Fantasy or Reality?
By Audrey W.
“Squad 51, unknown type rescue, 1123 North Hill Street, one one two three North Hill Street, time out 13:21.”
Placing their half eaten hamburgers down on their plates, paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto quickly got up from their seats in the cafeteria at Rampart General Hospital. Gage acknowledged the call over the HT.
“Squad 51, 10-4.”
“So much for lunch,” Roy commented.
Johnny grabbed his burger and took one last big bite. “Mmmmfffphoommmee,” he mumbled around the food in his mouth.
Roy glanced at his partner and shook his head in wonder as they headed for the doorway leading to the main corridor.
The two men hurried through the hospital, weaving their way around other medical personnel, being careful not to run into anyone along the way. Soon they reached the emergency exit and stepped outside to the squad.
Johnny was seated when Roy climbed in and turned the key in the ignition.
“How’d you swallow all that without a drink?” DeSoto asked as he drove away from the building, lights already flashing.
Johnny shrugged. “Pure determination, Roy. Pure determination.”
Soon the senior paramedic brought the squad to a stop in front of a yellow two-story house. A woman stood in the front doorway, watching as the two men quickly approached with their medical equipment in hand.
“I would’ve driven her to a doctor myself, but we only have one car,” she explained as she motioned for them to follow her, “and my husband was at work. He’s on his way home now, but I didn’t want to wait. I’m Elaine, her mother.”
“What’s wrong?” Johnny wondered.
“It’s our little girl Abigail. She was in the back yard playing, and then the next thing I knew, here she came into the kitchen with blood on her right hand and a cut on the back of her head. She. . .uh. ..she said she was playing on the swings when a. . . little girl. . . came into the yard. She grabbed a hold of Abby’s right ankle when she was trying to stop in order to get off. The girl. . .uh. . . caused her fall out backwards. Apparently Abigail hit her head on the edge of the cement that holds one of the swingset legs in the ground.”
Johnny shot the woman a curious glance, wondering at the hedging tone in her voice. Did she have doubts about her daughter's story?
The trio entered the kitchen to find a little girl dressed in pink shorts and a white 'Bugaloos' t-shirt sitting at the table. She was holding a damp cloth to the back of her head.
Johnny and Roy made their way over to the girl, both setting their medical equipment nearby on the floor. The younger paramedic smiled as he tried to put the child at ease.
“Hi, Abigail. I’m John Gage, and this is my partner Roy DeSoto. Your mother tells us you had a little mishap. . .”
Sniffling, the girl nodded.
“Okay, sweetheart. Can you move your hand off the cloth? I need to take a look at your head.”
Abigail complied. Sitting very still in the chair, she braced herself for Johnny to touch the sore wound.
He gently removed the cloth and carefully parted her now sticky hair just enough to assess the extent of the injury. Roy took the child’s pulse, then pulled out the bp cuff. Her worried expression had him explaining what was going to happen next.
“It’s okay. This won’t hurt. I’m just going to put it on your arm to check your blood pressure. It’ll squeeze a little, but it just feels kind of tight.”
“ ‘Kay.” She winced as Johnny examined wound.
“Alright,” he said, letting her hair partially fall back in place. He looked at Elaine. “It doesn’t look bad. I’d say she’ll probably need a coupla stitches maybe. You feel dizzy at all, sweetheart?”
“No.” Abigail watched closely as Roy removed the bp cuff.
“See?” he asked. “That didn’t hurt a bit, huh?”
“That must be some friend you’ve got to do this to ya,” Johnny commented as he checked her pupil reaction with his penlight.
“She’s not my friend,” the little girl pouted.
“She’s not?” He thought it kind of odd that just any kid off the street would go into a yard and start trouble. “Do you know her name?”
The girl glanced at her mother and slowly shook her head no, a sob catching in her throat. Gage returned his full attention to Abigail after taking a quick look at Elaine, his eyebrows raised in curiosity. He’d seen the look from a parent before. It was a ‘don’t play games’ look.
“Any idea where she lives? It may be a good idea to contact her parents and let them know.”
This time all he got from the girl was a shrug. The mother sighed. “Don’t worry. I’ll handle that part.”
Roy finished checking Abigail’s vital signs, then set up the biophone and contacted the hospital.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?”
“Read you loud and clear, 51. Go ahead,” came Doctor Kel Brackett’s reply.
“Rampart we have a female approximately five-years-old--”
“Six,” Elaine interrupted. “She just recently turned six-years-old.”
“Correction, Rampart. The girl is six-years-old.” He then went on to give the vital signs and details on her injury as provided by his partner, who was already applying a pressure bandage held in place with sterile gauze. Though her vitals were normal, the small laceration was still bleeding, thus it was decided stitches would indeed be required. The doctor also wanted to make sure there were no hidden side effects taking place.
“51, transport when ready.”
Roy hung up the biophone receiver and looked to Elaine. “We’ll be taking her to Rampart General when the ambulance gets here. You can ride in the front if you want.”
“Yes, I’d like that. My husband should be home any minute and he can drive over there.”
Not long after the paramedics talked with Brackett, a police officer was on the scene. But once the situation was explained to him, and Elaine didn’t want to pursue the issue any farther. . . “Kids’ll be kids,” she’d said. . .he didn’t question Abigail and only hung around as a formality. Soon the ambulance arrived at the home, and Abigail was placed on a stretcher. As the ambulance attendants wheeled her toward the front door, the father entered the home. He looked in concern at the medical crew in his house.
“Is it that bad?” he asked.
“She’ll be okay,” Roy assured, following behind the stretcher. “She’s just gonna need a stitch or two.”
