• Darius Brunson

Come Quick Danger

Updated: May 5

It’s around three-thirty in the afternoon and the Texas sun has not let up. The snakes and spiders take refuge in the available shade made by randomized Arlington construction. Had humans not pitched tents in this area over a couple hundred years ago, the wildlife would’ve been stuck in their ancestral ways. But in the same breath, had humans not settled here, then I wouldn’t be alive in this moment. With that said, the sun’s rays make me wish otherwise or at the very least, grateful that we’ve evolved to invent A/C. After being on standby all morning, I and my partner, Juano, decide to leave our truck and finally get some food. Texas Health allows its EMS operators two half-hour breaks during our twelve-hour shifts. Just enough time to park our truck in a small parking lot and race the clock to finish our meal. Some days, we can actually eat something nutritious.

We park our truck at Taqueria La Nueva Mexicana off of East Division Street just east of the Great Southwest Parkway. We brave the intense heat to reach the pleasure of cold, sweet horchata and warm tortillas inside. The outside of the restaurant is bleached bone-white; the inside is barren like the brittle bushes lining the parking lot. Entering the restaurant, it smells of my grandma’s kitchen back in Tampico. The tables are the simplest kind you can find outside of some folding tables or planks of wood. The chairs are withered and exhausted with overuse. Numerous fans surround the dining room adorned with dust veils, showing the age of the place or the negligence of cleanliness. It is a space only meant for the working class, nothing more, nothing less. Where else can one get the best food in Arlington? I order five carne asada tacos and Juano gets a bowl of caldo de pescado con tortillas. We sit at one of the tables and begin talking, waiting for our food, babysitting our cups of water.

“This heat! My God this heat! It’s unbearable at times,” Juano proclaims.

“Ah, don’t complain so much, Juano. We’re in Texas, what else could you expect?” I say.

“I know that but it’s a hundred and eight degrees out right now. You hear me? One. O. Eight,” Juano responds using his fingers to form the numbers. Juano isn’t used to this heat.

He moved to Texas from Oregon two years ago for a new life. We all need that sometimes, right? The poor man underestimated the humidity that was waiting for him here though. The thing about living in Texas, and in the South for the most part, is that the heat is different out here. It’s not just the blazing temperatures people worry about. That gets old fast. It’s the humidity! When you’re in humid heat, you get both burning daggers from the sun, and a sauna from the earth. Steam surrounds our heads, filling the lungs with superheated moist air. That’s the real danger. I and the rest of the squads get a lot of calls around this season for heat stroke so we carry extra supplies of saline solution during the summer months. Of course, the heat gets to me too sometimes, but I can’t let Juano know that. I have to keep some sort of superiority.

“Look, Juano. I always tell you, you shouldn’t have come here if you can’t handle the heat. You lived in the Northwest all your life; you really thought you could hang with the guerreros down here?”

He hates it when I call him out on his complaining. It warms my soul when he shows his discomfort. After being on the force with him for the past two years, I can start to pick up on what he may say; as well as him to me. Right now I expect him to call me by my nickname. Or, rather, it is my true name, my name from our common homeland.

“It’s not about where you’re from, it’s just too hot. I expect you to be used to the heat, Ceniza. The sun has already burned you down into nothing! How could you possibly feel what somebody still whole feels?” he mocks.

“Well, from me comes el fénix and I shall be reborn anew! I call that a pretty big trade off from being a ‘fleshy’ like yourself,” I reply back to Juano while slapping his rotund stomach. He begins to start a new argument with me until our orders get announced.

“¡Pedidos de Ceniza y Juano!” a woman’s voice calls out. I leave our table to get our food and leave my dear Juano upset about the stomach slap. After I return with our food, we eat, finish our water and make our way back to the truck to continue our patrol. While cruising, I take in the artistry of North Central Texas. Dead armadillos show up on the side of the road every quarter-mile having lost the battle against a car’s tires. Cacti and Cedar Elms line the streets. The views of downtown Arlington are tinged a scorched, golden yellow from the still blazing sun with the Osage Plains to the north of the city. It’s as if looking at the skyline through a cathedral’s stained glass. Our service radio pops with static and we get periodic updates of the surrounding areas. None of the codes are for us to follow. The local news radio is on at the same time, adding more background noise with the city, religiously giving its spiel to locals. The big story now is the fear of stronger influences from the cartels of North Mexico. Dallas and Fort Worth have experienced an increase of activity over the past decade and Arlington is stuck in the middle. Most people figure it’s only a matter of time before we get our share. I believe that they’re already here making a strong influence. The media just hasn’t found a big enough story to sell yet. Some time passes before we start a random conversation again.

“Hey Ceniza, I never really asked you this, but how come you’re here?” Juano asks, breaking the silence.

