Originally posted on SA in July, 2004.

 

This is my story for Dawn C -- Option #1 Jim and Blair are in the woods and something unusual happens to Blair that involves angst or hurt/comfort. They are far from help. When I say unusual, I mean try to be creative :-) They've run into a million bad guys and fallen off a million cliffs in fanfic world LOL. (Not that there's anything wrong with those stories...hey I wrote one or two of them myself!)If nothing else, at least this is original and creative (at least I think so). It's probably a little far-fetched and unlikely, but just remember, this is fiction. And miracles happen in fiction.

Stinky Situation

By Debbie Tripp

RATING: PG (for angst)

SUMMARY: Jim and Blair go on vacation

DISCLAIMER: They don't belong to me and I'm not making anything from this

All mistakes are mine. Spell-checked only

 

Blair was the first one awake. He got out of his sleeping bag and stretched his back muscles. He walked out of the tent and looked up >at the sunrise. It was going to be another perfect day."You don't have breakfast ready yet, Chief?"

"I thought you were still sleeping. It's supposed to be vacation, Jim."

"Then why are you up so early?"

"Something about the crisp, clean air. I wasn't aware of how much I needed this."

"How much we both needed this. And we have three more days left."

"I could stay here longer."

"Sorry, Sandburg. I need to get back for court and you need to get back to teaching."

"Yeah, I know. We have to do this on a more regular basis."

"I agree with you. We'll make it a date."

"I'll start breakfast and then we can catch lunch and dinner."

"I'll help."

They had breakfast and cleaned up afterwards. They walked to the river, about 30 feet from their campsite. Jim had picked the location after Blair had secured the time off for both of them. It had been easier getting Jim's time off than it was to get someone to cover his classes. But Jim needed him by his side. They were partners. It had taken a day to get to the town and another eight hours to get to the site Jim had picked out. It was breath-taking.

They spend most of the morning in companionable silence fishing. It had been like this for the past two plus days. Blair was glad that things had gone smoothly. But he didn't say it out loud because he didn't want to jinx their good luck. Jim cleaned the fish and Blair cooked them for lunch.

"If you don't mind, I'm going to take a walk after lunch. I want to see if I can find some berries and herbs."

"Just keep out of trouble."

"Aw-w-w, c'mon, Jim. I was just thinking that we were having the perfect vacation."

"You're right, Chief. I just don't feel like saving you when I'm on vacation."

"Okay, Jim."

They ate lunch, Jim complimenting Blair on his cooking technique. Jim offered to clean up afterwards so Blair could look for his berries and herbs.

"You do know the safe ones from the poisonous ones right, Sandburg?"

Blair just glared at Jim. He went into their tent and got a container to carry the berries and the herbs. He came back out and glared at Jim again.

"Look, Blair. I'm sorry about that remark. I didn't mean it. Okay?"

"I know, Jim. And I'll keep out of trouble."

Blair walked away from the campsite. Jim kept his senses on alert for any problems. Somehow, Blair knew Jim would keep track of him. Blair found the herbs he wanted. But he really marveled at how beautiful this whole area was. Peaceful, quiet and serene. Blair sat down on a fallen log and looked around. He had been truthful when he had told Jim he could stay here longer. He wished he didn't have commitments and responsibilities back in Cascade. But for this time, both he and Jim could forget their commitments and responsibilities.

Blair found the berries he was looking for. He put them in the container with the herbs and went back to their campsite. Jim had returned to the river. Blair stored the container in the tent and went to join Jim at the river. Blair sat down on the bank.

"Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Yeah. You'll like the flavors, Jim. So? Why are you catching more fish?"

"Well, we do have several more days here. And I thought maybe we'd hike around the area tomorrow."

"This is a beautiful spot, Jim. I'm glad we came here."

Blair helped to clean and cut up the fish Jim caught. It was late afternoon when they returned to the campsite.They shared the chore of making dinner. Blair handled the fish and Jim decided to make roasted potatoes.After dinner, they cleaned up and took a walk to sit by the river. Blair told Jim about the new classes he was going to teach. Jim could hear the excitement in Blair's voice.

It was some time later when Jim noticed Blair was starting to nod off. Jim got Blair to his feet and led him back to the campsite and into their tent.

"I'm going to take care of the fire and make sure everything is okay. Then I'll be back in."

"Good night, Jim."

"Good night, Blair."

Jim took care of things. When he came back into the tent, Blair was already asleep. Jim smiled at Blair. And got ready for bed. This was the most peaceful vacation the two of them had been on in some time.

Several hours later, Blair woke up with the urge to empty his bladder. He thought maybe it would pass. But after several minutes, he knew that it wouldn't. He untangled himself from his sleeping bag, taking care not to wake Jim up. No use both being bothered by this. Blair tried to find the flashlight in the dark. There wasn't much moon tonight and he didn't want to trip over his own feet. He had placed the flashlight by his sleeping bag, but it must have moved. He was feeling around trying to find the flashlight.

"What are you doing, Sandburg?"

"Looking for the flashlight. I put it by my sleeping bag."

"Why do you need the flashlight?"

"Um...I need to go. I didn't mean to disturb you, Jim. Go back to sleep."

"I moved the flashlight so you wouldn't lay on it. I'll hand it to you."

Jim reached over on the other side of his sleeping bag and grabbed the flashlight. He handed it to Blair, who grabbed for it in the dark. He turned it on to cast some light in the tent.

"Are you going to be okay by yourself?"

"Jim? I've been going to the bathroom by myself for over 25 plus years. Even out in the wilderness."

