Friday, September 24, 2010

week twenty-four: amber

Even as a very small child, she was always fascinated with death. The other girls drew pink ponies or stick drawings of their families; not Amber though, she drew horrifying things. They were some of the best drawings ever done by a child her age, but they were so frightening. Sometimes it was the Grim Reaper plunging his scythe into her aging grandmother, or it was a chariot from Hades dragging away little Lyle's father. One couldn't help but admire her skill, but her subject matter was nothing short of terrifying.

Her parents did everything they could to help their child with her problem. They encouraged her to draw nice things like pretty princesses or rainbows, but it was to no avail. So, they sought professional help in the form of no less than sixteen different child psychiatrists. None of them could find anything wrong with Amber except that she was fascinated by the prospect of death. They would ask, “Why do you draw such horrible things?”

And Amber would simply answer, “Because it's what I see in my mind. I draw what I see.”

The root of the problem was obviously what she was seeing. None of the doctors could answer why she saw such atrocities. Amber was nothing more than quiet little girl. Everything was ordinary about her except for her deathly drawings. Her parents went from hopeful, to helpless, and finally to desperate. And in their desperation, they sought the help of one a doctor in a very special field of study: parapsychology. This doctor was one Doctor Abraham Lanning and he is the most admired in a field of kooks with PhD's.

His very first question was very simply, “Has anything in her drawings ever come true?”

The answer is a very unfortunate yes. Amber's grandmother passed away in her ongoing battle with multiple-sclerosis and poor Lyle's father died in a car accident. How strange.

Their sessions together were documented, as a case like Amber's was rare indeed. Amber and Lanning sat across from another at a table. Before the little girl were some crayons and a piece of paper. Lanning only watched her at first.

She started every conversation, “Mommy says that if I'm good, we'll get ice cream afterwards!”

“Do you like ice cream, Amber?”


“What's your favorite kind?”

“Mint chocolate chip!”

“And where do you go to get your ice cream?”

“Depends. Sometimes Baskin-Robbins and sometimes Ben & Jerry's.”

“Which is your favorite?”

“Baskin-Robbins because it's pink.”

“So, you like pink?”

“It's my favorite color!”
“So, Amber,” Lanning cleared his throat, “why don't you ever draw with pink?”

“Because I don't see pink.”

“What do you see now?”

“I see you.”


“Well, yes, you know that, goofy. I'm talking to you!”

Lanning breathed a sigh of relief. Amber scared him. “Could you draw me a picture?”

“But I don't-” her eyes widened, “Yes, I see something!” She picked up the box of crayons and the first one she picked up was the pink one. How curious. She set up a background of mostly pink and then drew what looked like a young woman. Then the black crayon came. A black figure grabbed his young woman's neck and stood choking her to death.

“What is this a picture of?”

“She's going to die.”

When the session ended, Amber's parents followed through on their promise. Little was gained, but Lanning assured them he was making progress. After all, this was his chance to make his field be taken seriously. What a laugh.

They went to Baskin-Robbins, just as Amber would wish. The little girl ordered a cone of mint chocolate chip and enjoyed every last bite of it. But just then, a very beautiful young lady walked into the store and asked the attendant for a sample of their triple chocolate chip. The large man behind the counter handed her one of their legendary pink spoons full of the chocolatey goodness. She put it in her mouth just as another man tripped over the wet floor behind her. This man landed right on her and down her throat the spoon went. The young woman grabbed her throat! She choked!

Panic filled the room. Amber simply stared. There was nothing they could do. The young woman was dead from here on out. Oh well!

Doctor Lanning was told all about this escapade and he knew the truth. She could see the death's of others! What a gift, but what curse... But he would have to prove it, wouldn't he?

“Amber, I need you to draw me another picture.”

“I can't, I don't see anything.”


“There's nothing, doctor.”

“Amber, I need you to draw me a picture. Draw anything that comes to mind.”

“But I can't.”

“Sure you can!” He smiled a very false smile.

“No, I can't!”

“Amber, I need you to draw me a picture. Just try!”


“Amber. Now.”

She looked at him, into his eyes, and replied, “No! I can't!”


“Because, I don't want anyone to-” she saw it. At last, she saw it. “Okay, I'll draw.”

“Good!” Lanning grinned. He watched as she drew, preferencing red and and gray. She worked on what must have been a skin color. He could see eyes emerging. The grim reaper stood behind a screaming man whose neck bled.

“I'm done,” Amber replied angrily.

Lanning picked up the picture and noticed that it must be incomplete. “No, you're not. Finish it.”

“No! It is finished!”

