They say life imitates art. In fact, there are some who go a step further and say that life is art. But is it taking it too far to say that for some... art is life? While it's true that artists often claim they feel like they are a part of their creation... even perhaps in their work, until someone or something distracts them, snapping them back into the real world, most of them know that their paintings or sculptures are merely a reflection of life - not life itself. An artist cannot create life... cannot breath life into his or her work, no matter how lifelike the image. But what if they could. What if one of them could....
The paramedics of Los Angeles County Rescue Squad 51 don't spend much time thinking about art. They think more about the life on the pavement than life on canvas. But not today. Today they will respond to a call where their medical training holds little sway... where their lights and sirens will have little effect. Today they will take an abrupt left turn as they yield the right of way in... The Twilight Zone.
Off The Wall
By Audrey W.
Dawn Gibson finished eating her ham sandwich, then walked into the livingroom of her second-story two-bedroom apartment. The twenty-five year old woman was a loner, her paintings her main activity aside from the job she held as a cashier at a small gift shop. Now she stood in front of one of those paintings, a gloomy depiction of a city with no people visible; just empty sidewalks and streets, the buildings’ lit windows and a half moon shining eerily down on both. The woman frowned at the incomplete picture on canvas. She wasn’t entirely happy with how it was turning out. It needed something. . .something more to give it character.
Suddenly the sound of a siren outside drew her attention to the nearby window. Curious as to what was going on, Dawn watched as a rescue squad stopped across the street where several small stores, businesses and another apartment building lined the sidewalk for several blocks. She noticed people were gathering around as a man lay on the sidewalk outside a deli, clutching his chest, while the paramedics from the squad quickly grabbed their equipment off the truck and set to work.
The woman stood rooted in place as she continued to observe the medics in action.
Dawn was especially taken by the younger of the two paramedics. She glanced at her dreary empty city streets on canvas and back to the dark-haired man in the sunny weather outside. He and his partner’s presence brought a certain gripping drama to the otherwise bright day.
It was then she realized what her artwork needed: the paramedic. He was what she was looking for to give the character that her painting was lacking. She scooted the easel with the partially completed picture on it close to the window. Her paints handy, she quickly began to put John Gage into her design of the dark city streets surrounded by tall buildings and shadowy alleyways. She would have to work fast to get him completely painted in before he left the scene outside.
The paramedics from Station 51’s A-shift helped to lift the heart attack victim on a stretcher. After setting the EKG scope and oxygen on the stretcher with the man, Johnny picked up the biophone and drug box, carrying them to the waiting ambulance. Roy walked alongside the patient, the man’s IV in his hand. Johnny set the boxes in the rear of the vehicle and Roy climbed in once the stretcher was placed inside. Gage gave the rear ambulance doors two customary slaps after they were closed and secured.
Johnny noticed everyone who’d been watching them work was now busy or going on their way with disinterest. He turned to trot the short distance to the squad; it wasn’t there. The paramedic looked around in the sudden darkness. No one was around. Nothing was familiar. The buildings were several stories tall and lined up on both sides of the street. There was a half moon above dimly illuminating the area. Johnny stared in numb shock.
What the. . .?
Dawn sat back and admired her painting. She’d captured her subject well. She was able to get him from the side, with just enough of his face showing to display his handsome features. His light blue uniform shirt stood out in stark contrast to the gloomy background of the picture he was now a part of.
Since she had to rush to get the paramedic into the picture, Dawn wasn’t able to complete the rest of the painting first. She frowned at the white section on the left side of the picture where the canvas was still visible. The young woman dabbed one of her brushes in the paint on her pallet. It was time to complete the picture. Then the paramedic would be a part of it forever. She would add the art work to the gallery of her other ones she’d done that were in a spare room. Dawn smiled at the thought of being able to sit and look at the hero on the dark streets of the city when ever her heart desired. He would be hers now.
Roy got out of the rear of the ambulance at Rampart and helped to remove the stretcher with the patient from the vehicle. As the attendants wheeled the man into the ER, Roy quickly walked alongside, holding the IV bag. He’d expected his partner to catch up within a few seconds, but there was no sign of him yet. Now that he gave it more thought, Roy didn’t recall the squad ever being in sight behind them on the way in.
Shrugging it off to busy traffic, DeSoto went into Treatment Room Two with the patient and waited while Doctor Early did an assessment of the man.
Passersby on the street gave curious glances to the empty squad parked nearby. The key was still in the ignition and the red lights on top rotated continuously within their casing.
Across the street, a four-year-old boy named Ryan tugged on his mother’s sleeve to get her attention. “Mommy. . .mommy. . .”
“What is it?” the woman tried to hide the annoyance in her voice.
“The fireman disappeared.”
Ryan pointed toward the squad.
“He probably had to do something before he left.”
The little boy shook his head. “Uh uh. He disappeared.”
“Okay, sweetie,” she humored him. “I’m sure he’ll reappear soon. He has to get his truck.” She grabbed a hold of the child’s hand and continued on walking.
A man who’d seen Johnny close and secure the ambulance doors, turned his gaze away briefly to look at his watch. When he looked up again, the paramedic was gone. The man now was still debating whether to call for someone over the radio in the squad. He walked closer to the truck and looked inside.
Roy came out of the treatment room and walked over to Dixie’s desk. The head nurse smiled as she looked up.
“Hi, Roy!” She glanced around. “Where’s your partner at?”
“I was about to ask you. He hasn’t come in yet?”
Dixie shrugged. “Not that I’ve seen. Maybe he went directly to the lounge or something.”
“Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out.” Roy gave a quick unsure smile, then headed for the staff lounge.
Dawn paused in her work and stared longingly at the paramedic’s image. There was something about him that made the man desirable. Snapping out of her thoughts, Dawn continued on with painting the scenery. As she worked, the young woman thought about what her subject might think of his new home.
Johnny looked up at the tall buildings surrounding him. Light coming from some of the windows shown onto the street and dark sky. He still had no idea how he’d gotten where he was. And it sure It didn’t look like any place he’d ever been to. More like what he expected New York City to be like. Except there were no crowds; no one out to see Broadway shows. And no traffic. He was the only soul on the street. No one even appeared to be inside the buildings, unless they were hiding well.
As he slowly walked down the sidewalk, Johnny felt like he was in a maze, the tall buildings that lined the streets creating a canyon like effect.
“Some where there’s gotta be a way out,” Johnny mumbled to himself. “Hello?” The paramedic yelled. His voice echoed in the emptiness. “Hello! Anybody here?” He hollered a bit louder. Again he was just met with his own echo.
