“EMT Collins,” Dispatch said inside his earbud. Raphael Collins reached a fuzzy hand to his ear and tapped the device with a thin finger. “Proceed to twenty-fifth street and Orange Avenue. The bartender at the Green Goose Tavern has requested the police and EMT pick up.”
“I do not understand,” Raphael said into the air. “None of my clients are listed as threatened. Nor are the located anywhere near a tavern.”
“There are times when the police are unable to handle some situations and require our assistance. Please depart in the next few minutes. Take the medical restraining kit.”
“Understood dispatch,” Raphael said, rising to his feet. He tapped the keyboard and indicated he was on a call. Exiting his cube, he fast-walked through the maze of cubes to the launch area. Opening the steel cabinet there, he pulled the bright orange backpack out and slung it over his shoulders. Touching his earbud, he spoke. “EMT Raphael Collins responding to a call.”
A purple disk opened at his side and he stepped through it.
Raphael’s feet touched the cobblestone road. In the other world, it was close to midnight. Here, the midmorning light played through the rustic wooden houses, casting cool shadows on the warm road.
“Good morning Raphael!” A man approached with a large sack slung over his shoulder. The odd, rounded shapes bulged making the sack look heavy, but the man walked upright. “I see you are at work.” The man ran his eyes over the red and white uniform that Raphael wore. “It looks awful snug.”
“Clyde,” Raphael said, reaching a hand forward. “Yes, I am at work.” He nodded and put a smile on his face. “It does not hurt and feels rather comfortable once you get accustomed to it.”
“I would never wear something like that,” Clyde said. “Give me room in my trousers and an open shirt, and I will work all day.”
“I hope you do not work all day,” Raphael said, a smile dancing on his lips. “Miriam would have your hide tanned.” He let out a lilting laugh.
“That she would,” Clyde said. “You have a great day. Hopefully, this is an easy one.”
“I do too,” Raphael said and turned to walk further down the road.
Raphael cleared a block and turned at the next intersection. “This should get me close to where I need to be.” With a nod, another purple-hazed portal appeared, and he stepped through.
The darkness crashed into Raphael. He saw the blinking lights of the police car and moved towards the officers.
“I am EMT Collins,” Raphael said. The two officers turned at the sound of his voice. Both jerked and their hands went to their weapons. “I am here for some type of transport.” At this, the officers relaxed their stance and one tossed a thumb over a shoulder.
Following the direction pointed, Raphael spotted a man swaying a few yards or so away. The man raised the bottle in his hand in a wave, then took a drink from it.
“Shovel Head?” Raphael stepped around the car. His eyes were wide and his mouth open. He reached a hand out as his pace quickened.
“Easy, kid,” one of the officers said. “He’s seven sheets to the wind.”
“Yeah,” the other chimed in. “He might not recognize a fan from a foe and clobber you.”
Raphael paused and turned his head to the officers. “Is he drunk?” Looking back at Shovel Head, he shook his head. “He is too good to do anything so common. He must have fought someone that took over his mind.”
“Nope,” an officer said. “The bartender said he’s been in here for a few hours. He’s gone through nearly a case of rum by himself.” A hand flicked towards the bottle in Shovel Head’s hand. “He took that when the bartender cut him off.”
The stumbling figure turned around and lurched towards Raphael. “Hey,” he said with a breathy voice. Raphael’s face twitched, and he flinched backward. “I know you. You’re dat kid who follah me ‘round the convenshon a few weeks ago. Had me schzign everythin’ I tousched.”
“No everything,” Raphael said as he looked at his feet. “Just some memorabilia.”
“Waddevah,” Shovel Head slurred. His body wavered, and the bottle flashed between them. The liquid inside splashed out and onto Raphael. “Oppps. Schorry,” he said. A laugh escaped Shovel Head’s mouth followed by a belch. “Scuse meh.”
“This is…” Raphael shook his head then hung it in front of his chest. His shoulder slumped, and he put a hand on his head. “This is—”
“Shovel Head drunk,” one of the officers said, smirking. Stepping forward, he put a hand on Raphael’s shoulder. “Look. He needs to be restrained and transported. We can’t cause he’ll just break out of the cuffs.” He paused for a breath. “So far, no reporters have shown up. You can get him to a hospital and no one will see. You’ll be doing him, and us, a favor.” The officer moved so his face lined up with Raphael. He put on a placid smile and raised his eyebrows.
Raphael sighed. “I know.” He slid the backpack from his shoulders and unzipped it. “Uh, Shovel Head,” he said, reaching into the bag. “I am EMT Collins.”
“Yeah, das it. Randy Collins. Like da singer.” Shovel Head started singing a song, but the words blurred together. “Wadda ya want?”
Pulling out a thick metal belt, Raphael said, “I need you to come with me. I am going to take you someplace where you can rest.” His face showed a small smile that looked more exaggerated than genuine. The small bumps over his eyes rose and his forehead wrinkled. He kept the belt low and walked slow and easy.
“Don’ need no ress,” Shovel Head said. Swinging an arm, the force staggered him backward. “Imma superhero.”
“Yes,” Raphael said. “It is because you are a superhero that I am here. I will take you to a special place where they will make sure you are well taken care of.”
“Good one kid,” one of the officers muttered.
“He’s not gonna buy that,” the other officer said, throwing a hand towards Shovel Head. “We shoulda called one of the Guardians or even one of the guys on the retired list.”
“I ain’t goin’ an ya can’t make me,” Shovel Head shouted. He turned and stumbled towards the open part of the lot.
“I do not want to force him,” Raphael said. “But, I have no choice.” A hazy circle appeared in the air next to Raphael and he stepped through.