"Then I'm going back to sleep."

"That's what I told you to do."

Blair got to his feet and cast the beam from the flashlight to the flaps on the tent.

"I'll be back shortly."

Blair left the tent and Jim closed his eyes. But he didn't quite go back off to sleep. He knew that Blair would be okay, but it never hurt to be cautious. Just in case.

Blair walked several feet away from the campsite and tried to find just the right tree to do his business. It was a peaceful, quiet night. But he knew that he better not dawdle out here too long or Jim would be looking for him. He found the perfect tree and placed the flashlight down on the ground. He did his business and then reached down to pick up the flashlight. His hand brushed across something soft and furry. Suddenly, there was a hissing noise and Blair reached for the flashlight again. This time he grabbed it shone the light towards the sound. He saw what was making the hissing noise. It had turned and was going to spray him. Blair turned to run. He didn't know whether he'd get far enough away or not. A skunk had never sprayed him. And he knew that was the last thing he wanted and the last thing Jim needed. Jim would make him walk back to the nearest town. Blair kept the beam of light up towards the campsite. He didn't see the tree root until he stumbled over it. He fell flat on the ground, the wind momentarily knocked out of him. He heard the scurrying of the skunk behind him. He waited for the spray, knowing he had no way of getting away in time.

But it didn't come. Instead, there was a sudden pain around his ankle and then his hand. The skunk had bitten him. Blair moved the beam towards the animal. It scurried away in the opposite direction. Blair sat up slowly, looking at his ankle and then at his hand. The little varmint had drawn blood. Blair started to get up.

"Didn't I tell you to be careful, Chief?"

"God, Jim!! Next time give me a warning."

"Sorry. I heard a disturbance and just assumed you were in trouble.

What happened?"

"Oh no. This isn't good. Not good at all."

"What are you rambling on and on about, Sandburg?"

Jim followed a very agitated Blair back to the campsite. He stopped Blair before he could get into the tent.

"What happened Sandburg?"

"Everything was fine. I did my business and then I went to pick up the flashlight. My hand brushed against something soft and furry. I heard a hiss and then I saw it. It was a skunk. I thought I was going to get sprayed, so I tried to get as far away as I could. But then I tripped over a tree root and the little devil bit me on the ankle and the hand. Then he ran away."

"Why didn't it spray you?"

"I don't know. But it could have rabies, Jim. And that's serious stuff."

Jim could hear Blair's heart beating double time and Blair was on the verge of hyperventilating.

"Let's go inside the tent and sit down, Blair. You need to calm down."

"Calm down? How can I calm down? That skunk is out there roaming around and I may have rabies. If it's not found, I'll have to undergo treatment. Shots. A lot of shots. It's painful, Jim."

"I know, buddy. But maybe I can find the skunk."

"It's a big area, Jim. And I don't want you to get bitten also. Why didn't it just spray me?"

"I don't know, Blair. Let's go inside the tent and I'll take a look at what it did."

Blair allowed Jim to lead him into the tent. Blair sat down on top of his sleeping bag. Jim went to find the first aid kit, soap and some water, a towel and the lantern. He came back and lit the lantern, giving them more light to see by. Jim got out a pair of latex gloves and put them on. He saw the frown on Blair's face.

"It's only for my protection. Can you take off your flip-flops? And which hand did it bite?"

"The right one." Blair removed his flip-flops. He stuck out his ankle for Jim. He could see Jim zero in his sight on the bite marks. It looked pretty bad to Blair. It was bleeding. He looked at his hand. It was bleeding also.

"I'm going to put some pressure on your ankle. Hopefully, that will stop the bleeding. How's your hand?"

"It's still bleeding a little."

"Take this pad and press it against the wounds."

"What are we going to do, Jim?"

Jim could hear the fear in Blair's voice.

"At daylight, we'll break camp and head towards the nearest town. Once there, I'll notify the authorities, including animal control, about the skunk. Was it a regular skunk?"

"No. It was all black. At least that will distinguish it from the other run of the mill skunks running around out here."

"All black. How did you know it was a skunk?"

"I've seen skunks before, Jim. It was a skunk. But it should have just sprayed me. And they're not usually so aggressive. Unless..."

Blair went suddenly quiet. Jim checked the bleeding. It had almost stopped.

"Unless what, Blair?"

"Unless it was a domesticated skunk."

"A what?"

"A domesticated skunk. You know, one you have for a pet."

"A pet? Not me."

"Oh, not me either. But domesticated skunks have their scent glands removed. They're descented."

"You think that's what this one is?"

"It could be. But it shouldn't be out in the wild. It can't survive very long because it's defense mechanism is gone."

"Has your hand stopped bleeding yet?"

Blair checked below the pad.

"Yeah. Now what?"

"Now I have to wash both wounds thoroughly. Another reason for the gloves."

"Oh."

"It'll be okay, Blair. Just don't dwell on it."

"How can I not dwell on it?"

"Think about the classes you are going to teach."

Jim started washing the ankle wound. It was red and had swelled up a little. Jim gently probed the area of the wound. There was a soft moan from Blair.

"Sorry. It's swelled up a little already. But I think that's probably normal. But you better just put a sock on your foot and leave the shoe off. Just in case."

"Okay."

"How do you know so much about domesticated skunks?"

Jim was concentrating on washing the wound. He looked up a few minutes later when Blair hadn't responded to his question.

"Hey, Chief?"

Blair almost jumped.

"Yeah?"

"You okay?"

"Yeah."

"One word sentences? It's going to be okay, Blair."