“I’m going to ride in with her,” Elaine commented. “Brad, can you follow behind in the car?”
He shrugged. “Sure. But you haven’t told me how this happened. . .”
Elaine rolled her eyes and whispered, “She claims Lynnette made her fall out of the swing.”
“Are we back to that again? I thought we’d settled—”
The mother shushed him and followed on before the others could hear what they were talking about.
As he lagged slightly behind carrying some of the equipment, Johnny glanced around and noticed a display of vinyl-skinned dolls sitting on a four-shelf stand across the livingroom. They were a variety of sizes, from four to fifteen inches tall; most wore fancy lace trimmed dresses in an assortment of colors. A few were baby dolls and wearing footed pajamas or diaper sets. The strange thing was that all of them had their heads turned facing the wall behind them.
“Interestin’ way to keep ‘em,” the paramedic voiced aloud.
Brad smiled. “That’s Abigail’s arrangement. She can’t stand those things looking at her, so if she even walks through the room, Elaine says the dolls’ heads end up facing backwards.”
“Why does she have ‘em then?”
“They aren’t Abby’s. They’re my wife’s; she collects dolls. Or she did till we had Abigail. Then Elaine stopped because our daughter filled the void she felt before we had a kid.”
Johnny nodded. “Makes sense.” He walked alongside Brad toward the foyer and front door, taking one last glance over his shoulder at the odd sight.
Roy helped to lift the stretcher into the ambulance after placing the biophone inside. He then stood back as Johnny set the drug box on the floor of the ambulance as well.
“You want to ride in with her?” DeSoto asked.
“Okay, I’ll see you at Rampart.”
Johnny had climbed in and was seated on a bench beside the stretcher and Abigail. He nodded in acknowledgment as Roy closed and secured the doors.
Once they were on their way, the younger paramedic addressed his charge.
“How ya feelin’?”
“Okay,” she quietly answered. “I’m not scared anymore.”
He grinned. “Good deal. Doctor Brackett’s gonna take good care of ya and you’ll be home before ya know it.”
He was surprised at the look of disappointment on her face.
“That’s supposed to be the good news.”
Abigail looked at him, her expression unchanged.
“Hey don’t worry, kiddo. It’ll be okay. Your mom said she’s gonna handle the situation with the girl that knocked you outta the swing.”
Somehow he got the feeling it didn’t matter. Her expression changed to one of uneasiness.
Once at Rampart, Johnny followed alongside the stretcher while Abigail was taken to Treatment Room Two.
Elaine entered the room behind the others and watched with concern as her daughter was helped to slide onto an examination table.
“Well now, Abigail, let’s take a look at you,” Brackett said in a comforting tone, a smile on his face.
“You need me for anything, Doc?”
Kel glanced at the paramedic. “No, Johnny; thanks.”
“Alright.” He once again flashed a smile at the little girl. “You’re in good hands, sweetheart.” He gave a quick wave to Elaine.
Brad was coming into the room just as Johnny opened the door to exit.
“How is she?”
Gage glanced over his shoulder at the doctor, the nurse assisting him and their little patient. “She’ll be okay.”
“Listen, she uh. . .” He motioned for the father to step into the corridor. Out of the treatment room and his voice lowered, Johnny continued. “Your daughter seems a little worried about what happened with the girl. I know your wife said she was gonna take care of it. But Abigail might need a little more reassurance.”
Brad looked at the door they’d just exited from, then returned his attention to the paramedic. “Did she say anything more about it to you? Like who Lynnette is?”
“She didn’t give you a name?”
“No. But is that who the other girl is? You need to tell some--”
“She’s not real. She’s an imaginary playmate. I just thought that maybe. . .”
Johnny shook his head. “But are you tellin’ me you think she fell out of the swing on her own just to blame someone she created?”
“Look, I’ve said enough. It’s just an attention getting ploy with Abigail. Kids do that sort of stuff all the time, huh?”
Johnny stared at Brad a moment. Maybe the dad was right. Kids did tend to play make believe. He had as well. He nodded. “Yeah, I guess they do.”
“Just forget I brought it up.” He opened the door and stepped into the treatment room, leaving Gage alone to mull things over. After a few seconds, the paramedic looked toward Dixie’s desk and noticed his partner. He made his way over, deciding there wasn’t any need to mention the conversation he’d just had with Brad Nordom.
An hour after leaving Rampart, Johnny and Roy were on their way back to the hospital, this time with two victims from a car accident. The two paramedics had no sooner headed for the station when the call came over the radio.
As Roy took a turn riding in with the victims, Johnny followed behind in the squad. Once at their destination, the senior paramedic went into Treatment Room Three with one victim; Gage into Treatment Room One with the other.
Each man helped to transfer their patients onto exam tables, then stood ready to fill in the doctors on duty concerning any details at the scene.
Johnny watched as Kel Brackett re-checked the pupils of the lady he’d come in with.
“She’s still seeing double and kind of blurry,” he explained.
The doctor nodded. “Dianne, can you remember anything about the accident?” After getting a ‘no’ response, Kel frowned. “Well, aside from your broken arm and collarbone, I’d say you’ve got a moderate concussion at the least.” He glanced at Johnny. “Any sign of nausea?”
The doctor ordered some tests and called for X-ray to come in, then walked over near the paramedic. “You can go now, Johnny. We’ve got it from here.”
“Okay.” He started to leave, then turned around, his brow furrowed. “Doc, how’s Abigail doing? Did she go home?”
Brackett folded his arms across his chest. “Yes, as a matter of fact she left as soon as I got the stitches in. She checked out fine, no side effects from the blow to her head. I advised her parents to keep a close eye on her just in case though.”
