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CASUALTY, KEEP OUT!

Hey! This might have happened to anyone - consider Commander Achilles and his trouble-prone heel. And although my singular experience went down in an urban jungle by means of a rusty two-penny nail, it yet justifies comparison to our mythic hero's if one looks at it this way. Achilles emerged from his situation with pluperfect consequences - he died and went to that glorious place where Greek heroes finally arrive.

In my unfortunate case I had to go to a local hospital.

So commending my eternal soul to a commonplace version of hereafter, I resigned my Self and began preparations to confront this Destiny. I collected my reading glasses, two medium-sized good novels, one bad novella, a few schoolbooks just for show, a foreign crossword puzzle, an unfinished chess game, writing materials, a gas mask, and a pair of knitting needles. I briefly considered the loaded Glock 19 but rejected it; the eager bullets close to imploding from disappointment.

Then I looked to organize my sustenance. From various cupboards, crannies, and one extraordinary nook, I gathered dehydrated bread, cheese, and drinking water, plus the various medicinal and other provisions recommended for outings of this nature. All was duly packed along with special protein rations in generic pill form (which can save so much space and time). Just in case though, I intended to take along a small calf and a trusty sheepdog.

That done, I slept and arose to a rosette dawn, gassed up the four-wheel shift-stick SUV with eco-friendly super, and ready for any eventuality, set out.

Getting to the hospital could've been the work of a minute - if it was the next door down my hallway, that is. However, my harrowed arena for the unwell needing care was several miles distant, and consequently, my trip numerous minutes, some anxiety filled. Nonetheless, I arrived in time and before business was actually cracking. So I swiftly encamped myself in the No.4 slot behind four persons already awaiting treatment.

In first place was a mature woman lying prone on the bench and drooling from her slack-lipped mouth. Off and on, she'd vary this performance with a vibrant groaning while she rolled both eyes as if in transports. With this as clue, I quickly went out to my SUV and within moments returned carrying appropriate remedies. I donned earmuffs and deftly twisted a hand towel into a gag that fitted snugly into her frothy maw. Her eyes immediately widened to a fixed stare and I supposed the rest of her grimace was gratitude. Couldn't be certain. It was a tight gag.

Behind her was a teenager who bled profusely from a stump of wrist that until recently had bridged to his left hand. By way of a few curt keen questions, I learned that he was the victim of a sharp tool/hand confrontation and that he had been there since yesterday sans food, drink, or further incident. This data seemed right as his blood was slowly forming a deepening pool in the bucket chair. His plight so touched my soft heart I eased his discomfort with a six-pack of cheap crackers and a secondhand glass of water. After he paid up, and moved this generous by the extravagantly profitable compensation, I loaned him my spare swim trunks. His smile was a miracle of acknowledgment.

Third place, of course, was coupled - she full-length supine, arms neatly folded on a lush-breasted chest and seeming at peace behind her closed eyes. He, in weak voice, explained to me that several days ago she had consumed her entire prescribed sleeping-pill supply and consequently, dozed off. When two mornings straight she did not awake to fix him breakfast, he had managed for himself before electing to bring her to the hospital for professional observation because he felt that the deviation from his normal writing work pattern had rendered his hurried scribbles untrustworthy, and furthermore his eyes were "not so good" and finally, due to a palsy contracted after a bout of ptomaine poisoning, he still trembled violently when making notes.

Impressed to the extreme by the fellow's unique predicament, I was tender as I helped him to position number five. I also checked the expiration dates on my canned supplies. Then reassured of my safety I embedded the exhausted Self comfortably in seat number four.

Done now with my campaign of relief and succor, I felt aglow and feverish. 'Imagine,' I exalted to myself, 'me mankinding so!' After a modest bit of self-congratulatory sighing, I settled down to Read & Recompose. The pains in my swollen heel had lessened to a dull, bearable throb and I could imagine the gangrene microbes nicely colonizing.

A few minutes to two o'clock that afternoon, a blue-clad figure poked its head and upper torso through the top half of a door above which, in large, bold, black lettering, declared, "CASUALTY - KEEP OUT." It was a woman. From the Red Cross on her cap, I recognized her as the Nurse - elegantly made up, looking fresh and simple as a dewdrop.

She smiled some fearsome buckteeth and regarded the assembled. By this time, we above-mentioned quintet had been joined by victims of animal fights and insect bites, of household incidents and roadway accidents, of assaults and rapes and battering, of homicides and suicides, of scorpion stings and misadventures, and mysterious disappearances. Each to his/her disposition, some were sitting, some standing, some leaning over, some laying down, some slowly falling, some rising from the brink of death, some teetering close to disaster.

There was also some misbehavior as two morticians contested each other tooth and nail for the few corpses strewn about the waiting-area. All their nasty scratching and gnashing had me sighing sympathy for the jobs their dentists and manicurists would have on the morrow.

As she glanced a grim one upon the squabbling undertakers, Nurse's frown grew convincingly frightening before she thundered, "GET IN LINE!"

And did those sorry people get!

A trio of bodies scrambled up and shuffled over to line up like zombies behind the morticians - who now stood at attention pretending nonchalant gazes at the ceiling. Everyone else as well, had cut it out, tucked it in, and shaped up wondrously, and in no time at all most of the chaos had disappeared from the former frenzy of pathetic ailing.

The Nurse, having displayed her powers of discipline, gnawed at her stiff under-lip then went away. She showed up again circa five o'clock and pointedly ignoring the newly fallen few among the ranks, asked us leading candidates to produce our credentials.

Clever moi having everything ready, I beat the rest by a pushy arms' length and proffered Nurse my neat packet of birth certificate, insurance ID, driver's learner's permit, lower-school diploma, two 'ready-for-any' affidavit blanks, my political party card, a crumpled Nurses' Fund bingo card, the addresses of my close relatives, and the ever-popular five ten-dollar bills.

Of course some were clever forgeries, but who could tell?

Being so prepared, I was selected directly while my inept competition expressed magnanimous frustration. The groans from the motherly one now sounded of purest despair. The Bleeder, like a passive corpuscle, was afloat in his own bloody pool. The Sleeper awoke, hoisted the Poisoned over her shoulder and stalked off with a hungry gleam in her eye. So with all competition eliminated, it was down to Nurse and me.

Eagerly, she scrutinized my documents one by one, and finding no obvious fault, fact-checked with shrewd questions and piercing glances from her gimlet eye. I answered easily, brimming with confidence and splurging charming grins like an adept certain of his beautifully capped teeth. I had read my spy stories. I could play this inquisition game.

After a grinding while of this and that she gave me an incredulous gaze and, resigned to defeat, toppled her king to its side. Her head, too, was bowed and her will broken as she guided me through the door so correctly inscribed "CASUALTY - KEEP OUT."

Calmer within her sanctum, Nurse motioned me to sit on a pallet while she gave my injury a quick examination. Didn't take long for my poor foot to falter under her professional eye. First failing evidence was its awful, unsociable stench. Second was an unnatural, purple-green muck that oozed from the crater of a pimple just north of the inner ankle. Thirdly, and this has to be said, the foot just did not seem right.

Nurse and I poked our fingers on it at exactly the same instant. "Yes!" we murmured like sages, "that's it! That's the trick!"

For upon close unbiased scrutiny, we came to realize that the foot was indeed, counterfeit, another instance of a FFIF: a False Foot Injury Fetish!

During all of this unpleasant experience, my genuine lower under-ankle extremity was maintaining its sound health at home.

Hopefully, that is.

(c) Kelvin Christopher James