"How can you say that Jim? What if they don't find the skunk? I'm doomed then!! And I may still die!!"

"You're jumping to conclusions, Blair. Just calm down. We have to take this one step at a time. We'll get you to town, to the hospital. They can start to treat you. They'll be able to keep an eye on you."

"But you need to be back in Cascade!!"

"I can stay a couple of days. Maybe they'll let me take you back to Cascade with me. I can look out for you for a couple of days. Until we get back to Cascade."

Jim covered the ankle wound with a gauze bandage. He got up and went to get the cooler. He placed it at Blair's feet.

"Get situated on your sleeping bag. I'm going to elevate your foot."

"Is that necessary?"

"You questioning my first aid now?"

"No."

"Good. Be careful not to bang your ankle."

Blair got situated on the sleeping bag. Jim picked up Blair's right foot and placed it on the cooler.

"Leave that there."

"Okay."

Jim moved around to Blair's right side and started washing the bite wound on Blair's right hand. This one had swelled up some also. He noticed Blair had closed his eyes. But Jim knew that he wasn't asleep. Jim realized that Blair was scared to death and really didn't want to talk about this or anything else. Jim understood. He was scared too. But it was his job to keep Blair calm and to be the voice of reason and hope.

Jim finished the washing. He dried off the hand and looked at the wound again. He probed the bite marks gently. Blair's hand jerked ever so slightly. This wound was sensitive also. Jim placed gauze bandage over the bite wound and gently laid Blair's hand down on his chest. At least Blair's heartbeat was back to near normal. Jim took off the latex gloves and threw them into the basin of water. He'd dispose of both shortly. He still sat by Blair, watching him as he continued to relax. Blair still wasn't asleep, but he was a lot calmer than he had been.

After several minutes, Jim got up and went to dispose of the gloves and the water. He dumped out the water and put the gloves in with the rest of the trash they were getting rid of. He'd have to check the wounds in the morning. He walked back into the tent and saw that Blair's eyes were still closed. He extinguished the lantern and lay down in his sleeping bag. He kept watch over Blair.

At the first rays of dawn, Jim was up and out of the tent. Sometime during the overnight, Blair had slipped off asleep. And for the time being, it was a dream-free and nightmare-free sleep. Jim took care of business and then looked around the area. It was too much to ask for to see the skunk that had bitten Blair. but he was hopeful that maybe it had come back to the scene of the crime.

Jim started a fire and then started coffee. He walked back into the tent and noticed Blair still asleep. Jim looked at the ankle wound. It was about the same as last night. There had been no additional bleeding. He moved around to look at Blair's hand. It looked the same also. Jim breathed a sigh of relief. He'd change the bandages later. But now, he had to wake Blair so they could get started back to civilization. He gently shook Blair's shoulder. Blair's eyes opened immediately.

"What's wrong, Jim?"

"Nothing's wrong, Chief. I just need you to wake up. We have to get ready to leave. I'm going to lower your leg. Then I'll help you up."

Jim lowered Blair's right leg and then helped Blair up.

"You dizzy or anything?"

"No."

"Good. Put on your flip-flops before you leave the tent. I'm going to get breakfast ready and then we need to pack up things."

"Right."

Jim left the tent. Blair got his flip-flops on and then came out of the tent also. He looked around their campsite.

"No sign of your friend."

"I hope not. Skunks are mostly nocturnal. Something's definitely wrong if it's running around during the daytime."

"Well, let's keep good thoughts then. You hungry?"

"Yeah. I can help with breakfast."

"No. It's my treat."

Blair came over and sat down by the campfire. Jim poured him a cup of coffee.

"Thanks, Jim. For everything."

Jim scrambled eggs for both of them and they ate in mostly silence, relishing the clear, beautiful morning. Blair broke the silence.

"I'm sorry I spoiled our vacation."

"It wasn't your fault, Blair. You didn't know that skunk was going to be there."

"I should have gotten sprayed instead. At least then, you could have made me walk home."

"I'd never let you walk home, Chief."

"Have you ever smelled the spray from a skunk?"

"Can't say I have."

"You would have made me walk home. Believe me."

"You've been sprayed by a skunk before?"

"Luckily, no. But I've had friends who have."

"I'm going to change your bandages after breakfast. Then we'll pack up and head towards the nearest town. It'll take about eight hours."

"I'll be okay."

Jim patted Blair on the shoulder. "I know you will be, Chief."

They got their stuff loaded up about an hour later. Blair helped as much as he could. He left his flip-flops on after he had gotten dressed. Jim had to load most of their things into the truck. He didn't want Blair to do a lot of lifting with his hand. Jim had changed the bandages on both wounds. Neither one looked any worse than they had last night. Except in the daylight, it seemed more sinister than last night. But they weren't any worse. No more bleeding. Jim had thoroughly washed both bite wounds and redressed them. There was still pain sensitivity, but Blair didn't say much about it. In fact, once they got in the truck and was on their way, Blair didn't say much at all. Jim had thought about asking Blair again how he knew so much about domesticated skunks, but he didn't. He wanted to get to the town as soon as possible. He had tried his cell phone once they were back on the highway, but he couldn't get a signal. He kept an eye on Blair, allowing the younger man to drift off asleep on the ride.

It was a couple hours into their ride when Blair jerked awake. Jim glanced over at him.

"Is it hot in here?"

"Not particularly. You hot?"

"Just a little warm."

Jim pulled over to the side of the highway. He reached over and placed his hand on Blair's forehead. Blair endured the scrutiny. He looked pleadingly at Jim.