Johnny nodded. “Okay.” He sighed. “Well, that’s good news. Did she seem happier when she left?”
“As happy as a kid who just had three stitches in her head could be.”
“Good point,” he snorted.
Brackett smiled and glanced over as the door opened and X-ray came in. Returning his attention to Gage a moment, he commented, “What’s all this about?”
“Nothin’. Just followin’ up on the patient.” He headed for the door to meet up with Roy.
Roy and Johnny were soon on their way back to the station again. As the older man kept his eyes on the traffic ahead, his partner looked out the passenger window in thought.
“Have either of your kids had an imaginary playmate?”
Roy glanced over. “Are you kiddin’ me? We’ve had more imaginary visitors than real ones.”
Gage laughed slightly and shifted in his seat to face his friend. “So would you say most kids do it?”
“At one time or another, probably. I’m sure some carry it farther than others. But it’s usually harmless.” Roy once again glanced from the traffic to his partner. “Why? What started this?”
“Nothin’. It’s nothin’.”
Suddenly the tones sounded and the next response for the men came over the radio.
“Squad 51, unknown type rescue, 1123 North Hill Street, one one two three North Hill Street, time out 16:10.”
“Well, here we go again.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah. I wonder what it is this time?”
Brad Nordom greeted the paramedics at the doorway of his home. He explained the situation as they followed him into the livingroom.
“We weren’t home for long when Abigail started feeling bad. She says she feels dizzy and sick at her stomach. We were afraid maybe she had something more going on that doctor missed. Aren’t those the signs of a concussion?”
“They are, but they shouldn’t show up this late. . .those are more what she’d get earlier on. We’ll check her out and see,” Johnny offered. As they entered the room, he took a quick glance at the dolls once again. Their faces were still turned toward the wall.
Getting right to the business at hand, Gage and DeSoto set their medical equipment down on the floor near the couch where Abigail was lying. Both squatted in front of it to tend to the little girl while her mother and father watched.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Johnny began. “Your dad tells us you aren’t feeling well now.”
She nodded. “I’m dizzy and my tummy hurts.”
“Do you hurt anywhere else?” Roy asked.
Johnny eyed the child a moment. He knew it was possible she’d picked up on comments they and Brackett had made earlier in reference to signs of a concussion. Maybe this was her way of a second attempt at getting away from the house.
The paramedics proceeded to take her vitals, which all were normal. Next Johnny checked her pupils again while Roy called into Rampart.
“Pupils are equal and reactive,” Gage informed as he next gently pressed on her abdomen. “Does your tummy ache very bad?”
“Yes, a whole bunch.”
“And you don’t have a headache at all?”
“A concussion isn’t going to cause the stomach to hurt,” he explained to the parents. “The nausea related to a head injury is more of a reaction to the blow to the head and feeling dizzy afterward. But if her stomach hurts and she feels dizzy, I’d say it’s probably somethin’ else. Maybe just by chance she’s got a virus and the symptoms are starting to show.”
As they suspected, the paramedics were directed to have the parents observe their daughter and bring her into Rampart if her condition didn’t improve.
Johnny stood up a moment and stepped away from the couch, motioning for Roy to follow him.
“What is it?”
The younger man kept his voice at a whisper. “I think there’s something more goin’ on here and unless we get it straightened out now, we’re gonna be coming to this place fairly often.” He noticed a puzzled look on Roy’s face, so he elaborated. “I think she just wants our attention for some reason. And we gave it to her plenty before.”
Roy glanced at the girl, who certainly didn’t look as miserable as she’d tried to sound. Maybe his partner was right.
“You want me to talk to the parents and you stay with her?”
Both men smiled at Elaine and Brad as they made their way back over to the couch. Johnny squatted down near Abigail while Roy approached the others.
“Can I talk to you in private?”
“Of course. How about the kitchen. . .” Brad suggested.
The three filed out of the room.
Johnny watched the others leave as he stayed squatting in front of Abigail. Once they were out of the room he spoke with the girl.
“Are you feelin’ any better now?”
“Maybe. . .I dunno.” She shrugged. “Can’t we go to the hospital and see?”
The paramedic smiled. “You can probably tell us more about that than any doctor can right now. Tummy aches aren’t always easy to ‘see’.” He eyed the girl thoughtfully, then glanced over his shoulder at the display of toys.
“How come you don’t like the dolls?”
A look of surprise and amazement registered on her face.
His gaze back on Abigail, his smile widened. “Don’t worry. I’m not psychic. Your daddy told me earlier that you don’t like ‘em looking at you so you turn the heads around.” He glanced over his shoulder again. “I haven’t seen what they really look like, but they seem to be dressed up pretty.”
“I like ‘em. I wanted to play with ‘em. But I can’t.”
“Because they’re your mom’s?”
Maybe she’s jealous of the dolls in some way. . . . that could explain why the imaginary playmate. . . and maybe goin’ to Rampart and being the focus of everyone’s attention gave her an idea. . .
Abigail shook her head ‘no’. “They won’t let me. I like them, but they don’t like me. I didn’t turn their heads around. They looked away from me.”
Johnny stared a moment, not sure how to respond. This was an answer he hadn’t even begun to expect. Before he could say anything, the little girl once again spoke, her voice quiet.
“I don’t think Lynnette likes you either.”
Lynnette? He furrowed his brow, then slowly followed her gaze to another area of the room. A large doll with long brown hair, dressed in a floral print dress and white tights, was leaning against the wall. If he’d had to describe her facial expression to anyone, he’d have to go with ‘disgust’. It was almost as if she were sneering.
Who would make a doll like that?
