Life seldom provides for second chances. And though a shortsighted mankind may cry to the heavens about the ultimate unfairness of it all, perhaps we mere mortals are better off with only one shot at the brass ring. For when faced with the opportunity to relive a momentous event in our lives, which one of us would be able to resist the urge to tamper with fate... to try to set right what we, in our self-centered judgment, have decreed was not the way it was supposed to happen.
The paramedics of Squad 51 are about to learn this valuable lesson. They will shortly be shown that in the game of life the house holds all the cards, and there are no re-deals in The Twilight Zone.
Dog Days Gone By
By Audrey W.
The little girl walked down the middle of the dirt road, her eight-month old puppy trotting alongside her. The two were enjoying small-town life, where houses were sparse and small grassy fields were plentiful.
“C’mon, Teddy!” she called as she walked toward one of the open spaces. The little tan-colored pup followed.
As the girl stepped into the grass, she spotted a stick resting loosely near her feet. She picked it up and tossed it into the road.
“Go get it, boy!”
Teddy quickly turned around and raced to retrieve the item. With his first attempt, he dropped it. But his second was successful and the little dog returned it to his owner. The girl once again threw the stick with all her might and watched as her furry friend chased after it. But this time, she found herself screaming as a truck came around a nearby corner.
The vehicle stopped just beyond the spot where Teddy had been. The driver climbed out and hurried back to where the little girl stood sobbing at her lost pet, the image of its damaged body etched forever in her mind.
Beth Naler woke with a start. Her heart was beating rapidly, her body wet with sweat and trembling. She’d had the dream again. . .relived the same horror over and over in her mind. Now the sound of loud barking invaded her peaceful home, like so many other nights. The twenty-two year old brunette got out of her bed and put on her robe, tying the belt around her waist to hold it closed. She gently lifted the alarm clock on the night stand and checked the time.
“One o’clock in the morning?” She groaned. There’d be no getting back to sleep and she knew it. But something would have to be done about the noise.
With a sigh, she set the clock down and headed for the doorway. She then made her way down a short hallway to the kitchen. Opening the back door that led to a yard, the woman stepped outside and looked around, a flashlight in her hands.
Though she had an outside light that would have illuminated the yard much better, Beth didn’t want to risk disturbing her neighbors, so she opted to shine the small beacon of light in search of him.
She could hear the sound of the dog panting, then more barking.
“Riley, is that you?”
Suddenly there was complete silence.
“You’ve got to stop being so noisy at night, boy. You’ll wake up the whole neighborhood.”
She stepped off her porch and slowly walked through the grassy yard. Gone were the narrow dirt paths the stocky brown dog had worn on the ground. Grass now grew on the edges, covering the paths as it got taller and leaned over from weight.
As Beth continued forward, she could feel the plush green ground between her toes.
I should’ve never gotten another dog, she thought. I should’ve known it would only make things worse.
A low growl startled the woman and she stopped, once again shining the flashlight around the area.
“Riley?” She hesitantly asked.
The growl got closer and Beth found herself taking a few steps back. “I . . .I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! Just. . .just go away! Please!”
She started to turn to run, when she felt the sharp pain of teeth going into her left calf. Crying, she shook the dog off and ran toward the house. Beth got into the kitchen and closed the door behind her. Resting her hands on the counter near the sink, she leaned over and tried to calm herself down.
After several minutes Beth filled a bowl with water and opened the back door. She quickly set the bowl on the porch, her trembling hand spilling some of the water in the process. With the door shut again, the woman grabbed a towel to place over the wound on her bleeding leg.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone?” She cried.
At a house next door, a middle-aged man looked out his window, then closed the curtains. As he turned to go back to bed, his wife asked, “What was it this time, Edward?”
He shook his head. “Same as any other. That crazy broad was out there yelling again.” He climbed into bed and pulled up the covers. “Next time she disturbs our sleep like this, I’m callin’ the cops.”
His wife nodded. “Good.”
The air outside was chilly and the crew of Station 51’s A-Shift was settling into their beds for what they hoped would be an uneventful remainder of the night. So far the current shift had been busy with numerous responses all day and into the late hours for paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto; the engine crew had just recently returned after spending three hours at a major structure fire. That after also having been along on some of the calls with the squad.
Johnny placed his left forearm across his eyes, a sleeping habit he’d gotten as a child that he was unable to break. His partner got into the bed across from Gage’s and pulled the covers over his shoulders in the darkened room.
Suddenly the lights came on as the klaxons sounded. All six men were already sitting up and starting to pull up their bunker pants when dispatch gave the assignment.
“Squad 51, woman bitten by dog, 2130 West Farrell Street, two one three zero West Farrell Street, time out 1:24.”
Johnny groaned as he pulled on his suspenders and the engine crew settled back into their beds. Dressed in white t-shirts and turnout pants, Roy led the way, glancing over his shoulder at the sound of a sigh.
“Look at the bright side. You’ve got the next two days off to catch up on your sleep.”
“Yeah, just what I always like to do. Sleep away my free time.”
“Maybe this’ll be the last one for the night.” Roy picked up the mic at the podium and acknowledged the call. After writing down the information, he quickly put on his long-sleeved blue jacket and joined his partner in the cab of the squad.
Johnny had just finished putting on his jacket as well when DeSoto handed him the slip of paper with the call information on it. “Maybe it’ll be an easy one. Dog bites don’t usually involve that much.”
“Usually. . .that’s the keyword.”
Roy took another quick glance at the younger man, then shook his head. “Pessimism. That’s your problem tonight. You let the day get the best of you and now you’re too pessimistic.”
Gage peered out the windshield ahead hoping his partner was right.
Beth heard the sound of sirens approaching and, assuming it was the paramedics she’d requested, headed for the livingroom. The towel she’d held on the bite wound was balled up in her left hand.
Opening the front door, she saw the red flashing lights atop a truck coming down the street. The woman didn’t turn on the porch light, but rather let the glow from the street lights along the sidewalk illuminate her walkway and porch.
When the red truck with the 51 on its side came to a stop, the two occupants climbed out. Beth stepped outside to greet them.
“That was fast.”
