A Strange Case of Missing Identity

He takes a walk as the sun peeks it’s dreary head over the horizon. He sips his coffee as the brisk morning begins to awaken around him, greeting him quietly with the far-off sound of a train and of birds in the trees above singing their love-songs to the skies. He sees all of this, absorbs the details, and wonders to himself, “Where do I fit in?”

He pauses a moment and stares into the sky; slowly, it fades from inky-purple to shades of red and orange. He recognizes the beauty, and smiles a goofy grin, almost accidentally. He walks to a bench and sets down his coffee. He reaches into his jacket pocket and fumbles for his cigarettes and his lighter. He swears absent-mindedly as he drops everything from his pocket. He stoops to pick it all up, and a succeeding thought strikes from the shadows of his mind; who the hell am I?

He sits down and sighs to himself. He has no clear answer; he knows his name, and he knows what he does for a living, but those things don’t define a man. His imagination conjures up a comical, funny-mirror version of himself, and he begins to converse out loud with it…both sides of the conversation…you know, like a crazy person.

“What does define a man, anyway?” the fun-house image asks in a mocking tone.

The real man shrugs. “I really don’t know. It could be just about anything.”

Fun-House wags his finger. “You know that’s far from the truth.”

“Do I?”

Fun-House squints for a moment, then replies. “You tell me, genius; you’re the one who’s discussing his identity crisis with his imaginary friend. I mean, you clearly understand that I’m not really here, but you’re talking to me like I’m real flesh and blood.”

The real man takes a long drag off his cigarette and exhales slowly. Fun-House continues.

“So you don’t know who you are; big deal. You’re in your twenties; most people your age don’t know who they are yet. You’re still in that stage between ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ and actually BEING grown-up.”

“You know, you’re remarkably self-aware for being a figment of my imagination.”

“This is your party, bubba; I’m only as intelligent or as involved as you allow me to be.”

“Okay, so let me ask you this, then. I can imagine all these situations, and I can see myself as so many different people when I write. I have all this room in my mind for these different characters and worlds; why is that I feel like such a blank slate in the real world? In my head, I’m able to be whoever and wherever I want to be. Why do I feel so lost and insignificant outside of my head?”

Fun-House shakes his head. “That’s a loaded question there, chief. Look, When you were a kid, you had all these dreams of the things you wanted to do, and of what you wanted to be. To some extent, you never let those things go. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You walk around thinking your mind is fractured and broken, and you worry about your sanity to the point that you nearly induce a nervous breakdown every few months.

“Perhaps it’s not that your mind is broken, but that it is open; open to new ideas, new places, new perspectives. Your ability to see things that aren’t there is a gift, not a curse. It allows you to understand the world in ways that no one else can, and it lets you slip into someone else’s shoes and see things through their eyes.

“This means not only do you care about seeing things the way other people do, but that you also seek out new and different lenses with which to view things. You are not content to just quietly see things from where you stand, but to explore other options, and loudly proclaim what you see to the rest of the universe.

“If you really want to know who you are, that’s you. You are an inventor of worlds and you share those worlds with your fellow human beings. You put to the page your thoughts, and your sole desire is to inspire everyone else to open their eyes to the infinite possibilities that you see. You spend so much time worrying about your identity that you miss the point of wearing these different masks in the first place. You show people things they may not have seen before, and you put to words things that people might not be able to say. What you need to do is quit your belly-achin’ and get to work. Write some of this crap down; who knows, maybe one of these imaginary conversations will make you famous.”

The real man grins. “I’m not sure that my insanity will make me famous; I don’t think that’s the kind of fame I would want anyway.”

Fun-House raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms. “You do realize the only reason I’m here right now is because you are too afraid to admit this stuff to yourself without me, right?”

The real man grunts.

“Get off your ass and get to typing. Quit wasting time; there’s no telling how much of it you have left.”

Fun-House fades away back into the corners of his mind, and the real man flicks his cigarette butt into the street as he walks back inside. He sits down at the keys and stares at the blank page before him for a moment, wondering what to say. A smirk slowly spreads across his face, and he begins to type.

” He takes a walk as the sun peeks it’s dreary head over the horizon…”

Advertisements

Death of a Hero

I learned a long time ago that I couldn’t save you. It wasn’t until much more recently that I realized I really didn’t want to. For so many years, I spent my nights coming to your rescue and rushing to your side, only to be a moment too late to prevent some self-inflicted tragedy. I did everything I could to protect you, and yet somehow, all your problems were my fault. Things I could not control become my responsibility, and things I could not influence became my shame. Yet I never stopped trying to be your champion. You beat me down and pushed me away, but every time I heard the call, I responded.

When I was younger, I had such hope for you; hope that you could change, hope that you could be better, and hope that you would make everything I did worth it. Unfortunately, my hopes in you were unfounded. From the day I found you, you have only ever gotten worse; darker, crueler, more distant. For a while, I still believed I could bring you back. In time, however, I realized that wasn’t my job. My responsibility is simply to be there when you call; nothing more, nothing less. I am not your guardian or your hero. I am simply your fighter; I fight your battles with you. More often than not, that meant that I lost your battles alongside you, but regardless of the outcome, I knew I had done my duties.

There were times I felt that everything I did for you was in vain, and that nothing mattered. In my youthful naivety, I assumed my fulfillment was based on your progress and success. It took quite a bit of time, but I finally came to understand that what I did mattered, and it had nothing to do with you. What made my vigilance worthwhile was not your response or your improvement (or lack thereof.) My actions were important because of the effect they had on me; by trying to help you be better, I became better. I improved, and that was something to be proud of.

