2022 Winner

Number 30: Traumatic Injury Harry Colfer

She frowned as an incoming video call dragged her attention away from her Facebook feed. But the displayed name caused her features to soften. “Hey Chase, this is a nice surprise. Thought you were working tonight?”

The face of a man in his early twenties had appeared on the screen, his eyes wide with delight, beads of sweat peppering his brow. “You won’t believe what’s happened, Babe! It’s sooo amazin’. I got bit by a spider ’n’ now I can crawl up walls, just like Spider-Man. Seriously! Look!”

She sighed as he propped his phone up against the skirting board and began scrambling on the opposite side of the corridor. At no time did his feet leave the floor. “Oh, Chase. You promised not to use while at work. Greg’ll kill you if he finds out.”

He curled his head back to look at the screen. “See! I’m on the ceiling! Isn’t this crazy? I can even shoot web jets from my wrists. No gadgets needed. Not like that new bloke in the movies! Watch!”

He stood in the hallway and flung one arm up, wrist extended, and then grabbed what he could see in his vision. “And now I’ll swing down to the ground floor!”

“No, Chase! Don’t! You’re trippin’ balls!”

“With great power comes great responsibility!”

“Chase!”

He leapt out of view, and moments later there was a sickening crunch followed by a groaning wail.

“Oh shit! Oh my God! Chase? Chase? Can you hear me? I’m callin’ the ambos!”

***

My crewmate, Jan Reid, squinted for a moment before batting down her sunnies and leaning forward, peering at the road ahead. Our change in direction came with a cauldron glow from the daily death of our closest star, the searing rays scattering off the grime-smeared windscreen and flooding into the ambulance.

“Damn. I can’t see a bloody thing.”

I leant to one side to get a better angle, saluting to form a sunglass-visor. “You’re all good. Just keep going straight... oh, and don’t hit that semi-trailer.”

She flashed me a lens-tinted glare and eased off the revs. “You’re so helpful, Jono. Y’know, we’ll both die if I hit a truck.”

“Yep. But if we survive, you’ll be doing the paperwork.”

She shook her head.

I grinned. “Relax, the road ahead’s clear. You might think I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy.”

Frowning, she craned her neck back and forth. “Mmm... that’s debatable. I still remember the time you superglued Boardie’s mouse to his desk. And he’s yet to discover who did the burnout on the plant-room floor. Those tyre marks were there for months.”

I slouched into my seat as I recalled the resultant witch-hunts launched by our Station Officer, Darren Boardman. He’d used all the resources of the Brisbane City Ambulance Service in his search, but had to settle for strong suspicions with no sacrificial Wiccan to throw on the pyre.

I sighed. “Granted. Not two of the best examples of my sanity. But I felt much better at the time. And, once again, thanks for keeping shtum.”

Her shoulders relaxed as the sun dipped below the tree line, painting her attractive features with a suntan glow and washing golden highlights through her short tomboy hairstyle. “As I’ve said before, there’s no thanks necessary. It was self-preservation. I’d be guilty by association and cop just as much flak as you.” She gave a slight shake of her head. “But it does make me wonder why you feel the need to keep riling management.”

I shrugged as I contemplated her question. Was it my frustration of being under-utilised as an intensive care paramedic on a truck? Being overlooked for the sought-after rapid-response role? The monotony of going to low-acuity cases, dealing with the general acopia of modern society? Or a deep-seated resentment of being told what to do by incompetent fools?

Before I could answer, the mobile data terminal began beeping, announcing the assignment of a new job.

Jan shot me a glance. “Saved by the bell. And there’s me thinking we’d finish on time for a change. What’ve we got?”

With some relief, I folded my warped psyche back into its damaged box and pressed the relevant buttons on the MDT to bring up the details. “We’re going Code 1 to a... Oh... My... God... This one’s pure gold. It’s from a third-party caller. Apparently, a 22-year-old bloke believes he’s Spider-Man and has somehow broken both his ankles.”

She turned and stared my way. “You’re shitting me?”

“I shit you not.”

She returned her gaze to the road and flipped on our flashing lights. “The things we go to.”

I nodded. “Mind you, this is a first. Don’t reckon I’ve been to a failed superhero attempt before. D’you think we’ll get in trouble for unmasking Peter Parker?”

