Disclaimer: These characters belong solely to me. Any resemblance to anyone real or fictional is entirely coincidental.
Sex, Drugs, and Violence: There are depictions of drug use as well as a semi-graphic remembering of child molestation. There's also the aftermath of a beaten child. If any of this bothers you, then move right along. Oh, there's also a lot of swearing.
Thank you to everyone who's read and commented on this story thus far especially LadyKate, Nutty, Snikkerz, and Elsieaustin whose advice and suggestions are invaluable.
The Last Good Day
by Amy Boatman
I returned to the ambulance with my soiled shirt wrapped up in a plastic bag. I climbed behind the wheel and put on my seat belt. As I pulled the ambulance out of the parking area, Rufus turned to me with a confused look.
"Why are you so damn happy? You've been whistling and humming since you came back from seeing that social worker. Was Shirley especially nice to you or what?"
"What, am I not allowed to be cheerful?" I looked over at him with a challenging grin. I just loved messing with him. He was gruff and negative, and sometimes a major pain in my ass, but he always had my back during a call or with our supervisors, so I was willing to put up with a lot.
"Cheerful yeah, but that shit-eating grin you got just ain't normal. Gives me the creeps."
"I met a goddess."
"Shirley?!? What the hell? I've seen bulldogs that were more attractive."
"Not Shirley, you big fucking idiot! Her name is Bailey and she's the new social worker." I could feel the grin creeping up towards my ears again.
"Oh God, save me from lesbians in lust!" He rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed heavily. I reached over and punched him in the arm as we both burst out laughing.
After running calls for two hours, we finally found ourselves back at our station. True to our usual form, we ran, among others, one call involving a man who required a band-aid for a cut finger and a teenage babysitter who didn't know what hiccups looked like in her infant charge. Sometimes it was so hard to remain professional and sympathize with people, especially the stupid ones.
As we entered the station, the smell of brisket swirled around a corner and slid up to my nose. "Ooh Chuck's here!" Rufus cried in glee and fairly sprinted out of the room towards the kitchen. I shook my head. He never got excited over anything but food. Chuck was one of the firefighters we shared the station with. He was a notorious barbeque fanatic, bringing a new creation to work almost every shift. He said one day he would discover a sauce that would let him retire.
I put the bag containing my dirty shirt on the floor in the bedroom, grabbed my keys, and headed out to my car. I had parked my little blue Toyota as far from the door as possible. Once inside, I opened the glove box and removed a small cosmetic bag. Part of a free gift from Clinique. I pulled it out and unzipped it. I kept about three dozen pills of varying sizes inside. Well, not quite three dozen; thirty four. I pulled out five white pills and downed them with a dry swallow. I quickly chased them with two orange ones.
I laid my head back on the headrest and closed my eyes. A small imp was playing bass drum in my head and his buddies were swimming in my stomach. I felt them begin to crawl up my esophagus and swallowed hard to press them back down. The nausea was all part of the ritual. Just gotta push past, my grandmother had always said. Just push past the pain and you'll get to the good stuff. I'm pretty sure this was not what she had in mind.
Satisfied that I would hang on to the pills, I exited my car. I leaned against it, feeling the cool breeze dance across my skin. The tones sounded.
I ran back inside almost colliding with Rufus as he came around the corner. "Medic 15, priority one unknown 1214 Granger Street." We exited the building and I jumped behind the wheel.
"Any info on the computer?" Rufus pulled up the call on our dashboard mounted computer and tabbed to the call information as I pulled the truck out of the bay and floored it.
"It says a woman found a girl injured in a parking lot. That's it. Nothing else."
I hated kid calls. I sucked at dealing with kids, even teenagers. Hell, especially teenagers. Having grown up with no siblings and without spending any time around kids, I was clueless about how to talk to them. Truth be told, I always thought it was the honesty kids possess that really freaked me out. A ten year old could look at me and know I wasn't quite right. He may not know why he felt that way, but he could see my damage.
We were not far away from the scene, and so we pulled up just minutes after receiving the call. We both jumped out and grabbed our various bags before heading to our patient. The first thing I noticed was the four cop cars surrounding the apartment building parking lot and spreading out into the street. People had begun congregating on the far side of the cars not able to resist the siren's song. Tragedy attracted the curious like sugar attracted fire ants.