“What are you talking about, man?” I reply back.

“I mean, these days it’s unusual to see people still in their hometown. I mean, you are from Arlington, and you’ve got Irving, Fort Worth, and Dallas all within maybe, what, 30 minutes of each other? So it’s not like you’ll be bored. I don’t blame you for that. I’d stay here over Eugene any day but-” he says. Juano can tend to drag on if not careful so I tune him out sometimes. It can be a little annoying but it’s not intolerable.

He continues on, “I guess what I’m getting at is, what made you, Ceniza Alvarado, want to stay here? Did you ever want to live anywhere else?”

After thinking for a few seconds, I reply back, “I don’t... I don’t really know.” I was telling the truth.

I had never really thought of that. I just went through life, living. I’ve never really had dreams or aspirations. I never had any talents. I went through school kind-of absent-minded and to myself, never failing but not competing for the principal's list either. Just another face in a sea of young brown kids. I spent my early twenties doing different trades, always earning enough to survive but never anything out of the ordinary. I’ve always lived in Arlington and I never questioned leaving. Even this EMS job sort of just came to me. I needed work, I asked an old friend for help, he lined me up with the hospital, I went to the interview, graduated from the courses and two years later, here I am. I’ve never, in my twenty-nine years of life, asked what led me to where I am now. No one ever asked. Not even my family. And after all that time, I’ve been asked a legitimate question that I can’t find a legitimate answer for. I now realize that I never gained the ability to know how to respond in the first place.

“I guess I’ve never re-,” a voice breaks through our conversation that grabs both of our attention. It’s a dispatcher, who has come to remind us of our daily contribution to society.

“Unit 22, we have a code 323. Intersection of Bush and Flintlock Avenue, roughly 9 miles to your Southwest. Status is red. Begin immediate extraction. Prepare for L.O.L. You will be Prime 1. I repeat, unit 22, code 323-”

“Shit! That’s bad!” I blurt out. I know that area. It’s in South Arlington, by Vandergriff Park. The traffic gets bad in that area around this time. Juano has already accepted the GPS request from HQ, turned on the sirens and is barreling through traffic. I grab the responder and reply back.

“Roger, Ash Alvarado of Unit 22 confirmed for immediate extraction of a code 323 at Bush and Flintlock, en- route, lights up and moving. L.O.L warning confirmed, will request traffic override. Over.”

“Negative, traffic override not confirmed. Over.”

Bastards! You give us this fucked situation this far out and traffic control can’t make the stop lights work for us?! Malice corrupts my patience. I wish I could yell it out, but professionalism is key, even now.

“Confirmed negative on traffic override. Eighteen minutes out. Over.” I respond back.

“Confirmed, eighteen minutes out. Big red and blue arriving in twelve. Over.”

“Confirmed. Over.” I respond back with the transponder ending its transmission.

“Negative? ¿¡Jodidamente negativo!?” Juano shouts astoundingly.

“Si, si, negativo,” I reluctantly confirm.

“We’re hauling ass to Vandergriff, we’re all the way out east of Angus Wayne and we’re already expecting multiple dead?! How can we get to the others if they won’t override the lights for us!?” he shrieks with venom.

“I know, I know” displeased agreement coming from me.

“Ai, basura!” I can’t blame Juano. I’m right there with him. I’m just as pissed as he is. HQ has just asked the damn near impossible from us. A two-car collision, multiple persons involved, two casualties likely with father time methodically working on the others and we will be the first EMS on scene with no other units in the area.

The rage that wells up in us is gradually coming to the surface. Juano is a much more expressive individual, he wears his heart on his sleeve. It takes very little to gauge his emotions. If others could see him now, they’d be surprised that the kind man could make such a face. Me, on the other hand, I tend to hide my emotions more. It’s difficult even for those close to me to tell what I’m feeling sometimes. But even though I don’t show it, I’m still human. And my rage at the current situation is no different than Juano’s. If I were to describe our current emotions, I’d say that Juano’s is that like a violent storm. A destructive tornado that obliterates all within its path, disappearing as quickly as it appears, or that of a raging river. Mine would be much like the ocean. On the surface, there is a calm and gentle ripple that evolves into slightly larger waves. But diving deeper, the currents get stronger, the light gradually fades, the pressure starts to squeeze harder, and a suffocating rage begins to encompass all. If we lose any lives because of HQ’s incompetence, I pray they choose the quick and violent twister as opposed to being crushed by the cold weight of the ominous and all-engulfing sea.