Then another thought came to mind that seemed even more important. He couldn’t recall her being there when they’d first walked in.
Wait. . .what am I *thinking*? Of *course* she was there. . .she *had* to be. . .a doll can’t just *walk* into a room by herself. . .she’s just a plastic toy, for God’s sake.
He returned his attention to Abigail, who was watching him closely. She shook her head as she looked past him again, her eyes on Lynnette.
“She doesn’t like you at all.”
Johnny sat back on his heels, wondering why she would say such a thing. All he could figure was that the girl wasn’t thrilled with him trying to spare her another trip to Rampart and she was transferring it on to the doll; Lynnette, her imaginary adversary. It certainly wasn’t the usual situation with a pretend friend.
“What is it?” Brad asked. “I thought the doctor said we just need to observe her. So what’s this all about? Is there something else you haven’t told us? Is it serious?”
“Mr. Nordom, that’s just it,” Roy explained. “There’s really not any reason for your daughter to have a stomach ache because of the head injury. Her vitals are normal, and to be honest, she doesn’t act like a kid who feels like they’re going to be sick at their stomach. There seems to be a problem, but it’s nothing we can do anything about.”
“What’re you saying?” Elaine wondered, her tone betraying her annoyance with him.
“We think your daughter may be reaching out for attention for some reason.”
Brad’s jaw was set as he tried to hold back his anger. “Look, if you think we don’t care about Abigail, you’re wrong. We spend a lot of time with her. And when I’m at work, and she’s out of school, Elaine is always close by if they aren’t doing something together.”
“I’m not accusing you of anything,” Roy calmly stated, “but I’ve got two small kids of my own, and even my wife and I tend to concentrate a little too much on ‘our time’ together once in awhile. It’s not till they start behaving differently that we even realize we were.”
“But we haven’t been ignoring her,” Elaine protested.
“I thought you guys were paramedics, not psychiatrists.”
“I’m just trying to help. We don’t want to come out here again if it’s not an emergency. Our job is often life and death, and this kind of thing takes us away from someone who may really need us.”
“I’ll talk to her,” the father offered. “But I can guarantee you, she’s not lacking on attention. So you can get your partner and take your amateurish psychology jargon out of here. And be rest assured, we won’t call you again.”
Roy sighed. He’d tried not to get them upset, but it was a touchy subject. He said the only thing he could think of at the moment.
“Thank you. But if she really does get hurt again or very sick, don’t hesitate to call. That’s what we’re trained for.”
Johnny stood up and placed his hands on his hips when Roy and the Nordoms came into the room. He suddenly found himself in an inner struggle. Did he tell the parents what their daughter had said? Surely they had to know more about the situation as it was.
“They took offense at my amateurish psychology,” Roy said quietly. He reached down and picked up the biophone and drug box. “It’s okay.” The senior paramedic turned to face Elaine and Brad, and smiled. “Remember, if you really need us, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I’m sorry if we were rude,” the father apologized. “You guys have a job to do. . .we understand that.”
“Hey, it’s okay. Really.”
Johnny listened to the exchange, all the while deciding now wasn’t the time to bring up the conversation with Abigail. It was obvious her parents were in no mood to hear more ideas on their daughter’s psyche.
“Let’s go,” Roy said as he motioned toward the foyer.
The younger man nodded, and picked up the oxygen and trauma box. “Everything’ll be okay, sweetheart,” he assured Abigail.
The little girl watched as they left, her father showing them out. She then glanced over to where Lynnette was standing. The doll was eyeing the paramedics as well, a mischievous expression on her face.
Elaine sat down on the arm of the couch. “You didn’t try to tell him Lynnette tipped you out of the swing earlier, did you?”
Abigail shook her head. “No, Mommy.”
“Good. They think we have problems enough as it is. Lord knows what they’d think if you told either of them the story you told me.”
The little girl didn’t make a remark, but rather looked at the doll, her eyes narrowed as she scrutinized the vinyl toy. She wanted to be rid of Lynnette and the others. . .but how?
Johnny stared out the passenger window on the way back to the station. He couldn’t get Lynnette’s face out of his mind.
Oh great. I’m supposed to be the logical adult and here I am thinkin’ about a damn doll.
“Hey. . .”
Roy took a quick glance at his partner. “I asked you if you wanted to grab a bite to eat. . .twice, in fact. . . but you didn’t answer. It’s like you were a million miles away.”
“Oh. . .sorry. . .I was just thinkin’ . . .”
“No. . .well, maybe. But. . .well, does Jennifer or Chris ever make stuff up? I mean, I know about the imaginary playmate stuff. But about toys, I mean.”
His eyes back on the traffic, Roy grinned. “They sure do. Mostly Jennifer does it with her dolls, though.”
“Uh huh. Why?”
“Abigail said that the uh. . .the dolls. . .didn’t like her. One didn’t like me. So I was wonderin’ if most kids made up that kinda stuff or if it might mean she’s got some underlying problems; more so than the imaginary playmate. You know. . .maybe it’s a way of displayin’ ‘em.”
“I’d say it’s normal. Don’t worry. I’m sure if the doll could talk she’d say she likes you.”
Johnny rolled his eyes and returned his gaze to the passenger window. “BJ’s.”
“BJ’s. Let’s eat at BJ’s Burgers since we never got to finish the ones we had at Rampart.”
“You got it.” Roy made a right at the next intersection and headed for the fast-food place.
Gage took another bite of his burger and a swig of his soft drink. Leaning back in his chair, he looked around at the other patrons enjoying their food.
“Now this is more like it . . .kinda makes you forget what a strange day it’s been.”
Roy took a drink from his paper cup and swallowed. “Strange? I don’t know if I’d call it strange.”
