Playing With Fire

Chapter Six


I peered carefully into the ditch on the side of the road, half expecting to see him lying there but it was empty. I crossed over it and started looking in the patches of trees closest to the road. Still, no signs of anyone. Well where the hell would he have gone then? I turned around, placing my hands on my hips. On the other side of the road were two abandoned looking farmhouses. They seemed kinda far for a guy who just lost half his blood to walk to, but it made sense he would try to get there. I headed towards the one closest.

I knew right away I had picked the right one. The moldy boards that had boarded up the outside of the house looked like they had just been torn off, lying scattered all over the sagging porch. I crept closer to the door and grasped the knob in my hand, turning it and slowly pushing the door open. The smell of mildew and rot hit my nose almost immediately. Ugh, it was disgusting. I really didn’t want to go any farther inside but I had already gotten this far. I stepped inside the house and shut the door tightly behind me.

The floor creaked underneath me as I walked into the living room, taking note of the sheet covered furniture and broken television set. I had a feeling he was here somewhere and when I poked my head into the kitchen my hunch was satisfied. All the cupboards and drawers were drawn open, as if someone had been desperately and very carelessly searching through them. I searched the rest of the kitchen, opening the pantry door and the closet door but finding nothing. I moved back into the living room to head upstairs.

That’s when I noticed a door right off the living room, closed but not closed all the way. I pressed my ear to the crack but couldn’t hear a thing. I took a breath and pulled it open, basking the tiny little bathroom in the dim light that was coming in through the living room windows. The first thing I noticed was the blood, the dark red stains that had pooled together in the sink and smeared the countertop and toilet. The mirror was broken into a thousand pieces and glass shards were everywhere. Then of course was the man half hidden behind a moth eaten shower curtain in the bath tub.

“Holy fucking shit.”

I crouched onto the ground, leaning over the side of the tub. He was pale and thin beads of sweat clung to his forehead. I could see his chest moving just barely underneath his dirty white shirt. He looked unconscious, but when I gently touched his arm his eyes fluttered open for a second and looked right at me. I held his gaze, noting the vacant expression in his eyes before they shut again. He was in bad shape. To the point where I didn’t even know if I could save him, but I had already decided I needed to try. I had come this far and sure as hell couldn’t walk away leaving a man in a bathtub to die.

“Okay, I’m going to try and help you.” I said quietly, not sure if he could even hear me. My fingers gently grasped the stump of his arm to see the skin was an angry looking red, yellow pus oozing from the wound. Infected. Badly.

I opened up the cabinet underneath the sink, hoping like hell I could find some sort of first aid kit. There was nothing, but I also had an entire house to look through. I stood back up, shrugging out of my jacket and tossing it to the floor before leaving the bathroom and taking the steps two at a time to the second floor. I found a second bathroom in between two bedrooms and charged inside, throwing open the cabinets and digging through the contents that had been left behind. Finally, buried in the back beneath a few raggedy bath towels was a dust covered first aid kit. I tucked it under my arm and headed back downstairs.

His eyes were still closed and if it hadn’t been for the constant up and down motion of his chest, I’d almost think he wasn’t alive. I knelt down next to the bathtub, setting the first aid kit on the closed toilet lid and pulling out a bottle of water from backpack. I reached down into the tub, gingerly lifting his forearm and poured a good portion of my water on the stump where his hand used to be. The infection was one of the worst I’d seen in a long time, which worried me. Cleaning it would help, but wouldn’t change the damage that had already been done. I dug a tiny bottle of antiseptic out of the first aid kit and glanced wearily at the man. This shit was going to burn and I had no idea how he would react. I squeezed a small drop onto the wound and rubbed it in. Normally, this probably would have any other person puke. Luckily for me, I had seen my fair share of carnage and didn’t mind.

“Jesus Christ, ya’ tryin’ to kill me? That hurts!”

I jumped about a foot in the air, losing my balance and falling into the wall. My heart pounded and stared at him wide eyed. Guess he wasn’t as unconscious as I thought. I crept closer to the tub again.

“I’m...I didn’t mean to.” I started awkwardly.

