The Last Shift
I heard Donald running down the corridor and calling my name, but I didn’t care. I just kept walking towards the door. In fact, I sped up, hoping to lose him so I could get to the parking lot before he caught me. It was to no avail, though, for a short guy, he was pretty fast. He caught up to me mere steps from the sliding doors. He grabbed me by the arm.
“Hey, Corbin, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that you were ignoring me.” He said.
“Huh?” I lied, “I didn’t hear you. This overtime you’ve been giving me must be taking a toll.”
“Look, we’ve got four coming in, severe trauma, some kind of explosion. You know how things have been going in the ER today, we’re going to need a couple of extra hands. I’m trying to get a team together before they get here. Dr. Dressel is already getting a suit on.”
“Yeah, didn’t I say? We were told it there’s some kind of biological agent involved.”
“Look, Donald, I just finished an 18 hour shift, and you want me to stay longer so I can play with some horribly infectious disease carriers under the direction of the biggest jerk-off doctor in the hospital?”
I must have been raising my voice, because Donald looked pretty shocked. He just stood there and blinked at me. “Not tonight, friend. This nurse needs sleep.” I turned to leave.
That snapped him out of his stupor. “So who am I going to get to come in?”
“Call the twins, they only live like a block from here.” I called back as the doors opened for me.
Apparently that idea satisfied him, because he didn’t follow me outside. The sun had already set and the desert air was cooling rapidly. There was virtually no smog and few lights in the city so the stars were plentiful and bright. In the grocery store parking lot across the street the red cross had set up three trailers. One still had its lights on, and was surrounded by a good size crowd.
I thought that it was odd for the blood drive to be going on so late, if indeed it was still open. That was also way more people lined up outside a blood drive trailer than I’d ever seen in Oasis. It was just weird to see that kind of a line. I glanced at my watch and saw I had half an hour until my bus came, so I decided to check it out. I pulled on my light jacket and headed for it.
The three trailers sat just outside the main entrance to The Four Brother’s Market where they could inflict the most guilt on customers entering and leaving the store. I made my way across the street and approached the trailers.
Two of the trailers looked like they had seen many blood drives. The paint was peeling in places, dirt clung to every nook and cranny, and the tires were looking more than a little bald. The third trailer was clean, practically sparkling. It smelled of faintly of fresh paint. Even the metal stairs that led to the door looked brand new. The light was on inside and a small crowd was gathered outside. A hand-drawn sign on the door explained why.
It read, “Free flu shots today.”
Something about the whole deal made my gut churn. Oasis never had much of a flu season, in fact, I happened to know that the hospital only ordered fifteen flu shots a year and most of them went to waste. So why would the Red Cross set this up? Why would they do it at the same time as a blood drive? Why would they do it in July? There were just too many questions. Sometimes curiosity wins out over tiredness. I just had to find out what was going on. I headed for the trailer’s stairs.
A middle aged man flung open the door as I reached the bottom step. He gripped his upper left arm as if it was going to fall off. As he stepped out, he turned his head back to whoever was inside. His jaw was clenched. his voice was raised and shaking. “I’m calling the police.” He brushed his arm and winced in pain as he turned back to the crowd. His eyes darted about the scene as he scrambled to avoid the slowly closing door.
Instinctively, I reached out to help steady the man. He squinted at me for a split second, then jerked his shoulder away and made a grunting noise. The crowd murmured as the man attempted to stumble his way through. At first I was shocked by the man’s actions. That shock was soon overtaken by a burning curiosity to find out why the man had left the trailer in that manner. I darted up the steps and caught the still-closing door. I stepped inside and immediately confirmed my fear that this trailer had nothing to do with the Red Cross.
The interior of the trailer consisted of a table with two folding chairs and a wastebasket on one end and a kitchenette in the other. The inside smelled as new as the outside looked. On the table lay a line of uncapped syringes filled with a brownish substance. the garbage can sat on the floor, uncovered and containing a number of used needles. two olive skinned men were scrambling to unload something from the refrigerator. they were so engrossed in their project that they didn’t even notice me slip in. A scream from the parking lot broke their work-induced trance. Their heads snapped up. The closest man snatched up the cooler they had been loading. He sprinted straight at me. The other man yelled something in a language I didn’t understand.
Before I could consciously decide how to act, before the adrenaline could even hit my veins, I felt my self lurch towards the man.
