By Julie H.
Roy looked around the day room, which he half-mused to himself should also be referred to as the ‘night room’, since it was well into the evening.
Chet’s shadow cast over the table every now and then as he mopped the floor, grumbling lightly to himself in the process. But it was his own fault. Had he not been so preoccupied with all the practical jokes he’d been pulling of late, he wouldn’t have found himself with the majority of the chores.
Roy watched the television from where he sat at the table, half listening to the western that Cap, Mike, and Marco seemed totally enthralled with; half wondering why he was so tired. After all, the entire station had only been on three runs the whole day, and that was before lunchtime.
The large red clock on the wall ticked unusually loud; its’ sounds each second seeming to drown out the cowboys herding cattle on the TV. Roy had never even noticed the clock in front of him before, and wondered who’d brought it in briefly before returning his attentions to the car commercial which now graced the television screen.
When the phone rang, each man in the room seemed to jump from the disturbance, and Captain Stanley got up from his chair, picking up the noise maker on its’ second ring.
“John! Telephone!” he hollered towards the bay, setting the phone’s receiver down gently as he returned to his chair. It wasn’t long before the quick strides of John Gage could be heard, making his way in at a very fast pace.
“What the …” Before the words could escape the younger paramedics’ lips, he began sliding across the floor. Roy looked from the television to his friend as the man’s balance failed him and he slid an incredible six feet. Flapping his arms in the air in an attempt to regain that balance, he began falling aimlessly backwards onto the hard floor behind him.
Before the crew could even jump up and react to what was happening, Johnny’s head slammed onto the floor with a sickening thud, the likes of which seemed to quiet the room into a deathly silence.
Roy watched in stunned horror – his friends’ fall unfolding before him in very slow motion. He stood immediately, reaching out even though there was no way on earth he could catch him in time. But he had to try.
Roy’s faced cringed in painful emotion as he heard the sound of Johnny’s head making impact with the floor. The next thing he heard was the sudden exhaling of air as it was forced from his injured friends’ lungs. Rushing to the prone figure in front of him, Roy was on his knees in an instant, calling out John’s name in vain.
Suddenly any sounds of the television were gone, replaced by racing footsteps which began surrounding Roy.
“Johnny? Johnny? Can you hear me, Buddy? C’mon Johnny, talk to me.” Roy’s words were answered by silence. Once again, the only thing he could hear was the ticking of that damned new clock, getting louder and louder. And then, he heard muffled laughter.
Jerking his head upward, Roy looked menacingly at the man whose laughter he knew it to be. Chet.
“What the hell are you laughing at? Can’t you see Johnny’s hurt here? What’s wrong with you?!”
“I can’t help it Roy – Johnny fell for it!” Chet replied, no longer trying to hide the laughter he couldn't contain. “Get it? He FELL for it!” Suddenly the stocky fireman could hardly stand up; his own attempt at humor practically bringing him to tears.
Roy looked incredulously from the rest of the men back to Chet. “This isn’t funny! He’s been hurt! For God’s sake, Chet!”
“Oh, but it is funny,” Chet spoke between snickers. “You see, I wasn’t really mopping the floor, I was putting down a fine coating of bacon grease that I saved from this morning’s breakfast. Then I made sure to have my aunt Betty call at exactly eight-thirty tonight and ask for him because Gage always takes his shower around this time, making him run across the bay to answer the call! I’m a genius!”
“Bacon grease?” Roy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You purposely did this?! Were you trying to kill him Chet? Because I think you might have gotten your wish!”
Trying to push the anger that was burning inside him away, Roy began assessing Johnny’s condition as best he could, noting the labored breathing of his friend and the erratic pulse rushing through his veins. “Marco, go get me the equipment, will ya?” he asked, not taking his eyes off from Johnny.
Roy listened for the exiting footsteps he knew he would hear next, but instead only heard the ticking of that damned clock, getting louder and louder as none of the men surrounding him moved.
When Roy looked up, he noticed Marco trying to hide a grin behind the hands he held to his mouth. “Marco!”
The way that Roy yelled at him made the fireman jump slightly, but instead of moving towards the bay, Marco began laughing out loud, removing the hands from his mouth to slap them on his knees. “Bacon grease! That’s too funny, Chet!”
Roy stood up instantly, appalled at the reaction he was seeing. “Mike – get me the equipment! Johnny’s hurt bad!” As Roy turned towards the engineer, he found that he was also unable to retrieve the equipment, too involved in his own giggling fit.
Practically going into shock, Roy then turned towards where the Captain had stood, feeling somewhat grateful not to see him where he was before. Even though Roy had no idea what was going on with the other guys, at least he knew his Captain was gone to probably call in the code ‘I’ and hopefully retrieve the equipment. Until he looked towards the television.
There, sitting back in his chair, the Captain shook with laughter, trying not to let Roy see him.
“Cap! What the hell is going on here?! I need help! You get up out of that chair right now!”
Suddenly the Captain’s body stiffened, the laughter stopping at the commands of the senior paramedic. Standing up instantly, the chair tumbled backwards behind him, and a very angry Hank Stanley stomped towards Roy.
“I think you’re forgetting something, Pal. I am the man in charge here – you got that? Now the joke’s over. Let’s get back to the movie, all right?” the Captain’s voice had calmed as he finished speaking, and he turned when he was done back towards the television.