The darker haired man looked over his shoulder as he pulled an orange box out of a compartment. He did a double take, then eyed his partner as if he wanted to say something. But neither man said anything until they approached her. The other paramedic broke the silence.
“Ma’am, are you the one who was bit by a dog?”
She nodded. “C’mon in.”
As they walked through the livingroom, they saw the two holes in her calf and blood slowly trickling down from them.
“Do you know whose dog it was?”
“Yes, it was mine.”
“Yours. . .?” The dark-haired man asked. “Your own dog bit you?”
She limped into the kitchen, where she sat on a chair near the table. “Yes. He’s. . .uh. . .he’s temperamental.”
“I guess so. Where is he? Is he inside?” The tone changed to one of uneasiness as he looked around.
“No. . .no, he’s outside. In the back yard.”
“Well, you can count yourself lucky in a sense,” Roy put in. “Since he’s yours, you can verify that he’s up on his shots and save yourself from some painful rabies shots.” A lack of a response had him wondering, “He is, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” At least he was. . . when . . . Beth felt her heart rate quicken.
The lighter-haired man squatted down to examine her leg. “It looks like he got you pretty good . . .uh. . .”
“Beth. My name’s Beth.” Her voice quivered slightly.
“Okay, Beth. I’m Roy DeSoto and this is my partner, John Gage.”
She looked at Johnny and nodded.
He gave a slight smile as he knelt down to open and set up the biophone, but as soon as his face was out of her view the smile faded.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51.”
The younger paramedic kept his face turned from Beth as he gave the basic information to Doctor Morton.
As with any dog bite incident, a police officer was sent out to the address where the victim was located. A young man in uniform entered the house after ringing the doorbell and Johnny escorting him to Beth.
As Roy wrapped her wound in gauze, Officer Danny Mitchell asked the woman questions regarding the breed, color and size of the animal.
In the meantime, the senior paramedic glanced at his partner. Gage was being very tight-lipped during their time on the scene, only speaking when he had to. Though it wasn’t as if they were on a social call, he was used to the Johnny being more out-spoken, especially in the company of a young lady.
Roy fastened the bandage in place and listened as the worst case scenario was given to Beth by Mitchell.
“If I find the dog on the premises, I’ll have to have animal control respond to the scene and take him in to be held for awhile. If he proves to be a continued possible threat, he may have to be destroyed.”
She nodded. If you can accomplish that, go for it. . . “Okay,” came the verbal response.
Johnny and Roy looked at one another before the latter
explained the situation to their patient, hoping to sound reassuring. “Even
though it was your own dog that bit you and we know he’s healthy, we’re gonna
take you in to Rampart General. The bite’s serious enough to require a doctor
look at it now, rather than waiting for your own physician to. Plus your blood
pressure’s a little high. Mostly it’s precautionary.”
“I understand. I don’t have a private doctor anyway.” She heard another siren approaching. “Is that the ambulance?”
“Should be. Johnny you wanna. . .”
“Sure.” Without fully communicating, the men knew exactly what the other was doing. Roy wanted Gage to meet the ambulance attendants while he tended to the victim. Johnny was already on his way out.
The paramedics helped Beth onto the stretcher, and Roy followed alongside with an IV held in his right hand. When they got outside, he helped to lift the stretcher into the ambulance. He then climbed up inside. Johnny started to close the doors when Danny Mitchell approached the vehicle. The officer gave a quick look to Johnny, then addressed Beth.
“I searched around the back yard. I don’t see a dog anywhere. I’m gonna have to call animal control and have them patrol the neighborhood for him.”
“Okay, just tell them--”
“Tell them what?”
“Tell them. . .” Beth closed her eyes. “Nothing. Never mind.”
Johnny shrugged when Mitchell gave him a puzzled look. The dark-haired paramedic then closed the doors. He gave them two customary slaps and watched a moment as the vehicle drove away.
“I hope that dog doesn’t bite anyone else,” the officer said.
“Me too. At least most people are in bed right now, though.”
“Maybe animal control’ll get lucky and find it by morning.”
“We can hope.” The paramedic stood still while Mitchell walked to his squad car and picked up the mic to radio in.
After one last glance at Beth’s house, Johnny took two steps toward the squad when he heard a noise like water being lapped up by an animal. He followed the sound, trotting around the side of the house to a section of fence that was a few feet away from the back porch. He could barely make out the partial image of a large bowl in the darkness. Still listening to the lapping noise, he startled when Mitchell came up from behind and stood beside him.
“You got something?”
Johnny lifted his hand to point to the bowl on the porch, but stopped. Doesn’t *he* hear the sound? Am I imagining it? He looked again at the outline of the object in the dark. There was no hint of a dog or any other kind of animal even near it.
Just empty space.
Yet the sound he’d heard remained. Johnny shook his head.
“No. No, I don’t.”
Awakened by the sound of sirens and flashing lights, a few neighbors had come outside to see what was going on. When Beth was brought out, and it didn't appear too serious, most returned to their beds in an effort to get back to sleep.
The man who’d looked out his bedroom window earlier remained on his front porch until Johnny and Danny Mitchell went to their respective vehicles after being around the other side of the house. Edward watched as they pulled away, then shook his head and turned to go inside. Fools. Lord knows what that crazy broad had them looking for.
He didn’t hear the sound of the chain link fence that separated his yard from Beth’s rattling as his front door closed behind him.
At Rampart, Johnny backed the squad into a parking spot beside an ambulance and climbed out, trotting over to the emergency entrance. Once inside he scanned the corridor for his partner. He spotted him coming out of the nurses’ lounge and heading for the base station.
The younger man hurried over to meet up with his co-worker.
“Have you seen Johnny?” Roy asked Betty, who was on duty as head nurse.
The woman shook her head ‘no’ as she looked around. Seeing the man in question approaching, she nodded in his direction. “Here he comes now.”
The senior paramedic turned to face Johnny. “Where’ve you been?”
“I . . .uh. . .” He’s never gonna believe what I saw. . .or *didn’t* see. . .I’m not sure *I* believe it. The dark-haired paramedic came out of his thoughts and noticed both his partner and Betty were eyeing him expectantly. “I stayed back to help the police officer look for the dog. We. . .or I. . .uh. . . thought I heard something.”
“Was it the dog?”
