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Just a few seconds, had been all the warning he’d been given. That one brief moment in time was now forever etched into his memory, as if seared onto the surface of his brain by a scorching hot branding iron.
He could still hear the echoes of the dying man’s tortured screams sounding in his ears. He knew if he himself survived this ordeal, that the man’s dying cries would be haunting his dreams for the rest of his life. He still shuddered as he pictured the flames that had devoured the man’s life, with an almost sinister delight.
The flames had eaten him alive with an insatiable appetite that would not be denied its visceral pleasure. It was a vicious predator consuming its prey without pity or remorse; an entity that was pure evil, consumed with hate and distain for the sanctity of all life, unwilling to listen to any voice of reason, any plea for sympathy or compassion from its helpless victim.
But he didn’t have time right now to ponder what had happened to the other man, for now the raging beast had turned its sights onto him; hungrily seeking him out for the next course of its deadly meal. The flames’ evil machinations evident as it ravaged everything in its path, devoid of any emotion other than greed, and its own selfish needs and desires; its all-consuming rage closing in on him second by agonizing second.
He had never witnessed a fire tornado before now, but it truly seemed as if the earth had suddenly opened up and spewed Lucifer himself out of its bowels, turning him loose onto the face of the already scorched land. He swore he could hear the voice of Satan in the flames, laughing at his vain attempt to escape the same fate as the man whose death he had just witnessed, and was helpless to prevent.
He stood alone. Roy wasn’t here with him, and for that he thanked God. By now Roy was probably safely tucked away in a bed in Rampart, having been overcome by heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
The last time he was at the aid station he had heard from Dwyer that Roy was being kept overnight for observation before he would be sent home. The brush fire was burning out of control by the time Johnny had had Roy packaged and ready to be transported to Rampart. Since he wasn’t critically injured, Roy had been sent into Rampart along with three other firefighters under the watchful eye of Charlie Dwyer.
Unfortunately Johnny couldn’t go in with Roy. They just couldn’t spare anyone else. It was going to take every available man they had to beat back this fire as it was.
Now that Johnny no longer had his paramedic partner, he had been reassigned to Engine Company 36. They were sent to the front lines to work alongside Engine Companies 18 and 45. The group of twelve men had fanned out along the edge of a steep ravine working in pairs, hacking out the thick bushes, trying to make a firebreak.
The hope was that they would be able to get rid of the thick brush growing along the southern exposure of this hillside, before the fire got that far. Hopefully doing that, in combination with the natural rock face of the ravine to their right, might prevent the flames from traveling any further to the north.
They had just begun to chop away at the dense undergrowth, when it had happened. Suddenly, materializing out of nowhere, like a fire breathing dragon … this whirling vortex of flames, like a huge rotating column of hell itself, had erupted in the exact spot where his new partner had been standing only twenty-five feet to his left.
The poor man never even had a chance. It was doubtful he even knew what exactly had hit him. If Johnny hadn’t seen the fire tornado appear with his own eyes and known of their existence, he would have almost sworn that the man had just spontaneously combusted before his very eyes.
This column of feral flames that had ‘jumped’ over from the fire that was to their immediate south began to snake wildly igniting the sideof the ravine, cutting Johnny off from the other ten men. And now the beast had set its sights on him. He knew that this phenomenon was usually short lived, but that they had been known to last upward of twenty minutes on rare occasions…either way it was lasting longenough that he was in mortal peril.
He only had one direction in which he could run…to his right. But it seemed fate was once again toying with him, because thirty feet to his right lay the sudden drop-off over the edge of the ravine…but to just stand there was not an option either; so Johnny quickly ran the thirty feet and momentarily stood on the edge of the precipice and looked over. His heart sank when he realized it was a solid rock face that was a straight sixty-foot drop to the ground below. He looked over his shoulder and weighed his options.
The human spirits’ instinct for survival is strong, and not easily repressed. To stand and await his death like a meek sheep was not in his nature and yet his only option would be to jump, and that too was counter-intuitive to the man. The flames were mere feet away from him now, and he had no more time to ponder…it was crunch time.
Pushing aside his fear, he decided it was far better to jump to his death on his own terms, than to stand here waiting for the beast to devour him.
He had seen what fire did to the human body. He knew from the few minor burns he had had himself, how painful they were. He had seen burn victims writhing in pain as he transported them to Rampart, some of them begging for death, just to escape the pain.
He knew what the smell of burnt flesh and hair smelt like. At least by jumping he hoped that death would be swift and that pain would be fleeting and brief, maybe it would be so sudden that he wouldn’t feel it at all.
But one thing was for certain; he couldn’t bear the thought of burning to death like a human torch. Steeling his nerve, and throwing himself upon the mercy of God with a final prayer, he walked to the edge of the ravine, and stepped off.
The first coherent thought that filtered into his mind was, shit; I’m going to be sick.
Instinctively he began to roll onto his side, but he became aware of two things almost immediately. The first thing he noticed was the intense sensation of pain down the entire left side of his body. The second was the fact that when he put out his right hand, he felt only air.
Pushing down his nausea, he opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings. The sunlight bore painfully into his eyes to the point where he was sure that it was actually frying his retinas. His head was pounding and he was quickly losing the battle with his nausea.
Lifting his head slightly he realized that he had somehow landed on an outcropping on the face of the rock. He cautiously raised his head slightly and realized he was only a few inches away from the edge. Suddenly the rolling of his stomach won out and he quickly shut his eyes in an effort to quell his dizziness.
He gingerly leaned his head, ever so carefully, to his right until his chin was just over the edge of the ledge. Then he sent the contents of his stomach plummeting down into the bottom of the ravine.
With that first immediate need now taken care of, he rolled onto his back and carefully opened his eyes and began to try and take stock of his situation.
For starters, he could clearly recall every last detail of what had sent him here in the first place, so even though he suspected he had at least a moderate concussion, he was at least thinking clearly. He certainly could do without the nausea and the dizziness both of which were being aided in their intensity by the pounding inside his head.
His entire left side was in agony, and it didn’t take him long to come to the conclusion that both his left arm and left leg were fractured. He had obviously landed on that side of his body. Surprisingly, it seemed that his ribs had been spared. Oh he was sure they were bruised, but he didn’t think they had been cracked or broken, Thank God for small favors. He thought, but then he immediately chided himself. He really did need to thank God for huge favors, for unlike the man whose body lay incinerated on the hillside above him, his life had been spared. His prayer had been answered. So yes, he actually did have a lot to be thankful for…even though he was in some serious pain, and in desperate need of a hospital; at least he was alive … for now anyway.
He glanced above his head and looked around as much as he possibly could without moving his broken body, in order to get a better idea of how the situation stood.
He could clearly see that this outcropping was actually the edge of a wide fissure in the face of the rock. It appeared to be about eighteen feet long and it went back into the rock about four feet. It was about three feet from top to bottom. It kind of resembled a small cave. It actually looked more like some ancient giant had gouged it out with a sharp instrument…but it occurred to Johnny that it was probably an earthquake that caused this fissure to open up in the face of the cliff.
He had mercifully landed on a small protruding ledge along the edge of the cleft. From what he could discern, it looked like he had fallen about twenty feet from the top, which meant there was still another forty-foot drop just inches away.
The fact that he had landed on this very spot was somewhat of a miracle in and of itself…again he sent up a silent word of thanks to the big fireman in the sky, for answering his entreaty. Now that he thought about it, if he had jumped off of the edge of the ravine instead of simply stepping over the side, he most certainly would have overshot this ledge and plummeted to his death.
Why he had just stepped off instead of jumping? He couldn’t say, because he didn’t honestly know the answer to that himself …once again he was more than happy to give the credit to divine intervention, because it gave him comfort and hope. If the almighty had intervened on his behalf, then he had to believe he would get out of this alive. After all, he reasoned. Why would God save him and allow him to survive both the fire serpent and the trip over the ravine, only to let him die later on, all alone on the edge of a cliff?
Suddenly the sound of chopper blades invaded his senses and he could see from his vantage point, one of the county choppers air lifting what was most likely the rest of his stranded crewmates to safety, leaving him behind.