At some point, I did come to bemoan my duties. Not that they were duties, really. Self-imposed responsibilities maybe; no one required anything of me. Still, it was something I couldn’t ignore; I couldn’t sit back and let you go to hell in a handbasket without putting up a fight. I hated that fact more than anything: I wanted to throw in the towel and let you have your way, but the man I’d become wouldn’t let me give up on you. So I continued on, despite your tanking morality and increasing disdain for me.

Here we are today. I can finally let go. You are no longer my responsibility. As I stare at the still-smoking .45 aimed at me, feeling each of the holes in my chest it has caused, I smile. Even though you continue to sink into darkness, I know you would be much worse off if I hadn’t been here. I love this city; I always have, but it’s someone else’s turn to fight corruption and oppose evil men in my stead. My part in this uphill battle is over. Perhaps someone else can make a difference, and can make you change your ways.

I sink to my knees, feeling the life slowly creep from my body. I reach up and take off my mask. It’s over; my time has come. I suppose it always had to end this way. As long as I had breath in my lungs, I wouldn’t have given up my cause. There was no retiring from this for me. I close my eyes, take a final breath of the stale downtown air. I’m going to miss this. I look up at my assailant and grin. I hear a click…another click…and now, I can finally rest.

Water Fountain

Thatcher sat in the security office at the mall…

“Uh, excuse me, Mr. Narrator? I think I’d like to tell this one in first person for a change.”

Very well, Thatch. Have at it.

“Thank you. Okay, so like The Narrator told you, I’m sitting in the security office at the mall. It all started about an hour ago, when I walked into the food court…”

So I had the day off from thievery, and I decided a trip to the mall was in order. When I got here, I was feeling a little peckish, so I walked over to the Pizza-By-The-Slice. There was a bit of a line, and as I was waiting, my mind began to wander. Adhd can be a fun little condition sometimes…anyway, while I was standing there, I saw some people standing by the fountain tossing coins in. At the time, I was unaware that the fountain was considered a wishing well, and I simply assumed this was some sort of take-penny-leave-a-penny program.

At this point, I realized I was short about six cents for my food, so I left the line and walked over to the fountain. I saw a bunch of coins lying in the water, being totally unused and unspent. I didn’t want these poor coins to think that they were unwanted, so I did what any caring citizen would do and I reached in and scooped up a handful of them. I came up with about a dollar in change, and, I will admit, I got a little greedy. I reached in for a second handful, when a kid not too far from me saw what I was doing. He started tugging on his mom’s sleeve and pointing at me.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you that while I am not proud of what I did, I am rather proud of what happened afterwards.

Without thinking, I cupped my submerged hand and splashed a bunch of water at this kid. He was more than a little shocked, but the little bugger quickly recovered. His face went from a look of shock to a mischievous smile. He ran over to the fountain and while looking me straight in the eyes, he leaned over, reached his hand into the water, and splashed me back.

Not one to be outdone, I immediately splashed him again. At this point, all the kids whose mothers had left them in the food court with their fathers while they went shopping in all the boring stores started to notice what was happening and slowly made their way to the fountain as well. Within about a minute, there were thirty kids edging their way to the water.

When they all realized that no one was paying attention to what we were doing, they began jumping into the fountain and splashing each other. All hell began to break loose; it was beautiful. It quickly became a water war of epic proportions, with teams and alliances being made, battle lines being drawn, and casualties were had.

With all the commotion, mall security soon realized what was happening, and began making their way to the fountain. I saw this, and made an executive decision. I jumped high into the air and cannonballed into the water, sending a tidal wave all over the security guards who had surrounded the fountain during the skirmish. I quickly stood and shouted, “Scatter!”

Just like that, we all took off in separate directions, me and my army of water-logged munchkins. Being the only adult in this mess, I knew I would be the primary target, and I sprinted up the stairs to the main shopping area, followed by a dozen or so security guards, each radioing for back up.

Do you remember that scene in The Blues Brothers (the original, not that sad-excuse for a sequel), where they drive through the mall during the car chase? It felt a lot like that. As I ran, I toppled over cell phone carts, tables full of perfume and remote controlled helicopters, and dashed through carts of stuffed animals, sending beanie babies everywhere (seriously, who even sells beanie babies anymore; what year do they think this is?)

I made it halfway around the main floor before they cornered me. They had me surrounded, and I knew I had to make a choice. I could either go out like Butch and Sundance, or I could surrender and live to cause havoc another day. Considering I was slightly out of breath by this point, I got sat down and crossed my legs.

The security guards, who were also quite winded, grabbed my arms and pulled me back to my feet. They escorted me to a little room in the back, and that’s how I wound up in mall-cop jail. They put me in a room with three chairs and a wooden table. Two of them (the top dogs, I’m assuming) came in and started to interview me. They had hungry smiles on their faces, like they hadn’t had this much excitement since the Carter administration.

The older of the two (or at least the most world-weary of the two) leaned across the table and got in my face.

“Do you know how much trouble you’re in, mister?”

I crinkled my nose. “I don’t mean to be rude, but have you considered brushing your teeth this decade? Seriously, buddy, I can smell three different kinds of coffee that they don’t even make anymore.”

The other one turned beet red, clearly angered at my response.

“Listen, punk; we get punks like you in here all the time. Causing trouble, ruining merchandise…you’ll be lucky if we don’t press charges against your punk ass. You little punk.”