Johnny shook his head ‘no’. “He must’ve run off after he bit the girl.” He then brought his attention to Roy. “How’s she doin’?”
“Pretty good. Her blood pressure had gone down some by the time we got here, but they’re gonna keep her here for awhile, just to be sure.”
“You ready to head back to the station for a little more shut eye?”
The men waved good bye to Betty and made their way toward the exit.
When the paramedics were seated in their squad, Roy started the engine and drove out of the lot. Once on the street, he glanced at his partner. “So what was going on with you at Beth’s house?”
Johnny didn’t respond.
“Hey, you already sleeping or what?”
“Huh?” The younger man turned his head from the window.
“I asked what was going on with you at Beth’s house. You seemed kind of closed off from the rest of us. It’s not like you to act that way on a rescue.”
“Oh. It’s nothin’.”
“Uh uh. So what’s up?”
Johnny shifted in his seat and sighed. “Really it’s nothin’. It’s just when I saw her on the porch. . .”
“I don’ know, Roy. She just looked so familiar. I swear I know her from somewhere, but I can’t place where from.”
“You could’ve asked her.”
He shook his head. “Nah. . .nah. It’s not that important.” Or at least it didn’t seem like it at the time.
“Maybe you saw her during a rescue sometime.”
“No. If that was the case, you’d probably remember her too.”
“Well, you know how it goes. . .as soon as you stop thinking about where you know her from, it’ll come to mind when you least expect it.”
“Yeah. . .maybe.” He thought back to the bowl on the porch and the sound of an animal drinking. Between that and the familiar face of the girl, he wasn’t sure he could stop thinking about her.
Once they were back at the station, the paramedics headed for bed, hoping they’d be able to sleep until the wake-up tones sounded in the morning. Awakened by their entrance, Hank Stanley asked, “How’d it go?”
“Okay, except the girl’s dog is still on the loose. Johnny said the cop on the scene couldn’t locate it.”
Gage glanced at Roy. He didn’t dare mention the other. His partner thought he was often a nut as it was.
No need to add any reinforcement.
Forty minutes later, Johnny was still awake. He could tell by Roy’s breathing that he had fallen asleep. And the rest of the crew was as well. But just as he’d figured, the dark-haired paramedic couldn’t get the bowl of liquid and Beth off his mind.
Man, this is gonna drive me crazy! How come I couldn’t see anything drinking out of that bowl and where do I know Beth from?
He decided one thing. Sometime after they got off duty, he would go to her house to check on her. . .and get at least one question answered.
Later in the morning, when the crew of A-shift got off duty, the two paramedics were in the locker room; each was more than ready to go home. Roy was looking forward to spending the day with his wife and kids, and helping the youngsters pick out Halloween costumes at a local discount store. Johnny was still anxious to put his own mind at ease.
“So what’re you doing today?” Roy wondered.
Not wanting to give it away that he was still bugged, the younger man shrugged. “I’m not sure. Probably just kick back.”
DeSoto closed his locker as Mike Stoker came into the room. He glanced at the engineer and then started for the door. “Well, what ever you do, have fun.”
Both Johnny and Mike watched as the door closed behind Roy. Having changed into civilian clothes, the dark-haired paramedic closed his locker as well and started for the door.
“I guess I’d better get going.”
“Johnny. . .”
Gage stopped and turned around. “Yeah?”
The paramedic looked at Mike a moment, wondering if he should say anything about the bowl on the porch. If he was going to tell anyone, the engineer would be the one. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“I’m just tired, Mike.” There. . .it’s not exactly a lie. . .
With that, Johnny left the room. When he got into the apparatus bay, he glanced over his shoulder at the locker room door before continuing on to the back lot and his Land Rover.
Beth Naler opened the front door to her house and turned to wave to the friend who had dropped her off.
“You sure you don’t want me to stay?” the driver called out.
“Yes! Don’t worry, I’ll be okay!”
The friend nodded and Beth watched as the car drove away. She felt a twinge of guilt having lied to the gal, but she had no choice other than to say it was someone else’s dog that had bit her. After all, in reality she no longer owned one.
Johnny arrived home within record time. The traffic was sparse and he’d hit all the lights just right. Climbing out of his Land Rover, he glanced at his watch.
Only twenty after eight. . . I don’t even know if she’d be home yet. . .I’ll just get cleaned up and head over that way later.
As he entered his apartment, he gave an involuntary shudder. Johnny had no idea why. Shrugging it off, the paramedic headed for the bathroom to take a shower.
“Riley?” Beth called out with trepidation as she opened the back door. She looked down at the empty bowl that she’d filled with water the night before. “You have to go!” She called out, her eyes now scanning the yard. “You don’t belong here anymore!”
There was no sound in return.
“I’m sorry about what happened,” she continued, hoping that this time the apology would do some good. “I thought I could give you a good home. . .I did. I really did. But--” Beth wiped at a tear as it trickled down her left cheek. She then glanced down at her injured leg. “Just please go.”
Still no sound came from within the yard. The woman sighed. He’s playing with me. . .I *know* he is. . .it’s all part of his ‘game’.
She went back into the house and startled at the loaf of bread that had been removed from the counter and was lying on the kitchen floor, the plastic bag that had enclosed it ripped open in several places.
Oh my God. . . he’s in the house. . .?
It was 10:30 in the morning when John Gage decided to stop by Beth Naler’s home. He parked his Land Rover at the side of the street and started up the sidewalk, stopping halfway to stare at the structure.
I hope I’m not out of line with this. If I am and Cap or Brackett get word of it, I may find myself with a lot of free time on my hands for awhile. . .or sitting behind a desk. . .
Johnny took a deep breath and continued up the walk toward the porch and front door. He tried to assure himself this was about him looking up someone he thought he knew from somewhere. Not about a disturbing call in the wee hours of the morning.
I *do* want to know how she’s feeling, though. That’s it. . .I’ll ask her how she’s doing, then bring up the fact she looks familiar. If she says I must be thinking of someone else, I’ll know I was wrong. I’ll leave and that’ll be it. No harm, no foul.
The paramedic stepped up on the porch and pressed the doorbell button.