He watched as the chopper slowly disappeared over the ridge to the south of him. He sighed sadly in resignation. But he wasn’t angry with them for going.
Every rescue man knew that in situations like this, that it was true what they said, about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one. Besides at this point they had every reason to believe he had died along with the other man.
Sadly it occurred to him, that he didn’t even know the dead man’s name. He was just another nameless face behind a SCBA mask. He had shed his own SCBA gear back on top of the ravine before he stepped over the edge. But as he slid his good hand into the deep recesses of his turnout coat, he found his canteen was still slung over his shoulder underneath the heavy material, protected underneath the bulk of his turnout coat, and although it looked a little worse for wear from him obviously landing on it, it had survived, and to his relief it was almost full.
Another bright spot in this situation; at least he had water… for now. Further digging inside the pocket of his turnout coat revealed the 4 or 5 packets of soda crackers and the apple he had shoved down inside the pocket of his turnout gear.
He had snagged them off of the food services table at the aid station, just as he was leaving to join the crew of Engine 36 earlier in the day. He had done brush fires before and had learned the hard way that it never hurt to carry a snack with you, just in case it was a long time before food was available to you again.
Right now though, his head was pounding with a vengeance and his dizziness and nausea were increasing, and the thought of eating any food made his already queasy stomach turn somersaults.
Noticing once again how perilously close he was to the edge of the precipice, he decided first and foremost that he had to somehow maneuver himself away from the edge of his little haven; so as carefully and he could, he painfully dragged his body further back into the cleft of the rock until his back was against the rear of the fissure.
He was now about four feet back from the drop-off, and he felt infinitely safer than he had moments earlier, when he was only a few mere inches from the ledge. He was also out of the painfully bright sun, that had hurt his light sensitive eyes, and it was much cooler in here too, which felt good to his overheated body.
The paramedic in him knew he needed to do what he could for his other injuries, but the pounding in his head and the effort it had taken to drag his shattered body back the space of those four feet had exhausted him completely and try as he might, he just couldn’t stop his world from fading to black once more.
The next time Johnny returned to awareness it was dusk. By his reckoning he had gone over the cliff sometime around one o’clock in the afternoon, and he judged it was probably now between eight and nine o’clock at night.
At least his head felt marginally better, and his nausea had lessened somewhat. Thankfully being early July meant long days, and temperatures that stayed warm, even during the night. Still he shivered slightly, the warm summer night notwithstanding, but the paramedic in him knew it was most likely from shock.
His arm and leg injuries had already gone far too long without being addressed and he knew he needed to do what he could for himself right away.
It only now occurred to him that he no longer had his helmet on. For the life of him he couldn’t recall if he had taken it off when he shed his SCBA gear, or if he had lost it during his fall. Not that it mattered now anyway.
That was the amazing thing that happened to someone when they were in a life and death struggle to survive. The small everyday things that normally mattered to you on a daily basis, just sort of fell off of the grid. Right here and now, the simple act of staying alive was the only reality he needed to focus on… only surviving mattered. After all what would it matter where his helmet was, if he didn’t survive? What did it matter if he’d hadn’t remembered to water his house plants, or bring in the newspaper, or any number of those ordinary small little annoyances that might otherwise bother him on a normal day. They just no longer figured into any of his equations. He only had one basic concern anymore, and it was simple…stay alive! And right now staying alive meant tending to his own injuries as best he could.
Slowly gritting his teeth against the immense pain any movement caused him, he managed to pull himself upright into a seated position. Carefully he slid his good arm out of his turnout coat and then brought it around as gently as he could.
Slowly he slid it off of his useless left arm. Then he eased off the canteen, setting it down beside him, on the floor of his little ‘cave’. On the downside, he could tell by manual palpation that both his left radius and ulna were fractured just below the elbow; it also appeared his left wrist had been broken as well.
On the upside, they were not compound fractures and his humerus and shoulder seemed to be intact. As he palpated further he was clearly able to determine that his ribs were indeed only bruised and did not seem to be cracked or broken, his collarbone, spine and neck all seemed fine as well.
He was also relieved when he found no indication of any internal injuries. He wasn’t having any difficulty breathing, and his right side seemed to have escaped any injury entirely.
He did however; find a good sized goose egg behind his left ear, and what felt like matted, dried blood in the surrounding hair. Well, he had already known that he was concussed, so it was hardly a surprise.
As deftly as he could, he slid off the straps of his turnout pants, and unbuckled his belt and slid it out from the belt loops of his uniform pants. Then, just as he had done earlier with his turnout coat, he gingerly slid himself out of his blue uniform jacket. Rolling it up as tightly as he could manage, he fashioned a crude form of a soft splint out of his jacket and wrapped it around his lower arm, stabilizing it as much as he could. Then using his belt, he fashioned himself a rather crude sling.
His watchstrap was cutting painfully into his swollen wrist, so he gently removed it… the crystal face had been shattered in the fall, but amazingly it was still running…8:49 pm…and it wasn’t even a Timex.
Having seen to his arm, he then turned his focus onto his left leg. Using the knife he always carried with him, he slit the left leg of his heavy turnout pants all the way up to his hip. He then repeated the same action on his uniform pants.
He carefully began to palpate and examine his injured leg, groaning in pain, he didn’t have to be brave and suck it up now…no one was around to hear his cries of pain anyway.
On this score he hadn’t been as lucky. As near as he could tell, he had suffered not only a tib/fib fracture half way between his knee and his ankle, but his femur seemed to be broken as well.
Once again he was at least grateful that they appeared to be relatively clean breaks, and his knee seemed to be fine as well. As he had done with his uniform jacket, after emptying the contents of the pockets of his turnout coat, he began to roll it up as tightly as his one good hand would allow.
Then as much as he could, he stabilized his injured limb. When he had his turnout coat arranged to his satisfaction, he reached into the pouch that he had pulled off of his belt when he had removed it to make the sling. Taking hold of his bandage scissors in his right hand he carefully cut off the shoulder straps of his turnout pants.
He slowly used the straps to wrap around his makeshift leg splint as securely as he could, in order to keep it in place. It had been slow going and only having the use of his right hand to both cut and tie the straps from his turnout pants, had been frustrating. He was now also covered in sweat that had been brought on by the intense pain he had inflicted upon himself as he treated and stabilized his injuries, without the benefit of pain medication. It had also heralded in a fresh bout of nausea.
He reached over and carefully unscrewed the cap of his canteen with his right hand and lifted it to his mouth. He took a swallow, and allowed the cool water to slowly run down his dry throat.
He made sure he only allowed himself one good swallow before screwing the cap back on. He would have to be vigilant about rationing his water. Besides anymore than that and he would only vomit it up anyway.
By now the sun had pretty well set, and the stars were beginning to peak out from the ever darkening skies above. He began to let his mind wander. He wondered what kind of progress they had made on the fire.
He could still see and smell smoke, and although he couldn’t see any flames from where he was, he could still detect a faint glow in the sky on the horizon to the south.
The flames had either been extinguished or had burned themselves out on the ridge above him, as all was quiet and he could no longer hear the roar of flames. Well, at least it appeared they had been successful in keeping the fire from spreading northward.
Then his thoughts turned to Roy and the rest of the guys…shit, did they think he was dead? Had they been told? Then another thought entered into his mind. Did any of the crew he had been sent to join, even know or remember his name?
When they returned back to base camp and informed their commander that two firefighters had been the victims of that minion of hell called a fire tornado, would he just be listed as an unknown firefighter?
It had been such a mad house at the aid station. When he had been pulled aside and reassigned to engine 36, it had been almost as an afterthought by the incident commander. There had been no time for introductions, and most of the men had been too exhausted to engage in any conversation…most of them had tried to grab a few precious moments of sleep as they traveled to their assigned area. In all the noise and confusion did the commander remember that he had sent the paramedic called John Gage there?
He wondered what was happening, and he once again prayed to God that somebody knew he was missing and was looking for him. Even if they all thought that he had perished with the other firefighter, they would return to recover his body.
