Ghoul Me Once
By The Twits
The men of A-shift gathered in the dayroom, waiting for
roll call to begin. It was October 31st and they were the ‘lucky’ ones to be
pulling duty on Halloween. No one really minded, except Roy. He had tried to
find a replacement for himself so he could take his kids trick-or-treating, but
hadn’t had any luck.
At eight o’clock sharp, the five men heard the words “Roll call!” come from the apparatus bay. The voice didn’t belong to Captain Stanley.
“That’s not Cap,” Chet said, a worried look on his face.
Gage shrugged. “So? We have a replacement captain this shift. What’s the big deal?”
Roy was just wondering how Hank Stanley could be so lucky as to find someone to take over his shift for him. The senior paramedic shook his head and followed the others through the doorway.
Chet lagged behind. He had a bad feeling about the substitute captain. Something about that voice. . . When he joined the others in the apparatus bay and saw the temporary supervisor, the stocky fireman froze. It’s HIM.
As the men lined up for roll call, they eyed the man in front of them. None knew much about Captain Billy Baker, but rumors were that he was a bit eccentric. He’d only recently transferred into the county from a station up North near San Francisco.
The color drained from his face, Chet tried to look anywhere but at Baker. He’d heard about the man more so than the others and what he’d been told had him unnerved. He even looks like Vincent Price.
Marco noticed Chet was restless. He elbowed the fireman in the left ribs, causing Kelly to startle. “Pay attention or you’ll get in trouble,” he whispered.
Captain Baker stopped his briefing and glared at Marco. “Is there a problem, uh. . .” He squinted at the nametag on the dark-complected man’s shirt.
“Lopez,” Mike offered. “Marco Lopez.”
Baker smiled at the engineer. “Thank you.” He returned his attention to Marco. “Lopez, is there something you’d like to say?”
“Then let’s have your full attention, please.”
The men listened as the captain finished his briefing. They were told that the fire department was expecting the usual rash of prank calls and numerous runs that always seemed to take place on Halloween.
Once roll call was over and duties were assigned, the five
firemen went about their chores. Roy was assigned the dorm room, Marco the
latrine. Chet, Johnny and Mike were sent to the hose rack. As the three walked
out to the back lot, Chet voiced his concern.
“You know, guys. I have a bad feeling about this Baker guy.”
“Oh c’mon, Kelly,” Johnny scoffed. “Why? Just because he gave Marco latrine duty for talking during roll call? Which, by the way, was your fault. I think you’d better have a bad feeling about what Marco’s gonna do to you after chores are done,” he snorted.
“No, I mean, I’ve heard about this guy. He’s been transferred around a lot! Not just in California. Smitty from Station 18 did some research awhile back and he said Baker’s pulled duty all over the country.”
“He’s got a lot of experience then,” Mike shrugged.
As they stood at the bottom of the hose rack, Chet shook his head. “There’s got to be a reason this guy got moved around so much. Smitty said he read that there were a lot of weird things that happened at each place Baker pulled duty. The guy had to move on.”
“Chet, if that were true, they wouldn’t let him be a captain,” Gage said, annoyed.
“Mark my words, guys. We’re in for one scary shift.” Chet shuddered as he thought once again about how much Baker looked like Vincent Price.
After the three firemen finished their chore at the hose rack, Kelly headed for the latrine, while Gage and Mike continued on to the dorm room. The two briefly filled Roy in on Chet's concerns about Captain Baker.
When Chet came into the room with the others, Roy could see he was agitated. “What’s the matter, Chet?”
“Nothing. I’m just thirsty that’s all.”
“You just came from the latrine,” said Mike. “Why didn’t you get a drink in there?”
Chet crinkled his face up. “Ewww, that’s bathroom water.”
Roy shook his head. “Then why don’t you go into the dayroom and get a drink?”
Chet didn’t respond. Instead he just stared down at the ground.
“Are you okay?” asked Roy.
“Yeah. . .” he answered hesitantly.
“But. . .? I sense a ‘but’ here, Chet.”
“Uh. . .” Kelly shifted on his feet. “You look pretty thirsty, too. You comin’?”
Roy raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
“Oh, okay,” Chet gave in. “Look, I need someone to come
with me. There. . .ya happy?”
Desoto was dumbfounded. “Why do you need someone to go with you to the dayroom?”
“What if Baker’s the only one there, Roy? I don’t wanna be alone with him.”
The senior paramedic wanted to laugh but he held it back. Instead he placed a hand on Chet’s shoulder. “Chet, think about it rationally. He’s a captain. Everything you’ve heard just happens to be a bunch of rumors.”
“Well, rumors are one thing. But tell me, Roy. Don’t you think he looks a little like Vincent Price? And the movies that guy has been in . . .” he shuddered as he thought about all his favorite scary movies he’d watched over the years.
“Vincent Price?” chuckled Roy. “I don’t think the captain looks like Vincent Price. I mean, he does look a little eccentric but not exactly the horror movie type.”
“I don’t care what you believe. Like I said earlier, I have a really bad feeling about this shift.”
Roy sighed, “Alright, come on. We’ll all go with you to the dayroom. Maybe you’re just a little dehydrated and it’s causing you to have delusions,” he teased.
Roy looked at Johnny who hadn’t said a word during the entire conversation. “Johnny? You coming?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah”
“Oh no, don’t tell me you’re giving any thought to Chet’s story.”
“Who me? No way!” defended Johnny. “I mean…I’m sure he’s a fine captain. But, it’s just that . . .well . . .Chet does have a point.”
“A point about what?”
“Come on, you have to admit that Baker does sorta look like Vincent Price.”
Roy rolled his eyes. “Oh brother.”
The four men entered the day room to find only Marco Lopez sitting at the table.