Both of the officers stared, their eyes wide, and they moved to the other side of their car.
Raphael appeared immediately in front of Shovel Head. He held the belt out and the drunk hero walked into it. The belt shut with a crashing snap.
“Dis ain’t gonna hol me,” Shovel Head shouted. He flung the bottle, and it crashed into the dark pavement, shattering. The liquid made a shimmering stream in the dull streetlights.
“It will hold you,” Raphael said. “I just need to put these on you, too.” In a hand, he held two metal bands that matched the belt. Shifting one to the other hand, Raphael reached out and snapped them onto Shovel Head’s wrists.
Shovel Head stood with his hands held out from his sides. With two bloodshot eyes, he looked at Raphael’s fuzzy face. “See. It ain’t doin’ squat! Ya need a shshshshave, kid.” One of his hands reached out to cup Raphael under the chin.
“Oh,” Raphael said and darted a hand towards the belt. A quick tap of the buckle and he straightened.
The belt glowed a soft orange and then the bracelets. Both arms shot to Shovel Head’s sides, and the bracelets connected with the belt with a loud clang.
“There it is,” Raphael said, his cheeks raising up with the corners of his mouth.
“That ain’t gonna stop me,” Shovel Head said and flexed his knees. “I can still jump.” Extending both legs, he hopped in place, landing hard on his feet. “What the,” he spat and pulled at his arms. Imitating the first moment, he tripped and went to the ground.
“Are you alright?” Raphael leaned down and grabbed an arm. “Let me help you up.” Pulling and lifting, Raphael helped Shovel Head to his feet. “That belt nullifies your abilities.”
“What!” Shovel Head stared at Raphael.
“It is for your safety as well as mine,” Raphael answered. “It is time to leave.” Glancing to the side, a purple portal appeared. “This way.” Raphael reached a hand out and tugged on Shove Heads shoulder. He waved to the officers as he approached the portal. With a lumbering lurch, both of them stepped through the portal.
“Where are we.” Shovel Head blinked in the bright sunlight as he looked around. “Are dose rocks?” His head and shoulders leaned forward as he stared at the road. “Day are.”
“Yes,” Raphael said. “They are rocks. Cobblestones to be precise. I call this the In Between Place.” Hooking a hand onto Shovel Heads elbow, he walked towards the intersection. “I have to come here when I do long teleports.”
“It’s pretty,” Shovel Head said, his head wavering as he walked. “Are there people here?”
“Yes,” Raphael answered. “And so far they are all nice and respectable.” He turned his head forward but kept his eyes on Shovel Head. His lips tightened as he lifted his chin.
“You born here?” Shovel Head turned his red-nosed face towards Raphael. He was quiet and kept eye contact.
“No,” Raphael answered. “I was born like everyone else. I even looked like everyone else. For a little while, anyway.” The fur didn’t hide the Adam’s apple bob in Raphael’s throat, nor did it absorb the single tear as it descended his cheek.
“Wha happen?” Shovel Head kept his eyes on Raphael’s face as he maintained the pace of a slow walk. His body didn’t sway like it did before, but he did stumble a few times.
Raphael did a double take at Shovel Head. He waited several breaths then sighed. “When I turned eight, my change started. A first it was hair on my feet, then my back. The bump for my tail came in around ten and my arms and legs became hairy when I turned thirteen.” He stopped talking for several paces. Shovel Head nodded, his face blank, but his bloodshot eyes gained a depth. To them. “At sixteen, the hair was all over my body.” Raphael moved his free hand up and down to indicate the top of his head to his feet. “My feet got wider and the pads on the bottom thickened. Shoes were no longer an option for me. Do not even mention my tail.” Raphael paused in his story. “Finally my teeth,” he said, grinning. All of his teeth came to a fine point and the top row interlocked with the bottom row. “That was the clincher. I was expelled from school and my parents were forced to home school me. No prom, no graduation, nothing.”
“Whoa,” Shovel Head said, his eyes wide and frown creased his lips. “I thought I had it ruffff. I juss broke doorssss and had to hold back at everding I did. At lease I looked normal.” He jerked his shoulders, then looked down at his hands held at his waist. Struggling to get his hands free, he nudged his should against Raphael’s.
Raphael smiled and sniffed.
“Things have gotten better,” Raphael said. “I like the people I work with. Plus, there are two women in my apartment building that talk to me.”
“Good for yew,” Shovel Head said. “Keep at it. Ders someone fer ya out here.”
The duo walked quietly for a while.
“You don’t do anyding weird, do ya?” Shovel Head looked at Raphael and cocked his head to the side. “I mean, ta hurt people and stuff.”
“No,” Raphael answered. “That is why I became an EMT. I do not want to hurt anyone. Ever.”
“Good,” Shovel Head said.
The two men stopped walking. Raphael nodded and the fuzzy purple circle opened in front of them. Stepping through, they stood in front of the side entrance to Angels of Mercy Hospital.
“Kid,” Shovel Head said. “Thank you.” He swayed, but didn’t stagger. “I was drinkin’ tonight cause I hurt ma wife on accident. It was one time too many fer her and she leff me. I didn’t know what to do. You showed me life isn’t so bad for me and I kin overcome it. Maureen, my wife, and I need to work on things. When I wake up from dis, Imma call her.”
They both stepped through the doorway and into the hospital. An orderly and nurse approached them. Raphael tapped the buckle on the restraining belt and it deactivated. After taking it from Shovel Head, Raphael reached forward. “You be safe.”
Taking Raphael’s hand and giving it several hard pumps, Shovel Head said, “That’s my catchphrase.” He winked then turned to go with the orderly.