Not willing to waste precious time arguing with these men who’d obviously lost their minds, Roy turned his attention back to Johnny. Falling to one knee, he spoke gently. “I’ll be right back, just hold on, okay?”
As Roy began to rise, he felt a hand wrap around his ankle and looked down to see a struggling John Gage attempting to speak. Roy immediately fell back down to his knees.
“Don’t try to talk, okay Pally? You’re okay – you’re gonna be just fine. Just let me get the equipment, okay?” Roy’s voice was gentle, his demeanor calm as he spoke soothing words that he’d hoped to be convincing.
“No …” Johnny’s voice was weak, but he kept a firm hold on Roy’s ankle. “No time.”
“Don’t talk like that, Johnny. You’re gonna be just fine – you’re not going anywhere.”
“Too … too late.”
Roy looked up at the rest of the crew, including Cap, who had come back over to the scene again. To his horror, they began laughing profusely.
Looking down at his partner again, he watched as blood began pouring from behind the prone paramedics’ head, covering the floor until it reached the tips of Chet’s shoes.
“Man,” Chet began, stopping his laughter only momentarily to speak. “I hope I can get this blood off my shoes before the Cap’s next inspection.” With that remark, they all began another fit of laughter again, wiping tears from their faces between gasps of air.
Roy’s mouth fell open, his own shock now making him bead with sweat. His body trembled as the anger burned within him.
Looking down at Johnny once more, he saw his friend staring at him, his mouth open with no sounds forthcoming.
His eyes never blinked. Suddenly the laughter stopped, replaced by the ticking of the clock. And Roy couldn’t hear Johnny’s ragged breaths anymore.
It was at that moment that Roy realized that his partner – his very best friend, was dead.
“Johnny!!!! Noooooooooo! God, Johnny! No!!!!!”
“Roy! Dammit! Wake up! Roy – you’re having a nightmare!”
Johnny’s voice seemed to reach him as Roy began to blink his eyes – the blank stare that he had now fading as his focus fell upon the man sitting in front of him.
“That’s it, that’s it,” Johnny said, his voice calmer than before as he noticed his friend coming back to him. “Chet? How about getting me a washcloth – run some cold water on it, okay?” The younger paramedic asked, never taking his eyes off of Roy.
As Chet made his way out of the bunk area, the Captain leaned down beside Johnny. “Is he okay?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah, yeah. I think so, Cap. Just a bad dream,” Johnny whispered back.
When Chet returned with the damp cloth, the rest of the men went back to their beds, giving the paramedics some privacy as Roy began realizing what had happened.
Seeing his friend in front of him, Roy’s uncontrolled shaking began to slow, and Johnny’s gentle application of the cool washcloth to his forehead had him feeling much better than a few minutes before.
“That must’ve been one hell of a nightmare there, Pally.”
“Yeah, it was, Junior. It was. I’m just glad it’s over.”
“You wanna talk about it?”
“Maybe in the morning. All I want to do right now is get some sleep. I feel kinda drained, okay?”
Johnny looked at his friend as he sat down on his bunk. Nodding his agreement, he stretched out across his bed and laid down, stealing a worried glance at his partner one more time before closing his eyes.
When Roy heard Johnny’s breathing deepen and knew his friend was asleep, he got up quietly from his bunk and walked softly into the bay, careful not to disturb any of the crew. Entering the kitchen, he looked around, noting there was no new clock, red or any other color on the walls. Satisfied, he slipped back into the dorm, ready to get some sleep.
As the morning sun fell upon the station, the men within it rose quickly. The wake-up klaxons roused the men easily, quickly dressing then ambling out into the bay. Each headed for the either the kitchen or latrine.
Captain Stanley looked at Roy and noted the man looked well rested. Hank felt grateful that the paramedic had been able to get back to sleep after such a horrid nightmare. Just his reaction to it had all the men of the station worried for him, but it seemed to be over with. The Captain made a mental note to find out what it had been all about though before their shift ended.
Soon the whole crew had gathered in the kitchen and a pot of coffee had been started. But before the coffee had finished perking, the tones sounded, sending the men scrambling.
“Station 51, garage fire. 1543 Piedmont Avenue. 1-5-4-3 Piedmont Avenue. Cross street, Huguenot. Time out, 6:35.”
As the men quickly got into their vehicles, Captain Stanley pulled the paper he’d scribbled on from the pad at the base station and hurried to the squad, handing the paper to Johnny.
He quickly did a double take, wondering why Johnny would be driving the squad when Roy was almost always at the wheel. Maybe the senior paramedic wasn’t feeling as well as he’d thought. Hank let the question fade from his thoughts as he ran to the passenger side of the engine.
Mike put the engine in gear, following out behind the squad as they began their journey to put out the fire.
Hank watched as Johnny spun the tires of the squad, seemingly fleeing the station’s driveway with the vehicle he had taken charge of.
The squad had already cleared the double yellow lines, crossing the road quickly with the engine a few feet behind it. As the Captain looked from one side of the engine to the other, he soon saw the reason for the younger paramedic’s sudden speed. Johnny had apparently gunned the squad to get it out of the way of a tanker that wasn’t heeding the sirens.
The driver of the tanker noticed the emergency vehicles coming out onto the road too late. Steering the truck as best he could to avoid the engine, he crossed towards the other side of the road. This reaction caused him to slam into the driver’s side of the squad, practically lifting the smaller red vehicle from its hold on the pavement before throwing it back down again. Glass from the squad’s drivers side door sprayed upward before bouncing back down upon the vehicle, sparkling with the sun’s reflection as it cascaded downward.