“Marco, where’d the captain go?” asked Johnny.
“He’s in the office doing some paperwork.”
Chet filled a glass with water at the faucet then sat down beside Lopez. Before he could take a sip of the cool liquid, the station was called out on run. Hearing the destination, Chet refused to get on the truck. Marco jumped off and forced the fireman up and into the back.
“I can’t do it, Marco. I can’t go there.”
“Look, we have to go. There’s a man down at the cemetery. Besides, what could possibly happen? It’s daytime.”
“Marco, there are A LOT of men down at the cemetery. That’s what I’m afraid of.”
The trucks pulled up to a
building inside the cemetery. Captain Baker and the paramedics were the first
out of the vehicles, followed by Marco and Mike. Chet still sat in the engine,
staring at the headstones in the distance.
An old man came running from the right side of the cemetery. “Hey! Over here!”
Baker looked at the man as he approached. “What’ve you got?”
“One of our graveyard attendants fell in a hole.”
“How far down?”
Chet was climbing from the engine when the man answered.
The stocky fireman nodded his head, mumbling, “Six feet deep. . .what else would it be?” He began to climb back onto the engine. Marco grabbed his fellow firefighter by the belt and pulled him back down while the man explained more about the worker.
“He must’ve hit his head when he landed, because he’s out cold.”
“Okay,” Baker acknowledged. He turned to the paramedics. “Get your gear together. . .the rest of you men help them carry it.”
Everyone stepped into action and followed the old man through the cemetery. Captain Baker brought up the rear of the line. Chet looked anxiously from side to side, taking in all the headstones once again. An involuntary shudder ran through his body.
Why did the first call have to be a graveyard?
When they arrived at the scene of the mishap, the old man stepped back, allowing the firemen to look into the fully dug grave.
“He’s white as a sheet,” Johnny said.
“Or a ghost,” Chet mumbled. No one paid attention.
Gage lowered himself into the hole by dropping in off the edge and landing on his feet. He quickly knelt down and checked for a carotid. “He’s alive, but he’s not breathing very well.”
As Roy hurried to get the oxygen and other equipment down to his partner, he turned his head to ask the old man who had lead them to the victim a question. The man was no where in sight. “Where’d he go?”
“Who?” Marco asked.
“The old man. . .the guy who called us over here.”
Chet’s eyes got huge as he looked around the area. “I. . .I didn’t see him walk away.”
“Neither did I,” added Mike.
“Cap, did you see where he went?”
“The old man?”
After a long pause, Baker answered. “No, I didn’t see. Huh uh.”
Chet eyed him suspiciously. Yeah, I’ll bet. . .
As if hearing his thought, the captain looked at Chet. He sent the fireman on a search for the disappearing witness. Chet reluctantly obeyed, slowly creeping around headstones, wincing when he had to step near the foot of a grave. Finally after not finding anyone, he joined the others. The victim was just being loaded into an ambulance.
“Where am I?” The victim asked,
his voice muffled by the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.
“You’re gonna be okay,” Johnny said. He was relieved to see the man regain consciousness. “Your co-worker that was here with you got us in time. You’re gonna be fine.”
“Co. . .? I. . .I was. . .alone.”
Now Chet was white as a sheet. The others were all puzzled.
“He could have forgotten,” Roy reminded the others. “He did hit his head pretty hard.”
“Yeah, or it could explain why the guy disappeared into thin air. . .he was a ghost,” Chet said. “I told you this was gonna be a weird shift. . .and you know why.”
Roy rolled his eyes as he closed the ambulance door. Gage was too busy with the victim to pay attention.
After the squad and ambulance took off, the engine crew climbed back aboard. As they pulled away, Chet looked over his shoulder at the mirror on the passenger side.
Shouldn’t Captain Baker be visible in that from here? Wait till I tell the others! The man has no reflection!
Kelly didn’t dare look again. If he was right, he didn’t want to know. He’d have Johnny check it out later when they were on a run together and the squad was in front of the engine. If Baker didn’t show up in their mirror, they’d know something was off.
The old man that had shown them to the victim stood watching the vehicle pull away. Guess I should’ve let ‘em know I had to go take a leak instead of running away without a word, like I did. Oh well. I wish it wasn’t my first day on the job. . .I have no idea which employee they just took away.
they arrived back at the station, Mike backed the engine in and parked. As the
men walked into the kitchen after getting off the truck, Chet grabbed Marco by
“Marco, I’m telling ya, there’s something weird about Baker. When I looked in the mirror on the way back, there was no reflection of him in there,” Chet whispered as he practically forced Marco back from entering the room.
“Chet, knock it off. He probably just bent down or something and you picked that exact moment to look in the mirror.” Marco tried to appease his now harried friend.
“Yeah, well I don’t buy it. I’ve got a gut feeling about this guy and I’m listening to what my gut is saying. The guy is bad news,” Chet continued. “And how do you explain the guy in the cemetery? He just disappeared into thin air.”
“Nobody disappears into thin air, Chet. He probably just walked away after he told us where the victim was. Probably didn’t want to get involved,” Marco sighed. He was already getting tired of the subject. This is usually Johnny’s job obsessing. Now we have to put up with Chet. Marco elbowed his way past Kelly to get his ingredients ready for lunch while they had some down time.
“What’dya makin’ for lunch Marco?” Chet followed Lopez to the refrigerator and looked over his shoulder, his breath beating down on Marco’s neck.
“Will you cut that out, for cryin’ out loud? I’m beginning to think that *you’re* a little weird today.” Marco swiped at his neck trying to get Chet to back off.
“Oh, sorry. So what are we havin’?”
