Three Minute Fiction: Congratulations Chris Westberg!

The winner of Round Seven of Three Minute Fiction was announced this evening. Three Minute Fiction is that occasional writing contest run by NPR, the name derived from its principle challenge: write an original piece of fiction that can be read in about three minutes, or, no more than 600 words. I became aware of it in round 6, but never finished a piece for that contest. This was the first I submitted to. The content challenge, issued by short story author Danielle Evans, was to include in the story a person arriving in town and a person leaving town.

So, congratulations to Chris Westburg, the winner of Round Seven of Three Minute Fiction. I’ve less than humbly left my submission below the jump. You can read/hear her (winning) submission by clicking the link above.

Code Blue

The ambulance rolled in as any other ambulance might. It moved up the drive at a good clip, lights flashing insistently, but trucks arrive like that carrying nothing more than drunks and toe-stubbed whiners. The only gunshot victim the ER’d seen had driven himself there. This truck’s white side bore the words MASDEN COUNTY EMERGENCY SERVICES in large blue letters. In rural Kentucky you identify not by your town, but your county. Menifee. Hart. Breathitt. They all enveloped towns; most people didn’t know the names. Masden neighbored Lexington, a city large enough to merit distinction beyond its county’s title.

The med tech swallowed a forkful of greasy eggs and stood up, looking at his watch: 08:17. As a tech he acted as the ER gofer. Take vitals, run to the lab, collect urine, stock linen. As he strolled over to the machine with which he’d check blood pressure and temperature, he heard the ambulance bay doors open behind him.

“Code Blue, we’ve got a Code!” he heard someone call. He turned. Four or five EMTs strode in with a stretcher in tow. At first he didn’t know what he was seeing. A machine straddled the patient’s supine body like a precursor to a robotic embrace. From the metal arc’s apex descended an arm to the patient’s chest–plunging and withdrawing, plunging and withdrawing, relentlessly pumping the heart. She was naked except for a corner of blanket concealing her groin and thighs. They wheeled the stretcher into the small ER’s lone trauma room as an ever-growing cloud of medical staff accumulated around her:

“She’s 71-years-old, no history of major medical problems minus back surgery eight years ago. Complained of nausea shortly before collapsing, according to her sister. Picked her up approximately fifteen minutes ago, have been providing CPR ever since, AED has not been administered.” The paramedic addressed the ER doctor and charge nurse, rattling through what information he had. Behind him a flurry of nurses shifted the patient to a bed, hooked up monitors and tubes; a phlebotomist ducked underneath the nurses’ busy arms and began drawing vials of blood. An x-ray tech hovered in the wings with her portable x-ray machine, waiting.

The CPR machine persisted, pumping the patient like a butter churn. Every downward thrust produced a wave of loose, white flesh that rippled down her body, disappearing under the blanket.

The doctor flipped a switch stilling the robot arm while the newly-attached AED monitored the patient’s heart activity. “Shock not advised,” an electronic female voice sounded. Two more cycles of CPR. “Shock not advised,” came the news. The paramedics were called back in to retrieve their machine.

The patient’s sister came in as they dismantled the bot. The patient lay exposed, mouth agape, eyes staring, a dark bruise between her breasts where the machine had just been working. Supported by a nurse, the sister shook with silent sobs as a pair of hands quickly, gently pulled a blanket up to the patient’s throat. The med tech glanced at his watch: 08:48. His eggs would be cold.

As more family members heard the news they made their way to the hospital. It was an hour before a nephew thought to call a funeral home; they said they’d be there by four. All day family walked in and out of the room; the ER staff simply worked around them. Relatives entered looking for a sister, an aunt, a mother. But they never found her. They found a part of her, the part whose eyes a nurse had mercifully closed. But who they were really looking for had gone.

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