Meredith and Alwyn each appreciated the other’s competence and company. Alwyn’s responsibilities included inditing the shift rosters, so the two often worked together. Because Alwyn did not play favorites, she and Meredith took slightly more than their share of night shifts. They picked up the man they later called The Big Fella on a night shift, midweek so quieter than many.
The call came in about ten o’clock, and the two women jumped in the ambulance less than two minutes later. Alwyn started the motor, while Meredith fastened her seatbelt and switched on the flashing emergency lights. As they pulled out onto the street, Meredith said, “It’s Naomi and Jon’s place. Possible cranial or spinal.”
“I hope they’re OK,” Alwyn said, as she headed out of town to their friends’ place a little faster than usual. She used the lights and siren to cross the highway against the light and sped the three miles out to Jon and Naomi Robson’s rural retreat. Meredith jumped out and sprinted to the porch, before her partner backed the ambulance across the lawn to the concrete front steps. As Alwyn climbed out of the ambulance, a police cruiser pulled into the driveway and disgorged two officers.
The nearer one called out, “Evening, Alwyn. What’s up?”
“Evening, Jack. Don’t know. We just got here.”
After the paramedic retrieved a Kendrick Extraction Device from the ambulance, she and her policeman acquaintance mounted the front steps together. The policeman knocked on the front door, as his partner came up the steps behind them and said, “Hi, Alwyn.”
The greetings went no further, because Naomi Robson opened the door and ushered the three first responders into the spacious living room. Alwyn hurried to the foot of the stairs, where her colleague knelt beside the biggest human being either had ever seen, who lay with his head on the floor at a worrying angle and his feet almost halfway up the staircase.
Alwyn began to ready the KED for use, as the police officer name Edie used her cellphone to take three dozen pictures, shots of the injured party from every possible angle. Meredith whispered into her colleague’s ear, “We’d better strap it on ’im anyway, but I think he’s gone.”
With the two constables standing on the stairs holding the big man’s belt and Jon Robson sitting further up the stairs holding onto the man’s feet to keep his weight from sliding on down the stairs, Meredith stabilized the man’s neck and head as best she could as Alwyn strapped the KED onto him. The two EMTs then hurried out to fetch their lightweight gurney but decided to use the folding emergency stretcher to save on weight. Back inside, the big patient’s weight demanded the efforts of the same five to get him onto the stretcher. Carrying him out the door, safely down the front steps, and into the ambulance demanded even more effort, but the impromptu crew managed the task.
Meredith and Alwyn locked the stretcher in place on the floor, then Alwyn climbed into the driver’s seat while Meredith strapped herself onto the jumpseat in back. With lights flashing, and using the siren at critical intersections, Alwyn made the eighteen-mile trip to the hospital in the city in twenty-five minutes. She stayed in the ambulance at the emergency entrance, as Meredith dashed into the ER and explained the situation. One of the ER doctors said, “No vitals?”
Meredith shook her head as she replied, “None, flat line on the pulse-oxy-meter, but here’s the thing: when we arrived his temp was in the eighties.”
“Your thermometer’s broken. Prob’ly got a flat battery.”
Meredith whipped the infrared thermometer out of its Fluke H6 Infrared Thermometer Holster, pointed at her head, and held still until it beeped. She then glanced at the readout and turned it toward the physician. He said, “Huh!” as Meredith took his temperature, which read 98.5°. The doctor then walked out to the idling ambulance and took the patient’s temperature, confirming a reading in the eighties. “Straight to the morgue,” the doc said, before leaving to direct two orderlies to round up two more and move the patient to a hospital gurney.
Once the cadaver, no longer a patient but more patient than ever, lay strapped onto the hospital gurney, Alwyn wiped down the folding emergency stretcher and stowed it, while Meredith accompanied the gurney to the morgue to retrieve the KED. Before leaving the morgue, she asked the attendant to inform the suburban ambulance base of the patient’s time of death and cause of death and left a card with the base’s email address. That done, the EMT carried the Kendrick Extraction Device back to the ambulance, wiped it down and stowed it, and climbed in beside her colleague. Alwyn pointed the ambulance toward their outlying community of seven thousand, about half of whom commuted into the city, and negotiated the thirty-five minute drive back to their base.
As they cruised along with the highway’s sparse traffic, Alwyn referred to their inbound conversation. “Did you say his temperature was in the eighties?”
“Yeah, weird huh? Doc Briggs didn’t believe me, insisted my thermometer was broken, until I shot my temp and his and they were both normal.”