“You're lying!”

“Am not!”

Lanning grabbed her arm, “Yes, you are, Amber.”

She noticed a sharpened pencil on the table. “No, I'm not lying. I finished. Stop hurting me.”



“Amber, I have had it w-” Suddenly, the pencil struck right through his neck. Blood blasted all over the little girl's face. She had punctured his artery. He tried to pull it out, but Amber kept it in. For such a little one, her grip was fierce. “Amber, stop!” Lanning whimpered.

“I'm finishing the picture,” she let go as he dropped to the floor. She picked her crayon back up and finished her picture. It was Doctor Lanning with the pencil in his throat. What a horrifying thing to draw!

Amber walked out of the room, leaving the picture behind. Her parents were shocked to find her out and covered in blood. “He wouldn't stop!” she sobbed as her parents learned what had happened. What to do with poor Amber? For years, her parents tried to raise her, but her mind slipped further and further until there was no choice but to put her in the funny farm. She likes calling it that. It makes her giggle.

She still draws her pictures and those in them still die, but they allow it because she reasons that only she sees the inevitable. No one considered using her gift to their advantage. Amber horrified everyone. And rightfully so. Maybe one day she'll draw a picture of you. Maybe it'll have pink ponies or rainbows. Maybe. But it'll probably have death, blood, and horror instead. Oh well, it happens.

A while back, I went on a horror stint. I wrote this at about the same time that Zombie a Week started. I guess I'm just saying that, while it may not look like it, this was a very experimental story for me to write. Was it a success, a failure, or something in between?

Beats me.

All I know is that it was a fun write. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

week twenty-three: darklings

This week is kind of unique. Until now, I had never ventured into the fantasy genre and decided I should give it a whirl. I actually came up with a bunch of this in eighth grade as a stick figure comic. Anyway, this is less of a short story and more of a first chapter in a novel that doesn't exist.

And I should say this: this story bears no connection to any theology whatsoever.

Travel light and travel in the shadows; there is no other way for a darkling. Sunset is nearing and the citadel is darkening. It is abandoned and there are no torches to light the way. Good. This is the way we darklings do things. Quickly, quietly, and out of sight. But this time, there is no place for tradition. Demetri and his band of darkling warriors run through the spire of Ulun-Thain in desperation. Their comrade, Esthelhain, is in grave danger. He is surrounded by demons with no way out. Demetri's band is all that stands between him and hell. And they may be too late.

There is more to this than compatriotism. There is friendship. Demetri and Esthelhain are old friends. They have fought together and saved one another's lives more times than either can count. Demetri hopes that this time will be no different, but never before has it been this desperate.

They know Esthelhain is in the courtyard at the center of the old tower. Darklings don't fight well in close combat and to march into the thick of it would be suicidal. Darklings fight hidden, from the shadows, and from range. They strike from where they are not seen. With their bows, they are lethal. So they seek high ground where they can defend Esthelhain with their silent arrows.

There is more to this than friendship. There is divinity. Esthelhain is no darkling, he is an angel; a winged creature said to descend from the heavens. His kind is rare and powerful. The demons prey upon angels relentlessly and it was only a matter of time before they could somehow corner one of them. Of course, the angels are far too powerful for the common demon. Most demons are mere cannon fodder, but en mass, they are deadly.

Finally, they arrive at a balcony overlooking it all. Demetri sneaks his way to the side and looks. There is his friend, pinned at the wing to a column by demonic arrows. There are dozens of the demon horde surrounding him, but they dare not get close. Esthelhain calls upon his divine magic to defend himself. Bursts of lightning flow from his sword and fire protects him from further archery. His magic cannot hold out for much longer. Demetri must intervene.

“Show them true shadow,” Demetri readies his bow, which he, like all other darklings, crafted himself. “Show them true, merciless darkness,” he pulls the blackened arrow behind his ear and takes aim. “Be relentless and remember the angel is the light from which shadows are born.” At last, the arrow is released.

Esthelhain is tired. For hours, he fought the demon horde. Very rarely do the demons succeed in killing an angel, but it seemed as though that time was at hand yet again. He had called for his greatest ally, but where was he? Hope sometimes comes in the smallest of things. Esthelhain barely noticed the blackened arrow against the darkening sky, but there it was. His eyes followed it down until it pierced the skull of the nearest demon. Orange blood covered the overgrown cobblestones in the courtyard.

