I hear muffled voices. I lean up just enough for an explosive, yet, dull pain to shoot throughout my abdomen. My heart flexes in a few deep pumps as panic sets in. I remember being shot, phoning for help and leaving Anna a voicemail. How long have I been out? Where am I?
I take a moment to look around and realize I am alone stretched out in the back of a dark ambulance. The only light is from a far away streetlamp reaching through the windshield behind me. I still hear voices but can not make out what they are saying. They sound like an argument. My wounds have been wrapped up all around my stomach, but they are wet. Blood is seeping through the bandages. I feel weak. I hope I am at the hospital. I imagine a team of medical professionals assembling outside the vehicle.
The voices outside are getting louder, I can almost make out what they are saying. The back door of the ambulance opens. Bright light floods in from a different streetlight. As my eyes adjust I see a few children are standing in the opening. I am not at the hospital. My heart sank. I hear a woman from behind the door tell the children to get inside.
The children shuffle into the truck. They all look in a lost gaze. There are three, a little boy maybe around five or six, a young girl a few years older and a teenage boy. The youngest had stripes of tears running down both sides of his face. The girl is sitting against the wall tucking her head behind her knees. The oldest stood on the edge of the doorway with a defiant look about him. None of them seem abnormally affected by my presence.
The conversation outside the ambulance continues. ‘Shauna, come with us. You can not stay here.’ The tone sounded less like a suggestion and more like an order. ‘He’s not worth it and, from the little I know of what’s goin’ on, I doubt he’ll make it back to you anyways.’
I hear the other woman speak. She sounds much younger and her words are being sifted through tears. ‘He’ll come for me. I know he will.’
‘I can’t leave you like this. Come with me. Come with us. You’re my baby, I’ll keep you safe.’
‘Momma, those are my babies. I need you to keep them safe. I have to stay here. I’m sorry. I have to wait for Casey. I know he will come for me. He has to. He told me to stay here.’
‘It’s not safe, Shauna. Things are getting crazy out there! You don’t know what’s going on.’
‘You don’t even know what’s going on out there, you said so yourself. But, I believe you. I believe that something bad is happening right now. That’s why you’re taking my kids, but I have to stay and wait for him. He’d wait for me.’
‘You think so? Do you really think so? Shauna...if you think it’s smart to send your childr--’
‘Momma! ...just go.’
The back doors shut. We are in darkness. I hear a few more muffled exchanges between the two women as the children around me start to realize that their mother was not coming with them. The two youngest are no longer sobbing in silence. The driver’s door opens and a woman gets in as she is talking quietly to herself.
‘--that woman. God, she’s as stubborn as her father. I swear. I can’t belie--’
‘You promised!’ The teenager’s voice bolted from the back of the ambulance. ‘You lied, Grandma! You said you’d get her to come. You said she’d come with us!’ His voice quickly went from fury to flailing sadness.
‘She’s waiting for your father. She wants to make sure he’s safe.’
‘He’s not even my real father! He’s just some stupid guy.’
‘Shut up Marcus!’ The little boy chimed in. ‘My dad is not stupid! Mom’s gonna keep him safe. She said so.’
‘Mom’s gonna die.’
‘Marcus!’ The voice cut from the cab. ‘Everything is going to be okay. When we get to the hospital, we’ll be safe. Everyone just calm down. Edgar, your mommy and daddy will meet us at the hospital later, alright?’
Good, we are heading to the hospital. I clear my throat. The act sends ripples of pain across my body. I muster up some energy and quietly announce my presence. ‘Uh...hello.’
‘Oh lord.’ The lady reacts in a joyous and surprised manner while attempting to mask any excitement. ‘You’re alive!’
‘You’re shocked?’ I feel myself sink into an emotional vat of hopelessness and despair. I suddenly feel lonely. ‘Was I supposed to be dead?’
‘Oh, god, no. I didn’t want that. I’m just a little shocked that you are conscious. I didn’t mean it to come out like that. It’s just...’
‘Just what?’ I anxiously await the response.
‘Things are, well, it’s just. You know, sometimes.’ She stumbles over her words. ‘My job is to help you.’
My mind is still running laps trying to make sense of everything. I have so many questions. My eyes are heavy and my breathing is shallow. I might die back here, in this ambulance, in front of these strange children. I am finding it exhausting to speak. ‘Why are these kids here?’
‘We had to make a detour.’ Her voice carries justification with it.
‘These kids...’ I wince as I try to find a breath strong enough to hold words. ‘They are more important than my life?’
‘Probably not to you.’
I attempt to speak normally but my words are as soft as a whisper and occur only between small breaths. ‘Do you even care if I live?’
‘Of course! I am taking you to the hospital aren’t I?’
‘Then...why did you stop?’ I am finding it harder to breath.
‘The world is going batshit right now. I have my reasons. You should feel lucky I even responded to the call. A lot of people are abandoning their posts.’
I feel consciousness trickling out of my reach.
‘Marcus, I need you to do exactly what I say.’ The overhead lights flicker on in an overwhelming brightness. Everything becomes blurry. The words of the medic fade away along with my thoughts.