All Stories, Crime/Mystery/Thriller, Short Fiction

     ecnalubmA by Tom Sheehan

At an early age came discovery; left-handed it might have come, but it was discovery, the way a fairy tale casts sloganed light on a subject. Early on he’d earned his own laugh at “light without batteries.”

He read the word out the back window of the car and couldn’t figure it out, the way it was spelled out above the windshield of the vehicle behind them… ecnalubmA. It was in bright blue letters on the white body paint, neat as you can imagine… ecnalubmA. It looked as loud as a sore, an old scar.

He kept staring at it and wondered how dumb some people could get. He was sure it proved something. Even at six years of age he knew somebody had screwed up. And his father, noting the interest of his son, the quizzical expression, the lips slack, the eyes black with curiosity, said, “Look in the rearview mirror, Aaron Hazelwing, my boy. Look in the rearview mirror to get yourself ahead in this life.”

And the word ambulance popped up clear as anything he’d ever seen .. clear, unadorned, stripped right to its basic stance of existence. The enlightenment was riveting to him. Years later he remembered that realization with acute feelings. The difference in force, fortune, functionality had been made for him alone; he had been selected, plain old Aaron Hazelwing was never again plain old Aaron Hazelwing.

So, right then and there, at that moment, on Commercial Street in Malden, MA, he made up his mind he wanted to drive an ambulance or work in an ambulance, or spend his life there, careening, exploding down the roads and byways and highways. He felt like friggin’ swearing, but he didn’t know all the words. Not the right ones. Not the ones that would cap it all off! It would be fuckin’ nuts, he thought, the absolute fuckin’ nuts! to spend all his time in an ambulance. It’d be a runaway!

Next, and a complete surprise at that, he discovered how much he loved the sirens as they peeled off behind the speeding vehicle, the whole world separating up front so the ambulance could pass through or by, before anything else moved. Boss stuff! it said. Make way for me! it said. I’m on the high road! it said. Later, on his Elgin Flyer bike, after the revelation, after the total damn fool acceptance of everything, he’d chase them as far as he could, listening to the wail as the flashing lights swerved around a corner and fled from sight, though the wailing sounds still came back in their mild hysteria, like rays off a distant and spinning lodestar, his star alone, his universal light.

He loved that stuff … things by which tales are told, fairy tales, lessons learned, slogans thrown out in the dust of the day, the dust in the road, the swirl of dust behind an Ambulance ecnalubmA. It was better than waves breaking at the ocean’s edge against the high wall of the outer harbor or the humming sound at the beach as a comber spilled over slowly in its long furrowed turn down the broad sand, or all the drills in the world turned on at once and crowding the eardrums from here to Haiti and back. He knew he could measure that much; it came to him, just as the first rush of ecnalubmA had come at him, testing him, making separations.

There was, for him in this world, nothing else like it; Going backwards is going forward, the way fairy tales run their raggy races, the way things are found before they are lost. He was being taught … and was fully aware of the teaching, but not the teacher. It was not regular stuff, for sure!

Then, along in those first foundering days of his life, 22-years of age, cosmopolitan, educated, safely through the academy, and death and calamity all about him, he found one spurious but memorable day that he loved the smell of blood. It invigorated him, set his imagination loose, gave him pictures he might never see. It was never an alien odor to him. It was full of life, even if that life was fast departing. Blood, no matter how it gushed, how quickly it fled its portals, never fazed him. He saw Dracula in the movies, read about him in books, absorbed what he might become, developed a swift pity for vampires: they must find the same love and excitement he found in blood, its spillage, its color, its odor.

That’s when (oh, he’d always remember the first time) he started, on the sly, looking into pockets of victims… accident victims, fire victims, victims of deadly assaults, old ladies and old men collapsed at home or on a down-town street or crosswalk, their week’s groceries dropped and scattered on gray walks or the cross-over asphalt of a main street, often their eyes locked on one spot in space forever, as though they were reaching for something or had it in sight. “Blimey,” they might have said, “Blimey, there it is.”

He took half of what he found every time out, or a decent portion from a just-passed life, or seemed to be about-to-pass.. He could be devoted in more than one pursuit. All of it he found illuminating, and profitable. Nobody need ever know… he was married to his job. He was good at it. He excelled at it … from stretcher handler to gurney wielder to EMT driver. From ecnalubmA to Ambulance.

Even when a little old man, hospital-bound, complained that some of his money had gone missing between his home and the hospital, our man was the last one anybody suspected. He had it made in the shade. And he thought this as he was reading an old story, one he read as a youngster just finding letters to his liking and some he didn’t like, and that helped mess his mind up more.

It was not until he read a story about a wartime ambulance driver that penance and payback were at hand … and that man, like he was a gentle soul created by the likes of Aesop or Grimm or one or the other, or one of their admired contemporaries (Life, as it stares you in the face at close range, is filled with twin folks not of the same womb), filled his mind with the thought that he was a man who found things before they got lost in the myriad activities that hound accident-bound people every day … and it felt good within himself  to say those words continually … under his breath, in a whisper, when he was alone, when it was so noisy around one’s person that that person couldn’t help himself to think or hear another person confess his sins, for this he had trained a deaf ear.

Never did he once dare to try to say it backwards; it was not cut that way for him despite his inaugural at it. Once knocked dead by such revelation is enough for anybody crowding the universe.

For the matter, such stories are rarely true, usually.

His time wasn’t in the books, being so far ahead of the game, that even War Admiral or Citation or Seabiscuit couldn’t catch him on the straightaway or on the far turn at the long Belmont Stakes.

But the old man, with this claim of loss, had a twin brother who possessed the same cells in his mind, the same imagination moving his mind, and was fully prepared for his possible need of an ambulance of theft… the trigger in place, Just pull the trigger, Buster.

As planned in one of his dark but enlightened nights, this twin brother fell almost in the same spot his brother had fallen, and was lifted onto a gurney and put aboard the ambulance, one hand down inside his pants, an odd assessment being mustered by our own Aaron Hazelwing on the job: “Looks like he was playing with himself, going for the eternal joy.” He managed a cover-up laugh when he surreptitiously slipped his hand into the old twin’s bulging pants pocket at his right hip.

Aaron Hazelwing, in a sudden move seen by others, tried to jerk his hand free of the deep pocket as one bracelet of a pair of handcuffs swiftly and securely locked onto his wrist and the fabric of the pocket in a swift and practiced gesture , backwards as you might find it, theft known before it was attempted … ecnalubmA to Ambulance.


Tom Sheehan

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2 thoughts on “     ecnalubmA by Tom Sheehan”

  1. As always Sheehan writes in a way that stimulates the memory. At eight I asked my big brother why ambulance was writ backward. He shook his head and told me my brain had been put in upside down and he needed to smack me around a little to fix it up. Sheehan’s writing has the depth to recover lost days


  2. Hi Tom, this story started out as one thing and then there was the twist but when we think back on it, the hints were very obvious in an understated way. This was a story of opposites and how a person finally ends up as exactly who they have always been.


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