“Enchilladas! OK? I want to start them now. I know it’s still a little early, but this way, they’ll already be done when we’re ready to eat.”
heard the squad pull in and made a beeline for the door. He wanted to snag Gage
and see if he would check the mirror next time they went out on a run together.
His stomach was getting more and more butterflies in it and he knew it had
something to do with Baker.
“Gage! Gage, wait a minute.” Chet grabbed the paramedic before he had a chance to come around the side of the squad, and started dragging him across the apparatus bay towards the dorm room.
Roy just looked at them and shook his head. This day is only going to get worse if Chet drags Johnny into his way of thinking, Roy sighed as he shook his head and made his way into the dayroom.
“Kelly, what do you want?” Johnny ground out through his teeth as he shook Chet’s arm off his shirt sleeve.
“I need you to do me a favor next time we have a run together.” Chet looked from side to side to make sure no one was listening. He explained what happened with Baker and what Marco told him.
Johnny listened until he was
finished and said, “So you want me to look in the mirror and see if his
reflection is there?”
“Johnny, me boy, sometimes you amaze me with your quickness and other times. . .”
“Shut up, Chet, or I won’t do it.”
“You mean, you will? You believe me? That’s great, Gage. Thanks.”
“I didn’t say I believed you. It’s just that. . .well . . .” Johnny didn’t know what to believe but he was beginning to feel edgy about this day. Baker, and the guy disappearing in the cemetery, was making him nervous.
Having left the two conspirators alone, Roy entered the
dayroom. Marco was busy at the stove, and Mike was fiddling with the TV. Baker
was no where to be seen
Must be in his office, DeSoto figured.
He had to admit he liked Captain Stanley a lot better. Stanley spent more time with them. But then Hank had known and worked with them for a few years. The paramedic pulled out a chair and sat down near the table, facing the television.
“What’re ya watching, Mike?”
“There’s supposed to be three or four old classic horror movies on this channel this afternoon and tonight. Kind of like a Halloween marathon, I guess.”
“Oh yeah? Sounds like fun.”
“Yeah, if I can just get this stupid TV to work right. Where’s Gage? He’s usually good with this.”
Roy shook his head. “I wouldn’t ask him if I were you. He and Chet were out in the bay and I heard the word ‘Baker’. . .I don’t think now’s the time to have either of them watching horror movies.”
“Say no more. I see what you mean.”
A couple of slaps to the side of the casing by the engineer and the image on the screen came in clear. He stepped back near Roy and pulled a chair over closer to the TV. The two men sat watching as the film played.
“Isn’t that Vincent Price?” Roy asked.
The two watched in silence a moment. Both startled when Marco dropped a metal utensil from behind.
“Marco, did you have to do that?” Mike asked, turning to face the fireman. He saw Lopez’s eyes open wide, staring at the television. “You see it, too?”
Marco slowly nodded his head.
Roy looked at the two men in surprise. “Chet was right! Captain Baker does look like Vincent Price!” By the reaction, he could see they agreed. “You guys don’t buy into that deal about Baker being strange, do you?”
Mike and Marco shook their heads, neither wanting to admit that they were a bit unnerved by the resemblance. Both figured as long as they didn’t have runs to anymore weird places, no one would ever have to know.
Just then the tones sounded. “Station 51, unknown type rescue, 812 South Hill Street, eight one two South Hill Street at the Haunted Haven House, time out 11:32.”
“A haunted house?” Marco swallowed hard.
“Yeah, complete with a maze in it, if I remember right from last year’s display,” Mike said as he trotted behind the others towards the trucks. “This ought to be fun.” NOT!
"Man, I really hate these unknown rescues, Roy.
Especially on Halloween,” Johnny admitted. “This shift has already had a weird
"Don't tell me that you’re starting to believe Chet. He's watched too many horror movies," he said despite the eerie similarities that Captain Baker had to Vincent Price.
"You gotta admit it is a little strange. And no, I'm not falling for Chet's ideas. For all I know this is another trap being laid by the Phantom. I won't fall for it this time."
"Good!” Roy stared ahead down the road. “We should almost be there. I hope it's nothing serious."
"Same here. Turn left at the light,” Gage indicated the upcoming traffic signal.
“It shouldn't be more than another three blocks."
As they turned at the intersection, Johnny glanced in the side mirror on the squad. He had nearly forgotten Chet's request. He could have sworn that he didn't see the captain in his mirror. However the glinting sun also caught him in the eyes at that same moment and he could see nothing but spots. He shook his head and blinked his eyes to clear his vision.
Station 51 arrived at the scene and the crew assembled on the sidewalk outside the gate. The manager of the Haunted Haven, dressed as Frankenstein's monster, ran out to greet them.
"Geez am I glad you guys are here! You have no idea how glad I am that this happened now and not when we have a crowd in there. You're not gonna believe this but - " he paused to catch his breath.
"Sir, what seems to be the problem?" Captain Baker asked.
"It's Steve. He's stuck in his coffin."
"He's what?" asked Chet. The stocky firefighter paled slightly at the word coffin.
"Stuck in his coffin. Steve was trying to work the kinks out of his routine. He was having trouble getting the lid to rise smoothly and well . . . now it's stuck closed and he's inside!"
"John, Roy get you gear and go in. Kelly, I want you to help them,” Baker ordered. “I'll be inside in a few minutes. If you need more manpower, give us a shout."
The paramedics nodded. Chet couldn't believe the man wanted him to go inside and fool around with a coffin. This guy is crazier than I thought.
Marco and Mike exchanged glances when Chet balked about his assignment. They fought hard to suppress their snickers.
"Kelly! Get a move on."
"Yes, sir," he replied. Muttering to himself, he reluctantly entered the Haunted Haven.
Marco started to giggle, earning him a strange look from the captain. "Sorry, sir."