"Well?"

"You have a slight fever." Jim saw the panic in Blair's eyes.

"Don't overreact. It could just be an infection. It could be because of the swelling."

 

"It hurts, Jim. Both my ankle and my hand."

"Let me see." Jim looked at Blair's hand. He grabbed another pair of gloves and put them on. He removed the bandage and saw that the wound was still swollen and red. He replaced the bandage.

"Can you raise your foot up?"

Blair was able to raise his foot up on the rest between the seats.

Jim removed the bandage and it looked about the same as Blair's hand. Jim replaced the bandage.

"It doesn't look real bad, Blair. But if there's an infection, I don't know about it. I'll give you some ibuprofen. It should help. Both with the fever and the pain."

Jim removed the gloves and reached behind him to grab the first aid kit. He got out the ibuprofen and handed two tablets to Blair. He also grabbed a bottle of water and handed that to Blair. Blair took the pills and drank most of the water. He rested his head against the headrest.

"Why don't you try to get some rest? I'll get us there as soon as I can. And I'm going to try to contact the authorities again."

Jim got out his cell phone again and tried to get a signal. This time he was successful. He asked to be connected to some one in authority. He was patched through to the local law enforcement office. Jim explained the situation to the captain. He told the captain they were still hours from the town.

"Do you need medical assistance?"

Jim debated about that.

"How long a response time?"

"From what you've told me, it will probably be several hours. To your location then back to the hospital."

"Just a minute." Jim pressed the mute button on his cell phone. He turned to Blair. He touched him on the arm.

"Blair? I need to talk to you."

"What, Jim?"

"The captain is offering to send the hospital's rescue helicopter to come to get you. That way, you can get to the hospital quicker. Do you want me to have him send it?"

"Will you come with me?"

"I couldn't, Blair. I'd be able to stay out here and help look for that skunk. If I'm in on the search, it might be more successful. But they can get you to the hospital in about half the time it would take for me to drive you there. A couple hours to get here and then a couple of hours to the hospital. How about it?"

"I don't know." Jim could hear Blair's heartbeat pounding.

"Blair? I think this is the best thing for you. They can watch you and I'll be there as soon as I can. As soon as we find that skunk."

"What if you don't find the skunk?"

"What did I tell you about things being okay? Keep thinking positive."

"Okay, Jim. Have them send the helicopter to pick me up. But I'm going to be inside the helicopter on the ride to the hospital, right?"

"I'll make sure of it, Blair. It's a good choice." Jim got back on the cell phone and authorized them to send the helicopter to pick up Blair. And he also asked for the animal control officer and some volunteers to help him look for the skunk. He gave directions to where they could be found. He disconnected the call and looked over at Blair. He patted Blair on the arm.

"How are you feeling, Chief?"

"About the same. I'll be okay."

"Thinking it is half the battle."

"Yeah. I'm going to rest."

"That's fine."

Blair rested his head on the back of the seat. He closed his eyes again and tried to relax. He didn't want to get worked up. He knew that it served no useful purpose. But every time he thought about the skunk and the bites, he thought that he could have rabies inside his body. And even though he had never endured the treatment or the advancement of the disease, he knew the symptoms and knew that it just got progressively worse. He also knew about the shots and didn't want to go through that. He had heard about side effects from the shots. It wasn't a cheery future. It was hard not to get upset and worry about an unknown future. But he would try for Jim. Jim didn't need him unable to deal with what was going to happen.

It was a little over two hours later when the helicopter arrived. Jim had to wake Blair up again.

"How's your pain level, Chief?"

"It hurts some. Both bites."

Jim pressed his hand against Blair's forehead.

"It doesn't seem as high. Maybe the ibuprofen worked."

"For the time being."

Four men came over to Jim's truck. The lead man spoke first.

"I'm John Fisher. This is Mike Warner. We're the paramedics from the County Hospital. These other two guys are Guy Maxwell and Paul Byron. Paul's the animal control officer you were asking for. And he's also the local veterinarian."

"I'm Jim Ellison. And the guy still in the truck is your patient, Blair Sandburg."

"Can he tell us what happened?"

"Yeah. He has some pain with the bites and a slight fever. I washed the bite wounds and applied a bandage. The bites themselves are red and slightly swollen. He complained about the pain and I gave him a couple of ibuprofen for that and the fever. That was a couple of hours ago."

"We'll take care of him, Mr. Ellison."

The two paramedics went over to the other side of the truck and opened the door. They introduced themselves to Blair and asked him about the attack and how he felt. They took his vital signs and seemed pleased. They removed the bandages and looked at both bite marks.

"It got you good, didn't it?"

"Yeah. I didn't even realize it until I felt the pain."

The animal control officer, Paul Byron, came over to the truck.

"Can you describe the skunk, Mr. Sandburg?"

"Um...yeah. It was all black. No white stripes down the back. He was probably about the size of an average house cat. Probably about 15-20 pounds. He acted like he was going to spray me, but nothing happened. I later suspected that maybe it was a domesticated skunk. But it won't live too long out in the wild without its defense mechanism."

"No, it won't. And it's illegal to have domesticated skunks in Washington state. But someone going through the state could have lost it. If it's found, it will be destroyed. Well, it would have to be destroyed anyway to test it for rabies."

"Will I have to start the treatment immediately?"

"I think we can have the hospital hold off on that until we have a chance to do some checking to see if we find the animal. It shouldn't be too hard to spot. Skunks, even domesticated ones, usually stay in the same general area. We'll check it out and hopefully find it."