That was the rule…no one gets left behind, not even a corpse. On the other hand, Johnny also hoped Roy was sleeping peacefully, blissfully unaware of his predicament for the time being and that he was not laying in Rampart, mourning what he thought was Johnny’s death. He too had been injured and needed to be resting. Let the others come and find him, and at least let Roy recover before he was told of his disappearance.
And with those thoughts playing around in his mind, Johnny gently laid his head back against the wall of the fissure, and drifted off to sleep once more.
It was the intensely bright rays of sunshine that had settled on his face that called Johnny back from the land of nod the next morning.
He slowly opened his eyes, and was momentarily confused about his current surroundings. But his first attempt at any movement, and the intense pain that accompanied it, jarred him back into the present; and his mind quickly supplied the necessary information his memory needed, to recall vividly, every detail of the previous day’s events.
He tried moving again; only this time he made sure his movements were a lot more cautious and deliberate. He mentally prepared himself for the pain, and he found he had more success in his attempts at movement this time around.
His tortured body had stiffed up through the night, and he discovered pains in muscles he had even forgotten he had. He wasn’t surprised that he had managed to sleep away the entire night. Without any medical personnel there to wake him for hourly neuro checks, his concussion had allowed him to stay insensate all night long, despite the other painful injuries he had sustained.
The opening of the fissure on the cliff, faced towards the northeast. This allowed the early morning sunshine to flood into Johnny’s little haven, leaving no crack or crevasse unexposed.
The warmth of the early morning sun’s rays felt good to Johnny, but he was sure by the time the mid afternoon July heat arrived, he would be equally thankful that his little home would be completely covered in shade.
To be stuck up against a rock with the midday July sun slowly baking you, would have finished him off quickly. But for now, in the early morning, it was exactly what he needed.
Its warmth comforted Johnny, even though his eyes were still quite sensitive to the light right now. His dizziness was still present, though not nearly as bad, and his nausea was not nearly as intense this morning either, even the pounding inside his skull was down to a manageable level. Sleeping right through the night undisturbed had done wonders for his concussion. Too bad he couldn’t convince Brackett to forego the neuro checks next time he found himself stuck overnight in Rampart for observation.
Sleeping away the worst of the symptoms wasn’t that bad of a way to deal with a concussion, even though the paramedic in him knew and understood the reasoning behind the practice. He smiled ruefully at his thoughts… truth be told, right now, he just hoped he was still around and able to argue with Brackett about neuro checks in the future.
He sat forward as much as his injuries would allow, and glanced out of the opening in the rock face. He hoped he wouldn’t be stuck here for too long. He figured all he had to do, was wait and listen for the search crews to come back for the dead firefighter’s corpse that lay twenty feet above him.
As soon as he heard them, he would yell as loud as he could to let them know he was still alive, and needed help. He just hoped the wait wasn’t a long one.
Well, he mused tiredly, Waiting was just about all he was capable of doing right now. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he privately worried that maybe the search team had already come back in the night to retrieve the dead body from above, when he had been unconscious, and he had already missed his chance at being rescued. But not willing to allow his thoughts to go into that dark place, he mentally took himself in hand, affirming that with the hazardous terrain all around, plus the fire to deal with, it was highly unlikely they would come back before daylight to retrieve their corpses.
He decided what he needed to do, was occupy his mind with more useful pursuits. So first and foremost he decided to check himself over once more. Since there was not a whole lot to do about his concussion he started with his arm and wrist.
He carefully checked the splint and felt to make sure his digits were all still warm and pink. He checked on the swelling and made sure that the limb was still as stable as he could make it.
He then repeated the process with his left leg…or at least to the best of his ability he did. Then he took his own vitals. Both his pulse and respirations were a bit high, but the level of pain he was in could easily explain that.
He was a bit concerned by the fact that he had stopped sweating and he did not need to relieve himself…both were signs of dehydration. Well that was something he could work on now. He knew he had to play a delicate balancing act right now. If he could know for certain that rescue would be before the afternoon was over, he would allow himself a nice long drink of water from his canteen, but with the uncertainty of a how long it would take for him to be found, he just couldn’t risk it…he would do well to make it last into tomorrow as it was.
He did have some food, although that was a lesser worry to him right now. Dehydration would kill him long before starvation would. Still common sense told him that he would be best to leave the apple until his water was gone.
There was at least some moisture in an apple, that would help a bit…not too much, but a bit, and sometimes an extra hour or two made all the difference in the world. Besides he would need the water to go with the soda crackers…Eating dry soda crackers without water to wash them down with, didn’t bear thinking about.
At least he could actually think about food this morning without his stomach totally rebelling against him. And if he was going to try food, then maybe something as mild as soda crackers and water would be a good way to ease his stomach back into accepting and holding down some nourishment. And with that train of thought in mind, he reached over and opened one of the packets of crackers and slowly began to nibble on them. By the time he had consumed one of the packets of crackers, and allowed himself a couple of fairly good swallows of water, he was feeling slightly better. He leaned his head back and looked at his watch…8:17 am.
Nothing to do now but wait…He sat back and rested his head on the sun-bathed wall, soaking up its pleasant warmth. He tried to find a way to occupy his mind while he waited for help to arrive.
Johnny cried out with a gasp of pain and his head snapped up, as he involuntarily moved his left leg.
The fissure was now covered in total shade, and the sun had moved far enough along in the skies for Johnny to realize it was on into the afternoon.
He could hear the whirling blades of a helicopter in the sky overhead. He looked up toward the southernmost exposure visible to him, and he could clearly see that it was a county rescue flight… and to his utter dismay it was headed away from him and back over the ridge.
“WAIT! COME BACK!”…He screamed out over the empty ravine… “DON’T GO…I’M HERE, I’M STILL ALIVE! …DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!”
But the only response he got back was his own echo bouncing of the rock face of the other side of the deep ravine, and the now faint noise of the helicopter that was shrinking smaller and smaller on the horizon.
“DAMN, DAMN AND DOUBLE DAMN!” He screamed out in anger and despair.
How could he have fallen asleep? How could he have let this happen? Of course logically he knew how it had happened. He was badly injured and he had a concussion. His body had simply given in to its need for rest.
If he hadn’t been so busy raging against his fate, he would have wept bitterly until he was completely spent. But neither action would change his situation or make him feel any better. He looked down at his watch…it was past two pm.
“Damn” he muttered again. He was in big trouble here … he wondered how long the searchers had been up above him while he was blissfully unaware of their presence.
Even with his spirits running low, he knew he needed to keep his wits about him. He needed to think…he needed to calm down. He looked out over the horizon and realized for the first time, that he could no longer see any fresh smoke in the air, and the only smell that would indicate a fire, was the now acrid smell of the newly scorched landscape that lie twenty feet above him. He reached over and opened the rest of the crackers and slowly ate them, washing them down with some more of the water.
He then went over everything again in his mind. The searchers had obviously returned for their bodies…his only hope now was that they would at some point come back and do another sweep. After all they had come back for two bodies, and only left with one.
It was at that point another thread of hope came into his mind, it was indeed a small one, but he reached out to cling to it anyway.Surely they would have found his charred SCBA gear at the edge of the ravine and possibly even his helmet, and put two and two together about what his final moments up at the top of the ravine had lead him to do.
He had one small faint hope left…if the rescue team thought he had jumped to his death rather than stay and be burnt alive; someone would be searching the ravine below for his remains. Besides by now Roy would be out of the hospital, and he and the guys would have been told that he was missing and probably dead. But either way…his crew mates, especially Roy; his adopted big brother; wouldn’t give up searching for him…even if they thought they were just looking for his corpse.
The problem was, in his present condition it was dangerous for him to stay too close to the edge of the fissure…if he went out again, he might easily fall to his death. He had to hope that he would hear them below when they came to search for him. Now he just needed to find some way to ensure he stayed awake for the rest of the day, or he would miss his one last chance of rescue.
His arm and leg throbbed in time to the beat of his pulse, and his headache wasn’t far behind in the pain level department. His recent outburst certainly had not helped either condition.
