3rd Place – April 2018

The Little Red Bug

by Gail Armstrong

             “Over here, by the bushes. I think she’s still breathing. Hard to tell with all the blood on her! Oh my God, my God! She’s trembling!  Quick, Call 911!”
            “Now idiot.”
            “Hey, watch out who you’re calling an idiot, dummy.”
             The two unclean, slovenly dressed homeless men bantered. “How do you think I can call nine-one-one without a phone, stupid?”
            “The restaurant across the street. Go over there and use their phone.” Leo snapped.  “What are you waiting for?”
            The police siren wailed through the dark night like a feral cat crying for position in a wild pack. Red and blue flashing lights were startlingly harsh the closer they got!  A young girl in trouble! The ambulance also on its way! Get to her in time!
            Dried, caked on dark red blood had oozed from her nose and mouth. A good sign she had been there for several hours. Her small body twisted in an ungainly position. Two dirty, broken high-heeled red leather shoes lay nearby. Her fancy clothing ripped and in disarray looked somehow unsuitable, almost exaggerated for the sweet child-like face looking up with fluttering eyelids as she tried in earnest to open her swollen almost hidden eyes. The odor of musk and weeds permeated the dark night air.
            “She’s alive, Jordan the EMT cried out, hurrying over to the young girl.  Move away please!  We need to get her into the ambulance.” said with authority.
            Jordan and his partner Mac, paying close attention to her neck and back, gently picked her up and skillfully placed her onto the hard gurney.
             Jordan secured the injured girl in the bulky ambulance and immediately connected her to a cardiac monitor. “Sinus rhythm. Normal.” Jordan uttered with a tinge of hope as he wiped the green grass stains, dirt, and blood from her arm with an alcohol wipe. He started a saline drip. Dehydration was a concern. She could have been in the grass by the side of the road a long time, certainly hours.
            Mac stomped his foot to the gas after yelling, “We’re off,” he cautioned to Jordan. They headed to the hospital. Sirens echoed in the gloomy, opaque night. Red flashing lights alerting approaching vehicles. The ambulance sped swiftly over route 2.
             The derelicts with a sense of worth they had long lost, walked into the lonely night feeling pretty good about themselves, each telling the other who did the best job at helping this young girl to survive.
            “Charlie you were pretty good tonight,” Leo said soberly. “I didn’t think you would make it across the street with your bad leg. You did.
      “Yeah, Leo.  You were good too. We should feel proud of ourselves.”
      “Yup. Let’s get some food.” They strolled into the darkness feeling contented.
        The ED nurse exclaimed “She doesn’t look a day over 15.”
       “Let’s get some blood work and a couple of x-rays,” the ED doctor said as he and the nurses quickly and skillfully tended to the young patient’s wounds.
            “She’ll be fine after a little suturing and a day in ICU for precautionary monitoring,” said the doctor with an air of certainty. “We’ll just suture up her right leg, arm and this gaping cut on her cheek where most of the blood has come from. She’s one lucky girl.”
            The police quickly and efficiently obtained the young girl’s name, Chloe Martin. The local schools had implemented a fingerprint program for their students for situations like this.
            “I’ve been out of my mind with worry, near my wits end,” said Sue Martin, Chloe’s mom.  Distraught, yet so relieved, her eyes swollen from hours of crying, now tears of gratitude flowing down her red, wet cheeks as she told the police the story.
            “My daughter, Chloe left very unhappy sometime this morning. We had a little disagreement last night about a car for her 16th birthday next week. She wanted one and I told her absolutely not.”
            “Why can’t I have one Mom? All my friends have a car and I will be different. They won’t like me anymore,” she had wailed.
            “There just is not enough money to buy another car,” her widowed mom said sadly.
            When Sue arrived on ICU, Chloe looked up, saw her mom, and burst out crying.
            “Oh Mom, I hurt all over, like I was hit by a truck,” her eyes now black and blue, narrowed as she looked up at her mom with her left hand held up, without bruises. Her right side ached like she had been beat up, punched, and dumped upside down. Maybe she had been.
            “Sweetie it was overheard by someone on the bus to Trenton, they thought the bus driver had hit a deer, but he was running behind. He didn’t stop. The police think it was you and not a deer.”
            “Why were you on that stretch of highway anyways? It is desolate and dangerous to be walking.”
            “I thought I could get a job at the Old Town restaurant as a hostess so that I could help buy a car,” Chloe said sheepishly.
            “Nice idea but that is no way to go about it young lady. Do you know how much I have worried today? I am so happy you are alive. You could have been killed,” Sue cried.
            “Mom I won’t do that again. It is—it is just that my friends won’t like me if I don’t have a car,” Chloe lamented.
            “Silly girl. Friends—your real, true friends will be there for you. If they aren’t, they are not your friends. A car does not make you better. You are beautiful, smart and such a good person. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  A car has nothing to do with loyal friends. Believe me honey. You are just fine the way you are.”
            The police worked hard at finding out the bus scheduled running on Route 2 the night of the accident, and they discovered that the man driving the bus was having second thoughts about whether he had hit a deer or if it was something else, someone perhaps, and he turned himself in at the police station.
            The whole story came out. “The sun was setting. It was hard to see. Driving was difficult. Oncoming headlights almost blinded me. I was weary from several daylong runs and I believe I hit something. I heard a light thud, a bump. I guessed it was a deer.” He sighed heavily.
             As Ben Wells told his story, the police immediately knew what happened to poor Chloe on that almost tragic night. Hit by the bus just enough to propel her into the grass along the side of the road. There she laid until fate stepped in—in the form of two derelict loners on their nightly walk to the soup kitchen down the road.
            Ben was interrogated, believed to be honest, though very sad at what he had done. He never married, but could feel the pain his young victim and family must be going through because of his weariness at the wheel. “How can I make this up?” he cried.
            The dealership was closing and the salesman was locking the door.
            “Please,” cried Ben knocking briskly. “I want to spend some money.”  Apparently he hit the right notes because the startled salesman opened the glass door and let Ben in.
             Ben’s eyes were immediately diverted to a bright red, beautiful VW bug sitting proudly in the center of the showroom.
            “That one! The red one! I need to buy it now! How much is it?  I can write you a check tonight.
            The obliging salesman went quickly to work giving papers to Ben to sign and the red bug was his!
            Chloe and her mom came home from the hospital and there in her driveway was the most luscious, red VW bug she had ever laid her weary eyes on. A huge red ribbon wrapped around it.
            “My birthday gift?  Mom you got me a car anyways?” cried Chloe.
            “No honey I didn’t.”
            Ben stepped off the front porch, introduced himself as the driver of the bus that hit Chloe and was here to apologize. “I have no one. Have been a bachelor for years, have extra money, and this is for you, Miss Chloe.  It is safer than walking these days. The police told me you would be sixteen soon. I found your address. Do you like it?”
             “I LOVE it!  And RED! Thank you so much,” Chloe said with awe.
            “I promise to be careful Mom. I promise.”
            Mom agreed, “It is safer.”
           “Wells, but Ben will do,” he said proudly.
            “Ben, we are so grateful. Won’t you please come in for coffee?” Sue pleaded.
            Chloe jumped into her red bug and shouted out  “Please Ben.”
            Ben agreed.
            They sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee and visiting.
            “Chloe, there will be rules! “
            “Yes Mom.” Chloe quickly replied.



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