“Different.” Johnny’s gaze was fixed on the surface of their table as he thought back to what the little girl had said. ‘I didn’t turn their heads around. They looked away from me.’ And then there was Lynnette. The whole conversation with Abigail about the other dolls and Lynnette would make a good B-horror movie. “I wonder if Art Fromish ever got the screenplay written for that doll movie he was gonna do. . .”
“What in the world made you think of that now? Don’t tell me you’re back to wanting to star in it. . .”
“Hmmm? No, no. Nah, I don’t wanna be in a stupid movie that only people like Chet Kelly would watch. I was just thinkin’ that I . . .uh. . . I might have a few ideas for it though. . .maybe.” He took another bite of his burger, his thoughts still on the conversation earlier. ‘I don’t think Lynnette likes you either.’ I should’ve told her parents. There’s gotta be something else goin’ on with the kid. . .
“Well, what ever you do, don’t suggest he come back to the station and ride along with us again. One day with Art Fromish was enough.”
Still troubled with his thoughts, Johnny forced a smile and nodded. He wondered how Roy or the Nordoms would react if he told them everything Abigail had said about the dolls.
Roy looked at his partner’s empty hamburger wrapper. “You ready to go?”
Gage wiped a napkin across his mouth and took one last swig of soda. “Yep. I’m ready.”
The two picked up their empty wrappers and cups, and put them in the trash. They then headed out to the squad.
Once back at the station, the two paramedics strolled into the dayroom where the rest of the crew was eating dinner. Captain Stanley looked up and smiled as they entered the room.
“Hey, you guys are just in time for dinner.”
“Yeah, we thought you were gonna miss out,” Chet added. “Marco made chili.”
“Well, actually we ate on the way back.”
“Hey, now there’s more for us.”
Hank Stanley frowned as Chet reached for the main bowl of chili. The fireman gave a weak smile. “Well, we don’t want it going bad. . .”
“You sure you guys don’t want any?” the captain asked.
Both paramedics nodded as Johnny sat down at the table and poured milk into a glass. “But I will have some of this,” he said.
“Any coffee?” Roy asked as he glanced at the stove.
“There should be,” Mike answered.
As Roy got his drink, he noticed Johnny was still not quite himself. Even in the company of the others, he was much too quiet and seemed preoccupied.
He’s probably still hung up on the idea of the imaginary world kids create.
Chet, on the other hand, was definitely his old self. He refilled his bowl with more chili while being sure to remind Johnny on what great tasting food he was missing.
Evening passed with only two minor calls, both vehicle accidents. By ten o’clock, the crew of A-shift turned in, hoping it would be for the night. Johnny climbed into his bed and lay on his back, placing his left arm across his closed eyes. Not long afterward, his arm was to his side, his eyes open as he stared at the darkened ceiling above. He couldn’t get the disgusted expression on Lynnette’s face out of his mind.
Johnny glanced over at Roy. The senior paramedic was lying with his back turned toward him. A sure sign Roy was ready for sleep.
Man, he sighed.
Suddenly the klaxons sounded and everyone was on their feet, pulling up turnout pants and putting on shoes in a matter of seconds.
“Station 51, structure fire, 1123 North Hill Street, one one two three North Hill Street, time out 22:15.”
Johnny sighed as he and Roy hurried for the exit of the dorm room.
“Ya know, maybe having the Nordoms tell Abigail that it has to be a real emergency for us to come wasn’t the right thing after all.”
“Maybe this isn’t her fault. It may just be coincidence.”
“I don’t know,” Johnny responded as they trotted toward the squad. “Somehow I get the feeling it is to do with her.”
“Let’s hope not.”
Johnny climbed in and waited for the slip of paper with the call information on it. A pained expression appeared on his face as he felt the weight of guilt from earlier resurface. I shoulda told her parents about Abigail and the dolls.
When they arrived on the scene, there was no evidence of a fire anywhere nearby. Hank Stanley grabbed the mic on the engine and keyed the transmit button.
“LA Dispatch, Engine 51.”
“Go ahead, Engine 51.”
“Can you verify the location of the structure fire?”
“10-4, 51. 1123 North Hill Street.”
“10-4, Dispatch. We’ll check it out.”
Hank placed the mic back in its holder and shrugged. “This is the address.”
The men looked around as a few neighbors who’d been awakened by the sound of the sirens peered out their doors and windows, curious as to what was going on.
The captain, Johnny and Roy approached the Nordom’s home while the remainder of the crew waited near the engine.
“Cap, we’ve already been to this place twice today,” Johnny explained. “Seems their little girl may be on an attention-getting kick.”
Roy nodded in agreement. “She wanted to go back to Rampart.”
“Any idea why she’d be so hard-pressed for it?”
Suddenly a thought hit Gage with a jolt. What if she’s trying to get away from the dolls?
“Not really,” Roy answered. “Seems to be just one of those things.”
Having reached the front door, Hank Stanley rang the doorbell and the three men waited for someone to open it. It wasn’t long before Brad Nordom greeted them, yawning in the process.
“What’re you guys doing here?”
The captain spoke. “Sir, we got a call for a structure fire at this address.”
“A structure fire.”
“Well, the house isn’t on fire. Who called?”
“That’s what we’re wondering.”
Brad looked at the two paramedics. Recollection of the earlier conversation with Roy brought an angry expression to his face. “Wait a minute. Don’t tell me you two are gonna say Abigail did this. The kid’s been asleep for two hours now.”
Johnny opened his mouth to respond, but Hank beat him to it. “Maybe a neighbor did it as a prank. But as long as we know everything’s okay, and there was no fire at all, it’s fine. We’re just required to verify everything’s alright since we got the call.”