The smallest of things are best when followed by the largest of things. Arrows dotted the sky and rained doom upon the demonic forces. Esthelhain could not muster the smile he wanted; a sigh of relief would have to suffice. He raised his sword and from it he used what was left of his divine magic. As arrows reigned the battlefield, Esthelhain then saw what looked like a shadow dashing through the fray. The cloaked figure was fast and only stopped to slay the occasional demon with a short sword. It was a darkling and only a few of them were that skilled. It must be Demetri.

And it was. Demetri used all of his skill to navigate the field of battle. His friend was near, but not out of danger yet; not while demons still drew breath. At last the darkling arrived and asked of his friend, “How did you get into this one, Esthelhain?”

“I shall yield unto thee an explanation at a fruther moment, for now, I require thy assistance,” Esthelhain answered, pointing to the arrows pinning his wing to the pillar.

“Hold still, this is going to hurt,” Demetri said as he brought his blade down to the cut the arrows. There were four and all were cut in a single, swift slice. Esthelhain did not even wince, but it must have hurt. “There, you're free!”

“I thank thee!” Esthelhain stepped forward, then fell to his knees. There was no telling just how long he had been standing there pinned. “We shall have to advance on foot, for I cannot fly while my wings stand pierced.”

“Don't worry, Est, we'll have you out of this one soon!” Demetri helped his friend to his feet. “My compatriots are on the balcony, but since you can't fly, we can't get back up there. How do we get out of here?”

“Look to the east and ye shall find the door whence I came,” Esthelhain told him.

Demetri nodded and then made a follow gesture to his companions. His lieutenant, Vladimir, responded quickly and soon, the dozen darklings jumped down into the courtyard. Demons are cowardly creatures and they made way. This did not stop the darklings from making their kills as they advannced. The band made it to the door and then continued their run through the haunted corridors. They could hear demons growling, but they were nowhere to be seen. A dozen darklings and an angel were a formidable group. As stupid as demons were, they knew when to step back.

“Stop!” Esthelhain suddenly exclaimed.

“What is it?” Vladimir asked out of turn.

Demetri ignored Vladimir, “Speak friend, why must we stop?”

“A Praetor,” Esthelhain paused to catch breath. “Standing forth before us, a Praetor lieth in wait.”

“Praetor? Here?” Demetri approached his friend.

“I can sense his darkness; I caution thee.”

“We have no choice, captain, we must move on,” Vladimir interrupted.

“You are correct, let us move!” and so they resumed their run. Demetri kept his hand on his sword. A Praetor, a legionnaire commander of demon hordes, would make a powerful foe indeed.

The halls were dark, which was perfect for the darklings. An angel, however, glowed naturally and the darklings feared that his light would give away their position too easily. Being overrun is always a possibility, especially with a Praetor involved. These concerns were on Vladimir's mind, who softly spoke to his leader, “A Praetor would only be here if the cause were important, captain.”

“We will question Esthelhain when we are free from the citadel, but for now, his survival is more important.”

“Of course,” Vladimir was silent from then on.

There it was! They could see the massive gate that was the entrance to the citadel of Ulun-Thain. In ages past, it was a glorious structure and a marvel to behold. Now, it is overgrown ruin. The stone of the citadel stands, but nothing else. It is long since abandoned. The history and treasures from within are lost. Time has forgotten who once lived and thrived here. Further, time has forgotten what happened to them. Where was this once-great civilization? Nowhere.

And there it was. Standing just before the gate was the Praetor. Red and twice the height of a man with the horns of a ram was the Praetor. Its black wings stood out behind him as a great cloak. In its hands was a flaming rapier. It wore clothes that might call eloquent however none would call this beast eloquent in appearance. But there was something about it that made Demetri question what was about to happen. It was not in a stance for battle. It seemed ready to... talk.

Demetri put an arrow into his bow and saw his comrades do the same. The demon Praetor only stared them down. The darklings took position in a semi-circle around the evil being, but would not fire without their captain's order. Demetri needed to know more. Esthelhain stood behind the darklings and then ordered, “Stand aside, vile creature, lest we send ye back to thy maker.”

The beast smiled, revealing jagged teeth. Its words echoed behind its deep, yet shrill voice, “You all yet live only because I allow it. You will die the moment I demand it.”

“Why hast though let us live still?”

“I will converse with the darkling leader,” the Praetor smiled again. “Which of you leads?”

“I do,” Vladimir stepped forward. Demetri did not stop him. This was practice among the darklings. The second-in-command would always volunteer himself as the leader. They would never reveal who truly led them. Demetri kept his bow trained upon the Praetor, ready to shoot.

“We demons are creatures of true power; of malice,” the Praetor approached Valdimir, who put away his arrow. “But we are not without mercy. We want no unnecessary squabble with the darklings. It would be a pointless waste of time and effort. The time for war is not yet upon us. We only want the angel.”

