*Small Town USA (Part 1)*
Brynne sat on a rickety, old couch in the bay reading a paperback. The author was Nelson DeMille, the book, Word of Honor, one of her favorites. So far the day had been a breeze, one cardiac, one tummyache, and one minor car wreck...no death or destruction. She had two and a half more hours until the end of her shift and hoped to get home on time tonight. She and Trey were going out to dinner and to see a movie. The sky was the most gorgeous, cerulean blue, with a few, fluffy clouds lazily floating from west to east. A light breeze cooled the early summer afternoon and made it bearable to sit outside.
"Much too beautiful of a day to be at work," Brynne thought, as she turned a page. She was employed by Griffen County Emergency Medical Service and had been there for 12 years. The job suited her fast-paced, aggressive personality.
Mike Cavanaugh, paramedic extraordinaire, or so he fancied himself, was snoozing on a recliner, which was even more battered than the couch. Typical hand-me-down furniture for any EMS station. Mike had been Brynne's partner for just under a year, and the two worked well together. He was a relatively new medic, just turned 19, with barely a year of experience, if you counted his clinical internship. He became her partner right out of school, which in ways was good, because he had learned her working style. He had the typical ego of a new medic, but he was also academically intelligent, though as far as common sense went, he could be denser than a box of rocks. He worked well under duress, took orders well (Brynne had been known to get a wee bit bossy on scenes where most of the help sent were, in her eyes, inept), but could also take the lead if need be. He was a good medic but his downfall was his tendency to second-guess himself. No matter how hard Brynne tried to drill into him to go with his first gut instinct, he couldn't get it through his thick head, and as a consequence still had some problems managing complicated calls. She knew though, that this would alleviate itself with time and experience.
Brynne Shannon had been a medic for 12 years, having started young, and at 32 she had seen things that would cause lifelong nightmares for the average person. Along with the horrid scenes of death, abuse, and traumas most can't even begin to imagine, she had also experienced more than a few times, the joys and pride of truly saving someone from death, or of bringing a new life into the world amid howling sirens. One of the best rewards was someone seeing her in the grocery and saying, "You were the woman who took my dad to the hospital when he had a heart attack. Thank you so much!" Yes, the few and far between thank-you's were what made it worth it.
Suddenly, the tones, a high and low pitch, sounded over their hand held Motorola radios.
"Medic 8, Code 3, Signal 90, corner of Davis and Hendry, at the mall." Crackled the dispatcher's voice. The jargon described an emergency call of unknown nature at the mall. Most likely a fall on the escalator, mused Brynne silently.
"10-4 Griffen, enroute," replied Brynne into her mobile radio, as she climbed into the huge Freightliner ambulance. Mike, who had jumped up and pretty much sprinted to the rig, was in the driver's seat with the strobes all ready lit up. Such a FNG. For those not privy to the wonderful acronyms so common to civil servants and even military, FNG is pretty much universal, "Fuckin' New Guy". They both fastened their seatbelts and pulled out of the station onto the main drag, sirens screaming.
The city of Griffen, in Griffen County, in Southwest Georgia, population 68,000, was a typical mid-size town, reminiscent of old-time America. It was complete with town square and park, and the obligatory statue of the town's founder, Lucius Armand Griffen, his life-sized visage forever commemorated in cast bronze; standing proudly among the jets of a large circular fountain. This was Hometown, USA...still rural enough to be cozy, but with modern conveniences such as Wal-Mart and a small mall, with a JC Penney's, Sears, and Montgomery Ward. Much of the county was farms and mills. Crops of cotton, soybeans, peanuts, and corn stretched over the countryside. It was a picturesque place...very Norman Rockwell-ish.
Suddenly the radio squawked, "Medic 8, we're receiving reports of multiple casualties at the mall...in fact, at least a hundred or so. The caller says there are patients all over the entire mall, not just confined to one area." The dispatcher's voice had risen to a new pitch...both from excitement, and, as Brynne was soon to hear, fright. "Medic 8, the cause of their problems is undetermined, use extreme caution on approach."
