THE BLACK MILE

By John Thomas Tuft

Dr. Sandy Drake stood on the roof of Pittsburgh General Hospital taking deep drags on his cigarette, completely oblivious to what was about to happen to reshape his world. All he knew right now was that he was tired of this work. This was his getaway spot, up on the roof, near the red cross painted on the concrete marking the helicopter landing pad. The city lights always intrigued him even as it turned its back on the aging hospital where he worked. Floors were emptying out, changes arrived every day, money was tight, but he hung on, just like it did.

The twinkling of navigation lights on the buildings of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center across the hills in the Oakland section of the city, beyond the looming Cathedral of Learning, mesmerized him. “Doctor Drake, incoming. ETA 2 minutes.” The squawking of the intercom jarred him back. He searched the sky and finally picked out the rotating red lights on the skids of a helicopter, otherwise a moving black silhouette against the stars.

The swinging doors banged open behind him as a gurney was rushed to the rooftop. The “fwap-fwap” of the chopper grew louder and the scene turned into controlled confusion. The pilot banked the craft and briefly hovered over the target before gently setting it down. The noise of the rotor’s made it impossible to hear anything as he and the attendants bent to the wash of the blades, rushing the gurney to the open door. Then, to the doctor’s surprise, people kept climbing out, like it was some sort of a clown car.

An EMT jumped out and grabbed Sandy’s arm and pointed back at the opening. First out was a young man with a thousand-mile stare in his eyes. He turned and helped a young woman out. She had white, spiky hair, but what immediately caught his attention was the deep garnet colored birthmark that covered half her face, with tentacles the stretched across her nose and underneath the opposite eye. They both turned and assisted a man who looked to be in his forties, legs bent at awkward angles, holding two canes. The two helped lift him down from the entrance, where he balanced on the canes and looked back at the woman on the stretcher.

“They insisted!” yelled the EMT. “Said they’re in this together.” Sandy bent close to catch the words and shrugged. “What do you have?” he hollered.

The stretcher was pulled out and placed on the gurney. “Female, I think she’s Vietnamese, 32, nine months pregnant, in labor but I think she’s a breech. Pulse thready, pressure dropping, fully dilated at 10cm, O2 is 93. They say somebody forced them off the road, no injuries.” He stopped and gave Sandy a strange look.

“What?”

The EMT held on to the doctor’s arm as though hanging on for dear life.  “They kept saying ‘this is the black mile, redemption comes from the darkness.’ Doc, you think it’s some kind of cult?”

Sandy spread his arms to indicate ‘who knows?’ and bent over the stretcher. “Her name is Che,” said the man with the canes. “I’m her husband, Christopher. It means ‘whisper.’ She’s Hmong, her family escaped after the Americans left. Save her and the baby, Ab, please Doc.”

“Get her inside!” commanded Sandy and the group entered the hallway and maneuvered onto the elevator. The other man, holding hands with the woman with the striking features, waved them on and headed for the stairway. The doctor looked at his watch. After midnight. This precious baby would be born, if he had anything to do with it, later this morning, September 11, 2001.

Words are magic and writers are wizards. (Excerpt taken from THE HEALING, by John Thomas Tuft)