Last night as the digits on the clock moved ever closer to morning, I sat awake on the couch. My body was tired and ready for rest several hours before but, my mind, my mind had other ideas. Conceding to the fact that my wounded mind was to refuse me rest, I decided to put a movie on, and hoped to lose myself within that, and thusly, drift away. And drift away I did, but, not in the way I had hoped…
I scrolled through the protracted list of movies available to me online, and eventually settled on one due to the main actor, one of my favorites, Jeremy Renner. The movie was about a hunter/tracker that works closely with an FBI agent, to track down an apparent murderer in a small, isolated community.
The movie opened with a somewhat disturbing scene, narrated by a young woman. Although the opening moments of the film were disturbing, I don’t think I would class them as traumatic. It did however leave me intrigued, and thusly manacled to the screen. I continued to watch through roughly fifteen or so minutes until there was a scene in which the main protagonist, Jeremy Renner, discovers the body of a deceased local, frozen and dusted by the snow. As my eyes remained enrapt to the screen I began to recall an eerily similar scene that I had watched unfold several years prior. A scene not from a movie, but rather a scene I had once lived. A scene in which I was the protagonist discovering a body, frozen in snow…
I was still in the army when this call took place. I was attached to a rural ambulance crew for a week or so, as part of the military’s maintenance of clinical skills and education upkeep required for all medics to participate in. This was the third night of a projected six, and it had been nothing but low-acuity transfers and down time so far. I did not mind though, the two female paramedics I was partnered with were intensely smart, as well as friendly and auspicious with me, so, it made for a pleasant experience either way.
It was the middle of the winter, and the ambulance station was based out of a small hospital in remote northern Alberta, so, to say it was cold would be a gross understatement. The dark of night came early in that small little town that we were based out of, it always felt late at night, even if it was just past supper time. Despite how frigid the bitter outdoor air was, I still found myself wandering outdoors to pace around and keep from growing idle with boredom. In doing that, I think I jinxed myself, and the two ladies I was entrusted to.
I felt the distinct buzz of a vibrating pager that was attached to my hip. It was dispatch telling us that we had a run to go on. A call. I tore open the doors at the side entrance to the hospital, and briskly made my way to the medic lounge to meet up with the girls. They were already waiting for me. One of the girls, the more senior of the two, was pouring a steaming coffee from the pot into her thermos. The other, was dawning her layers: a fleece zip-up, a neck gator, a thin windbreaker, and then eventually, the fluorescent yellow jacket worn by first responders the world over, complete with reflective writing that read: “EMS”.
They began explaining that we were going to a remote and isolated first nation’s reserve, for complaints that a boy had been stabbed. I hate to admit this but, part of me was excited. As a military medic, trauma was my specialty, so, I was confident that I would be able to shine on this one. I had been to trauma calls before when doing my ride-outs on ambulance while in medic school. I learned most of what I needed to know on East Hastings street in Vancouver. Nothing but stabbings, overdoses, and traumatic injuries littered that street. I got to learn that first hand.
Now that the older medic had sufficiently filled her thermos and dawned the same layered clothing as her partner, she began explaining that the reserve was quite a distance away so, it would take a while to get there – not an ideal situation when it comes to trauma. Especially a stabbing. Depending on the severity of the wounds, time is paramount. We made our way to the ambulance, and mounted our respective seating arrangements. For me, that meant riding in the back. And that’s just what I did. I sat in the back and peered out from behind their seats, looking out towards the black horizon. Fleeting flakes of snow became visible as they crossed with the blinding beams of the ambulance’s headlights. There was a constant sound of static humming throughout the truck, it was the heater vents blasting a tropical heat all around us. Tammy, the older medic, was the one driving, and despite the sketchy road conditions, she drove with ease while one hand clasped the steering wheel, and the other held her precious coffee.
As we continued down the seemingly endless highway, void of any bends or turns, I began to think that Tammy was right – this was far away…
Eventually, I felt the ambulance buckle into a turn. This peaked my interest so, I threw my gaze towards the front of the truck once more. Now, all I could see was that the highway that we had once been on, was replaced with an unkempt and ill maintained snow-covered road. I think the only thing that made this path a road was that drivers had stubbornly made it that way, compacting snow towards the earth until a narrow and winding line appeared in the snow. We jostled and bounced inside the ambulance as it navigated this crude pathway. I have since used Google maps to retrace our steps from that night, and there is not a road or side road or range road anywhere on it. We were rural alright. Right smack in the middle of nowhere.
