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Type: Contemporary , Horror, Fantasy
Author: Kevin Wright
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Revelations is a Lovecraftian horror set in modern times in the east coast mill city of Colton Falls. On his first ambulance shift, Peter Poole is savaged by a ghoul and infected with its deadly disease. Death or transformation into a ghoul is surely to follow. With help from his partner and a cast of increasingly strange misfits he strives to survive in a city rife with eldritch horror. Revelations is available in ebook form in most formats through www.smashwords.com and in soft cover by www.lulu.com.Rating: 5.00 Reviews: 1
The two canvas bags banged against his hip and legs as he clambered up the last flight of stairs. At the top he paused … huffing … staring down a dark hallway. Behind, red lights spun flashing away the dark, his ambulance, outside, parked beneath the stairwell window. Ahead … the long hallway … rows of doors … and at the end … a window. A crescent moon shown in, casting black bars across the floor and walls. He hustled on as clouds engulfed the moon, and was left in the flashing-red dark.
He clicked on his flashlight and read the brass door numbers. 690 … 692 … 694 … 696— Okay, this is it. Okay, chill out … relax. He turned—“Carmine, this is it. Should we—?” He looked around. Shit. His partner wasn’t there. Where the hell— Peter was alone … on his first call.
“Carmine…?” he called out.
He pounded on the door.
“Hello … ambulance!”
He waited … nothing.
“Hello! Cavalier Ambulance!” He pounded again. “Did someone call 911? Hello?!” He pounded again … and yelled … no answer. He glanced at the address he’d written on his blue nitrile glove. It’s the right number.
Peter tested the doorknob … it turned smoothly. He pushed it ajar—paused—and looked back down the hall … Should wait for Carmine … then he glanced inside—reason was washed away in a torrent of adrenalin. “Oh, fuck,” he said, and he meant it—both canvas bags thumped to the floor.
A man lay half-naked, stomach bloated, sallow, face-up on a sofa, emaciated legs and arms lifeless-askew. From the grinning crimson gash that was his mouth, blood trickled. It stained the grey skin of his chest and distended abdomen below.
Shattered syringes and bent needles infected the floor, glistening constellations in the half-glow of the single bulb swaying on its cord. Shadows spun.
Okay—okay—what do I do? He looked at the naked guy, then back at the stairwell, trying to will his partner to suddenly appear.
“Carmine!” he yelled, “Carmine, get up here!”
Carmine did not suddenly appear.
Fumbling his way to the man’s head—“Jesus!”—syringes crunched underfoot. He kicked clear a spot, and knelt by the man’s head. “Hey, sir! SIR! You alright!?” he yelled in the man’s ear. Tubes tumbled to the floor when he opened the plastic portable suction kit. “Sir, you okay?”
Stupid fucking question-what do I do? Overdose … okay … relax … deep breath … another deep breath—ABC’s—airway first … then breathing … then something … then … something else…
In the distance, in the back of his mind, Peter might have heard the leaden—!THWOMP!—of Carmine stomping his way up the stairs. “Hurry up, Carmine!” he yelled.
Okay … guy’s not breathing.
Peter pried open the man’s mouth. Blood, pooled to the brim of his lips, spilled out. “Jesus.” With crimsoned fingers he felt for a carotid pulse … wondering if he couldn’t feel it because it wasn’t there, or because his skills sucked. Shit. He’s dead. Defib, where? He looked around. Carmine’s got it—suction … guy needs suction. Still warm. Fucking reeks.
The suction unit chugged to life when Peter switched it on. It slurped and hissed and gurgled as he dipped the catheter into the guy’s mouth, making all those nasty, gurgled sounds one hears at the dentist’s office just before they say, “Spit!” Red twisted and twirled up the tubing towards the collection container. “Hey Carmine!”
Feet stomped … somewhere … the stairs?
Peter pushed the rigid tip of the catheter deeper and it gurgled violently—and the man convulsed—Peter sprung back ninja-quick, saving his uniform and boots from the stream of crimson vomit.
The suction chugged…
Sputtering and coughing … hacking … the man gagged up a mouthful of blood and … other stuff.
“Sir … sir, you okay?” he asked, stepping forward. “Just hang on a second. We’re gonna to get you to the hospital. I’m … I’m gonna give you some oxygen.”
The man was doubled over, sputtering, hacking.
“Sir, we’ll get you—maybe you should sit down—”
Standing now, the man pounced forward and latched onto Peter’s jacket and throat, his grips vises.
