Day One

Sep 06  |  Madeleine Pelletier

“Three minutes. Watch out for that pothole!”

“Why is there a pothole?” Mia groaned as she swerved to avoid it, sending a magnetic cup holder flying.

“Because in life there are potholes,” said Florence, sipping her coffee casually.

A warning sign flashed. Mia checked the map on the dashboard. ACCIDENT AHEAD. ROUTE CHANGE.

This was not what she’d expected to be doing on her first day.

When Mia had applied to be a paramedic, they’d told her it was twenty-two weeks of paid training. She thought it would start off slowly, a few classes, maybe a ride along. Nope. An hour after arriving at the training center, she was driving an ambulance, lights flashing, siren blaring, and someone’s life on the line.

“Light’s turning red. What are you going to do?” demanded Florence.

“Honk and wait for cars to stop.”

“In a perfect world, that might work. This is not a perfect world.”

Florence was right, of course. The cross traffic did not yield.

“Someone’s dying,” screamed Florence. “The difference between life and death could be the minute you waste at this light. You need to move. Seven minutes.”

Mia laid on the horn and revved the engine. She rolled the ambulance forward, forcing cars to give way. A few churlish drivers expressed their displeasure with their fingers.

“Shit,” said Mia. “Who does that to an ambulance?”

“You’d be surprised,” said Florence, a donut appearing in her hand.

Another warning. REDUCE SPEED. OBJECT AHEAD. Mia squinted, trying to identify the bulky shape that had attracted a crowd.

“Are you kidding me?” Mia turned to Florence, suspicious. “Really?”

“Eyes on the road,” Florence shouted. “Eleven minutes.”

Mia swore and tried to maneuver around the enormous crocodile, but it was twisting and thrashing and blocking the way. Mia blasted the horn. The beast glared, but did not move.

“Thirteen,” yelled Florence, brushing donut crumbs off her Hawaiian shirt.

“Move, move, move,” shrieked Mia, waving her arm, head out the window. She inched the ambulance over the curb and heard a metallic crunch as the bumper scraped against cement. The crowd dispersed.

“Jesus,” muttered Mia, wiping a sweaty hand on her pants.

“Tick tock,” said Florence. “Someone’s time is running out.”

Mia checked the map. Almost there. She sped up, and an alarm went off in the ambulance.

“No more than ten kilometres over the speed limit,” warned Florence.

“Hurry up. Slow down. Make up your mind,” shouted Mia, her hand shaking as she pushed hair from her eyes.

“It’s the law,” shrugged Florence.

Minutes later, the ambulance screeched to a halt in front of a townhouse.

“Nineteen minutes,” said Florence. “Just in time. How do you feel?”

“Like my heart is about to explode.” Mia gripped the steering wheel, knuckles white.

“Not everyone can handle this job.”

“I can do this,” Mia assured Florence, but Florence was gone.

A message flashed before her eyes. SIMULATION OVER.