As he turned a corner, he stepped into complete blackness. It was as if everything had suddenly disappeared. In an effort to stop himself from taking an ill-fated step, Johnny flailed his arms to keep his balance as he tried to back-pedal his way to solid ground. But as quick as the ground had ended, a new sidewalk began to grow under his feet. The paramedic watched in stunned amazement as the white concrete seemed to show up in quick flashes, first one section then another, as if placed there by the stroke of a paint brush. Soon the street appeared in front of him in the darkness as well. He continued to watch in awe as another building took form in the same quick manner, the windows already lit as each floor developed. Though the brick building had a more sketchy appearance than the others, Johnny’s mouth hung open in wonder. The paramedic could only think of one explanation. Somehow someone had to have slipped him a hallucinatory drug. He looked down at the new sidewalk that was underneath his feet.
It’s still here. . .so is all this real?
Johnny sighed. He had to be grateful he was on firm ground. . . for now. He just hoped Roy would show up in his nightmare soon and get him out of it.
The man near the squad had left the radio alone for the time being. He stood in place and glanced around at the various people in the area, hoping to spot the missing fireman.
He has to be somewhere nearby. He couldn’t have just disappeared. . .
The man looked at his watch. It had been twenty minutes since the paramedic vanished. He decided it was time to contact authorities and let them know something was amiss.
Not having found his partner yet, Roy came out of the lounge when the HT in his hands crackled.
“HT 51, LA Dispatch.”
Roy put the radio near his mouth and pressed the transmit button. “Dispatch, HT 51. Go ahead.”
“51, we got a call from a civilian using your squad radio that the vehicle has been abandoned at the location of your previous call. Has your partner made an attempt to contact you since your arrival at Rampart?”
“Negative, Dispatch. I’ve been looking for him here at the hospital. Roy held the HT away slightly and stared numbly ahead. Abandoned . . .?
“Everything okay, Roy?”
The senior paramedic came out of his thoughts and saw Dixie McCall standing in front of him, concern on her face.
“I don’t know. I just got a call from--”
He stopped his explanation when was interrupted. “HT 51, LA Dispatch.”
“51, go ahead.”
“Be advised, an officer has been sent over to investigate the scene of the abandoned squad. We’ll contact you if he locates Gage.”
“10-4, Dispatch.” He looked at the very puzzled nurse. “Someone reported the squad abandoned where we treated Mr. Simmons.” He shrugged, not sure what to say. “Johnny’s gone.”
Dawn sat back and smiled at her completed work of art. With the additional empty streets and building in the painting, the fireman looked that much more vulnerable. One lone hero to fend for himself.
She got up from her stool and headed for the kitchen to get a drink of iced tea. As she opened the refrigerator, there was a knock at the front door. Dawn let the fridge close on its own, and returned to the livingroom.
“Who is it?”
“It’s your mother,” came a muffled reply. “Did you forget we were going to Mary’s Tupperware party this afternoon?”
Dawn didn’t respond, though she had forgotten. Instead she quickly and gently placed a dark cloth cover over the painting, being sure not to smudge or smear it, then went to the door and opened it, exaggerating a wide smile. She had no desire to go to the party. She’d much rather stay home and make sure she was happy with every detail of her new work of art. But her mother had been on her lately about spending too much time alone and this was a way for Dawn to get her mother off her back.
“Of course I didn’t forget, Mom. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Deidre Gibson glanced at her watch. She was right on time so her daughter hadn’t had to wait long. She then noticed Dawn didn’t have shoes on yet. “Planning on going barefoot?”
“Hmmm?” Dawn looked down at her feet. “Oh, I guess I was so busy thinking ahead, I forgot,” she explained, forcing a laugh. “I’ll be right back.”
Deidre watched as Dawn went into the bedroom. She then noticed the cover over the painting on the easel and casually strolled over to it. She lifted the cover to view her daughter’s latest work of art. The realism was stunning. As she reached out to touch the fireman in the picture, Dawn returned.
“What are you doing?”
Deidre looked up, surprised at the panic in the younger woman’s voice.
Dawn realized her error and purposely calmed her tone. “I. . .it’s still wet. It can’t be touched yet.”
The mother gently lowered the cloth. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to see what you were working on. It looks great!”
“Is that someone you know?”
“The man in the painting. Do you know him?”
“No. He’s a creation, Mom. He’s not real.”
Her mother glanced at the cover on the painting, thinking back to the image underneath. “You’ve got a very vivid imagination, sweetheart. The man seems very real.”
“Thanks.” Dawn sighed and shrugged, picking up her purse off the couch. “You ready to go to Mary’s?”
Deidre smiled. “Let’s go.”
The two women left the apartment building, Deidre noticing the rescue squad still outside. It had been there when she arrived, but she assumed it wasn’t there on business since the lights weren’t flashing. She dismissed the thought of asking her daughter if she knew why it was in the neighborhood. After all, she reasoned with herself, Dawn isn’t one to pay attention to what goes on outside her apartment.
Upstairs, underneath the cover of the painting, Gage’s left fingers twitched slightly.
Lieutenant Ron Crockett was on his way to the scene of Johnny’s disappearance after getting a call to assist up another officer at the location. His stomach growled as he turned onto the street.
“What have you gotten yourself into now, Gage?” Another grumble from his stomach had the lieutenant frowning. “I hope we find you quick for your benefit and mine.”
He pulled up behind the police car parked behind the abandoned squad, then got out of his vehicle. Officer Dennis Cribs approached from around the truck.
“Any sign of Gage yet?” Crockett asked.
“No. None. I’ve looked all through the squad, talked to several people nearby, and I can’t even find a hint as to what might’ve happened.”
“Have you tried covering a wider area?”
“Not yet, but that was my next thought. Maybe someone who was closer by earlier saw something and can give a few clues. The man who called it in says he just knows Gage was walking to the squad when he turned his head away. And when he looked back, Gage was gone and the truck was still here, right where you see it.”
“Well, we know two can cover more ground anyway. How about you take one side of the street and question the business owners along that stretch, and I’ll go door-to-door in that apartment building to find out if anyone saw anything,” Crockett offered, pointing to where Dawn lived.
“Sounds good. Hopefully someone will have an answer.”
Cribbs nodded as he started for his designated area. “I sure hope so.”
Johnny felt strange. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it was almost as if he was floating. Yet when he looked down, his feet were still firmly on the ground. The paramedic also was starting to feel fatigued and weaker.
Maybe I’m just getting hungry, he thought.
But looking around, there was no place to eat. Johnny frowned. If he was going to hallucinate, the least he could do was conjure up a big juicy hamburger and fries.