Peter staggered back, swinging, as the man lurched forward, squeezing … squeezing. Peter’s head and back slammed against the wall, and the man leaped onto him, latching onto his shoulder—with his teeth!
Staggering, Peter tore his shoulder free but not his throat—the man hurled him—!SMASH!—to the floor. Syringes hopped.
The man crawled on top of him.
Peter gurgled, pinned by the throat.
He fought though, punching, kicking, wriggling.
Growling, the man bore his full weight on Peter’s neck … the vises squeezed tight … tighter … and Peter’s vision squeezed dark … darker.
His arms flailed limp … then his legs … and then his body. Before he passed out … head lolling back … he saw the horrible pink grimace of the man … the dead man. Only … he wasn’t dead … and he wasn’t on the couch … and he had … orange teeth?
The viper smile descended towards him … the suction unit chugged…
* * *
Darkness … voices muttering … incomprehensibabble … Oooh, pain, definite pain, make pain stop … “Hey kid” … Mmmm smells like barbecue … monkey chatter … -!SCHLUCK!-… “Hey kid … kid, wake up!”— More pain … Oh, man … stop … make it stop … garlic? No barbecue? “Don’t like that much do ya kid …-!SCHLUCK!-… “Wake up, kid, and I won’t do it again” … Carmine? Man, my shoulder hurts …
“Good. You alright, kid?” a voice asked…
“Easy now, sit up slow. Yeah, that’s it. Nice, deep breath, Pete. There you go. Another one.”
“Hmmm? What the—?“
“What … what happened?” Peter asked, sitting up with someone’s—Carmine’s aid. Cool night air blew strong, and Peter inhaled deeply. “Uhhg…” The room reeked of acrid smoke.
“Feel better?” Carmine asked; he glanced left and right over his shoulders.
“Hmmm? What?” Peter leaned against Carmine’s pudgy hand, on his back, propping him up. Carmine’s breath was close and reeked of garlic.
Peter almost gagged.
“You okay?” Carmine asked.
“HHHHLLLLLLLAAAH!” Peter puked … and then he puked again.
His head lolled to the side as he came to his senses, and the room swirled into focus. He wiped his chin. “Urrg. God.” Blaring light from a flashlight suddenly glared in his eyes; Peter squinted, blocking it with his hand. Men chattered in the dark.
“What happened?” Peter asked, rubbing his right shoulder; it was sore.
“You almost bought it, kid,” Carmine said. “If it wasn’t for the cops,” he pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, “you’d be toast.” Carmine stood with some difficulty and turned towards the glare, “He’s okay, guys, you can take off.”
“He clean?” asked the man carrying the flashlight. Peter could not see his face; the light was too bright.
“Yeah, spotless, Sarge,” Carmine said. “Just bumped his head a bit.”
“I’ll need a 69-A on him, anyways, Carmine,” the sergeant said. Papers rustled in the dark. He held the thick sheaf out into the light.
“What’s a 69—“ Peter asked, but Carmine punched him in the arm.
“Sure thing, Sarge,” Carmine said, lunging forward to take the papers. “Checked him head to toe, though. Not a scratch.” Carmine glanced at his watch. “Could save yourself some paperwork … almost shift change.”
The sergeant lowered the sheaf of papers for a moment in indecision. He took a deep breath. “You sure he’s clean?” he asked, after a moment, lowering the flashlight for a second … he whipped it back up, blinding. “Okay, Carmine, we’re out. Tell him to watch it next time, though. This ain’t a fucking kid’s game, and he sure as hell ain’t ready for the big-boy league.”
“I’ll have a talk with him.”
“Building’s clean, squad three’s out,” the sergeant said into the mike at his shoulder. Then he and the light were gone out the door followed by the sound of feet pounding down stairs.
“Carmine … what the hell happened?” Peter asked. He rubbed his head and glanced round the room. With the flashlight out of his eyes he could see again. The room … something was different about it. The dead guy, or not so dead guy, was gone … so was the couch … the ceiling … parts of the floors … walls … most of them. Pieces of drywall still clung in places.
Peter glanced around. It were as though he sat within the vulture-gleaned ribcage of some long-dead giant. Wall studs, like bones, lay bare, charred … cracked … splintered … jutting from the floor to ceiling and across. The skin of drywall and plaster was blasted mostly away. “Jesus,” Peter said. Soot stained everything. Pieces of ceiling fell and shattered as they hit the floor. Looking out past the charred bricks Peter could see buildings … lights of the city. The red lights of his ambulance whirled below, along with blues.
He rubbed his shoulder. “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape zipped back and forth from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling.
“Jeeze, who were those guys?” Peter asked. “Cops? SWAT team?”