“We will not negotiate with a demon,” Vladimir growled.

“Give the angel to us and I will spare your lives,” the Praetor snarled.

“As I said, we will not negotiate with a demon.”

The Praetor squinted his eyes at Vladimir, “You must tire of taking orders. You know this is not your call. You will only echo your captain's words. I know what you want. You want to give up the angel and save your comrades, don't you? You can do this. You have that power now.”

Vladimir hesitated then snapped back, “You're wrong, demon, I am the captain and I will give up this angel for no one, especially not scum like you. Stand aside.”

“If this is that fate that you cho-” An arrow interrupted his speech. It only pierced his cheek and stopped his speech. It was Demetri. The demon ripped the arrow back out and snarled, “That was a dire mistake!” It would take much more than that to kill a Praetor.

“Release!” Demetri ordered as he slung another arrow into his bow. His compatriots fired, having most of the arrows blocked by the fiery blade. The Praetor was quick as he spun his blade, slaying anything in the way.

Esthelhain knew he was the only one who could kill the Praetor. Demetri knew this as well. The angel called upon all of the divine magic he could muster and filled his blade with light. With a powerful leap, he used his wings to push himself to the neck of the Praetor. It only took a single, graceful slice to remove the foul creature's head. Esthelhain's landing was far less angelic. He had used all of his energy in that blow and was out of consciousness before he hit the ground.

Demetri surveyed the ground. Four of his men were dead, their bows broken, and their cloaks tattered. Vladimir was not among the dead. He said, “Captain, we have to leave them and get out of this place before more of the demons get here!”

“Agreed,” Demetri picked up his winged friend and the darklings fled the scene.

As they ran, Demetri pondered what had just transpired. Finding demons at a place such as that was not unusual, in fact, infestations such as those were common. Those demons, however, were organized. Not completely, but it was clear that the Praetor was leading them, which meant this was no infestation but rather a deliberate move. What could the demonic forces want with an abandoned citadel? And further, “the time for war is not yet upon us.” Was this to say that war would soon be upon them all? Of course it did. Demons destroy and nothing else. They would see the world burn and laugh as it did.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

week twenty-two: angels dancing on the sea

At the oldest tavern at the ricketiest port this side of the Bering Straight, an old fishing ship captain tells his tale. It's clear that he hasn't shaved in days and the scent of ale on his breath is undeniable. But there's something about him that makes all of the young men listen. There is as much conviction in his words as there is alcohol in his stench. Is he just an old drunk? Or is there something to his tale? Decide for yourself:

“I've been in a lot of storms. I've seen the biggest crashing waves and heard the loudest clashes of thunder known to man. I used to believe that God was using whatever means necessary to kill me, but I was better. He would use the strongest and coldest winds and rain, but my captaining was better than his godhood! I'd laugh as loud as I could hoping he would hear me! It took a lot more than some storm to scare me.

“Now, I'm sure you've all heard the saw that if you've seen a real Alaskan storm, you ain't an atheist. I've seen more storms than any of you put together. I know you ain't fisherman because you're geniuses, but you can put two and two together. Well, most of you can. I believe in God, but it wasn't until one night that my belief was made something real.”

The old sailor pulls out his pipe, lights it, then shakes his empty mug, “I'll tell you what. Any of you who keep my pint full, I'll keep tellin' my story. Simple as this: no ale, no tale. Got it?”

The men around agree and contribute to a small stash of money for this man's drink. The sailor downs a swig and then continues, “My ship is a small one, the Catherine Zeta-Jones. I didn't name her that because she's my wife; I just gave her that name cuz she's the closest woman I've ever been to. I like to think that she knows all my secrets because that poster I've got of her is the only woman I'll talk to. You can't trust women, lads, they talk too much and they'll tell all your secrets. Unless they're made of paper, like my woman.

“Now anyway, so I see the storm advisories and I decide to take the lad with me to do some fishing anyhow. We need money and sometimes you just gotta stick with it, am I right? Of course I am. So, it's just me and my lad, Corky, he's called. He's been the only other man on my boat for some five years now, though if he was still around he'd correct me with a less drunken number.

“Take me and then take the opposite. The poor boy's young, he don't drink, and he ain't the best fisherman out there; only difference is that he's at least dependable. I tell him to do something and he does it. There are no questions asked. I would take a stupid deckhand who could listen over a genius who questions my every move. Corky is the good kind, the stupid kind, that is.”

