I thought that this week I would share with you a short story I wrote here for an inmate writing contest that I won. I’ve also included two short guest writings that one of the guys I mentor wrote. Scenes from his practice writings. Enjoy!
It was New Year’s Eve, 1988. I was 16 and worked as a cook with my best friend John at KFC. We’d been friends since elementary school, and tonight we were on the cusp of something new and great. I could feel it! There’s something about New Year’s Eve, I thought. It has that exciting optimism of a new year about to come.
We had just finished a batch of regular recipe chicken, and the evening rush had long since died down. I pulled the racks of chicken from “The Pit,” a beast of a machine that could pressure cook 100 pieces of regular recipe chicken at a time. I looked my work over with a critical eye before sending the batch forward to the cashiers up front. These should last us the rest of the night, I thought.
It was 10:00pm. For weeks, John and I had begged our boss for the day off so we could ring in the New Year. For weeks he refused. If we had to stay until closing time, that would mean leaving after midnight. But if we could somehow convince him to let us leave just a little sooner….
“C’mon,” I said to my boss. “There’s hardly anyone here, and we’ll get everything cleaned and done before closing time.”
“No,” he said. “I need you guys to stay to help close up.”
“But it’s New Year’s Eve and–”
“–there’s nobody here”– I motioned toward the lobby, and then back around toward ourselves–“see?”
My boss sighed. He shook his head and said: “Fine. You guys can leave at 11pm, but only if everything is done.”
Yes! I thought. I looked at John, and he was already in full stride on his way to the back to start cleaning. I followed, and with efficient precision we filtered and cleaned all the fryers, hot hosed and scrubbed all the floors, and otherwise got everything spotless and ready for the next day.
The clock finally ticked 11:00pm. I swiped my time card and shouted to my boss that we were leaving. He muttered something, dismissing us with a backhanded wave.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said to John, “before he changes his mind.”
“Dude,” John said, ever the master of the art of minimum verbiage. In this case, it was his way of saying, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’
The back door banged wide as we made our escape. It barely closed by the time I was snatching open the door to my Pontiac sedan. I threw myself into the driver’s seat, keyed the ignition, and the radio boomed to life. Prince was dancing like it was 1999. The green lighting of the dash read 11:03pm. Ah, I thought. Plenty of time.
I watched as John backed out of his spot. We were parked head to head, and now I was pulling up beside his car. Through his passenger window John said, “Dude, follow me. I know where there’s a party.”
And so we pulled out of the lot and made our way down the empty streets of Manassas, VA, famous for its civil war history, and a decade later internationally famous again for the culinary action of a local woman, Lorena Bobbit.
Prince had danced into the future, and now Madonna was purring like a virgin touched for the very first time. A light rain began spattering onto the windshield. Man, I thought, how I love Madonna!
As we made our way toward the edge of town, everything grew darker. There were no streetlights and no townhomes. The moon hid its face and the rain came down harder now. I clicked the wipers on, clicked and clicked again until they were at full speed. I could barely see the taillights of John’s car.
Up ahead, a lone stoplight blared red. It swung back and forth in the gathering wind. You could go right instead onto a feeder road connecting to a roadway which took you out of town, and this was where we were headed. The parties we knew about were all out in the country where we lived.
We swept right into the feeder lane when John’s vehicle jumped to a sudden stop. Red taillights splintered and fractured through the rain on my windshield and I stood on the brake to avoid hitting him. What the hell? I thought. We don’t have time for this!
John was standing outside his vehicle now. I lowered my window, and cold December rain pelted my face.
“What the hell?!” I said.
“Dude,” John said, “There’s a bike in the middle of the road.”
“No. A 10-speed.”
“So pick it up and throw it off to the side of the road!”
“Dude,” he said, “what if someone was riding it?”
“What?” I was exasperated. The green numbers of the dash clock read 11:20pm. We had to get moving now because it was a 20 minute drive just to get to where we lived, let alone to some random party we had to find. So I said: “You’ve got to be kidding! So look around real quick and let’s get out of here.”
I watched as John hoisted the bike over the deep ditch and into the embankment. He then walked a short distance ahead of his vehicle. I had turned the radio down and was thrumming my finger on the steering wheel, when from out of the rain like some phantom John came running.
“Christopher! Christopher!” He shouted. I could barely hear him over the pounding rain, but it sounded as if he was calling my name.
“What?” I yelled back.
“There’s a man in the ditch! Get help! THERE’S A MAN IN THE DITCH!”
