Amos Afah stepped out of St. Franicis’ ER entrance to get some warmth. It had been nearly two decades since he’d left his hometown of Ebolowa in the Southern district of Cameroon, but he still found the air conditioned interior chilly. Out here, with the rain pouring out of a warm, humid night reminded him of home. There, the storm that brought flashes of lightening and the occasional strong gust of wind would have been regarded as an ordinary part of the monsoon season. Here, in Maryville, in the northwestern corner of Missouri, it rated a severe thunderstorm warning. The distant sound of an ambulance siren reminded him it also brought him a patent in need of his care.
Lights flashing and motor revving, the huge red cube of an ambulance made the turn up the entrance driveway and came to a stop under the pillared shelter that protected Amos. Two men piled out of the rear doors, then brought their charge out on a gurney. The stocky man under the blanket would have been thought dark skinned by the two pale EMT’s. The smooth face behind the oxygen mask was unlined, giving no hint as to his age. Amos led them through the sliding doors into the ER proper. “What happened?”
One of the EMT’s looked at him, then at the patient. “Don’t know, Doc. Dispatch got a call from a motorist that there was someone lying along Stuart Road, just out past the edge of town. We responded, and found this guy lying on the edge of a patch of scorched grass. His clothing is burned off down his left side, and what was left of his left shoe was lying in the center of the scorched patch. We figured he was dead, struck by lightening, until Pete here heard him moan. So we brought him in for you to look at.”
The portable heart monitor they’d hooked him up to beeped regularly, giving no sign of cardiac distress, and the broad chest rose at a slow, even rate. “Help me get him transferred so I can do a more detailed exam.” Together, the three men shifted the unconscious one from the ambulance gurney to the hospital’s, and Amos removed the blanket to see what the body could tell him.
As they’d said, the left leg of the man’s jeans was a charred mass of shredded fabric. Yet for all the damage to his clothing, the stranger’s skin exhibited none of the telltale signs someone who had been struck by lightening. There was no charring to his skin, no open wounds where blood vessels near the surface had exploded from the sudden heating of a lightening bolt pass through the tissue. Then Amos noticed a pale scar, like a jagged white line that travelled from the top of the left foot, up the leg, across the length of the chest before climbing the neck and disappeared into the damp mass of black hair covering the patient’s head. He also saw the man’s body was covered in scars. Some of the round ones looked like healed bullet wounds. Other, bigger round wounds baffled him, but these were nothing compared to the array of crisscrossing scars that marred nearly ever visible piece of skin. Some looked like cuts from an accidental fall into a plate glass window. Others looked like they’d been the result of being slashed and stabbed by edged weapons. One long, puckered wound across the abdomen could only have been caused by some slash or stab that had opened the abdominal cavity completely. Amos looked at the EMT’s who like him, were looking at the patient as if they too couldn’t believe he’d taken all these wounds and survived. “What the hell has this man been doing?”
Before either of them could speak, the patient’s eyes popped open, and an amazingly strong hand closed around Amos’ wrist.
“Nubian, qui es, ubi sum?”
The deep, growling voice had none of the hesitation of someone speaking a second language. No, this man spoke fluently, as if he were speaking his native tongue. Amos didn’t recognize a bit of it, and from the blank looks of the EMT’s neither did they. “Sir, do you understand me? You’re in a hospital, and I need to know who you are.”
The grip on Amos’ wrist tightened as the strange man’s eyes bored into his .“Quod lingua barbara est, quod loqueris?” The eyes flickered to the EMT’s, widened, and the man spoke again. “Ego horum hominum captivus?” His eyes shifted back to Amos’, and for the first time, he saw fear there. “Hi Gallorum, Germanorum?”
With no clue what he was being asked, Amos fell back on the oldest form of communications. Gently patting his patient’s hand, he said in as soothing a voice as he could. “It’s all right, sir. No one is going to harm you.”
The sentiment, if not the meaning, seemed to get through. The grip loosened, then the hand released him as some of the tension left the patient’s face. Amos looked towards the EMT’s. “I think he’s afraid of you two. He have any reason to be?”