“Okay, well, you verified it and I appreciate your time. But you can go now.” Brad closed the door.
“I take it things were a little rough here today?”
“You could say that,” Roy responded.
The three headed down the sidewalk. No one noticed the silhouette of a little girl peering out of an upstairs window, watching the firemen climb into their trucks. As the vehicles pulled away, the curtain fell closed and the image disappeared from view. Once downstairs in the livingroom, she awkwardly struck a match.
The squad and engine were nearly back to the station when the tones sounded and dispatch once again contacted them on the radio.
“Engine 51, Squad 51, Engine 8, structure fire, 1123 North Hill Street, one one two three North Hill Street, time out 22:46.”
Roy flipped on the lights and siren as Johnny acknowledged the call.
“Squad 51, 10-4.”
They could hear Captain Stanley give a 10-4 for the engine as well.
Johnny sighed. “I know we don’t usually want ‘em, but I really hope this is another prank call.”
“I know what you mean.”
But when the house was once again in sight, it was all too obvious that it wasn’t a prank. Thick dark smoke was coming out of the open front door and flames could be seen through the windows as some of the curtains burned.
“It’s gotta be arson,” Roy said as he brought the squad to an abrupt halt. He and Johnny quickly climbed out and grabbed one of the hoses off the back of the engine. They no sooner connected it when Elaine Nordom came running out of the flaming structure in search of help.
Hank Stanley directed his men on what to do while a frantic Elaine ran up to the captain.
“My God. . .oh my God. . .you’ve gotta do something. We can’t find our daughter anywhere! She’s gotta still be inside!” She cried. “My husband is looking. He won’t come out! Please!”
“John, Roy! We’ve got two victims inside! Get your gear and do a quick sweep of the place.”
The two nodded and immediately ran to the squad to put on their SCBA gear.
Although Marco and Chet were already inside battling some of the flames, the interior of the home was filled with dark smoke and visibility was very poor. Each paramedic was carrying a flashlight to aide in the search. “You wanna take the upstairs?” Roy asked, his voice muffled from the mask.
Johnny started toward the steps when Brad came stumbling down, coughing violently.
“Roy!” the younger paramedic called out. When his partner made his way over, Gage motioned toward the foyer. “I’m gonna get him outside!”
The senior paramedic nodded and went on to search the downstairs as Johnny and his charge hurried out past the other two firemen.
Hank Stanley saw Johnny come out with Brad leaning on him. He rushed over to them.
“You gotta. . . .find Abigail. . .please. . .”
“We will.” The paramedic promised, then addressed his captain. “I’m gonna go back in and help Roy look for the girl.”
Hank nodded his approval. “Go ahead. I’ll get him on oxygen.”
With Brad being taken care of, Johnny turned and ran back inside.
The smoke had grown thicker in the short time Gage was outside. As he tried to see inside the livingroom, he couldn’t find any sign of Roy. Figuring his partner was still searching through other areas downstairs, he once again headed for the steps. He hurried past Chet and Marco while the two hosed down some major flames inside the room.
Once he got past them and closer to the stairs, a movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention.
The dolls. . .?
As he stared a few seconds, he could’ve sworn one of them moved her arm in an effort to reach out to him. But in the dark smoky haze, it was difficult to see. They all seemed to be looking at him, some with their mouths open as if in a silent scream. The sight was made even more haunting because their features were somewhat droopy from their vinyl skin being affected by the intense heat. A chill ran down his spine, and he had to quickly remind himself that he’d never seen their faces before. Maybe other than the melting effect, that was how they looked before. One thing was certain. If Abigail had set the fire to get rid of the toys that scared her, she was going to be successful.
Suddenly he heard what sounded like a young girl crying out for help from somewhere near the top of the stairs. He rushed over to the steps and hurried up them.
He couldn’t see anyone once he reached the upper floor. However the sound of a child coughing and sobbing was now coming from one of the rooms. Johnny quickly made his way down the hallway.
Roy had been searching the lower floor and was at a storage room near the kitchen. He was about to enter into the closet-like room when the HT crackled and Captain Stanley’s voice could be heard.
“HT 51, Engine 51.”
Roy took the radio out of his turnout coat pocket and pressed the transmit button. “HT 51.”
“Yeah. . .Roy. .”
He listened as Hank gave him an update.
Johnny was bent over, staying as close to the floor as possible while still in a position to move quickly. He entered into the master bedroom and flashed his light around in the dark haze in an attempt to spot the missing child.
“Abigail? Hang on, sweetheart, I’m gonna get you out of here.”
He suddenly felt a tug on the hem of his turnout coat. Expecting to see Abigail beside him, he was both startled and stunned when he saw Lynnette with her left hand gripping the material. She was looking up at him, her features somewhat hidden by the smoke that had accumulated in the room. But it appeared as though her sneer was gone and had been replaced with a grin that was growing wider as he watched.
Johnny stared in disbelief. It’s impossible. . . Man, I’m losin’ my mind. . .
With the sound of blood rushing in his ears and still in a state of shocked disbelief, he didn’t hear his partner calling out for him downstairs.
The younger paramedic continued to stare at the vinyl doll as his mind tried to grasp how this could possibly be happening.
Roy hurried over to Chet and Marco in an effort to get more information on his partner’s location.
“Did Johnny make it upstairs?”
With his attention on manning the hose and helping to train it on the still-active flames, Chet nodded. “Yeah. . .he hasn’t come back down yet.”
“Okay. I’m gonna go look for him. Cap wants us to pull out. They found the girl.”
