The trip across the bridge didn’t take long. Henry and I sat snuggled together in the back seat. With his arm around me, I started to get unusually sleepy. We listened to Will try to convince Richard to switch to a Samsung phone. Richard was a die-hard Apple user and wasn’t hearing any of his little brother’s reasons.
Once we arrived, Rich parked a block away in an open spot on the street, and we walked to the vendor. There was a chill in the air. Henry felt my arm and gave me his jacket without even asking. It was nice to be looked after so carefully.
A small crowd of people gathered around the fabled taco vendor. We hung back from the group of locals and read the menu boards. The aroma of cilantro spiced meats, onions, and garlic were heavy in the small space. The vendor’s truck backed up to a tall brick building wall. The ground was covered in dark gravel rock. The urban setting was basic but orderly and charming.
Henry, of course, couldn’t read the menu. I read off the list of offerings to him quietly. In high heels on my chin rested perfectly on his shoulder. I wrapped my arms around him from behind. Henry leaned his warm hand on my arm. We stood there together, taking in the night air and contemplating what to eat. I didn’t want anything too spicy, considering I would be naked soon.
We were incredibly over dressed, but no one made us feel out of place. This was a gathering spot for the community, an area of acceptance. It was the first moment I felt I could breathe freely. Henry pulled me in front of him, slid his hand around my waist, and pulled me to him.
“Thanks for coming with me. This trip has been one of the best evenings I can remember.”
“Well, I’m glad I could provide you with some comic relief. Your brothers can be real jerks filling your head with such bull-shit.”
“Yeah, does seem to be their goal,” Henry agreed.
Looking at the people standing behind Henry, the strangest feeling rolled over me. My skin grew hot, and my hearing intensified.
A man walked purposefully through the sparse crowd. His heavy steps crushed the rock under his feet, sending a tingle across my arm. The smell of sweat and cigarettes on his skin floated in the air and mixed with a hint of fear. This new smell seemed to poke me in the brain, making me take notice.
The man rounded the group of patrons close to Will and stood next to the curb at the far side of the food truck. I could hear the thick lining of his leather jacket crinkle and scrape as he pulled his hand out of the pocket. I heard a metal clicking and saw the gun.
I grabbed Henry’s jacket and pawed at Will’s sleeve. Will was out of reach and seemed oblivious to our surroundings, but he wandered toward me anyway, still looking at the menu. Richard was off to the side, out of eyesight on a phone call.
A dark car rolled slowly up the street. Four persons appeared in the window frames. All I could see were their heads and the dark shape of weapons. The man on the street ran toward the taco truck with his gun drawn. The counterman at the far end of the truck seemed to be the car’s target.
The man on the street pointed his handgun at the cook and pulled the trigger. The bullet caught a stack of napkins and proceeded through the cook’s chest, leaving behind a large red hole in the center of his white apron.
The occupants of the slow-rolling car hung themselves out of the windows. My breath stuck in my throat—all my muscles tightened. I pulled Henry’s jacket and swung around to find Will’s arm as I pushed them both to the ground.
In my haste to remove Henry from danger, I revealed a slight, young, Hispanic woman with terror in her eyes hiding behind Henry’s shoulders. Hot liquid sprayed across my face as the sound of firecrackers filled the air. I dropped on top of Henry and Will.
It seemed like an hour went by, but it could have only been a few seconds. Shot after shot rang out until I could tell the difference between gunfire and fireworks.
The sounds of people screaming and running across the gravel filled the air until the only noise left was the bullets hitting the sheet metal truck. When it was over, the car sped away. The man on foot lay bleeding to death and quivering with a bullet through his eye and several holes in his chest.
Patrons lay on the ground crying. The slight built Hispanic woman lay motionless on the ground next to William. Her beautiful face was spared but not her neck. There was nothing I could do for her. She was dead.
My blood began to boil. I could feel it rage under my skin, exciting every nerve and heightening my senses. I could smell the blood on the ground and the sewer grate across the street. I could hear people run and scatter from behind parked cars blocks away.
A chunk of concrete hit Henry. A jagged piece of the planter was sticking out of his thigh. He pulled at the fabric of his pants. I yelled at him to leave it alone, but he removed the chunk of concrete before I could stop him.
I held my breath, but after a few moments, blood started pulsing out of his leg like a broken sprinkler head. I knew from my training he would only have minutes left to live. Richard stood over us, looking at the bright red-orange blood in shock.