Come to think of it, a drink wouldn’t be bad right now.
But how he was going to get any of those things was a mystery to him. He decided it was time to go into a few of the tall buildings to see what, if anything, he could find.
Roy walked into Kel Brackett’s and sighed. He’d been sent there by Dixie so he could use the telephone in private to talk to Captain Stanley about his missing partner. He quietly went over to the desk and picked up the receiver. Roy never thought to sit in the doctor’s chair, but rather remained standing on the front side of the desk.
After three rings, the captain answered on the other end.
He doesn’t sound very happy. Headquarters must have already delivered the news.
“Uh. . .Cap, it’s me. . .Roy”
“I hope you’re calling to tell me you and John are on your way back to the station.”
“I guess that means you do know everything that’s going on.”
“Not everything. Maybe you can shed some light on a few things.”
“Shed some light?”
Hank leaned back in his chair and ran his left hand through his hair. “Maybe not, huh?”
“All’s I know is that he never showed up here at Rampart. Dispatch got a call over the radio from some man other than Johnny, saying that the squad was there all by itself. But last I saw Johnny, he closed the ambulance doors and I heard him give them a couple of slaps. It was normal routine.”
“How does a responsible paramedic like John just up and vanish?”
“I don’t know, Cap.”
“Did the man who reported him missing actually see him disappear? I mean, did he see him get grabbed or anything?”
Roy shook his head, forgetting Hank couldn’t see his actions anyway. “I don’t think so. From how it sounds, he just noticed the truck was still there and Johnny wasn’t. But no one has said he witnessed anything.”
“This just doesn’t make sense, Roy. There has to be a logical explanation.”
“Yeah, and hopefully Johnny’ll have one.” The senior paramedic paused a beat, then continued. “Cap, I wanna go check out the scene myself. If they don’t find him,” he quickly added.
“Well, I don’t mind if you drive through the area . . .if John isn’t found. I’ve already been notified that the squad is being kept at the location for the investigation, so a replacement one is being brought over here. I know your mind is on your partner, but I had to call in a request for another paramedic for now. The people in LA County aren’t gonna hold off on needing our help while we search for John. Stay put there and when your temporary partner picks you up at Rampart, the two of you come back here and we’ll discuss what happens next.”
“You think we can sit down there and be on standby for our calls?”
“I don’t know, Roy. I don’t think the police are gonna want anyone else mulling around the area. It could hamper their efforts, you know. And what if whoever had something to do with John’s disappearance is still in the area? Another squad could cause them to get antsy and leave. . .maybe take Gage with them.”
Roy opened his mouth to disagree, but the captain continued.
“I think it’s best if we go on about our duty and let the police do theirs without us interfering or getting too close to the scene.”
Roy silently agreed. As much as he wanted to try to help, maybe the best thing he could do for Johnny was butt out and let the ones who were used to investigating disappearances handle it without him hanging around. Roy sighed. “Okay, Cap. I see your point. You win.”
“Glad you understand. And hopefully you won’t have much longer to wait. Take it easy, Roy. They’ll find him. He can’t have been taken very far.”
“Yeah. . .not much chance of that.”
Roy hung up the telephone receiver and leaned his left shoulder against the wall, the HT strap still looped around his left hand. He glanced down at it, then looked around for any sign of Dixie. The nurse was going into a treatment room with another paramedic and a patient.
Cap’s right. The county isn’t gonna put life on hold because Johnny’s gone. He shook his head. How in the hell did this happen? Where could he be?
Johnny stepped into the newly built building since it was the closest. The only thing he saw inside was a blinding yellow glow of light that encompassed the entire interior. No walls, ceilings, furniture or people were anywhere to be seen. And seeing was another difficulty. It was so overpowering with brightness that Johnny had to squint and put his left arm across just above his eyes to shield his vision from the intense light. The paramedic hurried outside again and could see nothing but yellow spots before him. And the outdoors now seemed that much darker.
Man, what is going on?
He stood staring back at the brightly lit structure, blinking to clear the yellow spots that still appeared in his vision. Johnny then turned to head for another building. Surely there had to be someone else somewhere in this world he was in. He reached up to swipe at his eyes as they adjusted to the dark again. It was then he noticed that his right finger tips appeared to be animated, as if they were painted on to the end of his hand. Johnny’s eyes widened once again when he held up his left hand and noticed two of those finger tips were the same way.
That’s it. This is too much. Man, I want off this trip*now*.
He looked around, hoping to spot the squad. It had to be parked somewhere nearby. He hadn’t gone that far. Or had he? Had he walked away while hallucinating on some sort of drug and gotten himself lost? Passed out and now was awake after the real sun had gone down? He examined his finger tips again.
But why would they look like this if I wasn’t tripping now? And the buildings. . .they aren’t like that anywhere in the city. . .
Johnny felt himself sway slightly as his mind and body seemed to tire more. His eyes didn’t feel gritty like they normally would when he was really tired. It was more like his energy was slowly draining out of him.
He decided to go into one of the other buildings, but as he got to the front open doorway, he could see it was no different from the other inside. Johnny leaned against the outside of the brick structure and frowned, his eyes fixed to the ground. He had to think of a way out.
Lieutenant Crockett knocked on the door of the last apartment resident he needed to check with for the time being. A few of the places along the way were apparently unoccupied or no one was home because there had been no answer.
When the door opened, an elderly lady smiled. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you, ma’am,” he said, holding up his badge, “but I was wondering if you’d been outside at all today or if you looked out your window by chance.”
The woman gave it thought, then nodded. “Yes, I did look out when I heard the siren earlier today. A red truck pulled up outside.”
“Did you happen to keep watching the men from the truck as they treated a heart attack victim?”
“No. . .no, I didn’t. I was baking cookies and I needed to get them out if the oven. I do hope the person with the heart attack is okay.”
Crockett smiled. “Yes, ma’am, I believe he is.” He grew serious again, as he still had a mystery to solve. “Did you happen to look out again after you got the cookies from the oven?”
“No, sir. I fixed myself some coffee and I sat down to watch a Cary Grant movie. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse. Have you seen it?”
Again, Ron Crockett found himself smiling despite the situation at hand. “Yes, I have. A very good film.” He looked down the hall at some of the other doors. No one had come home yet that was out. “Well, thank you, ma’am.”
“Lily, thank you. If you happen to see a man about six-foot-one, dark hair, in a light blue shirt, dark blue pants, a badge on the shirt, please contact the police.”
“Oh dear, is he a wanted man?”