He scrubbed his hand over his face in frustration. Oh Shit…he could feel the heat that was radiating off his body as soon as his hand made contact with his forehead. He hadn’t noticed it before, because he had been too busy bemoaning his fate.
“Well, isn’t this just perfect” he said out loud even though he was more than aware there was no one around to hear him. “This is one sad state of affairs you’ve gotten yourself into here Johnny my boy.” He said aloud.
As strange as it seemed, he found hearing the sound of his own voice a bit comforting…it was better than the suffocating silence.
“Yes sir John” he said out loud once more. “A sad state of affairs indeed.” State of affairs…state of affairs…the phrase ran around inside his head over and over.
As maudlin and even maybe a bit morbid and fatalistic as it seemed, Johnny found himself considering his actual ‘state of affairs.’ It occurred t him that he hadn’t updated his will since he was eighteen and had first joined the fire department as a boot. It was in his file at departmental headquarters. He had written one out, when the ‘higher ups’ had suggested he do so back then. He turned it over to them, and he had never given it another thought. But here he was, almost twenty-five years old now and a lot had changed.
In his current will, he had left everything he owned including his camper and his bike to his aunt. He hadn’t any family of his own when he had first written that will, and since ‘Aunt Marian’ had taken him in as her own when he had been discovered living on the streets of Los Angeles at the age of sixteen, she seemed to be the logical choice as a beneficiary. If he had died on the job, she would have been the recipient of his death benefits.
But so much had changed since then…he had become a rescue man, and then shortly after that a paramedic and joined 51’s. He had also ditched the old camper for his beloved Rover.
He had met Roy DeSoto and had quickly become a member of his family…heart, body and soul.
He had sold his bike when he had become the owner, Koda, of a very sick gelding paint. He had needed some quick money for the horse’s vet bills, and selling his bike had provided the money he had needed back then. And just last year, thanks to a friend who had offered him a great deal, he had purchased a thirty-acre ranch and he now owned two beautiful horses, Koda and Pandora. But the biggest change had been simply that three and a half years ago, Aunt Marian had died…and still he had not bothered to update his will.
Oh he had officially changed his next of kin to Roy, but as for his will, he hadn’t given it another thought since the day he hurriedly made one out for the departments head office to file.
Well, he thought, maybe now is the time. It certainly fulfilled some of his immediate requirements. Number one, it would give him something to do to keep himself awake. Number two, he really did want to insure his last wishes would be honored. Number three, if he was wrong, and no one was coming back…this would be his only chance to make sure number two was fulfilled.
He knew it was kind of a defeatist attitude, but in reality he knew now was the time to do it. Even if he wasn’t trying to stay awake… he knew as soon as his water ran out and he became more severely dehydrated, his mental faculties would quickly diminish…and that would happen a lot faster now that he was running a fever. Better to get down his final bequests while he was still clear headed enough to do it.
He reached up into the front pocket of his pale blue uniform shirt, and pulled out his small black notepad and his green pen.
Fortunately he had just replaced the notepad at the end of his last shift at the station. His old one had been full, and he had needed to get it replaced before he started his next shift. Johnny balanced the small notepad against his good leg and flipped it open to the first page.
There staring back up at him on the first page was the notepads single entry. There in his own hurried writing were Roy’s vital signs from the day before when he had collapsed from smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion.
They had been called out from their position at the base camp, first thing in the morning to a farmhouse in the area of the brushfire to evacuate an elderly couple who were refusing to leave their home.
On their way back to the aid station, they had been stopped on the service road by a small spot fire that was blocking their way. Johnny and Roy had jumped out and were both hard at it, trying to extinguish the rapidly growing spot fire.
It had been stubborn and it had taken the pair of them a good twenty minutes to make sure it was completely out with no chance of it flaring up again after they had left. Roy’s regulator had been faulty and by the time he had realized it, he was really having difficulty breathing. In a matter of a couple minutes his partner had succumbed to the combination of heat and smoke exposure.
Back at the aid station Johnny had treated Roy and had phoned in his vital signs to Rampart. Roy had been sent in to Rampart with three other firemen who had also suffered some smoke inhalation as well.
Since all four men were pretty well ambulatory by the time the ambulance arrived on the scene, it was decided only one paramedic needed to be sent in with them. Charlie Dwyer had won the luck of the draw and had accompanied his partner into Rampart. As soon as the ambulance pulled away, Johnny had been pulled aside by the base camp commander and been told that since he was now without his partner, he might as jump on board Engine 36 as it was just about to head out and join Engines 18 and 45 on the fire line, and they could use all the men they could get…which is how he had ended up here.
Johnny looked down once more at the page that held Roy’s vital signs…Instead of ripping out the page and starting his will on the first page, Johnny found he could not bring himself to remove the sheet of paper.
On it was written the last physical reminder he had of the last time he had seen Roy, and for whatever reason…sentimentality, mawkishness or love…he just couldn’t bear to part with it. Sighing, he flipped over to the next page in his notepad and began to write…
I John Roderick Gage, having been born on the 28th day of August 1950, in the State of Montana, and currently residing in Los Angeles County in the State of California, being of sound mind and somewhat broken body; do hereby ordain, publish and declare this to be my last will and testament…hereby revoking all other wills and codicils made by me at any time heretofore.
“Hmmm,” he wondered out loud, … “is heretofore all one word?” Ah well, what did it matter, he could hardly be judged on his literacy skills if he was dead. And he was reasonably sure it wasn’t a requirement to getting past the Pearly Gates. He was fairly certain bad spelling and grammar didn’t count against you in heaven. He grinned to himself, Cap wasn’t that concerned about it either. But he was pretty sure it bugged the hell out of Roy.
He found himself giggling at the thought. He glanced back down at the pad in his hand and he immediately sobered… “Roy”. Taking another small drink of his water, he picked up his pen and continued to write…
I appoint, Roy William DeSoto, resident of Los Angeles County, California, to be my sole executor and trustee of my estate. I do hereby bequeath all my worldly goods and possessions and all residue both real and personal, of which I am possessed or entitled to, over which I have power of appointment to, to the aforementioned Roy William DeSoto, with the exception of the following items, Johnny looked down and grinned, he was kinda proud of this…he thought it sounded real professional, even if he did say so himself. Of course it didn’t hurt that he dated an estate planner for four months earlier in the year.
He had heard her drafting wills on several occasions while he waited in her outer office for her to finally be ready to go out to dinner…still, he was pleased at how much of the parlance he had been able to subliminally retain. Of course that’s why he and Julia had ultimately broken up. That girl just didn’t know how to leave work behind…and Johnny had grown weary of spending the first hour of every date in her outer office, waiting for her to finally be ready to spend time with him.
“Okay, focus Johnny,” he said out loud to himself… “You’re supposed to be writing your will here.”
To Captain Henry “Hank” Stanley: Cap, the first thing I leave to you, is not anything tangible that you can pick up and hold in your hands, but it is something I value, and not something I give away easily, but something you have earned many, many times over, and that is my utmost respect. You have always been the perfect example of fairness and skill in your role as both Captain and friend.
You were continually, and on a daily basis, a beacon of strength that I could always look up to and count on. You lead with perfect acuity and self-assurance. If there was ever a time when I was doubting the outcome of a rescue on the scene of an accident or fire, I only had to look into your eyes and draw from the total confidence that I could see you had in me, and I knew that I could do the job that lay in front of me with complete assurance that you were right If I had lived long enough to become a Captain myself … if I had been even half as good as you are, I would have been proud. You are one Hell of a Captain.
You are truly one of the greatest men I have ever known. Having lost my own father at a very young age, I sometimes imagine that if my dad were alive today, he would be a lot like you. And so to you my dear friend and Captain, I leave to you my pocketknife. It is one of the few possessions I have that was given to me by my father. Passed from father to son. And so now I pass it to you… from son to honorary father.
To Engineer Michael Stoker: Mike…Whenever I think of you, I think of your calm demeanor and dignity. A man of very few words, you have always had such a quiet and longsuffering patience with the rest of us twits (as Cap would say). But when you did speak, it was with wisdom and knowledge, and we all knew that whatever it was you had spoken about, it would be the truth. When it comes to the art of being an Engineer, you are without a doubt, the best there is.