"I hope that you do."

"Are you able to walk to the helicopter, Mr. Sandburg?"

"Yeah. I think I can. Can I talk to my friend first?"

"Sure. Just don't take too long."

Blair walked over to the other side of the truck where Jim was standing.

"They want to take me. They say they are going to have the hospital hold off on the treatment for a while so you can have a chance to find the skunk. I want you to be careful, Jim."

"I'll be fine, Blair. I'm going to let these guys catch that skunk.

I don't want to have anything to do with it. Behave for the paramedics and I'll be at the hospital as soon as I can. As soon as we find the skunk."

"I hope you do find it."

Jim pulled Blair into a hug and whispered in his ear.

"Remember. Think positive."

Blair pulled out of the hug and nodded his head. He walked back over to the paramedics and they walked towards the helicopter. John and Mike helped Blair into the helicopter and got him to sit down.

"We're going to contact the County Hospital and give them your vital signs. As your friend told us, you are running a slight fever of 100.1. We're going to start an IV, just so you don't get dehydrated on the ride. And we'll wash out the wounds again as a precaution. We'll put the gurney back a little and all you need to do is relax. Okay?"

"Sounds good to me."

They took off about 45 minutes later. Jim watched the helicopter as it disappeared out of sight. He then agreed to show Guy and Paul where they had camped. They all got into Jim's truck, after stowing their gear in the bed of the truck. It would take a couple of hours to get back to where they had their campsite.

When Blair arrived at the County Hospital, the paramedics explained about what had happened. They turned Blair over to the hospital personnel and left. He thanked them before they left.

"I hope they find that skunk."

"Thanks."

When the paramedics left, a nurse came in and took his vital signs again.

"When was the last time you had a tetanus shot?"

"It's probably been over five years ago. Do I need one?"

"It's recommended for puncture wounds of any type. It helps with infections."

The nurse left the room and a few minutes later, the doctor walked in.

"I'm Dr. Mason, Mr. Sandburg. I see you've had a run-in with a skunk. It bit you?"

"Yeah. Twice. One on my right hand. And the other on my right leg. Near the ankle."

The doctor had removed both bandages and was looking at the bite wounds.

"They both look a little swollen and are red. Are they sensitive?"

"A little bit. It's not quite as bad as it was."

"Okay. I'm going to have some X-Rays taken. Just to make sure that the wounds aren't too deep and that it's not hurt any nerves or muscles. They don't look that deep, but it's always best to err on the side of caution. The nurse is getting your tetanus shot ready. We'll admit you to the hospital and start you on IV antibiotics to take care of any infection there might be. We'll also keep an eye on you for any signs of the onset of rabies. I got the recommendation from the paramedics that we hold off on giving you the rabies treatment because they are looking for the skunk in question. We can do that."

"I'm grateful for that. I don't relish going through that treatment."

"Let's hope they find the skunk and can have it tested."

The nurse came back in and gave him the tetanus shot. Then he was told to relax while they made arrangements to take him to X-Ray. He relaxed in the bed and was actually dozing off when they came to take him to X-Ray. He was able to go in a wheelchair. He was happy about that. Of all the visits he had to the hospital, this was by far the best as far as it was probably the least injured he had ever been. But the anxiety he was feeling made up for the lack of physical injury. His stomach was basically in knots and his mind was still racing with all the possibilities of what could happen.

Jim was thinking about Blair more than he was finding the skunk that bit him. He knew that Blair was putting on a brave front just for him. He wondered how Blair was faring now that he was at the hospital. Jim looked at his watch. Yeah, Blair should be at the hospital by now. Jim hoped Blair would be able to relax. But that was easy for Jim to say. He hadn't been the one bitten by a possible rabid animal.

Jim followed Guy and Paul around the area. They had started from where Jim and Blair had camped out. Jim wondered if they would be able to spot the skunk in the daytime. He mentioned to Paul that Blair had said the creature was nocturnal.

"That's true. But if it is a domesticated skunk, then they don't always follow the same rules. And I'd much rather find the thing in the daylight where I can keep an eye out for it."

To be honest, Jim wasn't putting a lot of stock into finding the skunk. He remembered what he had told Blair, but it was hard to be positive when the creature had run off in the opposite direction. It could be miles away by now. But Jim was going to help in the search. Miracles did happen. And he was hoping this was one of them.

Blair was brought back to the examination room after the X-Rays. The nurse told him that they were getting a room ready for him. It would take a little while. He was asked if he could fill out some entrance forms and he said yes. It occupied some of the time. As he was filling out the forms, it occurred to him that he was usually doing this for Jim and he suspected that Jim did it for him when he was brought in.

The nurse came in to start the IV antibiotic. She took the forms when she left. Blair was left alone with his thoughts again. He closed his eyes and an image of Jim as a big game hunter came to mind. Tracking the skunk with his enhanced vision and exceptional nose. Blair chuckled and wondered why his mind was conjuring up such images. Blair tried to clear his mind, but the image kept appearing.

It was a couple hours later when Blair was moved to his room - room 234. It was a double room, but he didn't have a roommate at the time. This gave him free reign of the television. A couple of nurses helped to get him situated in the bed.

"You don't have any restrictions on you, Mr. Sandburg. But if you start to feel ill or dizzy, let us know right away."

"Sure. And, can you call me Blair? Hardly anyone calls me Mr. Sandburg."

"Sure, Blair. Just don't forget about the IV when you start to move around."

"Thank you. Can I get something to eat?"

"Sure. I'll see what we can round up."

