“You did a wonderful job with dinner tonight,” said Sam Gates to his wife as he cleared away the plates from the dinner table.
“Thank you, dear,” said Karen. She pointed at each of the candles in turn, and one by one the flames leaped towards her finger and puffed out. “It’s nice to do a ham every once in a while. You can’t eat shrimp every single night!”
“When you cook them I can,” grinned Sam.
“Oh, whatever,” Karen scoffed playfully. “You know you’d eat them raw if you had to. Just one of your many endearing platypus-related traits.”
“True, very true,” Sam mused. “You married a special man!”
Karen hugged Sam around the waist as he loaded the dishes into the dishwasher. “The specialest,” she agreed, “webbed toes, electrolocation, fourteen hours of sleep per night, and all!”
“Man,” said Sam, turning around and giving his wife a peck on the cheek, “when you list it all out like that I sound like such a weirdo.”
“And I love my weirdo.”
Sam smiled and closed the dishwasher.
Karen returned to the dining room. “We should leave a little early,” she said.
“Do you think I should dress up any differently for the Christmas Eve service than I usually do for church?”
“Well you shouldn’t wear jeans, if that’s what you mean.”
“Hey,” said Sam in mock protest, “I have some really nice-looking jeans!”
Karen placed the candles on a shelf and began to fold up the tablecloth. “How would you feel about wearing a tie?”
“I don’t know…”
“Actually,” continued Karen, “I think I know just the thing. Wait here!” She disappeared down the hallway and come back a minute later with a garment bag on a hanger.
Sam took it. “What’s this?”
“I know Christmas is tomorrow, but I want to see you in it tonight,” said Karen.
Sam opened the bag. Inside was a brand new, freshly tailored suit. “Wow!” he said.
“Put it on!”
“Before I do,” said Sam, “I have to grab something out of the car. You’re going to find this kind of funny.” He left the suit in Karen’s hands, popped outside, and came back in, holding a box tied with a wide red bow.
“What is it?” asked Karen, eyes sparkling.
“Open it and see!”
Karen gently removed the bow, lifted the lid of the box, and saw folds of red fabric. “Is this…” she breathed. “It’s so pretty!” She held the new dress up in front of herself. Then she laughed. “Great minds think alike!”
“I guess we do,” said Sam. “Race to see who can get dressed first?”
A few minutes later they were sizing each other up in the mirror.
“You look beautiful,” Sam told his wife.
Karen twirled. “And you,” she said, “are such a posh platypus.”
Sam chuckled. “I like it! The Posh Platypus should be my new superhero name.”
“Superhero? Let’s not kid ourselves,” Karen teased.
Sam shrugged, grinned, and raised an eyebrow. “Hey, you never know when the world might need my unique abilities.”
“Uh huh, sure.” Karen checked the clock. “We’d better get going.”
They put on their jackets, locked the front door, hopped in the car, and headed for church, singing along to the Christmas songs on the radio. It was dark, and raining lightly. The Christmas lights decorating the storefronts reflected off the water on the road, adding some festive cheer to the glare of the headlights.
As they neared Quadra Street they saw a set of traffic lights flashing red.
“Power must’ve gone out or something,” muttered Sam. “I hope everyone knows how to follow four-way stop rules.”
As they were approaching the intersection and slowing down, a sedan in the other lane accelerated past them, apparently oblivious to the state of the lights. Before Sam and Karen could tell what was happening, there was a terrifying crash and a pandemonium of squealing rubber and screeching metal.
“Oh no!” shouted Karen.
Sam shut off the car and quickly got out. The sedan that had run the red light had caught the front corner of a minivan that had been crossing the intersection from its left. The front ends of both vehicles were horrifically smashed and bent. Smoke was pouring out from under the hood of the sedan, coloured by a flicker of yellow and orange.
“Karen, call 9-1-1!” yelled Sam. “I’ve got to pull the drivers out!” He hurried over to the burning sedan. The driver, a middle-aged man in a garishly colourful Christmas sweater, was dazed, but conscious. Sam yanked at the door handle, but it was locked. He banged on the window. “Unlock it!” he screamed. “Unlock your door!”
The driver turned, painfully slowly, and fumbled with the switch. The lock clicked, and Sam pulled the door open. He helped the driver get his seat belt undone, pulled him out, led him to his own car, and settled him in the back. “Lie down there,” he said. “Help is on the way.”
Karen was talking to a dispatcher, giving them their location.
“Make sure he stays awake,” Sam instructed his wife. She nodded.
Sam turned back to the wreckage and saw that a few other people had gotten out of their cars, but everyone was standing back, as if unsure what to do. A few people were filming the scene with their cellphones.
“Come on,” shouted Sam, running to the minivan. The locks on the van had disengaged, thanks to better safety design, and he was able to get the passenger door open. He found a woman in her 30s slumped over the steering wheel. She looked to have hit her head.
“Are you okay?” called Sam. “Can you hear me?”
The woman didn’t respond.