No one else even comes close. Not one of us guys ever doubted that you had our backs and we could put our lives in your capable hands…100%. I was always amazed and even envied the serene countenance and the composure that always seemed to encompass your whole being.
Some of the most serene and reflective moments I have ever had in my whole life, have been spent when I am camping totally alone, standing on the edge of some quiet peaceful riverbank while I fish.
Fishing has always filled me with a deep inner peace and a chance to be introspective. Some of my most tranquil moments have been spent holding on to my fishing rod. I have always found that activity to be extremely restorative to a troubled and weary soul. And so to you my friend, I leave to you my fishing and camping gear, in the hopes that when you use it, you will, from time to time, think about me and fondly remember back to some of our happy times together at station 51.
To Linesman Marco Lopez: My dear friend…being the only other minority at 51, you understood me in ways that no one else could. I always enjoyed our quiet, private talks that we had late at night, when all the others had gone to bed.
I cherish those late night chats we had, sitting up on top of the hose tower. You took the time to get to know all about my culture, and I in turn, enjoyed learning about yours. I will always be appreciative of the honor and respect you showed to me. You have never once laughed or found humor in any of the many ‘Native American” themed pranks that sometimes abound at the station. And for that I deeply thank you.
I lost my mother, who was a Native American, as a child because of bigotry and hatred...a mother that I dearly loved with all of my heart. The heritage of my mother is one I have always been proud of, and I thank you for never once deriving pleasure in belittling my proud heritage. And so to you my dear friend, I leave to you the dream catcher my mother made for me the night I was born. It sits in my bedroom window at my ranch. I would be honored if you now kept it in yours…Thank you again friend.
To Linesman Chester B. “Chet” Kelly Ah….so this is it Phantom…. Your pigeon has flown the earthly coup once and for all. Well buddy, what can I say? Our friendship (and yes, Chet, that is what I have always considered you) is probably the weirdest example of a dichotomy that has ever existed.
We fought, pranked and even tormented each other every chance we got…even when we hung out together, we would jangle with each other….but underneath it all was a real friendship and a deeper sense of caring than either one of us would ever care to admit.
I want you to know that through it all, no matter what. I always considered you a friend. And so to you dear friend…I leave you my beloved Rover…because let’s face it Chet, that thing that you’re driving now, really is, a total piece of crap. (I got in the last shot)…just take care of the old girl for me okay….
Johnny stopped and shakily took another drink of water…he could feel his body weakening, as the morning progressed. The shock to his system was taking its toll, he knew his fever was rising, and he didn’t even bother taking his vitals…because frankly, he didn’t want to know.
He hoped if they were going to search the bottom of the ravine, they would do it soon. He needed medical attention, and he needed it now. He looked down at the pad in his lap… these next entries were going to be the hardest ones to write…but he was determined to finish his task. He reached down and picked up his pen.
To Nurse Dixie McCall: Dix…to the woman with a huge heart, a compassion that knows no bounds and the best set of pipes around.
I will never forget the night back when I was a young lonely, boot, that was scared and laying sick in Rampart …and the beautiful angelic sound of your voice as you sang me to sleep…the comfort you gave to me, felt like a soft warm blanket, cocooning me in love…and so to you dear one…I leave you the native blanket that was made by my mother. It sits folded across the bottom of my bed...Whenever you miss me, wrap yourself up in that blanket and know that I am with you…and when you are wrapped up in that blanket…please sing to me once more those songs that meant so much to me as a child…love Johnny. And now for the hardest ones of all…
To the DeSotos…
To Christopher Roy DeSoto and Jennifer Lynn DeSoto: If I had ever had children of my own, I would have wanted them to be just like you two…I could not have loved you more if you were my own.
Chris, you are such an amazing kid…so bright and intelligent. I see so much of your father in you, and not just in a physical sense. I see it in your determination and the pride that you take in anything you do. You are honest, loyal and kind…and no matter what you do, you always give it your all.
I know that whatever you choose to do with your life that you will go far. I know you will make me proud. There is only one piece of advice I can think to give you, and that is this, listen to your dad, and follow his example. If you do that, you will never go wrong.
In addition to the college fund I have set up for you, which your parents will keep in trust for you until you are ready to use it; I also leave to you. My paint horse, Koda…I have told you his name in my native language means ‘friend’...and he has always been a good friend to me and I know he will be a good friend to you too.
I will miss you sport, Always remember that I love you Chris and I’m proud of you…be a good boy…be a good man. (Just like your dad.)Hugs and Kisses, love Uncle Johnny. Xoxo
Jenny, my little angel and my glowing ray of sunshine…you are the apple of your mommy and daddy’s eyes and you are the apple of Uncle Johnny’s eye too.
You are a beautiful, sweet and loving little girl with a heart of gold…just like your beautiful mommy. You are no doubt going to be a beautiful, warm and caring woman…don’t break too many hearts okay???
With your determination and endless stamina, the sky is the limit and I have no doubt whatever goal or dream you set for yourself in the future…you WILL reach it.
Don’t ever lose the precocious spirit and that infectious laugh…listen to mommy and daddy…they are a lot smarter than you might think…trust me I know that from personal experience. In addition to the college fund I have setup for you which your parents will hold in trust until you are ready for it, I also give to you, my American Quarter Horse, Pandora…she is beautiful, sweet and loving …just like you sweetie. I will miss you and never forget that I love you Jenny...be a good girl…be an amazing woman. Hugs and Kisses…love Uncle Johnny. Xoxo
To Joanne DeSoto: Jo...my dear big sister and yes even at times a surrogate mom… I am giving you and Roy everything I own...the ranch, my possessions (except for what I listed above) and all my investments, bank accounts, death benefits from the department…every thing of value I have is yours…because everything of REAL value I have, you gave to me…you gave me yourselves.
Joanne, you are such an amazing woman…Roy was truly blessed when you consented to be his wife. He is a lucky, lucky man…you are a wonderful wife and an amazing mother. And a special and very much adored big sister.
You gave me your love, accepted me into the fold unconditionally and even put up with me when few others would even dare. You became the family I lost so long ago and I love you to death for it.
Thank you for trusting me to look out for Roy and having faith in me…it made our partnership so much better because both Roy and I knew we had your blessing…it mattered…it mattered a lot. Thank you also for my most precious, precious possession.
Thank you for sharing your husband with me…I know that isn’t what you signed up for when you married him…and without even being asked, when Roy took me on as his paramedic partner, you got another 165 pounds of paramedic tossed into your world…thanks for not kicking me to the curb.
I love you, my sister, mom, and friend…I will miss you…I love you…take care of Roy for me. Don’t let him grieve too long for me…make sure he moves on. Love John
Roy… Aww shit, Roy this is just too damn hard. How do you say goodbye to part of your own soul…words just aren’t good enough Pally.
This just really sucks ya know? Obviously you know I gave you the whole kit and caboodle. You are my family…My ONLY family and I can’t say thank you enough… or that I loved you enough… The day I walked into that paramedic office and into your life was the happiest and luckiest day of my life… I have no idea what wonderful deed I did that God would have seen fit to bless me with such a wonderful, friend, brother and yes even at times, a father figure when I needed it…I don’t know what I could possibly have ever done to deserve such a blessing, but I thank God for giving you to me…If I thanked him 24 hours a day, every day of my life…it still wouldn’t be enough.
As a partner, you were the best…nobody does it better Pally…no one! As a friend, again… you are the very best. I have no idea how you put up with me…or why. Hell Roy, you took me into your home and made me a part of it. You tossed a lifeline to this drowning man.You took me in, you saved me…you helped me learn to trust, to care and to even love again…I found a love in the DeSoto home that I never in my wildest dreams figured I would ever know again. My life is so much fuller and richer for having met you Roy. I owe you so much…. I just wish I knew the right words to say how much you have meant to me big brother… Please don’t grieve too long okay…miss me, and even be sad…but move on.When you remember me, I want you to get to the place where thoughts of me make you smile and laugh…tears are healthy and healing…but remember, laughter is the best medicine…it’s not a sin or disrespectful to learn to laugh again when you think of me…it’s what I want…. Oh yeah Pally, don’t lose my green pen. It looms large in my legend. Use it in remembrance of me…and smile.