The next thing I noticed was a woman sitting on the curb near the apartment building cradling a girl. The cops were all clustered around them and the look on the woman's face screamed fear. In her arms was a girl no more than ten with mussed brown hair. She was wearing a grimy white T-shirt and a school uniform style skirt. Beneath the skirt her skinny legs jutted out. They were white as bone and covered in rivulets of dried blood. The dark red made her pale skin seem to glow. Her face was buried in the woman's shoulder; her arms hung limply at her side.
Rufus headed towards the girl and I approached one of the cops. "What happened?" I asked him.
"Amanda Prager. Nine years old. She was reported missing two days ago. Amber alert went out, but nothing. We've been scouring the city looking for her. Today, this woman here," he gestured to the woman on the curb, "was going to her car when she saw a white van pull up, push the girl out, and then drive away. She said there were no plates on the van and the windows were too tinted to see inside." His report was crisp and concise, rattled off with no emotion. His gaze found the girl and fury sprang from his eyes. "Looks like the motherfucker raped her."
"Hold still, Jordan. I'm not going to hurt you." The voice flew through my head like a shot, blistering my mind. I shook my head to dislodge the unwanted intruder. The cop looked at me and nodded his head, misinterpreting my reaction.
"Back off! She doesn't want you touching her!" I turned to see the woman, red faced with anger, yelling at Rufus. "Can't you see that? Get away!" He took a step back, his posture uncertain. I headed his way to rescue him
"She doesn't want me tending to her. Every time I try, she pulls away." He shuffled his feet in frustration.
"Well, here." I handed him the clipboard. "You fill out the paperwork and I'll see if she'll let me."
I looked down at the child and then walked around behind the woman holding her. I hunkered down just behind her and put my arm on the woman's shoulder. I reached out and touched the girl's hair as softly as a butterfly kiss.
"Ma'am, what's your name?"
"Teresa," she replied unsure of what I was doing. She glanced over her shoulder at me, her eyes full of distrust. Her face was tear stained and pale.
"Teresa, my name is Jordan. I'm just going to hang out here a minute." I continued to stroke Amanda's hair slowly increasing the pressure. "Has she said anything to you?"
"Not much. She told me her name but that's it. She crawled into my arms and just went limp." Tears began filling her eyes and I noticed the tracks of previous ones shed.
"Okay." I put my face down near the brown head. The smell of blood assaulted my nostrils along with the smell of cigarettes and stale beer.
"I really love you, Jordan. This is how fathers show they love their little girls."
I ignored the voice and spoke to the girl. "Amanda, my name's Jordan. Would it be okay if I put my hand on your back?" Several long moments passed, and I was convinced she wasn't going to let me. I began formulating another approach. But then I felt her head nod. Brave girl. God knows what she's been through.
I inched my way around Teresa until I was squatting next to her. I reached over and gently placed my hand on the girl. I rubbed the small back in slow, soft circles. I gradually increased the pressure until I was able to palpate the area looking for injuries. I didn't find any obvious ones.
"Amanda, will you let me look at your face?" She reluctantly pulled her head from the woman's shoulder and turned towards me, her eyes on the pavement. I barely contained my gasp at the sight of her battered flesh. There was a small gash on her forehead, the edges of the wound red and angry. Her nose was surrounded with dried blood and snot, little bubbles popping in and out with each breath. Her bottom lip was split and swollen giving her a sullen pout. Her right cheek was bruised, the colors radiating from a dark red center.
I reached out to cup her chin and she jerked back as if she'd just been burned. I held my hand up. "It's okay. I just want to look. I promise not to hurt you." She reluctantly allowed me to place my fingers on her chin and tilt her head up. It was then I saw the finger shaped bruises on her neck.
"Stop screaming or I'll hit you again." I pushed the voice down and continued my assessment of the girl. I trailed my fingers up to her scalp. She flinched when I got near the cut on her head. Just above the hairline I found a lump. She squeaked when my fingers touched it.
