Short Fiction by Ric Carter
An ambulance pulled to a stop outside the building first thing, as people were arriving into work, just before the work would begin. Its siren was switched off, its motor kept running and there the ambulance remained, trembling in anticipation by the pavement. You could see that the people going into the other offices were all rubbernecking to see what was going on or what was going to be going on.
Late arrivals saw the ambulance parked outside their building and rushed in, eager to find out what the emergency was, but all they found was an office full of people eager to find out what the emergency was. Nobody was doing any work. Are you feeling ok, they asked one another. I’m feeling ok, they answered. Are you feeling ok? Are you sure?
Everyone wanted the ambulance to be not for them. Someone started a sweepstake. Someone started a conversation: when was the last time you had to go to hospital? When they made hot drinks they did so carefully, wary of the scald, cautious of the trip and smash. They swivelled round on their swivel chairs, so they were all facing one another, and speculated.
The ambulance had been called as a hoax or a joke or by mistake. Or they had the wrong address — someone had repeated it incorrectly to the operator, or the driver had driven to the incorrect place. Or, or. Or they had received an anonymous tip-off — something was going to happen. Someone was going to injure themselves or someone was going to injure someone else. Or the ambulance drivers were bunking off, pretending to attend a pretend emergency. Or it wasn’t even a real ambulance but a fake ambulance being used in a bank robbery or a stakeout.
They took turns to look out of the window to check it hadn’t gone away.
It was always still there.
But that was also the afternoon that – for one reason or another, and depending on whose speculation you believed it might have been caused by the tail end of a headline-making storm sweeping round to catch the city or it might have been caused by a faraway forest fire or it might have been caused by the phase of the moon or by the crumbling economy or by the breaking down of dream matter…That was the afternoon the sky turned an orangeish-yellow colour and brought everyone back to the windows again, to look and see.
They had not in such a long time felt so much like tiny models of people being lit up in a tiny model building.
The tiny model ambulance was still there outside the building, but as they stood at the window, fearful of that malevolent-feeling orangeish-yellow sky and what it might mean, they saw the ambulance pull out into the empty tiny model street. Its siren had been switched back on, blue light rinsing off the orangeish-yellow buildings, and they stayed standing at the window and kept watching as it got further from their building and they kept watching and they didn’t leave the window until they had seen it reach the end of the tiny model street and turn the corner in to the next tiny model street and they could be sure that the tiny model ambulance wasn’t coming back.