Blinded by the Light

by Lizabeth S. Tucker

Clack, clack, clack, clack.

Captain Hank Stanley heard the sound clearly in his office, but couldn't figure out what caused it. He got to his feet, leaving the half-completed log book on his desk. As he exited his office, he heard his trouble duo arguing.

"You're not doing it right, Gage. Stick your finger in that ring."

Clack, clack, clack, clack.

"Like this?"

"Yeah, that's the way. Now you go faster and faster."

Stanley walked around the corner of the engine and saw Paramedic John Gage standing with his arm outstretched and a blurry orange ring surrounding his hand. He was about to ask what it was when something flew across the room at him. Stanley grabbed at his eye, yelping in shock and pain.

"Cap?"

"Cap!"

Stanley staggered back, stumbling into the engine. He felt hands grab his upper arms and someone pulling his hands away from his face.

"Jeez, Cap."

"Cap, keep your hands away from your face. Chet, call in a Code I and get Roy for me. Cap, can you hear me?"

"Yeah, John. Damn, it hurts. What hit me?"

"Uh, the toy I was playing with. I think it shattered. I need you to stay perfectly still while I check you out, okay?"

"Yeah. John, I can't see."

"Don't open your eye, Cap. I'm going to call it in to Rampart. Just keep still."

Stanley heard the sound of running feet as the rest of his men came in response to Chet's call for help. His teeth were clenched as someone gently probed around his eye socket. "John?"

"No, Cap, it's Roy. Johnny's on the phone with Rampart. They want us to cover your eyes with gauze. They'll check you out at the hospital."

"How bad is it?"

A pause told Stanley more than he wanted to know. "Could I lose my sight?"

"I...I don't know, Cap. I do know that your eye socket doesn't appear broken, but you'll have to see a specialist before we can tell you anything else. What happened?"

"You tell me. I was trying to see what the twits were up to and, wham, something slammed me in the eye. What were they playing with?"

"My son's Clackers."

Trying to take his mind off the pain, Stanley asked his other paramedic, Roy DeSoto, for further information. "What...what are Clackers? Other than the sound that thing makes."

"It's a toy. There are two balls on either end of a string with a ring in the middle. You make the balls hit against each other, going faster and faster until all you see is a blur."

"That was the...orangey blur around John's hand?"

"Yeah, that sounds like it. Chris left them in Johnny's car after we all went to the beach. I guess he found them."

"Sounds like...something the twits would...play with. What...happened?"

Johnny's voice replied. "I think they broke, Cap. Man, I'm so sorry."

"Tha's okay, John. You didn't mean...it. Thank heavens it...didn't happen to...Chris."

Stanley felt a hand grip his shoulder and the sound of an vehicle driving out of the apparatus bay. "What's that?"

"Chet's moving the squad out of the bay so the ambulance can back in when they get here."

"Hope that's...soon."

"They're almost here, Hank," the soft tones of his engineer, Mike Stoker, came from his right.

"Good."

Stanley could hear John and Roy murmuring just beyond his hearing, while the other three men stood around him, their breathing heavy in their concern for him. "Men, it'll be okay."

"Sure it will, Cap."

"Cap, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Chet's voice was thick.

"What for?"

"I kept pushing Gage to go faster. I think it was too much for the marbles. They...they shattered. There are pieces everywhere."

"Did you or John get hurt?"

"No, sir, we're fine."

"The ambulance's here, Cap. We're gonna get you on the stretcher and head for Rampart. You just lie back and let us do all the work."

"Okay, Roy. Mike, can you call dispatch, have us put out of service until they can get a replacement for me? And call my wife, let her know what's going on?"

"Sure, no problem. Don't worry, we'll take care of everything."

The drive to the hospital was bumpy, driving shafts of pain through Stanley's head. Although hit in only one eye, both were now hurting. He dreaded the examination and feared the verdict. Johnny had come with him, uncommonly quiet.

"John. Whatever happens, don't blame yourself."

"Yeah, right."

Further conversation was stopped by the arrival of the ambulance at Rampart. Stanley was bundled into the hospital treatment room.

Epilogue

"So he'll be okay?" Johnny asked, his chocolate brown eyes fixed on Dr. Kelly Brackett.

"No long-term damage, just one hell of a headache and a beautiful shiner."

Johnny fell back against the counter, his breath living his body in a rush. "Thank God. I thought...I was afraid I blinded him."

"You said this was caused by a kid's toy?"

"Yeah, Clackers. We were just messing around."

"I've heard of them. There's a movement to have them recalled. Children all over the country are suffering eye injuries from the shrapnel from the shattered balls."

"I didn't know."

"No one does. That's going to change." Brackett slapped the paramedic on the back. "Why don't you go find your partner and call the station, let them know their captain will be back on the job before they know it."

Johnny's grin was ear to ear. "Thanks, doc, I'll do just that."

April 2004

A/N: Clackers are the toy with a jillion names. They were yanked from store shelves in 1971 due to eye injuries suffered when the fragile, glass-like balls shattered from the violence of contact with their mates. I have simply moved their date of recall to a later time.