Dean Flynn steered the ambulance through the nighttime traffic of Elk City. The howl of the siren and the reflection of the flashing lights off the buildings cleared the traffic ahead of him as he drove to the burn unit of Elk City Medical Center. In the back with his partner Brynne, he had a female patient who had been attacked, and set on fire by an unknown adversary. His identification of her as Witch, a witch in common terms, made her his Unusual patient, and he was determined as ever to do whatever he could to save her life. In the recent months of his probationary period with the paramedics of Station U, Dean had learned that the creatures of myth and legend existed and lived alongside their human neighbors. The Station U paramedics were tasked with providing medical care to those Unusual patients.
The woman in the back was suffering from significant burns. He had worked with Brynne, his partner and mentor, to start IVs and get her some pain management. They had placed a tube in her throat to help her breathe through her burned airways, and now he was driving the ambulance to the hospital, lights flashing and siren blaring, to get her to the burn center alive. He checked the rearview mirror and saw Brynne hunched over the patient in the back, working to cut away the remainder of her charred clothing. A firefighter from the engine that responded to the fire sat at the head of the stretcher, occasionally squeezing the bag that delivered life-saving oxygen to the patient’s lungs.
Dean returned his attention to the road and checked his speed, knowing that even with lights and sirens, he had to obey traffic signs and signals, proceeding through intersections only after he had ascertained it was safe to do so. The instructors in emergency vehicle operations courses called it “Due Regard” for traffic laws. What it meant to him was that he had the responsibility to get his patient, and his crew, to the hospital in one piece. Getting in an accident along the way would not accomplish that goal.
He turned the final corner and saw ECMC, Elk City Medical Center, lit up bright against the dark nighttime sky down the street. He had never been in the Burn Center entrance. It was on the opposite side of the building from the emergency department, but he knew where it was. As he approached the dedicated ambulance parking at that entrance, Dean picked up the radio’s microphone, and keying the button to transmit, said, “Ambulance U-191 arrived at ECMC.”
“Ambulance U-191 arrived, ECMC, Oh-Two-Thirty-Seven,” the dispatcher replied with the military time of arrival over the speaker.
He backed into the parking spot, checking his mirrors often. He had only ever done this in practice at the academy. This was the first time Brynne had let him drive. She claimed this critical patient for herself because of the difficult airway management issues the burn patient presented.
“We’re here,” he called over his shoulder into the back, as he put the vehicle gear lever in park and engaged the parking brake. He unbuckled his seat belt and climbed down from the cab, heading back to the rear and opening the doors. Brynne was detaching the IV bags from their ceiling hooks. The firefighter from the engine crew squeezed the airway bag, breathing for the patient every eight seconds. Dean could see him counting under his breath in between squeezes, the way he’d been taught.
“Ok,” Brynne said, grabbing the heart monitor from its rack and placing it carefully on the stretcher next to the patient’s legs. She had covered the woman with a clean sheet up to her chin. “We’re going to take our time and make sure we aren’t moving her unnecessarily. I don’t want to dislodge that tube in her airway.”
“Got it,” Dean said, nodding. He gripped the base of the stretcher and unlocked the mechanism that held it securely in the back of the ambulance. Brynne climbed down next to him and turned to assist. Dean looked at the firefighter in the back still focused on his job. “We’ll go slow, you just focus on the breathing. I’ll take over for you when we get this far so you can climb down, and then you can resume, Okay?” The guy nodded as he squeezed the bag one more time and then stood up, bent over the head of the stretcher to do his job.
Dean started to roll the stretcher out of the back of the ambulance, taking the weight of it as he did so. When the undercarriage cleared the back of the vehicle, he pressed the button that electronically lowered the wheels to the ground. He turned over control of the foot-end to his partner and he went to the head of the cot to take over squeezing the bag while the firefighter climbed down. Once that job was returned to the firefighter, Dean took over controlling the head of the stretcher, and they wheeled their patient through the automatic double doors and inside the ECMC burn center.
* * *
Inside the burn center, a nurse came forward right away to take their report. Brynne filled her in on the details of the patient, what little they knew. She covered their assessments and interventions as they followed the nurse to a broad, open treatment room. There were several doctors, residents and nurses there waiting for the patient.
They carefully transferred the patient from the cot over to the hospital’s ER stretcher. A respiratory therapist took over squeezing the airway bag from the firefighter while the nurses hung the IV bags from poles at the corner of the hospital cot. Brynne answered a few more questions while Dean detached the heart monitor from the patient, and then they backed off to let the hospital’s burn team do their work. He wheeled their ambulance stretcher back into the hallway.
“That was a tough call, I came over to see how you guys were doing,” a familiar voice said. Dean turned to see the nurse, Ashley Moore, from the emergency department standing there. He had run into her at a convenience store soon after he had started his job at Station U. He had caught her staring at the back of his hand during that encounter. The back of the right hand was where all the paramedics from Station U put an ultraviolet ink stamp that declared them as paramedics for the Unusual community. Since only Unusuals could see in that spectrum, he knew she was one of them but he had yet to figure out what kind. Dean had discovered she worked in the ER here at ECMC as a nurse, and he looked forward to seeing her there whenever she was working.