She shrugged. “Does it say whether he’s wearing his spandex outfit? I’ve still got PTSD from seeing you in your MAMIL shorts this morning.”

I frowned. “MAMIL?”

“Oh, come on, Jono. Get with the lingo. Middle-aged man in Lycra, y’know, your cycle shorts.”

“I’m thirty-seven! I’m hardly middle-aged.”

She grinned. “Guess it depends what age you plan on living to. If it’s around eighty, then you’re middle-aged.”

I shrugged, acknowledging her logic. “And as shift workers, the odds are stacked against us enjoying much of our retirement. I’m sure you’ve heard me say before, if I reach eighty, I intend to sample every illicit drug on the planet. At that age, it’s unlikely to impact my longevity, and by then, I won’t care.”

She shook her head. “That’s if you still have any marbles left.”

Predicting my answer, she joined in with my response. “I’ve had Alzheimer’s for as long as I can remember!”

I settled into my seat as we accelerated through the traffic. “Talking of superheroes, I was once called to an 88-year-old man strung out on ice.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope. I was dead impressed. Thought they’d dispatched me to someone who shared my retirement aspirations. But when we got there, we discovered the call taker had screwed up. He was just another junkie born in ’88.”

We laughed as the satnav guided us away from the setting sun and on to Old Northern Road, heading towards Lawnton.

A short time later, we’d discarded our sunnies along with suburbia, and were somewhere near the North Pine River. Dense eucalypts lined one side of the bitumen, and chest-high grasses furnished the other, the odd tree standing defiant against the annual flood-water onslaught.

I frowned as I looked around the dimly lit landscape. “Don’t think I’ve ever been down this road.”

“Me neither. It leads to the concrete works.”

There was no sign of any habitation, and even the satnav had given up on the address, just throwing the pin at a random point along the road.

“What about there? I saw a gap in the trees.”

Jan slammed on the brakes and negotiated a U-turn, returning to the place I’d spotted. A dirt track led away from the sealed road, but the tyre impressions suggested recent traffic. We looked at each other and shrugged before Jan turned and drove down the path.

Trees formed a low arch, the canopy obscuring the last remaining embers of twilight, our headlights casting bizarre shadows that danced ahead of our progress like a procession of ephemeral minstrels. Branches scraped on the ambulance’s bodywork, providing the jarring soundtrack of a hundred fingernails screeching down a blackboard.

But the tunnel was brief, and the path opened out into a wide clearing, littered with a collection of ramshackle buildings, each in varying degrees of neglect and collapse. Centre stage was a lowset brick house, light spewing from every window, illuminating a rusty white ute parked near the front door.

Page 6 of 22

We both sat staring at the scene, the only sound the tick from our diesel engine. I rubbed my chin before folding my arms. “I know this guy thinks he’s Spider-Man, but are your Spidey senses jangling as much as mine?”

“Yep. Looks dodgy. D’you want to call for backup?”

I thought a little longer and then sighed. “Dunno. It’s pretty quiet and there’s only one car here. I reckon we leave our gear and go take a look-see. No point weighing ourselves down if we need to make a run back to the bus.”

She shrugged and nodded. “OK. But I’m parking nose out and leaving the motor running for a quick getaway.”

“Sounds like a plan. Who knows, the Green Goblin could be in there.”

After Jan manoeuvred the ambulance, I hit the MDT’s ‘On Scene’ button and grabbed a flashlight, more for a weapon than any added light. “Got your radio?”

“Of course.”

“OK, let’s go.”

We both slid from the cab and approached the building, calling out the obligatory ‘Ambulance’ like a protective incantation, reciting the word to ward off evil spirits.

There was no reply.
I pulled back the fly screen and used my fist to bang on the door. “Ambulance!” Still nothing.

I turned the handle, and the door opened with a horror-movie creak. We both rolled our eyes in unison, and I gave a shrug before peering in. The place looked like a bunch of teenage squatters had abandoned it as a lost cause. “Ambulance!”

A muffled cry came from somewhere in the bowels of the building, and I stepped inside, edging towards the sound. Creeping through the living room, I passed a decrepit kitchen and entered a long corridor with numerous doors. “Ambulance?”

This time, we could hear the response coming from the open doorway at the end. “Down here!”