"Quite alright, Lopez. Is Kelly acting a little...strange today? I don't know him well but he seems a bit skittish."
"Halloween nerves, Sir."
"Ahh," was the senior officer's only comment.
The paramedics and one shaky Chet Kelly arrived at the coffin holding its sole occupant hostage. They could hear his faint cries, pleading for someone to get him out. Chet blew out a slow breath and his two friends started trying to assess the best way to get the young man out.
"Steve?" Gage shouted. "How you doin’ in there?"
"I'm...I'm okay. I think. Just get me out of here...please!"
"Hang in there. We'll get you out in no time," Johnny replied. "Roy?"
"We'll probably have to remove the pins on the hinges. If that doesn't work we may need the K-12."
"What's that?" asked the manager.
"A very big saw," answered Chet.
"Oh I hope it doesn't come to that. Do you have any idea how much one of these things costs? It's on loan from Seltzer's Mortuary."
Chet groaned at the thought of a loaner coffin. He then started to work on removing the pins from the brass hinges. Johnny set up the biophone and advised Rampart of the details of the rescue in progress. Roy had the oxygen at hand and was ready to assess the victim.
The manager paced nervously as Chet worked hard to release the pins. For some reason they were not easy to push out. "Why are these things so sticky?" he wondered.
"Bob thought if he greased them, it would help Steve get the lid up easier."
"What did he use?"
"I don't know. Something he brought from home."
Chet resisted the temptation to roll his eyes and finally got the pins free. He and Gage removed the lid from the upper half of the coffin. Steve shot up and startled Chet with the suddenness of his movements. Chet cried out and jumped, nearly causing Johnny to drop his half of the lid.
Roy immediately went to work checking the young man's vitals while trying to contain his laugh. The man was in good health, albeit a bit out of breath. Johnny read the vitals off to Rampart. They advised to put Steve on low oxygen and recheck the vitals in fifteen minutes. If all was still good he could be released to see his own physician.
Fifteen minutes later, they bid Steve and his companions farewell. The paramedics related the details to the rest of the crew while they stowed their equipment back on the squad.
Captain Baker called them back in service and got in the truck. Marco followed and Mike was behind Chet. He couldn't resist the urge to sneak up behind the shorter man and said, "Boo!"
Chet jumped again and threw Stoker a murderous glare. "Not funny, Stoker!"
Everyone else was laughing, including the captain. "C'mon guys. Let's head back to the barn."
Chet quickly climbed into his seat and stared out the window. He couldn't help wondering at that moment if Gage had managed to do what he asked of him. Determination set in to get the answer to that question when they were back in the station.
Once they returned to the station, the men headed for the dayroom. Chet pulled Johnny aside as they walked behind the others.
“So, did you check out Baker in the mirror?”
“The side mirror of the squad. . .could you see him in it? Did he show up?”
“Oh that,” Johnny said, realizing what the stocky fireman was after. He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Chet grabbed Johnny’s left arm. “Whattaya mean ‘ya don’t know? Did you look or not?”
Gage nodded. “Yeah, I looked. Or I tried to look, anyway. The sun got in my eyes and all I could see was spots.”
“Was it really the sun?” Chet asked. “Or was it a clever trick to throw you off. Maybe he knew what you were up to.”
“It was the sun, Chet,” Johnny said, annoyed. “The sun.”
As the two men entered into the dayroom, they heard the voice of Vincent Price coming from the TV. It was then they realized not only did Baker look like the guy, but he sounded like him as well. Johnny and Chet slowly looked at one another, then back to the TV. The others were already seated and watching the movie, so no one noticed the reactions.
When Baker stepped into the dayroom directly behind the two men, and called for Mike to come into his office, both Johnny and Chet startled.
“What’s the matter?” the captain asked.
“Uh. . .nothin’, Cap.” Chet said. Johnny nodded, agreeing.
Mike rolled his eyes at Gage and Kelly as he walked past them. He followed Baker into his office.
Johnny and Chet brought their attention back to the TV and the movie on the screen. It was about a mad scientist who turned people into zombies. As they watched Price’s character sneak up on his next victim, Kelly nudged the paramedic in the ribs.
Startling again, Johnny shot him a glare, then whispered, “What is it?”
“Why did Baker call Mike into his office? Cap never has Mike in his office.”
“I don’ know. Maybe he wants to get to know more about things here and Mike’s the one to ask.”
“Or,” Chet began, “maybe Mike’s gonna be a like a zombie.”
Johnny screwed up his face. “What?”
“Think about it. . .who better to mess with than a guy who’s so quiet, no one would notice the difference until it’s too late. . .”
“Chet--” Johnny stopped when they heard Mike’s muffled yell from the captain’s office. All four men ran towards the room. Just as they got to it, the door opened, revealing Baker with a bleeding lip. Mike was on the floor in front of the desk, unconscious.
“It was the strangest thing,” said Baker as Roy and Johnny hurried over to their fallen comrade. “He stood up to leave as I stepped around to shake his hand. . .he caught his right foot on the chair leg and lost his balance. . .fell and hit his head on my mouth, then on the desk on the way down.”
Chet looked warily at the captain, while he watched the paramedics in action.
“Go get the biophone and drug box,” Johnny called out. Marco hurried towards the squad to comply.
Mike opened his eyes and looked at his shiftmates leaning over him. Rubbing his forehead, he started to sit up. Roy eased him back down. “Stay put till we’ve checked you over.”
“What happened?” Stoker asked.
“You tripped on a chair leg and fell,” Baker explained.
“I tripped on a chair leg and fell. . .” Mike repeated.
Chet’s eyes widened. He’s telling Mike what to say. . . Blood roared in his ears, and the action around him faded as the fireman was lost in thought. He was sure Baker had done something to Mike.