The old sailor downs several gulps of his drink, “Night crept on us quick that night. It was dark faster than usual, but mostly because of the black clouds over us. It didn't stay dark though. Lightning flashed all around; brightest lightning I've ever seen! I knew Corky was afraid because honestly I was quaking a bit too. You could see the lightning crashing into the sea and the thunder could make you deaf.

“The coldest rain fell upon the deck like a fire hose. There must have been some hail in there too because it was so freezing cold. It's the kinda cold that doesn't just freeze your skin, it chills you down to your bones. And there's the winds that are doing everything they can to knock you right down on your grizzly hindquarters! The rain doesn't just come from above, it comes from everywhere thanks to these winds. Your boots are gonna be soaked even though you're covered head-to-toe in rain gear! None of that matters because the weather's better than anything you can wear.

“Gimme another round,” the old sailor mutters as he slams his cup down on the table. As soon as the drink arrives, he continues, “The scariest part about all of this isn't the wind, the rain, or the lightning, no it's the waves the size of skyscrapers! All it takes is one of them and Catherine Zeta-Jones is completely engulfed in pure Alaskan seawater!

“But I'm at my helm and that ain't gonna happen. I've got to keep turning the rudder away from waves. We can't be parallel; that's just askin' for trouble, but we can't be perpendicular either. Runnin' from waves is like runnin' from a cursed hangover, it just ain't gonna happen. Forty-five degree angles is what you need. But that, my friends, is easier said than done. I remember holding the wheel tight and using everything I got to hold it there. The boat jerks to port, so I slam starboard.

“I don't remember even half the curses I was shouting!

“Corky's working the nets as best he can; trying to keep them tied and stable. It's a job I couldn't do because I'm getting old. I can't move fast anymore! I'm a slow old man and God knows it.

“I remember Corky's face. He looked so scared. He'd been with me in storms before, but this, I swear, was like nothing ever before! Even I thought we were going to die, but there's a difference between Corky and me, you see. Corky's got a young wife back at home and she's expecting. Good ol' Corky's got a reason to live. Me?

“I got nothing!” The old sailor laughs. “I got nothing to lose at all! Sink my ship, break my old bones, I don't care. All I got left is my fishing and my tall tales. So, there's me just watching the young man struggle as I cursed God, the wind, the rain, the waves, and the cold. He ain't cursing though.

“I look close into his hand and see he's got his crucifix held tight. Kid always believed in God, and his wife gave him that thing. 'Piece of tin,' I used to tell him. Of course, Corky would agree with me. Kid would agree with anything I said because I signed his checks. But there he was, holding on to the last resort he had.

“And that was when that wave hit,” the old man looked into his pint and saw nothing. “Fill me up!”

The bartender gave him another one. Free of charge, since his story had the customers staying for more. And the sailor went on, “This massive wave crashed right on top of us. We were already soaked, but this was something else. I shook so hard in the cold that I lost control of the boat. We jerked hard port side, knocking us both off our feet! Catherine Zeta rocked sideways and we slid to the boat's edge!

“The foot-high railing at the side held us there; Corky had to be maybe three feet away from me. When the boat rocked again, I saw the kid go over the edge. I held tight, but he was over. I panicked! I thought, 'Oh, God, no!' Then I saw his fingers. They managed to grab the railing! His head came out of the water. I couldn't hear him because of the storm, but I knew what he was shouting; screaming.

“He shouted with everything he had, 'Help me! Help me!'

“I looked down and saw him there, everything he had to lose, everything he believed in, didn't matter. Not a bit. This was his life and this was my life. I held on. I could only see fear in his eyes. He knew what I would do. His face went from desperate to pleading. I didn't let go. I was afraid. I was too afraid to risk my life for Corky's.

“Then his fingers slipped and he was gone forever,” the old sailor stopped talking right there. He stared at his pint glass and all there saw his eyes water. Remarkably, the old drunk pushes his tears back and presses on, “The sea was dark. There was no hope of finding him. Maybe- maybe he was out there, because I can't remember if he wore a life jacket or not that night....

“Doesn't matter. Not anymore. Corky's body is at the bottom of the straight, where the families of all the fishes we ever caught are cursing his name. I'll bet he's still got that crucifix in his hand. He's gone to be with God now. I hope he has. He has to be with God. He just has to be.

“Somehow I manage to get back to my feet and I got back to the helm. I was angry; mad now. Mad at God, mad at mother nature, and mad at myself. So, I shouted loud for God to hear, 'You did that! How could you kill him like that?! Why not kill me?! I got nothing at all!'”