“Containment squad,” Carmine said.
“Containment? Wha—What happened to the dead guy?” Peter asked. “He grabbed me—wasn’t dead. Not even close. I thought … I mean he wasn’t breathing … had no pulse … I thought.”
“Well, he’s dead now, kid, don’t you worry. Cops cooked him,” Carmine said, bending over. “Here … let me help you up.”
“Cops … torched this place pretty good, huh?” Peter said. “For one guy?” Movement from the next room caught Peter’s attention. What was moving he couldn’t see; a section of Swiss-cheesed, charred drywall and police tape blocked his view. It was dark in there, too … darker…
“The Padre,” Carmine said following his gaze.
Peter took an involuntary step in that direction, but Carmine’s hand was on his chest, stopping him. “You don’t need to see that.”
“Last rites, kid,” Carmine whispered, taking a deep breath. “Last rites.”
“On the what? The dead guy?” Peter asked; his shoulder throbbed now. He scratched it; there was something soft and bulky beneath his shirt.
“No, that guy had his last rites a long time ago,” Carmine said. “No, bunch of junkies. Got what was coming to them. Should’ve known better. Stupid bastards.” Carmine frowned. “Let’s go, kid, grab the bags and the stair-chair, I’ll take the suction.”
“Sure … okay.” Peter’s gaze lingered on the next room, partially obstructed by the char and tape. Within, he could see a … a man kneeling over something … muttering dark words, words Peter could not make out.
Garbed in black, a wide-brimmed preacher’s hat on his brow, the man rose from his knees. He was tall, very tall; the ceilings seemed too low to contain him. In his hand he bore a cane. With a swift jerk he stabbed the cane down—!THUNK!—skewering something on the floor, and in one clean motion he whisked free a blade from within the cane—an arc of light in the darkness—and swept downward—!SCHLUNK!—and he sheathed it. He doffed his hat and bowed his head. Peter craned his neck to see.
“Ashes to ashes,” the Padre said, donning his hat, “they all fall down.”
The Padre, face wreathed in the shadow, turned. Through a blown-out section of the wall, ducking, he stepped, and strode smoothly past, sloshing with each step. Dropping a hand on Peter’s shoulder, the Padre moved past; his hand was wet. “Do not go in there, my son,” rumbled a voice from the depths of the shadow of the preacher’s hat, and then he was gone, out the door, glistening footsteps trailing in his wake.
“C’mon Pete,” Carmine said, pulling him around, “We gotta go. C’mon, grab the bags.”
“But … I want to see—“
“Grab the bags.”
“Fine … whatever,” Peter said. He grabbed the first-in bag and slung it over his shoulder. “Ahh! What the hell-” He dropped it to the floor and rubbed his shoulder. “Jeeze.” He pulled his collar down a bit and peered in at his shoulder.
“Not here, Pete,” Carmine said, pulling Peter’s shirt up.
Peter jerked his shoulder away from Carmine and examined it. A bandage was on it.
“You got bit, Pete,” Carmine said softly. Carmine’s dark glance lingered on Peter’s shoulder and then met his eyes.
“What?” asked Peter.
“I said,” Carmine took a deep breath and peered over his shoulder, and then back at Peter. He whispered, “You got bit … by the dead guy … on the shoulder.”
“So, kid, you hungry?” Carmine asked, turning the steering wheel.
“I’m fine,” Peter grunted.
Carmine hadn’t uttered a word since they’d left the emergency room. It was past midnight now. Peter hadn’t uttered a word either. He’d just fumed in the passenger seat as they cruised through the city back to base. There, a pair of crusty couches with numerous springs poking through eagerly awaited their arrival. Peter glanced sidelong at his partner. Like you need to eat.
“Well, I’m hungry,” Carmine said.
Carmine turned the steering wheel with the heel of his palm, disregarded all the well-marked, empty spaces and parked in the fire lane in front of a restaurant. A huge neon sign read, Cha Chi’s. “How’s the shoulder?” Carmine asked.
“Which one? The one the psycho-guy bit, or the one the ER doc jabbed fifty needles in?”
“I’m gonna grab a bite before we head back to base,” Carmine said, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb.
“You do that,” Peter said. Their trip to the emergency room and his blood tests had not brightened his spirits. The results were pending.
Carmine looked at him. “Still pissed, huh?”
“I’m fine,” Peter said.
“You don’t even know why you’re pissed,” Carmine said.
Peter just scowled.
