But no one yelled back. He turned on lights as he flew by the switches. Bright construction paper cut-outs of cheery Christmas trees and green wreathes and silver chalices covered endless white walls.In the kitchen, in the space by the door, a fire extinguisher, cherry red. Laughter bubbled up his throat, a laughter that tasted like metal. How the hell had he confused a fire extinguisher with a phone? He scanned the room. There was no phone, no phone he could see, so he rushed back down the hall and rattled door knobs, each one locked. On the last door, a sign: Reverend Gilliam. Of course the minister’s office had a phone, so he turned the knob but the door didn’t budge.
“FUCK!”Josh kicked. The door shuddered in its frame. The top half of the door was a plastic window, milky and yellowed. He punched with his fist. The window shattered around him, his knuckles dripped red as he reached past the jagged edges. The inside knob slipped in his hand, warm and slick from blood, and then the door popped open. In the middle of the cluttered desk, a phone. He punched 911. On the second ring, a voice picked up.
“My friend, he’s sick, really, really sick,” Josh said.“Where are you?” the woman’s voice on the other end said. She sounded calm, content, not at all consumed the way Josh felt.
“In a church,” Josh said, and the panic rose again, he had no idea exactly where he was. “A UU church.”“UU?” she said.
“Unitarian Universalist.”“Never heard of that,” she said. “Street?”
“I don’t know,” Josh said. He piled through papers and pamphlets on the desk, hoping one had the address, but all he saw were drafts of what seemed to be sermons, mock-ups of brochures. “Downtown. Near a park. I have no fucking clue.”“I’m tracing your call now,” she said. “Tell me about your friend.”
“He’s got a fever, really high, and when I shake him he doesn’t respond,” Josh said.“Drugs?”
“Uh, not now, not tonight, he might’ve shot up this morning.”“Heroin?”
“Probably.”“Is he shaking?” she said. “Having tremors?”
“No. Oh Jesus, hurry.”“Because of the storm the system is slow. Are you with your friend now?”
“No, he’s in the sanctuary. I’m in an office, it’s where the phone is.”“Is anyone else with you?” she asked.
“No. We broke in, the weather, we’ve been on the street. Nikko, he’s been sick so long, his arm’s all red, all hot—”“Arlington and Boylston,” she said. “I’m sending the ambulance now. Now listen to me, this is important. I want you to return to your friend. Hold his head to the side, in case he throws up. Don’t let him breathe in his vomit. Okay?”
“Okay,” Josh said, but he didn’t move, just cradled the phone in his hands.“Go,” she said with an odd gentleness. “Help is coming. I’ll pray for you both.”
The phone clicked. Josh let the bloody phone clatter to the desk. Josh wanted to stay in the office, connected to her, connected to her voice, but he pushed himself up. His feet crunched in the plastic shards in the hall and he started to run, slow at first, blood from his hand spattering the carpet as he ran faster, until he reached the sanctuary.Nikko curled in fetal position. Josh sat beside him, cross-legged, and cradled Nikko’s head in his hands. Nikko’s breath floated past his wrist, faint and warm.
The chalice glowed from the altar. He wondered if the people who came here believed in God, whether when they lit their candles they prayed for strangers. He hoped so.Josh slowly rocked Nikko.
“Spirit of life,” Josh sang, a whisper. “Come unto me. Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.”Nikko moaned. Josh wasn’t sure, but in the dim sanctuary, it looked like Nikko smiled, so he kept singing Nikko’s favorite hymn.
“Wings set me free, spirit of life, come to me.”Josh stared at the chalice and sung until the words turned husky in his mouth, until they became a prayer of sorts. His throat grew hoarse, but still he sang. The radiator stopped clanging, the draft faded, and Josh stopped, to listen. Silence filled the vast space. Far off, he heard the faint wail of a siren.
ALMOST at the end. Whew. What a ride. And thank you for riding with me. If you're not sure where we are in the journey, read last week's installment of THE RUNAWAY.
Read hard, write harder, live hardest. Peace...