And now comes a deeply personal request Roy… I want you to take my body back to Montana and bury me with my mom and dad… … and Roy… bury me with the necklace around my neck…you know the one I mean… Finally mom, dad and I will be together again in every way.
If I am allowed to, I will be watching over you from the other side…. I’ll miss you brother…I love you brother…Be safe, be happy and live a long and happy life with that precious family of yours… Good-bye Pally Love Junior.
This concludes the last will and testament of John Roderick Gage. Being totally alone, trapped in a fissure on a cliff somewhere in Southern Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles County; I have no physical body to bear witness that this is a true document, so I now do declare and appoint God as my witness Whereof I have hereunto set my hand on this, the 12th day of July in the year of our lord nineteen hundred, seventy-five. I hereunto subscribe my name… John R. Gage.
Johnny slowly closed the notebook up and slipped it back inside the front pocket of his uniform shirt with his pen. He looked down at his watch and noted the time…it was after six pm now…It didn’t look like anyone was returning to look in the ravine for his body…maybe he’d been wrong to think that they would assume he had jumped rather than burn to death.
He sighed and lifted up his canteen to his lips…there wasn’t too much left…it would last him until tonight. Then it would be down to the apple for tomorrow. Then if no one came… eventually death.
Would he leap the rest of the way down to the bottom of the ravine before he let that happen? No absolutely not! Leaping over the edge of a cliff to your death as an alternative to be burnt alive was one thing. It really had been the lesser of two evils. But to leap simply out of despair was not in his nature.
No, he would stay here and await his fate…even if it meant that this little cave in the side of this cliff ended up being his tomb. Besides he subscribed to the credo that was told to him by his former neighbor at his old apartment complex… Mrs. Greenbaum.
She was elderly and very ill, and crippled up with arthritis. Anytime anyone would ask her how she put up with so many aches and pains so cheerfully, she would always look up and smile at them and say… “One day of life…is still life.”And that is what Johnny’s attitude was now… One day of life…is still life.
He did make one decision though…if no one had come by tomorrow afternoon, then before Johnny got to the point where he was beyond moving, before he got too weak or incoherent…he would remove his turnout coat/splint from his leg. He would then remove his wallet and put his badge, and paramedic pin and his green pen inside his wallet. Then he would put his wallet and his notepad Will, inside the pocket of his turnout coat and roll it up into a tight ball, tying the sleeves around the ball to secure it… and then he would toss it over the side of the fissure onto the floor of the ravine below.
At least there was a better chance of hikers or campers finding it and returning it to the fire department…At least then someone would know where to look for his body. Right now he would leave his makeshift splint in place. He was still holding on to a very faint hope that someone would still come searching for him before tomorrow.
Ever so slowly, the sun made its way across the sky above the ravine and finally set, the dark shadows filled up the fissure in the side of the rock face and the stars began to shine…and still no one came. At 9:45 pm, after drinking the last mouthful of his water, Johnny finally slid his body down the wall of his cave until he was laying flat on the rock floor and laying his head down against the coolness of the stone, he closed his eyes and allowed the darkness of sleep pull him under.
He looked down at his watch…it was just past six pm the next afternoon. He sat reading the final pages of the small black notepad one more time and sighed sadly.
He couldn’t stop the tears that had flowed down his face. The despair and resignation filled up the air around him and his emotions were running so strong, his nerves frayed beyond their endurance. He held on to the notepad with his right hand. The leaves inside the small book were replete with the feeling of futility and sadness, as well as an undying friendship, loyalty and a deep and abiding love for his adopted family.
With his shaking hand, he closed the notebook one final time. With a tired sigh he got up and walked over to the edge of the hospital bed and looked down upon the unconscious form of his partner. His left arm in a cast from fingertip to halfway between his elbow and his armpit was resting on a pillow… His left leg was in a cast from his toes all the way up to his hip, suspended in traction.
He had a white bandage loosely wrapped around his head. Although normally open too long for stitches, his head wound had been a large one, and so it had been decided to go ahead and stitch it anyway…it had been thoroughly cleaned and had taken a dozen stitches to close.
Brackett would watch it closely. He was lying on a cooling blanket and he had 2 IV’s piggybacked that were snaking into his right arm. One was filled with antibiotics, and the other with fluids to counteract Johnny’s severe shock and dehydration.
Johnny had been more dead than alive when he was found shortly after ten am that morning, and he had yet to show any signs of waking up. But then he had lain in that crevasse in the rock face for almost 48 hours before he was finally found.
Roy went over and gazed out the hospital window, out onto the parking lot below. It had been a hellish twenty-four hours for him. He thought back to when this had all started…well for him, anyway.
It was yesterday afternoon, and Roy had been growing impatient. Brackett had told him the day before he would release him before lunchtime, and here it was well after three in the afternoon, and still there was no sign of the doctor or his release papers. It was almost 3:15 when the door opened and in walked Brackett, Cap and the rest of the guys along with the Chief.
Roy’s heart immediately sank; he knew something was horribly wrong. He also knew who it probably involved. The first words out of his mouth had been, “Where’s Johnny?”
It was Cap, who had informed him that Johnny was missing and presumed dead…a victim of yesterday’s brush fire. Cap had told him in the gentlest terms possible about the sudden and unexpected freak appearance of a rare fire tornado at the site where Johnny and another man had been working on the fire line with Engines 36, 18, and 45. Johnny, and the linesman from Engine 45, a man by the name of Mark Hodge, had been cut off from the others by the swath of instant flames.
The search crews had gone out to the site late this morning and had just returned…they had found the body of Mark Hodge, but had not been able to recover Johnny’s remains. They had recovered his charred SCBA gear, but they could not find his actual body.
After searching the immediate area for over an hour they had been ordered back to the base camp. Roy had been devastated by the news and sat dumbly on the edge of his bed. After catching his breath and regaining his composure, he glanced over to where his Captain and the Chief stood, and looked them squarely in the eyes.
“Take me out to the scene…I’m not just going to leave him there. I need to find him, and bring him home.”
The Chief slowly cleared his throat and spoke… “I’m sorry DeSoto but we just can’t spare anymore men to go and re-search the area…it was searched thoroughly and there is simply no sign of your partner’s body…the ground has been completely razed down to bare earth by the fire. There was simply nowhere left to look…I’m sorry son.”
By now Roy was past upset…he was livid, how could the Chief possibly think he would even consider giving up until he had found Johnny’s body and brought him back home.
“Fine” he spit out acidly… “Tell me the location and I’ll go myself.”
The Chief now shifted uncomfortably, “I’m sorry son, but I won’t allow you to go back there and look… As soon as you are able, we are going to need you back on duty…our manpower is stretched to the limit. I’m going to have to order you, to leave it for now.”
Roy looked at the Chief and tried to control his anger, but he was quickly losing the battle to keep his self-control. “With all due respect sir…NO. I am going out to find Johnny with or without your blessing.”
By this time Cap had walked over and put his hands on Roy shoulders…Please Roy, don’t do anything foolish, you don’t want to risk losing your job.”
Roy stood up and faced the other men in the room. “To hell with my job…you do what you have to do gentlemen, I don’t care. But I AM going, and if not as part of an official search team, then I’ll go it alone privately…but either way gentlemen, I AM GOING TO DO THIS…and if I get fired…so be it.” Roy was beyond caring…besides if Johnny really was dead, he wasn’t going to stay on with the paramedics anyway, it was part of a pact he and Johnny had made earlier this year…oh he would have probably gone on and taken the engineers exam again and gone back to working on the big fire rigs…but if this meant the end of firefighting altogether, then that was how it was going to be. But he needed to find John’s body. He’d never live with himself if he didn’t. “Now,” he continued on. “I’m going out there and search and I’m not going to stop until I find my little brother and bring him home…even if all that remains of him, is his broken and burned body…I owe him that much, and frankly sir, so does the department. I know he’d do nothing less for me. That is what we call loyalty. You remember loyalty don’t you Chief? You spoke all about it during our graduation speech. The one you gave about the brotherhood of the firefighter…or was that nothing but a bunch of pious and hollow platitudes?”