Oh Jezuz, I thought. I slammed the car into drive and mashed the accelerator. I felt the back end squirrel left and then right, and I fought the steering wheel as I U-turned. The hospital, I thought. I’ll go to the hospital. I knew there was a hospital some 5,000 feet up the road, and this was all I could think about. I could even see the glow of the hospital lights through the gloom.
The light was red, and I ran it. The engine raced, and the speedometer ran across the dial. Where are the cops?! I thought. On any other night of the year there are cops everywhere. Everywhere!!
The speedometer had just jumped past 80mph when I saw the first cop coming ahead. I frantically flashed the headlights and stood on the decelerator. The car came to a long, sliding stop, and a wide-eyed officer pulled up beside my window.
“Officer,” I said, “there’s been a hit and–”
No sooner had the words left my mouth the cop drove off in the direction I had came. “Where the hell are you going?!” I yelled. I spun the wheel and punched the accelerator and gave chase.
By the time I caught up to him I was back at the scene. Police cars were everywhere. Spotlights and high beams illuminated an area along the side of the road, and in the middle of the focus were John and several officers standing around. I parked and went over to them.
When I looked toward the ditch there lay the body of a man face down in the swollen rain water. A brown winter jacket and jeans clothes the figure.
“Hey!” the big cop yelled at me. “Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m his friend,” I said, pointing to John. “We found that man.”
The cop grunted a dismissive grunt. He then eyed another group that was inspecting John’s car. I looked back at the man in the ditch, and a terrible feeling swept over me. What if he’s alive? I thought. Someone should flip him over. He’s drowning!
I reached for the man, and a hand grabbed my arm, jerking me backward.
“Hey,” the big cop said. “Don’t fucking touch him!”
“But what if he’s drowning?!”
“Don’t touch him!” He then released my arm.
But, I thought, HE’S DROWNING! I went for the man again.
“Hey asshole,” the big cop growled. “You got a hearing problem? I said ‘Don’t touch him.'”
“But he’s drowning!”
“I said, ‘Don’t touch him!'”
To this day, for reasons I don’t understand, I listened and began walking away alongside the ditch. The rain had stopped, and the moon fought through the clouds. I walked with my head down, watching the water flowing black in the darkness.
Then, I saw something in the water. It was a blue butterfly, so I rescued it. Except, it wasn’t a butterfly. It was a small brown pocket bible. I walked further and found something else floating in the water. A wallet, I thought. What is a wallet doing in the water?
I plucked it from the current…and opened it.
Here was a photo of a smiling boy and a girl…next was a photo of a little girl hugging a brown Labrador dog…and here was the boy laughing beside a Christmas tree and presents. I flipped to the next photo…here were the children, a woman, and a man smiling together in a studio photo.
I couldn’t look any further.
The ambulance finally arrived, and the man was whisked to the hospital. From the tarmac of the helipad I watched as the man was rushed to the waiting helicopter, before vanishing into the dark night sky.
I gave the wallet and bible to the police, and John and I spent the next hour at the hospital answering questions and filling in details for the police report. Sometime around 2:00am I arrived back home.
A week had passed since that night, and my life was starting to return to normal. I was at the mall enjoying some time before the movie I was there to watch started. I played two of my favorite games, Galaga and Pac Man, in the arcade for a while before heading for one of my favorite stores: Spencer’s Gifts. Every time I’d find something cool to buy, and today was no exception. I made a mental note of the things I wanted, and told myself I’d return after the movie.
I turned to leave when a tall, smartly dressed woman approached me.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Is your name Christopher?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, wondering who she was.
“My name is Dr. Kearston. Were you at Prince William Hospital on New Year’s?”
“That was you standing near the helipad when we landed wasn’t it? It was a hit and run accident. I’m the trauma surgeon at Fairfax Medical.”
“Yes,” I said, suddenly hopeful. “That was me. It was a hit and run. How is that man doing?”
She lowered her eyes at my question and her smile waned.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but he didn’t make it. He passed the next day.”
“By the time he got to us his brain had gone without oxygen long enough that his brain experienced, well, a type of death.”
“What? W-what do you mean? If he had oxygen he would’ve been okay?”
“Yes,” she said. “He would have lived.”
I stepped backward, horrified. I turned and fled the mall, running all the way to my car. Once there I locked myself inside and cried.
No, no, no, I thought. No matter how hard I tried to stop them, the woman’s words rang in my head, and that night replayed itself over and over again. He would have lived, I thought.
He would have lived.
You can read the two short guest writings I mentioned at the top of the post here.
*If you enjoyed this post, please like and share with your friends. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing for you! Also, if you know of other blogs written by inmates, please let me know because I enjoy reading what other guys write. Frankly, it helps keep me sane