As the air brakes screamed their protest of suddenly being slammed on, the tankers weight pushed forward. The driver struggled with the steering wheel, turning the truck towards the engine.
The impact was so forceful that the engine slid five feet before grinding to a halt. Glass spewed from the windows as its metal crumpled under the force of the impact.
The flash of white that stopped Hank from seeing the rest of what happened was suddenly replaced with gray. Blinking several times, he soon realized that he was face down, staring at the pavement.
Standing was an effort, but somehow it was a lot easier than he’d expected, especially since it was obvious that he’d been thrown from the cab of Big Red. Taking a deep breath, he looked around at the scene before him.
Roy hollered over to him, looking around as he dashed from the squad to the engine, checking everyone’s condition.
“You okay?” the senior paramedic asked, his voice telling his surprise at seeing the Captain standing.
“Yeah. You?” Hank hollered back, seeing each of his men slowly emerge from the wrecked engine. He wanted to go see for himself, but couldn’t seem to make his feet move forward.
“He ran inside to call this in.”
“You’re kidding! He’s okay?”
“I think so,” Roy began, helping Mike get out from the passenger side of the engine. “I think everyone’s okay so far here, Cap – even the driver of that truck!”
Captain Stanley looked around, still unable to move from the spot that his feet seemed planted on. Sure enough, the truck driver was standing, leaning against the back end of the engine. He looked a little shaky, but all right. As he looked around further, he noted the rest of his men, all standing, hardly looking like they’d even been near the mangled mess of metal that surrounded them.
Hank looked up and closed his eyes, the words in his mind speaking a silent prayer of thanks that something this catastrophic could have such a happy ending. He could have lost them all in the blink of an eye.
Finally able to take a step forward, Hank watched as Johnny came out from the bay of the station, running towards Roy to help. All the men of 51 were gathered at the front of the engine, and Captain Stanley couldn’t help but want to get over there as quickly as possible.
He felt something splash up as he walked towards his friends, and looked down curiously at first until he realized that the engine’s water tank must’ve erupted from the impact. But then his other senses began kicking in.
Suddenly frozen in place once more, he leaned down, touching the liquid with his fingertips. Bringing his hand up to his nose, he knew before it was confirmed by his trained thoughts. Gasoline!
Looking towards his men, he opened his mouth to speak, only to have nothing come out. Once again, his legs would not answer his commands as his mind pleaded with his body to move forward.
He watched in horror as the driver of the truck, who was now sitting on the bumper of the fire engine, pulled the cigarette pack out from his shirt pocket. In slow motion, the man dug his fingertips into that same pocket, retrieving a pack of matches from its depths. Hank Stanley watched helplessly as the man struck a match, lighting the cigarette as he deeply inhaled. Even more slowly, he watched as the man tossed the used match, its flame still lit as it spiraled to the ground, igniting the fuel beneath it.
“Nooooooo!!” The word lingered on the Captain’s lips, his pain and anguish sounding clearly until the roar of the flames drowned it out. He could hear nothing other than the resounding explosions that followed and his fellow crewmates cries of anguish as the fire engulfed them.
He screamed towards them with all the voice he could muster, begging them to run to him, but they now seemed plagued with the very same problem he had dealt with earlier; unable to move from where they stood.
Hank covered his face with his hands, willing the vision before him to leave. His men – his brothers, burning within the flames.
“C’mon Cap! Wake up! Cap! Can you hear me?” Mike’s voice slowly trailed to the man sitting up in bed, his face covered by his own hands as he continuously shook his head from side to side.
Mike grabbed hold of his Captain’s shoulders and shook him none too gently. Slowly, the man’s mumblings stopped and two stunned eyeballs peered from behind the hands that had been covering them. His vision was met with stares equally stunned and worried.
“Dear Jesus,” Hank mumbled, rubbing his eyes with trembling hands.
“Are you okay, Cap?” Chet asked, his tone filled with concern.
“Yeah,” Hank answered, his voice low from sleep and quiet from fear. He controlled his labored breathing, as he looked around once more at his men – his friends, all alive and well. “I’m okay – really. It was just a nightmare.”
“Care to talk about it?” Roy asked, looking Hank over with trained eyes, noting the sweat beading across the man’s forehead.
“No, not really. How about we all get back to sleep and we can compare nightmares in the morning, okay, Pal?”
Roy nodded as the men made their retreats, each wondering different thoughts as they crawled back in their bunks. This night couldn’t be over soon enough.
As the wake-up klaxons sounded, Chet stood slowly then stretched before pulling on his turnout pants. Looking around, he noted the rest of his crewmates doing the same.
It had been a long night. Even though they hadn’t been called out on any runs, they’d damned sure had enough run-ins with nightmares. Roy had looked positively miserable, and Cap, well, he had certainly been shaken up badly enough.
Silently grateful for not having a nightmare or two of his own, Chet filed out with a few other men. As the others headed towards the kitchen, Chet went into the latrine, grateful to have it to himself.
Opening the bathroom door, he heard it. A familiar sound that he knew all too well.
The water bomb took its aim easily and dowsed the fireman where he stood.
“Hell of a wake up call, don’t you think?” Chet asked as he shook the water from his arms. He’d heard the approaching footsteps behind him and knew it had to be Johnny.