Beth was searching through her one-story home, periodically calling out for Riley when the sound of her doorbell caused her to jump. Her heart racing, she put a shaky hand to her chest and took a few shallow breaths.
“Beth, pull yourself together. Look at what a wreck you are.”
She took one last quick look around her bedroom, noting that nothing seemed to be disturbed or out of place.
Where are you? She wondered as she headed for the livingroom. When she opened the front door, she was surprised to see the dark-haired paramedic from the night before.
Johnny shifted slightly on his feet. “Uh. . .um. . .I . . .uh . . .” he let out a slight nervous laugh under his breath. “Hi. Remember me? I’m John Gage. . .the paramedic. . .”
“Hi.” The woman looked out to the street. “What. . .um. . .did I. . .did I do something. . .wrong?”
“No, no,” came a quick answer.
“Did you forget something?”
“No. . .well, maybe. But it’s not like you think. . .”
Beth stood in the open doorway, a puzzled expression on her face. “Look, I don’t--”
“I just wanted to see how you were doing. You know. . .” He motioned toward her bandaged leg.
“I didn’t realize you guys made follow up calls.” She still remained in the doorway, not ready to invite Johnny in. “I’m fine. Thanks.”
“Is there more?” she asked when he didn’t move. “You know, you weren’t near this friendly last night.”
He gave an apologetic grin. “I. . .um. . .I’m sorry about that. Would you . . .uh . . .mind if I came in?”
Beth glanced over her shoulder, wondering where Riley was. The last thing she needed was for the paramedic to see the dog. . .she hadn’t seen him herself. She had no idea what he would look like after what happened.
“Okay. But just for a few minutes.”
She stepped back and motioned for him to sit on the couch. “Would you like something to drink?”
Johnny nodded. “A glass of water would be good, thanks.”
She tried to hide the disappointment in her face. She’d hoped he would say ‘no’. “Okay, I’ll be right back.”
Johnny took a seat and watched as Beth disappeared into the kitchen. He then looked around at the neatly kept livingroom, wondering how he was going to not only bring up the fact he thought he knew the woman, but also about what he’d seen . . .or not seen. . .the night before. The sound of light clicking on linoleum coming from down the hall interrupted his thoughts and had him on his feet, looking in curiosity. “Did they ever find your dog?” he asked, as he peered into the narrow room.
“I. . .uh. . .yes. Yes, they sure did.” She lied as she returned, frowning when she saw he was standing and appeared to be looking for something. She walked over and handed him the glass of water. “You said you forgot something?”
“Sorta. I was. . .um. . .you look familiar. I was just wonderin’ if we’d met before.”
Beth looked into Johnny’s eyes and shook her head. “No, last night was the first.”
“Yes. I’d remember you.” If he could hear her heart beating, she knew he’d figure out something else was up. So far there was no sign of Riley and she tried once again to calm herself.
Johnny took a quick glance down the hallway again, still curious as to what would have made the sound if the dog was not there. First the bowl and now. . . He caught movement out of the corner of his left eye and noticed Beth was fidgeting with her hands. “Is something wrong?” Maybe she’s not alone. . .
“No!” She answered harshly. She softened when she saw his startled reaction. “No, I’m doing okay, remember? But I think you should go.”
Johnny nodded. The paramedic hadn’t had the chance to mention the other, but he knew he couldn’t push to stay or he might find himself in the kind of trouble he first worried about. “Okay. Sorry to’ve bothered you. I don’t normally do this, but I was so sure--”
“You were wrong.”
Once again Johnny nodded and headed for the door after handing the still full glass back to Beth. She watched as the door closed behind him, then brought a trembling left hand up to her face and sighed. “I do know you from somewhere, John Gage. I just couldn’t tell you and have you stay around longer. . . not now. But I don’t know where we met either.”
Johnny was halfway down the sidewalk when he thought he heard the sound of a bark from within the house. He stopped and turned around. After a few seconds of silence, the paramedic waved it off.
I must be losing my mind. . .
Suddenly he heard Beth yell, a fearful tone to her voice. Without any hesitation, Johnny hurried back to the house and opened the front door, rushing inside. He stopped just inside the livingroom when he saw the woman lying on the floor near the hallway, her right arm raised over her head as if to shield herself.
“Get away!” she cried out.
Johnny couldn’t see anything even as he took a few steps forward in an effort to see if something was down the hall. It was empty. He quickly went to Beth’s side and squatted down.
“What’s going on?”
“Just make him go away!” She yelled, not indicating who.
“But. . .”
“Please . . .I can’t. . .I can’t go through this again. . .”
He noticed her right index finger was swollen and already bruising. When he’d walked out of the house, her right hand wasn’t injured.
“What happened to your finger?”
“I think I broke it,” she explained with a grimace. “I swung out at him and I guess it hit the wall.”
Johnny could hear the pain in her voice. He helped her to a sitting position and was surprised at the full body tremble she was experiencing.
What ever happened, she’s really scared.
“Here, let me take a look at it.” He carefully examined the tender and enlarged finger, still taking a second now and then to glance down the hallway.
Beth sniffled. “Will you help me get rid of him?”
“My dog. I think he wants me dead.”
The paramedic didn’t know what to say. He just nodded in hopes of reassuring the distraught woman.
Edward had been working out in his back yard when he heard the yelling coming from inside Beth’s house. He shook his head.
“They shoulda locked her up when they had the chance.”
He went back to digging up weeds when he spotted something else in the area; something that shouldn’t be in his fenced yard. Unless. . .
Johnny helped Beth over to a nearby recliner, still holding onto one of her arms in support. “I’m gonna take you in to get your finger taken care of, but you need to try to keep calm. Your blood pressure might go back up if you aren’t careful.”
The woman shook her head. “I’m okay. Just promise me you’ll help.”
“We’ll worry about that later.”
“No, I need to know you’ll help,” she frantically insisted.
“I thought your dog was picked up by animal control?”
“I. . .he. . .” She looked around nervously. “I. . .I lied. I had to. Please. . .help?”
“Well, where is he?”
“Ah. . .uh. . .I. . .just. . .he’s. . .I can’t. I can’t say it. Just. . .you have to trust me,” she said, her tone still sounding frantic.
“Okay. Okay, I’ll help you with your dog. . .somehow. But first you’ve got to promise me you’ll go in and get that finger x-rayed.”
