Two Minutes to Midnight

Chuck Foster sat alone in his darkened living room – an empty shell lost in a raging sea of thought. His mouth was dry and tasted of stale booze and vomit. His head spun like a plate on a stick in a circus act. He had been slumped in the same chair for more than three hours, a faithful bourbon bottle his only companion.

Bad things happen when you push your luck, and I pushed mine too far…

The accident earlier in the evening played over and over in his mind mimicking a terrible home video, an endless reminder. Morose, he drank another glass, followed by another, then passed out.

Friday evening, another hectic work week over. A few of his colleagues had thrown out a 5:30 pm invitation to a nearby bar to get the weekend started. For the past 20 years, Chuck had two constant addictions in his life – alcohol and women – and now he had an invitation (not that he needed one) to indulge himself to the fullest. Sadly, those addictions and his lack of resolve to fight them had wrecked his 15-year marriage and cost him his two children, Tammy (10) and Mark (13).

Chuck had downed four beers with bourbon chasers by 7:15 pm. Surrounded by empty bottles and glasses, he called it a night after another couple. Walking across the parking lot, fumbling with his car keys, the heavens opened. Before he could unlock the driver’s door, heavy rain fell in torrents, hammering on the Cadillac Escalade’s roof. As Chuck pulled away, he turned the car heater to its highest setting to combat the cold, while the wipers tried without success to clear the rain from the windshield.

When Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight” played on his favorite classic rock radio station, the weather did not seem to matter quite so much. Turning up the volume, Chuck’s head moved in time with the relentless driving music blasting from the speakers. Lost in an alcohol-fueled maelstrom of heavy metal thunder, the work week’s weight slipped from his shoulders. He was looking forward to quality weekend time with his kids after his ex-wife dropped them off the next morning.

As the Cadillac crested a hill, Chuck looked down at the warm inviting houses, their rain-covered roofs silhouetted by lightning. He thought about the families inside sitting down to dinner, happy and smiling, discussing their day and their plans for the weekend; something he would not be doing thanks to his fixations. The only things waiting for him were a cold house, microwave lasagna and a fresh bourbon bottle.

Street lights twinkled in the darkness, calling him home, a reminder he needed another drink. He approached his journey’s final stretch, the Augusta Drive and Washington Street intersection. The traffic lights turned red but Chuck needed to get home. Bourbon was calling. He sped up…

From Chuck’s right-hand side, a dark blur shot into his peripheral vision, followed by something hitting the Cadillac’s right-front fender. The impact caused him to lurch forward and be restrained by the seatbelt. Aghast in a wide-eyed panic, he watched a body fly across the hood and smash against the windshield, leaving the glass cracked and crazed before falling onto the road.

Chuck yelled out and slammed on the brakes. The heavy car’s wheels locked up, sliding on the wet surface eventually bringing it to a halt. He fell back in his seat, bewildered by what had happened, his heart pounding.

What the hell?

He sat for a moment, his mouth agape, his constricted throat trapped his breath, his body stunned into frozen immobility. Staring ahead through the splintered glass, Chuck saw a child-like motionless shape in the road, its head – turned to one side, facing away from him – had thumped the tarmac with a sickening, stomach-turning thud. A mangled BMX bike lay trapped under the front wheel.

Go!

His mind commanded.

Get out the hell away from here.

Chuck contemplated hitting the gas pedal; the temptation to flee grew stronger every passing second. He knew he should get help, but was anchored by a crippling fear of what he might find should he try to leave his safe metallic haven.

I’m a good guy, a family man, a father goddammit. People like me don’t just drive away.

He willed the cyclist to move, show him a sign of life. Nothing. Chuck’s stomach muscles clenched. He opened his car window and released a booze-smelling vomit stream onto the road. His shaking hands had a death grip on the steering wheel as Bruce Dickinson sang over the windshield wipers’ swish-squeak-swish and the thunderous, pelting rain on the car roof.

There’s nothing I can do.

In the split-second of cleared vision given by the windshield wipers and the shattered glass patchwork, Chuck saw the body, lying face down on the road. He gritted his teeth so hard his jaw ached. He got out and ran to the body, a large puddle of blood soaking through the victim’s sweatshirt hood onto the wet road. He couldn’t see the person’s face and was too scared to look.

Call the cops. Call an ambulance. Get this person to the hospital.

Turn yourself in. He or she is dead.

You’ll get jail time. Is that what you want?

Panic hit Chuck like a ton weight as he walked back to his car. He looked to see if there was any traffic around and to check his car for damage.

No-one’s here. No witnesses. No damage.

He pulled out his phone to call 911 but hesitated before shoving it back into his jacket pocket without touching the keypad.

I’m out of here.

He left the cyclist in a pool of blood like it was roadkill, driving homeward for another drink.

A half-hour later, wearing warm, dry clothes, Chuck poured himself a large bourbon. He inhaled the sweet scent of brown sugar and caramel, apples and toffee. The spices made his nose tingle as he took a steadying sip, kidding himself it would be good for shock. The rich, creamy liquid pleaded with him to indulge further in the golden-brown delights that awaited him.

You ran away, you moron.

Sitting swirling the ice cubes in his rocks glass, he reflected on the tragedy he had caused. Somewhere out there, a parent would wonder where their child was. A dark melancholy possessed his soul as he looked back on his life, his broken marriage and his myriad mistakes.

You screw everything up, idiot.

He chastised himself by picturing a long stretch in jail, his career destroyed, his family long gone, his future devoid of meaning. His hands shook with fear and a fresh wave of nausea engulfed him.

Go to the police. Now! You’ve got money. You can afford a lawyer.

The weather front increased in severity. A fierce wind howled against the window and heavy rain resembled a constant stream of tears from heaven. He was oblivious to it all.

11:58 pm – two minutes to midnight – Chuck woke from his drunken stupor to hear someone banging on the front door. Looking through the rain-covered window, a flash of lightning illuminated a police car parked on his driveway. His world crumbled beneath him, his legs turned to rubber. The cops had found him, there had to be a camera that caught everything on film. There was nothing left but answer the door, confess to everything and let fate play its hand.

Run.

Where would I go?

No. That would only make matters worse than they already are.

Chuck’s body trembled. He got to his feet and staggered to the door. A police officer stood under the porch light, the rain running off his uniform puddling on the doormat.

“Mr. Foster? Mr. Chuck Foster?” inquired the grim-looking cop.

Chuck let out a resigned, defeated sigh.

“Yes, that’s me, officer. Let me explain everything.”

“Mr. Foster, I’m afraid I have terrible news.

“A hit-and-run driver collided with your son while he was riding his bike earlier this evening. He died at the scene from severe head injuries. I’m very sorry for your loss…”

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4 thoughts on “Two Minutes to Midnight

  1. Another highly addictive short story – unique, very well written and an ending with a very unexpected twist. I want more Haunted Pen!

    Like

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