“S’okay.” He mumbled, his eyes still closed. I could tell from the sound of his voice that even though he was awake, he wasn’t exactly all the way there.

“My name’s Harlow...I’m not here to hurt you. You’re just...Your arm, it’s infected pretty bad. I’m trying to help you.” I explained, keeping a close watch on him as I went back to cleaning the gaping wound. He flinched, but didn’t say another word. I took some gauze from the first aid kit and wrapped it up as best I could. “This should keep it from getting anymore infected.” I said. Even if he wasn’t really listening, it made me feel better to explain what I was doing.

“You a doctor?” He asked in a gruff voice.

I shook my head. “Not exactly. Paramedic.”

I watched as his slowly opened again and finally focused on me. He stared at me for a long second before taking me by complete surprise and laughing...although it sounded pretty weak which concerned me.

“What’s so funny?”

“I guess it makes sense why it’s you.” He said. I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion. “I mean, you was the last person I was thinkin’ ‘bout and now here you are. Like a god damn guardian angel.”

He started laughing again and I decided to ignore it. He was clearly out of it, no idea what he was saying. I leaned forward and pressed the back of my hand to the skin of his forehead. He was on fire. I bit my lip nervously before turning back to the first aid kit and pulling out a pack of advil.

“I’m gonna need you to try and swallow these pills. I don’t know how much it will help with the pain, but it’s better than nothing. Plus, you have a pretty bad fever.” I said as I tore open the pack with my teeth and emptied the two orange colored pills into my hand.

“Whatever you say, princess.” He said before opening his mouth. I placed both pills into his mouth and he swallowed hard. I held his head in my hand as I brought the water bottle to his lips and he took a long sip, spilling some down his front.

I screwed the lid back on the bottle and sat back onto my knees with a sigh. It sucked because it was the least I could do. I didn’t have any fancy medical machines or pills. Literally all I had to save a dying man was a backpack and a lousy first aid kit. I noticed the dried blood on his one good hand and remembered the smashed mirror. Now it made sense. I grabbed more antiseptic from the first aid kit and leaned over him to clean out the small, tiny gashes that covered the back of his hand and knuckles.

“As if you weren’t in bad enough shape, you had to punch something.” I murmured as I wiped away the dried blood.

“I was mad.” He responded after a second.

I rolled my eyes. “Typical man.”

“You know, you got some pretty nice fuckin’ legs. Damn those things go on for miles.” He suddenly said in his raspy voice.

I stopped wrapping the bandage around his hand for a second, caught off guard but shook it off quickly. “Maybe you shouldn’t talk. Save your energy.” I suggested. Normally, I would have slapped a guy across the face for saying something like that. I couldn’t bring myself to hit a man who was already half dead. Plus, I still was 99% sure he had no idea what he was really saying.

“I bet you’re fuckin’ wild in bed.”

I felt my eyes grow wide and I placed a finger over his mouth. “Okay, buddy. Time to be quiet. You need to rest.” I said exasperatedly. I could feel my cheeks turning red and was glad his eyes were closed. “I’ll be in the next room."

I waited, but he stayed quiet so I stood up and moved into the living room. I inspected the couch, debating on whether to keep the old, dust covered sheet on or off before I sat down. I decided I didn’t trust what was underneath and collapsed on top of the white cover, stretching out. My thoughts wandered back to the man in the bathroom, who’s name I didn’t even know. Wait...that was a lie. I did know. I remembered back in the city him referring to himself as ‘ole Merle’. I wrinkled my nose. What the fuck kind of a name was Merle? It sounded like the name of so backwoods old grandpa. Which, I guess, sort of fit him. He wasn’t that old, but he did have that hick thing going on. And he was rude and vile.

Why was I trying to help him again?I already knew that answer, though. It was because I was too damn fucking soft and couldn’t stand to even see someone like that suffer and die. I didn’t have it in me. Damn my bleeding heart. I let out another long sigh. I was going to have to move him sooner or later. If he stayed here, he’d be dead soon. While I really didn’t like the idea of dragging him around with me, he needed help. More than I could give. I’d have to go looking for it. My eyes lingered on the open bathroom door. I’d move him in the morning. If he made it until then.

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