Release Date: 12/27/2019
I could hear the patient screaming even before the back doors of the ambulance burst open. That was never a good sign.
“Ricardo Villareal, Hispanic male witch, age thirty-two, altered mental state,” the paramedic in the back said while his partner climbed out of the driver’s seat and jogged around to the back to help unload the patient.
I helped the EMTs maneuver the gurney out of the back of their rig, listening carefully through the patient’s screaming as the paramedic, Andy, continued.
“Patient collapsed at a convenience store. Clerk made the call. No one on site knew what, if anything, he was on. He presented with classic signs of opioid overdose, so we administered naloxone on the scene.”
I winced. Naloxone was used to reverse the effects of opioids. If the patient was this agitated from withdrawal, he’d probably need to be sedated before we could do anything for him. Hell, even restrained, he could be trouble if he started throwing magic around. Not many practitioners could sling a proper spell in an altered mental state, but I kept a careful eye on him anyway—not that there was fuck all I could do about it but get out of the line of fire.
“Get them off! Get them off!” Ricardo shrieked, writhing and straining against the restraints that held him in place for his own safety.
I put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Hi, Mr. Villareal. I’m Emily. Can you take a deep breath for me? You’re going to need to calm down before we can remove your restraints.”
His eyes locked on me, so wide with panic I could see white all the way around his deep brown irises, “Please, señora, get them off! Serpientes! Serpientes!”
Snakes? I glanced at the resident, Dr. Russell Carson, but he was busy checking vitals as we prepared to move the patient into the hospital proper.
“How long has he been like this?” Russell asked.
“The whole way back, pretty much. About ten minutes,” Michelle, the other EMT, said. “His stats improved about twenty seconds after Andy gave him the naloxone, and he was stable for maybe thirty seconds after that before he started freaking out. It took both of us to restrain him. Fortunately, we weren’t on the road yet.”
I gave the patient’s shoulder a reassuring pat. “There aren’t any snakes, Mr. Villareal. You’re at Saint Vincent Hospital. You collapsed. Do you remember what you took?”
He just kept howling about snakes. I made a mental note of the heart rate and blood pressure Russell rattled off to me as we wheeled the gurney into the ER. The EMTs trailed along behind us. They needed their gurney back, and protocol demanded they stay with the patient until an ER doctor or nurse signed the proper form anyway.
“Where are we going?” Russell asked next.
“Curtain four,” I said. “Everything’s ready.”
As soon as the gurney was parked, I grabbed a pre-loaded syringe from the trauma cart and slapped it in Russell’s hand before he could finish asking for it. He flashed me his trademark smile, the one that regularly melted the panties off women when he wasn’t even trying. I was immune to his charms. I’d seen him with his wife, who was both disgustingly beautiful and a lovely human being to boot. But even if he hadn’t been hopelessly devoted to her—which he was—I didn’t shit where I ate.
While the doctor administered the sedative, I beckoned Andy over so I could sign the paperwork with a sweep of my finger across the tablet.
“Hey, Michelle and I are going out for drinks after our shift. You interested in coming along?” he asked.
I glanced past him at his wide-eyed partner, who shook her head and made a slashing motion across her throat. Chuckling as I passed the tablet back to Andy, I shook my head. “Sorry, I can’t tonight. I’ve got a date.”
It was true, too. Nice to not have to make up an excuse on the fly. I’m a shitty liar.
“What about you, Russ?” Andy asked.
Russell deposited the used syringe in the sharps container. “Can’t, sorry. Dinner with the in-laws.”
I snickered behind a hand when I spotted Michelle sagging in relief. She’d had a thing for her partner for years, but Andy was oblivious. He was like a big dumb puppy, utterly adorable and enthusiastic about everything but as unobservant as a tree stump when it came to social cues.
“I’ve got an idea,” I said, killing time while we waited for the sedative to take effect. “Why don’t you two make a night of it and have dinner and drinks?”
Andy rubbed his clean-shaven jaw, then shrugged. “Might as well, I’ve got nothing better to do tonight. What about you?” He glanced at Michelle, whose expression turned cool in a hurry. I winced on her behalf. Big. Dumb. Puppy.
“Sure, whatever,” she said, giving her dark ponytail a toss.
Right about then, Ricardo went quiet. I glanced his way, expecting to see him snoozing peacefully, but instead found him spasming on the gurney.