Jim looked around the area. He had used his enhanced vision to look in some of the darker places where he thought the skunk might be hiding. But there wasn't anything yet. He looked at his watch.

They had been at it for several hours. It was already after noon. Paul called a halt to the search so they could have something to eat. Jim offered to share the extra fish he and Blair had caught. They had cleaned and cut it up and was going to take it back to Cascade with them. But Jim decided to share it with Paul and Guy. It was much appreciated. Jim even did the cooking.

As they were eating, Jim shared the fact that he was a police detective in Cascade and that Blair was a graduate student at Rainier. He told them that he and Blair were partners and that Blair was working on his doctorate. Paul and Guy also shared stories of some of their more harrowing encounters with animals, both tame and in the wild.

Blair had been at the hospital for hours. And Jim hadn't arrived yet. Blair was beginning to think that Jim wasn't going to be coming. Blair had gotten roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans for dinner. Along with a piece of apple pie for dessert. Blair had turned on a nature show to watch, but fell off to sleep about 10 minutes into it.

It was a real surprise to Jim when Guy came across the skunk. Paul and Guy got the skunk into the special trap that they had brought with them. Jim looked at the animal that had bitten his best friend.

"So? When do you kill it?"

"Not until we get back to town. I'm also the town veterinarian. I'm authorized to do it. I'll be able to kill it and send it off to the state lab."

"How long will that take?"

"Well, if we start back to town now, by the time we arrive I can kill it and ship it overnight to the state lab. It should only take a day or so for the results. They'll call with the results."

"I can start back to town. It's going to take about eight hours. We can take shifts. If you guys don't mind?"

"We don't mind, Jim. We know why you want to get back to town. It's no problem."

"Good. Let's get started."

Paul made sure the skunk was secure in the bed of Jim's truck. They got into the truck and Jim started the drive back to town. He noticed that several hours passed and Paul and Guy went off to sleep. He'd be fine to drive them back.

Blair jerked awake and was momentarily confused. Then he remembered where he was and what had happened. But the last remnants of his dream/nightmare was still fresh in his mind. It had been his nightmare of a skunk, but this time it attacked Jim first, disabling him and then coming after Blair. Blair knew that it was just a dream/nightmare. He calmed down and looked around. The television was still on, although the station had gone off some time ago. Blair found the remote and turned the television off. It made it darker in the room. Blair figured it must be late. He carefully got out of his bed and rolled the IV stand with him to the bathroom. He turned on the light there, squinting at the sudden brightness. He did what he had to do and then looked at his hand and his ankle. To him, it looked the about the same. He looked at the IV and sighed. He turned off the light and made it back to his bed. But he didn't get back in the bed.

Instead, he made a detour and walked over to the windows there. He pulled back the curtains and looked out on the night. He thought about the fact that he and Jim still had two days they were supposed to spend camping. But that was over with now. Suddenly, Blair didn't want to be in this hospital alone. He wanted Jim by his side and he wanted to be back in Cascade. But he was sure that things weren't going to change anytime soon. Jim was out in the woods, searching for the skunk that had bitten him and he was stuck in the hospital, without a way to leave. And they wanted to keep him for observation for a couple of days. So, he was stuck. He turned and walked back to his bed. He got in the bed and was careful not to hit his ankle or his hand. He closed his eyes and eventually fell asleep.

Jim drove for over three hours before Guy woke up and made Jim relinquish the driving responsibilities. Jim rotated and sat by the passenger door. He drifted off asleep as the almost endless roadway passed by. Paul took over the driving for the last couple of hours it took to reach town. Guy woke Jim when they reached Paul's office. Jim woke up and looked at the two men.

"What time is it?"

"About midnight. We'll take care of the skunk. You can go see your partner."

"Thanks again for helping us."

"It's our job. Are you going to stay here?"

"Probably for a few days. I don't have to be back in Cascade until Monday."

"I'll contact you about the findings of the rabies test."

"You can find me at the hospital. We'll be looking forward to the results."

Jim helped Guy and Paul with their gear. Paul carried the trap with the skunk in it into his office. Jim left and went to find the hospital. It wasn't too hard to find. He walked into the hospital and asked at the nurse's station what room Blair was in. He was told and he got permission to look in on him. Jim walked into the room and was surprised to see Blair sitting up in a chair in the dark.

Blair looked over when the door opened.

"Jim!! I was so worried about you!! Come over here!!"

Jim made his way over to Blair. Blair had gotten up from the chair and pulled Jim into a bear hug, careful of his hand and the IV.

"Why are you hooked up to an IV?"

"Precautionary. It's an antibiotic. They even took X-Rays. And gave me a tetanus shot."

"Because of the puncture wound. Right. Why the X-Rays?"

"To make sure there was no damage to nerve endings or muscles. Well?"

"Well what, Chief?"

"Did you find it?"

"Yep. It was around 4:00 in the afternoon. Guy and Paul were able to trap it and bring it back. We drove straight through on the way back, taking turns driving. Paul said that he'd be able to kill the skunk and send it to the state lab for tests. But we won't know for a few days. The skunk would have to be killed anyway. Domesticated skunks aren't allowed in Washington state. Did you get any sleep?"

"Some. I kept worrying about you."

"Well, I was thinking about you too, buddy."

"Did you get any sleep?"

"Yeah. We took turns driving back here. But I could use some more. Do you mind if I go find a hotel or motel room?"

"Nah, Jim. It's okay. I feel better now that you're here with me. I just felt so alone."

"You're never alone, Chief. Remember that."

"Thanks, Jim."