People ran out of their homes. Many were on their cell phones, calling 911. The police and the ambulance would take time. Guns on a trauma site slow the recovery process significantly. One resident told a shooting victim to hold on because it would take ten minutes for help to arrive. That estimate was six minutes too long for Henry. He did precisely what he wasn’t supposed to do. He pulled the rock out of his wound.
Will hit his head when I pushed him to the ground. Henry was bleeding a bit from a small gash in the side of his face, but the most concerning problem was the fountain of blood coming from his femoral artery. The bleeding needed to stop. I needed to close the wound to stop it.
Now there were only three and a half minutes. I didn’t question where my heightened senses came from or how to use them. I ripped Henry’s pants leg apart, revealing his wound and the bits of broken debris laying within the open flesh. I put my finger in his artery. He screamed out in pain, but the sound didn’t deter me. He would eventually pass out.
“Give me your belts,” I yelled. “Will, Rich, give me your belts.” The two men complied, never taking their eyes off Henry.
The leather reached my hand, and I tied it around Henry’s leg. I could tell by the amount of blood, the artery wasn’t severed completely, but there was still a decent sized puddle of blood growing under his leg.
Inside my purse was a needle and mossy green silk thread I used to repair lines of frayed beading on the hem of my dress. I did a reasonably flawless repair job on the dress, but this was different. Mission one, stop the bleeding. The blood flow slowed after the tunicate but continued to trickle. I needed to close the tear.
The taco vendor’s dislodged heat lamp cast a bright circle of light on the ground close by. I dragged Henry into the circle and began to assess what tools were at my disposal. I grabbed the silk thread and threaded the slender beading needle. I told myself this is what I have. It’s not sterile, but the hospital has antibiotics.
Deal with the problem in front of you. I recalled one of my first medical classes. The new problem caused by introducing bacteria into his open wound would take hours or even days to kill him.
Slippery wet and pulsing with each heartbeat, the artery looked too deep to reach without instruments. Henry protested, in an incoherent rant swatting my arms away.
I positioned my knee to pin his hand to the ground and began to repair the tear. It was amazing, as if my fingers grew barbs allowing me to grab the slimy bit of vein. I did what I could. The bleeding stopped to a slow trickle. The holes from the needle were still big enough to allow blood to escape. One good pump of blood through the vein, and it would rip apart again.
A nursery rhyme ran through my mind. Maybe I traded Henry’s life for another. Maybe I would be able to help him. I leaned in close to the wound, gathered a small collection of saliva in my mouth, and spit onto the artery. A quick bubbling of blood smoothed over the vein bringing together the ripped bits of skin. I knew at that moment, my curse was triggered.
So, I bit him.
One small bite next to his wound. The chopped muscle and tissue began to repair. I poured water from a fresh bottle into the wound and rolled him over to irrigate the visible debris. Pulling the jagged skin together, I quickly stitched the wound closed with exaggerated long stitches that could be removed when we reached the hospital. I wrapped the wound with clean fabric I ripped from the hem of my dress and went to find Henry’s brothers.
William was on his feet nearby, but Richard was holding him up. The ambulance wailed far off in the distance. I ripped the bottom of Will’s shirt, doused it with water, and cleaned out his head wound before he became completely aware of the pain. We stood over Henry and waited for the ambulance and police to arrive. Looking down at the pavement, I could smell the hot spicy meat. It was exactly like my vision from the day before.
I didn’t know what it meant. Was I supposed to avoid this place, or was the short image a glimpse of an event I couldn’t change? Would Henry have been here without me and died, or would he have skipped the wedding all together if I hadn’t agreed to come with him?
The ambulance arrived. Richard moved into crisis management. It felt like he knew this roll well. Saving Henry was not new to him. Will and I piled into the ambulance with Henry. Richard followed us in the car. Somewhere between the gravel and the ambulance, I sent a text to my mother.
“I need help. There was a shooting. My friend was injured, and my blood might be at the scene. On the way to a hospital now.”
She replied, “Send the location of your blood and drop a pin when you reach the hospital. I will send someone. Are you okay?”
“No, Alerie, are you very sure,” She responded.
It was only a word, Imperial, but it set in motion a family protocol. My blood boiled as my body temperature rose. Something ancient began to rail under my skin.
I patted Henry’s arm. He moved toward my hand. The paramedics weren’t given the okay to administer pain killers. Henry was suffering, and it was driving me out of my mind.