The wounds were severe, at least that was the information coming in from the dispatchers over the ambulance’s radio. Dean drove quickly through the nighttime streets of Elk City. He made good time but drove with due regard to safety and all traffic laws. It didn’t do the patient any good if the ambulance wrecked on the way to the scene.
The call was for an animal bite. The dispatcher said that the caller was having difficulty stopping the bleeding. There were numerous bites to the patient. Dean worked hard to stay focused. He was distracted lately, ever since he found out his girlfriend, Ashley – an actual angel or, as she preferred, Eldara, had been abducted and was still missing. It was important for him to find her. It was also important for him to make sure he cared for his patients. He redoubled his focus on the dark nighttime residential streets in front of him.
Dean glanced over at his new partner. Barry Winston had been an experienced paramedic before he applied for the special Station U community paramedic program in Elk City. He had been unaware, just as Dean had been in the beginning, that their patients were not normal people. In fact, their patients were not human at all. The Station U paramedics responded to calls for emergency medical aid from what other people would call the creatures of myths and legends. Some might even say they were the monsters of nightmares.
Dean had come to know different. They were just people who were trying to live their lives alongside their human neighbors, without anyone knowing how different they were. Barry had been shocked at first, but was coming around. He was adjusting better than Dean had in the beginning. Barry was already a pretty good paramedic and that, plus a predisposition for reading fantasy and science-fiction books, had helped him overcome his cultural biases.
Barry operated the siren while Dean drove, changing the tone of it when they entered an intersection. Once they were through it and speeding down the road on the other side, he looked over at Dean. “What do you think caused the bite? It sounds serious. Could it be a shapeshifter like a werewolf or werebear?”
“Not sure, yet, Barry,” Dean replied as he drove. “Whatever it is, it does not sound like a casual bite. Also, most shapeshifters are very careful about who they bite and infect with Lycanthropy. The disease is a blood borne illness and they take it seriously when someone is brought into their pack. It doesn’t sound like that kind of bite. Whatever it is, we will see soon enough.”
Dean turned the ambulance onto another residential street and started looking at the house numbers as the headlights illuminated the mailboxes lining the street. He was looking for number eleven-ninety-four. He knew he was getting close, and started looking on the right for the even-numbered houses. Most of the houses were modest ranch style single-family homes with large front yards. The street was lined with trees and didn’t have any streetlights. Both of these things contributed to deep shadows and only a little moonlight filtering down to the ground.
He saw a flicker of movement ahead and turned the ambulance toward the shoulder of the road to shine the headlights onto one of the lawns in front of them. He saw a person crouched over a figure sprawled on the ground. The crouching individual, a middle-aged man, shielded his eyes from the glare of the headlights and then gave them a frantic wave. This had to be their patient, and the nine-one-one caller. Barry put them on location over the radio and was acknowledged by the dispatcher’s voice in return.
“Careful on this one, Barry,” Dean cautioned. “Whoever or whatever bit this person might still be in the neighborhood.”
“Got it, Dean,” his partner responded as he climbed down from the passenger side of the ambulance.
Dean grabbed the large flashlights from the compartment behind the driver’s door on the ambulance, then he went around to the rear, climbed inside and got the heart monitor and oxygen bags out of the back. Walking around to the passenger side, he handed one of the lights to Barry. His partner had grabbed the trauma and medication bags from the compartment on his side of the ambulance. They hung off his shoulders by their straps. Switching on their lights, together the two paramedics walked across the lawn to the patient and caller. Dean shined his light around the yard to check for the creature that caused the bite. He had an itch between his shoulder blades and wished he could see better in the dark.
When they got to the side of the patient, the two paramedics saw she was an Asian woman in her fifties. Her entire shoulder on her left side was laid open so that Dean could see bone and tendon underneath. There were also deep slashing wounds to her abdomen. No wonder the caller couldn’t stop the bleeding. It was a wonder she had lived long enough for the ambulance to arrive.
Because he was still on probationary status, Barry took the lead, with Dean observing and in support. The newer Station U paramedic held out the back of his right hand so the male caller could see it, and shined his light on it. That would reveal the hidden, ultra-violet ink stamp placed there. It showed the Station U paramedic emblem. It was invisible to humans, but it could be seen by their patients and other Unusual community members. The man nodded as he saw the fresh ink stamped there and he visibly relaxed. Dean showed his right hand as well. His mark was a more permanent UV tattoo of the Star of Life emblem. If Barry worked out in the long term, he would probably get one, too. All the Station U paramedics did eventually.
“Thank the Gods you are here,” the man said. “My wife, she was attacked by some sort of demon-made-flesh.”
“I’m Barry, and this is my partner Dean,” Barry said as he set to work. “We are going to help your wife the best we can, okay?”
“Thank you,” the slight Asian man said. “I’m called Yamo, and my wife is Akiko. Please help her. I did what I could but I’m not as powerful as she is.”
Barry nodded as he started controlling the bleeding, slapping large, absorbent trauma pads over the wounds. Dean started collecting and assembling the IV supplies so they could get her some fluids. She had to have lost a great deal of blood.