Remarkably, Stoker’s vital signs were all normal and he showed no side effects from the blow to his head. Brackett reluctantly released him back on duty, with the agreement that if any symptoms appeared at all, Mike was to let Johnny and Roy know, and come right in. As Roy and the engineer left the treatment room, Johnny stopped to talk to Brackett.
“Doc, you sure he’s okay?”
Kel shrugged. “Yes, Johnny. He shows no signs at all of having a concussion . . .in fact, if you guys hadn’t told me he hit his head and was out for a couple of minutes, I would’ve never guessed it. Except for the bruise on his forehead, that is. But even that’s kind of light for a hit that was hard enough to knock him out. Keep an eye on him though. You know how head injuries are.”
Johnny nodded. “Yeah, will do.”
He walked out of the exam room and joined up with Mike and Roy. He couldn’t wait to talk to Chet about this latest development.
Johnny had tried to get Mike involved in a conversation on the way back to the station, but the engineer remained quiet. When he got a look from Roy that said ‘leave the poor guy alone’, Gage shut up and stared out the windshield ahead.
Back at the station again, Roy went with Mike into the captain’s office while Johnny looked for Chet. He found the fireman in the dorm, reading a book.
“I think we’ve got a serious problem,” Johnny said, sitting down beside Kelly.
“Did they admit Mike into Rampart?”
Johnny shook his head. “That’s just it. Brackett couldn’t find a thing wrong with ‘im. Chet, there was no sign of a concussion at all.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Mike’s either the luckiest man
alive or there’s something strange going on here.”
The two men looked at one another.
“Baker.” They said in unison.
Chet stared at Johnny for a moment before turning on his
heels and heading for the captain’s office. For some inexplicable reason, the
man was suddenly filled with the bravado necessary to confront his fears. No
longer frightened of what Captain Baker might do to him, Chet’s focus was on
protecting his shiftmates. What if Baker was really trying to turn Mike into a
zombie? Who would be next? Marco? Roy? Johnny? No! The man had to be stopped,
Charging into the office, Chet stopped short when he realized the room was empty. Sure that Gage had said Roy and Mike were meeting there with Baker, the breathless Irishman quickly returned to the apparatus bay. Rushing into the dayroom from there, he collided full force with Marco, knocking the startled fire fighter to the floor.
“Chet, what the . . .”
As he surveyed the room with one sweeping glance, Chet pulled Marco to his feet, and then exited as quickly as he’d entered, leaving the other man staring after him in stunned fascination. The look of confusion Lopez shared with Mike would have been priceless, if anyone had been there to notice.
Continuing his fanatical search, Chet found Roy in the locker room seconds later, stopping only long enough to question the senior paramedic.
“He just went into the dorm. Hey, Chet, what’s wrong?”
The dorm. . .Johnny!
There was no answer to Roy’s question as the obsessed man charged through the doorway, into the sleeping quarters. Looking at each bunk as he hurried through the room, he clenched his fists in frustration at finding them empty. It was there that Chet finally stopped; wondering for the first time, what he would do if he found the man he was searching for. As he struggled to control his breathing, Chet also began to contemplate ‘where’ the captain really was. The station wasn’t all that big, and he’d crisscrossed the area several times, never even catching a glimpse of the man.
And where the heck is Johnny now?
Even though his breathing had slowed considerably, Chet now found that his heartbeat was picking up, as an unexplainable fear overtook him. Why was Baker so hard to find? And why hadn’t he run into Gage during his search?
Bewildered by the situation, the fireman’s steps faltered as he made his way back into the locker room, relieved to see that Roy was still there.
“Hey, Roy, didn’t you say that Cap was in the dorm?”
“Of course he is, Chet. Didn’t you see him?”
“No . .”
“Chet, what’s got into you? Captain Baker said he’d be in his bunk; said he’d been fighting a headache and thought maybe it would help if he rested for a few minutes.”
Shaking his head firmly, Chet frowned as Roy breezed past him and pushed open the door leading to the dorm. With an audible sigh, the paramedic pointed towards Captain Baker, who was obviously resting comfortably on his bed. Pushing Chet back out of the room, Roy closed the door quietly behind him; then turned to stare at Chet, who now seemed to be frozen in place.
“I swear, Roy, he wasn’t there just a minute ago. There’s something really strange going on around here, and I think that Baker’s got some explaining to . . .”
Sensing the beginning of a tirade, and feeling that he’d already put in his time with a certain partner, Roy simply walked away from the mumbling fireman, intent on locating a nice cup of hot coffee.
“What about Johnny?” Chet called out to DeSoto’s departing back after they’d entered the apparatus bay.
“He went to get something out of his truck,” the senior paramedic answered without looking back.
Chet glanced toward the back lot. I wonder. . .
Hesitating for only a moment, Chet stepped back into the dormitory, anxious to confirm the presence of one disappearing captain. But once he was inside the quiet room, Chet gasped in surprise at the empty bunk before him. Even the covers were neat and smooth, as if no one had rested there only minutes before. His dark eyes round with fright, the fireman almost screamed when a hand clasped him firmly on the shoulder.
“Were you looking for me, Kelly?”
His chest constricting as he held his breath, Chet turned slowly to face Captain Baker, who was now behind him. How did he make it out of the dormitory, into the locker room and back into the dormitory without being seen? Chet wondered. It wasn’t possible, especially considering that Kelly and Roy had been standing next to that door the whole time.
Wrenching himself away from the captain’s grasp, Chet quickly backed away. In his haste to escape the clutches of this strange man, the fireman stumbled and fell, his head connecting solidly with the floor. Once again he held his breath as Captain Baker leaned over him, but the man’s features seemed stranger than usual. It looked as if his lips were moving; yet no sound came out. Then, his vision blurring, Chet slid into the darkness.
