Marcus Eubanks

We hold that every action has an equal and opposite reaction: a zero-sum game. So can value be found in anything we do, or are all acts doomed to be cancelled out?

She glanced down at the clock on the dash: 18:52. Still about three minutes from work and she didn't have to be on shift until 19:00. She had a big truck -- a rough-looking Rover, about 15 years old. Its appearance was intentional; actually, the car was very carefully maintained. She refused to wash it, so the once-tasteful gunmetal paint job was now closer to a matte black. The windows, all but the windscreen, were dark enough to seem opaque from the outside, and years' worth of city filth only strengthened the impression.

The headlamps added illumination to a group of kids, late teens to early twenties, shooting hoops under a streetlight in the middle of the block. Some trick of the lighting made for a stage-like setting, rendering the shadows on the side of the street impenetrable lakes of pure black. Reflexively, she slowed down.

Her subconscious muttered quiet nothings to her as the car slowed. The group seemed to thicken before her as kids flowed in ones and twos from various shadows, quickly adding themselves to the game. In only a few seconds the group had become a mob. With a deep breath its periphery expanded, and she was among them. A tiny splash of reflected light on the roofliner caught her eye as a figure immediately ahead of her turned, bringing a sawed-off pump to bear even as she downshifted. The truck dipped once as someone reached for the mirror mount and landed on the passenger running board, but he rolled along the side and fell away as the beast abruptly leaped forward.

The animal mind of the group took time to react -- it only gradually realized that something was wrong. Bodies tried to scramble out of the way when they heard the engine note change, but one didn't quite make it. She felt the transmitted shock as something bounced off the right fender, noting that neither the front nor rear end lifted as it would have if a tire had climbed over flesh. The pump went off to her side, pounding into the vehicle but not crazing the glass. Her friends had accused her of paranoia when she'd had the rear side windows replaced with steel and sprung for custom glass elsewhere, but incidents like this made her figure she'd gotten her money's worth.

Three minutes later and eight blocks away, she locked her own 12-gauge pump into the rack and stowed the flak jacket in her locker. The jacket was better protection than the kevlar vest for which she was exchanging it, but she needed the additional mobility afforded by the arm cutouts. Even with metal detectors and professional security, this was a dangerous place to work. She grabbed a cup of burnt coffee, paused over the first too-hot sip as she collected her wits, and then stepped out into the melee.

"Hey Josie! Expand the market any on your way in?" Josie peered over the counter the voice had come from, taking in the sprawled-out form reclining there, feet on the desktop, eyebrows raised cynically over a coffee mug of his own.

"Fuck off, Carter, you're not funny. Just give me your report and get the hell out of here."

"OK, OK. Jeez." He tried to look hurt, but failed. He grinned archly. "Premenstrual again? Wasn't that last week? You're gonna be the beacon of pure joy tomorrow morning."

She sat down with him to run the list, thinking about the last time she'd had trouble coming in, only a couple of weeks back. She could picture the kid's face vividly as she replayed the scene, the malicious joy on his features turning to wordless astonishment as the gaping mouth of the Remington laid his chest open. There had been no question about creating a customer that night; that particular one went to the morgue.

Carter was in full swing, colorfully editorializing his way through the status report when she heard the alarm tone sound over the PA. She didn't need to listen to the words, but they sang themselves to her, an oft-repeated mantra. She knew which operator was working by the voice -- this was the one who always sounded happy, carefully inflecting her words in rich, well-modulated tones. "Christ," she thought to herself. "The bitch could at least try to sound a bit bummed about it."

"Well, fuck me with a chainsaw!" That was Carter. "It's been like this all day. C'mon, I'll help you get this one started. You'll be totally swamped in a couple of hours." She smiled thanks at him, leaned back to stretch as she stole another swallow of coffee, and then got up to see what was coming in. It was 13 minutes after the shift change, so this was officially her baby.

It was all noise and confusion.

"Just shootin' hoops, man, and this big fuckin' black truck -- "

"Respiration 32, pulse 140, pressure 70. I'm calling him a nine on the Glasgow scale -- "

"Bitch drivin' didn't even slow down! Izzee gonna make it? Aw man aw man -- "

"Christ, he's flailed on the right! Gimme four of positive pressure on the vent and get him the hell out of here!"

"Gonna kill that bitch, aw man aw -- "

"Sir, you'll have to leave, no sir, I mean now. I'm sorry, but -- "

"Mastoid hematoma and orbital bruising, 10-centimeter avulsed occipital laceration with a depressed fracture. Someone call neuro, call CT-scan -- "

In the midst of it all Carter, worrying with the vent settings, glanced at her and cocked an eyebrow. "Black truck? That you, girl?"

She examined the tape on the endotracheal tube, decided it would do, then looked up at him, grimacing. She started to speak, stopped herself. Instead she rolled her eyes. "A girl's gotta work...."

Marcus Eubanks ( is an ER doc in a big hospital in Pittsburgh. His stories have twice been selected to appear in eScene, the Best of Net Fiction anthology.

InterText stories written by Marcus Eubanks: "Mr. McKenna is Dying" (v4n4), "Josie" (v5n2), "Selections From the New World" (v6n3), "Cinderblock" (v9n2), "Amateur Night" (v9n6).

InterText Copyright © 1991-2001 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 5, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1995 Marcus Eubanks.