"Amanda, you see that ambulance over there?" I pointed behind me. She nodded her head. "Is it okay if we go over there and get in so I can get a better look at you? Teresa can come with us." I looked up at Teresa, letting her know she was coming whether she liked it or not. At least to the ambulance. Amanda looked over to the ambulance and then back at me. Her eyes were a deep brown, the lids red rimmed from crying. There was no life in their depths. It was as if someone had turned off her soul but left her body running. She slowly nodded her head.
As I stood up, my knees popped loudly in protest. I grabbed Teresa under the arm and helped her up too. When I looked around, I noticed we had gained a much bigger crowd. I also noticed a gaggle of press in the back of the pack. An officious looking cop was telling them the girl had been found alive. I motioned for Rufus to join us in blocking Amanda from view as we headed to the truck.
"You're a worthless little cunt. No wonder your mother left. She couldn't stand the sight of you anymore." Goddamn, I thought, when are those fucking pills going to kick in? They would cut the voice off at the knees.
We reached the ambulance and climbed inside. Teresa, with Amanda still cradled in her arms, sat on the bench. Just then, I heard a woman's voice outside the truck, "Amanda! Amanda!" The voice got closer, and I heard Rufus speaking. The back door of the ambulance opened and a tall, slender woman climbed in. Her resemblance to Amanda was unmistakable, and I knew this was her mother.
Upon seeing her mother, Amanda burst into gut-wrenching sobs. Her mother rushed to her and took her from Teresa. The woman held Amanda tightly, also sobbing. Tears ran down her face and into the girl's hair.
"Oh baby, I am so sorry. I love you so much. You're safe now. I'll never let anything happen to you ever again. You're safe now." She spoke softly, her mouth near the girl's ear.
I turned to Teresa. "Thank you for being there. She was lucky it was you that found her."
Teresa again had tears running down her face as she looked at Amanda and her mother. "I'm glad I was there too." She stood up and I helped her out the side door. I watched for a moment as the press tried to get around the cops to reach her but she walked resolutely towards the apartment building, not looking at anyone.
I turned back towards my charges and sat down next to them. "My name is Jordan. The woman who just left is Teresa, and she was the one who found your daughter after the van dropped her off."
"I'm Carol." The woman's voice broke through the sobs.
"Carol, here's what needs to happen." I put on my paramedic face. The pills were beginning to kick in, and the comforting cloak began to descend around me. The voice was left outside, not able to penetrate.
"We need to take Amanda to the hospital. We need take her in the ambulance to protect the chain of custody for any evidence they find. I'll put you on the stretcher and you can hold her. Is that okay with you?" She nodded, accepting my decisions. I secured them to the stretcher and stuck my head out the door to tell Rufus we were ready to go.
On the way, I saw a pack of news vans trailing us like jet skies behind a boat, using our wake for their own sense of enjoyment. I had little respect for these types of "journalists." The type that would descend on a grief-stricken family for the sake of a story. I'd seen it too many times. The loved ones standing out in the ambulance bay too shocked to know what to do. Reporters stalking them like sharks who smell blood.
I once again picked up the headphones. "Rufus, light it up. I want to lose these bastards." I again felt the surge of the truck and heard the wail of the siren. I watched with a sense of satisfaction as the vultures were stopped by a red light.
At the hospital, Rufus opened the back door and helped me remove the stretcher containing mother and daughter. We urgently hustled them into the building before the press arrived. We walked down the same hallway, only this time took a left down another corridor towards the children's ER. Rufus had radioed ahead so the staff knew we were coming. As soon as the doors opened, three nurses and a doctor stood ready for us. They pointed towards a private room and we wheeled the stretcher right up to the bed, helping Carol to scoot over.
Amanda and Carol had cried all the way there, occasional agonized sobs escaping from them both. However, the pills had placed a veil between me and the world, allowing me to be more rational and less emotional. At least, that's what I told myself. The pain surrounded me, emanating from the two of them in waves, all the while lapping against the veil without being able to penetrate it.
Now, I was able to walk away, leaving them in the care of the nurses, pushing them to the back of my mind. I knew they would surface later, bobbing up out of my subconscious like corpses in a lake, but for now, I was bulletproof.