Both of them frowned, their offended honor clear on their faces. Pete, who hadn’t spoken until that point, answered for them. “None I can think of. He wasn’t awake when we found him, nor while we loaded him up. Maybe he had a bad experience with some other emergency personnel.” Pete patted the man, and when his eyes darted to him, he gave him a smile. “It’s okay, buddy, we’re not going to hurt you.”
More tension left the man on the gurney, and he even gave a brief smile. Time to get on with the examination. Amos turned away, opened the drawer holding IV hardware, and withdrew one of the prepackaged ports. Tearing open the packaging, he turned to his patient. “Now, sir, I need to get some blood from you….”
Amos had a moment to see the man’s eyes go wide, then he was off the gurney in a blur of motion that ended with him standing behind Pete with his arm wrapped tight around Pete’s neck. “Mendacibus!” Whatever the meaning of the word he shouted, Amos could hear the anger in his voice, and see the cold, killing intent in his eyes. When Pete’s partner started to shift sideways, Amos raised a hand to stop him. “Don’t. He’s scared, and he’s desperate. I think your best bet is to just stand there and let me see if I can reason with him.” The EMT stopped, and Amos focused his attention on his former patient. “It’s okay, just relax. You don’t like needles? Neither do I.” Laying the port behind him, Amos brought his empty hands out, spreading his arms to show he had nothing that could threaten this desperate man. “He wasn’t going to hurt you, so why don’t you just let him go?” He took a step forward, and seeing the already tight arm muscles stand out more, stopped. For the first time since he’d come to work there, he wished that St. Francis had a security guard. He saw those remorseless brown eyes focus on him, shift back to Pete’s partner, then with a wordless grunt, the unknown man shoved Pete at Amos and bolted out of the ER.
From the shouts and the sound of the entrance door opening, Amos knew the man was gone. Pete’s partner started towards the exit, but Amos stopped him. “Call the police, let them do their job. Help me check your partner to make sure he isn’t injured.”
Pete didn’t give either of them a chance to examine him. Waving both of them away, he rubbed his neck and looked towards the exit. “I’m fine, Doc, seriously. Outside of choking me a little, he didn’t hurt me. But what the fuck was that guy’s story? From all those scars, you’d think he was some cartel soldier or something like that. But that sure as hell wasn’t Spanish he was shouting.”
The mention of soldier brought several things about the stranger’s wounds together in Amos’ mind. What would a soldier who lived forever look like? With no way to know, all Amos could do was speculate about what he’d just encountered. “I don’t know, but I think all three of us are lucky to be alive. I don’t know about you two, but I fear he could have killed all of us if he’d been so inclined.” Amos wasn’t surprised when neither of the other men objected.
Paullus Lucius Decimus awoke shivering, half naked and soaking wet in what appeared to be an abandoned building. His last memory was of a rainstorm he’d been walking through as he made his way across Missouri. He’d been walking because bus passengers faced increased security when boarding due to a recent string of immigration raids. Illegal aliens? I wonder what they’d make of me? In his nearly two thousand years of life, Paullus had never held any citizenship but to his native Rome. His duffle bag was gone, and with it his phone and everything else he possessed.
He sat up, and feeling something tugged at the skin on his chest, ran a hand across the spot. Something was stuck to him, and after peeling it off, he moved to a pool of light beneath a window. What he saw was a small metal nub portruding from a sticky pad. While he’d never worn one, Paulls had seen images of things like this: it was a heart monitor sensor. How…? Even as he wondered, fragments of memory came to him. A hard bed in a cold white room filled with equipment. The coal-black face of a huge man in a white coat. Standing in the rain, surrounded by a blinding white light as searing pain washed through his body.
Did Jove strike me with lightening?
Paullus had never been pious, had never even been what moderns called agnostic. Whatever had happened, whether divine displeasure or simple bad luck, he was where he had been many times before: without funds or possessions in a world that prized wealth both. Then he remembered the Roman coin he’d been given by the mysterious prostitute. Yes, it was still in his pocket, along with a handful of modern coins, but could he bring himself to sell it?
No. If a long life had taught him nothing else, it had taught him that there were always those who would hire someone willing to work cheaply. Tomorrow, he would find some store selling used clothing. Then he’d find a menial job and start over again.