“Looks like you wont need a shower now, Chet,” Mike stated, surprising the stocky fireman as he walked around him and the water catapult.
Chet reached down and picked up the ‘weapon’ and placed it gently on the sink as Mike came over, washing his hands. “You’d think Gage would leave things be, seeing how we’ve only got a little while to go before the shift is over and all.”
Mike simply shrugged his shoulders as he finished drying his hands then headed out the door. Grateful for the privacy, Chet immediately turned to take care of business.
Stepping back towards the sink, Chet turned on the water and washed his hands. Turning towards the towels, he reached for one.
Damn that Gage. Chet thought as he wiped the water from his hair and face. I didn’t even hear him come in!
More than a little perturbed at his fellow crewman, Chet swung open the latrine door and walked through the doorway. It was at that moment that he heard the noise above him. He knew better than to look up, but there was just something inside him that made him do it. It looked like snow was falling down on him, and if his nose was correct, it smelled like baby powder.
“Gage!” Chet bellowed as he stomped across the bay’s floor. “Gage!”
As Chet walked into the kitchen, he once more had the urge to look up, but set his eyes on Johnny, giving him the best evil glare he could. The man sat at the table, sipping from a cup of coffee, looking at Chet with wide, innocent brown eyes. The act was good.
Chet began feeling something dripping softly on his head, but the rate that it came down soon became faster and faster. As it dripped more consistently, Chet wiped some of it with his hand, figuring it to be pancake syrup, only it had been watered down slightly enough to flow more freely.
The look of him was enlightening, for lack of a better word. As he stood there, dumbfounded by the latest counter attack on the Phantom, he was a mess. There was the whiteness of the powder that had showered down on him, caked on from the dampness of the water bomb before it. Then there were the lines where it was washed away by the syrup. Not to mention the redness showing through here and there on his flushed cheeks. Quite simply, Chet was a sight to behold.
And then some.
John Gage couldn’t help the smirk that crossed his face so easily. Chet was not quite as amused.
“Gage!” the tone of Chet’s voice was filled with sheer anger. “You’re gonna die for this one!”
Captain Stanley came into the kitchen area just as Chet was advancing on Johnny.
Clearing his throat, Hank was about to say something when the tones went off.
“Squad 51, woman down. 129 East Main Street. 1-2-9 East Main Street.”
Chet stared evilly at Johnny as the paramedics raced into the bay. But the look that Johnny gave Chet actually had the Phantom feeling guilty. Johnny looked like he actually regretted his actions, something that Chet had seemingly never felt.
As Johnny got in the squad, Chet realized that with all the pranks he’d pulled on the paramedic over the years, not once had he gotten as mad as Chet felt now. And to say what he’d said to him …
“See you when you get back,” Hank said as he handed Roy the slip of paper with the address on it.
Chet stormed into the latrine to clean himself once more. It wasn’t long before he was much less sticky and the scowl he carried in with him was gone, now replaced with guilt for telling Johnny he would die for doing something even the Phantom would be proud of.
And then the tones sounded once more. “Engine 51, Squad 36; join Squad 51 at their location – 129 East main street. 1-2-9- East Main Street. Be advised shots have been fired. Police have also been dispatched. Proceed with caution.”
The men filed quickly into Big Red, their faces clear with worry.
Upon arriving at the scene, Mike made sure to kill the sirens and Vince ran up to the engine when it was within a few hundred yards of the house.
“Vince – what the hell is going on in there?” Captain Stanley demanded more than asked.
“Seems the guy from over there,” he began, pointing to a house beside one that was surrounded by cops, “he came home from the late shift with a pink slip and took it out on his wife. She ran over here to the neighbors, who called the squad and us. Then the husband went over with a gun and began shooting the place up. We think one of your men got hit in there, but until one of the sharpshooters can take him down, we can’t get in.”
As if on cue, shots began ringing through the air and the all clear was sounded among the police officers. Hank and his men dove from the engine and ran inside the house.
Chet was right behind Captain Stanley, and Marco behind him. Mike followed closely in behind them as the siren of 36’s could be heard approaching quickly.
As they first came into the foyer, a man, presumably the husband, was being half carried, half dragged out towards the front door. It was obvious he’d been shot, but the wounds were not life-threatening, and the officers were more concerned with getting him away from the scene.
Walking into the livingroom, they saw a woman sitting beside another woman on a sofa – obviously the wife, and obviously beaten. But again, she, too, looked as if her wounds were not life-threatening.
“John! Roy!” the Captain exclaimed, seeing his two men propped against the far wall of the room beside a fireplace.
Chet looked at them both with horror-filled eyes. Roy’s head was slumped towards his chest, his eyes glancing up at the Captain’s call of his name. Johnny was leaning against him, blood covering his shirt. His gaze was fixed; his stare blank, seeing no one.
Hank leaned down in front of them, touching Johnny’s shoulder to break him of his daze, but the man slid sideways from the touch, his head falling into Roy’s lap. Behind the younger paramedic on the wall was more blood, following his trail down to Roy.
Captain Stanley fell back on his heels. He now understood Roy’s shock. As did everyone else in the room. Suddenly the room became deathly silent.
“NO – oh my God, Johnny – no!” Chet ran over to the paramedics, falling to his knees in front of them. He barely felt Hanks hand on his shoulder, a gesture of comfort where none could be accepted.
