Violent subject matter: death
She saw the Beast, finally, saw the terror she had feared her whole life, and it was worse than she ever imagined.
That night had started out simple enough, like so many before. Abbey had parked her car in the vast garage, back in the darkness of the employee section. She was wearing the light blue scrubs of her profession, clean and pressed. As she walked through to the office her steps echoed in the concrete ‘Jungle’, as the officers called this dark cement landscape, wires and pipes crisscrossing the ceiling in tangles like overgrown vines and branches. She shivered as she looked out into the shadows, she assumed she would be safe here, of all places, but she tucked her purse tight into her elbow and quickened her steps.
None of the nurses at her hospital wanted to work at the California Highway Patrol office. The work was with drunks, and suspected criminals, it consisted of little more than taking breathalyzer readings, and drawing blood for toxicology screenings. But when she saw the face of her supervisor, Jazmin, saw how much she needed someone to fill this assignment, Abbey felt a pull of selflessness, the need to help Jazmin by forfeiting her own time. Abbey had always pushed herself to do more more, sacrifice more. It was her way of appeasing the Beast she knew she would encounter, one day.
Abbey didn’t know when she first had the feeling, the deep knowing, that a terror would come for her. She was born cursed, she felt it in her blood. Her father was a Vietnam War veteran and though he never discussed it; a dire ‘war is hell’ was all he ever said about his service, in dark rooms late at night, her older sister whispered that her father had killed men. Consumed by bitterness, in a thin frail frame, he cursed people who looked different, who spoke different, and the unknowable ‘they’ who held him back from success. He had seen the dark side of humanity and came back changed, this was the reason he did not go into tight spaces, why a light was always on in his bedroom.
Only once had she ever even heard him speak about it. He was with his friends, playing poker in the kitchen. She had snuck down to listen to these men, their stories were thrilling, and her father was a different person, looser, more vibrant, drinking from the silver cans. He spoke of seeing fear in the eyes of the men he had killed, and hearing the silence after.
Abbey knew she was different from others, unique and dangerous because of what was going to happen to her. She had to make sure she never gave the fear inside her a chance, never let it out. She squeezed it down, controlling herself, until it came out in throbbing, pulsating headaches, crippling her. In high school when the migraines would turn a class room in to torture, she would go to the nurses office for aspirin, or a chance to just sit in the quiet darkness. She knew even then she could not live in fear like this, always running. She decided then she would become the one who would help others, not allow herself to give in to what would come for her. She would become a nurse, turn toward service to others, and never, ever put herself first. She had to fight against her destiny, and to do so she would help others, she would save lives, until her time would come.
The work at the CHP office was hours of tedium interspersed with chaos, violence and yelling. Abbey was not even on site to help anyone, but just to officially administer tests, or watch drunks sleep off their hangovers. As a registered nurse her testimony and tests would stand up in court. At least she knew she was saving her friends at the hospital from this drudgery. She rotated in from her regular work at the hospital, twice a week, taking the night shift no one ever wanted.
She got to know the CHP officers. They wanted to help just like her, and wanted to make their communities safe. They knew real evil, and filled her head with what could happen if she was not careful, laughing when her body flinched away. They became enraged at anyone who upset the peace, the people driving too fast, driving erratically, or worst of all driving, under the influence. The officers told Abbey horror stories of the drunk, or drug addled drivers left in twisted broken pieces on the side of the road, while the innocent suffered in the accident, or at home, waiting for the driver who would never return home.
Abbey was in the office, listening to another story from an officer that night when the radio crackled, a police cruiser was arriving with a man in custody. The officers knew the man was under the influence, his spastic movements, his rapid speech signaled to them a stimulant, probably meth. They requested her to be on hand for the toxicology test.
She prepared her bag and waited. Several cars rolled into the Jungle, tires screeching. Normally the suspects are brought into the office, but when her name was called from the parking lot she picked up her case and went out.
The pale white man was on his knees on the cement floor, surrounded by officers. His clothes were messy like he had been wearing them for days, and his movements agitated and jittery. Abbey had never worked with a suspect this uncooperative before.
“I just need to draw some blood-” Abbey walked up to the man. “It will just take a moment.”
“No, stay away from me!” The man said, his head jerking fast, looking for someone to rescue him, his voice echoing off the cement walls and ground he knelt on.
Abbey frowned, hesitating as she pulled into herself, looking at the officers. She saw the red light of the sergeant's body camera on, recording her. She gritted her teeth and they nodded for her to move forward, to hurry up so they could move on to the next stage of processing the arrested man.
“I have to draw your blood, sir.” Abbey pleaded.
“No, no!” he screamed, and Abbey recoiled at the vehemence, at the fear in his words. She pushed the hair out her eyes, her skin clammy as she began to sweat in the cold air.
The man’s eyes would not leave the butterfly needle in her hand. Oh, he was scared of needles. Abbey was too, she remembered her first phlebology course. She would spend class time practicing on her classmate while they practiced on her, and every time, god every time she would panic, fear of the needle going in too deep and letting out too much blood, of causing the harm she fought against.
“No!” He cried again, jerking away. With that movement, an officer shouted, and together, like in a coordinated dance, all five of the officers, together in one motion pushed him down, his head slamming into the concrete.
An officer put his knee high into his back, to stop the man’s body from fighting.
“I’ll do it willingly! I’ll do it willingly, I promise!” The muffled voice came through.
“It’s too late.” An officer shouted.
“I can’t breathe…” The man said.
“Just relax and stop resisting!” Another officer said, and then looked at Abbey, nodding.
She stepped up then and fought to pull up his sleeve, and then began searching for a vein to draw from.
“I can’t…” the man said, his voice fading.
She only glanced at his face, but she saw the fear in his eyes, and heard the silence after.
His body stopped moving but Abbey still could not find a vein. Eventually after several attempts she found a vein, swabbed it clean and drew blood, filling the three small test tubes, and then bandaged the area.
“I’m done.” Abbey pulled back, “You can let him up.”
With her task complete, Abbey began collecting her equipment back into her bag, glad to have completed this challenging task. She breathed out, not paying attention as the officers rolled the man onto his back, many of them stepping back.
One of the officers pulled on his arm, but the man did not move. “Edward, wake up!” The officer slapped his face.
The officers went quiet, something was wrong. But Abbey's focus was on her work area, labeling and putting away the test tubes, she would not create any problems for anyone else.
In the parking garage, surrounded by officers, surrounded by the smell of gasoline, she did not recognize what was happening, what was wrong for too long, for too many life saving minutes.
The man who bounced with energy, vibrated in his confinement just 15 minutes earlier was too still. Abbey finally bent back over his body, pushing the officer out of the way to feel his pulse, hoping, praying to feel the soft rhythmic beat of his heart. Do not let it happen here. It was her fault, she was the trained medical professional on the scene.
Panic erupted in her, adrenaline shooting her forward onto his chest, her voice hoarse and fast.
“He does not have a pulse!” Abbey’s body quaked with dread. “Call an ambulance, now!”
She pressed hard on his sternum, pushing down, the count already starting in her head, 1-2-3…
Two hands centered on the chest, shoulders directly over hands, elbows locked.
“Come on!” Abbey did not look up, her eyes on the man’s slack face, his mouth open.
The EMTs arrived, and took over, shaking their heads as they picked the man up, putting him on the gurney. She looked down and saw dirt and grease from the floor of the garage on her once clean scrubs.
At the loud click of the belt buckle, and the EMT's word, “non-responsive”, she realized all her fears had come true, the terror was upon her. She, herself, was the Beast, the monster she had always feared. She launched herself, hurtling onto the gurney of the man’s life she should have saved.