I went in search of Bailey. My desire to see her again pulled me by the nose. I looked in her office but she was gone. I wandered around the ER and finally located her at the bedside of a patient. I peeked into the curtained room to see Bailey holding Natalie's hand. Natalie was fast asleep, her face angelic and sweet. People's real selves emerged when they slept. When the muscles holding up the emotions and societal obligations were relaxed, their true essences shone through. Natalie looked like what she was: a young girl. An innocent who had lost her way. Then I noticed the restraints tying her wrists to the bed.
Bailey turned to face me, her eyes burning with compassion and empathy. "She just fell asleep a few minutes ago. She was hysterical, crying and screaming, clawing at herself. She said there were spiders on her. She tore her shirt off and ripped off the bandage on her arm. They had to sedate her just to keep her from hurting herself."
I just nodded and shifted my eyes from Bailey to Natalie and back again. "Yeah, she hadn't gotten her fix when her mother walked in. I gave her some valium, but I knew it wouldn't last long."
"She really likes you. She said you were great to her. The only one there that hadn't scared the crap out of her." Bailey smiled at me and something in my chest popped. Her teeth were white and straight but not "braces" straight. Her incisors were turned out and slightly elongated, giving her tiny little fangs. The small imperfection added a humanness to a face whose beauty might otherwise be overwhelming. "You have a gift from what I hear. People here say you're the best with psych patients."
She had been asking about me! "Well, I understand where they're coming from, or at least I can imagine. Most paramedics hate psych calls. My partner, Rufus, hates them with a passion. I think people are just afraid of what they don't understand. Seeing weakness instead of illness. Worrying that madness might be contagious."
Her head was cocked to the side again, just like when I first saw her, as if eager to catch every word. "That's a gift." Her eyes held mine for a moment several emotions warring for dominance. I wasn't sure what that was about. Finally, her face became professional. "So, are you just visiting or do you have something else for me."
Oh, alright. Back to business. "Well, as much as I'd like to say it's just to visit, I do have something else for you." Bailey left Natalie's side after giving her hand a pat and I followed her to her office.
"I just brought in a nine year old girl, Amanda Prager, possible sexual assault. She was missing for two days. A witness saw a van drive up and dump her out. She had dried blood on her legs leading up her skirt and several facial wounds, but nothing too serious. It also looks like the cocksuckers strangled her." I noticed a barely perceptible flinch at the expletive. "Her mother arrived on scene before we left, so she's in there with her. I didn't do a lot of probing into what happened. I just made sure she was okay physically and brought her here. She's over in the pedi ER."
Bailey nodded at me after quickly jotting down the essence of what I had said. "Okay, I'll go talk to them. The SANE nurse will want to take a rape kit so I better get Amanda and her mother prepared for that. Nine years old," she said with disgust. "Sometimes I just don't understand people. How could you do something like that to anyone, but especially a little girl?
"Don't think you can hide from me, little girl." I must have winced because Bailey suddenly gave me a concerned look. "Yeah, I don't understand it either."
"Alright, well, I guess I'll see you later." She grabbed her notepad and then was gone, her sweet fruity smell lingering behind, settling into my clothes.
I stood in place for a moment, taking her in. As I turned to leave, I almost collided with Bailey coming back through the door. "Oh good, you're still here," she said. "Would you like to have dinner with me?"
Something had stolen my tongue. In my head, I said "Why I'd be delighted" but my mouth wouldn't form the words. I stared in silence for so long, I could see the doubt begin to creep across her face. Finally, after I threatened my tongue with decapitation, it cooperated. "I would love to. When did you have in mind? I'm off on Wednesday."
Relief washed away the doubt on Bailey's face and she smiled that brilliant smile again. I decided then and there, I would do anything to make her smile at me like that as often as possible. Her eyes moved to the floor in thought for an instant and then glided back up to me. "Wednesday sounds great." She jotted down something on a scrap of paper and handed it to me. "Here's my phone number. Call me tomorrow and we'll work out the details." She smiled again and then was gone. I was left to stare stupidly after her. I stared down at the phone number, proof positive the exchange had really happened. I had a date with a dream.
I was still dazed by Bailey's invitation by the time I went to bed. I had not had a date in two years, not since Tricia. Although truth be told, Tricia and I never really did date. She came over one night, we ended up in bed, and she just never left. "Are you sure you want to do this? Remember how badly the last one turned out?" the cynical, frightened part of my brain asked. "Oh just shut up. I'm so tired of you trying to ruin everything." This from the "fuck it" part of my psyche. I could see the choir was not going to get along. I had wanted to fly tonight, but I had left the syringe in the breast pocket of my dirty shirt. The shirt was still in a plastic bag at work. I decided to make do with what I had on hand and ambled into the bathroom. I shook two pills out of a bottle and downed them. "This'll shut you guys up."