Approaching, I noticed a mobile phone leaning against the wall, just above a steep flight of stairs. The basement below was lit by fluorescent strips that revealed a man slumped on the concrete floor, his head and shoulders resting like the phone. “Are you OK?”

“Oh, thank Christ. I’ll survive, but me ankles’re fucked.”

I turned to Jan and spoke in a low voice. “No spandex, but I reckon we’ve found our patient. Are you able to get some gear while I go check on him?”

“Sure. I always wanted to be your bag carrier.”
As she walked away, I smiled at her back. “Think of it as a promotion.” She flipped me the bird, and I chuckled as I descended towards our patient. “Hi, my name’s Jono and that was Jan. What’s your name?”
He frowned and glanced around. “Er... Chaa...d”

I raised an eyebrow. “Chaad? Right. OK, whatever. Tell me what’s happened today.”

He grimaced as I felt his pulse and looked at his ankles. “Well... this is gonna sound dumb... but... I took some bath salts... y’know, the drug... and they made me think I was Spider-Man. It was fuckin’ intense... so real... but... I guess it wasn’t. I tried to swing on a web and ended up here. My feet hurt like a bitch. They’re pointing the wrong fuckin’ way!”

There was a patch of blood on his grossly deformed right ankle, and I took out my shears to cut away his socks and sneakers. “Are you injured anywhere else?”

“Ain’t my ankles enough?”

“I mean head, neck, back. You’ve fallen a fair distance.”

“No, just got a few scratches. I dragged myself over here, but couldn’t make it up the stairs. Shit, I could do with another fix.”

As he spoke, I’d exposed his injuries and confirmed my fears. The left ankle was dislocated, but intact. However, the end of his right tibia was poking out of the skin. The glistening bone sat in all its gory detail, wedged against his dusky coloured foot. “Well, my friend, your wish is my command. You’ve just earned yourself some fentanyl and a hefty dose of ketamine. I’ll need to put you on Cloud Nine to reduce this fracture.”

His face lit up. “Seriously? You’re gonna give me Special K? Awesome! I love that stuff.”

I sighed and shook my head as Jan arrived with the monitor and response kit. “Take a look at what ‘Chad’ here has done.”

Page 9 of 22

Jan lay the kit on the grimy floor and her eyebrows shot up as she saw the bone. “Ooo... that’s impressive. Look at the colour of his foot. I’m guessing you’ll need to reduce it?”

“Yep, sure do. Can I leave you to get a set of obs and IV access? I’ll go fetch the oxygen, airway kit and splints. I reckon I’d be pushing my luck if I asked you to carry more bags.”

She knelt beside Chad and switched on the monitor. “Too right. How’s the pain going, mate?”

“Fuckin’ agony.”

“Did he cut your shoes off without any pain relief? Bloody ICPs, they have no empathy.” She looked up at me as I climbed the stairs and winked. “Don’t worry, Chad, I’ll give you the green whistle to take your mind off things.”

Chad could hardly contain his enthusiasm for more free drugs. “Awesome!”

I made my way back to the ambulance and, before grabbing the gear, picked up the radio. “Comms, this is 965.”

“Alpha 965, go ahead.”

“Any chance of a backup crew to help with extrication?”

There was a pause before the crackled response. “Sorry 965, that’s a negative. We’ve got nothing available.”

“Roger, Comms. Just be aware we’re dealing with a fracture reduction and may be some time on scene.”

“Copy that.”

I lugged the bags down to the basement and dumped them beside our patient. “OK, let’s get started.”

Chad cackled a laugh. “Coooool, let’s get ready to rumble!”

Jan removed a syringe from the cannula in his arm. “His obs are fine and he’s just had the first fifty of fentanyl. He’s sucking down on the whistle like a pro, and the good old methoxy truth serum has done its trick. His name’s Chase, not Chad. I’ve got a bad feeling about this place, Jono.”

I nodded. “Me too. Let’s crack on and blow this popsicle stand.”

I mixed up the ketamine and rinsed the exposed bone with a bag of saline, as Jan prepared the gear and placed an oxygen mask on our patient before administering another dose of fentanyl. “OK, Chase. Put yourself in a happy place. It’ll make the ride smoother.”

Chase grinned. “You don’t need to coach me on how to take a high. Give me that vitamin K!”