Chet woke up to see Roy and Johnny standing over him.
Blinking to clear his eyes and bring the men more into focus, he turned his head
slightly to figure out where he was. He could see the blurry image of Marco’s
bed coming into focus across from the bed he was on.
Johnny placed a hand on the side of Chet’s face and brought him back to looking straight up. The paramedic grinned. “Well, glad you could join us again.” He shone a penlight in the stocky fireman’s right eye, then his left. “Pupils equal and reactive,” he said to Roy.
Chet then heard DeSoto relay the information to Rampart.
“Wha. . .wha hap. . .happened?” He tried to sit up, but Gage gently pushed his shoulders back down.
“Relax, Chet. You took a fall, but Captain Baker found you and called us in right away.”
“Cap. . .Bake. . .Baker?”
“Yeah, you know. . .he’s filling in for Captain Stanley. . .” He trailed off, concerned at what Chet’s question might mean. . .Baker had gotten to him too. “You do remember, don’t you?”
The fireman furrowed his brow in thought, then suddenly recalling what he’d seen just before everything went dark, Chet shot straight up, regretting it immediately as the room spun.
“Hey. . .hey!” Gage was saying, trying to get Kelly to lie back down. “Just take it easy. You hit your head. . .you’ve got a concussion.”
“But. . .Baker. . .he. . .he. . .” Chet stopped when he saw the captain’s face come into view.
Chet swallowed hard. Not only to try to avoid the nausea that was starting to come about, but also in fear of the man now staring at him. “Uh. . .” he looked at the curious expressions on his shiftmates’ faces, then at the captain again. “Uh. . . I. . .I . . .you. . .” His eyes. . .I wish he’d get those eyes off me. I’ll bet he’s trying to will my mind. “You found me?”
“Yes, he did. You're lucky he woke up when you hit the floor,” Roy commented.
“Woke up? But he wasn--”
Baker smiled at the fireman’s confusion. “I can see you remember I was awake while you were in here. I had gotten up to check on something, then came back into the dorm.”
“But. . .but Roy and I were. . .at the doorway. You didn’t- -”
Baker shook his head. “There’s two entrances into this room, don’t forget.”
“Oh yeah, guess there is.”
Roy shook his head as Mike came in with the ambulance attendants. Chet was placed on a stretcher and wheeled out. He hoped Gage would be the one coming along in the ambulance so that he could warn him about Baker’s disappearing act in the dorm. The Irishman grinned slightly as he saw his usual pigeon climb up inside and the doors close behind him.
“Johnny. . .I need you to do me a favor.”
“I’m not springing you on the way to Rampart.”
“No. . .no, I need you to keep an eye on . . .Baker. . .he’s up to something.”
“No. . .but I have a strong suspicion. Man, you should’ve seen him. He was out of the bed, in the bed and out again. And the covers weren’t even messed up. Then I hit the floor.”
Gage stared at the fireman, not sure what to say. “Well, he. . .you heard what he said. He got up to check something.”
“What? What could he possibly have needed to get up to check then go back to bed. . .in the daytime?”
“Lots of things.”
“Gage, you agree Mike’s been acting strange since he had his fall. . .”
“Yeah. . .I think. . .hard to say with Mike. He’s always so quiet.”
“C’mon, don’t cop out on me now. Or has he gotten to you too?”
“No. . .no. But Roy even said. . .”
Both men looked at each other as it dawned on them that Roy and Mike had both supposedly been in the office with Baker prior to this incident. And Roy was siding with Baker.
“Roy. . .” Chet and Johnny said in unison, trailing off.
What am I doin'? This is probably an elaborate prank set up by Chet. Gage shook his head. "Chet, this is crazy. It's not like this kind of stuff happens in real life."
Chet stared at Johnny a moment, then sighed. "I should've
known you'd back out. He's gonna win, Gage," the stocky fireman said with
sadness to his voice. "He's gonna win."
Johnny shuddered. The tone Chet used was one like he hadn’t heard from the man before. Kelly was serious. What if Baker figured out that Chet had caught on to him and he was now trying to get the fireman out of the way so he could take over the remaining crewmen, those being Johnny and Marco? Johnny decided he couldn’t take the chance.
“Chet, I promise you nothin’s gonna happen. If Brackett releases you, we can work on it together. Just take it easy, man.”
Kelly nodded, slightly relaxing. Johnny was a sincere and responsible friend when he needed to be. He’d do what he said. Chet shut his eyes tight and swallowed hard, willing the oncoming nausea away.
“Well, you appear to be okay,” Brackett said, turning off his penlight and putting it back in his pocket. “Are you still feeling dizzy?”
Chet shook his head, then grabbed on to the table when the room spun. “Yes,” he admitted. He looked at Johnny, who was standing behind the doctor, and shot him an apologetic expression.
Gage shook his head. “It’s okay, Chet. You were out cold. It’s better you stay here anyway.”
“It’s okay,” Johnny re-emphasized. “Don’t worry about it. At least this way one of us won’t be out with the ghouls. . .you know. . .”
Chet’s face soon showed comprehension when he figured out what Gage was getting at. Chet would be safe at Rampart if Baker succeeded in whatever he was trying to do at the station.
“Right. . .I’ll be safe.”
Kel Brackett glanced from one man to the other. He didn’t understand anything that was being said, but considering who the two were, he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
The door to the treatment room opened and Roy peeked his head in, then entered the room. “How’re ya feelin’, Chet?”
Before anyone else could answer, Johnny started towards his partner. “He’s gonna be stayin’ for observation. Baker’ll have to get a replacement.”
“We figured on such. I think there’s already one on the way to the station.”
Brackett stepped around from the exam table and folded his arms across his chest. “He’s got a mild concussion. We just need to keep an eye on him for the next twenty-four hours or so.”