“Only as in we want to find him. He’s seemed to have vanished.”
“Well, I certainly will call if I see him.”
Crockett thanked her again and soon found himself exiting the two-story building. He was glad there was only a couple of dozen apartments to begin with. It made the questioning much quicker. The lieutenant sighed as he went down the interior staircase. He hoped Cribbs had better luck than he did.
Dawn sat staring blankly ahead as the other women at the party gushed over the latest new creations by Tupperware. When her mother tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention, the young woman startled.
“I said, do you think I should buy this one?”
“What?” Dawn looked at the large covered plastic dish in Deidre’s hands. “Oh. . .I don’ know. . .if you want.”
“Dawny, are you okay? You look kind of pale.”
Dawn smiled inside. Perfect. She felt sick, but not the kind of sick her mother would understand. But since it left her looking pale, she could pull this one off easily. “I’m not feeling very well, Mom. Do you mind if we go?”
“Oh, Honey, of course not. You should have said something.”
“I didn’t want to ruin your fun,” the daughter said, playing her cards to the hilt.
“Is everything okay, Deidre?” Mary asked, concerned.
The mother shook her head. “Dawny’s not feeling well. I’m afraid we’ll have to go.”
The other five women in the room moaned in disappointment.
“Could I order from you over the phone?” Deidre asked.
“Yes. . .yes. Take a book with you.”
The Tupperware representative at the party agreed and the Gibsons promptly left.
On the way home, Dawn looked out the passenger window and smiled while her mother drove to the apartment, still thinking her daughter was sick. But Dawn was feeling much better knowing she would soon be with the new painting again.
Roy arrived back at the station with his temporary partner, Charlie Dwyer. The two paramedics walked into the dayroom where the rest of the crew was still waiting for word on Gage.
“Have you heard anything?” Roy asked, leaning against the wall near the doorway, his arms folded across his chest.
Chet was the first to answer. “Not a word. I sure hope they find him soon.” He shifted in his chair at the table. “Man, who would kidnap Gage?”
“And why?” Marco added.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Hank said, overhearing the conversation as he entered the room. “We don’t know that John was kidnapped.”
“But what else could have happened to him?” Mike wondered.
“Yeah, Cap,” Chet put in. “Johnny wouldn’t just go off and leave the squad. . . and with a victim on the way to Rampart?” He shook his head. “No way, man.”
“He’s right,” Roy said as he stood up straight, his arms down by his sides.
Dwyer nodded in agreement. “I don’t see Johnny ever being that irresponsible.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Hank said. “I don’t think John just up and left on his own, either. But until we know anything, we can’t assume we know what happened. No one can.”
Just then the phone rang, and Roy reached over to answer it. Everyone waited, hoping it was news on their missing comrade. After a few “Yes” and “No’s”, and a final promise of “we will,” DeSoto hung up the receiver.
“Well?” Chet asked.
“That was Dixie. She was checking to see if we’d heard anything yet.”
Everyone frowned in disappointment. But they couldn’t ponder on it long. Duty called as the klaxons sounded. Roy hoped to hear the address where he and Johnny had treated Mr. Simmons, although going to treat an injured friend wouldn’t be the greatest thing. But at least they’d have Gage back. However, the squad and engine were dispatched to another location several miles from there. The men left the station, not completely able to put their missing shiftmate out of their minds.
Johnny looked up and blinked. He had almost fallen asleep on his feet.
What’s the matter with me? He wondered as he tried to get himself more alert. He pushed away from the building he was leaning against and stumbled, landing on his stomach on the ground with an “umph”. When he rolled over and looked behind to see what he’d fallen over, if anything, he noticed the tips of his shoes appeared as painted on as his finger tips did. His toes were numb. Johnny groaned and sat up, bending his knees and resting his forearms on them. He wanted to get up, but it felt like it was going to take all of his energy to do so. He remained sitting, wondering what was going to happen in his nightmare next.
Roy DeSoto and Charlie Dwyer worked on a victim they rescued from a multi vehicle accident. Though most people directly involved in the pile-up had minor or non-life threatening injures, this woman had been pinned in a crumpled up sports car, another vehicle partially on top of it. Extracting her had proven tricky. Now lying on a backboard with a c-collar around her neck, her left shoulder immobilized and a splint on her left leg, she was being readied for transport to Rampart General.
Roy reported the condition of the victim while Dwyer took the most recent vitals. He glanced up as an ambulance left the scene with lights and siren going, two victims and another paramedic on board. Squad 16 followed behind it.
“Oh God . . . it . . . hurts,” the woman cried. “My leg. . .hurts. Please. . .”
“It’ll be okay,” Dwyer assured her. “We’re in contact with a doctor now.”
“Please. . .” She bit her lower lip.
Charlie nodded. “BP is 130/80, pulse 120, respirations 30 and shallow. Skin is clammy.”
Roy repeated the vitals to Rampart, also giving the run down on her injuries. “Rampart, there’s no apparent sign of trauma to the head, but the victim has a fractured left clavicle and abdominal tenderness, but no sign of rigidity. Also a possible left tib/fib fracture.”
“51, start an IV of normal saline and administer 5 milligrams of MS. Monitor vitals and transport as soon as possible.”
“10-4, Rampart. IV normal saline, 5 milligrams MS and transport.” Roy looked to Dwyer, who was now starting the IV, then down at the victim. She was doing her best to stay calm.
“You’re doing fine. We’ll have you on your way in just a minute.”
The woman nodded, a tear escaping down her right cheek.
Captain Stanley came over to where the paramedics were working. “She doing okay, Roy?”
“Yeah, Cap. We’re getting ready to take her in now.” Roy paused a moment, then asked, “Any word on Johnny?”
Hank shook his head. “Not yet.”
The senior paramedic frowned as he nodded in acknowledgment.
“Okay, we’re all set,” Dwyer said. He helped the ambulance attendants lift the woman onto a stretcher, then followed them to their vehicle. Roy hurried over to help.
“You want to go in with her?” DeSoto asked.
“Sure.” Dwyer climbed up into the ambulance after the patient was set. “Just no disappearing acts on me, okay?”
“You got it.” Roy closed the doors, giving them two slaps. As the emergency vehicle pulled away, he trotted over to the squad. Going through the motions, he wondered at what point things had gone wrong for Johnny. Had the younger paramedic even made it back to the squad before something happened to him?
With so much important and valuable equipment in the squad compartments, the truck was driven to a holding place used by the police. Though no evidence or clues as to the missing paramedic’s whereabouts were found inside, no one wanted to put the squad back into circulation until they were absolutely certain there wasn’t anything they were passing over.
