This is a story inspired by a technical school class I am taking. The following is a true story and everyone involved is now dead. The name of the school is not revealed to protect the guilty.
Ross looked out the window of the truck and saw the remains of a squirrel, squashed flat as a pancake, and for a moment the life of that poor animal flashed through his mind; its desperate hunt for nuts as the days got colder, its incessant movements and struggle for survival as the nights grew longer and the days grew shorter, drawing nigh up to its last precious moments on this world as it stared wide-eyed into the oncoming lights of a car that barreled down the road at him, taking his life. A lone tear leaked from one eye and he massaged his temples lightly, trying to rub away the dizziness that overcame him nearly every morning for the last several weeks, his cold fingers trying to bring clarity to a mind that was becoming increasingly confused, muddled.
“Where do I turn next?” his partner, an obscenely fat man with an unusually high voice asked him, and he turned away from the window and met the other’s eyes. The fat man’s name was Richard, and for better or worse the instructors at the not-for-profit semi-truck driving school had coupled them up, no pun intended. While one of them drove the other navigated, and they went back and forth like this while they learned.
Ross glanced at the directions attached to his clipboard, a sentiment of ennui bristling through him like an arctic breeze. He’d been feeling more and more detached with every passing week, had felt the icy ache in his brain becoming a vast, empty hollow. He looked at the piece of paper without seeing it, then placed the clipboard on the floor of the truck.
“Take a left at Roehmer and head toward I-41,” he said flatly, an odd, vacant cadence to his otherwise usually animated voice.
“I don’t think this route takes the freeway.”
“Yes it does.”
The fat man looked at him questioningly but did as he was told, putting on his turn signal and moving over into the other lane when it was safe to do so. Cars whipped by at a frenzied pace as commuters went about their day, rushing from here to there. When they reached the sign for the on ramp Ross pointed toward one of them and said:
“Take 41 south.”
“I don’t think that is on our route-”
“O-okay…” Richard answered hesitantly, creeping up toward the ramp, dropping into a lower gear. As he rolled around the corner he stole another glance at his partner and wasn’t sure what he saw there. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Ross murmured thickly, avoiding the other’s eyes. “Just watch the road.”
Every night for the last several months Ross had been awakened after only a couple hours of sleep by his arm or leg or hand or foot or shoulder jerking, spasms that left him completely awake. After about an hours time and he was about to drift off to sleep again another twitch would awaken him, and it would go on like this for the rest of the night. His sleep was gradually whittled down to approximately one or two hours a night, until last week, when the jerks started as soon as he closed his eyes. In the past seven days he’d had no sleep; his eyes looked hollowed out, his cheeks sunken in. When he spoke there was no life to his voice.
“You don’t look so good.”
The exit for College Avenue passed, then the one for Prospect.
“Which exit is it?”
The routes they’d been given weren’t that complex. Normally they went a few miles down the highway, exited, and then turned around and went back to the school.
“We’re going to try a more advanced route.”
“I’ve only been signed off for routes A through D.”
“You’re a big boy, I think you can handle it.”
Richard looked at him, his large brow furrowed, a frown creasing the folds of his cherubic face.
“We’re going off-route.”
“I’ll tell you when to turn.”
Another exit passed, and then another. Soon the downtown area was behind them and they were hitting the open road.
“Quiet,” he said softly, massaging his temples. “I know what I’m doing.”
And he did all right, he most certainly did. It wasn’t an idea that had just come to him, no, it had formed over the course of the last week, all those restless nights while he couldn’t sleep, turning over and over in his mind like a giant, slimy worm, flopping around and around and around until he decided to do something about it.
Because, for the sake of the class, he wasn’t supposed to know, no one was. Finding out had been an accident, one of those things that just happened.
“You’re scaring me,” the fat man whined in a voice that was higher than usual.
“Okay,” Ross said at last. “Take the next exit.”
“Thank God,” Richard breathed and for a second Ross wondered why the man listened to him; surely he could have turned this thing around long ago if he was that worried, but he was such a spineless degenerate that he couldn’t do anything on his own…well, almost anything. He did manage one thing, a singular, compulsive act that was sickening and terrifying, something that made Ross’s guts churn.
The ramp lead to a rural road, a cornfield on one side, a soy field on the other.
“Take a right.”
“That doesn’t lead back to town-”
“Take a fucking right!”
“Fine!” Richard wheezed, his jowly chops shaking like gelatin, “but if anyone asks this wasn’t my idea!”
“I’ll take full responsibility,” Ross assured him, turning now to face him, “just like you have to do.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m afraid I don’t.” Richard squinted his eyes, looking at him perplexedly. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Never better,” Ross said. “Turn here.”
“I’m not even sure this is on a truck route-”
“Take a right turn now!”
“Okay!” And he turned the wheel hard, the semi wheels almost coming off the ground for a second as the awkward turn was executed at an unsafe speed. “Have you lost your mind?”
“No more than you.”
After he’d stumbled upon the old newspaper article his appetite was reduced to a shadow of his former self, that in tandem with the sleeping problem, which had come up entirely upon it’s own. But the two together…not only could he no longer bear to live, he knew this piece of shit beside him didn’t deserve to either. And he’d see to it, that was for sure. It all culminated to today.
“How could you do it?” he asked in a low voice, not really sure if he wanted to hear the answer.
“She was only nine years old for Christ’s sake! You know you ruined her life, right?”
Richard’s massive head swung toward his, his eyes comically wide.
“How did you know that?”
“It ain’t exactly a secret buddy. Do the instructors know?”
“No one at the school knows…”
“Was it worth it?” Ross demanded, leaning closer and placing his foot over the others, pressing down on the fuel pedal.
“What are you doing?” The fat man’s voice was reedy, petulant. Fear showed in his eyes, emanated in waves from him like a foul odor, yet he clung to the wheel desperately.
“What the law didn’t, I suppose.”
“I did my time! I paid for what I did!”
“You can’t unfuck a child Richard!” Ross screamed in the other’s face, spittle flying from his lips. “You can’t take that kind of thing back!”
“Are you crazy? You’re going to get us both killed-”
And then it dawned on the fat man, clarity like a light bulb going on in a very dark room.
Good God, no…”
Over the hill down the road a piece was a stretch of the East River that was deeper and faster than the sedate portion that passed through town. The bridge that spanned it was old, the wood and cement a product of a bygone era, one that spoke of better times when men were men and women were women and little kids didn’t have to be afraid of their lecherous uncles, their unwanted advances, their sloppy, unwelcome drool that spilled over fat lips that looked like two slugs humping…
“Oh God, yes,” Ross confirmed, and by the time they hit the bridge and he spun the wheel the truck was doing better than seventy. As an airplane tore the sky above them to shreds and the miracle of life bloomed in every leaf, the sun burning hotly upon the trees with a fervor that was almost religious in it’s fanaticism he thought: here’s to the new day. And then the truck suddenly became airborne.