"Oh, and I guess I should tell you that Paul, Guy and I ate the fish we were going to take back home."

"That's okay, Jim. Just as long as you promise there will be other fishing trips."

"You can count on that, Chief." Jim reached out and ruffled Blair's hair.

Blair smiled at Jim. Jim just had to smile back at Blair.

"Go get some rest, Jim. I'm okay now."

"You get some rest, too."

Jim reluctantly left the hospital room. He went to the motel across the street from the hospital and got a room. He unlocked the door and walked inside, putting his and Blair's things in the living area. He went into the bathroom and cleaned up then came back out into the room. He took off his shoes, shirt and pants and sat down on the bed. Soon, he was lying down and about five minutes later, he was sound asleep.

Blair was bored. But at least the doctor had stopped his IV antibiotics. He was now free to roam the corridors of the hospital. The X-Rays had been clear and there was no major damage from the bite wounds. The only thing keeping him in the hospital was the results of the rabies testing. But the doctor told him that they were still going to keep him under observation and that if he had any adverse symptoms to let the staff know right away. Blair promised. Blair had been able to get a robe from one of the nurses. It helped to cover what the hospital gown didn't.

Blair went up to maternity. There were only three babies in the nursery. Blair was able to talk his way into the nursery to help out. He was able to hold the babies - two girls and a boy. He would rock them until they fell off to sleep. He stayed in maternity for over an hour. He then went to pediatrics. There were six kids there - ranging in age from four to ten. Blair asked the nurses if he could visit with the kids. The nurses said that it was okay with them. Blair went in and sat with the children and talked with them.

He found out what was wrong with each child. And they wanted to know why he was in the hospital. He told them about his adventure with the skunk. Some of the kids didn't believe him. But he showed them the bite marks and explained that he would have rather been sprayed than bit. One of the kids told him that a skunk had sprayed him when he was six years old and that his friends didn't want to have anything to do with him for a long time afterwards.

Blair read several stories to the kids before he left. They asked him to come back. He promised he would tomorrow.

Jim slept for over ten hours. He was hungry when he woke up. He went to a nearby restaurant and ordered the biggest steak they had. What Blair didn't know wouldn't hurt him. He decided to stop by the hospital afterwards and spend some time with Blair. He suspected Blair was probably bored. After all, he really wasn't injured to any great degree. Jim didn't think the bite wounds hurt anymore.

It was after noon when Jim returned to the hospital. He walked into Blair's room and didn't spot him. He went out to the nurse's station and asked about Blair.

"He's been bored. He's been visiting the other patients. He's a good listener."

"Yeah he is. He likes other people. He's a graduate student in anthropology. He probably thinks this is the ultimate little society."

Jim told the nurses that he'd look for Blair on his own. He figured he should be able to latch onto Blair's voice from wherever it was coming from. Jim started at the end of the corridor. It only took about a half hour to find where Blair was. Jim walked into the room, spotting Blair sitting on an empty bed, talking to an older man. The man noticed Jim first.

"Can I help you?"

"I was just looking for Blair."

Blair turned around to look at Jim.

"Hey, Jim. There you are. I was telling Carl here about my adventure. Carl Rice, this is Jim Ellison, my partner and best friend. Jim Ellison, this is Carl Rice. He's a retired firefighter."

"Nice to meet you, Carl. Are you going to be much longer, Chief?"

"Well, Carl and I were in the middle of something. You can sit down with us."

"I guess I could. What were you talking about?"

"Carl was telling me about the big fire that happened by in 1970."

"Well, by all means, go ahead with your story, Carl."

"Thank you, Jim."

Blair and Jim spent almost another two hours talking to Carl. Finally, Jim noticed that Carl was getting tired and told Blair that he needed to get some rest. Blair caught on and they said goodbye to Carl. They walked back to Blair's room.

"So? What's wrong with Carl?"

"He needed knee surgery. Occupational hazard."

"So, I hear you've been touring the hospital?"

"Yeah. I went up to maternity and saw the babies. Three of them - two girls and a boy. They were just darling. And I visited pediatrics and read stories to the kids. A skunk had sprayed one of them, a boy named Peter when he was six years old. He's eight now. He said that his friends didn't want to have anything to do with him for a long time afterwards."

"It's just like I told the nurses."

"What's that, Jim?"

"You're in your element. This is the ultimate little society."

"Yeah. You're right about that. So, did you get some sleep?"

"Over ten hours. And I ate lunch also."

"Good, good."

They reached Blair's room and walked in. Blair sat in the chair instead of getting into the bed.

"How are things going?"

"Well, as you notice, I got rid of the IV antibiotics. And the doctor told me that the X-Rays were clear, no major damage. It doesn't even hurt that much anymore. And the swelling has gone down. And I'm clear of a fever."

"Well, that is good news. See what happens when you think positive?"

"Jim? Not to throw a damper on things, but what if that skunk comes back with rabies? Do you think they would let me got back to Cascade before having treatment? I know that you have to return in the next day or so."

"I'm sure they would let you go back to Cascade as long as you didn't exhibit any outward symptoms. But, let's not worry about that until we find out the outcome. How many stations do you get on the television?"

Blair handed Jim the remote. "Knock yourself out, big guy."

Jim finally settled on a sports magazine show. Both of them watched it for some time.

Blair was happy that Jim was with him and that they had found the skunk. He was soon dozing in the chair. A few minutes later, Jim nudged him and helped him into his bed. Jim pulled up the blanket and Blair snuggled down in the bed and was back asleep in no time.