Sam ran around the rear of the minivan to get to the driver’s side. As he was circling the vehicle, the gas tank of the sedan erupted, and suddenly the front of the minivan was being licked with flames.
Moving with desperate speed, Sam wrenched at the driver’s door and dragged the woman out onto the pavement. The heat was so intense that it felt like his eyebrows were being singed off.
Another man had finally approached the vehicles to help Sam. “Is there anyone else in there?” he said.
“Didn’t have time to look,” said Sam, gasping for breath.
“Too late to find out now!” said the other man. Flames were quickly encompassing the van, making it impossible to access any of the doors.
“Wait,” said Sam. He turned his face towards the van. Electroreceptors along his cheeks and forehead were registering muscle contractions from inside the vehicle. “There’s someone in the back seat!”
“What?” said the man. “How can you tell?”
“I’m… I’m a special,” said Sam. “Just trust me.”
“There’s nothing we can do!”
But Sam leapt to his feet and ran back to his car, where Karen was still on the phone.
“They’re on their way!” Karen announced.
“We don’t have time to wait!” said Sam. “There’s someone in the back seat. I can feel their movements. Can you do anything?”
Karen got out of the car and handed her phone to her husband. “Maybe,” she said, “but it’s risky. I can draw the oxygen out of the fire, but whoever’s inside might suffocate!”
“You have to try,” urged Sam. “It’s either that or they’ll burn!”
“Okay.” Karen stepped closer to the flames. “Everybody back away!” she shouted, and raised her hands.
The air around her began to whirl and twist, and she closed her eyes. The flames all turned towards her, chasing the oxygen that was being stolen away from them. As they lost their fuel source, the flames died down and began to smolder.
“Quick!” called Karen to Sam. “Get in there and pull the person out. You’ll need to hold your breath, and be careful with the door handles!”
Sam dropped Karen’s phone onto the hood of the car, ignoring the 9-1-1 dispatcher’s questions. He sucked in a lungful of air, wrapped his jacket around his hands, and entered the oxygenless bubble Karen was creating. As quickly as he could, he grabbed the handle of the minivan’s sliding door, slid the door open, and released the handle, shaking his hands from the heat.
There was a toddler in the back of the van, writhing in her booster seat and gasping for air. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Sam fought with the buckles of the seat belts and finally managed to get the girl free. He carried her out of the van and collapsed on the ground several feet away, sucking at the air. Karen lowered her hands and fell to the ground, exhausted from the effort and and exhaling desperately to get the excess oxygen out of her system.
The flames reignited with a vengeance.
The little girl coughed, and coughed, and cried.
Sam held the girl in his lap and leaned against his car. Karen managed to crawl over beside him, and they held hands and breathed together in the rain as the adrenaline slowly seeped out of them.
Karen found her lungs back first. “Are… you okay?”
“Yeah,” said Sam. “Are you?”
“Too much… oxygen,” panted Karen, “to take in… all at once… Even for me.” She sighed deeply. “Yeah… I’m okay.”
The emergency vehicles arrived, and soon the wreckage had been bathed in water and foam. Paramedics took the little girl from Sam and rushed her and her mother, along with the man from the other car, into an ambulance.
“Oh, look at my new suit!” Sam groaned as he and Karen were being led towards another ambulance to be checked out. His jacket was singed, his shirt was covered in black marks and ashes, and there were holes in his pants.
“Don’t worry,” said Karen. “It’s just a suit. You can still be the Posh Platypus without it.”
Sam smiled weakly, then giggled.
“What?” said Karen.
“I just thought of a name for you.”
“Oh no!” said Karen. “You always come up with such strange ideas…”
“The Phlogisticator,” pronounced Sam.
“Let me guess, it’s some kind of Greek word.”
“Yep!” confirmed Sam happily. “‘Phlogiston’ means ‘burning up’ in Greek, and in the 17th Century scientists thought phlogiston was an invisible element that was essential for combustion.”
“You’re such a nerd,” said Karen. “Such a special, wonderful nerd.” She kissed her husband.
The paramedic said, “You two went through a lot here. We’re going to take you to Royal Jubilee just to make sure you’re okay. Is there anyone we can call for you?”
“We were going to meet our parents at church,” said Sam. “We can call them on the way. Karen’s phone is on the hood of our car.”
The paramedic fetched it for them.
“Oh!” said Karen, suddenly.
“What?” said Sam.
“We should call the church. We were supposed to light the advent candles tonight.” She snapped her fingers and a spark appeared, igniting a small, candle-like flame that hovered over her thumb. “Remember?”
“I hate to let them down.”
“I’m sure they won’t mind,” said Sam. “After all, Jesus didn’t come down to Earth so we could light candles for Him; He came to save people. We just found a different way to help out.”
“Yeah,” said Karen, “you’re right.”
The ambulance doors swung shut.
“Merry Christmas, Karen.”
“Merry Christmas, Sam.”
Merry Christmas to everyone who reads Special People, and God bless!
Thank you to Dave Random, who suggested “The Phlogisticator” as a character prompt, and Sean Quigley, who provided “The Posh Platypus.”