October is festooned with many things; cold days, crisp nights, auburn leaves that glissade in the chilly winds of fall and perhaps most notably, if not infamously – Halloween! That day that lurks ominously, albeit enticingly to some (myself included), at the end point of any calendar. And of course, pumpkin spiced everything… but mostly, Halloween. Lingering thoughts fester within a child’s mind while trying to think of that perfect costume. That costume that will both scare and delight those doling out sugary handfuls of diabetic bounty. It’s a magical time. Some even say balefully so…
The story I am about to tell you takes place on one such-a-night – a Halloween night, a black, dark and cold Halloween night – the kind of black that frightens your inner most child and the kind of cold that rattles even the most protected of bones…
An admonitory pause here – when you are finished reading this, when your eyes have trundled to the bottom of this page and the tale is finished – I will not confirm to you weather or not what I have just written is true. I will leave that up to you.
But, I will say this; the cold was not the only causation of my rattling bones that night! …
“Dispatch, this is, Alpha one-four, you can show us clear the Alex hospital, ready to go wherever you need us”.
“Alpha one-four copy that – uh, you know what, downtown looks a little busy, I am gonna keep you guys right in that sector for now, thanks!”
“Solid copy, dispatch, Alpha one-four holding downtown”.
I felt the ambulance lament into forward motion as we pulled down the ramp of the hospital and onto the glistening streets of the night befallen city. We had been busy so far. Not too surprising considering what day it was, or night, rather – Halloween. Halloween is notoriously busy on the ambulance. You are guaranteed to have lots of calls, maybe even a funny one here or there, but most likely you will find yourself at the local college dorms picking up a slutty pirate or an escaped convict from, Orange Is The New Black, after partaking in a little too much Halloween schnapps.
I had already gone through one uniform change that evening as the sleeves of my paramedic shirt had fallen victim to a drunk teenager’s Emily Rose impression after sneaking into his parents liquor cabinet and foolishly chugging his father’s 18-year Glenlivet. An inane thing to do, sure, but he was dared to by his now horror-stricken friends, so I really couldn’t be too angry with the intoxicated urchin.
That was how our night had gone so far; a drunk “fighter pilot” here, a hammered “Tinkerbell” there and a passed-out “Lobster” that refused to leave the backseat of the cabbies Crown-Vic. Happy Halloween to us, I guess…
“Alpha one-four, Alpha one-four, you’re being tagged for a trip to a residential for a female in distress, sounds like breathing difficulties”. And with that, the screen of our centre console flickered to life and with an all too familiar, ding, we were dispatched to a call. Off we went.
It was my attend day, so I was in the passenger seat and my partner, Ryan was driving. He had toggled the switch to ignite the nictation of our spastic emergency lights and began hastily navigating the damp, blackened roads of the city. One turn into another, we raced from main roads onto side streets and even a back alley before we arrived on scene.
The first thing that my eyes took note of was the eerily perfect backdrop of this neighbourhood and the night’s occasion – it was as though this street was carved from Halloween itself. Baron tree limbs reached with arthritic desperation into the ethereal unknown. They lined the streets and danced spookily in correlation with the flickering red and white of our flashing lights. They almost seemed to move on the spot with demonic gait. This was the first thing that plucked at my spine, causing a deep shutter from within.
The other notable fright to be taken in was the fact that almost all the houses that slept on the lots of this quiet residential street were devoid of light, but boasted large lawn displays of Halloween regalia. But I must say, most of these decorations seemed out of date and well used over some years.
As both Ryan and I scanned either side of the street, looking for the call address, we both remarked of the bleakness of where we were. It was upon that concurrence that Ryan’s voice elevated slightly, “There, I think that’s it,” he said this while raising one arm into a pointing motion for my eyes to follow. Out of all the houses on this ghoulish block, there was only one with a porch light on. As the ambulance creeped closer, the tarnished numbers on the side of the house became clear, this was indeed the place that we were supposed to be.
Ryan put the rig into park and I pressed the touch-screen of our centre console so as to inform dispatch that we had arrived on scene. I exited the ambulance first and was instantly greeted by a nefarious bite from the night’s air. Ryan lumbered around the front of the truck and met me at my position and without saying a word to one another, we agreed that the temperature had dropped precipitously since our last call earlier in the evening.
I grabbed some gear from the back and began making my way towards the modest structure that was the residence. When I was about thirty or so feet away from the steps, the front screen door let loose a metallic wail as it opened from the inside. My eyes tracked the noise and were met by the sight of a thin old man standing at the doorway. He was dressed in a black suit that seemed a generation or two out of date. But well dressed none-the-less.
“Hello, sir. I’m, Matthew, with the ambulance, did you call for paramedics?” I was greeted with silence. “Sir? …” The man remained stoic and frail. Instead of voicing his answer to my query, he merely beckoned for me to enter his home by gesturing with a pale and shaky hand. Both Ryan and I obliged.
As we entered into the home we took quick inventory of our surroundings and noticed in awe of just how immaculately kept it was. There was no failure to thrive here – a term we often use when the elderly begin to show diminished living capability.
“Sir, you called for us, right?” Ryan said. The old man muttered his first oration of acknowledgement, it was a polite groan accompanied by an obvious head nod of, yes.
“What can we do for you?” I said.
“She… she-she is in there…” The old man pointed towards a darkened hallway just passed the living room where we stood. “She? Your wife?” I said inquisitively. “Yes. Yes, she’s not breathing quite right, you see…”
“Okay, we’ll go have a look, alright?”
“Yes-yes, please, go on!”
I was surprised to note that the chill from outside seemed to have attached itself to our uniforms and followed us into this pristine old man’s home.
