Check The Hood For Warmth

A series of stories from a paramedic with skeletons in the closet.

The day was turning into evening and it was time for dinner. I had fallen asleep on the couch and lost track of time. It was cold out, the leaves were crisp and the air tasted clean. If you’ve never tasted the difference between clean air and the moist, hay-riddled, grass-flavored air of warmer climates it is a palpable experience I would recommend just once. We left to go find some takeout we could bring back. I was excited about food and had not eaten much that day. I had been working a lot and it was nice to have a day that was just relaxed for once.

When we got back we drove onto the concrete to get back into the garage and someone peddled up on a bike dragging their feet behind them between pushes like a child does when they learn to ride a bike — except this was a grown man and he was waving his arms and screaming at us to help. I rolled the window down as he flung himself onto the running board of the truck like a slow, sloppy deer crossing the road in mating season.

“Woah, back up friend, what’s going on”

“You guys have to come fast, there’s something wrong” and he peddled off toward a walking path not far from us, the path is hidden if you have never cared to look for it, with a nondescript parking lot that might accommodate 4 vehicles. We lurch into a stop and I step out, turning to grab my equipment and ask questions that can hopefully guide us in some direction.

“Buddy, what are we looking for? What’s going on, I’m not just going to walk into the woods with you…” we are relatively remote here, at least in this area of town, it is kind of a no-one will hear you scream situation. And this foot-dragging weirdo on the bike is not inspiring confidence.

At the mouth of the trail carved out of the trees, we can see the leaves have been disturbed in a drag pattern all the way down to where it turns a corner further into the path. The failing sunlight slipped into the horizon behind the densely packed foliage that was still somehow surviving independently of the local weather.

Heavy-footed bike guy points sort of ominously to the trail and says “He’s…he’s down there” and then shambles off toward the direction of absolutely nothing — no car, no discernable direction of a home, no inhabitable space. Just a shitty homeless desperado western-style ending, and this harbinger of whatever the fuck this is evaporates. I throw the bag over my shoulder and grab a cardiac monitor, my partner starts walking and I walk past an SUV in the parking lot and I feel the hood. Something in my reptile brain watching hundreds of FBI-style movies in my childhood told me the brilliant, Hollywood-level thing to do right at this very moment was to feel the hood of the vehicle. It was still warm. A small observation was that it was also very clean inside, but this is what you anchor yourself to after enduring years of abject trauma. I snorted, at least it's clean, what does that tell me about this inevitable dumpster fire? Nothing until afterward. The warmth of the hood felt a bit like hope. Maybe I can help.

Trudging forward I remember the sound of the leaves succumbing to the weight of my boot steps. The weird pattern that foot drag dude left in the otherwise consistent blanket of leaves and pine needles was a bit disconcerting only because you couldn't see around the curve.

As we approached the curve and moved further into the walking path, we finally see what he was talking about. In the distance, just behind where I had been sleeping, maybe 300 feet back from the building on this adjacent trail, there he is, not dangling from a sycamore, more like laid limply abandoned at the mercy of the tree tethered by a thin rope. He isn’t moving. His knees pressed firmly into the gravel of the road, hugged by the fallen foliage, he is sitting up, attached by his neck.

You could have just…stood up.

I get to his body, check for a pulse, and as I lean his head back checking his carotid I see his blue eyes iced over with this fine glaze that people get after the life is torn from their sinews. It must make a crashing sound as it empties the color from your sclera, there is always this formative look of surprise and fear left in the pupils as they eat through retinas. One of my professors along the way said “the eyes will tell you everything you need to know”. His tongue is fat with the consistent motion of the weight of his head forward and the tether to the tree back. I notice as I feel nothing beneath my fingers, that he used a lawnmower cord.

Pull to start

His pocket keeps ringing. The light of his cell phone in his breast pocket cutting through the darkness of his deeply blue shirt. His skin was a slightly less profound blue. My partner, at this point, asks “Anything?”.

“Nothing, he’s stiff, his neck is already elongated.” And one last drop of drool leaves his tongue and falls onto his jeans. I see the outline of a handgun in his right pocket. I sit my cardiac monitor aside and start the task of unfurling the cables to gather a cardiac rhythm. I do this so I can see a picture of just how absent his ribcage is of that hope I had in the parking lot at the warm hood of the vehicle. My own personal daily affirmation. We are nowhere, there is nothing.