Johnny stood and placed his hands on his hips. “You said last night you don’t have a regular doctor. . .”
Again, Beth nodded.
“Okay, back to Rampart it is.” And I hope Brackett’s off duty by now.
Edward stomped into his house, his wife looking up from her knitting project as he entered.
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, someone’s damn dog dug a hole in the yard by the rose bush!”
“But how can that be? Unless it could jump over the fence. . .and that’s six feet high.”
“I don’t know, Bernice.”
The woman shook her head as her husband continued on. “First the broad next door to us starts actin’ wacko. Now someone’s damn dog is high jumpin’.” He walked out of the room mumbling under his breath as he headed for the bathroom.
Johnny glanced at his passenger as he drove to the hospital. She was sitting perfectly still, her eyes straight ahead. Though the trembling had stopped, she didn’t seem to be okay.
He quickly brought his gaze back to the traffic ahead as he thought; Somethin’s still got her really bugged.
As if in answer to the paramedic’s thoughts, Beth said in a flat tone, “He’s dead.”
Gage did a double take. “Excuse me?”
“My dog.” She looked at him and sighed.
He immediately pulled off to the side of the street and stopped. After putting his Land Rover in ‘park’, Johnny turned to face her.
“Just what kind of game are you playing here, anyway?” He didn’t worry about masking the anger in his voice.
“I. . .I’m . . . it’s not. . .” Tears pooled in the young woman’s eyes as she gave a silent plea that was soon vocalized. “Please believe me,” came a hoarse whisper.
Suddenly Johnny was reminded of an experience a few years earlier. Dorothy Teele. The woman was so convinced her dead sister Alice was in her house, that she went so far as to set it on fire and blamed the blaze on her. He and Roy met the distraught housewife when she’d scheduled a séance and passed out during the event.
He looked at Beth’s face and saw the same fearful expression.
It’s *possible* she really believes it. When Dorothy’s husband had us search their house to make sure there *wasn’t* a ‘ghost’, I’d swear for a minute it felt like there really could’ve been one. And this sure would explain the bit with the bowl on the porch. What am I thinking? Maybe we’ve both lost it. . .
Johnny softened. “Maybe you should talk to one of the doctors at Rampart about this.”
“You mean like a shrink? I’m not crazy!”
The paramedic looked out through the windshield. The hospital was only a couple of miles away. It wouldn’t take them long to get there once he started driving again. He didn’t have much time to decide what he should do.
If I play along, am I just gonna make things worse? Or will telling the docs behind her back make it so she’s afraid to get help from anyone later? Should I tell’m what *I* saw?
Once again, Johnny gave a long hard look at Beth. She was holding back more tears.
“Okay. I’ll help ya and we won’t tell anyone else what you said.”
The relief was immediately visible in her face. “Thank you.”
“On one condition.”
“You fill me in on the details. If I’m gonna help, I need to know exactly what the situation is.”
“Yes, of course.”
Johnny put his vehicle in gear and pulled back onto the street. The two were silent, each involved in their own thoughts as they headed to Rampart; Johnny wondering what he was getting into, and Beth trying to think of the best way to explain things without chasing her help off.
A short time after going inside, Edward returned to his back yard to fill in the unwanted hole. He didn’t notice that there were no paw prints leading to or away from it.
Johnny leaned against the counter inside of the base station, a cup of coffee in his hands, as he waited for Beth to come out of Treatment Room One. Still not sure what to make of the young woman’s problem and the missing animal at the bowl the night before, he tried for a second opinion from Dixie as she worked on the nurses’ schedule.
“Dix, do you believe in ghosts?”
The head nurse looked up and grinned. “Don’t tell me you’re worried about ghosts and goblins on Halloween. . .”
Johnny shook his head. “I was just wonderin’. I mean, have you ever had an experience you couldn’t explain? Like where a ghost almost seemed logical?”
She gave his question some thought, while also trying to figure out what would have gotten John Gage on this latest topic. To her knowledge, he and Roy hadn’t lost a victim lately. And he hadn’t been off duty for any extended period of time that might suggest a relative had passed away.
“I’m not sure if I have or not. Shortly after my grandmother died, my mother and I were helping my grandfather clean out her things and none of us could find one of her favorite music boxes. He found it a few days later, inside one of his dresser drawers. We never figured out how it got there, except that maybe she’d put it there before she died and he just never noticed. But it really didn’t make sense that she would.”
Johnny acknowledged her words with a nod and waited for more.
“He said that it must have been a sign,” Dixie continued. “She must’ve wanted him to make sure he kept it.”
“What’d he do with it?”
“It’s still in the drawer. He never took it out.”
The paramedic smiled, then looked at the door to Treatment Room One, his smile fading.
“She’s a nice girl,” Dixie stated.
“Beth. She seems very nice.”
“Oh. . . yeah, she does.” A puzzled look from the nurse had him quickly changing his words. Uh. . .she is. She is.”
“Johnny, is there something else you want to talk about?”
“No. . .no. Thanks, Dix.” He set the coffee cup on her desk and started to step away when Joe Early strolled up.
“Well, what brings you here?” the doctor asked, looking for any sign of an injury on the paramedic.
“Uh. . .I brought in a friend. Nothing serious; she just broke a finger.” He shifted on his feet as he thought about the rest. Now was the chance to let someone know Beth wasn’t very stable. The professional in him knew it should be done. But the person in him had made a promise, and as he’d once told his partner, he admired people who stuck to them.
How can I break one *now*? Maybe all she needs is someone to confide in. . .
Johnny was still relieved Early was on duty and not Brackett. The former had no idea he and Roy had brought Beth in during the night. And, of course, Dixie didn’t either. No one would question him as to why he was with her in the first place.
As Joe started to say something else, the door to the treatment room opened and Beth came out, Mike Morton right behind her.
“All set,” the woman said, holding up her bandaged finger.
“Good deal. Everything else okay?”
She looked at him like he’d just given away her secret. Quickly recovering, she answered, “Of course.”
After thanking Morton for the care, Beth and Johnny headed for the exit of the emergency ward. The two doctors went on with their business, as Dixie took Beth’s file from where Mike had laid it on the counter. Just as she was about to go put it away, a man came down the corridor with his ill daughter. The head nurse set down the medical file and immediately went to his aid.