Lieutenant Ron Crockett met up with Officer Cribbs to compare notes.
“How’d you do?” Crockett asked. “Come up with anything?”
Dennis shook his head. “A few employees in the stores said they stepped outside to watch the commotion when the squad first pulled up to the scene. But most went back to their own business as the heart attack victim was loaded into the ambulance. No telling about the customers. Most of them have left the scene, but the few who’ve been hanging around different shops here don’t recall anything beyond that either.” He looked at Crockett’s small notebook. “You?”
“Nothing that’s gonna help.” He put his book away in his jacket pocket. “Not much more we can do here.”
“I think you’re right. Catch you back at the station?”
“Yeah. I’ll be there shortly.”
Cribbs gave a quick wave and headed for his police car.
As Crockett prepared to leave the scene, he noticed a car pull into the apartment parking lot across from where he was parked. Although it was doubtful the people would know anything, especially if they had been away all day, but there was always that slim chance.
Deidre and Dawn Gibson arrived back at the apartment building. Once out of the car, they headed upstairs to the younger woman’s place. Dawn was hoping her mother would leave before long. She just wanted to be alone with the paramedic in the picture. When her mother sat down on the couch inside, the daughter tried to hide her unhappiness.
“You want some iced tea, Mom?” Say ‘no’, please say ‘no’.
“Sure. I’d like to spend more time with you since we left the party early. But maybe I should be waiting on you. After all, you were the one who felt sick.”
“I. . . I can get it for yu--”
She cut her sentence off when there was a knock on the door. Dawn made her way over and opened it; Ron Crockett displayed his badge and introduced himself.
Johnny slowly got to his feet and rubbed at his abdomen where he’d hit it on the ground. Looking around again, he realized something else about the strange city he was in. In almost every direction, it ended not too far away. Only one alley seemed to lead from the main streets of the place. What that alley held, he had no idea and wasn’t sure he wanted to find out.
But what if it’s the way out?
With no one around to ask, Johnny started walking toward the alley that was off a couple of blocks to his left. Each step took a lot of concentration on his part, as his feet didn’t want to cooperate. The numbness in his toes was making it difficult. Reaching out, Johnny placed his right hand on the wall of a building as he entered into the narrow alleyway. He quickly jerked it away when he couldn’t feel the skin of his fingers touch the brick surface. It was then he noticed his fingers looked like they were artwork out of a painting from the tips to the lower knuckles. Johnny spread both hands out in front of him and tried moving the fingers. They wiggled okay. But he couldn’t feel them move. It was as if they weren’t a part of him anymore.
That’s impossible. He continued to stare at his hands. Man, this is a wild trip if that’s what’s going on. But when could anyone have slipped me something? Johnny brought his hands down to his sides and glanced up and around. Who would’ve?
More determined than ever to find his way out of the strange place, the paramedic continued through the alley despite the odd things going on with him. It had to be the way to help.
After a short time, he came to where there was a sharp turn. Hugging the side of another brick building for stability, he carefully made his way around the corner, keeping an eye out for a sign of life anywhere. When he came to the next section of alley, Johnny froze in place. It was a dead end that led to a black nothingness again. His shoulders sagged from disappointment and the fatigue he’d been fighting increased.
How can that be? There *has* to be a way out of here somewhere. Man, it’s like I’m locked in an endless nightmare.
Dawn smiled at Lieutenant Crockett. “Yes, sir?”
“I’d like to ask you a couple of questions, if I could.”
If Crockett could feel Dawn’s heart pounding, he’d have known she was nervous. But the woman played it up with confidence on the outside, hoping to get the questions over with and the lieutenant gone.
“Sure. What can I help you with?” She stood in the doorway, which kept him in the hall. Dawn hoped that her mother wouldn’t overhear.
“Do you recall a rescue squad arriving in the area a few hours ago?”
“Uh. . .yeah. . .I think so. I heard a siren, but I was busy at the time. I didn’t look out my window to see what was going on,” she lied. “We hear sirens all the time, so it’s not unusual.”
Crockett wrote down her comments, then looked up. “Did you glance out at all? One of the paramedics that was on the call disappeared from the scene. His name is John Gage, he’s about six foot one and thin, has dark hair. He’d be in a light blue shirt, with dark blue pants.”
Dawn shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t look out. And from what you described, I’m very sorry I didn’t,” she joked. I hope he buys it.
The detective nodded and closed his note pad. “Thanks for your time. If you do see him, please contact me.” He handed her a card with his name and a phone number on it.
“Yes, of course.” She watched as he walked away, then stepped inside her apartment and closed the door. Sighing with relief, she composed herself more and headed for the kitchen. “I’ll get that tea for you now, Mom.” John Gage. . .his name is John Gage.
“Wait!” Deidre called out. When Dawn stopped just short of the kitchen, she asked, “Did he say something about a paramedic?”
“Uh. . .Yeah. He said one of the paramedics lost something outside. That’s all.”
Deidre slowly nodded, then glanced at the covered painting as her daughter continued into the kitchen.
When Johnny turned to head back out of the alley, he took a step before realizing that the artificial appearance of the tips of his shoes had spread to include his lower legs as well. With much effort, Johnny slowly put one foot in front of the other, taking a few steps as he looked down with morbid fascination. Just like with his fingers, his legs were moving like normal, but it was as if they weren’t really there anymore. He stopped and reached down to touch them. Both of his hands now had the same painted appearance to them. Whatever was happening to him was picking up speed.
The fatigue ever increasing with the other changes, Johnny awkwardly tried to return to the main street. If nothing else, he was now familiar with that part of the strange world. And at the moment, he’d take whatever familiarity he could get.
Dawn came out of the kitchen with the iced tea and saw her mother still staring in the direction of the painting. She cleared her throat to get Deidre’s attention. “Something wrong, Mom?”
The older woman looked at her daughter and smiled. “No, not at all. I was just thinking how proud I am of you and your art work. Maybe it’s time you had it displayed in public.”
“But you do such nice work.”
“I said no.” Dawn walked over and handed a glass of tea to her.
Deidre took a sip, then set the glass on the coffee table in front of her. She looked at her watch. “I think I’d better be going.”
“Call me when you get home so I know you made it okay.”
After opening the front door, the mother turned and nodded. “I will. And maybe we can do something together later this week.”
Deidre closed the door and stood in the hallway a moment, then started for the staircase.
Johnny leaned heavily against one of the buildings as he came into the main section of the town. He was beyond fatigued. The paramedic felt like the very life of him was being sucked out. It was all he could do to stay upright.
