The screen door let loose a metallic groan as I pulled on its weathered handle. It was a dark and muggy summer’s night so, the more the door pried open, the more odorous the outside became with the contents that filled this broken-down trailer home. It was so potent, that both my partner and I lurched our heads back and instinctively began breathing in through our mouths only. A skill you learn early on as a paramedic – not something you are taught in school, something gifted to you by the burden of experience.
The inside of this dilapidated and rust coated trailer was completely void of light, it was impossible to make out anything inside from where we were stood. The ominous feel to this call was made worse by the sporadic flickering of our emergency lights that were emanating from the ambulance. Almost as fleeting as a blink, the red flicker would illuminate the inside of the trailer while bouncing off of a window or mirror. All I could see for sure, was my spastic shadow moving with a paranormal like coordination, and whatever else my imagination could conjure up. Out of the corner of my eye, while continuing to duck the noxious fumes that had all but engulfed us by now, I swear I saw something dart quickly across the floor just in front of the doorway. I wanted to let go of the door and yelp while descending the three stairs leading to the trailer but, I didn’t. I told myself it was ‘nothing’ and then reached for my flashlight. We knew we were there for a dead person, the unmistakable aroma of death was all around us. As I said, this was a creepy and ominous place to be on a hot, black, summer’s night.
I clicked the button on the top of my Maglite, and a beam of light rivaling that of the sun came to life. Feeling a little more at ease with the ability to not only light my path, but blind anyone who would wish me harm was somewhat comforting in this bleak and nightmarish environment that we found ourselves in. With the light in my hand it was time to make entry. There was no avoiding it. We had been called there to check on a person who had not been seen or heard from in some time and it was our duty to find out why… and we soon would…
My right foot broke ground first, and penetrated the doorway, navigating over the little raised area on the floor. As my foot touched down, a series of shrill squeaks rose up from the floor boards. Before the sound even had time to settle, another unnerving revelation came to life, that ‘thing’ that I had thought I had seen scamper passed on the floor, was real! It was a fucking cat!! The cries from the ailing trailer must have startled it, and it came barreling across my path. Once again, I was ready to jump back, but, didn’t. I did however, release a deep and quickened sigh, to settle my nerves, and followed the cat’s path angrily with my gaze. And I suppose it was fortunate that I did, as the cat ran towards another doorway. There was no door though, just hinges from where a door once rested. As if possible, that room appeared darker than the rest of the trailer. Sadly, and unnervingly so, I knew that was where I had to go – further into the darkness…
As my light danced along countertops and cupboards, it was evident that the person residing here, cared very little for housework or self-clean up. A leaning cluster of neglected dishes marked the spot where a sink would be. There was evidence that this individual was a drinker, as there was a graveyard of empty and half-drank bottles of beer and liquor sprawled across the floor and surfaces of this crypt-like trailer. This level of contempt for chores did not help with the overall aroma that wafted towards me as I navigated further into the unknown.
As I was nearing the blackened doorway where the menacing feline had run to, a gruff voice broke in from the outside, “He in there!?”. It was the trailer park’s superintendent, he was the one who had allowed us the use of his keys in order to make our way inside. However, his naive intrigue meant that he accompanied the keys. He would likely of come inside had I not demanded he remain outside and away from the entryway. I gazed through the trailer towards the direction of his voice, I left his query unanswered, and continued on towards the looming doorway.
As I cautiously maneuvered my way along the old, irascible, linoleum floor, making sure to yaw around the scattered bottles and cans and whatever else there was strewn about, I drew ever closer to the deep, black room. I used the effulgence of my light as a guide and made sure to stay ready for whatever else may or may not jump out at me, or run passed me. I was about an arm’s reach from the door frame itself now, and as I followed the glow of the light, I was made aware that this was a bedroom, and within it, was someone on the bed.
Initially all I could make out was a pale and discolored foot, poking out from underneath a lazily placed blanket. It had the same complexion as that of a stereotypical zombie. Around the toes were darkened blots of what I assumed to be lividity, and worm like lines that were little wider than a hair. I knew this person was dead but I called out anyway, “Sir. Sir it’s the Paramedic’s. Can you Answer me?”. No answer ever came… Though, I will admit, with how this call had been going, I half-expected to hear the consternation cry and moan of a zombie.
I used my light to begrudgingly illuminate the rest of this person’s lifeless and blistered body – I wish I hadn’t. His ghastly face matched the grotesque complexion of the foot. Decomposition had already begun to take its course so, his eye sockets were sunken and sloughing to the direction in which his head was lain. As I was taking in all of the visual horrors of this grim discovery, my ears became alert to a unique and unsuspecting sound; it was the sound of something rubbing or, licking. I shot my flashlight towards where I thought the sound was coming from and when the beam stopped, it highlighted a calico feline, mercilessly licking and nibbling on the toes of the deceased. It was at that moment that I remembered the dark blots that I assumed were skin discolorations, they weren’t – it was damaged tissue from where the cat had been licking and biting. The cat ignored my light for the most part, it occasionally threw an unflappable gaze towards me and continued to gnaw at the larger toe.
I know and I knew then, that it was just a cat and not at all capable of rational thought, but its apathy towards what it was doing was disarming and something not easily forgotten. Needless to say, I’m more of a dog person now…
The was a scene written by the devil himself. I am not a religious man, so, the reference is merely to paint how I viewed this horrid scene. And really, it’s the best description I can think of to explain it.
I withdrew from the trailer and confirmed to my partner that the person inside was indeed dead, and that we needed to call the police to come and take over the scene. The super was intrusively listening to what I was saying to my partner but, I really had no time to satisfy his delusional fantasies of what was inside. No one needed to know, except me, I was burdened with that knowledge.
I returned to the truck where I removed my outer uniform shirt, and discarded of it in the back of the ambulance. I sat in the front passenger side of the ambulance, and slammed on the AC and began lathering myself in Purell hand sanitizer. I even placed some under my nose and allowed for the sting of its alcohol to take hold and irritate my nostrils. It was welcomed over the stench of death that had taken residency within them for the past several minutes.
When my partner came back to the truck, he too had burdened himself with what was inside of the trailer. He sat behind the wheel of the ambulance and looked over at me while awaiting my returned gaze. As I peered over he released a simultaneous sigh and spoken word, “Fuck… that, that was gross…” I nodded my head with agreement and said, “some night of the living dead shit, brother.” No sooner after expressing my concurrence with what both he and I were now feeling, he reached for the Purell, and proceeded with his own cleansing ritual.
I guess I should share why I am writing about this story today, I mean, it is a random and unlikely tale to recall on a warm sunny day like the one we are having here in the city. Well, it started last night, when I closed my eyes and began to drift away. As the dreams started playing from behind my eyes, a random and uninvited image of a zombie’s foot graced the back of my eyelids, and with it, the lurid scent of decay initiated its torment of my senses. That was my wake up call this morning. That was my alarm. I have been at Starbucks ever since, trying to drown out the horrible smell ever since… I think I even sprayed five or six spurts of cologne on before leaving the house… sadly, I think now it’s me who is punishing those around me – I am at the largest table with seats on both sides, and I am the only one taking up residency… Oops… Sorry people. Blame the man in the trailer, I am…