I stood quietly outside before knocking on the door. It was cold and dark. Winter was in full swing and each exhaled breath was a reminder of that. I was alone. Dressed in paramedic blue. My feet planted awkwardly outside of a friend’s house. Refusing to move. My shift had ended shortly before this point, but I didn’t bother getting changed at the station – I couldn’t… I just couldn’t. So, there I was, standing cold and alone in the middle of a chilled winter’s night, outside of a home that boasted the sounds of a rumpus soiree.
From outside I could hear a miscellany of voices clattering with varying degrees of celebration. I almost turned around and walked away. I felt bad with what I was bringing there, to their party. For what was with me was anything but celebratory or jovial. I was covered in death. Both literally, and figuratively…
The call that had ended my shift and then led me to where I was, was for a single vehicle rollover on a long stretch of highway road at the south end of the city. Although it was winter, it had not snowed, so the roads weren’t bad. This was just a case of someone going too fast for too long, until they weren’t…
My partner and I were first on scene. As the nictation of our red and white emergency lights danced through the branches of the trees and along the tips of the overgrown grass along the ditch, the severity of what we were responding to suddenly revealed itself. Deep into the field of the grassy embankment a mangled heap of metal and shattered glass showed us that this was serious. Someone was really hurt. The vehicle used to be a white Ford F-150. Now it was a tattered mess of it’s former self. I quickly exited the passenger side of the ambulance while dawning my reflective vest and began descending the steep slope of the hill. Flashlight in hand, I followed the wobbling beam to where the hill came to an end. It was slippery due to the dew that had began to bleed onto the blades of grass, so I unwittingly slid down most of the way.
Once at the bottom and after gaining more balance on a somewhat even surface, I began to approach the violently twisted metal wreckage before me. My LED flashlight illuminated the alabaster of the truck. It was so piercing that I found myself squinting, the closer I got to it. As I moved ever-closer I boisterously called out, “Hello. It’s the paramedic’s. Can you answer me? We are here to help you! Are you injured.” I was met with the most deafening lack of response. Now that I was nearing arm’s reach, I could taste the powder that explodes from airbag deployment. It collided with other odours and tastes. The fluids of the deceased vehicle were saturating the grass and air around it. It was when I looked back towards where we had parked the ambulance to look for my partner that I realized just how far this vehicle had come off from the road. ‘Jesus…’ I remember thinking.
My partner was in-tow with medical equipment. I could see is spastic silhouette moving in correlation to the flickering lights of our ambulance. Off into the distance the crescendo of more emergency vehicles could be heard wailing into the night’s sky. Telling us they were coming.
I turned my head to once again face the reality of what lay before me. In doing that, something else suddenly became horrifyingly real – I could now see the driver. Well, what used to be the driver. What I was really looking at was a man whose head had come apart like that of a discarded Halloween pumpkin. I could see into his head. His forehead just above his left eyebrow had concaved into itself from violent impact. There was a sickening tapestry of meat and bone staring back at me with the help of my flashlight. This man was dead. Of that, there was no doubt. I couldn’t even make out where his other eye was…
I got closer to the truck albeit with apprehensive gait. I needed to ensure no one else was in the vehicle. A new scent began to emerge – a deleterious copper with bitter potency snapped at the back of my throat – blood. Lots of blood. Realizing that there was so much of it, I began to shine the light around me and my surroundings. I was standing in knee-high blood-spattered grass. Suddenly my knee’s felt damp. I couldn’t tell if it was the dew or the blood that was soaking through to my skin. Maybe it was both? Perhaps it was neither… either way, it was and remains to be bone chilling.
He was the only person in the vehicle. The only person to have died. We scanned the area to ensure that no one else had potentially been ejected, and fortunately no one was found. We found pieces of him though… bits of bone, fat and tissue. There was even a streak of blood along some flattened grass from where it appeared as though the vehicle had slid for a distance. Matted chunks of brain lined a sickening trail to where we were standing.
Travis’s voice broke in from behind me. He too now stood with a beam of light fastened securely on the pumpkin man. He was seeing what I was… mangled leftovers of what was once a human being.
The police came and took over the scene. Travis and I left after ensuring our part was done. We drove back to the station in near silence. Not a spoken word I think. We got to the station, handed over the truck to the oncoming night crew, and made our way to the change rooms.