I laughed.

“I bet I can guess what your favorite insult is. Look, guys, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your jobs or anything, but if you’re trying to pull the whole ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine, you’re going about it the wrong way. You’ve got everything else almost perfect. The dimly-lit interrogation room, the yelling, the insults…”

“Shut up, punk!” They yelled in unison.

I put my hands up. “Hey, sorry; I was just going to say if you want your own buddy-cop show, one of you has to be the nice guy. Maybe you could flip a coin, or play rock paper scissors to decide. I could pick for you, but it’s probably best if you make that decision yourselves.”

They grunted and left the room. I chuckled to myself and walked around the room for a minute. I quickly got bored of the whole game, and turned to face the camera in the corner. I waved goodbye and left the room. They really were horrible at their jobs. They left me unguarded in an unlocked room, first of all. Second, they couldn’t have locked me in there in the first place, since the door locked from the inside.

I paused briefly in the doorway, wondering if I should lock myself in and cause more mayhem, but I soon remembered that I was still hungry. I left the interrogation room, and finding the next room vacant, left the security office altogether. I stepped out into the shipping area and made my way over to a pallet marked “Game Place.”

I rummaged through the package until I found the game that I wanted, snagged a box of Snickers at I left, and walked straight out the back door. I shook my head in gleeful disbelief. I couldn’t believe it; the last time I did this, I walked out with a whole new wardrobe and a brand new t.v. You would think they would have at least put my picture up on the wall. Maybe next time I’ll hit up the photo booth and leave them something to remember me by…

Balance

Alex’s shift began at midnight in the ER. He was a paramedic, but the hospital he worked out of required him to spend two shifts a month working on-call in the ER, off the truck. To tell the truth, most nights it was pretty quiet, with a few major incidents here or there, but most people came and went quietly. The majority of the people who came through the ER doors were fine, really. Give them two baby aspirin and they went home without a glitch.

That being said, Alex didn’t expect much excitement from his shift at the hospital tonight. He arrived, and promptly went to the nurses’ station to get the scoop on how the day had gone so far.

“Ladies, how are we doing on this fine evening?”

The nurses all looked up with a smile, and Alena, the head nurse for the night shift, responded,

“ ’Lex! It’s good to see you tonight. We’re actually a little busier than normal, so we really could use your help tonight. We have an 86 year-old frequent flyer in 106, head trauma in 109, chest pain in 110, and we just got a call that Davis and Curry have a potential poisoning on the way.”

“Sounds like this will be interesting then. Where should I start?”

“Go with Jenny. She’s finishing her rounds, and she’ll be taking the incoming patient.”

“Alright then. Page me if you need me elsewhere.”

“Oh, don’t worry; I will.”

Alena winked at him as she picked up a chart and walked away from the station. Alex found Jenny as she was finishing up an IV on the patient in 106.

“Hey Jenn; what do we have here?”

Jenny looked up and replied, “Hi, Lex. This is Mrs. Watson. She comes to see us pretty often these days. Various reasons, but today she’s feeling lightheaded, and she’s having some difficulty breathing.”

Turning to Mrs. Watson, Jenny continued, “Lara, this is Alex. He’s a paramedic, and he’ll be helping us out tonight. If you need anything, feel free to get ahold of either him or I, and we’ll take care of what you need.”

Alex nodded, and Mrs. Watson smiled. “I’m in here two or three times a month. I know a lot of these nurses on a first name basis by now.” The woman chuckled. “I’m surprised I haven’t met you before. I’m sure we’ll get to know each other quite well in time. This place is almost a second home for me these days.”

Alex smiled in return and said “I’m looking forward to it…uh…I mean…”

Jenny laughed, as Mrs. Watson smirked, and ended the moment of awkwardness by cutting him off. “I know what you mean. I truly am looking forward to getting to know you. The staff here say you are quite the paramedic. Maybe you can give me a lift here sometime.”

Right then, the page came over the loudspeakers that the ambulance had arrived, and the patient was being admitted to room 107. Quickly stepping across the hall, Jenny and Alex prepped the room as Davis brought the patient into the room.

“Ok, Davis, what can you tell us?” Jenny said.

“Well, he’s 17, and his mom called 911 because her son had collapsed in the garage. When we arrived on scene, he was passed out on the floor, the hood was open, and there were two cups on the ground. One had some antifreeze in it, and it looks like he drank some of it. Not sure how much, but my best guess is he took a decent swig if it knocked him out.”

Jenny nodded and ran to get the on-duty doctor. Alex looked at Davis and asked “Where’s his mother?”

“Not sure she’s coming. She called it in, but when we arrived, she showed us where he was and walked away. Didn’t seem too upset.”

The doctor rushed in, and had Jenny take vitals while he attempted to diagnose the unconscious patient. During the commotion, the P.A. crackled to life again, stating that there was a car accident victim being rushed in at the moment, and she was to receive priority care.

Stepping out of the room, Alex walked over to the room where the new patient was being set up.

“Alena, what happened?”

“Hit and run vic. Pregnant. Low vitals, not sure about the baby yet. We need that doctor over here STAT.”

Alex ran over and informed the doctor that he was needed elsewhere, and took the doctor’s orders on how to treat the poison victim.

“Pump his stomach, give him the antidote, and hope for the best. Keep an eye on him for me tonight; feels like I’m going to be a little tied up for a while.”

“Sure thing, doc. I have it covered.”