Another ale, “Just then, and I swear to this, lightning struck right on my decks, knocking some of the railing clean off! I can show you the burns on my ship! The thunder deafened me and I couldn't hear a thing. I couldn't hear a thing except my own thoughts. And in my thoughts, I wasn't cursing. Not anymore.

“No, I was praying. I was praying to a God I don't- didn't believe in. There I was. The man with nothing to lose, the man who half-wanted to die, praying to God that I would survive. If it was God who made that storm, then only God could possibly keep me alive. I couldn't steer Catherine anymore, the rudder was shot. I was ready to die, but I prayed to my last resort.”

The old, drunken sailor sighed very hard, “It took a storm bigger than my ego to open my eyes. All the while, I was blaming a God I didn't believe in. It was a paradox. If it was all his fault, then I'd have to believe only the old man up there could save me. So as I held the wheel, I prayed. I prayed my heart out, what little is left of it, that is.

“I looked up and in the lightning, I swear I could make out the figures of angels dancing among the waves. The horrors of the sea are their stage! The angels out there are so beautiful. I remember forgetting my fear at the sight of such beauty. Maybe I was seeing things, in fact, believe I was seeing things. I don't care.

“Why, I don't know, but I let the wheel go. It's hard to remember just what was happening during those chilled moments, but for whatever reason, I let the wheel go and sat down on the deck. I let God have it. I looked up into the sky and decided just to let him have it. If he wants to kill me, he will. I wasn't about to fight God. Not anymore.”

The old sailor finishes his last ale and refuses another, “My story's over.”

“Why did you come here, sailor? We haven't seen you around.”

“I'm here because I need to be absolutely drunk,” the old sailor burps. “I'm just on my way over to see Corky's wife and tell her what happened.”

“Will you tell her the whole story?”

“Bah, of course not. What woman wants to hear an old drunk like me?”

“So, what will you tell her, old man?”

“I'll tell her that Corky died in an accident. I'll tell her how he made me believe in God. She'll like that. No sense telling her that her husband died because I'm a coward.”

The old sailor picks up his jacket and puts it on. He looks down at all the young men who had listened to him and said nothing as he walked out of the tavern. Once outside, he found that it was raining again. Just a drizzle, nothing severe, but it kept his memory alive. The old sailor looks into the night-covered rain and wishes again he could see the angels dancing on the sea

Thursday, September 2, 2010

week twenty-one: chang

We've got a ten-forty-five in progress on interstate twenty-three, near exit nineteen. Unknown number of injured. Multiple units necessary.”

“Ten-four dispatch, this is 241, we're on our way,” Emergency Medical Technician Eric Chang replied turning on the ambulance's sirens. He sighed, “You can't give us any more information than that?”

“There is a woman and her child confirmed involved in the crash, but we have no other information at the time.”

“Ten-four,” Chang put the receiver down and, closing his eyes, leaned his head back against the seat. Other voices were heard on the radio, but Chang paid them no heed.

“She say I-23, exit eighteen?” Their driver, Terrence Stump, asked. Stump was an aging black man whose only job was to drive the vehicle. He had no medical training, but he was the oldest of the three in the ambulance and easily the most respected. Stump had seen a lot in his time driving ambulances.

“Nineteen,” Chang replied without opening his eyes.

“Thank God the rain's let up,” Stump said. “I hate speeding in the rain.”

Chang said nothing.

“Did you not sleep last night, Eric?” Gillian Proctor, the paramedic sitting in the back, asked. Being a paramedic, she ranked highest of the three.

“I'm just tired.”

“Well, I need you up and perky,” she pat him on the arm. “We don't know what's down there.”

“It's just another job, Gil.”

“It's another life, Eric.”

“Yeah, I know,” he rolled his eyes, but Proctor couldn't see it. His eyes were still closed.

“Well, act like it. One day you may need an ambulance yourself.”

“Good God!” Stump suddenly exclaimed.

Chang opened his eyes and saw a car completely engulfed in flames. He picked the receiver up again and said, “Dispatch? 241, ten-twenty-seven! We've got a car on fire down here!”

“Ten-four, the fire department is inbound!”

Stump got as close as was safe and pulled over. Proctor said to them both, “Alright, we know there's a woman and child out there! Eric and I will look for them; Stump, I want you to look around and try to tell me what happened here, alright? Get anyone who's hurt away from the crash!”

“Yeah, I got it,” Stump opened his door and ran out.

“Let's go!” Proctor exclaimed as Chang went out his door. He grabbed his bag and they ran towards the mayhem. They ran amongst a flaming Mustang, an abandoned Corolla, and the rear end of a minivan. Parts and blazing ashes scattered everywhere. There must be a gas leak. Proctor stopped and told Chang, “I'm betting the mother and child were in the minivan, I'll search that part, you find the other!”