The stickers I apply to his chest require a bit of pressure, it is cold and his skin is dry. It is pretty incredible how quickly death will dry you out. As I press the leads on his body sort of limp lists backward, ever so slightly but those knees are anchored to the ground. Must be. Why didn’t you just stand up? I was on the other side of the trees, you could have just called for help or stopped by and talked. At this point, I am quietly screaming into the wailing wall, great listener, not a great conversationalist. His persistent blue tone starts to feel unreal and I just sit down in front of him. A police officer approaches and stops as he sees what we are here for. My partner gives the “he’s gone” radio traffic, the coroner is on his way nod and says “I’m going to the truck, its cold out here”.

One of us has to stay with the body and the cop goes with my partner, so that leaves me. So here I am on this into the wild journey with squirrels chucking nuts through the trees and his cell phone continuously ringing. There is a brown paper sack next to him and it is silent, thankfully. There is a certain level of necessity to finding your zen in these moments. I had learned that already. At this point in the year, I had responded to 80% of the deaths in this area of service and I had started to carry this sort of je ne sais quoi amongst other providers. My partner fundamentally hated me, he was about 5 years from retirement and had already given up on not burning out and had thus decided, instead to fade away.

The obligatory rules apply — don’t touch their personal belongings, try not to move anything unless you are moving it to save their lives, don’t cut anything. Treat everything like a crime scene until proven otherwise by an investigation. Disturb the least amount possible. What’s in the bag? You start to put together this picture of a person. In the absence of conversation, except for the occasional creak of the rope, which more or less develops a sort of fly in your ear feel after a while, you have to create your own person. The alternative is completely ignoring the entire existence of a person, but that’s never really been my style.

What do we know? He has a clean car, a brown bag and is dressed decently. He had blue eyes. His nose is a bit bulbous, you get that from drinking usually. It is a specific kind of strangled enlargement of the fatty tissue of a nose. I’ll literally never know. Just a passing curiosity. Nails are clean by appearance. Boots look relatively new, they are hiking boots but they don’t seem to have withstood any real testimony of experience. His hands appear clean, uncalloused, I’m just sitting here, any minute now you can explain why you didn’t just stand up. If you talk it wouldn’t even be the weirdest thing that’s happened to me in the last decade.

The sun seems to pass through the trees and slip into the horizon. It occurs to me I am not wearing a jacket as it starts to snow and the air is filled with this electric rush of newly present liquid. Snow has a specific smell too, in case you haven’t paid attention. I notice his eyelashes, now, as the flakes of snow begin to catch on them as they list sort of helplessly to the ground in that light, air-tangled dance they do.

The contrast of the dark lashes is barely apparent against his skin as the light of the day fails. I’m still sitting here. I can hear footsteps coming. I hope my partner has at least kept anyone curious away from a walking path I didn’t think anyone knew about around here. Ironically, I would figure out later why he knew about it. The coroner strolls up and greets me.

“I’m tired of seeing you” He says. Gallows humor.

“I’m tired of seeing me, too, honestly…story is pretty short, some slightly creepy guy was sharing the trail and found him out here, came and saw us pulling in, and flagged us down. I have no background of history, don’t have a name, what you see is how I found him. His pocket keeps ringing though so I’m betting someone is looking for him. 5 bucks says you pull it out and it’s a spouse or a kid.”

The coroner takes his phone out of his pocket and the cop casually strolls back now that we’re starting to solve the puzzle and things are more interesting at face value. My partner also shows up to tell the harrowing story of how he sat on his ass in the heat, I guess. I grabbed my gear and came back out to the truck to tuck them away. I’m reasonably certain my dinner is cold. I checked again, the hood had cooled off on his SUV.

As I munched on cheese sticks the only thing I was left to wonder was where did the dragging feet guy go. Was he actually there? And just a fun fact, the hood of a vehicle stays warms, depending on outside temp and engine size, for 4 to 6 hours. Primary rigor in your average human being sets in 1–6 hours after death, usually in the 2 to 4-hour range.

Originally published at



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