Jan and I gave each other a look as I pushed the syringe. “How you doing, Chase? Can you hear me?”

His voice took on a dreamy quality. “Oh, yes. This stuff’s pure.”

A couple of minutes later, he was staring at the ceiling with sightless eyes. Jan waved a hand in front of his face. “Wow. That was quick. How much did you give him?”

“Only fifty. It’s probably all the drugs he’s had. He was on bath salts before we got here.” Page 11 of 22

“Bath salts? They’re a drug?”

“It’s just a name to avoid regulation. The drug’s a powerful synthetic hallucinogen. But it looks like it plays nice with ketamine. We better work quick before the effect wears off. Can you grab his left knee?”

I pulled on his left foot and the ankle made a satisfying pop as it snapped back into place. Grabbing one of the vac splints, we immobilised his leg and moved on to the open fracture.

“Right, I reckon this’ll be more of a challenge. Hold on tight to his knee.”

Chase groaned as I tugged on his foot, but he remained still as I tried in vain to realign his ankle. The skin was preventing the bone from sliding back into the hole it created. I pulled harder, to the point all three of us were grunting.

Jan shook her head. “If you keep going, you’ll tear his foot off.”

I shrugged. “Possibly. I guess I’d better try something different.”

Jan’s eyes grew wide as I stuck my finger in the wound and pulled down the skin, angling his foot so I could scoop the hole around the end of the bone. “Now, hold tight as I pull.”

We let out a grateful sigh as the tibia schlucked back into place and, while I kept traction, Jan bandaged the prepared damp dressing over the wound before applying another splint.

We both stood to view our handiwork as Chase, coming out of the sedation, removed the oxygen mask and rubbed his nose.

I knelt near his head. “It’s all good, Chase. You’re fine. Take it easy.”

Jan interrupted my comforting patter. “Er... Jono. Have you seen what’s on this workbench?”

I looked over to discover three blenders full of white powder, and a large box of small plastic click-seal bags, several containing similar powder.

My shoulders sagged. “Oh, that’s just great. Any chance he’s packing popping candy for the Ekka show bags?”

“Not if this container’s anything to go by.” She pointed to a Tupperware tub. “It’s labelled ‘Meth’.”

I sighed. “At least he’s organised. We need to get outta here.” I pulled off my bloody gloves. “You gather our gear up and I’ll go get the stairchair. We should be able to strap him to that for extrication. Don’t suppose you can raise Comms on your radio?”

She snatched the handheld off her belt and spoke into the mic. “Comms, this is 965. Do you copy?”

We leant in to listen for a response, but all we heard was the creak from the top of the staircase.

Looking towards the sound, a man in his forties was standing in the doorway, wearing the garb of a tradie with concrete dust covering his work boots. But what stole our attention was the snub-nosed barrel of the sawn-off shotgun pointed at our heads. He stared at us with the dead eyes of an eastern brown snake. “Put the radio down. Now.”

Jan froze, eyes fixed on the gun, lips parted. Seconds passed, and she didn’t move, so I reached over and took the radio, placing it on the workbench.

“Good. Now your phones.”
Jan regained some composure and added her mobile to mine. “Now, back away and sit over there on the floor.”

We did as he asked, and he walked down the stairs, stepped over Chase and opened the fridge door, retrieving a beer. We watched in silence as he used the edge of the workbench to flip off the cap and suck down a mouthful. Without taking the gun off us, he turned to Chase. “What the fuck have you done?”

Fear had wafted away any remaining pharmaceutical cobwebs, and he stammered an answer. “I... I... didn’t call ’em, Greg. Y’... y’ gotta believe me. I... I fell down the stairs and b... broke me ankles. Me g... girlfriend musta called ’em.”

He nodded and took a slug of the beer. “Girlfriend, eh?”

“Y... yes. Me girlfriend. You must know I wouldna brung no one here.”

He nodded again and finished the bottle. “So how’d you call her, Chase? Your phone’s on the landing.”

He frowned. “I was talking to her when I fell. I musta dropped it there.”

“Right.” He fetched himself another beer and flicked the cap, but only sipped the froth before waving the bottle at Chase. “So somehow the phone lands propped up against the wall, and your girlfriend knows this address so she can send the ambos?”

Finally, Chase realised that silence was his best option.