When we arrive at the scene, I can tell it will already be one of the worst jobs I’ve worked. Arlington PD and Fire have localized the scene of the crash and it is a vivid site. What was once a gray, four door sedan of some kind, or at least I suspect it was, looks as if a child has switched the ends of the car around in a sick display of creativity. Back becoming the front, insides turned out, leather seats exploded and flayed out beside the car as if being displayed like trophy game. The roof is nonexistent; a crumpled steering wheel is lodged into the backseat leaving smudges of oil and blood from the engine block and of the poor, unfortunate soul manning the helm. The remaining two tires are barely on their axles, deflated and devoid of all air. It seems this car got the worst of the impact. Lying twenty yards away is party number two. The second vehicle is a Toyota Raptor truck lying upside down in a sad heap. All of its windows are blown out, the roof is caved-in and the back gate to the truck bed has flown off and is lying twelve feet away from the truck. Its front left tire and rim is obliterated and a slope beginning from the front of the truck ending to its left rear tire shows how it impacted the sedan and used it as a ramp to careen off into a barrel roll. Looking at the skid marks and where the collision presumably happened, it is obvious that the truck sped through the light and caused the crash. As Juano pulls into the scene, I open the back doors and jump out, gear in tow, not wasting any time as I ask the other first responders what the status is.

“What’s the situation?” I swiftly ask.

One of the responders escorts me to a line-up of bodies in between the vehicles while briefing me, “We’ve got two casualties, three in critical. The one in the middle is priority. Male, late thirties to early forties, grade-4 lacerations to the head, neck and chest area, low blood pressure, major bruising on lower lumbar area, supposed collapsed lung, a broken left femur and unresponsive. The other two are both males, mid-twenties, both have grade-3 major contusions to the head and neck area, grade-2 and 3 concussions and each a broken tibia and fibula respectively. Also, unresponsive. None of them have any form of identification.”

As they are filling me in, I am simultaneously working on preparing the older gentleman for immediate transport. While preparing and running through procedure, Juano brings out the gurney and we load the man into the back of the truck. Before we leave, Juano tells the other responders that two more trucks are four minutes out before hopping into the front of the truck, with me in the back trying to stabilize the man, getting him ready to be received by the nearest hospital.

Speeding down Cooper Street, Juano rushes us to Arlington Memorial which is fourteen minutes away. I hear him in the front telling the hospital what to prepare for and the kind of patient we are bringing. I’ve gotta say, this guy is a bad case. I’m surprised the old man didn’t croak on scene. But now that he’s with us, it is our job to get him to the ER as fast as possible. As for my task, it is my responsibility to see that he is as stabilized as possible. I’ve had enough times where I’ve seen a life slip away in this truck and I don’t feel like adding to that list today.

As I go through the motions, something is bothering me. The responders said they had no identification and that’s not uncommon. We are in Texas, so illegal aliens are everywhere. But it’s something I heard. Earlier, as I was tending to the man’s wounds I briefly heard somebody speak. It was a drawn breath that seemed to come from the direction of the injured men. Though they were unresponsive, I swear one of them muttered “Jefe”. I tried my best to focus on the man. I continue looking over his body for signs of injury but I stop when I reach his stomach. After removing his shirt to view his torso, I am greeted with a peculiar symbol. A tattoo of a shield with three sections. On the bottom is a picture of Mexico. In the top left is a picture of Tamaulipas, one of the coastal states of Mexico. And in the top right is the letter ‘Z’. I’ve seen this symbol before. It’s a part of any Arlingtonian’s memory at this point. It’s a cartel insignia. And not just any cartel. The Los Zetas! The second-most dangerous cartel in all of Mexico right now! It makes sense now. They must have been speeding to do something and then they crashed. They don’t have identification because they’re not just aliens, but they’re cartel. This situation is the worst possible outcome for them. They can’t afford to get identified for anything or else they’d get exposed. Then there’s this guy! Oficíals and soldados dream of his status. I definitely have a high member of the Los Zetas in my truck right now, he’s bleeding out and we are less than two miles from the hospital! I feel my vision turn inside-out.

Cálmese, Ash, cálmese.” I calm myself.

Now that I know who I’m dealing with, it makes this even more impossible. I can’t fuck this up, I think to myself, I just can’t! It’s not just this man’s life at stake anymore. If anything happens to him, I’m fucked! He’s barely alive, blood pressure is plummeting, bleeding out everywhere and his pupils are dilating. There’s no way I can keep him stabilized long enough. There’s no way I ca-. And just like that, whether it be a flash of brilliance or an invitation from the devil, I make a sudden realization. Faced with such an impossible situation, nine times out of ten the patient would already be dead. If it’s by natural causes, and he doesn’t make it, then wouldn’t this be the best for the community? As my synapses overload, I look at the support machines I have him hooked up to.

I pray to my Lord, “Señor por favor ayúdame.”

Darius Brunson

*Fiction Award

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