“I didn’t mean it, Johnny! I swear I didn’t mean it! You can play any kinds of pranks you want on me, just please, please don’t be dead!”
“I’m sorry, Pal,” the Captain began, “He’s gone.”
“No! It’s all my fault – but I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it! No!”
“Chet! C’mon man, snap out of it! Chet!”
Slowly, the stocky fireman began hearing Marco’s voice, and very slowly, he began blinking his eyes. As things came into focus, he now saw Marco looking at him with his brows furrowed in worry. Looking around further, he saw Roy, Johnny and Cap to his left, with Mike standing more to his right, all focused on him.
“Wha – what’s going on?” he asked, his voice trembling from its workout.
Marco sighed his relief. “Just a bad dream I guess, Chet. How’re you feeling?”
Chet looked around at the men staring at him. “Worn hard and put out wet. But I’ll live.”
“You sure you’re okay, Chet? The Captain asked quietly.
“Yeah, I am, Cap. I think I’ll go wash up and hit the hay again in a couple of minutes. Sorry I woke you guys.”
The men nodded and mumbled that it was okay as they returned to their bunks and Chet walked out towards the latrine.
Thinking back for a moment, he pushed the door open slowly, standing as far away from it as he could. When nothing happened, he shook his head, then chuckled at himself as he walked in.
Mike started the pot of coffee, knowing his fellow crewmates were going to need it after such a long night last night. He thought about how ironic it was that neither the squad nor the engine had been toned out, yet no one rested peacefully thanks to the nightmares that had haunted them. Those that were thankfully void of the nightmares had to stand by and watch them torment their friends, which in Mike’s opinion, was almost as bad as having them oneself.
The wake up tones sounded just as the coffee was finishing, which put a smile on the engineers face. The first of many he hoped.
As the men entered the dayroom they all seemed to look the way he felt – worn and dragging. At least they’d be going home soon.
The Captain eyed Mike as he entered, seeing the coffee ready and grateful for it.
“Couldn’t sleep, Mike?” he asked casually as he grabbed the cup his engineer offered.
“Didn’t want to. Scared I was going to get one of those nightmares you guys were having.”
Hank grinned. “Can’t blame you there, Pal.”
As the rest of the men settled around the table with their cups of coffee, all eyes turned towards the back door, looking to see the clouds that approached the station. They’d heard the grumblings as it approached, and lightning was brightening the windows now and then as it flashed sporadically.
“I hope B Shift gets here before that storm gets going good. You know how people get so crazy when they’re driving and the weather’s acting up,” Marco stated to no one in particular.
“Yeah,” Roy replied. “They sure know how to get into trouble on the roads.”
“You know,” Johnny started, “maybe this weather coming in is what set you guys into having all those nightmares – you know, just like moon phases, barometric pressure can affect people too.”
“It was more like Marco’s new chili recipe affected us last night, if you ask my opinion,” Chet spoke up.
“Sure was potent,” Mike added, rubbing his stomach.
Instead of joining into the conversation and defending his cooking from the night before, Marco stood up and walked over to the back door, his gaze intent on the incoming storm.
“Hey guys,” he said, never removing his eyes from the window, “you better come see this!”
All the men in the room converged on Marco, their eyes peering out through the rain that pelted heavily against the door’s window.
“Shit!” Mike exclaimed. “That’s a tornado!”
The men stood hypnotized for the briefest of moments, staring at the beast that roared before them. As actual thoughts began clearing from their shock, Captain Stanley ran into the bay to call it in and Mike began hollering at his crewmates.
“Get away from the windows – we need to get into the latrine – it’ll be safer in there! Come on guys! Hurry!”
Mike waited as everyone ran past him, heeding to his words. Hank joined them as each man ran across the bay.
“Were you able to get through?” Chet asked, wondering if there was any way possible to warn anyone else.
“Yeah, pretty much,” the Captain stated, looking around at his men, “but how much warning can you give anyone with something like this?”
Those ominous words were the last spoken as they began hearing the winds kicking up around their building. The sounds were getting louder: The debris as it was thrust against the bricks. The glass shattering as more debris was forced through unwilling windows. And the moans of growling winds attempting to lift their building from its foundation.
Each man stood in silence, their eyes speaking their fears as the entire building shook, reminding every one of them of small earthquakes shaking the very ground beneath them.
The noises that followed the last tremor of the firehouse left no doubt in its occupants minds – the bay doors being ripped away from their mechanical pulleys. The first one seemingly cried out in pain as it was peeled away, followed by the cables which snapped with the sound of a ‘twang’. Then the second bay door was ungraciously blown out, allowing the gusts to come through freely.
Each mans eyes grew wider as the air seemed to be sucked from the room – their only place of safety. Then just as suddenly, the door was pulled from its hinges – their only protection yanked unceremoniously away.
None could hear their own gasps as air flew in and out of the room, propelled under the awing power of the twister that reeked havoc on Station 51.
Standing closely to one another, each man watched as the squad seemed to float by them, pulled towards the back as it flew by the doorway, carried outside like a matchbox toy. The sound that followed was unmistakable - its crash telling them all it had hit the brick wall behind the building and taken it down.
Still watching in disbelief, they saw the engine slowly moving past them – its backward movement heading it in the same direction as the squad. The Ward La France moaned her protest, unwilling to meet the same demise as the squad, but lost her battle.