The man turned his attention to us. “Well, hello. As you now know from Chase, my name’s Greg, and I’ve gotta decide what to do with you. I’m going upstairs to make a call, but I’m not someone you should screw with. The previous owners of this farm thought it was a good idea to dig a wine cellar... Near a floodplain, go figure. Guess it was those sorta decisions that caused them to go bust. But this building’s perfect for what I need it for. A derelict, remote place with a basement. There’s only one way out and no one’s gonna hear if I use this on you.” He paused to let the information sink in. “Am I making myself clear?”

We both nodded.

“Keep an eye on them, Chase.”

He put down his beer and collected the radio and phones before walking up the stairs.

We could hear his distant voice as he paced above us. Jan turned to look at me, her eyes wide and voice a whisper. “What’re we going do?”

My mind was racing as I blew out a breath. “I’ve still got 150 mg of ketamine in a syringe. I could squirt it in his beer.”

She frowned. “That should work, but what’s it taste like?”
I shrugged. “How should I know?”
A voice came from the other side of the room. “I could try.”

We both looked over at Chase and he shrugged. “I reckon I’m just as screwed as you guys. Let me taste it.”

I hesitated for a split second. The legislative repercussions of handing out controlled drugs to a junkie were hard-wired in my brain. Then I realised the plan was to overdose our captor. I guess all bets are off in a hostage situation.

I crept over to Chase, who stuck out his tongue, and I let a small droplet fall from the syringe. He waited for more, frowned with disappointment, then smacked his lips. “Salty.”

I sighed. “That’ll be the saline I diluted it with.”

“It’s not too strong, though.”

“Guess we’ll just have to risk it.” I grabbed Greg’s beer and took a swig, filling up the bottle with the contents of the syringe and replacing it on the workbench. Then I had a thought. “You keep any snacks here, Chase. Y’know, for when you get the munchies?”

He frowned. “Yer, in that cupboard over there. Why?”

I flung open the door and pulled out a pack of crisps just as Greg reappeared at the doorway. “What the fuck’re you doin’?”

He raised the weapon at me as I ripped at the bag. “I get hungry when I’m nervous.” “I don’t give a shit! Get back on the floor! This ain’t a fuckin’ cafe.”
Once I’d sat next to Jan, he came down the stairs. “Give ’em here!”

It was easy to add a tremble to my hand as I reached out with the snack. The target of his shotgun was thudding in my chest.

He snatched the bag and took a few steps away, resting the gun on the workbench so it pointed in our direction. Then, staring at me, he grabbed a large handful of crisps, stuffing them in his mouth, chomping so that pieces flew and dropped to the floor. He finished his childish display with a raised middle finger, before reaching for his beer and taking a long slug.

I held my breath. Would the crisps mask the taste?

He glanced at the label of the bottle with a slight frown.

My heart stopped.

Time slowed.

The air in my lungs felt stale.

Then he grabbed another handful, engulfed them, and washed the mouthful down with the rest of the beer.

“Right, Chase, if they move a muscle, give me a shout. I’ll be back in a second.”

He stomped up the stairs after grabbing the gun, and we could hear him rummaging around in a room above us.

Jan leant towards me. “Christ, I thought he’d spit it out. Nice idea with the crisps. How long will it take to work?”

I leant her way. “Haven’t a clue. It’s a big dose, but that ketamine’s for injection. He’s ingested it. We’ve just gotta keep him talking. Remember, it’s a dissociative anaesthetic.

Before it knocks him out, he’s likely to react to any sensory input, y’know, sounds and movement. He’ll be like the T-rex from Jurassic Park, so stay quiet and still.”

“Copy that.”

Greg walked back down into the basement and threw a roll of plastic tape to Jan. “Tape up Hungry Boy’s ankles and wrists. I’ll check them, so make sure they’re tight or you’ll regret it.”

She nodded and did as instructed, but took her time.

“Hurry up!”

“I’m trying. I don’t work well with a shotgun pointing at me.”

“Bullshit, you’re an ambo. You telling me you don’t work well under pressure?”

“Not this sort.”

He laughed “Right. Sit back down and tape up your own legs. And make it quick.”

She did. The only sound in the basement was the screech of the tape as it pulled from the roll. “Good.”