Standing in the glow of light from the brightly lit building beside him, he tried to figure out what his options were. There didn’t seem to be many. It was either stay in one spot and hope someone discovered him, or go in search of help in another direction.
Maybe I should’ve stepped off into the black. Maybe that *was* the way out.
But the thought of turning around and going back sounded like too much work. So did walking any amount of distance to another area that ended in a darkness. Suddenly he felt like he was going to fall down if he didn’t sit somewhere. With no better place to go, Johnny sat roughly on the ground under his feet.
Rest. . .I just need some time. . .to. . .rest. His head lulled slightly as he gave in to the tiredness.
Roy met into Dixie in the ER corridor of Rampart Hospital as he looked for Dwyer.
“Hey, Roy. Any news on your missing partner yet?”
“Not unless it came after we got here. Captain Stanley said he hadn’t heard anything when I asked him back at the scene.”
The nurse shook her head. “It just doesn’t make sense. How can a person just disappear into thin air? Someone had to have seen something.”
“You’d think so.”
“I’m sure the police will find a witness. The call took place outside, right?”
“Yeah. That’s what’s so baffling.”
Dixie nodded. “Baffling is right.”
“You ready to head back?” Dwyer asked Roy as he joined the two. “Our lady is in good hands now with Doctor Early.”
“Sure. Maybe Cap’ll have an update for us.”
“Give me a call here if you do.”
“Will do, Dix.”
The head nurse watched as the two paramedics headed toward the exit.
Johnny remained motionless for a few minutes, hoping to regain some energy from the brief nap. But it didn’t seem to be helping. The more time went by, the worse he felt. Waking up more and opening his eyes, the paramedic glanced down at the ground, his eyelids drooping as he felt himself wanting to drift off again. His mind was anything but sharp at the moment.
He brought his gaze up to glance around at his surroundings, hoping to finally find help nearby. But instead Johnny saw something even more strange than what he’d encountered thus far. Standing on the sidewalk a block away was a faint image. It was barely visible, but there none the less. An image of himself.
Crockett sat at his desk at the police station going over his notes. It didn’t add up.
A man disappears off the sidewalk in broad daylight and not a single witness to exactly what happened. How can that be?
He had to be missing a key witness. The lieutenant decided to talk to Officer Cribbs again and see if they could put any possibilities together that they may have passed over in their notes.
Johnny stared in disbelief. What the. . .
The other John Gage stood perfectly still, not moving a muscle. Johnny tried to stand up, but it was useless. For the brief time he’d been resting, his mind and body had grown wearier. And as far as he could tell, except for his chest and abdomen, the rest of him had the same unreal appearance to it as his arms and legs.
He looked down the street at the other John Gage again, wishing that the duplicate image would just go away. Johnny glanced at the empty city around them and briefly closed his eyes.
No, I can’t. . .sleep. Gotta. . .get. . .help.
When he opened his eyes again, he saw that the identical image of him down the street was even more defined than before.
The worse I feel, the clearer it gets. . .
Deidre couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong. As she neared the exit to the apartment building, she thought about the painting and of the fireman again. He seemed so real. Had her daughter really created him from her own imagination?
She thought back to when Dawn was in first grade. A young boy who was a bully in the class had one day become the subject of one of Dawn’s drawings.
Deidre recalled when she’d caught a glimpse of the picture and wanted to get a better look at it. . .
“Can I see your drawing, sweetheart?”
“No, Mommy. It’s jus’ for me.” The little girl hid it behind her back.
“Aren’t you proud of your work?”
“Weeeell, yeeeah. But--”
Deidre reached out for the paper. “Then please. . .let me see.”
Dawn Gibson ran upstairs and into her bedroom, shutting the door.
A few days later, Deidre found the drawing she’d caught a glimpse of, crumpled in the kitchen trash can. She took it out and opened it up. For a six-year-old girl, Dawn had captured Paul’s appearance fairly well; enough to single him out from being just a picture of any boy.
She couldn’t understand why the little girl would want to throw it away. But she did know keeping it would cause an upset later, so Deidre balled it back up and tossed it.
The mother got a sickened feeling as she came out of her memories. Paul Bryant had disappeared the day Dawn had done the drawing and as far as she knew, had never been found. It was as if he vanished. . .
“He did dis’pear, Mommy,” Ryan insisted as he and his mother entered the apartment building.
“Ryan, people don’t just vanish into thin air.”
“Excuse me,” Deidre interrupted.
“Did you say someone disappeared?”
The boy’s mother laughed. “No, my son’s been going on and on all afternoon about a fireman who supposedly vanished off the sidewalk earlier today while Ryan was looking at him. I keep trying to tell him, it can’t happen. It’s impossible.”
Deidre glanced down at the little boy. “What did he look like?”
“Don’t encourage him.”
Dawn’s mother looked at the other woman and sighed. “I’m sorry, but it’s important.” She returned her attention to Ryan. “Can you describe the fireman?”
“Uh huh. He was tall. . .an’ skinny.”
“And. . .?” Her heart was pounding as the boy listed the details.
“He had black hair, an’ a blue shirt. With but-toms.”
Ryan’s mother put her hands in her hips. “Look, lady, I’ve spent all afternoon try--”
“Your mom’s right, son. People can’t vanish into thin air. But you’ve got a good imagination.” She patted him on the head. “Don’t lose it.”
The mother mouthed ‘thank you’ and grabbed the bewildered little boy’s hand. “Let’s go, Ryan.”
Deidre was unaware of the two leaving as she thought about what was upstairs in her daughter’s apartment.
Oh my God. The fireman. Dawny, what did you do?
Roy sat on his bed in the dorm, his forearms resting on his thighs, as he thought about Johnny.
“Where did you go, partner?”
Chet walked in and saw the paramedic. “You okay?”
DeSoto sat up straight and glanced over his left shoulder. “Yeah. . .I just. . .I wish we could figure this out. It just_doesn’t_make_sense.”
“You know what they say. No news is good news.”
“I hope so, Chet. I hope so.”
Johnny continued to stare at his duplicate image. This isn’t real. It *can’t* be.
He recalled something his grandmother had told him when he was a boy and imagined monsters in his room after having a bad dream. ‘John, all you have to do is confront what’s scaring you. You know deep down it’s not real. You just have to be brave and face whatever it is that frightens you and make it go away.’
She was right. It had worked many times when he was a child. No reason it shouldn’t now. With a renewed determination, Johnny mustered up all the energy he had left and awkwardly got to his feet. Staggering a moment, he took purposeful steps in the direction of his other self, not once taking his eyes off the image.