The sounds of grinding metal toned down the noise of the wind for a moment. A ‘moment’. It felt like hours already.
More sounds of metal being ripped from metal lead their imaginations to believe that the engine had now been pushed into the squad, and those same imaginations wandered as the noises increased, then suddenly stopped.
Mouths agape, the wind suddenly died. As fiercely as it had approached, it now seemed gone. Mike craned his neck, peering outside of their sanctuary into the now empty bay. He took a cautious step forward, looking around like a thief staking out territory.
Following behind Mike, the men all walked out into the now-empty bay. Captain Stanley walked around the group and went to the call station, hoping to be able to get through and have the station stood down. The rest of them walked outside.
No one spoke a word until Hank came out, informing them there was no getting through to anyone at this point. All lines were down, to no one’s surprise.
Mike stood back as the rest of the men walked over to the Ward La France. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Their personal vehicles that once sat waiting for the firemen to take them home were now crushed and mangled and simply a mess.
All but Mikes.
“Where’s my truck?” My truck is gone!” he exclaimed, his voice carrying freely over the wind that stirred once more. Thunder soon followed, clapping as it rolled furiously through the clouds.
Each man looked around the mangled heap of metal, yet none were able to see any signs of the blue truck.
Then all eyes looked up, the ominous noise above them making each man squint to see what could possibly cause such a noise – almost like something whistling. And getting louder.
Mike felt his chest suddenly tighten when he saw the truck falling through the air. His truck. It fell with a twirling motion and lightning fast speed.
He quickly glanced at the men standing around the fire engine then back up again – just in time to see his truck fall on the Ward La France – crushing the men around her.
“Oh no! Oh my God – Noooo!!!”
“Mike, wake up.”
“No! They’re all dead! Can’t you see them?! They’re gone!”
“Come on, Mike. You need to wake up. Mike!” The Captain shook him, keeping his hold on the man’s shoulders until he saw Mike’s eyes focusing first on him, then the rest of the crew that stood around the engineer’s bunk.
Mike reached out and touched Hank, then Roy, who stood crouched down beside the Captain, as if to make sure they were really ‘real’.
“You okay, Mike?” Johnny asked, looking more than concerned as the man he questioned looked around.
Suddenly Mike leapt to his feet, running past the men who were gathered around him. He darted out into the bay, followed quickly by his friends.
“He’s gonna puke, isn’t he?” Chet half-asked, half-stated to no one in particular.
When they got out in the bay and looked towards the latrine, there was no sign of him. But as they rounded the engine, there Mike was. Leaning against ‘Big Red’ as he so fondly called her, he touched the red paint and chrome, as if assuring himself this was real.
When Mike saw his crewmates standing around him, he nodded and grinned, letting them know he was all right.
“I think I can get back to sleep now,” he stated simply, then returned to the dorm.
The other men exchanged glances for a moment, none saying a word as they, too, went back.
Marco watched the crew enter the kitchen as he stirred the macaroni which was almost at its boiling point.
An eyebrow or two raised at seeing him there, especially with his chili pot on the stove. They had taunted him so, blaming *him* for their nightmares a week ago. He'd defended himself to the hilt, letting them all know that they'd eaten his chili plenty of times before and nothing of the sort had happened.
Still, they'd moaned and groaned enough that he decided when it was his turn to cook once more, he'd make something 'calmer'. That's when he decided on the macaroni and beef. Simple enough - hamburger, tomatoes, and elbow macaroni.
Captain Stanley walked over and sniffed over the pot, nodding his grin as he went to the table and sat down. Then Mike, who leaned over the pot briefly before grinning and walking away. When Chet came in, he wrinkled his nose before his approach, then walked slowly towards Marco's concoction.
"Well?" Marco asked, "It doesn't bite you know."
"Says you," Chet retorted quickly. "But I remember the chili last week. Scares me man, scares me. Why are you cooking dinner so early, anyway? We've still got another couple of hours to go until it's dinnertime."
"Because, Chet. Because it has to "set". It has to have time for the macaroni to soak in all the flavors. If that's all right with you?"
Chet sniffed at the pot and raised his brow curiously before turning towards the fridge. "Yeah man, whatever. Long as it doesn't give us all the Hee-Bee-Gee-Bees again."
Rinsing the macaroni, Marco returned it to the big pot and added the browned ground beef and tomatoes while ignoring his friends remark. He stirred the mixture many times, studying it. needs something…
Chet invited the rest of the crew to come outside for some basketball. It had been such a slow shift that everyone eagerly agreed - all but Marco of course - he had to finish cooking, but promised to join them if he could.
Marco looked around the room. Seeing that no one was there to watch him, he strolled casually over to the refrigerator. Peeking inside, he pulled out two green peppers and a big yellow onion that were left by the previous shift. Dicing them, he figured they could only help the dish.
As he stirred the pot after putting the peppers and onions in, he decided a taste was in order. Avoiding the still raw veggies, he spooned up a bit of the mixture and tasted it. Too bland! he thought, then eased himself over to the lower cabinet which held his prized possessions - *his* spices.
Peeking over his shoulder - first to his left, then to his right, he opened the bottom cabinet slowly. Behind the old hardly used pots and pans that sat on its shelves, he found what he was searching for and grinned mischievously.
When the ball game was done, so was Marco. The other men walked into the kitchen, admiring the aromas that greeted them.