The man had at least fifty pounds on me and a good deal of momentum built up as we collided. I flew back against the table and landed on the floor. The man kicked open the door and went out into the night. The second man had been right behind him, but stopped as he reached the door. He turned and glared at me lying on the floor. His eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. He marched straight for me.
The instinct for survival had taken over now. Out of the corner of my eye I spied one of the full syringes on the floor. In one motion, I reached for the needle and sat up.
The second man was now upon me. Time almost stopped for a moment and I saw him draw his right leg back in slow motion. As his kick collided with my stomach, I saw my hand plunge the syringe into his left thigh.
The man’s fury was immediately replaced by fear. His eyes opened wide. He gasped. Slowly, he staggered back and pulled the syringe out of his leg. He stared at it for a moment and let it fall to the ground. A mumbled prayer or perhaps a curse crossed his lips and he turned to leave. Without a backwards glance he went out into the night.
My assailant had knocked the wind out of me, and I struggled to get my breathing under control. The sharp pain of contact gave way to a dull throbbing in my gut that kept pace with my heartbeat. I rolled to my knees. At length I was able to extend the gasps into deeper breaths. My eyes went out of focus and I just plain spaced out for a bit.
The shrill cry of a siren broke my trance. Red and white flashing lights came through the window. The shouting increased from the gathering crowd outside.
I was still reeling with the impact of it all as I pulled myself up. My legs felt a bit wobbly. As I continued to regain my composure, questions filled my head. Who set up this trailer? What was in those syringes? What were those guys unloading from the fridge? What was up with that guy who left as I came in? So many questions. My stomach and brain were tied up in knots. What was going on outside? Eventually, curiosity beat back the confusion and I decided to leave the trailer.
The scene outside was one of morbid excitement. A crowd was gathered around someone on the ground about halfway to the grocery store entrance. I could pick out bits of commentary from shouts in the crowd.
“I wonder what happened to him?”
“I think he’s having a seizure.”
“If it’s rabies, he’ll have to get 35 shots IN HIS STOMACH…”
“He sounds like he’s in a lot of pain…”
“That nutjob bit me!” cried one man as he forced his way out of the crowd. My ears perked up and I stood on my toes, trying to follow the bitten man’s progress. I lost sight of him in the busy crowd.
Paramedics were pushing a stretcher toward the ambulance whose lights had shown through the trailer’s window.
I wondered what had become of the two others I had seen in the trailer. I scanned around the crowd to see they had stuck around. As I looked around I caught a glimpse of the man on the stretcher. It was the man who had stormed out of the trailer as I had gone in. I circled around the crowd so I could get a better view of the victim. I only saw him for a moment as the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance.
His face was twisted in a painful grimace. He was moaning quite loudly, and could be heard over the buzz of the crowd. He was strapped down to the stretcher, and thrashing violently in the restraints. It looked as if they could break at any moment. As the doors closed I heard him shout a tortured warning.
“The sssssshot!” I felt it in my gut just like the kick minutes before. The syringes. I reached for a pants pocket and remembered that I was still in scrubs. I found my cell phone in my jacket and dialed the emergency room. The receptionist picked up.
“Oasis Medical Center emergency room, how can I help you?”
“Bridgette, its Corbin.” “Great, you want to pick up an extra shift?”
“No. But listen up, there’s a guy on his way right now.”
“Are you sure? Because we could really use the help in here.”
Yes, now you need to send someone out here to get a sample of whatever this guy was injected with.”
“Yes you’re sure or yes you’ll come in?”
“I need you to listen.”
“And we need at least two more nurses in here.”
“I’m already scheduled to be back in eight hours. There’s a whole trailer full of potentially hazardous material over here across the street. Send someone over. Its the new trailer. They were telling people it was flu shots. I gotta get some sleep. Bye.”
The adrenalin rush was now over and I was tired enough that I didn’t even feel guilty for hanging up on her. I tried to think of what that brown stuff could have been to cause such a reaction. I tried, but I was just too tired to focus. I needed sleep in the worst way, so I made up my mind to head home and attempt to get some sleep. As I turned to go, I saw what appeared to be half of the Oasis Police Department swarming into the parking lot.
Flashing lights flooded the once dim lot and sirens drowned out the shouts of the crowd. The squad cars formed a loose circle around us. One of the cops produced a bullhorn, and urged us to stay calm, something about a biological threat, and they just needed to escort us to the hospital for a quick screening.
Needless to say, I did not intend to go with the crowd. I just needed to coax a plan from my tired brain. I glanced around until I identified what appeared to be the officer running the show.
Oasis is copyright 2006 Bryce Beattie.