“You sure you don’t want anything?” Carmine asked, grabbing the portable radio, clicking it on, and hooking it on his belt. “They’re good. Ever have a chimichanga? Hmm? Deep-fried burrito covered in cheese … lotsa vitamins.”
“I know why I’m pissed,” Peter said, folding his arms and staring at the dashboard, studying its intricate vinyl patterns.
“No, you look,” Peter said. “I’m not a kid, I’m twenty-one. You’re my partner. You could’ve backed me up back there.”
“You ran off, kid.”
“You were taking your damned time.”
“Yeah, well … um …” Peter said. “What about that cop? He insults me, and you punch me in the arm and then agree with him? Then you punch me again, right before lying to the emergency doc. What the hell was that? I didn’t fill out a … a 69-A.”
“I know,” Carmine said.
“Well, what if I get in trouble, or something?” Peter asked.
“You don’t understand.”
“Why, cause I’m a kid?”
“Kid, what’s the first rule on any call?”
“Don’t throw your partner under the bus.”
Carmine just stared at him for a moment. “I’m going to get chimichangas,” he finally said. “Think about it. Tell me when I get back.” He walked away.
* * *
The worn spine of the thick hardbound book creaked shut on the lap of Emily Tine. Taking a deep breath and removing her glasses, she then marked the page with an old Chinese food menu.
Some would say it was a rousing book. It was a compilation of stories chronicling the deeds of knights in days of yore, the Knights of the Round Table. They were stories about the destinies of men, great men.
Emily read it every night after her shift at the nursing home. She would curl up with it upon her lap, by the light of the small lamp next to his bed. Tonight was a little later than usual.
Emily had worked at the Benson Manor nursing home almost twenty years now and knew every story by heart. She could tell you that on page one hundred and twenty one, halfway down, there was a tear. The bottom half of the page was missing. Emily knew what happened there, though. She knew that Sir Tristram had defeated Sir Marhaus while receiving a grievous wound of his own, but had survived. Emily knew this because she had gone to the library years ago, when her hair was not so gray, and her glasses not so thick. She had taken out the book and memorized the parts missing, so she would know what happened. Yes, Emily knew that book as well as she knew her prayers. She never skipped a night, even coming in on her off days.
Emily Tine hated that book. It was far too gory. Everyone always fought. Moreover, there was never a happy ending, never. Even the good people, the nice people fought, and they usually got it the worst.
It might seem like a happy ending sometimes, but if you read just a little further on, you always found you were wrong. After Arthur becomes king and marries Guinevere, she cheats on him with his best friend. Merlin gets locked away. Tristram gets murdered. Galahad, after finding the Grail, just disappears.
It was not a happy book.
She read it though, every night, because one of her patients loved it. His name was Elliot Spears and he was a vegetable. Emily never, ever referred to him as such, but the rest of the staff did.
Elliot stared out the window all day long. He never spoke, never moved, never blinked, never complained, never lied, never cheated, never disappointed, and he never hit her. Except when he had one of his seizures. Those were terrible, and lasted a long time. Emily knew they hurt him, and so they hurt her, too.
Elliot loved that book, though; she just knew it. She felt a sense of calm come over him as she read aloud … when Lancelot lay next to Guinevere. A tremor ran through his body whenever Gawaine took up the challenge of the Green Knight and when Arthur fell. Subtle maybe, but it was there. Emily hoped dearly that some day Elliot might awaken, might just blink and wake up.
“Howdy, Em,” he might say. Then he would thank her, and they would go off together somewhere. Somewhere warm and bright and clear. She saw something within those glassy green eyes. She saw life; she saw laughter; she saw love.
“One day, Elliot … it’s our destiny,” Emily Tine whispered. She placed the book on the nightstand next to his bed and turned off the lamp—!CLICK!
“Hello?” came a voice.
Emily jumped; she was a bit jumpy. A deep breath she took. “Sorry I woke you, Mr. Poole, it’s just me, Emily,” she said across the dark room. “Just reading to Elliot.”
“Oh, Em, that you, eh?” Mr. Poole said. “What time is it? Can’t see, my glasses?”
“Neither can I, Mr. Poole,” Emily said, and looked at her watch. “It’s quarter past one.”
“You’re here late again, Em. When do you sleep?”
“Oh, I can never sleep when I get home, anyways, Mr. Poole,” Emily said.
“Remember, call me Nate.”
“Okay … Nate,” Emily said, smiling.
“So how’s that cat of yours?” Nathaniel asked. “Give birth, yet?”
“No, any day now, though,” she said. “She’s fit to pop.”
“Well why not go home, get some sleep?” Nathaniel said. “You do too much.”