“He’s seizing!” I rushed over and quickly began unfastening the restraints holding him to the gurney. Russell helped me, but once Ricardo’s arms and legs were freed there wasn’t anything we could do but stand by, wait for the seizure to run its course, and make sure he didn’t fling himself off the gurney.
Habit had made me glance at the clock when I noticed the patient seizing. I shifted my eyes between the patient and the clock while we waited, keeping track of approximately how long the seizure lasted. Just past the ninety-second mark, Ricardo lit up like a Christmas tree. Magical energy radiated from his body from head to toe, pulsing erratically.
I grabbed Russell and shoved him away from the gurney. “Everyone out!”
Russell stumbled a few steps before digging his heels in. “Hey!” He couldn’t see the magic. None of them could.
I glanced over my shoulder. The whole gurney was vibrating under a still-spasming Ricardo, despite the fact that he was now levitating a few inches over it. Russell must’ve looked back too, because he stopped fighting me and hurried forward, spreading his arms to herd Michelle and Andy out too. Once we were clear of the curtain, I grabbed it with all intent to pull it shut. The curtains in the ER were warded with basic protection spells that kept most magic from penetrating them. It was our only line of defense against witches lashing out with magic. Tranquilizer guns would’ve been preferable, but Public Relations had ix-nayed that suggestion handily.
My eyes caught on Ricardo as I slid the curtain on its track, stopping just short of closing it completely. He’d stopped seizing but still hovered over the gurney, pulsing with golden energy that intensified by the second. The overhead lights flickered as the intense aura of magic radiating from him interrupted the electrical current running through them.
“Emily, close the curtain!” Russell said.
I hesitated a moment more before crossing the threshold and closing the curtain behind me.
“No!” Michelle shouted on the other side, but she didn’t part the curtain at my back. No one did.
They were afraid, and rightly so. An out-of-control witch is a danger to everyone around them, but themselves most of all. I ran for the trauma cart and ripped open the top drawer, scattering supplies all over the linoleum floor in my haste to obtain another pre-loaded syringe. Syringe in hand, I hurried to Ricardo’s side, uncapping it on the way. The lights flickered again, the air so full of crackling energy that my ponytail started to stand up.
I reached for his arm, but as soon as my fingers touched his skin, he flung them off and sat up. He looked down at me, the whites of his eyes glowing along with the rest of him. A shiver ran down my spine, and my fingers tightened on the syringe. If I couldn’t get at his arm, any big muscle would do. I didn’t like my chances of getting a needle past his faded blue jeans, however.
“Ricardo, can you hear me? It’s Emily. I need you to calm down, buddy.”
A sweep of his hand sent a rush of magic in my direction, the spell spinning in the air and solidifying a fraction of a second before it slammed into me. I flew backward, careening into the trauma cart and knocking over the IV stand in the process. My death grip on the syringe was the only thing that kept it in my hand. I leaped to my feet, heart racing, suppressing the urge to hold the syringe aloft in triumph like a ballplayer after a gravity-defying catch.
Voices rose on the other side of the curtain before it parted, and Russell slipped back into the space. The movement drew Ricardo’s attention, and while he was distracted, I darted forward again—grateful for the no-squeak soles on my nursing shoes—and jabbed the needle into his shoulder and depressed the plunger. Ricardo howled in outrage, but I quickly ducked out of sight. First rule of magic: You can’t cast at what you can’t see.
Unfortunately, Ricardo could still see the doctor. I sensed a surge in the magical energy above me, and my heart rose into my throat.
I watched between the gurney’s metal legs as Russell hit the deck, and the curtain behind him ruffled as whatever spell Ricardo had flung dissipated harmlessly on impact. Those damn curtains never ceased to impress me. I wished, not for the first time, I could get a warded set of scrubs. I’d looked into it once, but it proved too expensive since the rigors of regular washing would make the magic wear off quickly, and sometimes I went through two or three sets of scrubs in one shift.
Rather than getting his mundane ass back on the other side of the curtain where it belonged, Russell quickly scrambled closer, taking up a position on the opposite side of the gurney. I glared at him, hands fisting in frustration. But the gurney’s legs had ceased to vibrate, suggesting that the second dose of sedative was doing its job.
The magical glow emanating from Ricardo gradually dimmed, and the gurney eventually creaked when his weight settled back onto it. The air lost its magical charge. I counted to thirty before poking my head up. Ricardo lay inert on the thin mattress, eyes closed. The only lingering trace of his power was the kernel of magic tucked away inside him that all witches possessed.
All witches but me, anyway.
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