“It was a bad one, Ashley,” Brynne confirmed. She looked around to make sure no one was close enough to hear. The firefighter had headed back out to the ambulance deck, probably to wait for his crew to come by and pick him up. “Someone sprayed her with lighter fluid, or something like it, and then set her on fire. It might be a hate crime related to her being Witch. She’s got seventy percent second and third-degree burns, and we had to intubate her to protect her airway. I think it will be touch and go.”
“Has anyone tried to contact her coven?” Ashley asked.
“Chief Ari was going to do that,” Brynne said. “I hope he gets them. Maybe there’s something they can do to help her.”
“How’re you holding up on this one, Dean? This incident is a little more than the usual ambulance call for you guys,” the nurse asked him. Her green eyes sparkled in the fluorescent lighting of the hospital hallway, or was that just his imagination?
“I’m fine; I guess,” he said. “It was a rough call, sure, but it’s a lot rougher on her than us,” referring to the patient inside the treatment room. “I’ll be ok, all things considered.”
“Well, I heard you guys on the radio coming in and thought I’d come over and say hi,” Ashley said. “Dean, if you ever need to talk, maybe over a cup of coffee or a glass of soda sometime, I’m available.” She turned and headed back down the hallway towards the emergency department. Dean watched her go until she turned the corner at the far end of the long hallway.
“Earth to Dean, Earth to Dean,” Brynne said, adding some radio static sound effects. “Yo, Probie!”
“Uh, sorry,” Dean stammered. “I got distracted, should we get the unit back in service?”
“Yeah you were distracted alright. That Eldara Sister has your number, I think.”
Dean blinked in surprise. “She’s your big sister? I didn’t know. She looks younger than you.”
“Not elder sister, you goof,” Brynne laughed aloud. “She is an Eldara Sister, an actual angel on earth; and she is most definitely not younger than me. Come on, let’s get the stretcher made up and put the ambulance back in service. I’ll fill you in on the Eldara on the way back to the station.
* * *
Once they were loaded up and driving back to the station in the ambulance, Dean notified headquarters that they were back in service. Then he could wait no longer. His curiosity about Ashley and the knowledge that she was an Unusual as he had suspected was burning him up inside. He looked over at Brynne in the driver’s seat.
“Well, what?” she asked, glancing over at him, smiling.
“Well, what is an Eldara Sister?” Dean asked.
Brynne laughed. “Wow, you must really like her.” He started to splutter a complaint, but she cut him off. “Okay, okay, enough torture. The Eldara are rumored to be the oldest of the Unusual races, older even than the oldest of the vampires. Some say they are the messengers of the gods or the God, depending on your perspective. It’s said they are the source for the mythical angels of biblical stories. Ashley, specifically, is an Eldara Sister. They are a group renowned for their healing powers. I’ve seen no evidence of anything strange with Ashley and her patients, but that is what they say about the Sisters. She just seems to be a really good nurse by all appearances.”
“I’ve never seen anything about the Eldara in any of the books,” Dean said referring to the extensive library of myths, legends and fairy tales back at Station U.
“I hadn’t heard anything about them either and wouldn’t have known about Ashley if James hadn’t mentioned her after an encounter he had with her at the hospital.”
James was Brynne’s vampire boyfriend. As far as Dean was concerned, the jury was still out on him.
“James told you about her?” Dean said.
“Yep,” Brynne replied. “Apparently he was nearly blinded by her halo when he first ran into her.”
“Her halo? I didn’t see anything,” Dean said, his curiosity piqued further.
“Yes, her halo. But I don’t think you or I can usually see it. It’s more of an aura thing that other Unusuals can see.”
“So she’s like, thousands of years old?” Dean said, trying to wrap his brain around the concept and whether he imagined things when he had thought that she might like him.
“Oh, at least,” Brynne chuckled when she looked over at him. “Kind of makes her the ultimate cougar, doesn’t it?”
“Really funny, Brynne. Really funny,” Dean retorted. “You should talk. James is at least a thousand years older than you.”
“About sixteen hundred, if you want to know the truth of it,” she said. “The real question is do you like her? I say that because I think she likes you. That’s not the first time she’s turned up when you and I came in with a call. I asked Tammy and Brook about it, and they said she never just drops in when they bring a patient to the hospital.”
“I suppose I do like her, as far as I know her,” Dean said. “So what do I do? Is there protocol for talking to her?”
“What are you talking about?” Brynne asked. “You already talk to her.”
“I mean, if she’s this ancient being, there must be a tradition or a culturally different way to approach her, right?”
“Dean,” Brynne said. “If I’ve learned anything from dating James, it’s that you have to live in the times you are in. Long-lived Unusuals have adapted to changing times and morals. At least, most of them do. It’s part of who they are. They aren’t stuck in the ways of the past. She already asked you out. Take her up on it. Go out for coffee or a soda and bite to eat after work. You can call when you get back to the station. I’ll bet she picks up the line at the nurse’s station herself.”
“Why would you bet that?”
“Because,” Brynne said. “Unless I miss my guess, she’s counting on you calling her because she likes you, too. I’ll bet you, say, washing the ambulance for a whole week, that she picks up.”
“You’re on,” Dean said. He thought about it, and he didn’t think Brynne was right, but he also wouldn’t mind losing this particular bet. He stared into the night thinking about what he would say on the phone as his partner drove back to the station.