The snow was intensifying a little now, which I am sure didn’t help things. But Tammy remained as calm and collected as she had been on the highway. I suspected this was not her first time out to this part of the world. Her partner, although a fair bit younger, had the same serene look of calm about her, I guess they had both been here before. Me though, I had not. My eyes scanned intently along the illuminated path from our bouncing headlights. I couldn’t see anything, not a thing. Until, away from us in the distance, I saw something that did not match the black sky or falling snow – it was the distant flickering of emergency lights. It would turn out to be an RCMP cruiser. The officer would greet us, and while speaking through a balaclava that covered his face, said that he would lead us the rest of the way.
Having an RCMP or law enforcement presence with us (paramedics) while on a lot of first nation’s reserves was a necessity. Our presence was not always wanted, even when requested…
We would follow the devil-like red of the RCMP officer’s taillights down the undocumented roadway for quite some time. I couldn’t help but feel that this boy, whomever he may be, had no chance if he were hurt bad enough. It had taken us so long just to get to where we were, and there was still no patient in sight.
Eventually the RCMP cruiser in front of us veered off to the left, and came to a stop. The ambulance followed suit. I heard the giant box like structure we were in, groan metallically to a stop. I asked what gear we needed to bring, and readied my shoulders to carry all of it. Although I had never been here before, a quick scan of the environment informed me that the use of a stretcher would be futile out here. It was at the end of my query that Tammy, who took one last swig from her thermos, turned and peered over her right shoulder, and said to me “Ok, so – “ she readied herself by exhaling an exaggerated sigh, and continued on, “he’s dead. The boy we are going for, has died. We are here to confirm for the police because they can’t. Let’s just bring the monitor and trauma bag. I’ll get the airway kit.”
In that moment, at the culmination of her coffee soaked sentence, I began to feel a weight of reality and a suspicious sense of apprehension at what we may see next…
We exited the tropical ambulance, and cringed with our shoulders tightened and humped upwards towards the bottoms of our ears. The cold was aggressively intimidating, despite the layers worn. We began to follow the silhouette of the officer in front of us. The unmistakable sound of snow creaking beneath our footsteps as we forged our way through the desolate landscape. We were in some field in the middle of nowhere. What the hell was he doing out here? There’s nothing around for miles, I thought to myself as I continued marching forward. As we traipsed and sank through snow, I began to see evidence that there had been some sort of gathering here. I am no scene reconstruction expert but, the graveyard of empty and mangled beer cans, along with the deformations within the otherwise flawless blanket of snow informed me that there was some sort of shindig here.
A voice broke through the cold from in front of us, it was the RCMP officer letting us know that we were getting close. I didn’t know it until that moment, or at least never really given it much thought but, exhalations of exertion sound different when released into a bitter cold. As I write this, I can still feel the bite from that chill on the tip of my nose. I have had to stop typing a few times to wipe it away.
I took a moment to look up from the path I was concentrating on, and noticed something off into the near distance. It was a blackened figure lain atop the snow. As I neared, the blackness of shadow faded, and details emerged. It was a boy. The boy. A small framed boy with adolescent features. Surrounding him in the snow, was the blood that once swirled with life inside of him. Despite of how dark it was outside, you could still see the crimson of the now bleeding snow. He had been stabbed multiple times, and looked as though he had suffered punches of kicks to his face as well. Dried blood stapled itself to the corners of his lips. His mouth was slightly open, and perhaps even more so disturbing, so were his eyes. They looked black but, innocent. I could not help but feel bad for him in that moment. Despite what he may or may not have done, to die like this, out here, alone, it just weighed on me is all.
Throughout my career, scenes of murders or suicides always held a different weight to them. I am not a spiritual man, nor a God-fearing one, but, there is something about those scenes. It’s like an aura, or presence, or, something… Whatever it is, pleasant is one thing it is not.
I made the mistake of shining my flashlight onto the boys bent and frozen body. I say mistake because now, all these years later, it is an image that I wish I did not possess. His body lit up, as did the crimson mass that surrounded him. A light coating of snowflakes had made their way onto his body. They rested there just as he did on the snow – motionless and void of life.
It was around this point of my rumination that my eyes brought me back to reality. Well, back to the present anyway. I was now looking at the TV as opposed to through it. In doing this, I was made aware that I had missed a vast portion of the film. I ended up just ceasing to watch the remainder of this movie, and pressed stop on the screen. I had no intention of finishing the film and despite Jeremy Renner and what I am sure is a superb plot, I have no intention to.
I have no intention of watching it through to fruition because honestly, I have already seen it. Lived it. And I know how it ends – with a dead body left alone in frozen grave of snow. It’s rated “H”, H, for horrible.
That’s my story. The story of the boy in the snow.