“It’s cold in here, huh?” I was met with more silence. As we trudged down the hallway, old cantankerous floorboards that rested beneath the carpet of this old man’s home squalled from under our feet. We were nearing a room that boasted a glow from some form of bedside lamp inside. The door was partially closed but easy to open. It too grieved in movement, though. I stepped from the shadows of the hallway and into the bedroom and expected to see a woman matching the old man’s age. I was immediately encumbered by hefty obfuscation when all I found was a bed that was neatly made and no one in nor atop of it. I turned to look at Ryan, who was inches behind me. He was taller than I am by a good two inches, so he peered in overtop of my shoulder after reading the confusion that emanated from my brow. His brow then mimicked mine.
“Sir, is she in here? Somewhere?” My utterance was spoken while turning around to greet the old man. As my head turned another wave of confusion commenced – the old man was no longer behind us! In fact, he was no where to be seen at all!
Both Ryan and I called out for him a few times but received nothing, we were met with dead air and shadows that now seemed to move slightly in-sync with our growing trepidation.
“What the fuck? …” Ryan said with obvious agitation and slight concern.
“Yep. I agree.” And I meant it, what the fuck, indeed?
As we both stood stationary in solidarity with one another, a muffled call from what sounded like the old man came wandering in from down the hallway. It was beckoning us to return to the living room. I felt a little better and a lot foolish for allowing my mind to race so hurriedly towards the childish fears of the supernatural. A collective sigh of relief was shared by both Ryan and I as we walked through the shadowy hallway once more.
We rounded the corner and into the living room… an empty living room… The old man was no where to be seen. That childish sense of worry returned with ferocity. My hairs now stood in rows like soldiers on display, rigid and tall.
“Sir! You need to show us where she is, or whoever it is that needs our help, we can’t keep chasing you around! Do you hear me?!” I bellowed authoritatively, masking my racing worries. Immediately after boisterously shouting my command, my nose twisted and contorted itself in preparation for a sneeze.
“Fuck! Sorry, dude.” I said to Ryan, after noticing that my sudden outburst had caused a jolt to rip through the entirety of his body. My body prepared to sneeze again. This time, Ryan was expecting it, but what I was not expecting was Ryan’s utterances afterword’s – the brow of obfuscation had returned with cemented permanence to his face once more. “Matty… why and when did it get so fucking dusty in here?”
“What?! Dude, this place is one of the cleanest –” and as I was arrogantly spewing my protestation to Ryan’s query, I took note of my surroundings once more – and there was a thick layer of un-swept dust now coating everything in that living room – throughout the home, actually.
“Did we miss that?!”
“I don’t think so, Matty… I mean, maybe?”
“Nah, no way. What the fuck is going on?”
“You know what, we may have inhaled some kind of hallucinogen, it is Halloween – let’s just go back at tell dispatch to send police and we will wait in the truck.”
“Yeah, alright, man. Good call.” I agreed with Ryan and was all too happy to leave this seemingly changing house for the safety of our ambulance. “HEY! Old man, we are leaving, so if someone needs help you better show us where they are, NOW! …”
Ryan and I retreated through the cold night air and into the ambulance. We commenced a mini-assessment on one another to assess our cognition and we both seemed fine, which was not so much of a relief considering the circumstances that we still found ourselves in.
I grabbed the radio and began confabulating to dispatch, telling them briefly of what had happened and what we needed. To my surprise and dismay, I was met with… silence…
“Dispatch, do you copy? This is Alpha one-four!” The radio crackled and boasted a subtle static of an open mic line before a metallic voice pushed through, “Yes, Alpha one-four, we copy… but we don’t have you assigned to a call. Is this something you came across and you would like us to assign you a call number?” Ryan and I looked at one another with disbelief before I responded to dispatch, “No, dispatch this is that call for the woman in distress that you gave us from downtown…”
“… Alpha one-four, the last call that we have you assigned to, was the one you brought to the Alex hospital – the drunk lobster…”
“No, dispatch, you assigned us to a woman in distress call after that!”
“Sorry, One-four, we don’t have you assigned to anything… and it’s just me on right now, so I don’t know what to tell you…”
So, we had a disappearing old man, an invisible woman in distress and an absent-minded dispatcher? Happy Halloween indeed…
Ryan beckoned for the mic with a gesturing hand, so I handed it over to him.
“Dispatch, yeah, we think perhaps we came into contact with some kind of toxin or drug, but we are both alert and oriented, just wondering if you can run the address for us and maybe that’ll jog the computers?”
“Sure, go ahead with the address and I’ll give it a try.”
As Ryan was doing that, I decided to investigate a little further, I tapped the centre console of the touch screen in our ambulance so that I could recite the call number as well as the address. A terrifying chill crawled its way through my body – We. Were. Unassigned. And the address was gone!
My eyes evolved into saucers and I threw a disbelieving gape towards the home that we had just come from. I made visual contact with it just in time to see the porch light fizzle out and join the blackness of the night.
As I was doing that, Ryan must have relayed the address to dispatch, because what happened next blanketed the both of us in sheer horror…
“Alpha one-four… the address you gave me is no longer a residential. That entire street has been re-zoned for commercial development… no one lives there.”
I slowly reached for the toggle to our lights and switched it to the, off, position. When I did that, we both became horribly aware that the only thing emitting light or noise on this street was us! Not a single light source to be seen. Not even the street lamps. The only ambient luminosity came in the form of a low hanging moon that gasconaded an alabaster glow. The street was dead… we were the only ones on it. Us, and very outdated Halloween décor…
To this day I have no worldly explanation for that night. What I do have, is a frightful tale. Was the woman in distress ever rescued? Who was the old man? WHERE, was the old man? I don’t know. What I do know, is that everyone in the city talks about how cold the new coffee shop is. How they just can’t seem to make it warmer than a cold night in October…