"Papa, please don't make me do that."
"It'll be alright, Jordan. This is how little girls show they love their daddies." Larger hand on smaller guiding it towards himself.
"It hurts when you do that, Papa." The smell of beer, cigarettes, and engine grease.
"This is how daddies love their little girls." Fingers moving downward.
Pain, white hot and searing, shooting up through me, splitting me in half.
"Hold still you little bitch."
I can't breathe! I'm going to die! The taste of sweat and grime fills my mouth. His hand cutting off my air supply so I won't scream. "NOOOOOOO, DADDY, NOOOO!! PLEASE STOP!" My screams reverberate in my mind but cannot find an outlet. My child's prayers go unanswered. "NOOOO, DADDY, AAAHH!"
The Nothing is right behind me and gaining fast. Its black swirling maw laps at my legs, trying to suck me in. The pitiful screams of its other victims issue forth, stinking of desperation and terror. The wind begins to build against me, forcing me to lean into it as I run, pushing my screams back into my mouth. I see glass strewn across the road in front of me but I dare not stop. The sharp, jagged edges tear through my tender flesh but still I run leaving bloody footprints in my wake, adding fuel to the Nothing. I chance a look behind me. The ground, the sky, everything is being consumed by the Nothing. It leaves no trace, no evidence of the lives it has drawn into it. Suddenly, my father's face leers at me from the depths of the black hole. It morphs from the handsome visage he wore in life to the mangled and bleeding one I left him with in death. The wind begins blowing harder as my mutilated feet struggle to continue. The Nothing is right on my heels now. I can feel its hot breath on the backs of my legs. My father's body begins emerging from the blackness as if it is pushing him out. His bloody mouth opens, and he laughs. "You can't run from me, Jordan! I will always find you, little girl! I will always claim you because you belong to me!" His hands reach out and grab me around the legs, pulling me down to land hard on my face. His arms move higher up my body as he pulls me to him. "NOOOOOO! DADDY, PLEASE! NOOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!"
The scream still echoed in my head as I jumped out of bed. My hands were up, my feet ready to run. All I could hear was the blood rushing in my head, propelled by my super sonic heart. Not a single beam of light escaped the black hole of my eyes. I could see every corner of the room as if I had a spotlight. I was a cornered animal. My senses sought out the danger so I could destroy it. I could still feel my father's hands on my body and smell the noxious odor of the Nothing.
I was alone and not in danger. As I realized that, I began to relax. I was not seven anymore. He could only hurt me in my dreams now, not in real life. I had seen to that. My fists relaxed into individual fingers. My calf muscles relinquished their grip on my heels. I began to shake uncontrollably as the adrenaline ran through my system. The floor gave out beneath me and the carpet came up to meet my face. Stupidly, my first thought was "I need to vacuum under this bed." I laid there trembling for a while, catching my breath, coaxing my heart rate down. My body ached. Pain was still lancing up my middle and into my belly. The phantom pain was nothing new. "Body memories" I had once been told.
I was covered in sweat, and dust bunnies clung to my naked flesh. I focused my senses on the rough feel of the carpet under my back, the painted wood exterior of the dresser, the indefinable smell of my room. A dog barked in the distance. There was no sound in my house. I was alone. There was no cock in my hand, no body lying on top of mine, no hand over my mouth. As much as I tried to fend off the images, they just kept popping back up like animal heads in a whack-a-mole. Knock one down, up comes another.
I rose up on all fours and crawled into the bathroom. From yet another bottle, I withdrew two more pills. I swallowed those down and then collapsed onto the bathroom floor. It must have been because of the girl. I hadn't had a nightmare like that in a while. I should have taken two more pills to begin with. I needed to increase the dosage from now on.
I lay on the bathroom floor until the trembling stopped and the curtain began to draw across my mind. I barely managed to make it back to the bed before everything, including the dream, was silenced.
Continued in Part 3
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