All the men present stood silently…the crew of station 51 stood with their mouths gaping open. This kind of mutiny in Roy DeSoto was unheard of…but when it came to Johnny, they should have known that Roy would do nothing less. Brackett, Cap and the Chief all stood looking at Roy. It was clearly evident that the man was deadly serious.
He was calling their bluff and it was clear that the intense and angry blue eyes staring back at them meant business. He wasn’t going to back down…and he wasn’t going to blink first. Suddenly with a sigh, the chief looked over at the other men of 51… “I suppose you want to join in as well?”
Each man there nodded. Finally Cap spoke up. “With all due respect Chief…John Gage is part of our family and we all just want to go and get him and bring him back where he belongs…after all what is it you always say…nobody gets left behind?”
The chief stood silently… “Okay” he said finally. “You have 24 hours. I’ll give you 24 hours to search, and then your all back on duty.” Silently he turned and walked out of the room.
It was after five o’clock by the time Roy had been released and had gone home to change and get ready for the search. Arriving back at the station he and the rest of the guys drove up to the base camp to get the exact location of where they needed to search for their missing crewmember.
By the time they arrived they were told it was too late in the day to start searching now. They would have to wait until first thing in the morning. Roy had not been happy with the news and had almost gotten into a fight with one of the reporters who had gathered on the scene, when Roy had overheard him comment to his cameraman, “I don’t know what the big deal is…they’re only going out to retrieve the guys body…he won’t be any less dead in the morning than he is right now.”
It had taken both Mike and Marco to pull him back from tearing the jerk a-part limb from limb. After a long and agonizing night, the crew finally got under way just after 7am the following morning.
It was after 8:00 by the time they had arrived by helicopter at the scene of Johnny’s death. One of the searchers with them who had been on the initial search the day before had pointed out where they had found Johnny’s SCBA gear.
Quietly the men looked over the area…Roy walked over to the edge of the cliff and closed his eyes. He imagined the entire scene before his eyes and what Johnny’s final moments must have been like.
Suddenly Roy knew what had happened. “He’s not here,” Roy said to the others. “We’re looking in the wrong place.” Slowly each man came over and stood next to Roy. They followed his gaze over the edge of the cliff…suddenly the light went on in each of their minds…they all instantly knew what must have happened.
They knew what Johnny had found himself up against. They knew what he had been facing and they all knew the decision Johnny had ultimately made.It was a decision each of them understood well, because given the same circumstances, each one of them would have made the same choice…burning to death was a horrifying way to die, just the thought of it made their blood run cold.
Turning to the searchers Roy said, “We need to get to the bottom of the ravine…that’s where he is.” Within half an hour they had been airlifted down and were searching the dry riverbed at the bottom of the ravine.
It wasn’t even five minutes before Johnny’s battered helmet was found lying directly below where his charred SCBA gear had been found on the edge of the cliff, sixty feet above them. But still after an hour of searching there was no sign of Johnny…no sign that his body had been dragged off by a wild animal…no sign of blood on the rocks.
Roy stood and surveyed the cliff…he looked it over from top to bottom. Finally he looked over at the helicopter pilot… “I need you to take me back up and make some fly-bys of this cliff.”
At first the pilot looked like he was going to balk at the idea…but Cap looked over at the man… “Look we have until 6 this afternoon to keep searching…just do what the man asked you okay pal?”
Roy looked over gratefully at his Captain and nodded his thanks. He then turned to the pilot… “I’ll need some binoculars too” By nine in the morning Roy was sitting in the back of a chopper, with the side door open, scanning the rock face for signs of a body. As luck would have it, on the third pass by, the sun had just reached the right position in the sky to shine directly down on Johnny’s badge.
The second the sunlight hit the badge it sent out a shaft of light like a beacon from a lighthouse. It was immediately noticeable by both Roy and the helicopter pilot…Roy quickly focused the binoculars on the area where the flash of light was coming from.
It didn’t take him long to find the narrow ledge and the long fissure that ran across the face of the rock wall. After focusing in his binoculars directly onto the opening, Roy was met with the sight he had been searching for.
He couldn’t make out the details, but Roy was definitely able to recognize the pale blue uniform shirt and a thick head of dark hair, but what thrilled him more than anything was the fact that it appeared Johnny had tried to triage himself.
If nothing else, it looked like Johnny had at least survived the initial fall…but what wasn’t as evident, was if his young partner was still alive now.
It had taken another hour to get down to the crevasse and rescue Johnny. When they had found him he was barely alive. He was dehydrated, febrile and in deep shock. He certainly would not have lasted out the day. He had arrived at Rampart just after ten that morning and the doctors had frantically worked for over an hour to stabilize him. After they had stabilized him, he was sent to x-ray.
After that, Johnny had spent the next four hours in surgery with the orthopedist. The delay of almost 48 hours in getting his bones properly set had exacerbated the injuries.
The doctor had informed Roy that it meant an extend time in the casts for Johnny and some serious physical therapy once the casts did come off…especially on his leg.
Although it had been a closed fracture, the break in the femur had been a bad one. The good news was, that given time, he would heal completely. To make matters more complicated, Johnny was now also dealing with a serious infection, from the many gashes and cuts that he had sustained along the back of the lower left side of his body. Those gashed had become angry and inflamed and were causing Johnny’s temperature to soar.
In his weakened condition he had been unable to fight it off. The left side of Johnny seemed to have taken the brunt of the fall … he had clearly landed on it when it hit the narrow ledge of the opening to the fissure.
It was a miracle his body had stopped and not bounced off of that ledge, and fallen the other forty feet to the bottom of that ravine...It still amazed all of them how that had happened. The ledge was barely eighteen inches wide.
The only explanation anyone could come up with was…it had been a miracle. The force of the sudden stop had obviously knocked Johnny’s helmet off of his head and sent it tumbling on down to the bottom of the ravine.
The fact his helmet had stayed on to that point had been another miracle, and was probably the reason why, Johnny only had a moderate concussion and not a fractured skull. If it hadn’t been for that helmet falling directly below where Johnny lay, confirming that they were indeed looking in the right area, who knows how long it would have taken them to find Johnny. He probably would have died before they had located him.
Finding that helmet, when they did, had been another miracle. But Roy wasn’t questioning the series of miracles that had worked to save Johnny’s life, he was just thankful to the man upstairs for providing them…They had been like manna from heaven to Roy.
Roy turned back from the hospital window, and made his way back to sit in the chair beside the ill man lying in the bed. He hoped he would wake up soon.
He had remained unconscious since they had found him. He looked down at the notepad in his hand once more. It had broken his heart as he read Johnny’s will…He shuddered to think of the ordeal his friend had been through.
First to be faced with a fire tornado and seeing someone burn to death right before his eyes…then the heart wrenching decision of having to choose to burn to death or jump to your death.
He couldn’t imagine the inner strength it had to have taken, to make that decision with only seconds to decide. Then to lie in agony and pain on a rocky ledge for almost 48 hours, while everyone else just assumed you were dead.
But the part that bothered Roy the most was the Will…For Johnny to have come to the point where he had resigned himself to death, was enough to make him weep…in fact it had made him weep for his friend.
It touched him, that even in what Johnny must have thought were his final hours, he had been thinking of taking care of his friends…his family. He had taken the time to say goodbye. He had found the will while he was going through Johnny’s personal effects after he had been brought in.
He wouldn’t tell the others about the will, but he had been deeply moved, and somewhat ashamed when he had read the entry Johnny had written to Marco.
The first chance he got he would apologize to Johnny for laughing at the Native American jokes…then he was going to have a private word with Cap and explain the situation. He was going to make sure that Cap suggest/order Chet to stop with the Native American pranks… After reading Johnny’s will, he was looking at them in a whole new light. And frankly he wasn’t incredibly proud of the way he had reacted to them in the past.