"Smells good, Marco!" Johnny exclaimed, clapping a hand on the fireman's shoulder. "When do we eat?"
"You set the table and I'll dish up dinner," Marco replied with a smile.
Each man sat back, reveling in the dish that
they'd just enjoyed. Chet graciously offered to do the dishes while Mike
cleared the table, helping him.
"Marco, that was fantastic," Hank began, "what all did you put in that?"
The fireman grinned. "Oh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that."
"It sure was good, Marco. Thanks," Roy added.
Johnny nodded his agreement as he stood, holding his belly like Santa Claus. "That was fantastic - but I think I ate too much," he added. He grabbed his glass from the table, along with the other men's who were finished, and took them towards the sink.
John Gage had just about reached the sink when two of the three glasses he held fell to the floor, crashing loudly.
"Jeez Gage!" Chet hollered, "you're a real klutz, you know that?"
Johnny looked from the mess of broken glass to the men that all stared at him. "I, I don't feel so good," he stated simply, letting the last glass fall from his grasp.
Roy jumped to his feet, running over to Johnny, who was falling down against the cabinet he leaned towards. Before he could reach the downed paramedic, he doubled over, hollering in pain. "Oh, my stomach!"
Captain Stanley ran towards the phone, calling in to headquarters the fast-rising problem. He didn't dare go out into the bay and call it in, knowing his now gurgling stomach wouldn't let him get that far.
"What'd you put in with the macaroni, Marco?" Hank asked, now holding his own stomach as cramps began coming in waves.
Marco looked around at his friends in stunned silence for a moment, the shock of what was happening causing him to ignore his own pain. "Just, just some of my secret spices, Cap! Honest! Nothing out of the ordinary!"
"We'd better have a look at them, son," the Captain said calmly, noting each member of his crew was fastly falling ill.
Marco reached down in the cabinet beside the one that Johnny was propped against, looking paler with each second. Throwing the old pots and pans aside, he quickly grabbed up all his spices and put them on the table.
"Oh no - no, Marco, please tell me you didn't …use those!" Chet said as he pointed to the spice bottles, sitting himself queasily at the table.
"Yes, I did!" he answered. "Why?!"
"No one uses that stuff down there!" Chet exclaimed, looking wide-eyed.
"Chet," the Captain asked, "What's going on?"
“This hurts –
it hurts bad,” Marco said out loud, not meeting any of his friends eyes with
his own, his pain almost too much to bear.
"Cap," Chet began, stifling the urge to throw up as another pain ripped through him, "That's where I stored the drain cleaner! I got it in bulk at the discount store and put it in some of those old spice containers so I didn't have to pull out the big bag every time! No one ever uses that stuff down there!"
Marco grimaced as a sharp pain ripped into his stomach, doubling him over instantly. His head came up for only a moment to look at peers, then his Captain. He moaned loudly, not so much from the pain but from the agony in realizing he’d poisoned himself and his friends. Then another sharp pain took him over. "Oh God it hurts! It hurts!"
"Marco, where does it hurt?"
He heard the voice, but couldn't tell who it was. "My stomach, damn! It hurts like hell!" he gasped.
"Where does it hurt in your stomach, Marco?"
"What?" Marco looked around, blinking several times in the darkness. Slowly, his eyes focused on Roy and Johnny, who were setting up their equipment beside him on the bed. "What? What are you guys doing?!"
"Just tell us where you hurt, okay Marco? Everything's gonna be just fine," Roy said soothingly as he placed the BP cuff around Marco's arm.
Marco sat straight up in bed before anyone could stop him. Looking around the dorm area, he soon realized that he, too, had been having a nightmare.
"I'm not hurt, honest guys - it, it was just a dream."
"A dream?" Johnny asked, his voice rising. "Are you sure? You were doubled over in a lot of pain there, Pal."
"Yeah, really, I'm sure. It was one hell of a nightmare, I'll tell you. Really though, I'm okay."
Roy and John looked at each other as Roy released the BP cuff. "Blood pressure's a little up, but nothing out of the ordinary. You sure you feel okay now, Marco?"
"Yes, I'm sure. How about we all just go back to sleep?" he asked, looking at all the worried faces around him, feeling more than a little embarrassed.
"Is he all right?" Hank asked his paramedics. Both nodded. "Okay then. Everyone as you were. Let's try and get some rest before we have to get up again, shall we?"
Johnny stood and stretched before the wake up tones had finished their bidding. He looked at Roy, who threw his legs to the side of his bunk, rubbing his eyes as he looked around groggily.
“How are you feeling this morning?” Johnny asked, a little too cheerfully.
Roy had looked so bad last night. Almost like he was hypnotized as he stared blankly right through him. Johnny remembered the relief he felt when the senior paramedic was actually seeing him again. As bad as the nightmare had scared Roy, Roy had scared Johnny.
“I’m ready to go home and go to bed,” Roy answered dryly, pulling up his turnout pants.
John studied him for a moment before walking away from him. “I’ll go make the coffee.”
He looked at Chet, who was also standing, and noticed the man’s red eyes staring back at him. “You okay there, Chet?”
Johnny was almost sure he’d heard Chet say that he could pull any prank on him he wanted – and he knew he’d heard his name mentioned in that statement before Chet finally woke up.
“Yeah, yeah. Didn’t I hear you say you were gonna make some coffee?”
“I’m going, I’m going,” Johnny replied with a smirk.