Alex had one of the nurses handle the stomach pumping while he hunted down the antidote for antifreeze. On his way back, he stopped in Mrs. Watson’s room.

“Well, hello there, sailor. What’s all the excitement out there?”

“We just admitted a pregnant woman who was involved in a hit-and-run.”

Mrs. Watson nodded slowly and pursed her lips in thought.

“It’s sad, when a life hasn’t even begun, but it is already in jeopardy. I’d say they are both in the best of hands now, though. Nature will have its way, in the end.”

Alex left the room at that point, mulling over the few short words she had said.

Returning to his poison patient, Alex administered the antidote, and checked the patient’s vitals. In the middle of doing so, another alarm hit the P.A. Jenny could be heard from the hallway yelling something at him. Stepping through the curtain, the sight before him was almost too much to take in. Down the hall, nurses were running his direction pushing a crash cart. The doctor was on the hallway phone, speaking loudly and sternly to whoever was on the other line.

“I don’t care what you have to do, get her in surgery NOW! Get the on-call surgeon in here ASAP, tell him he doesn’t have a choice, and he needs to get in here AND DO HIS DAMN JOB!”

As the doctor slammed the phone back onto the cradle, Alex’s attention was drawn to Jenny, across the hall from him, staring at him expectantly.

“HELLO! Alex! Get in here; she’s coding…all hands on deck.”

Rushing across the hall, he followed the crash cart into Mrs. Watson’s room.

“What the hell happened?!”

“We don’t know. She’s never exhibited these symptoms before, but we thought she might be developing pleurisy or pneumonia. She was stable until a minute ago. Nothing about her symptoms made us worry, so we were just waiting on some of her tests to come back.”

Alex proceeded to charge the defibrillator as Jenny prepped Mrs. Watson for  the shock.

“CLEAR!” The 86 year-old woman’s body rose and fell. No heartbeat.

“Charging!” Alex looked intently at the vitals readout, waiting for the slightest flicker of a heartbeat.

“CLEAR!” Again, her body rose and fell with the charge, and again, no heartbeat.

“One more time…we’ll try it one more time.”

“CLEAR!” The moment after the third charge, both Jenny and Alex held their breath for what seemed like hours, awaiting the result of the final attempt to bring her back…

The vitals readout beeped back to life, as her heartbeat spiked, then settled, and she began to breathe again. Alex and Jenny sighed simultaneously.

“Alex…see if the doctor is available. We need him to authorize some more tests on Mrs. Watson.”

“Yeah…yeah, sure thing.”

“And Alex…nice work.”

“Uh, thanks. Just part of the job, you know?”

Alex left the room, searching for the doctor on the floor. He found him in the empty room where the expectant mother had been minutes before, sitting on the bed.

“Hey, doc, you busy?”

“What…? Oh, no. Just thinking. Praying, really. The patient who was in here, probably won’t make it. She’s in really bad shape right now, and she just went down to surgery. She’s 8 months pregnant, so they will probably have to C-section the baby tonight, and then try and save them both separately.  Just…you never get used to these types of things. I’ve been an ER doctor for 14 years, and I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of people come through these doors. But these types of cases, where kids are involved…it never gets any easier to see. But I’m rambling. What did you need, Alex?”

“Mrs. Watson down the hall crashed a few minutes ago, and we got her stabilized, but we need to run some tests right away that Jenny needs your approval for.”

“Ahh…well, anything for my favorite frequent flyer. I’ll head over there now. Can you check on our antifreeze patient again, please?”

“Of course.”

Alex returned to the teenager’s room, and upon finding him still comatose, began to document his vitals.

“Shit…ALENA! Can you come in here real quick?”

From down the hall, he heard her respond, “On my way.”

When she walked in the door, she had a puzzled look upon her face.

“What’s up, Lex?”

“His temperature, first and foremost. He has a temp of 109. I administered the antidote almost 20 minutes ago. Shouldn’t he be starting to level out? We pumped his stomach almost an hour ago, the antidote has been in his system a while. Why is he still getting worse?”

“I don’t know, honey. Let’s wait a little while longer and give the treatment some more time to do its work. If he doesn’t start to get better, we may have to start him on dialysis.”

“But we can’t do that without parental consent, can we?”

“His driver’s license says he’s almost 18. If it comes down to it, we’ll act like he’s a legal adult in this situation. Our job is to try and save lives. If needs be, we’ll take the consequences of doing our jobs. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

Still unsure, Alex nodded quickly, and crossed his arms.

“Why are we so busy tonight? We never have this many critical patients in such a short period of time.”

“That’s just the way it goes, Lex. Sometimes, a whole bunch of tickets get punched at the same time.”

“I guess. We might have to call more people in if we get more admitted.”

“Alex…why do you think they have you medics take shifts with us? This is all the staff we have. There is no one else to call. These lives rest on us.”

Alena walked back to the nurses’ station, and Alex stepped outside for a cigarette. Outside, he found Davis restocking the ambulance.

“Hey, buddy. Looks kinda rough in there. Lots of excitement going on.”

“Yeah. I’m not sure excitement is the word for it. You know, we deal with stuff like this all the time, but all we do is stabilize and transport. After we drop them off here, we don’t really think about the patients anymore. But inside these doors, the fight really begins. It’s hard to imagine doing this every day.”