Johnny parked his Land Rover in front of Beth’s house as she finished telling him about the horrible experience she’d had with the puppy when she was a child.
“You know, you’re the first one who’s ever heard the whole truth,” she sniffled. “I felt so guilty; I couldn’t tell anyone it was my fault Teddy was in the middle of the road. I never even told my parents.”
“So you think it’s him ‘haunting’ you now? After all these years?”
The two got out of the vehicle as she answered. “No. . .well. . .I did. . .kind of.” They walked up to her front door and she opened it with a key. As soon as she and Johnny were inside, Beth continued.
“Every time I looked at a dog. . .any dog. . .after that, I’d swear Teddy was behind the eyes of it and staring back at me. I was so sure he was gonna get revenge, that if a dog even growled a little, my knees would buckle and I’d start shaking. I would walk a mile or two out of my way around that town to avoid going past any houses with dogs.”
Johnny listened as he took a seat on the couch, Beth in the chair across the room. “As I got older, it just seemed to get worse. Like he was closing in. I started to hear him around my house. You know, walking and panting.”
The paramedic nodded. Does that explain the bowl on the porch and the unseen animal?
“Well, I tried to tell myself it was my imagination. And I forced myself to get another dog to prove it to myself. I thought it would help me to be okay with them again. Riley. He was a character.” The edges of her mouth turned up in a slight smile. “He sure loved to annoy the man next door. Would stand at the fence and bark at him. We never got along, so I kind of enjoyed it.”
“How’d he die? Riley. . .”
Beth paused a moment and stared at Johnny. She began to cry as she explained. “I started to see that same look in his eyes. It got so that I couldn’t handle having him around.” Beth sniffed and wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “And then I did a terrible thing.”
Johnny had a feeling he knew where the conversation was going. He was about to stop her when she began to go into more detail, her eyes now averted to the floor, her hands fidgeting. “I came home from work one day and I opened the gate to the back yard. I don’t even know what made me do it, but I left it open and Riley got out. I wasn’t home very long when I heard tires screeching and when I went outside, he was lying in the street. . .he was dead.”
The paramedic sat back and sighed. “Maybe it was an accident that you left the gate open.”
The girl shook her head and kept her eyes downcast. “No. . .no, I wanted him gone.” She looked up and made eye contact with Johnny. “I killed him.”
So it’s guilt. . .all of it. . .There has to be a way to help her. . . “Maybe if you moved to a different hou--”
“No! No, I can’t. I can’t. He’ll get me where ever I go.” She looked at the bandage on her leg where the bite was. “I have to get rid of him. . .again.”
“But if he’s already dead, then how--?” Johnny stopped himself.
What am I saying? This is nuts. But then how’d she get the bite? Man, this is way over my head.
He got to his feet. “Look, I’d like to help ya. But I think the only way to get ‘rid’ of Riley is to face your fears. With someone who knows what they’re doing. . .and that’s not me.”
Johnny could see the total helplessness in her eyes. He once again found himself softening in his stance. “Okay. But let me think it over. . .on what to do.”
She started to tremble again and nodded. “Okay,” came a whisper.
Dixie was taking a call at the base station when one of her nurses came up to the desk, a puzzled expression on her face. The head nurse motioned for her to wait while she wrote down the medical information given to her by the paramedics on the other end of the line. Once that was done, she paged for Doctor Morton and turned to face the younger woman.
“Yes, Susy, what is it?”
“I was filing the patient records and I came across one that already had a file.” She held both up so Dixie could see the names.
“Beth Naler? She was in here not too long ago. Come to think of it, her file was already out.” She reached for the one that she’d seen earlier. Looking inside, she noticed the file was created on the same date as it was now and Beth was assumed to be a new patient. “She was brought in at 2:15 in the morning with a dog bite.” She shrugged. “It’s unusual, but one of the nurses on duty last night must’ve not seen the original file.”
“Yeah, but look.”
The nurse then handed her the other file. Dixie opened it and read the information listed there. She looked in the direction Johnny and Beth had departed a couple of hours before, then returned her eyes to the paperwork.
Johnny drove toward the outskirts of town, Beth in the Land Rover with him. After giving the situation some thought, he’d decided the best thing would be to get her out of the house. It would buy him some time to think and keep her from the surroundings that may be triggering her problems. He’d considered heading over to the DeSotos’, but remembered the family would most likely be on their quest for Halloween costumes. Plus it wouldn’t be very good for the kids if Beth were to let anything slip while there anyway. Going for a drive out to where it would be quiet and relaxing seemed to be the next best option.
Glancing at his passenger, the paramedic asked, “Do any of your co-workers know what’s going on with you?”
She gave it some thought, then appeared to have a somewhat puzzled expression on her face. “I don’t think so. . .they don’t say much to me.”
“What do you do, anyway?”
“I’m a maid at the Fairway Motel.”
Johnny tried to picture the place. After a few seconds, it came to mind. “Oh. . .that motel on Clairmont. . .”
Beth nodded. “Yes, that’s i--” Her sentence was cut off by her scream.
Johnny had once again taken his eyes off the road ahead for a split second, and unfortunately it was the wrong split second. As Beth screamed, he quickly looked forward, where he saw a stocky brown dog in the road right in front of them. With no time to stop, Johnny had to jerk the Land Rover sharply as he slammed on the brakes.
The vehicle went over the side of the road and flipped twice before coming to rest upright in a field. Neither occupant moved.
Dixie McCall tapped on the door to Doctor Early’s office and peeked inside. “Joe, can I show you something?”
The doctor leaned back in his chair. “Sure, Dix, what’ve you got?”
“Well, I’m not quite sure.” She stepped into the room and let the door close behind her. “You know the young lady John Gage brought in. . .Beth Naler. . .”
“What about her?”
“Susy found a second file on her. Apparently they missed it during the night and created a new one.”
“And. . .?”
“According to the first one, she died a several months ago from injuries sustained in a car accident.”
Having walloped his head on something during the accident, Johnny slowly came out of a daze and peered through the spider webbed windshield at the crumpled front end of the hood. As he became more aware, he recalled that he wasn’t alone.