The other John Gage didn’t appear to even notice him, as it didn’t budge. Not even so much as a blink. Johnny found himself feeling defiance as he approached; ready to get the hell out of whatever mindset he was in. If nothing else was a way out, perhaps conquering his alter self was.
Once he got to the mirror image, Johnny reached out to touch it, expecting it do dissipate. Instead the other John Gage’s right arm appeared solid as Johnny’s numb hand hit against it. It was as if the image were more real than he was.
Oh man, this is messed up, Johnny thought as he felt a chill run down his spine, his eyes wide in shock. Now he wasn’t sure if he was even who he thought he was. His chest tightened as he felt the final changes in his body take place and breathing became difficult. The man in front of him became completely defined as Johnny struggled for another breath.
Deidre didn’t bother to knock on her daughter’s front door. Instead she opened it and barged in. Quickly scanning the room, she saw Dawn now standing in front of the uncovered painting with a smile on her face. The younger woman didn’t seem to notice the intrusion.
The mother walked over and stood to the side of her daughter, looking at the painting. Her heart sank when her suspicions were confirmed; something strange was going on. The fireman in the picture had changed, his appearance even more realistic than before. Deidre bit back a gasp, any moment expecting the man to step out of the painting and be as real as she and Dawn.
Dawn sighed. Her attention still on the painting, she spoke to it. “It’s just you and me now. . .and I know just where to put your new home.”
The gasp now did escape Deidre as she saw the fireman's one visible eye actually register emotion . . .alarm. He heard . . .
The daughter turned at the sound. “Mother! What are you--”
“I’m not gonna let you do this again, Dawny! I can’t!”
The mother reached for the work of art and grabbed it off the easel. At the same time, Dawn took hold of an end of it and pulled to get it away.
“He’s mine! I can’t lose him!” She gave her mother a look of contempt and tugged as hard as she could on the canvas. The force used surprised Deidre and she lost hold, sending the painting and Dawn to the floor. Without thinking, the mother grabbed a jar sitting on a small round table near the easel and threw it down at her daughter in anger. It was only while it was in the air that she realized it was partially filled with something.
Turpentine? Oh no. . .
Dawn was frozen in disbelief as the jar landed on the painting in her lap, spilling across her picture. Colors ran, the fireman now nothing more than an abstract design.
“You idiot!” She cried, looking up at her mother. “How could you?”
“I . . .I. . .” Deidre numbly walked over to the couch and sat down, her face buried in her hands. I killed him. God, I killed the fireman.
She didn’t even hear her daughter asking her what in the heck she’d thought the odor from the jar had been.
“I killed him,” the mother whispered.
Johnny felt himself being violently propelled through the air like he’d been catapulted. The momentum was so strong he felt the air he’d just gotten back into his lungs leave again. He was in complete darkness, as if in a tunnel deep below the surface of the ground. The paramedic desperately reached out to slow his momentum, but there was nothing around to hold onto. Helplessly along for the ride, he dreaded what this nightmare would bring next.
Suddenly, he found himself lying on a cold concrete sidewalk. The dark night sky was once again above him, street lights illuminating his immediate surroundings; only this time with the sounds of car engines in the vicinity. Disoriented and completely exhausted, the paramedic was dimly aware that he could now feel his fingers and toes again. Johnny closed his eyes and laid still, his breathing very rapid as his body tried to recuperate from the sudden jolt.
Roy was heading to the dayroom when the klaxons went off.
“Squad 51, man down 2132 Balboa Street, two one three two Balboa Street, cross street Twenty First Avenue, time out 20:39.”
Recognizing the address as the same one he and Johnny had been dispatched to earlier in the day, Roy had hope this was the call he’d been waiting for. A second later, he was wishing they could find Johnny another way.
He raced to the driver’s side of the squad and climbed in. Dwyer had come out of the dayroom and was getting in on the passenger side. Both men donned their helmets.
“Let us know as soon as you can if it’s Gage,” Hank said as he handed the slip of paper with the address to Roy. The others stood nearby watching. DeSoto nodded and handed the paper to Charlie.
“This could be it,” Dwyer commented, as Roy drove into the street.
The senior paramedic kept his focus on the road ahead, not sure he wanted the call to be for Gage or not. “Yep.”
Johnny unsteadily got to a sitting position, and looked around. A man who’d called for help came trotting across the street, being careful of a couple of vehicles passing by. A couple who had also seen the paramedic on the ground hurried over.
“Is he okay?” the woman asked, as the first man spoke with Gage.
“Yeah, I think so.” He wasn’t sure of himself, though. The man could have sworn he saw Johnny pop onto the ground out of nowhere. “Where’d you come from, buddy?” He asked.
Still trying to get oriented and catch his breath, Johnny didn’t answer. He didn’t have one. With it now being dark in the real world, one place blended in with the other.
Looking down from her livingroom window, Ryan’s mother stared in disbelief at what she thought she’d seen. She’d been closing the curtains when she saw what she thought was a man in a uniform of sorts come falling out of thin air and onto the sidewalk across the street.
The fireman. . .but it can’t be. That just doesn’t happen.
She looked at the door to her son’s room, where the child now slept. She didn’t understand it. Maybe he had seen something after all, but how could a person have just gone away in an instant?
The mother shook her head. No. No way is it possible. She finished closing the curtains. “I must be losing my mind.” She decided at that moment that she’d never say a word to anyone. Some things were better left a mystery.
Deidre came out of the apartment building in a daze. She’d never killed anyone before and now her own daughter had put her in that position. As she walked to her car, she glanced at the police cruiser approaching, its emergency lights rotating at a rapid pace. When she looked across the street where the vehicle was stopping, she saw a familiar person sitting on the ground, light from the street lamps above casting a bright glow on him.
The fireman. He made it out after all. She glanced up at her daughter’s window. The curtains were drawn. She doesn’t know yet. . . Deidre smiled. He was safe now.
As they arrived at the scene, Roy and Charlie noticed a police car nearby, the dome light on inside. A few people were gathered close to it and Johnny was sitting in the rear seat of the car, the door open.
Roy brought the squad to a stop and jumped out. Dwyer was already getting equipment out of the compartments as Roy came around.
“He looks okay from here. Just the drug box and biophone should do for now.”
Charlie nodded and followed DeSoto over to the vehicle. Vince Howard met the two paramedics as they approached.
“He was found lying on the ground, Roy. I tried to keep him from moving until you could check him out, but he insisted he was fine. He just wanted to get off the sidewalk.
“Did he say anything about what happened? Where he’s been?”
The officer nodded. “He says he’s been on one hell of a trip.”