“I just like to read to Elliot. Helps me wind down before I go home, you know? I’m sure he doesn’t realize anything—“
“I’m sure he does Emily.”
Emily beamed in the dark, dabbing a sparkling eye with a tissue. “Thanks, Mr. Poole,” she said.
“Y’know Em, you’re just about the only good thing about this damned place.”
“Thanks, Mr. Poole,” she said, adjusting a pillow behind Elliot’s head, “Wish I could take you all home with me.” She looked at Elliot, leaned forward, and kissed him softly on the forehead. “Goodnight,” she whispered and walked towards the door.
“Goodnight, Emily,” Nathaniel said. “And be careful walking to your car. Read the papers, that nut’s still on the loose.”
“Thanks, Mr. Poole. I’ll be careful,” she said, stopping. “Can I get you anything before I go?”
“Could you ask one of the nurses to get me a glass of water?”
Emily shook her head. “No, I’ll get you one myself,” she said, and she did.
“Well?” Carmine asked, stuffing his mouth with a chimichanga, orange meat juice drooling down his chin. He pulled the door shut.
“Well, what?” Peter asked, staring straight ahead.
“Still pissed, huh?” Carmine said with his mouth full. In a perfect parabola a piece of meat shot from his mouth and landed on Peter’s lap. Peter wiped it off in disgust.
“What’s rule number one?” Carmine asked, wiping his chin with the back of his hand.
“What? ABC’s?” Peter said, rolling his eyes. “Airway, Breathing, Circulation. I suctioned the guy.”
“Before that,” Carmine said, chomping. “Before you even step foot out of the ambulance and go tearing off.”
Peter shot him a hot glare and that was all.
“Has to be safe, kid,” Carmine said. “We do any more calls, you don’t step foot out of this bus unless I tell you, got it?”
“Look, if you don’t trust me—“
“I don’t trust you,” Carmine said. “You haven’t given me reason to trust you. Trust is earned. And you think you’re not happy? I’ve got to run through this city holding your hand.”
“Look, if you don’t want to be my partner—“
“I’m not your partner,” Carmine said. “Partners watch each others backs. They don’t run off. My partner banged out. That’s the only reason we’re working together tonight. From now on, you just make damn sure you do what I tell you.”
Emily walked into the nurses’ station and pulled her worn, pink winter coat off a peg. She draped a scarf across the back of her neck and slid into her coat. A buzzer went off on the counter next to the television and the two nurses sitting there fiercely ignored it. Emily pulled on a thick white winter cap.
One nurse glanced at the yellow blinking light. “One-eighteen … Mr. Poole. Crapped himself again. It’s your turn, Maureen,” she said, stuffing a cheese curl into her mouth. She then licked her orange fingers. The other nurse pointed at the television and laughed.
“Hi Jean, hi Maureen,” Emily said. “I’m going to go now.”
“It’s your turn,” Jean said to Maureen.
“No, I got Mr. Dean a … a glass of milk.”
“Before, during Letterman.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Oh yes, I did. You were in the bathroom.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Maureen said, reaching her hand into the bag of cheese curls. The first nurse pulled the bag away.
“Look, I’ll go see what it is,” Emily said, unzipping her coat. “Honestly…”
“Maureen will get it, won’t you Maureen?” Jean said. “Go home, Emily. Say hi to your cats.”
Maureen rose slowly, licking the cheese off her fingers. She nodded, “Fine, I’ll go. You better tell me what happens, though.”
“Yeah … whatever,” Jean said, eating even more cheese curls.
Emily zipped her coat up and walked out of the nurses’ station, down the hall, and out the side door.
“Ooohh! Maureen! Quick, come here!” Jean said, wolfing down more cheese curls, eyes glued to the television, “It’s Antonio Sabato junior!”
“Oooohh!” Maureen cried, her rubber shoes squeaking as she ran back.
“What did Mr. Poole want?” Jean asked.
“Oh … I don’t know,” Maureen said, “I’ll go check in a second,” she sat down next to Jean, wide eyes glued to the tube. “Gimme some cheese curls.”
“Wanna hop out and open the garage?” Carmine asked. He finished chewing the last of his burritos and crumpled up the wrappers into one giant, greasy, orange ball.
Wanna bite me? Pete opened the door and slid out.
“Hey, Pete, you finish all the paperwork?” Carmine asked out the window.
Peter stopped mid-stride, pivoted, and marched back to the ambulance. He extracted his tin paperwork folder from between the seats. “Hope it stays quiet,” Peter muttered.
“Great, you just jinxed us.”
“What? You superstitious or something?”