Brynne pressed the toggle switches that turned off the strobes and the sirens.
"What are you doing?" Mike asked going through one of the three stoplights in town.
"We're downgrading...something's not right with this." Brynne said, her face taking on a look of intensity.
"Why? Didn't you hear June? At least a hundred patients! We need to get there quickly! Come on Brynne, light her back up!" His voice too, had risen in pitch, though his was from pure adrenaline. He reached for the toggles, to flip them back on, but Brynne smacked his hand back.
"Yeah Mike, but she also said they were sick from an unknown cause. Think boy, think! A hundred people don't keel over and get sick at the same time unless they've all been exposed to something!"
Then suddenly, as the lightbulb went off, his face registered fear. It clicked. Damn he was dense sometimes! Suddenly the VHF radio used by the city fire department clamored, "Engine 14, Fire Control, get the chief out here! We need to go to TAC 4, repeat changing channels to TAC 4." Then there was silence. Brynne scrambled to change the radio frequency; when she hit TAC 4, she felt her heart stop.
"Fire control, we've got a bad situation...chemical exposure of some sort...get HazMat down here! Burns and I are inside in Level A's," The firefighter's voice was panicked. A Level A suit was fully encapsulating with it's own air supply. They would be protected from whatever contaminants were inside.
"Some of the younger volunteer boys rushed in trying to help, they're down too!" There was a break in the transmission, then he continued, his speech pattern quick and stilted, like that of someone who's beyond frightened, "Griffen, if I didn't know any better, I'd say this was some type of chemical or bio agent! These folks are dropping like flies..gagging, vomiting, loosing control of all their bodily functions! Oh man...this is bad! Control do you hear me?" He was almost screaming into the mic, his voice shaking. Brynne's mind was moving at lightning speed, taking it all in. A chemical or biological agent...here?
The firefighter's voice continued, not sounding like the same man who'd initially started the transmission. He'd gained some control of himself, but the quavering quality of his speech was still there. "Fire Control, we're coming out of the building. We'll be cordoning off the area...for a half-mile in all directions. Tell the HazMat crews and the Chief to stage at Ruby and Connor."
"Stop the rig!" Commanded Brynne, her voice firm. "Take us back to the station!" She had pulled her backpack from behind her seat and began digging for a book. She found it: Hazardous Materials Exposures. She flipped through it and scanned pages rapidly. Her mind, still thinking at speeds that would put a lesser person in a coma, began piecing together information.
"Brynne, we can't go back to the station!" Mike said, "They're gonna need us out there!"
"If this is what I think it is," Brynne hissed, "those people are dead!" Her eyes were boring into his with a ferocity he'd never seen. "Now turn this rig around and go back to the station! NOW!" She hollered.
They pulled back into the parking lot of their station, but before they got to the chain-link gate, they had already spotted the three bodies lying on the ground, in front of the bay doors. It was a man, woman, and small child. Their bodies were covered in vomit and it was apparent they'd lost control of their bladders and bowels. A thick cloud of flies was already buzzing around them.
"Stop!" Brynne screamed, and Mike slammed on the brakes. "Back up next to our cars." She grabbed the trucks cellular phone and dialed her supervisor's number. He picked up on the first ring.
"Abe Gordon" answered a harried voice.
"Loo, it's Brynne...you've been listening to the radio?" she asked, as her pager began chiming.
"Yeah...it don't look good kid. You at the command post?" he asked.
"No sir," she said, determined to stand her ground, "We're back at the station. Well, sitting in the truck outside the gate. Loo, there are three dead bodies in front of the station. Very dead, they're skin is already blue and their covered with crap and puke. We're not going in there. You know as well as I do that whatever this is, we can't do a thing about it."
He sighed into the phone, the sound whistling through the receiver. "I know, I know." He began, "This is a no win situation. I'm gonna tell you something Brynne, I was getting ready to send a message over the paging system anyway," he paused, and she heard him suck in a breath as if trying to summon the courage to expel some terrible secret. "Brynne, we're getting reports that this same thing has happened all over the country, not just the big metropolitan areas, but towns just like Griffen. Hell, towns a quarter the size of Griffen," another pause.