“By doing the same thing you do. They do their jobs to the best of their ability, and then let the chips fall where they may. Their jobs are not to save lives. Their job is to try and save lives. Alex, what we do is not that different. We all simply put the patient in the best position we can to facilitate recovery. Sometimes they recover, sometimes…they move on. It’s part of the job, man. Shake it off, and don’t let it get to you. If you let the gravity of it all cloud your mind, you are doing both the patient and yourself a disservice. Listen, I gotta go. We’re bound to get another call here in a minute, and we need to be ready to go. I’ll see you on the truck tomorrow night.”

“See you later, Davis.”

Alex finished his smoke, and went back inside. He went to the nurses’ station and found Alena and Jenny there.

“Jenn, Alena, any news on our criticals?”

Jenny spoke up, “Nope. Waiting on test results for Mrs. Watson, the hit-and-run is still in surgery, and the kid’s temp is still holding at 109.”

“So…what do we do now? What do you want me to do?”

Alena sighed, and said slowly, “Nothing. There is nothing to do now but wait. Wait on results. Wait on news. Wait on change. At the moment, it is all out of our hands. Until something changes, we wait.”

“Mrs. Watson is awake now, though. She was asking about you when we got back from x-ray. You could go see her while you wait.”

Alex made his way over to Mrs. Watson’s room, and when he entered, she smiled radiantly at him.

“Here comes my hero. I understand you are the one responsible for me still breathing.”

“Eh, it was a group effort.”

“Modest as well, I see. Either way, I must thank you. I appreciate the work you and your colleagues do for me. You all are so nice, and very good at your jobs. You make being here much easier.”

“That’s what we aim for.”

“You do quite a good job at it…”

Mrs. Watson looked at Alex for a moment, and then spoke again, “There’s something bothering you, isn’t there? What’s on your mind, son? Maybe I can help.”

“I don’t want to get into it with a patient…I’m supposed to be here for your benefit, not dumping my problems on you.”

“Nonsense. I want to hear. It lets me see the person behind the hero, as it were. What’s bothering you?”

“Well, it’s actually about tonight. I normally work the ambulances, and when I have shifts here in the hospital, I never see this many real emergencies. I feel like there should be something I can do to help save these people. I hate the waiting. There should be something I can do.”

“You cannot control the outcome of every case that comes through the door, Alex. You can’t expect that of yourself. It’s not fair to you, or to the rest of us, quite frankly. I can’t have you worrying about what you could or should or might have done with someone else while you help me out. You’re going to wind up with a world of regret, and you’re more likely to make a mistake with your mind wandering like that.

“There is a concept remembered in older societies that is often forgotten by those in America. Our relatively young society has latched onto the concepts of liberty, logic, and due process. We seem to be under the impression that outcomes are always under our control, and that regardless of what happens, the machinations of man are always at work pulling the strings. Under this mindset, we seem to forget something many older cultures remember: a force referred to as “Nature.” Nature: the natural balance and order of life, uninhibited and mostly unaffected by the schemes and actions of mankind.

“Life and death, order and chaos, sound and silence, are all under the influence and guidance of Nature. Few places exhibit the influence of Nature as prominently as a hospital, in my experience. You medical people do what you can to fix these broken bodies, but in the end, some of us just don’t recover. Some of us just aren’t meant to survive what we come in here with. And there is nothing you can do about that. You just have to accept the fact that life lies beyond your realm of control, and all that is required of you is your best.

“Nature will balance the scales, and while you can help some of us recover from what ails us, eventually every one of us has to die at some point so that another can be born. Nature balances these things quite nicely without our meddlesome intervention. There is a time to be born, and a time to die. A time to be sick and a time to be well, a time to fight for change, and a time to accept the way things are. You can struggle your whole life, but the scales will constantly balance themselves. Sometimes, the best you can do for us people is doing what you have done for me: come and talk. Make us comfortable. Give us the best of your efforts, and treat us like people. And after all that, let us go when it is our time. Let the scales balance out.”

Alex tilted his head to one side, pondering her words.

“Where did you learn all that stuff, Mrs. Watson? How do you know what it’s like here, and how to deal with it all?”

She smirked and replied, “Mr. Watson was a nurse when we were young. He had to learn to deal with many of the same things as you kids do in these walls. And since he had to learn how to live with the balance, so did I.”

She winked, and then laid her head back and closed her eyes.

“I need to rest a little while. We should continue our conversation in a little while. We old ladies require our daily naps.”

She opened one eye and stuck out her tongue to one side. Alex grinned and replied, “Alright then. I’ll be back later and we’ll pick this back up.”

Alex returned to the nurses’ station and continued to wait for the results on the patients. He spent the next couple of hours talking with the nurses, checking charts and vitals repeatedly, and thinking all the while about his conversation with Mrs. Watson.

After a while, the results for the teenage poison patient came back. Alena looked them over, and then quietly set them down on the desk. Everyone was waiting expectantly for her to reveal what they said, but she simply sat down and tiredly rubbed her eyes.

“So, are you going to tell us what was in those results, or are you just going to sit there?” Jenny asked.

Alena looked over at the group, and just shook her head.

“What? No…it can’t be that bad…” Alex said as he reached over and picked up the sheet of paper.

“…complete kidney failure? So let’s get him on dialysis. Let’s get moving…at least now we know how to treat him, right?”

Alena sorrowfully stood up and walked around the nurses’ station to where Alex stood.

“Lex, we can put him on dialysis, but this means his kidneys won’t heal. He’s going to be put on the transplant list, and who knows how long it will take for him to get a matching donor, or even how high up the list he will be placed. This poor kid probably won’t make it through the night.”