“Damn right I am, and you will be, too, working this job,” Carmine said, looking up as if in fear. “EMS gods’ll never let us get away with that.” He grinned.
Peter gave Carmine an eyeful of despondence. EMS Gods? What a loser. “Yeah, well … sorry, I guess,” he said, and meandered back toward the front door of the base.
Bleary-eyed, Emily rattled her keys as she walked through the empty parking lot towards her car. The jingling gave her some small comfort. It covered those background noises that spooked her, and all noises spooked her. She walked faster.
“Should’ve asked Jean to come with me … or Maureen, not that they would have,” she said out loud, just to hear something. As a child, she had learned to sleep with a finger in the ear not pressed against her pillow. She didn’t mind monsters so much, as long as she didn’t see or hear them.
“Whistle while you work … just whistle while you work,” she sang to herself as she walked around the corner of the huge red brick building. Lights were scarce behind the brick monstrosity, and emaciated tree branches creeped over the high wooden fence like grasping, skeletal claws. She hated parking way back here, especially on her night shifts, but management made her.
She stared down the row of mostly empty spaces to her white Dodge Aires parked next to the dumpster. A chill took her as the few brown leaves left clinging to the trees shook in the cold November breeze. She clutched her keys in a white-knuckled grip. Her pocketbook she slung back over her shoulder. She imagined footsteps behind her as she reached the car door.
She didn’t look back, though; she just couldn’t. Her chest heaved. “Come on … come on,” she said, scrabbling the key tip against the lock. The key went into the lock halfway and jammed.
It was upside down!
Yanking and twisting it, nearly crying, “Come on, come on,” she whispered to herself, and then … she … she peeked over her shoulder … and saw … nothing…
“Fraidy-cat … come on … come on,” she said, wiping her hands on her scarf and then yanking on the key one more time. It came free. She flipped it, pushed it in, and turned it with a—!THUNK!
The door creaked open, and Emily slipped in. She pulled it shut, locked it, and took another deep breath. Safety … a blanket of safety spread over her whole body and she relaxed, both hands on the steering wheel. She put the key in the ignition and turned. It started right up, and if it didn’t purr like a kitten it can be forgiven, for it soothed Emily more than a bubble bath and a glass of Asti. A ten minute drive and she would be home.
Emily pressed the brake, popped the shifter into reverse, threw her right arm over the seat, turned, and screamed.
Oh, this is gonna be so nice. Just a few hours. The paperwork was done, finally.
Peter unzipped his boots and slid them off, leaving them at the foot of the mangled couch. He giggled to himself and slid his feet into his sleeping bag, twisted over, fluffed his pillow up, and laid his head down. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … EMS … earn money sleeping …
The phone rang.
Carmine picked it up; he was closest. “Fuck,” he said across the room. “Fuck,” he said again, hanging up.
Uh, oh … a double fucker.
“We gotta go, kid,” Carmine said from across the room. “Ever do a shooting?”
“Emily! GO BACK! Emily! Nurse! TURN AROUND! Nurse!” He shouted as Emily walked past his window outside. Nathaniel Poole frantically squeezed his nurse-call button again, but finally threw it aside.
“God-damn you stupid fucking bitches!” he roared. None of the nurses came, though. His glass of milk and bedpan were already on the floor by the window. Emily hadn’t heard them slam into the window. She’d kept walking by the window, toward her car … toward Him.
Finally, Nathaniel grabbed the bedrails and hauled himself over the side of the bed, crashing on the floor. “Emily! Emily! Stop!” he cried, pulling himself across the floor, his braced legs twisting in excruciating pain.
“Stop! Stop! Don’t go!” He cried as his fingers grasped at the windowsill. Nathaniel couldn’t see what was happening outside, and if he could have, he couldn’t help anyway.
Carmine screeched the ambulance up onto the curb across the street from the Benson Manor nursing home. Red lights spun off the red brick face, dwarfed by the armada of blue sparkling from cruisers dotting the street. Police tape crisscrossed the sole entrance to the manor’s parking lot, set between the building and the high thick fence encircling the waste disposal plant adjacent. Two police officers in what appeared to be full riot gear stood shoulder to shoulder behind the tape.
Carmine clicked the mike, “A-14’s on scene with PD.”
“Received, 14. Thirteen-thirty-eight,” answered dispatch.
Peter Poole, white knuckles clenching the OH-SHIT handle above his head, took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and popped open his door. Thank you, God. He unclicked his seatbelt and slid out of his seat towards the blessed pavement.