Roy nodded and smiled at Chet. “Take it easy, huh?”
“Yeah. . .sure.” The stocky fireman looked from DeSoto to Gage. I hope John’ll be okay.
Johnny watched out the passenger window as Roy drove the squad back to the station. After several minutes of silence, the younger man looked curiously at his partner. Swallowing hard from nerves, he decided now was a good time to try a ‘test’.
“What’s your impression of Baker?”
Roy kept his eyes on the road ahead as he answered. “I think he’s a good captain.”
Johnny stared at him. “He doesn’t strike you as a bit. . .odd?”
DeSoto glanced at Gage and cracked a grin. “No. In fact, if Captain Stanley were to leave, I wouldn’t mind Baker taking over.”
“I think he already is,” Johnny mumbled to himself.
“What was that?”
“I said, why would Cap leave?” Johnny covered.
Roy shrugged. “I didn’t say he would. I said if. I just think Baker’s a good leader.”
Gage continued to stare, scrutinizing his partner. Why would Roy say what he did? Because he thinks Baker’s a good captain just like he said, Johnny answered himself in thought. Man, Chet does have me all messed up with his wild ideas. Nothin’s wrong with Baker.
As Roy backed the squad into the bay at the station, Baker stepped out of the office. When the paramedics were out of the truck, he waved Johnny over. Gage didn’t notice Roy continue into the dayroom as if no one else was around.
“I’d like to see you in my office.”
Johnny shoved away any thoughts of suspicion. It was ridiculous to even think Baker was anything but a substitute captain. As the door to the office was closing behind them, Marco came charging in and stopped suddenly just inside the doorway.
“Yes, Lopez?” Baker asked.
“Uh. . .uh Johnny has an important phone call.”
Gage was puzzled. Who would be calling him that was so important? He opened his mouth to question when Marco spoke again.
“It’s Lolita from the club.”
“Lo--” Johnny looked from Marco to the captain and back to the fireman. “You wanna get me in trouble, man? I don’t even kno--”
“She needs to talk to you bad,” Lopez continued, occasionally pointing at Baker with his eyes. Johnny sensed something was up and decided to play along.
“Alright. Alright. I’ll take the call.”
Marco looked at Baker as Johnny exited the room. The expression on the captain’s face was unreadable.
When they entered the dayroom, Johnny noticed Mike and Roy reading separate sections of a newspaper, apparently not aware of him and Marco entering the room.
“What’s up with--”
“Shhhh. The guys from Station 18 called and said they had sent a replacement captain over here to act real bizarre around us. It was to get even for the prank we pulled on April Fools Day.”
“You mean the blow up dolls we put in the beds at their station?”
“Shhhhh. Yes. And Captain Stanley’s in on this. But there’s only one problem.”
“Cap called in like he was supposed to. But the replacement captain never made it over.”
Johnny looked surprised. Yes, he did. They must’ve had Captain Baker do it. Or . . . “Who. . .who’s in the office?”
“A replacement captain, but that’s not him.”
“Headquarters. . .?”
Marco shook his head. “No. They thought the replacement had made it here too. But he was trapped in his bathroom all this time. Somehow the door got jammed.”
“So who’s. . .?” Johnny slowly pointed in the direction of the office. The hair stood up at the back of his neck. He looked at Roy and Mike. “They really are zom. . .nah, can’t be. They’re just involved in good articles.” He motioned for Marco to follow behind him as they slowly exited the dayroom and headed for the office. Suddenly bursting in, the captain was no where to be seen. Johnny and Marco scoured the rest of the station and came up empty. Baker was gone. Vanished, without a trace. The two Sherlock Holmes’ stood near the squad, baffled.
“Whata’ we do?” Johnny wondered out loud.
Marco shrugged and shook his head. The two noticed Roy and Mike coming out of the dayroom, looking puzzled.
“What’s going on?” Mike asked, rubbing his forehead. “Anyone got an Aspirin? I’ve got a headache.”
Gage grinned. Mike was feeling a delayed reaction to his accident earlier. While it wasn’t good that Stoker was hurting, it was good that it meant things were going back to normal. Roy looked around the bay. “Where’s Chet and the captain?”
“Uuuuuhhh. . .” Johnny glanced at Marco and this time he shrugged before answering. “Chet’s in the hospital and the captain. . .uh. . .left his water running. . .I guess.”
“What happened to Chet?” Roy wondered.
“He. . .uh. . .he fell. . .hit his head and knocked himself out cold.” Johnny nudged Marco in the ribs. Things were apparently sketchy for Mike and Roy, but they were sounding more like themselves again. Although with Mike it was still hard to tell what his self was since he rarely said much.
“The captain left his water running?” Marco asked quietly.
“Well. . .? It’s the best I could do,” Gage answered.
The other two didn’t seem to give it thought. Their concerns were with Kelly.
“Who took Chet in?” Roy wondered.
“We did. . .er, I did. You followed.” The younger paramedic was having a hard time believing that all this time Baker had indeed been something other than a substitute captain. And he had been doing something to Mike and Roy after all. Wait till I tell Chet. . .or maybe I shouldn’t tell Chet. . .then again, how can I not tell Chet. He’s gonna have to find out.
Johnny and Marco went on to explain the whole situation to Stoker and DeSoto. As they were finishing up, Chet’s replacement and the real substitute captain showed up, the latter taking command for the remainder of the shift.
Much to Gage’s and Lopez’s dismay, no one believed their story about Baker.
Johnny lay awake in bed, listening to the sounds of silence in the dorm. Other than breathing from his shiftmates, there wasn’t a noise to be heard. The paramedic wanted to get some sleep, but all he could think about was Baker and wonder where the man had gone. . .would he be back? Gage propped himself up on his elbows and called out in a whisper, “Marco. . .hey, Marco, you awake?” When he didn’t get an answer, the paramedic frowned. How can everyone else sleep?