"Loo, I'm going home," she interrupted, seizing the opportunity in his search for words.
"I want you all to go home. Many of our stations are contaminated and the hospitals are filling up with people who are dying before they can get out of the parking lot. I'm sending everyone home. I'll page it out in a few minutes." He again, sucked in his breath, "Brynne, word has it this is a major chemical agent, one of the worst; Sarin, VX...hell, nobody knows. The reports are flooding in. People are dying all over the country, within minutes of exposure. Most of the reports are coming from big shopping malls, airports, and city parks...big public places. When the fog clears, it's gonna be a mess. Get your things, and take whatever supplies you think you'll need from your rig and get out of there."
Brynne's mind was reeling...Sarin or VX, or something worse! It was all over the country, a mass exposure...a mass attack!
"All right Loo, I'll tell Mike." She heard is desk phone ring in the background, "Brynne hang on a sec," she heard him pick up the other phone and listened to the one sided conversation. It consisted of a bunch of yeah's, and uh-huh's, then she jumped as she heard him holler, 'Crap! Holy Mary and Jesus, what's happening to this world!' Then he hung up with the unknown caller and came back to her.
"Brynne, you still with me?" She replied she was, but was cut off. "Listen to me, Brynne, and listen good. These, attacks, or whatever they are, they're everywhere. We just had more here in the county. Two at the airport, one at the WalMart, and one at every industrial site we've got, plus there are reports of people down in the county park all around the boat fountain...that's 11 attacks in Griffen County alone. Good Lord Almighty, and it's all over this country." His voice was so solemn it scared her.
"Jesus" she muttered, "You don't have to tell me twice. As of now, Medic 8 is off the air."
The lieutenant sighed. "Deep down I know this is a lost cause and I want to get home too. But as the old cliche goes, 'The captain goes down with his ship,’ only in this case, it's the lieutenant."
"I'm so sorry, Abe. Please understand. I know you think me a coward."
"No Brynne, you don't have a choice. I need my medics healthy and the only way to have that is to keep them out of harm's way. Later, if there's anything left, we'll come back during the aftermath and do what we can. Good luck to you girl. And if I never see you again, it was a pleasure working with you."
The conversation ended and Brynne checked her pager. It was Trey and the code for, 'Get home now!’ No arguments there!
"Mike, pull the rig over next to our cars. We're closing this medic unit and going home."
"But why? He asked, pulling the truck back around the lot, "This is a disaster! We're gonna be needed."
"Dammit, Mike, those people were contaminated by some type of chemical warfare agent. This isn't some freak accident. It's all over the country. There have been more exposures here! Now get your crap, get in your car, and go home. Lock the doors and don't come out." She was losing her patience with him. Just then, their pagers sounded. It was the all-call from Lt. Gordon giving a brief explanation of what was happening and the order to close down all EMS stations and that all crews were released from duty. Mike just looked at it, as if he were having to sound out the words phonetically. Brynne repeated the order for him to get home, but he just sat there, hands on the steering wheel. She didn't have time to explain how grave the situation was, so she left him there for the time being. She turned, crouched down, and went through the walk-through opening into the back of the rig, opened one of the compartments and got out the patient personal belonging's bags. She then commenced to fill them with much of the truck's medical supplies. Before she'd finished, she'd filled ten of them. She sat them at the back doors of the truck. Mike was still sitting in the driver's seat. His face seemed slack, not registering anything she was doing. It was apparent he was in shock.
Brynne was a realist. More than that, she was a survivalist. Time was short. She knew Mike was young, but she didn't have time to have a heart-to-heart chat to make him understand. She climbed back into the passenger seat. Unable to take it any longer, she slapped his baby face, open palmed. There was a loud resounding crack and instantly a red impression of her palm and fingers spread across his cheek. Slowly, his eyes met hers and he began to cry. He'd been listening to the conversation with the lieutenant and what he heard had shocked him. He knew what this meant. Everyone was going to die. It was more than he could comprehend. Brynne grabbed him by his shirtfront, and pulled him around to face her.