“Is that why he came out to check for himself?”
“Yeah, I reckon.”
“Eighties! That doesn’t make any sense. The Robsons’ air-con wasn’t turned up high. It woulda taken twelve hours to drop that far, and that fella hadn’t been there no twelve hours.”
The two paramedics kicked the topic back and forth for ten minutes, before Meredith changed the subject. “I hope Naomi and Jon are alright. D’you think we should go by and see?”
“Nahh. The last thing they need is more interruptions. They need to get a night’s sleep.”
“Or each other.”
Alwyn chuckled and said, “Yeah, that’s therapeutic.”
Meredith used the radio to inform the backup crew, on-call at home, they could stand down, then said to her evening’s partner, “Good thing it was such a quiet night.”
The two went on to other topics, talking shop and also discussing the astonishing size of their late patient. Back at their suburban base, they finished their shift with only one other call-out, to a minor traffic accident with no patients that needed transportation to the hospital.
Meanwhile, the Robsons gave their statements to the two police officers, Naomi to Edie and Jon to Jack in another room. Naomi’s did not take long. She told Edie, “I didn’t see anything. Jon and I had just gone to bed, and we heard what sounded like someone coming in the front door.
“Jon jumped up and pulled on his shorts and said, ‘That’s weird. I’m sure I locked that door,’ and went to see what was going on. It sounded like someone was walking across the living room, and I heard Jon turn toward the bedroom and say, ‘Ring 9-1-1 and get the police out here.’”
Naomi shivered and continued, “I’ve got a ’phone right by the bed, so I rang and told the dispatcher we had a home invasion going on. While I talked to her, I climbed out of bed and pulled my clothes on. I heard Jon talking to someone but nobody saying anything. I had just reached the bedroom door, when I heard a huge thump. I saw Jon standing at the top of the stairs and ran to him.
“When I looked down the stairs, I saw that guy lying just where he was when I let you in. I was so scared. I’ve never seen anybody that big in my whole life.”
“Did the intruder cry out or moan or anything? Did he move at all?”
“Nope. He never made a sound and never moved a bit. When we saw the ambulance pull in, we were both nervous about going past that big guy to open the door, but finally Jon went down to just above him and jumped down to the living room. He opened the door for Meredith, and everything else you already know, I guess.”
“Had you ever seen the man before?”
“God, no! You wouldn’t forget someone that size.”
“So you don’t know who he is?”
“Wouldn’t have a clue.”
The constable thanked her witness and finished writing up her notes. The two could hear the men talking in the other room, still working their way through the events of the evening.
Jon’s account had taken longer to relate.
Jack, also known as Sergeant Graham, began by asking, “Did you know the intruder?”
“No,” Jon replied, “I’ve never seen him in my life. I couldn’t forget a giant like that.”
“So, what happened? How did he come to be in your house?”
“That’s a good question,” Jon said. “I know I locked that door, before we went upstairs. He’s awful big. Maybe he’s strong enough to pull it open and rip the lock apart, but I didn’t see any obvious damage—I didn’t look for it, though. Surely, I’d’ve heard something, if he tore the door open. I dunno. I have no idea how he got inside.”
“So, he was already inside, when you first saw him.” The question was obvious without the interrogative inflection.
“Yes. When I reached the top of the stairs, he was two steps from the bottom of the stairs. I yelled at him.”
“What did you say?”
“Something like ‘What are you doing in here’ or something like that. I don’t remember exactly.”
“And what did he say?”
“That’s what was weird—well, one thing that was weird. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even act like he heard me, didn’t even look up at me, just kept walking.”
The sergeant encouraged Jon to continue his account of the events, and Jon said, “He never looked up, just put his foot on the first step and started climbing the stairs. I kept telling him to stop, but he never even looked at me, just kept walking.”
Jon paused and shuddered, then continued, “He just kept climbing the stairs, with me just standin’ there. Him being so big and all, it looked like he was gonna walk right over me. I heard Naomi talking to you guys on the ’phone and thought about telling her to jump out the window, but I didn’t have time. That big fella’s head was level with my feet, and I damn sure didn’t want him getting’ his hands on Naomi—and he still acted like he hadn’t even noticed I was there.”
Pausing again, Jon took a deep breath and said, “I had to do something, had to stop him comin’ on up the stairs, so I put my foot on his chest and pushed.”
“So, you kicked him.”
“No, I didn’t really kick him. I just pushed, as hard as I could.”
