Disclaimer: Of course, our dear boys don’t belong to me. Just having a little fun with them.
By: Vanessa Sgroi
The crew of Station 51 sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and indulging in the sinfully delicious triple chocolate brownies graciously supplied this morning by Joanne DeSoto. In the few minutes before the announcement of roll call, the mood was fairly chipper despite the pouring rain outside.
“So, Gage,” mumbled Chet, “how did that big date go you rambled on and on about last shift?” He brushed powdered sugar from his mustache and reached for another donut. “What was her name? Prissy? Lassie?”
“Chet! You know her name was Sissy.”
“Okay, fine, so how did it go with S-i-s-s-y?”
“All right, Chet, let me tell ya. It was weird. I mean WEIRD. Sissy turned out to be one freaky chick!”
“Gage, that was a given the second she said she’d go out with you!”
“Shut up, Chet. You wanna hear this story or not?”
Always eager to get more dirt on his pigeon, Chet shut up.
“The date started out okay. We had a little dinner, you know? I even sprung for a little wine. Then it got dark out. That’s when things got weird.”
The rest of his shiftmates were on the edge of their seats, even Roy who was somewhat used to Johnny’s wild tales.
“She . . . she asked me to take her to a cemetery.”
“A cemetery?” Marco was the first one to question. “What for?”
“Yeah, what for, Gage?” Chet echoed.
His cheeks reddened a little, and Johnny paused long enough to finish the last bite of brownie and take a huge sip of coffee before continuing on.
“That’s where she likes to make out.”
Chet’s and Marco’s voices blended together.
Roy had just opened his mouth to make a comment when he happened to notice the strange look on Mike Stoker’s face. He watched as the engineer paled.
“Hey, Mike, you okay?” At Roy’s question, all eyes swung toward Mike.
Stoker blinked a couple of times before finally focusing on the paramedic.
“I asked if you were okay.”
“Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I’m all right.” As he spoke, Mike pushed back his chair and stood up. Without another word he left the room, leaving behind half a brownie and five puzzled co-workers.
* * *
In the apparatus bay, Mike stopped next to Big Red and placed his palms against the shiny cool metal. His eyes were on the floor as he took several deep breaths. The deeply buried fear arose and enveloped him.
He stood staring at the long dark box before him. The box where he last saw Grandma all laid out and looking like she was asleep. Now it stood suspended above a giant hole in the ground, and all around him there were black-clad adults just weeping, weeping, weeping. He was too young to completely understand what was happening and it was making him scared.
Little Mikey shivered as a chill wind cut through his tweed coat and swirled through the brown, crunchy-sounding leaves strewn about the emerald grass. He tugged at his mother’s hand which presently enfolded his. When this elicited no response, the little boy tugged harder. His mother turned to look at him.
“Michael, stop it. Behave yourself.” Unconsciously, her grip tightened, numbing the little boy’s fingers.
When she turned away, Mikey slipped his hand from her grasp. He was frightened by the emotion and tension he felt all around him. He shuffled a couple of steps away from his mother, pausing to look back over his shoulder before continuing on. So immersed in grief were the adults, no one noticed the little tow-headed boy as he darted away from the crowd.
The brown, crinkly leaves and misshapen twigs on the ground amused the little boy for many long minutes as he wandered farther and farther away from the mourners. Soon he was lost in a maze of headstones and statues, the angels leering at him from all sides. In his mind, it appeared that the angels were poised to jump right at him. Turning around in a circle, Mikey looked for any sign of his parents. Realizing at that moment that he was lost, the four-year-old felt tears well in his eyes and trickle down his face. He started walking once again.
He’d been wandering for a bit, looking for something familiar, when there came a loud noise in the bushes behind him. It sounded just like a big monster was coming. Scared, Mikey started to run. Not watching where he was going, the little blond boy didn’t see the hole and fell forward, into the freshly dug grave. He landed awkwardly, his right leg giving way beneath him.
The searchers finally found him more than an hour and a half later.
* * *
Stoker had never talked about the event and had avoided cemeteries ever since that fateful day. Mike was a teenager when his father died, and his fear was still so great, he’d been unable to attend the graveside service. The reappearance of this old terror now was quite unwelcome. But he knew the reason for the resurgence, and it really had nothing to do with the story Johnny had just told.
He stood there for several moments staring at the crimson paint on Big Red. He jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Mike, are you sure you’re okay?” Roy’s eyes reflected concern.
Embarrassed, Stoker nodded his head and said, “Yeah.”
“Wanna talk?” Even as he asked, Roy expected to get the usual “no” answer from the reticent engineer. He was surprised when Mike nodded again.
It only took a few minutes for Mike to recite the whole sad tale.
“So Johnny’s story brought this all back?”
Mike sighed. “No. Not really.”
DeSoto waited patiently for the engineer to continue.
“I . . . I’ve . . . been asked to be a . . . pallbearer. A good friend of mind, a deputy, was killed in the line of duty. He . . . he has . . . had . . . very little family and his wife asked . . . his friends. I . . . I’ve stalled for a couple of days . . . but I have to give her an answer.”
“You know, everybody’s afraid of something. We all have our little phobias.”
“I know. But this seems so . . . so stupid.”
“Stupid? Look at me, I have a healthy . . . respect . . . of heights. With Johnny, it’s snakes. And what about Cap? He’s afraid of fish. Fish! I personally don’t think one fear is any more stupid than another.”
Roy’s matter-of-fact words settled on Mike’s shoulders and seemed to lift his burden somewhat.
“I guess we all have to confront our fears at some point or another. I know . . . I KNOW I can’t let my friend down. Not with this.”
The tones sounded at that moment, summoning the crew to a structure fire. Before the two men rushed to enter their vehicles, Mike clutched Roy’s shoulder.
“Hey, Roy? Thanks, man. Thanks. I’m going to call his wife as soon as we get back.”
* * * The End * * *
Coimetrophobia: the fear of cemeteries.
Thanks for the quick beta, Audrey. As always, it’s MUCH appreciated.
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