The paramedic turned his head and saw that the young woman was staring straight ahead, her eyes not blinking.
“Beth?” Johnny reached down and unfastened his seatbelt. He winced as he scooted closer to her. “Hey.” He slowly waved a hand in front of her face in an effort to get a reaction. Gage couldn’t see any obvious injuries to the girl, but knew from experience that what appeared to be wasn’t always the case.
“Beth! C’mon. Give me somethin’ here.”
He checked her pulse and found it was normal. But she still didn’t react to his presence. “Man, I’ve gotta get us some help.”
Johnny carefully slid back to the driver’s side and pulled the handle on the door, hoping it would open freely. It didn’t.
Gasping slightly, he pulled back from it, then leaned hard against it again, eliciting a grunt with his efforts. He was rewarded with the door opening to a small crack.
One more time. . .
After repeating the steps, the door opened enough for him to slip out. Once on his feet, he ignored the throbbing pain in his head and his sore abdomen as he used the Land Rover to steady himself. He started to step away when he heard a growl, like a dog snarling its teeth, behind him. Johnny very slowly turned around and found that there wasn’t anything there.
Shit. . .
Roy and Joanne smiled as their children tried on the new Halloween costumes after returning home from shopping.
“Chris makes a good Dracula,” the father stated as he watched the boy chase his princess sister out of the room.”
“Pretty convincing, isn’t he?”
“I guess he’s reached that age where ‘cute’ doesn’t cut it anymore.”
Joanne agreed as she answered their ringing telephone.
“Yes. Yes, certainly.”
She held the receiver out. “It’s for you.”
“This is Roy,” he said, after taking the call.
The next few minutes of conversation had him wondering if he was dreaming or really awake.
“What is it?” Joanne wondered as he hung up, a puzzled expression on his face.
“I’m not sure. But it seems a girl Johnny and I treated and transported last night wasn’t who she said she was. Or if she was, she’s a ghost.”
“We took in a dog bite victim. It turns out she apparently died several months ago. And to make it even stranger, Johnny brought her in on his own today.”
“Wait. . .”
“There’s gotta be a reasonable explanation. Only thing is, no one can locate either one of them to find out what it is.”
Each time Johnny made a move, the growling intensified. He still couldn’t see a dog anywhere, but where ever it was, the dog didn’t want him to make it away from the vehicle.
It’s not there. It’s your imagination . . .it’s gotta be. C’mon, just get to the road. . .
But he still found himself too bugged to go anywhere. When he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, Johnny looked to Beth inside. She was coming around. Figuring it would be better if he was with her when she became aware, he carefully climbed back in, all the while trying to listen for the sound of the dog approaching. Much to his relief, the growling had stopped.
Beth looked lazily over at her friend.
“Just don’t move,” Johnny instructed. “You might have internal injuries.”
“Oh my God! It was Riley!” She cried, recalling what had happened. She tried to push on her door, but the paramedic held her still. “He’s here! He’s got us trapped!”
“Take it easy. It’ll be okay. . . I’ll get you outta here. . .it’ll be alright,” he tried to convince himself as well.
Suddenly Beth was propelled in her mind to another time and place with Johnny’s words. She was underneath something. . .
Heavy. . .I can’t breathe. . .help
Johnny’s face came into view as he peered into her wrecked car. “It’s okay. We’ll get you outta here. . . It’ll be alright.”
But this time she knew it hadn’t been alright. As Gage’s face faded from view in the vision, Beth recalled that Riley had caused that accident as well. More important than that, she remembered something else.
At the same time she recalled that fact, Beth noticed a startled look of recognition on Johnny’s face.
He knows. He knows it too.
Beth weakly reached up with her left hand and touched his forehead. The paramedic winced as the throbbing in his head continued and the wooziness increased. He wanted to say something, but the words wouldn’t come.
“He won,” she whispered, knowing Gage had been unable to help her in the fight to prevail over the events of the past. “You tried. But he won.”
Beth looked sadly at Johnny as the distance between them grew, until it was as if she were looking at him from a tunnel. Soon he was gone from her view.
You got me, Riley. You got your revenge. . .
As Beth accepted defeat, Johnny slumped over, unconscious.
Roy was at Rampart reading over the two files on Beth Naler, when a call came over the base station. Squad 36 was treating the missing paramedic for a head injury and abdominal bruising apparently suffered in a single car accident.
“Where’re they at?” He asked Dixie as she turned the transmission duty over to Doctor Early.
“Outside of town.”
“How’d they find him?”
“Apparently an anonymous phone call to dispatch.”
Roy shifted nervously on his feet. “What about the girl?”
Dixie shrugged. “They said he’s alone.”
“Take him to Treatment Room Four,” Nurse McCall directed as Johnny was wheeled on a stretcher inside the hospital.
The paramedics bringing him in did as she said. Roy followed them in, hoping no one would make him leave the room since he wasn’t on duty.
DeSoto stood back as Johnny was transferred to the exam table. It was then he saw that his friend was awake, though he appeared to be in a stupor. There was a black and blue spot on his left temple where a slight knot had also formed. And by Johnny’s reaction to Doctor Early’s touch to his abdomen, there was an injury there as well. There were a few small nicks on the left side of his face, which Roy surmised to possibly be from flying glass.
“I heard your Land Rover looked like you rolled it a few times,” the doctor commented. “You must’ve had your seatbelt on since you stayed in the front seat.”
Roy watched as Gage nodded, noticing him wince at the movement of his head.
“That’s probably why you’re so sore here,” Early continued, indicating Johnny’s mid section. “It’s not rigid, which you know is a good sign.”
The name uttered from his partner’s mouth had DeSoto’s attention even more. Why would he be asking about her unless she was with him. . .?
“You mean Beth Naler?”
Again a slight nod.
“If you’re asking where she is, I don’t know. No one knows. You were the only one at the scene.”
Roy could tell from his view of Johnny that the man was puzzled. If he’s wondering about her, then that means she* was* there. She *had* to’ve been. But then where is she *now*?
Although Joe Early was well aware from the beginning that Roy was in the treatment room when he shouldn’t be, the doctor made an exception and, saying nothing, allowed him to stay. After the other paramedics left and he’d finished his examination of Johnny’s injuries, Joe waved Roy over.