I was looking forward to changing and then going home for a beer, or twelve. The silence from the truck followed us to the changeroom. Travis was changing at his locker, and I at mine. That is to say I was, until I wasn’t… I picked my right foot up and placed it onto the bench to begin untying my bootlaces and leave my diseased foot-stompers in my locker – I never liked bringing my boots home with me. But upon touching the central knot of my laces, I became grotesquely aware of something else that had followed us into the changeroom – the pumpkin man! On the inside portion at the toe of my boot lay a clump of pumpkin man’s brain. Once again copper revisited my throat. Only this time it brought with it a stomach spiral of nausea. I quickly stood upright and lowered my foot to the floor. I suddenly had no idea what to do. If I went back through the station towards the garage I was sure to be met with a flurry of oncoming paramedics that were just starting their watch. How would I explain why I was using the hose on my boot? While entrenched in thought, I felt a sudden jolt, slap itself to my left shoulder. It was Travis.
“Night, Henny. See ya tomorrow, bud.”
“Yeah, uh, night, Travis. Have a good one…”
The door closed behind him. I was alone. My neck was stiff with trepidation. I didn’t want to look down again. I knew what was there… I could smell it… taste it… See it even with my eyes closed. I stood for a moment that seemed to last much longer. I took a couple of hard and deliberate breaths. After about four or five said breaths, my muscles twitched into action and I cantered over to the paper-towel dispenser.
Thwap, thwap, thwap on the handle. Now holding a fistful of paper-towel, I took one long inhaled breath of courage and determination. I bent down, angrily releasing a snarl akin to that of a stalking wolf and began feverishly swatting away at the remains of the dead. In my haste my exposed thumb grazed through the gelatinous tissue. I felt the cold of its damp texture along my bare skin. I quickly discarded of the wretched paper-towel and threw my hand beneath a jet of water from the tap of the sink.
I know running water for too long is not good for the environment. But in that moment, fuck you Captain Planet…
Now sufficiently engorged by a swelling anger, I stormed out of the changeroom and left. I drove from the station with the intent of going straight home. But no one was at home. My girlfriend of the time was working nights so that meant the house was empty. That meant that it would just be me – and the dead. No thanks. I turned sharply to the left and began following the road around until I was parked outside of my friend’s house. Anger was fading to bewilderment now. “No way that this just happened to me!? No way!” But it had. And it was all starting to sink-in.
I exited the car and found myself as described at the beginning: standing outside of a friend’s house, feeling guilty about what I was bringing to the party.
After some several minutes of introspective negotiations, I raised my hand, and knocked. Within seconds the door flung open and there stood a towering man. Sean, my friend, Sean. Although towering, he was anything but intimidating. He was a welcomed site.
“Brother! Fuck yeah!! Come, get in here, it’s fucking cold!”
“I – I can’t bro. I can’t come in…”
“The fuck you mean you can’t come in?”
“I – uh, I still have my work boots on and –“
“Nah, fuck that. I don’t give a shit about that, brother!”
“Yeah, uh, I know… Um – I got… I got brain on my boot, bro… I stood in some guy’s brain.”
Sean didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. His empathy permeated from his look. Sean made a gesture for me to hold on a second. He then walked away from the door and I entered into small-talk with the other guests at his party while at the door way. Sean came back with four beers. Two in each hand.
“Can’t drink inside? Fuck it, we’ll be Vikings and fucking drink em out here!” And with that, he handed me two perfectly chilled beers. And we drank. We drank beneath a blackened night sky in negative 20-degree weather. That is the coldest and warmest any wounded man can be.
I threw those boots out. But not before having warn them on many more calls. If my boots had a blog, I fear I may not wish to read it.
I don’t carve pumpkins anymore though. That’s one thing that changed in me that day. Something about diving an open hand into seed infested sinew makes me feel less than comfortable. Especially when it grazes along my thumb… Anytime that happens, I remember him – the pumpkin man.
Good lord that was real. I hope you know I hold space for you, I know we have never met but I feel like you are my friend I feel so many things reading your posts and I wish I could snatch those memories away from you and bury them.
Thank you. Your kindness and support mean a lot to me.
I wish you all the best Medic Henny.
Well Sean was a Godsend that night, wasn’t he? His gesture was the absolutely perfect thing for you on an impossible night. And if only for a short time, you had the respite of a couple cold ones and a good friend.
The imagery of this piece only goes to prove what I’ve been telling you dude. You are a photographer of the written word. And you go further still, with the smell of copper for blood . . Jesus. I cannot imagine what that night and the nights that followed were like for you. Or what seeing a pumpkin does to you. Such a festive thing, gone horribly wrong for you.
Once again, your raw power when it comes to the written word and your ability to narrate the impossible moments floors me.
Wishing you much peace
Your commentary and honest critique always means the world to me. The mere fact that such a well-read person is willing to.shuffle through my verbose plea is something that makes me feel eternal gratitude.
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I calls ’em like I sees ’em, dude.
You’re too kind, but you know what you are even more than that? A HELL of a writer, so please, keep on.
Thank you, my friend. Sincerely. Your feedback means the world to me.
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