He now had a new understanding of how hurtful, insulting and downright disrespectful such actions where to not only Johnny but to Marco as well…demeaning anyone because of who they were and what heritage was their birthright, was crossing a line.
It was a wrong he intended to make right, as soon as possible. Roy looked up when he heard Johnny shifting restlessly in the bed. He looked over to see a pair of glazed dark eyes staring at him.
Johnny tried to speak, but nothing more than a croak came out of his throat.Roy quickly walked over to the prone man, and held a glass of cold water and a straw up to his lips.
Johnny gratefully took several long sips of the cool water and slowly let it slide down his parched throat. “Is this a dream? Are you real Roy? …Did you really find me?” Johnny asked weakly.
Roy leaned over and grabbed onto Johnny good hand with his left hand and squeezed it gently. “Yeah, Junior…this is for real. It took us a while to find you hidden in that crevasse though…but we got you out and given enough time, you’re going to be just fine.”
Johnny’s fever bright eyes began to mist over and he clutched Roy’s’ hand tightly. “I thought I was dead for sure this time Pally…I really did.”
Roy held up the notepad and smiled sadly…”Yeah, I know Junior, but you’re going to be just fine and as soon as you are allowed out of here. Jo and I are going to bring back home with us until you are back on your feet again.” Roy leaned over and brushed the damp bangs out of his eyes. “How about you go back to sleep again okay? I promise you Johnny; I’ll still be here when you wake up. I’m not going anywhere.”
Johnny looked over at the notebook in Roy’s hand and nodded in understanding. He slowly began to let his eyelids slide shut. Roy was surprised when Johnny opened his eyes a moment later, and smiled tiredly at him. “Hey, Roy?” he called out, his voice barely audible.
“What is it Junior?” Roy asked “Remind me when I get out of here to go to headquarters and update my will okay?”
Before Roy even had a chance to answer, Johnny had fallen asleep once more. Later on that night, Johnny was quietly lying awake in his hospital bed. He looked over at Roy who had fallen fast asleep in the chair beside his bed. His fever had come down enough that they had removed the cooling blankets and the IV’s had hydrated him to the point that he was definitely more aware. Now that he had been hydrated and had been given adequate pain relief, Johnny had more time to ponder his ordeal. He had given up trying to figure out how he had survived, and Mark Hodge had died.
He still shuddered at the image he had in his head of the man being incinerated right before his very eyes. The frightening spectacle of the massive fire tornado was one he would just as soon forget, but one he knew he would never be able to erase form his mind…any more than he would ever forget the man’s agonizing screams as he was burnt alive.
He knew it must have been over in a minute or so, but to him it seemed as if the man’s tortured screams had gone on for hours. Even the smell of the burnt fleshed lingered in his nostrils and even now made his stomach queasy.
He knew he would never tell Roy or the other guys about what he had been through…but he had decided that maybe a talk with the department counselor was in order or maybe the hospital shrink…either way he knew he was going to need some help in dealing with this one. But that was fine by him, because right now he was just too tired to even consider trying to deal with it on his own.
Finally he decided that he was just over thinking this whole thing. During his ordeal he was convinced it was the almighty himself who had spared his life, and in this case, he was inclined to think that he was probably right.
He should have been burnt alive, but he escaped. What had caused him to simply step off the edge of the ravine, instead of jumping?How was it he had landed on that small ledge just sticking out of the rock face? How was it he had even survived the fall? And how is it his friends had managed to find him when everyone else had written him off as dead?
They say that when God keeps you alive in a situation that you know logically, should have killed you, that he has a bigger plan for your life. Was that it? Was there something more Johnny had to do with his life? All of these thoughts were running rampant through his mind and were beginning to make his head ache once more. He decided to just try and put it all out of his mind for now.
After all, if God did have some bigger purpose for Johnny, he was quite sure it would be revealed to him in time…the point is, he had survived and now he actually did have time. He smiled as that thought played in his mind… He had all the time in the world, and maybe even a guardian angel as well.
And with that comforting thought, he laid his head back on the pillow and let the blissful sensation of sleep flood his mind once more… He had time.
First and foremost, let us dispense with the necessary and obligatory process of the disclaimer…
Emergency and its characters are the property of Mark VII Productions Inc. and Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
No infringement of any copyrights is intended or should be inferred.
This is a fictional story written for entertainment purposes only. No financial gain is being realized from it.
The story itself and all original characters are the property of the owner.
Next, this is for all those folks who like to troll around just looking for any excuse to jump all over you, bitch, moan, complain and seem to simply exist to be a general pain in the ass…
Please remember, this is fiction, which is why it’s not found under the heading, non-fiction.
Okay...the phrase “the needs of the many, out weight the needs of the one (or few)”…as many of you will recognize comes from the Star Trek movie from 1982…which is a good eight years after this story...I know that, just roll with it, I did.
Although if you want to get picky. The sentiment in it’s original forms can be found in the book of John in the Holy Bible as well as in the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle in his writings entitled “The Aim of Man”, it’s the same sentiment, just different parlance… but the particular version of that sentiment that I used, belongs to Mr. Spock…or more correctly the ancient Vulcan philosopher Surak, and can be heard in the movie…”The Wrath of Kahn”
The term…’One day of life, is still life,’ was a phrase I heard from my “adopted” Oma and Opa…I came in contact with these two lovely folks and lived with them during my University years…they came over from Holland and Opa did not speak a word of English…by the time I graduated…I spoke fluent Dutch and he spoke English, and we were family.
Opa’s family had hidden several Jewish people in their home in Holland during the war until 1943 when they were discovered. He told me that when they would apologize to their ‘guests’ for their treatment and the living conditions…they would often say to Opa and his family… “One day of life…is still life.” It was a common saying amongst the Jews in the concentration camps as well, so I’m told. So it found its way into my story.
Any other little facts that don’t jibe, should just be considered poetic license…I just ask that you forgive any other errors, and put it down to fatigue. A lot of this was written between midnight and 4 am on Friday and Saturday.
You know, my muse can be an evil little wench when she wants to be.
There I was, happily plugging away on the sequel to Medicine Man, minding my own business. I was just starting in on chapter ten when my muse decided to revolt.
I do tend to have several story threads running around inside my head, down in the deepest darkest recesses of my mind. But when I write, I only concentrate on one story at a time. I work on it…finish it…and move on to the next. I don’t give those other threads a voice, other than a quick line or two jotted down in a notebook to be resurrected at a later date.
I truly believe that when I try to do more than one…that one of them will invariably suffer, because it never quite gets my full attention.
But somehow late Thursday, just as I was entering twilight sleep, when I had reached that moment where I was on the verge of surrendering myself into the arms of Hypnos, and my conscious defenses were down; Two of my story threads broke free and escaped and somehow collided.
They spent the hours I was in repose, gaining strength and intensity inside my mind…thus forming themselves into the “perfect storm” as it were.
When I awoke the next morning, I discovered that they had found their collective voice, and staged a rather effective coup d’etat.
For hours my muse and I battled…I was determined to make it wait until my sequel was finished.
We played a mental game of tug of war and I fought valiantly. But alas, I soon began to tire.
After several exhausting hours of warfare, we embarked on some intense negotiations, and arbitration. Thus the terms of our truce were hammered out, and my muse and I reached an accord.
I would set aside my sequel and allow it to have complete control to have its voice for a period of 48 hours…(this past weekend) to get this story out of it’s system.
My muse was delighted and ran in the streets screaming and shouting and proclaiming its victory.
Truthfully, as much as I like to pretend I’m in control of it…it always wins…. but please don’t tell my muse I said that---there are a couple more story ideas in there and I don’t want them to get any bright ideas about taking over until I am done with my sequel….
I have melded certain facts from Medicine Man and it’s sequel into this story…so eventually there will be cohesiveness to all 3 stories….
So like or not…. this is the result of this past weekend.
I hope you enjoy it…now my muse and I have to get back to work on the sequel.
We will see what Wilson says…
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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