The firemen both acknowledged and remained in place to keep the fire from spreading and cutting off an escape route for the paramedics. Once Johnny and Roy were out, they’d follow.
Roy hurried as quickly as he could in the smoke filled house, but he had to stay low and slow his pace to find his way around.
Johnny tried to reason in his mind what was taking place during the seconds that passed while Lynnette continued to pull on his coat. It had to be an illusion . . . he was dreaming the whole thing, the fire included. There was no way this could be taking place in the real world. He’d wake up and be back at the station in his bed. Abigail’s fears had stuck in his head and he couldn’t get Lynnette off his mind.
Where was she? He noticed Lynnette’s head turn toward a closet across the room. Was the girl inside there?
His mind set on finding the missing child, Johnny didn’t stop to think of why Lynnette would let go of his coat without so much as a tug, allowing him to continue searching freely. He just wanted to find Abigail and get the hell out of the place.
Johnny turned from the closet after finding it empty except for clothes and was even more stunned to not see Lynnette anywhere in sight.
Shit. . .
He looked around, wondering where she had gone. How could a doll go *anywhere*? Because she never was really here. . .that’s gotta be it. . .
Since Abigail could still be in the room and just hiding in fear, he knew he needed to continue searching. He also knew he was close to running out of air and had to work fast.
Figuring underneath the bed as a likely place for a child to hide, he made his way over to it and got down on his hands and knees to look underneath.
Johnny took off his helmet to make it easier to get his head close to the floor and slowly lifted the edge of the bedspread. He could feel his heart rate increase, his hands shaking. As much as he’d tried to convince himself he hadn’t really seen Lynnette, a hint of uncertainty remained.
Man, movies about living dolls always have at least *one* that hides under the bed. . .what if Lynnette’s under here? What’ll I do? He shook his head. Man, what am I *thinking*? She’s not alive. . .she can’t be. She’s just a damn doll. . .
He placed his flashlight on the floor so that it would provide some illumination and peered underneath.
Roy was half way up the staircase when he tripped over something and landed on his hands and his knees. Looking back at his feet, he saw what used to be a vinyl colonial costumed doll about fourteen inches tall. Her limbs and face were all distorted from the intense heat in the house melting them. The eerie part was her position. Though Roy’s feet had moved her somewhat, she still appeared to have been attempting to climb the stairs when the softening vinyl stuck to the carpet on the stairs.
The senior paramedic dismissed that crazy thought, and got to his feet. He had to stay focused. He needed to find Johnny and give him the news about Abigail.
Johnny felt an overwhelming relief when he saw that Lynnette wasn’t under the bed. But on a downside, neither was Abigail. Then suddenly the beam from his flashlight disappeared.
Wha. . .?
He was just starting to pull away from where he’d been looking under the piece of furniture when something whacked him on the back of the head. The paramedic collapsed on the floor unconscious.
Roy had just made it to the top of the stairs when a door slammed shut.
“Johnny? Johnny!” He hurried down the hall, staying low where the smoke accumulation was less, although still thick. When he reached the closed door he tried turning the knob, but it wouldn’t budge. After banging on the door a couple of times, and once again calling out his partner’s name and getting no response, Roy immediately headed back for the steps while he called Captain Stanley on the HT and requested they try the window.
“You sure he’s in there, Roy?”
“It’s gotta be him in there, Cap. No one else should be up here.”
“We’re on it.”
Roy replaced the HT in his turnout coat pocket and continued away from the room. Suddenly the sound of an air tank alarm could be heard from behind, muffled by the closed up room. DeSoto knew that meant his was about to go off as well. C’mon, Johnny, what’s going on with you?
Gage groaned and coughed as he slowly came to. His throat was burning. He could hear someone pounding on a door. And something else. . .Roy?
Then came the sound that indicated his air tanks were empty. Not that he figured it mattered since he seemed to be missing his mask.
Johnny tried to pull himself up, but he was too woozy. Wincing and coughing more, he slowly pushed himself backwards on his belly until he was away from the bed. He then drug himself toward the door. Before he could reach his destination, the paramedic once again passed out.
After breaking the window to gain access, one of the firemen from Station 8 climbed into the room and hurried over to Johnny’s still figure. When he got to him, he could see a slight trickle of blood running down from the back of the paramedic’s head onto his neck. His helmet and air mask were not anywhere within sight. Only a large doll in a floral print dress was sitting beside him.
“What the hell happened to you, Gage?”
The fireman quickly removed the now useless air tanks and carefully rolled him over, away from the doll. He then placed his arms under Johnny’s and drug him toward the window. Once there, the fireman helped to get the unconscious man onto Roy’s right shoulder and watched as the two went down the ladder, then climbed onto it himself.
There wasn’t any sign of debris from part of the structure giving out. . .how did Gage hit his head? Why wasn’t his helmet on? What’d he do with it and his air mask?
The fireman hadn’t been able to see much in the smoke-filled room, so all he could surmise was that the objects were obscured by the haze.
Once Roy reached the ground, he hurried over to the squad, his partner still draped over his shoulder. He carefully laid Johnny out on a yellow blanket Captain Stanley had unfolded. After administering the oxygen Gage desperately needed, Roy contacted Rampart.
Abigail watched from a distance as her father held her against his side. “No, Mr. Fireman, don’t die,” she cried. “He can’t!” She looked up at her parents. “Lynnette told me to hide! I wouldnta hid if she didn’t tell me to! She told me to get outta the house and run and hide! She was finally gonna play hide-n-seek with me.” The girl’s pink ballerina print pajamas were soiled from her huddling in the bushes a few houses down the street. “All I ever wanted was her to like me. . .that’s all.”
