. I suggest you come back in the morning."
"What caused it?" Mel asked.
"And you are?" the doctor asked.
"Oh, doctor, this is my younger daughter, Melanie."
"Nice to meet you, Melanie. We actually are not sure what caused the distress, but we have a specialist coming in from Oakland's Children Hospital tomorrow to examine her and the baby."
"Oh thank you, Doctor Ranjani. Thank you."
"Now please, both of you try and get your rest. It's late and you need your sleep as much as Bree does." The doctor left, so did Mel and her mother.
Soledad Jimenez waved goodbye to her coworker as she headed for the street. She fished her cell phone out of her bag and hit the first speed dial button. She tucked the phone between her shoulder and ear as she looked for something else in her large bag.
"Ricky! Hola. Sí. No, I had to stay late." She rolled her eyes when the earpiece erupted in fast, angry Spanish. "Chingate, Ricky! Teresa was late and that made me late. You expect me to leave Juan by himself? No. Sí, I had to park on the street. I'm getting them now, Ricky. I'm no babosa. I can handle myself." Soledad continued to argue as she approached the parking lot. The light above her car flickered and then went out. "Ricky, I've got to go. I'm at the car, but I still can't find my keys. Fine, I'll call you once I'm on the road." She clicked the call off, set her purse on the hood of her car, and used the light from her cell phone to locate her keys. "Finally!" She pulled her keys outs and proceeded to drop them. "Estoy hasta la madre!" She knelt to the ground, again utilizing her cell as a light source and quickly scanned the ground for the fallen keys. "Chingar!" She moved positions so she was flat to the ground and there she saw the keys under the car. She extended her arm to retrieve them. "Gotcha!" She pulled herself up and as she was reaching for her bag, the stranger whipped her around. The look of surprise on her face would remain even after death, which came seconds later.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2008
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2008