“Right,” Chang inhaled sharply and ran. There was a strange combination of humidity from the recent rain and dryness from the nearby fire. Chang noted where the first part of the minivan was and then looked for clues as to where the rest might be. It must have been sheared on the concrete divider, so he jumped over to the other side and saw rubble and wreckage leading off the interstate and into the woods next to it. There was only a short wire fence with a gaping hole between the road and the wilderness. Chang rushed to it and saw the horror below.

There he found the front of the van, but also a little girl sprawled beside it; her foot completely gone. Chang shook his head and ignored his disgust. No time for that. He ran down the steep incline to the wreckage. Inside the van was a woman; the little girl's mother, he guessed. Her eyes were shut and a metal bar pinned her leg to the seat. If she was even alive, it would take the rescue team to get her out. Blood stained everywhere. Chang put his finger to her neck. There was no pulse. He squinted his eyes and held back lament.

Turning his attention to the little girl, Chang put down his medical kit. Blood covered her leg where her foot was missing; her once polka-dot pink pants were reddened. Every single nth of medical training Chang had received told him that this little girl was dead. She had lost far too much blood. He put his hand over his mouth as he looked her over. Where's her foot?

He looked up at the incline again and saw a faint trail of blood. She must have hopped from the back of the minivan to the front; all the way across the divider and across the interstate. Admirable for this little girl, who must have been five. Chang looked down at this little girl and remembered himself at her age.

Both of his parents perished in a fire when they lived in Beijing. Eric was maybe four years old and never stopped blaming himself for the incident. Only vague memories remained, yet these images stuck. He could see, but not hear, his mother screaming as the flames engulfed everything around them. And he remembers the fireman pulling him away. His father? He never saw his father again. Eric doesn't even remember what he looked like.

Part of him envies the little girl laying there. She must be dead; she won't have to live knowing her mother had passed on. Chang wished, for the longest time, that he could have died in that fire. What a horrible thing to wish for, he knows, but the guilt is overpowering. And unrelenting.

But the other part of Chang wants to give this girl a second chance. After all, Chang got one. Americans adopted him and moved him here. As maturity dawned on Eric, he came to realize that his life is a gift and that he should never waste it. So, with this realization, he became an EMT. He decided that he could help people like him earn their second chance. But keeping it all in perspective is easier said than done.

Seeing himself in this poor little girl, Chang forgot all medical training and picked her up. He slung the girl over his shoulder, grabbed his bag, and made his way up the incline. He could save her; he could save himself! As soon as he was up, Terrence Stump saw him and ran back to the ambulance. Chang advanced in a jog, but was soon met by Stump and the stretcher. Eric laid the girl on the stretcher and readied his stethoscope.

“She's lost a lot of blood,” said Stump as he crossed his arms.

“Yeah,” Chang replied, again rolling his eyes. He put the stethoscope to her chest and heard nothing. She is dead. “Get me a bag of O negative.”

“She's dead, man, just give it up!”

“Do as I say!” Chang shouted as he tore the girl's shirt into a strip. He tied it around her ankle, hopefully to stop any blood from escaping.

“Here,” Stump handed him the cold bag of blood. Chang very quickly set it up and plugged the IV into her arm.

“Okay, come on,” He moved the girl's head back to open the airways. Pinching her nose, he put his mouth over hers and breathed a rescue breath. Nothing. Time for chest compressions. He pushed on her bloodied chest, “One, two, three, four, five!” Another rescue breath.

Proctor arrived at the scene, “What's going on?”

Chang ignored her, “One, two, three, four, five!”

The paramedic examined the scene, “Chang! She's gone! There's nothing we can do for her!”

“Yes, there is, I can save her!”

“Chang! Look at this!” Proctor grabbed his shoulder. “Her foot! You're just pushing more blood out the artery!”

“Then help me plug it up!”

“Damn it, Eric!” She pushed him away. “There is nothing we can do for her!”

He put his hands on his head and whimpered, “There's gotta- there's gotta be something!”

Gillian grabbed him by his arms and very gently said, “Eric, it's over. She's gone.”

“No, she's-”

“Eric,” she noted his eyes watered. “I need you to get it together.”

Chang looked into her eyes and remembered the same look on the fireman's face. He remembered being hysterical, just as he is now. The fireman couldn't calm him, but Gillian could. Chang sighed and pulled himself in. “Yeah, sorry.”

“What's gotten into you?”