“What sort of Unusual are you?” Dean asked. He had been unable to figure it out just from looking at them, or from anything that was said so far. That was normal. Sometimes you just had to ask.
“We are Hakutaku,” the Asian man said. The woman groaned as Barry continued to work on her, packing her significant wounds with gauze and trauma pads. The groan distracted the man from Dean’s inquiry. He knew a little of the Japanese and other Asian myths. The Hakutaku were healing spirits, and generally considered helpful and non-threatening. They were rumored to be related to the Chinese Bai-Ze spirits. It was times like this that his study of the extensive library of myths and legends back at Station U came in handy. It also explained why she was still alive. Her husband must have used some healing magic to sustain her.
Dean shined the light around in the darkness to check the area around them again. “Sir, did the attacker run off, or is it still out there nearby? Do you know what it was? Tell me what happened.”
“I don’t know,” the man said. “We go for a walk every night. We love this neighborhood and enjoy the quiet after dark. It is a good time for contemplation and rejuvenation. Tonight, though, the natural world around us, was upset for some reason. We sought to understand why as we walked, but could come to no conclusion. We strive to bring healing and balance to both individuals and the world around us. This time we couldn’t figure what was wrong. That was when the demon jumped out and slashed at Akiko. I was able to conjure a burst of light energy that drove it back. It screamed and ran off into the darkness. I turned my attention to my wife. I haven’t seen it or heard it since. That was about fifteen minutes ago.”
“You keep saying ‘demon,’” Dean said. “What kind of Unusual being was it? A lycan? Another variety of animal shapeshifter?”
“No, no. You do not understand,” Yamo said. “I think it was an Oni, a type of Japanese demon. I am sure of that much. I don’t know how it got past the wards and entered this world. It must have sensed our true nature and set upon my wife right away. She’s the stronger of the two of us.”
The hairs on Dean’s neck stood up. He had never encountered a demon before. He knew they were the evil opposites of the heavenly Unusuals like the Eldara. Those angels fulfilled the roles of messengers and agents of the gods of good and nature. The demons served another group, who sought to tear the world asunder, or so legend said. They were confined to the netherworld and kept there by a series of wards set in place millennia ago. An Oni was an Asian form of demon, though there were many varieties. Some were intelligent, but others were much more dangerous because of their unpredictable animal natures.
Shining the light around the yard, the paramedic saw nothing but the house and the trees and grass. He turned his attention back to the patient and her husband. If there was an Oni on the loose and attacking people, it would need to be dealt with, but that was a matter for someone else. He and Barry were here to care for this patient. They had to get her to the Elk City Medical Center trauma team.
* * *
The Oni demon, called Tegu by its lord and master, watched from the roof of the house nearby. It had been easy to climb up there and watch for the arrival of its true target. Tegu had been told that it would know the one it was to kill by his aura, and the stink of an Eldara on him. The Eldara, the messengers of the gods, were the most hated of the adversaries faced by demon-kind. The master was right. As soon as the strange, loud vehicle arrived and the occupants climbed out, the Oni saw the white glow surrounding the driver. He was one of those touched by one of the hated Eldara. That was the demon’s target. The man would not be without some sort of magical protections, so the demon watched and waited for the right opportunity to strike. He must kill this man. The master had ordered it.
* * *
Dean fetched the stretcher from the ambulance and took it over to where Barry was finishing up his treatments to Akiko. She was semiconscious, only occasionally groaning in pain when Barry was forced to move her while binding her wounds. He had stretched out the clear plastic from a roll of plastic food wrap and had wrapped her chest to seal the wounds and help prevent what was commonly called a sucking chest wound. The lungs required a closed system to work effectively. When air was able to rush into the chest cavity without having to go through the mouth and nose, the lungs could not inflate properly. This was one of the causes of a collapsed lung. By wrapping her wounds in airtight plastic, Barry helped seal the wounds and prevent air from entering the chest cavity by another route.
Once the stretcher was rolled up next to her, the two paramedics carefully lifted her up onto it and then began loading their other gear up and around her so they could roll the whole package of patient and gear back to the ambulance in one run. Dean pointed to the ambulance and told Yamo to go get in the passenger seat of the ambulance’s cab while they loaded his wife into the back. The two paramedics then rolled her over to the back of the vehicle. They took care on the uneven ground to avoid tipping the top-heavy load.
When they arrived at the back of the ambulance, Barry lifted the head end of the stretcher up and Dean helped him retract the wheels and roll it into the back of the ambulance. Considering his route to the hospital, he closed the doors and started to walk around to the driver’s side of the ambulance.
* * *
Tegu saw its opportunity as the two paramedics separated. Its target was alone at the rear and turning to walk to the front of the vehicle. The demon leapt down from its perch on the roof of the Hakutakus’ home. This would be the chance to finish off the target for its master. It would be satisfying to kill one of the agents of good. Even if this human was just another minion, it would be satisfying to serve its master this way. As Tegu scrambled from the roof to the ground, the demon failed to notice another dark form detach from the other shadows at the corner of the house, following after it. The hunter was also the hunted.