Sunday, April 20, 2014
A troubled little boy's bizarre hobby
How a kid got his kicks by the highway
This is the first chapter of my second novel, about a haunted house in Upper Marlboro
Billy trudged across the frozen field to the line of trees where the land dropped away. Holding on to a
slim tree, he looked down and saw the roofs of cars speed past.
Stepping sideways, Billy made his way toward the bottom. Thorn bushes grabbed at his clothes, making the descent difficult. He almost slipped several times as he stepped over dead fall and negotiated the thick bramble.
He stood on the edge of the highway. With little warning, the cars appeared out of nowhere, speeding by just an arm's length away. Knowing that drivers didn't know he was there made Billy giddy.
Billy picked up a handful of gravel, weighing the possibilities with his small fist around cold pebbles. He dug into his collection of possible repercussions and wavered. Cracked windshield, surprised driver, sudden swerve, over-correction of the steering wheel, the screech and smell of burnt rubber--and Billy standing in a courtroom with the relatives of the dead driver weeping behind him.
He quickly dropped the gravel and looked around for a better idea. He jumped slightly as two more cars zipped past, just feet from where he stood. He hadn't been paying attention. He had failed to pick up the sound of the approaching cars. He could have been struck and killed.
That was the answer.
Billy walked along the drainage ditch until he found a spot where drivers would have him in sight for the longest interval. Making sure there was no broken glass or snakes warming themselves in the meek February sun, Billy picked a spot where the grass met the gravel shoulder of the road.
He lay face up, putting his arms and legs at impossible angles. Any drivers or, more likely a passenger watching the world go by outside his window, would see Billy's still body laying on the ground just off the shoulder.
There's a dead kid on the side of the road.
Brake lights. That would be the first cue that his plan worked. Then the sound of a car decelerating, then gravel crunching under tires as the driver pulled onto the shoulder to stop. Then, depending on how many people are in the car, the sound of a car door or doors opening, then shutting. If Billy timed it right, he would have several cars pulling over at once, with confused adults yelling for someone to call an ambulance.
On his back, his head lower than his legs--which he put at unnatural angles--Billy placed one of his arms under his body. He stared up at the sky (open eyes on dead people is the money-shot in this particular exercise) and kept perfectly still. Billy held, held, held ... the position.
Brake lights. Rapidly decelerating car. Tires on gravel.
Billy jumped up and ran down the ditch, laughing, exhilarated, his blood pumping through his veins like electricity. The driver, seeing what was happening, cussed Billy, got back in his car and peeled off, throwing gravel in a rooster tail.
Billy howled and jumped up and down. He felt joy at shocking strangers and getting away with it. For those moments, when he was on his back less than a foot from speeding cars and daring himself vulnerable not to move, his heart and pushed blood and oxygen to his brain, shoving energy right where he needed it. In his soul.
Billy jogged back and lay on the ground again, this time putting trash on his legs and other props to improve his act. He tried facing away from the road. Unable to see his face, drivers would more readily assume he was a cadaver.
He heard cars approaching.
Billy's heartbeat jacked up and his chest pumped against his giggling. He held his breath ... held ... held then brake lights lit the dark tree trunks. Decelerating car, gravel crunching under tires, a car skidding in the gravel, the sound of doors opening ...
"Oh my God! It's a little kid!" Billy heard a woman moan in horror. She was too scared to move much beyond her open passenger car door.
"Oh my God," a man said, more quietly.
Billy jumped up and stumbled like a reanimated corpse trying to gain its footing.
"Jesus my God!" the woman screamed. She broke into hysterical sobs.
The man started laughing.
"Maureen, get back in the car. It's OK."
"That poor kid! He's injured! He's hurt!"
"Maureen," he said gently, "Get in the car. Let's get out of here."
The woman caught on. Realizing she'd been duped, yelled, "You little bastard! I hope you really get hit by a car!"
Billy stopped running when the car pulled off and sped away. He laughed long and hard, knowing he'd be here to do it again. He began his climb back up the hill.