Blair was still asleep when Jim decided to go get something to eat. He found a napkin and wrote Blair a note. He left it on the small table. He left the room and went to the restaurant where he had gone for lunch. He decided to get an extra piece of pie as a treat for Blair. He would stay with Blair until visiting hours were over.

When Jim got back to Blair's hospital room, Blair was still asleep. Jim asked the nurses if he had eaten dinner. They told him yes, but that he seemed to be tired and only ate part of his meal. Jim walked back into the room and was happy to see Blair waking up.

"Hey, sleepy head. It's about time you wake up. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. I just want to go home. You know?"

"I know. Hey. I brought you a piece of pie from the restaurant. It's your favorite. Cherry. It was the last piece."

"Thanks, Jim. I appreciate this."

Blair ate half the piece of pie.

"You can have the rest, Jim."

"I already had a piece at the restaurant. Is something wrong, Blair?"

"No." But Blair looked away from Jim and closed his eyes again.

"Blair? Do I need to get the nurse?"

"No, Jim. It's just me getting worked up about the outcome of all of this."

"Well, if it's any indication, there haven't been too many instances of rabies in Washington state over the years. We have history on our side."

"At least that is something."

"And hopefully tomorrow, we'll know the outcome of things. Either way, I think they'll let you go back to Cascade."

"I hope so."

Paul Byron hung up the phone. He liked delivering good news. And after talking to Jim yesterday, he knew that Blair and Jim could use the good news. There had been no indication of rabies in the skunk. He left his veterinarian office and went to drive to the hospital.

Jim had told him that Blair was going to stay in the hospital as a precaution until they got the word. At least now, both of them could return to Cascade.

When Paul entered the hospital, he walked to Blair's room. He walked into the room and saw Blair there alone. Blair looked up when Paul walked in. Paul saw the disappointment flash across Blair's face.

"Hi. You're Dr. Byron right?"

"Yeah. I thought Jim would be here with you? He had indicated that to me."

"He usually is. He must have overslept this morning. I should call his motel room. Do you have the results of the tests?"

"Yeah. You're clear to go home, Blair. I'll have to tell your doctor and fill out the paperwork, but you don't have rabies."

Unintentionally, Blair started to cry. He couldn't control it. It was just all the pent up emotions over the last several days. Paul understood. He sat down in the chair. Blair collected himself shortly afterwards.

"I'm sorry about that, Dr. Byron. It's just that I've been working myself up for the possibility of this going either way."

"It's understandable, Blair. But you were never in any true danger. If the animal had been rabid, you would have started the shots. It would have taken care of things before the symptoms were full-blown."

"Oh. I didn't know that."

"I should have told you. And also, you were right. It was a male, domesticated skunk. It had been descented."

"I had suspected that. I should really call Jim. He usually doesn't sleep this long."

"Why don't I run over there? I know where it is."

"Would you? Thanks."

"Sure." Paul left the hospital and went to the motel across the street. He knew Jim's room number. He went to the door and knocked. After a few minutes, a much disheveled and not quite awake Jim Ellison opened the door. Paul had to suppress his laughter.

"You okay, Jim?"

"Paul? What...?"

"I offered to check on you after I saw Blair."

"Blair? What time is it?"

"Almost 10:30 AM. He was getting concerned that you weren't at the hospital."

"10:30? Is Blair okay? Wait!! You got the results?"

"Yep. He's going to be fine, Jim. No presence of rabies. He'll be released from the hospital. But he was worried about you. Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I stayed late at the hospital last night. Blair was getting worked up about things."

"Yeah, he told me he had been doing that. He actually started crying when I told him the news."

"I best get to the hospital. Thanks for the good news, Paul. I'll be fine."

"Are you sure you don't want me to stay?"

"No. I'll be fine."

"Take care of yourself, Jim."

"Will do, Paul." Jim closed the door and cursed himself. He hadn't meant to sleep so long. All the events had caught up to him. And he had stayed late last night at the hospital. He should have just slept in the adjoining bed in Blair's room. But he didn't want Blair to pick up on how tired and worried he was. Like Blair.

Jim jumped in the shower and quickly got clean along with shaving. He put on clean clothes and was ready to return to the hospital. He arrived about 11:15.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm sorry, Chief. I was just so tired. I needed some extra sleep."

"Did Dr. Byron tell you?"

"Yeah. What did I tell you?"

"You were right. And I was worrying about nothing. At least according to Dr. Byron."

"So, has the doctor stopped by yet?"

"Not yet. But he should be here shortly."

The doctor stopped by about ten minutes later. He had Blair's discharge papers and Blair signed them. Blair thanked the doctor for the care he received.

"So, you ready to blow this place?"

"More than ready, Jim."

They left the hospital. But not before Blair (and Jim) said goodbye to the patients and the personnel in the hospital. Finally, they were in Jim's truck (packed up again by Jim), ready to go back to Cascade.

"Before we leave town, I think we should stop and eat lunch. Since I didn't get breakfast, I'm hungry."

"Sounds good to me. You know, other than the worry about that skunk, that was probably my favorite stay in the hospital."

"Are you ranking them now, Chief?"

"No. But I'm just saying I wasn't really injured or ill, other than a low-grade fever and a couple of bites."

"I'm glad it wasn't more serious."

They ate lunch and then were on the road back to Cascade.Blair told Jim that Dr. Byron told him the skunk had been a domesticated skunk.

On the drive back to Cascade, Jim got Blair to explain to him what he knew about domesticated skunks. Blair was more than happy to tell Jim all about them.

 

THE END