“Now, Chase, I need you to help tape up her hands.”
He frowned. “I can’t get over there, me ankles are busted.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll help.”
He put down the gun and dragged his employee over next to Jan, then handed him the roll.

“Now, tape up her wrists.”

Chase winced as he reached over to Jan, but secured her arms together.

“Good. Now chuck me the roll.” He caught it and then approached Chase, kneeling next to him. “Put your hands together.”

Chase looked aghast. “Me? But why?”

He stared at him with his dead eyes. “You’re the fuckwit that caused this mess. You think you’re any use to me now? Put your hands together before I break your wrists.”

Chase leant back with his eyes closed and reached his hands out. He’d at least predicted his fate.

Once we were all tied up, Greg dragged a chair over so it faced away from us and straddled the seat, leaning his folded arms on the backrest. “Sooo... what am I going to do with you three?”

I shrugged and smiled. “You could let us take Chase to hospital.”

“Shut up! It was a retrograde question.”

I felt my eyebrows raise, but knew better than to correct him.

“What would you do when leaving here? D’you call up on your radio, or contact your people in any way?”

“Why d’you want to know?”

“I’m the one asking the questions! But, hey, it doesn’t matter. I’ve got some gentlemen on their way who specialise in information retrieval, if y’know what I mean. They’ll find out what I need to know.”

Jan bowed her head and appeared to cry. “Please don’t hurt me. I’ll tell you everything. All we do is press the departing button on the mobile data terminal. That’s the black box on the dashboard. Then we choose the hospital we’re going to. Chase will need surgery, so we’d go to the Royal.”

Greg nodded his approval. “There you are. That wasn’t too hard, was it? No violence needed. Well, at least not from me. Can’t say the same for the other guys.”

Jan looked up with tear-stained cheeks. “But I’ve told you what you wanted. Why can’t you let us go?”

He shrugged. “You’ve seen too much. This hideout is toast, and so will you be soon. If we drop off the ambulance at the hospital, I reckon it’ll be hours before they raise the alarm. And we’ll be long gone. They may find your charred remains a few days later, but... What was that?”

He stood and grabbed the shotgun, turning to stare at the opposite wall. “Did anyone else hear that?”

I slowly brought my taped hands up and pressed a finger against my lips for Jan and Chase to see.

“Who’s there?” Greg brandished the gun towards the wall. “I’m armed. Leave me alone!”

Again, with very slow movements, I placed my hands behind my head, so my arms covered my ears. The other two realised what was happening and followed suit.

“Get back! Get back! Nooooo!”

BOOOOM!

I’d tucked my head down, but even with my ears covered the noise of the shotgun blast in the small basement was deafening. Brick particles and ricocheted buckshot showered down on us as something thudded next to me. As the dust cleared, I looked over to see Greg lying by my side, still holding the smoking gun and facing the ceiling with a thousand-yard stare. He was deep within the K-hole.

“You guys OK?”
Jan spat out some brick dust. “Had better days, but I’m fine.” “Right. We need to move fast.”

I used the hot end of the sawn-off barrel to melt my plastic restraint, and grabbed a pair of shears from my pocket to free my legs, then cut the tape from Jan. Prising the weapon from Greg’s grip, I dumped it on the stairs before searching his pockets for a phone. “Jan, if you tape him up, I’ll call the cops.”

“My pleasure!”

I brought up the emergency option on his mobile and hit triple zero. A voice came on the line. “Hello, do you need Police, Fire, or Ambulance?”

After finishing the call, I turned to see Greg trussed up like a Christmas turkey and Chase looking forlorn. “Can you at least cut my tape?”

I walked over and sniped the plastic from his wrists. “I guess you’re not going anywhere soon. D’you know who Greg’s mates are?”

He shrugged. “Probably bikies. He knows some nasty dudes. You’ve gotta hope the cops get here before they do.”

I looked at Jan. “Should we retreat to the ambulance?”

“What happens if we bump into them on the way out?”

We stood staring at each other, indecision winning the day. Then my face broke into a grin. “D’you hear that?”

She smiled back. “Sirens. Let’s wait for the cavalry.”
“You gonna be OK, Jan?”
She shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I think it’ll take a while to recover from this job.”

Reaching out, I pulled her into a hug. “Look on the bright side. At least we’re now on overtime.”