"Straighten up Michael! Pull yourself together! Now!" she barked, shaking him, her eyes boring holes into him. His eyes focused on her, but tears still coursed down his cheeks. "Get your gear and go home!" He pulled away from her, straightening up is normally immaculate uniform shirt. He looked so lost and frightened. Suddenly Brynne pulled him into her embrace, and like a little boy, he sobbed. Brynne let him cry for a few seconds, then pulled back and grasping his shoulders, she looked at him.
"You have to get out of here, Mike. This is a bad situation. There will be no heroic rescues, no dazzling shows of courage. This is the real deal. Terrorism on a new level and very possibly, the beginning of World War III." She was brutally honest with him about the gravity of the situation. He began to shake his head, his eyes still looking at her. No, not at her, through her. He turned off the ignition, grabbed his backpack from behind the seat and just sat there. She told him she was getting out, and reiterated that he needed to get home. Then taking a deep breath and holding it, she opened the side door.
She used her key chain remote to unlock her Toyota 4runner. Scurrying out of the ambulance, she opened the hatch, threw her backpack and purse in, but opened the toolbox. Inside she pulled out her gas mask and filter. Pushing her bangs back on her head, she pulled on her gas mask and tightened the straps. She inhaled and had the momentary feeling of asphyxiation as the mask sucked against her face. She had a good seal. She pulled the plug on the end of the filter, and now breathing normally, she commenced to load her truck with the ambulance supplies, everything from Band-Aids and gauze, to oxygen, regulators, and medications...including narcotics. After closing the hatch, she got into her truck, closed the doors, and turned off the AC and the fan. She reached under her seat and drew out her Beretta 9mm pistol and laid it in her lap. She started the engine and was immediately blasted by the Bose speakers. The song Watchman by her favorite band, Pokerface was blaring from the speakers. "Ahhh, nothing like the sounds of politico-rock to bug out to!" she laughed to herself.
Throwing the truck in reverse, she backed away from the building, then slamming it in drive she spun out. She glanced in her rearview mirror to see Mike getting out of the ambulance carrying a dufflebag. He was walking toward his Camaro. She was sure that would be the last time she'd see Mike Cavanaugh.
The drive home was eerie as well as aggravating. Fortunately the Toyota had darkly tinted windows and that kept gawking to a minimum. It's not everyday you see a young woman driving out of town wearing a military issue gas mask.
Brynne noticed people running through the streets, some carrying armloads of grocery bags, others boxes of God knows what. She drove past the city fountain, in which the life-sized statue of Lucius Armand Griffen stood amidst the jets of misting water, and gasped to see dozens of people, including small children, lying dead around it. Others near the fountain were staggering around, vomiting, loosing control of their bowels; some crouched on the pavement in the obvious last strains of an agonizing death. A fire hydrant had been run over by a Cadillac, and water was spraying ten feet into the air, showering her truck with droplets. She switched on the windshield wipers for a few seconds to clear the water. There was already looting and ravaging, broken store front windows, garbage strewn all over the street and sidewalks, bedraggled people carrying from the shops every type of electronic device known to man. "A mass panic this soon?" She thought. It occurred to her then to turn on the radio. Not her Motorola she'd taken from the station, but the AM/FM. She stopped the Pokerface CD, and the radio came on. She heard newscasters spelling out the tale of some mysterious, unknown agent sweeping across the country killing hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people. She laughed out loud when the woman who was broadcasting this report followed her statement with, "But there is no reason to panic. Local, State and Federal agencies have the problem under control."
"Oh yeah," Brynne said aloud, her voice muffled behind the mask, "Griffen's authorities have closed up shop, and I would bet that most of the state and federal authorities have taken their last poison filled breath. How's that for control?"
Continued In The Rubicon's Survival Fiction Section
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