“And what did he do?”
“Nothing. I mean he didn’t grab at me or anything, still didn’t say anything either. He just tumbled over backward. Like cuttin’ down a tree on a hillside.”
“What happened then?”
“Nothin’. I mean, he didn’t do anything. He just lay there. I wanted to tell Naomi to climb out the window and run down the road to the neighbors, but instead I told her, ‘Maybe you’d better call an ambulance. Him just lyin’ there and all.’ So, she did that and then came back and stood by me at the top of the stairs.”
“How long did you two stand there?”
“I don’t know. It felt like hours. I wanted us to get out, but thought he might wake up and grab us if we tried to get past him. I thought he might’ve been playin’ possum, y’know?”
After another pause, Jon continued, “When we saw those flashing red lights—man! I’ll tell ya, sergeant, those flashing red lights never looked so good. We thought it was you, of course, and I thought maybe I could jump past the guy and run to the door, so that’s what I did. I was still scared, with Naomi upstairs by herself and all, but the guy never moved. I felt a little nervous, when I saw it was Meredith and not you fellas, but she just walked right over and started checkin’ the guy out.”
“Not really. You know everything else, ’cause then you were here. I sure never meant to hurt the guy. I just wanted to stop him gettin’ upstairs.”
Sergeant Graham thanked Mr. Robson for his statement and added, “I can’t see how you could be charged with anything, but it isn’t up to me to decide. I s’pose the guy must’ve been on drugs of some kind or other.”
“Must’ve. It was very weird, him just comin’ on and on and not even lookin’ at me or anything. Never made a sound, except his footsteps. He must weigh three hundred pounds.”
“Might have. He was awful big,” the sergeant said before thanking Jon Robson again, consulting with his partner, and taking his leave. As they stepped out the door, Sergeant Graham turned and said, “Don’t you worry. We’ll spend some extra time in this area tonight, kinda keep an eye on your place and a lookout for any more drugged-out weirdos.”
The Robsons thanked the two police officers, then checked that all the doors were locked and nobody besides them was in the house, and finally went back upstairs. They were too upset to go to sleep right away and also too upset for romance or sex, so they talked for more than an hour. That was OK, though, because they both enjoyed their conversations and neither had to go to work in the morning.
Meredith rang just before noon that next day to ask if her friends were alright. They said they still felt a little shaken, sort of looking over their shoulders lest some other unexpected threat should appear, but basically OK. “Feel like coming over for a cup of coffee and a chat?” Naomi asked.
“I’d love to, but I’ve gotta work this afternoon. How about tomorrow?”
Life returned to normal or a close approximation over the next several days, with support from Meredith and Alwyn and many of the Robsons’ other local friends. Even so, none of them ever forgot that night, especially Meredith. Both Jon and Naomi felt upset to learn that the intruder was pronounced Dead on Arrival at the hospital, but Sergeant Graham took it upon himself to reassure the couple that they had done nothing wrong and no charges would be laid. To Jon, the sergeant added, “Another weird thing: the coroner found no drugs in that big fella’s body.”
Two months later, Meredith received a copy of the coroner’s report at work. She noted that a forensic dental exam revealed the man’s identity and felt no surprise to read the coroner’s note that “the deceased’s temperature was inconsistent with other data, and no explanation for the discrepancy has been found.” She noted with surprise an error in the report and rang the coroner’s office to point it out.
“No, that isn’t a mistake,” the coroner’s secretary said. “I thought it was weird, too, but once we got his dental records, they matched his teeth perfectly. There’s no question about his identity, and since we know who he was, we know when he died.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. We brought him in to the hospital two months ago.”
“I know, ma’am, and I agree it doesn’t make sense, but he died, had a postmortem, and was buried eight years ago.”
Educated as a scientist, graduated as a mathematician, Harlan Yarbrough has earned his living as a full-time professional entertainer most of his life, including a stint as a regular on the prestigious Grand Ole Opry. Harlan’s repeated attempts to escape the entertainment industry have brought work as a librarian, physics teacher, syndicated newspaper columnist, and city planner, among other occupations. Harlan lives, writes, and continues to improve his dzonkha vocabulary and pronunciation in Bhutan but visits the US, Europe, or Australia to perform and thereby to recharge his bank account. Harlan has written five novels, six novellas (of which two have been published), six novelettes (two published, one forthcoming), and about a hundred short stories, of which seventy-three have been published by eighty-two literary journals in ten countries.