Silently, they all stood there, contemplating the life that was being cruelly cut short. The boy was almost 18, and he was in the fight for his life. All Alex could think about were the words of Mrs. Watson, who lay sleeping directly across the hall from this boy. A boy whose name he suddenly realized he did not know.

Clearing his throat and composing himself for a moment, he gathered his thoughts.

“Alena, what’s his name?”

“Thomas. Why?”

“It just hit me that I have been trying to save this kid’s life all night long, and I don’t even know his name.”

More time went by, with the team quietly doing their work. About an hour before the end of the shift, both Thomas and Mrs. Watson passed away, suddenly and without warning. A life that had just begun, and a life that had been fully lived both passed through the ER that night, and both were tragic in very different ways.

With the deaths of Mrs. Watson and Thomas, everyone was awaiting news of the mother and child that had been sent to surgery hours before, with every head bowing in desperate prayer at one point or another. Near the end of the shift, news trickled down that the surgery had been successful, but both mother and child were in intensive care.

Over the next few days, Alex would check in on the two and waited to see signs of improvement. After almost a week, Alex received a call from the ER.

“Alex? Hey, It’s Jenny. I just thought you would want to know that the mother from that hit-and-run last week is out of the ICU. They’re letting us see her, and I was hoping you would go with me…”

“Yeah, absolutely. How’s the baby though?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t heard whether the baby is still in NICU or not, but I will try and find out. Meet me in the ER in an hour, and we’ll go up and see her.”

Alex was so anxious to see something good come out of that night in the ER that he rushed right over to the hospital as soon as he got off the phone. When he arrived, he and Jenny went up to the room where the mother was being kept. Just before walking in, Jenny grabbed his arm.

“Lex…look…”

Looking through the hall window into the room, Alex saw an image that nearly made his knees buckle. Inside, he saw the mother, sitting in the embrace of her husband, smiling immensely, holding in her arms a beautiful, healthy little girl.

Alex smiled and watched for a minute or two. Then he grabbed Jenny’s hand and said,

“Come on. Let’s go celebrate. Dinner’s on me.”

The entire time as they walked out of the hospital, Alex couldn’t stop replaying Mrs. Watson’s words in his mind. Life balances the scales. There is a time to live, and a time to die. He realized that while there had been two devastating losses that night, there had been two wonderful recoveries. The scales had indeed balanced themselves, and instead of carrying the weight of the sadness of the loss, he had found a way to see the beauty in both the tragedy and the recovery.

There are thousands of stories like this one that old hospital could tell. Stories of life and death, of sickness and healing, and of those who learn to live every day locked between the extremes, but in the end, they are all simply stories of the balance.

Chicken Suit

Thatch looked up to the ceiling momentarily as the now-all-too-familiar presence was felt in his brain.

“Well, hello there, Audience. Let’s have a little adventure, shall we? You see, there’s some sort of vegan parade in town this afternoon. Now, I have nothing against vegans; I don’t have anything against people’s lifestyle choices at all, really…unless that lifestyle choice is to not let me have the things that I want. When choices like that are made, I tend to make the choice to relieve them of something. Anyway, so the streets are going to be full of vegans.

“I have about  An hour to do what I’m going to do and get downtown to cause either mass mayhem or become the life of the party…er, parade.”

Thatcher was in a party and decorations store. Rather, he was in the storage warehouse BEHIND the party and decorations store, where they stored everything that wasn’t on the shelves. Thatch, having worked at Parties Plus when he was in high school, knew that there were certain Halloween costumes that were always on-hand in the back; things like ninjas, two-person horses, gorilla suits, and most importantly, chicken suits, were stored year-round in the stock warehouse.

With this information, Thatcher had decided he would pick up a chicken suit, put it on, and make his way downtown to the parade. Of course, he was going to steal it; his life wouldn’t be anywhere near as exciting and entertaining if he paid for things like a normal human being.

So Thatcher found himself browsing through the warehouse inventory, looking for a very specific item. As he wandered around, an employee happened to see him and approached him.

“Excuse me, sir; you can’t be back here. This area is for employees only.”

Thatch looked up and smiled, then went back to browsing as he replied. “It’s okay, kid, I work for the distributor. I’m here to bring back a defective suit.”

The employee, a young man of about seventeen who was clearly doing his best to hide his acne with his mother’s cover-up, squinted at Thatch; he was not convinced.

“Oh, really? What’s the name of our distributor?”

Thatch sighed. He knew he was busted, but he decided to make up a company name anyway.

“We-R-Costumes…Incorporated.”

The kid’s expression changed immediately. “Oh, wow…I am so sorry, sir. I thought you were pulling my leg. Before you leave, I am going to need to see the ticket for the item you are taking back. You know, for inventory purposes.”

Thatch blinked. He couldn’t believe that had worked. He reached into his pocket for his to-do list. Luckily, all that was written on it was “get chicken suit.” He handed it to the young man, who looked at it briefly.

“This is a little unorthodox…but I know right where these are.”

He beckoned for Thatcher to follow him, and turned around sharply, leading the way to the three remaining chicken suits in stock.

“Here they are; now, which one did you need?”

“Uh, that one,” Thatch said, pointing at one randomly. “I was told it was defective, but they don’t know what’s wrong with it. I have to wear it so that when I get back to headquarters, I can tell them what the defect is.”

“Uh, okay. That sounds weird, but okay.”

The Parties Plus employee grabbed the suit off the shelf and handed it to Thatch, who immediately put it on over his clothes. Once he put the head on, he honked the beak.

