“Please, please, please,” I chanted under my breath, begging to all that was holy for escape. But nothing answered. My feet were still stuck, and I could no longer move my toes.
Frantically, I searched my pockets. “C’mon, phone . . . phone . . . yes!” I pulled my cell phone from my jeans, fumbling against the denim and nearly dropping it. My hands were shaking and I could feel my throat starting to close under the vicious teeth of terror. Focusing on the touch-screen, I dialed the only place I could think of.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?” the dispassionate voice of the operator answered.
“I need an ambulance. Please, I don’t know what’s happening to me.” My attempt at coherent thought became a jumbled mess of desperation as I watched the grey stuff completely swallow my ankles and start inching up my legs, turning the cuffs of my jeans to unforgiving stone in a matter of seconds. Every millimeter that succumbed pulled me further down into the well of panic. My breathing turned into short, ragged gasps as I teetered on the edge of a complete breakdown.
“Sir, calm down. Can you tell me where you are?” The voice of the 911 dispatcher was cool, collected. I swallowed hard, trying to focus on what she was saying. “Sir?”
“Yeah, yes. I’m in the park, by the waterfront. On a bench toward the north side . . .” I gazed blindly in the direction I’d come from, an instinctual response that finally tore my attention from the grey creeping up my shins, but I wasn’t actually seeing the park. Disconnected shock was fogging over everything, making the landscape seem like a Monet painting — blurred and disorienting.
“Can you tell me the nearest street to your location?” the operator tried again.
“I . . . uh . . . I don’t . . .” I scanned my surroundings, looking for anything that would ground me. But there was nothing. The familiarity of the park — of the city — was suddenly lost, fragmented by the confusion of my situation, torn apart by the panic. The only thing I could focus on was the grey advancing up my calf and toward my knee. “No, I don’t know. Oh, God! It’s almost to my knees now!”
I was quickly losing all sense of reality, drowning in panic-fueled terror, my vision tunneling onto the relentless march of stone up my body. The voice of the operator sounded muffled, like a neighbor’s TV drifting through the walls of an apartment, but I knew I needed to hear what she was saying. I forced myself to close my eyes, to shut out the images that wouldn’t let me concentrate. I put my hand to my forehead and breathed deeply three times.
Instantly, the operator’s voice burst back into clarity. She was asking me about my symptoms, trying to get me to calm down enough to explain my ramblings. “Sir? Can you hear me? I need you to tell me what you’re experiencing so I can help you,” she explained.
“Ok,” I answered lamely. “I think I’m turning to stone.” As soon as the words left my lips, I heard how absurd they sounded and grimaced while I waited for her response.
“Excuse me?” she finally answered, and I could hear the confusion — edged with judgemental doubt — in the fringes of her voice.
“There was this homeless woman. I was just drawing. She smelled like the sludge at the bottom of the river. Looked like it too, actually. She was chanting. There’s this grey stuff on my legs and I can’t move. Oh, God, please don’t let them take my legs! I don’t know, maybe that wouldn’t even stop it?” I’d lost it, nonsensical words rushing from me like water from a burst dam. I could hear my thoughts bouncing all over the place, a verbalized tirade of random. But I couldn’t stop. “I don’t know what it is. I broke off a piece of my shoe and I swear it’s stone. That’s not even possible! None of this is possible! I can’t move my toes anymore . . .”
“Sir, do you realize it’s a crime to prank-call nine-one-one?” the dispatcher interrupted, her voice cold and slightly angry.
“What?” I didn’t understand. “No, it’s not a prank. I . . .”
“I could have you arrested for wasting valuable time and resources.” What little compassion had started to creep into her voice was completely gone now. I couldn’t help it, I started laughing, not because it was funny, but at the sheer irony of the moment. A hysterical sound, high-pitched and embarrassing, it should have helped plead a case of mental instability. But instead, it only seemed to reinforce the operator’s conclusion that I was pranking her.
“Goodbye,” she said. The word hit me like a splash of ice water to the face, instantly sobering.
“Wait, no! Please!” The three beeps signifying an ended call blared through my skull, and I quickly pulled the phone away from my ear. I stared at it, hearing the beeps of my severed life-line echo through my head, an obnoxious song on repeat. She’d hung up on me.
911 had hung up on me!
Should I call back?
No, there’d be no point. The dispatcher hadn’t believed me, and what was left of my rational self couldn’t blame her. It did sound like something a teenager would concoct. And even if I had convinced her, any help she sent would never find me in time. I’d provided absolutely nothing helpful on my whereabouts. Did I really expect them to comb all thirty-seven acres of park to look for one probably-insane man?
As I slowly lowered the cell phone, setting it on the bench beside me, I watched the grey stone hungrily swallow my kneecaps and knew the truth.
No one was coming to save me.