Elaine exchanged a worried glance with Brad. “If she doesn’t get ruined in the fire, that doll is going to a thrift shop.”
The father nodded. “We should’ve gotten rid of her a long time ago, when this pretend game started.”
The parents watched as Roy continued to work on Johnny.
When he awoke, Gage found himself in the ambulance on the way to Rampart. His mind still foggy, he tried to recall what had landed him on his back on a stretcher.
The house fire. . .Abigail! I didn’t get the kid out!
Roy noticed his partner’s eyes flutter open and smiled. “Welcome back, Junior.”
Johnny frowned at the nickname and then lifted the oxygen mask off his face and croaked out, “Ab. . .Abi. . .gail?” Followed by a few coughs.
The senior paramedic replaced the mask. “She’s fine. Turned out she was already gone from the house and hiding. Her parents are gonna get her counseling, though. Having imaginary playmates is one thing. Setting a house on fire and blaming them, well. . .”
Gage thought back to the doll that had been in the room with him and the others that had seemed to be crying out silently for help.
“You know the drill,” Roy said, interrupting his thoughts. “I need to make sure you’re clear on everything. You may remember Abigail, but do you know your own name?”
“I don’t. . .always . . .know that. . .anyway.”
Roy smirked. “I guess remembering that counts as a positive response.”
Johnny weakly lifted the mask again. “Did you. . .see the. . . doll. . .?” Again he coughed after the effort to talk.
“Hey, keep that on.” Roy watched as his partner complied. “And be ready to be intubated at Rampart. Brackett just wanted your throat kept open in case you got sick along the way. But he’s pretty sure you’ll need to be before long. Your throat’s gotta be severely irritated and it’s liable to get worse before it gets better.”
“Roy, Lynnette. . .the doll. . .” His words were muffled.
“Just rest for now. You can talk more later.”
Johnny figured no one was going to believe what he saw. . .he still wasn’t sure how much of it was real and what might’ve been the smoky haze playing tricks on his eyes. . .But she tugged on my coat. . .or maybe it caught on something and I imagined her there. The whole experience was going to nag at him for years. . . If I ever have a daughter, she’s playing with toy trucks and baseballs. He closed his eyes in an effort to keep the nausea away.
A couple of weeks later, Johnny was back on duty. His throat had healed and neither the smoke inhalation nor the moderate concussion resulted in any lingering problems. The only complication was that he had no explanation as to what had hit him on the head, or how the door of the room got closed and locked. He also couldn’t recall taking off his air mask.
While still recovering, Johnny filled the guys in on what Abigail had said to him during the second rescue, but kept what he thought he saw later to himself.
As Gage walked into the dayroom to join the others, Chet came running in behind him, the entertainment section of the newspaper in his hand.
“You guys aren’t gonna believe this one.”
“What?” Mike wondered.
“Yeah, Chet, don’t keep us in suspense,” Marco said.
“Well, you guys remember Art Fromish?”
Johnny stopped in mid-stride on his way to the coffee pot near the sink and turned around. He waited for what was coming next.
Chet noticed the undivided attention and held up the paper. “He got his movie made.”
“Which one?” Roy asked.
”Which one? Well, not the life and times of John Gage, that’s for sure.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Just get on with it. . .”
“Okay, ready for this? ‘The Dolls That Ate the World’. . .he said he was gonna do it next, right, Gage?”
The paramedic nodded.
“So, you wanna go see it tomorrow? It’s playing at the Bradley Theater.”
Johnny shook his head. “No thanks. I’ve had enough ‘fun’ with dolls lately.”
Chet looked at the others, a disbelieving expression on his face. He then returned his gaze to the younger paramedic. “Oh, c’mon. That was just a kid’s imagination. This is a real movie.”
“Yeah? Well, no thanks, just the same. . .I’ll pass. Besides, why do ya think they call those kind of movies B-Horror flicks? They’re as far from real as you can get.”
The fireman shook his head and sighed. He then turned away, dismissing Johnny’s attitude. “Marco?”
Roy walked over to his parther. “Looks like you missed your chance to give Art more ideas.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said with disappointment in his voice. After a few seconds of thought, his eyes brightened. “Unless he’s gonna do a sequel.” He started for the doorway leading to the apparatus bay.
“Where’re you going?”
“To the dorm to see if I can get a hold of Art on the phone.”
“I thought you didn’t like his B-Horror flicks.”
“I don’t. But no sense letting these ideas go to waste; I may as well get somethin’ out of the experience. Besides, maybe my name’ll end up in the credits. It sure didn’t hurt Art in scoring with a chick to be involved in movies, even if they are on Chet’s level.”
“I heard that!”
Roy sighed and shook his head. Some things never changed.
Being blackened in spots by smoke residue and the odor still strong on her, Lynnette was tossed into a trash can after the Nordoms finally went into their damaged home to search through their belongings. Due to her large size they didn’t put her in a bag, but rather left her on top of the can for when the garbage collectors picked up. But before the truck drivers could make their rounds, two little girls walking by saw the doll and pulled her from the can.
“You poor dolly!”
“She’s dirty! And she stinks!”
“I can give her a bath.”
The other girl held her nose as she walked beside her friend.
Lynnette watched over her rescuer’s shoulder as her previous fire-damaged home grew smaller by distance. A smile spread across her face.
Kids. . .can’t live without them.
My thanks to Jill Hargan for the beta read. Any mistakes, medical or otherwise, are mine. This story was inspired by my daughter's dislike of dolls *staring* at her. She tends to turn the heads around so she doesn't see their faces.
*Click above to send Audrey feedback
'Who's There?' is a sequel to this story.