He stopped briefly in front of Marco’s bunk, eyeing the man with trained eyes. “How are you feeling this morning?”
Marco had really scared him – thoughts of appendicitis had rushed through the paramedic’s mind during the wee hours of the morning when Marco had seemed doubled over in obvious pain. To finally realize that the man had just been dreaming, well, it was hard to believe at first. It took Johnny almost an hour to get back to sleep, and from the noises he’d heard in the bunk beside him, it was the same for Roy, too.
“I’m okay. I’ll be glad when this shift is over though,” Marco replied hoarsely.
“How’re ya doing Mike?” Johnny asked as he took a couple more steps, seeing the engineer ready to head out into the bay.
Mike had looked as if he’d seen a ghost when he finally woke up, his nightmare really taking its toll. Johnny wondered that if they had been toned out whether Mike would have been able to drive the engine as badly as he was shaking.
“Not bad. Slept real good after I got that nightmare out of the way. How about you? You didn’t have any bad dreams last night, did you?”
John Gage smiled. “Nope. Slept like a baby, in-between you guys waking me up.”
“Well John,” the Captain joined in as he walked beside the paramedic and engineer, “next time we’ll try not to disturb you, okay Pal?”
Johnny looked closely at his Captain. The man was shaking so bad after his bout with a nightmare that he was sure it took at least thirty minutes for their leader to calm down.
Johnny did a double take at Hank and chuckled, just realizing the man’s remark. He opened his mouth to answer when Chet interrupted him.
“Coffee, Gage. Coffee!”
The men seated themselves around the table and sipped the steaming cups of coffee that John served, each telling of their nightmares in vivid detail. Each dream had been so real, so lifelike, that as they spoke, they seemed to come close to reliving them again.
“I wonder if there was a full moon last night?” Johnny asked, looking at the men who all stared at him.
“I think it was Marco’s chili,” Chet piped in.
“Well you don’t have to worry about me making that any time soon,” Marco replied quickly. “I think I’d rather take latrine duty over cooking for a while, if it’s all the same to you.”
The men all chuckled for a moment as Johnny got up for another cup of coffee. Setting the cup on the counter, he filled it and then stared into it. Roy noticed his partner standing very still.
“Something in your cup other than coffee, Johnny?”
“Huh?” Johnny looked from the cup to his friend, then back at the cup again. Looking once more at the men at the table, his face was a cross of confusion and worry. “Uh, guys? My coffee is rippling.”
Each man looked from Johnny to their coffee cups, looking at the small ripples that ran through the liquid within them.
Hank placed his right hand on the table, palm side down. It wasn’t long before he could feel the tremors beneath it.
“Earthquake!” he hollered, rising with his men as they headed towards the kitchen door, each making their way outside to safety.
The ground shook below them, making each step an adventure as they cleared the building and ran outside. They stumbled into one another, each trying to hold the other up as their balance deceived them over and over again.
As the sun hit their faces, the noise of rumblings could be heard, sounding like thunder in the midst of a clear blue sky. The earth shook more violently and the men of station 51 ended up sitting on the ground, their fight with gravity now lost.
Sounds of screeching brakes from behind them indicated that the people on the freeway were now experiencing the same feelings as the firefighters were, and each man held their breaths, waiting for sounds of impact.
But suddenly, there was silence. No screams. No cars crashing into one another. And no more rumblings from the ground below.
“Oh man!” Johnny exclaimed, “Is this my turn for the nightmare?” he half-asked, half-stated to no one in particular as he stood up, brushing himself off.
“Ow!!!” the paramedic yelled, suddenly getting pinched. “What’d ya do that for, Chet?”
“Just making sure you weren’t dreaming there, Johnny old boy. I already had one nightmare last night, I don’t want to have anymore – especially yours.”
“Ow Chet! Quit pinching me!”
“Then wake up, will ya? We’re never gonna get any sleep if you keep hollering all night.”
Johnny blinked several times before focusing first on Roy, then Chet, who both stood beside the paramedic’s bunk. Looking around further, he saw the rest of the crew, looking at him with faces of worry.
The younger paramedic sat up, rubbing his eyes before dropping his hands down beside him. “I had a nightmare too, huh?”
“What do you mean, ‘too’? You’ve been hollering all night long, Gage.” Chet stated, placing his hands on his hips. “Every time we get ready to wake you up, you get quiet again. Well no more. You started getting quiet again but this time I wanted to make sure you woke up.”
Roy grinned at the look of bewilderment on his partner’s face. “I tried to stop him,” he said softly.
“You mean, uh, I mean,” Johnny looked around at the others who watched him. “You guys didn’t have any nightmares tonight?”
“You’re the only one that I know of,” Mike answered.
“Huh. You’re kidding!”
“’Fraid not, John,” the Captain replied.
“Wow.” Johnny stated. He looked at his watch, then stood up as Roy and Chet moved back.
“Where are you going?” Marco asked, looking at John as he pulled on his turnout pants.
“I’m not going back to sleep. Uh-uh. No way. There’s only a couple more hours until we get up anyway … I’m staying up, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Fine. Maybe we can get a little rest before the wake-up tones sound off,” Chet replied, turning back towards his own bunk. “Night, everyone.”
“Sweet dreams, Chet,” Johnny said evenly as he walked through the bay and into the kitchen.
Johnny looked at the coffee maker debating on fixing the coffee for the guys when they woke up. He flinched. Not this time.