“Sweet Jesus, Pete!” Carmine said—and Peter was yanked suddenly back—choking—into the ambulance. Carmine’s meaty paw had him by the back of his collar. “What the hell’d we talk about before?”
“Uh … chimichangas?”
“Great,” Carmine said, smiling despite himself, and letting go. “This scene look safe to you?”
“The, uh, the SWAT team’s here,” Peter said, “and a ton of cruisers. Some lights around back, too.”
“Look kid, just cause the blue canaries are here, don’t mean it’s safe—we’re too close as it is,” Carmine said. “And see those two guys there?” Carmine pointed at the two police officers.
“What, the SWAT guys?”
“Yeah. They’re here, that means the scene ain’t safe,” Carmine said. “You don’t ever go in unless you got clearance from the chief, SWAT commander, or the sniffer.”
“What’s the hell’s a sniffer?”
“Him,” Carmine said pointing to a small man, clad in a grey hat and trench coat, who materialized at the side of the two SWAT officers. Dropping to one knee, he surveyed the ground carefully and pulled then from his briefcase a grey tile. He placed it on the ground carefully and then drew lines outward from it.
“Chalk?” asked Peter. “What’s he doing?”
“Securing the scene.”
The sniffer abruptly raised his other hand, pointed at the ambulance with his forefinger and then gave a thumbs-up sign. Without looking up, he then took an interest in the walls of the Benson Manor, peering so closely at the bricks that his nose almost touched them.
“C’mon Pete, grab everything,” Carmine said. “C’mon, safe as it’s gonna get…
Peter piled all of the equipment onto their stretcher: the first-in bag, the portable oxygen canister, the portable suction kit, a defibrillator, a collar bag and a backboard. Then he pulled the stretcher, and the wheels came clattering down.
Carmine took the lead and they walked over to the police tape. The SWAT officers did not move, did not acknowledge Peter or Carmine. They wore some kind of body armor that looked like black plastic, and strapped across their chests were assault rifles. Riot shields leaned on the fence within easy reach. Peter also noticed short broad-bladed swords strapped to their hips.
“Swords?” Peter asked.
“One cannot always rely on guns,” said the man in the grey trench coat, the sniffer, who was dressed like a CIA spook. He doffed his grey Oxford-quality hat and looked up. “Mister Gutierrez.”
“Detective Winters,” Carmine said.
Detective Winters’ gaze passed over Carmine and settled on Peter. They froze, intensifying. “They’re clean … for now,” Detective Winters said glancing up at the SWAT team, then back down at the metal tile and chalk pattern he had drawn upon the ground. The silver lines seemed to shimmer and bend amidst the shadows. “You will not require the stretcher.”
“Got your boy leashed this time, eh, Carmine?” said one of the SWAT officers. He towered over everyone but his partner.
They left the stretcher and stepped over the silver pattern, following Detective Winters down the dark potholed pavement between the building and the large moldy fence. The only light came from the ambulance and cruisers behind. The tree branches seemed to crawl over the fence … reaching … rustling…
“Quietly … soft as silk, the killing began … decades past. Whispers as throats were slit echoed in the cool evening parks. Blood seeped from the nameless wretches who dwelt under the bridges and drizzled into the river to mix in the black misted canals that scar this scab of earth that is Colton Falls. And no one cared. Years passed…
“And the crumpled dead eyes of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson bore silent witness to the slaying of the banshee-whores who bled in the boarding houses and alleyways whence their trade was plied. Glass shattered, feet stomped, doors pounded, and guns shot, but always in the morning … sometimes later, sometimes much later … they were always found, gaunt and grey, a visage of eldritch horror riveted to their sallow flesh. And still no one cared. For years, no one dared. Apathy, ignorance, as in ages before, became the mantra.
“Guns blazed in the night as tires screeched. Houses were strafed … riddled with bullets, and men quivered in corners, fuming, impotent. Then those shootings stopped.
“Sometimes those young men in those fine cars, suped up and shiny, after their tires had screamed and their pulses thumped in the joy and adrenalin of explosion and recoil and death—they would be found. Young men armed to the teeth lay sprawled dead upon the cold concrete floors. Their veins as empty as the shell casings, still smoking, littering the ground.
“I shall not lie … the police were happy, less work for them. They tried to keep it quiet, to hide it, conceal it, but word grows on the street, and death is its catalyst. But the bums and whores and gangsters talked. A festering wound, it scourged the city. And those who at first did not care … who ignored … those who looked away, began to hear, and despite themselves began to listen. And they began to fear…”
“What’s eldritch mean?” Peter whispered.
“He always talk like this? Where’s he from?”