“Thanks, dude. I’ll make sure the guys at the top know just how helpful you’ve been today.”

The teenager was ecstatic. “Wow, I really appreciate it, man. I just started working here a few months ago, and something like that would go a long way with my boss.”

Thatcher gave him a thumbs-up, and proceeded to walk into the store and out the front door. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; not only did he get an employee of the store to help him steal a product, but he then wore it as he walked right through the store and left.

Checking the time, Thatcher realized he had to get downtown within the next fifteen minutes if he was going to join the parade. He ran down side streets and back alleys until he arrived at the lineup. Given that Thatcher had an intense need to be on center stage at all times, he found himself a spot on the very first float. Climbing up, he realized that people assumed he was someone else.

“Conner, that is fantastic. We thought you weren’t coming today, but this was definitely worth the wait. Andrea, help Conner to the front of the float. People need to see this.”

A young woman in a bright-red tee-shirt that read “Vegan is Pleasin'” grabbed his arm and led him to the very front of the float.

“Now, just wave at the people and get them excited and riled up as we drive by,” she told him.

Thatch gave her the thumbs up. He couldn’t resist saying something as she walked away.

“Vegan is pleasin’, huh? You know that doesn’t rhyme, right?”

She looked at him, quite puzzled. “You sound funny; do you have a cold? And don’t you dare complain about the shirts now; this slogan was your idea in the first place.”

Thatch clamped both hands over his beak and Andrea walked away. Within moments, the parade began. Thatcher started waving at the first people he saw, and the crowd went wild. His pride swelled within his chest, and he began making wild, enthusiastic gestures, and as the crowd got more and more excited, Thatch became more and more animated.

At some point, someone placed a bucket of fun sized candy bars at his feet, and he dug both hands in and started chucking candy into the crowd. He laughed to himself at one point.

“I am one Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince song away from being Jack Nicholson.”

The afternoon went on like that, and at the end, Thatcher quietly disappeared before anyone could ask him to take off his mask and eat a tofu burger. The next day, the front page of the paper had a giant picture of him in his chicken suit, arms spread wide, throwing candy to the masses. The headline? “Vegan Parade Hands Out Candy Not Vegan Friendly.”

How is that even possible, you ask? Well, I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you, but I can tell you that Thatcher laughed until he got the hiccups when he saw it.

Salem

They say I am a witch. They have shackled me with this accusation, and have chained me in this cell. One week ago, they burst into my house, taking my mother, my aunt, and I, claiming that we have been practicing the darkest of heresies and we were to be put on trial in a week’s time. Several other women have been similarly taken, and the same charges have been leveled against them.

We have been locked away in this dark, damp hole for days now, whispering among ourselves about what could have possibly sparked this turn of events. Many of the others believe it is a misunderstanding, and they intend to set the record straight when we have our day in court. I, however, know why we are here.

They are afraid of us. The elders are not accustomed to so many questioning their decisions and asking for explanations. Those of us gathered here are the vocal ones. We are the ones who have stood up against their oppression and raised our voices when we felt things were not as they should be. Now, here we are, on trial for crimes we did not commit, based on evidence that does not exist, and we face punishment we do not deserve.

They wish to remove us; the penalty for witchcraft is death. They fully intend to burn us at the stake in order to eliminate those of us that they view as threatening their regime. They have ruled over our town unchecked for decades, and now they are being called upon to answer for their actions; they cannot have this, and thus must find a way to remove those who would hold them accountable.

I do not wish to die; I do not believe that any who face death under such circumstances wish for death. However, if we are unable to persuade the town council that we are innocent and that the elders are corrupt, then I would rather die anyway. I will not recant of heresy I did not commit just to be placed back under the heavy yoke they wish to burden us with.

I know what lies ahead of me; I know that by the time the sun rises twice more, I shall have faced the judgement of the council and the heavy hand of the elders. I know that the council is not likely to hear my case fairly, as their ears have been filled with nonsense and lies already. I know that I face an uphill battle just to keep my own life, let alone to save the lives of my friends and family. Yet, despite the bleak circumstances, I must carry on. I must try, with all that I am, to prove to the council that we are innocent, and we are simple people caught up in the webs and machinations of the twisted men who rule our town.

And so, I wait for morning. Tomorrow we go before the council and we make our case. Tomorrow we are given the chance to fight for our lives and our freedom. Until then, I rest, I plan, and I prepare. I do everything I can to keep my heart still and my mind clear. I must save up the fire in my belly for the proper moment. The waiting, though…it is…agonizing.

The Warehouse Cliche

As Thatch walked into the warehouse, he felt the tingle of a familiar presence.

“Oh, good; you’re back,” he said out loud to the empty air. “It’s been a few days, and I was beginning to wonder if you’d come back. I’ve been kinda busy since your last visit. I’m actually on my way to a business meeting right now.”

Inside, there were dozens of pallets, all piled high with the newest video game consoles, still in their boxes, ready to be shipped. In the middle of the space were four men, standing in a tight circle, smoking cigarettes as they waited. Thatcher walked up and greeted them enthusiastically.

“G’morning, gents! How’s everyone doing today?”

“You’re late,” one of the men said gruffly.

“Where the hell have you been? We’ve been waiting here for you for two hours. We were just deciding if we should pack up the rest of the shipment and leave without you,” exclaimed another.