By morning, Gage had finally managed to fall asleep for a few hours. By luck there had been no calls during the night, which was unusual for the holiday. At least everyone but Johnny thought it was lucky. He’d have preferred to be out and about. Once off shift, Johnny headed for Rampart to check on Chet.
Everyone but the two friends had returned to normal as if nothing strange had ever taken place. The real substitute captain forgot about his ordeal of being stuck in the bathroom and swore he’d been on duty the entire shift. Roy and Mike were in agreement with the captain, as was headquarters and others in the fire department that were involved. Even Marco wasn’t sure what had been a dream and what was real. Only Johnny and Chet had any clear recollection of what had transpired on Halloween. Why that was, the two men weren’t sure. But they figured it had to be something else contrived by Baker.
Kelly was released from the hospital with the promise he would get some rest before he went back to work. Brackett advised him to take at least one shift off. Gage arrived at the hospital and headed to Chet’s room to see if he was ready to go.
Chet was waiting for Johnny to arrive and nearly fell off the bed when he saw Baker standing in the doorway instead.
“Captain Baker,” he croaked, “what are you doing here?”
“Taking you home, Kelly, what does it look like? I thought you and I could go to breakfast. . .kind of a make up thing. . .you know, for making you fall and hit your head.”
Chet eyed him suspiciously. Breakfast? Probably has something that he wants to put in my food.
“If it’s all the same to you, Cap, I’d just rather go home. Dr. Brackett said that I need rest.”
“I’m not asking you to hang hose, Kelly, just have breakfast,” Baker insisted.
Feeling trapped, Chet quickly recalled who he was waiting for anyway. “Uh, John. . .Johnny is coming to pick me up. He should be here any minute.” Gage, you’d better get here quick.
“OK,” Baker surrendered. “If you’re sure.”
Chet nodded. “Oh, I’m sure. . .uh. . .sir.”
He glanced at the call button near the bed, wondering if he was going to need it, then looked at the doorway again. Baker was gone.
When Johnny got up to the room, he explained more about Baker and what had taken place at the station. Chet and he both couldn’t help but shudder at the idea of the captain showing up at the hospital to get Chet.
“He must’ve had something up his sleeve,” Johnny agreed. “But at least he’s gone now.” He grinned. “We beat ‘im.”
Kelly had to smile as well. Johnny was right. They had somehow won. But going by what Johnny said, Marco played a big part in the success. Chet planned on thanking him personally soon.
Once outside in the sunshine, Chet felt better despite himself. Johnny pulled the Land Rover up to the edge of the sidewalk and helped his friend out of the wheel chair he’d been brought down in.
Getting into the driver’s side of the car, Johnny asked, “You wanna stop and get a bite to eat? Kind of a celebration?”
Chet shrugged. “Sure. I didn’t eat the hospital food, so I could use a good meal. I think it’ll stay down.”
Johnny nodded and put the truck into gear. “Okay, breakfast it is. I’ll even treat.”
“You got a calendar in here by chance?”
“A calendar? What on earth for?”
Chet shrugged. “You’re picking up a tab. It ought to be a national holiday now.”
Once at a diner, the two men got out of the Land Rover. Chet staggered slightly when he saw a scary sight. Baker was looking at them from inside the place. Johnny grabbed hold of his arm and helped to steady the stocky fireman.
“You okay, Chet? You look a little pale.”
“It’s . . .it’s Baker. He’s. . .”
“He’s what?” Gage scanned the area, but didn’t see anything. When Kelly didn’t answer, he shrugged and continued toward the building.
Chet reluctantly followed Johnny, noticing Captain Baker was no longer visible. Inside, the two friends found a table and proceeded to sit down. A waitress came over and handed them menus. Chet was trying to think of what to order, but he couldn’t get the feeling of being watched out of his head. Johnny noticed the strange expression on Kelly’s face.
“What is it?”
“Do you get the feeling someone’s looking at you?”
“You mean Baker?”
Chet slowly nodded. “Yeah.”
The paramedic shook his head. “Huh uh.You?”
The fireman nodded again. He glanced around the diner, then noticed Baker sitting at a counter near the register.
“There he is.”
“Uh...no, Chet," Johnny corrected, “I think that’s Vincent Price." The words he’d just said sank in and the paramedic couldn’t help but stare a moment at the actor. That’s Vincent Price!
Chet looked at Johnny, then the man again. Maybe Gage was right. But. . .somehow he just couldn’t buy it. Figures, the one time my all-time-number-one favorite actor is in the same room as me, I can’t even believe it’s him.
Soon their breakfast arrived and the men ate, being careful not to stare at the celebrity. When they were done, Johnny asked their waitress, “Is that man over there really Vincent Price by chance?”
“The one at the counter. . .the one that looks like Vincent Price,” he explained, thinking the man’s look alone should give it away.
The waitress stared at the counter. She sighed and shrugged. “Well, if there was anyone there, I might play along. But you two jokers are on your own.” She handed Johnny the ticket and walked away.
Johnny and Chet exchanged puzzled glances, then stared at where the Vincent Price look-a-like had been. The seat was empty.
The two men slowly got up and Gage tossed enough money to cover the bill and a tip on the table. They kept their eyes straight ahead as they walked out of the diner.
“Soooo. . .” Chet began.
“Some things are better left unknown, Chet. Let’s go.”
A man stood at the back corner of the parking lot and watched the Land Rover pull away. He briefly saluted the departing vehicle. “Until we meet again, gentlemen. Until we meet again.”
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Stories By The Twits Halloween Stories