“I'll be okay,” he wiped sweat off his brow. She kept her eyes in his, “I will; I'll be alright.”

“Did you find anything?”

“Yeah, the girl's mother is down there. She dead, too, but I couldn't get the body out. She's pinned through the leg.”

“My God,” Proctor exhaled. “Nobody made it in the burning Mustang either, but there's a third car and the driver's missing. We need to find him.”

“Right,” Chang once again grabbed his bag. “Do you know where he went?”

She sighed, “We didn't see him on our way here, so he must be down the road somewhere.”

Stump loaded the girl-laden stretcher back onto the ambulance as Proctor hopped in. He said, “Alright, we're ready.”

Chang hopped into the passenger's seat and felt a long-accumulating tear finally drip down his cheek. Without thought, he wiped it away. At age four, he didn't have the strength to wipe away his tears. They fell and fell and fell. There was no control. But at age twenty-eight, only a smattering manifested itself. Would it be enough?

He remembered the little girl and her dead face. It should have been him, but it wasn't. So, why was he spared? It certainly isn't to save that poor girl. He certainly thought that was his purpose, but apparently not. Is there a purpose? Eric certainly hoped so. There certainly must be a reason why his parents perished and he survived. He just hadn't seen it yet. Chang looked at the road ahead and then saw his purpose.

A man lay there, his hand clutching his hip. Chang jumped out and found that the man was alive, but unconscious. His hip was swelling; badly. “Get the stretcher! His hip is screwed.”

Stump nodded and pulled the stretcher out of the ambulance. The little girl still lay upon it. “Hey, what do I do with the girl?”

Chang's eyes widened as he turned to Proctor, “We can't just leave her!”
“No, we can't,” she exhaled sharply. “Set her body down on the floor inside; that's all we can do.”

“Right,” Stump cringed at touching a dead body, but did as he was told. That was one of the few parts of the job he really hated and avoided where possible.

“Think it's fractured?” Proctor asked.

Chang was silent. His mind lost to thought. What was he thinking?

“Eric,” she prodded. “Do you think the hip is fractured?”

He shook his head, “I can't tell; too swollen. Yeah, probably.”

“Stump, get us a morphine shot,” Gillian ordered. “Moving him is going to hurt like hell; might wake him up.”

“Yeah, morphine,” Chang nodded as he resumed his thoughts. Proctor could see the remorse, but she knew not what for.

“Chang, are you alright?”


“You okay?”

“Sorry, I'm just- just tired.”

“You said that already.”

“I know.”

“That isn't all, is it?”

The look in his eyes told her all she needed to know.

“Morphine!” Stump handed Gillian a syringe, who then stuck it right into the unconscious man's arm.

“Alright, let's pick him up and put him on the stretcher!” Gillian grabbed his ankles as Chang took his shoulders. The man was larger than average, muscular, not fat. As soon as he was on, she and Stump loaded the stretcher.

Chang got back into the passenger's seat and radioed, “Dispatch, this is 241, we have an injured man with a swollen hip; probably fractured. We're on our way to the hospital, over.”

“Ten-four, 241, we'll be ready for you. What's the status of the crash in progress?”

“Vehicle still burning. At least one confirmed dead still on site,” he then remembered the little girl and hesitated, “We have one dead with us. Little girl; about five.”

“Right, 241, hospital will be ready. Are there any other injured?”

“If there are, we didn't see them, 241 out,” Chang hung up the receiver as Stump hopped back behind the wheel, turned on the sirens, and they were off.

During his thoughts before, and now, Chang came to a final realization. He came to realize that there were hundreds of people in the world he was meant to save. Thousands, even. That man in the back is one of them. That's a good enough purpose for Eric. It would have to be. He looked down at his EMT uniform and stroked his badge with his thumb. He'd wear the uniform proudly and maybe even go for paramedic one day, like Proctor.

But for all the people he could save, there were even more he couldn't save. He couldn't save that little girl, for one. No matter how much effort, no matter how much you could try, little Jenny would always be dead. One of the people beyond salvation, Chang realized, was himself. For all the thousands, Chang could never save himself. He would need someone else to do that.

Gillian's hand landed upon his shoulder and she asked, “Hey, Eric, you want to talk?”

He put his own hand upon hers, “Yeah, I'd like that.”

“How about dinner when this is all done?”

Chang turned to her and with a subtle smile, “Let's do it.”

“You alright?”

Chang turned back around. He looked at the interstate and saw the overcast skies begin to clear. The sun came through in the cracks. His smile grew, “I think I will be. Yeah. I'll be alright.”