“Ah, well, I do apologize for that. You see, there was a bit of a traffic jam on my way over here, and I had tacos for dinner last night, so my tummy wasn’t feeling the greatest. I had to stop a few times for that, and then I got hungry, so I pulled into the Burger Hut over on 63, and they were packed, so I was in line there for about twenty minutes…”

One of the men held up his hand and flicked his cigarette away. “Enough! I don’t care where you’ve been. The boss won’t be happy about the delay, but there’s nothing we can do about that now.”

Thatch nodded in agreement. “True; now that I have arrived, what do you say we get this show on the road?”

The four men laughed softly, and as one, they all drew their weapons. Thatcher raised his hands and gingerly touched the end of the barrel of each .45 pointed his direction. “What’s this all about?” he asked.

The tallest man raised an eyebrow and replied, “It seems you are no longer needed. The powers that be have decided that you have worn out your welcome, and they don’t believe you are worth the money we are paying you. Obviously, we will be holding onto your last paycheck; it won’t do you much good where you are going.”

Thatcher’s signature smile fell into a scowl immediately. “I highly advise against this course of action, gentlemen. I’m not sure you understand what you’re doing.”

The four men laughed again. “I’m pretty sure we can handle a simple elimination. It’s basic subtraction.”

Thatch cracked his neck. “Alright, then; let’s get this over with.” Looking behind him for a moment, he said, “Folks, this might be a good time to put the kids to bed, or at least cover their eyes. And kids, make sure you brush your teeth before you hop into the sack.”

The four men glanced at one another. “Who the hell are you talking to?”

Thatch snapped back to looking at his assailants. “The Audience; duh.”

With that, he ducked down low and swept the men’s legs out from under them. They all instinctively squeezed the trigger, missing their mark by a mile. Thatch dove over to where the first man had fallen and slammed his head into the slick concrete. The man’s body went limp right away. “Nighty-night,” Thatch said gleefully.

He quickly got to his feet and spun towards the other three. He rushed the closest man and tackled him, driving him into the next man. The three of them tumbled to the ground, and the attacker who was still standing attempted to get a bead on Thatch. He fired off a couple rounds, with one of them becoming embedded in his associate’s shoulder. Seeing an opportunity to take control of the situation, Thatch drove his fist into the wounded area repeatedly. When the man’s arm went limp, he rolled onto his back and put his opponent into an arm bar, quickly popping it out of socket and tearing the ligaments as he did so. The man cried out in pain, and Thatch let go of his arm as he drove his heel into the man’s temple.

“This is where things get tricky,” Thatcher said as he stood up. His other two attackers were both on their feet by now, and had trained their guns on him. The three of them stood there panting, staring at one another. Suddenly Thatch started laughing. Confused, the two gunmen looked at each other.

“W-what are you laughing at?” one asked, trying to sound tough, but his confusion and worry clearly ringing through in his voice.

Thatch wiped a tear from his eye and attempted to compose himself. “Oh, nothing. I just remembered a joke one of my bar buddies told me a while back.  A huge guy walks into a bar, approaches a little guy and karate chops him in the back. When the little guy gets up, the huge guy says, ‘That was a karate chop from Korea.’ A little later, the huge guy walks back over to the little guy and karate chops him in the back. The huge guy says, ‘That was a karate chop from China.’ The little guy leaves the bar, comes back and hits the huge guy on the back. The huge guy lies unconscious on the floor. The little guy tells the bartender, ‘Tell him that was a crowbar from Sears.'”

The two men were even more confused. The joke wasn’t all that funny. What they had failed to realize was while Thatch was telling the joke, he had been inching closer and closer to them. Once he finished telling the joke, he took another step, jumped into the air, and landed a roundhouse kick to the side of the first man’s head. The man slumped to the ground, out cold. With one opponent left, Thatch dropped to his knees and broke the last man’s left knee, snapping it backwards with a swift palm strike.

The man fell, and Thatch swatted the gun out of his opponent’s hand. He kicked the man in the chest lightly, putting him on his back, and he stepped over him. Thatcher grabbed the man by the lapels and pulled him close.

“Now, I told you not to fight me. I happen to be rather skilled in the martial arts. Toot-toot!”

“What?” the man asked.

“That was me tooting my own horn. I used to actually carry a bike horn around with me wherever I went, but it was a little cumbersome. I sat on it one day, and the guy whose house I was robbing woke up and chased me out with a baseball bat. It makes me a little sad that I can’t actually toot my own horn anymore, but saying ‘toot-toot’ gives me a chance to tell that story to people, so I guess it all works out…”

The man coughed nervously. “So…are you gonna kill us now?”

Thatch laughed whimsically. “Hell no. Murder is icky; it’s always so messy and inconvenient. I prefer to beat the tar out of people until the GIVE me what I want. No, what I’m gonna do now is find that little briefcase of yours, take my money, and leave. You can tell your boss that he can keep the shipment, I just wanted my money. If you try coming after me, I will be angry; perhaps angry enough to break the ‘murder is icky’ rule. Are we clear?”

The man shook his head vigorously, and Thatch smiled real wide.

“Good. I’m just gonna grab my stuff, and then you can call your doctor. You’re probably gonna want to get that knee reset today. I would hate to hear people started calling you ‘The Gimp’ all because of our little misunderstanding here today. Tootles!”

Thatcher skipped over to where a briefcase sat on the ground. He popped it open, counted the money inside, and took out a few bundles. He closed the briefcase and walked back over to the only other conscious person in the room. Dropping the cash in his hand on the man’s chest, he said, “You guys overpaid me. I don’t want to get a reputation as a thief among thieves.”

With that, he began to whistle and walked out of the warehouse.