Roy and Charlie exchanged puzzled glances, then looked to Vince again.
“A trip?” Roy asked.
“Yeah. Evidently someone must’ve slipped him a hallucinogen; says he’s been out on the streets the whole time, seeing one strange thing after another.”
“Slipped him a hallucin. . .” The senior paramedic gave it some thought. He couldn’t fathom it. “When?”
“How come no one saw him?” Dwyer wondered.
Vince shrugged. “Don’t know. John can’t figure it out either.” He paused a moment, then added, “Lieutenant Crockett’s gonna need to talk to him later, too.”
“Sure.” Roy and Charlie walked the rest of the way to the police car and Roy leaned inside. “Well, it’s good to have you back.”
“Not near as good as it is to be back,” Johnny said quietly, his voice slightly weak. The paramedic was still feeling the effects of what had taken place.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah. . .I’m tired as hell and I ache from head to toe. But overall, I’m okay.”
“Can you tell me what happened?” Roy asked, taking the BP cuff from Dwyer and putting it on Gage’s arm.
Johnny looked at his partner. “You know, I was hopin’ someone could tell me.”
Roy furrowed a brow, then listened as Johnny told him about his strange experience.
Johnny sat on the exam table in Treatment Room One, waiting for Brackett to return with lab results. The doctor had completed a thorough exam of the paramedic as a precaution, finding nothing wrong aside from a few bruises on his stomach. But Brackett didn’t want to release Johnny until he was sure there was no sign of drugs in his system.
“You want someone to drive you home if Brackett clears you?” Roy asked. He and Dwyer had stayed on call from Rampart in hopes of getting an answer or two about Gage’s wild experience.
Johnny shook his head. “Nah. . . I’m just beat, Roy. But I can drive myself home from the station.”
Roy nodded, a concerned expression still on his face.
Both men looked over toward the door when it opened revealing Brackett with a chart in his hands. He saw the two anxious men and grinned. “Well, Johnny, looks like you’re clean. If there was anything in your system, it’s gone now.” His smile quickly faded. “It’s times like this a doctor doesn’t know which he’d rather have. . .something show up to get more answers, or there be absolutely nothing to explain what went on.”
“I know what ya mean,” Johnny mumbled. “So I can go?”
“Yes, I see no reason to keep you here if you’d rather be at home. But, I do want you to get plenty of rest. You look like you could use it.”
“Don’t worry. That’s exactly my plan.”
“I think Lieutenant Crockett would like a word with you, if that’s okay.”
“Sure,” Johnny shrugged. “But I don’t think I can tell ‘im much.”
Johnny soon found himself leaving Station 51 in his Land Rover. Ron Crockett had interviewed him at the hospital, but just as Gage had suspected, he couldn’t give any information that could explain where he’d been and what he’d gone through. The lieutenant instructed the paramedic to contact him if anything new came to mind.
Still thoroughly exhausted, Johnny laid down on his bed to try to get a good night’s rest. It wasn’t long before he drifted off, so deep in sleep that even the sound of a fender bender mishap outside didn’t wake the man up.
But the deep sleep couldn’t keep one thing away.
Johnny found himself wandering the empty streets, the artificial appearing buildings illuminating the pavement and sidewalks with bright lights from their windows. He called out for anyone to listen, but when no reply came, he wandered on in search of another person anywhere.
Soon off in the distance was a man. . .as Johnny got closer to him, he realized it was someone who looked exactly like him.
“Who are you?”
The man remained silent until Johnny got right up to where he was standing. Then the man smiled and said in a monotone voice that sounded just like Gage, “You’re history.”
Johnny then noticed his own body becoming as artificial in appearance as the buildings around them. “No.”
The strange man continued to smile and nodded. “You lose.”
Gage woke up and shot to a sitting position. His hair and skin were soaked in sweat. Breathing hard, he made his way to the bathroom on shaky legs and peered at his image in the mirror. Much to his relief, he looked normal.
“Oh man,” he whispered. “Ooooh man.” He splashed cold water on his face and patted it dry with a towel. Not wanting to risk having the dream again, Johnny sat up the rest of the night watching television. He’d catch up on his sleep later the next day so he’d be rested for duty.
Much to Johnny’s pleasure, the bad dream didn’t repeat later.
Not being able to reach her daughter for two days after the incident with the fireman, Deidre went to the apartment to check on Dawn. Not getting an answer when she knocked, she got the building manager to open the door with a key.
“Thank you. I can handle it from here,” Deidre said.
“Okay, but if you need anything else, just holler.”
She watched as the manager walked toward the stairs, then she stepped into the quiet apartment. The easel stood empty near the window, no paints anywhere near it.
The place was too quiet and still. Suddenly Deidre sensed what might be wrong and rushed into the spare bedroom. She glanced around at the numerous paintings her daughter had completed. The one she was looking for now would have to be in front of the others. As her eyes scanned the amazing works of art, she spotted it, dried paints and a brush on a pallet beside it. The picture was of Dawn’s livingroom, an easel and a painted picture of the same room within it. And in that picture was what Deidre feared, yet also felt a strange sort of comfort.
Her daughter sat near the window of her livingroom, an easel and canvas in front of her, in the picture within the painting, working on yet another work of art. The smile on her face told Deidre that her daughter was where she wanted to be: alone in the confines of her apartment, where she could paint one picture after another, creating visions her creative talent allowed her to. The mother looked lovingly at Dawn. She would miss having her around.
I wonder if destroying the picture would free her, like it did the fireman? Or if it would cause me to lose her forever completely? . . . I can’t take that risk.
Deidre made her decision. She draped a spare cover over the art work and took it with her when she left the apartment. She quietly closed the front door, locking it, and continued down the hallway to the steps. She’d have Dawn with her in her own home. When the apartment manager realized Dawn was no longer living in the apartment, Deidre would play the role of the worried mother. . .but for her own daughter’s benefit, she’d never tell anyone the truth.
Dawn Gibson picked up the pallet with blue, black, white and tan paints on it, and began to design her fireman again. She only hoped she could capture every detail and bring him back, then place herself with him. Until that time, she’d live by herself in another world, a world some can only imagine in fairy tales or horror stories. A place John Gage will try his best to forget, but will never quite manage to, thanks to one artist in...the Twilight Zone.
A huge thanks to Jill Hargan for her beta read, suggestions and help in getting an opening introduction worded better. Also thanks to Jackie B. and Becca for some medical assistance. If anything is in error, it's of my own doing. :o) And thanks to my sister for sparking the idea for this story in a conversation over the phone.
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