Gage eyed his partner curiously. “Wha. . .what’re you doin’ here?” he asked, his voice sounding weak.
“Lookin’ for you.”
“I had. . .to see her. . .”
“I take it you mean Beth?”
Johnny started to nod again, but thought better of it. “Yeah. . .”
“She was with you?”
“I don’ know. . .” For the moment, Johnny couldn’t pull the day together. As much as he tried, there were pieces missing. All he knew right now was that he was sore as hell, had a massive headache and was flat on his back at Rampart.
Edward came out of his house to get into his truck, when he saw a policeman ringing the doorbell at Beth’s place. When the officer didn’t get an answer, another uniformed man nearby disappeared around to the back while the other peered into a window. Soon the officer who’d gone behind the house returned and was conversing with the other.
“Hey, what’re you guys doing?” the neighbor asked as he approached.
“We’re trying to locate Beth Naler. There seems to be a discrepancy in some information we’ve got on her and we need her to clear a matter up.”
Edward snorted a laugh. “That crazy broad? Clear things up? While, I’ll bet if you do get a hold of her, she’ll have you coming away more confused than ever.”
“She’s a damn lunatic. She’s always out in her yard yelling at her dog. . .” he leaned in close to the men. “Her dog is dead. Has been for quite awhile. No, sir. You won’t get clarity from that nut case.”
The officers exchanged glances, then went on to question Edward further. They hoped to have found their needed source of information.
The following day Johnny was a little better, though still very sore. He also found that he was somewhat unsteady on his feet. Lying alone in the hospital room, he let his mind drift back to the events of the past twenty-four hours. Some of the details had returned to him bit by bit. Beth telling him about Riley, the dog in the road out in the middle of nowhere . . .and finally of Beth’s admission that her dog had won.
He remembered the fearful look in her eyes from the first accident. He was pulling overtime at Station 8 and they’d just gotten her free of her wrecked car when the young woman’s condition took a turn for the worse. He rode in the ambulance with her, reassuring her over and over that things would be okay. She was going to be alright. And she firmly believed him. But minutes later, Beth was pronounced dead at Rampart by Doctor Donaldson. The loss was a heart breaking one for the paramedic. Johnny couldn’t accept that they’d lost her.
At the time he was trying to deal with the loss, a dog that had been close to the scene came to his mind. He’d wondered if that was the cause of the accident. But from what others told him later, no witnesses saw the dog. They said she swerved suddenly for no reason at all. Oddly enough, no other fire fighters even noticed the dog at the scene. And now he knew who that dog was; the same one who caused him to flip his Land Rover.
Riley. . .
The loss of Beth then was hard to talk about, thus he never told Roy about it when they were on their next regular shift together. Soon he blocked it out and life went on for him as if that accident had never happened.
As if it’d never happened. . .but it *did* happen. . .so how was she alive?
The door to his room opened and in walked his partner, who was back on duty. “Dix said you’ve been bored and needed some company.”
“I don’ know what I need, Roy. Maybe my head examined.”
Johnny smiled and lightly touched the bruised spot on his left temple. “Yeah. . .the inside this time.”
“So, any ideas on what happened to Beth Naler?”
“She still hasn’t turned up. . .?”
Roy shook his head. “No.” He grabbed a chair and pulled it close to the bed, taking a seat. “So why did you hook up with her?”
“I had to. I knew her from somewhere, and it was driving me nuts, man.”
“I found out from where.”
“Me too. She seemed to remember the same time I did. It was weird, man. Like we connected on another level.”
Roy raised an eyebrow in doubt. “I think you were right the first time.”
“You need your head examined on the inside.”
Gage gave a sour expression. “Thanks for the support.”
“Anytime. Look, you know I don’t believe in ghosts. . .so there has to be an explanation here. Maybe someone who knew she died took her name and started living as her.”
“No, it was her. But I’m not so sure she was a ghost. Remember when Dorothy Teele was so sure her sister Alice was haunting their house that she started doing stuff and blaming it on her sister? And she seemed to really believe the dead sister was doing the stuff?”
“Well, I’ve been thinkin’. . .and I wonder if maybe she believed so strongly that she was gonna survive, she did in some sort of way. And I was so much in disbelief that we’d lost her, I added to that happening.”
“It doesn’t make sense. It’s crazy. She was pronounced dead by a doctor right here in this hospital.”
“But, Roy. The night we went to her house and you’d left in the ambulance, I heard an animal drinking something. I went to the source of the sound around back and there wasn’t anything there but a bowl. And I could still hear it.”
“Maybe it was from another yard and you thought it was from hers.”
“Okay, say it was.” Johnny repositioned himself, scooting more upright, wincing slightly in the process. “What about the fact it was her dog that’s been dead that caused my accident?”
“Have you told all this to Early?”
“No. I can’t. Or he will have my head examined.”
“Where does Beth’s disappearance play into all this?”
Johnny sighed. “It was fate. When we both remembered she died, I have a feeling she gave in and died again. She told me Riley’d won. After all I’d seen, I guess I believed her.”
Roy sat back and gave his partner’s words thought. It’s too far fetched. Things like this just don’t happen. But *he* doesn’t need to know what I think. . . The senior medic stood up. “Well, that’s good enough of an explanation for me,” he commented as he started for the door.
“Hey, where’re ya goin?”
“To give you more time to recover. I think you can use some rest.”
“You think I’m nuts.”
Roy waved over his shoulder, not turning around. “Only if you believe it.”
Johnny watched in silence as the door closed. He still wasn’t sure what to believe. All he could figure was that Beth was where she was meant to be, and hopefully Riley was as well. Just as long as they left him alone, no one beyond Roy would have to know what really happened that fateful day in October.
Enormous thanks to Jill Hargan for the beta read, writing of the Twilight Zone intro and encouragement along the way. I needed it with this story! :o) Also, thanks to Purry for reading the story through and giving me added reassurance. This story was inspired when I came home from work one morning (while it was still dark, as usual) and my husband had let the dogs out early. I could hear them drinking their water, but couldn’t see them. :o)
*Click on the picture to send Audrey feedback
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