“The Twilight Zone,” Carmine muttered.
They rounded the corner of the building, and Peter shielded his eyes from the blazing scene lights that turned the mid of night to noon. More men in SWAT gear were posted along the fence and building.
“The woman is dead, you cannot help her,” Detective Winters said, staring off. Carmine and Peter might not have even been there. “This way. The medical examiner has been detained at an apartment complex on Essex Street. He cannot be here to pronounce her, and though death to me is chaff to the scythe, I cannot pronounce her, bound as I am by these rules … these protocols my superiors—” he said “superiors” the way most people say local government, “—tell me I must abide by, limiting my actions, movements, my effectiveness. One of you must pronounce her … you … medical personnel.”
“No problem, Winters … uh, Detective Winters … that is…”
Detective Winters just stared at Peter as though he were an insect … or less.
Detective Winters led them through the parking lot. Between two duct-tape lines on the ground they walked. Photo flashes popped like lightning all around them. Men combed the earth, scuttling about like insects, their eyes on the grid-work set up covering the ground. Up to a white Dodge Aires Detective Winters led them. The front windshield was spidered crimson.
“It shall take only one of you to do this,” Detective Winters said. “Touch nothing but the ‘X’ marked on her neck. There you will find no pulse. Wear a glove.”
“What if—,” Peter said.
“She is dead, her soul has … departed,” Detective Winters said. “I assure you, if it were any different, I would have taken the appropriate measures.”
Carmine placed a hand on Peter’s shoulder, “You mind doing this, Pete?” he asked. “I, uh … I know the car … and … her. She’s a nurse … here.”
“Uh, yeah … no problem, man,” Peter lied as sweat began to bead on his back … his forehead … last one tried to kill me. Swallowing, Peter edged towards the small white car. Glass crunched underfoot. The driver’s side window was gone, only a jagged ridge left.
The woman in the car was a nurse … she wore scrubs … a pink jacket … a scarf. Peter leaned in the window. Half of her face was gone—!WHACK!—his head hit the ceiling.
“Jesus!” Peter said. His knees buckled, but he regained them, steadied himself on the door. Behind, Detective Winters hissed like an angry pit viper.
Peter swallowed the pre-vomit saliva flooding under his tongue and stood, steady.
“You okay, Pete?” Carmine asked.
“I can do this,” Peter said to himself. “Yeah, I’m okay.” He reached out his fingers to the woman’s neck; a black “X” was marked on her neck where Detective Winters said it would be. Peter placed his gloved fingers there, trying not to look at the woman’s face, and pressed his fingers in. For ten seconds … twenty seconds … he held his breath and his fingers there, pressed into that pale yielding flesh … he felt nothing. This time he was sure. Thankfully, she didn’t spring awake and try to kill him. He stepped back from the car and exhaled.
“Here you go, Pete,” Carmine said, his face pale. He unfolded a run sheet and held it out. “If you need a hand with it, I’ll help. Couple things we should write.”
“I shall require a copy before you leave,” Detective Winters said, stalking off. “This way…”
“The Benson Manor, cold brick asylum of old that it is, stands in the night like some lost obsidian ziggurat of the demon gods of Ur. A monument to misery. A garden of lost hopes, misspent youth, memories twisted by hate and neglect … hope … mad cackles in the dark. Testimony to the influence of the dark, interference … modern society. Where the dead go who have yet to die, would want to die, if they had the capacity to want. A factory of misery and human waste, polluting this river not with the toxins that the mills pump, but with emotional waste … psychic waste … toxic in its own right. A burgeoning—“
“Dude,” Peter said, slamming his pen down on his paperwork tin. “My dad’s in there. It can’t be that bad.”
“Delusions. Your father?” Detective Winters asked, his pale blue eyes peering. “Have you set foot within?”
Peter looked him in the eye for the briefest of moments before his eyes faltered, before they fell to the concrete. “Yeah … before, not recently, though. I … I haven’t had the chance lately,” Peter said. “I’ve been busy moving into my sister’s apartment … she’s gone for a while.”
“What room?” Detective Winters asked.
“One-eighteen,” Peter said, handing him one of the carbon copies of the report he had just finished.
“Nathaniel Poole … a lifetime working the steel mills … a craftsman … an artist … to end here. You should visit him,” Detective Winters said, eyes piercing in the night. “Did you get it checked, Peter?”
“What?” Peter asked.
“Your shoulder,” Detective Winters said.
“Uh … yeah, the ER doc took a look at it,” Peter said.
Detective Winters stalked back toward the police tape, his eyes scanning the ground for only he knew what.
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