I'm 57 years old, unpublished truck driver. An Illinois Yankee living in the deep south, specifically Georgia.
Dying Time by David Everly
That crazy Carlos always said he could shoot. I’d figured it was just more of his macho bull, but damned if he wasn’t right. Problem was, I only learned how good he could shoot a few minutes ago when he started shooting at me. Bad timing. Story of my life.
I can hear him talking inside the old farmhouse. He’s nice and cool while I’m going brown and crispy under a hot Texas sun. Calling in reinforcements I’ll bet, and using my damn cell phone to do it with. I handed it over to him easy as anything. “Gotta call my folks,” he said. “See how Grandma’s doing, broken hip… hospital… blah, blah, blah.” All bull of course. Figured he wanted to look at my contacts list, see who I’d been talking to, make sure I was who I said I was. I’d heard he did that sort of thing.
I’d bounce if I could, but my car is parked less than ten feet from the front door and he’s sure to be keeping a close eye on it. It’s what we’re all here for after all. A 1994 beat to hell Lincoln Continental, half gray, half all American quarter panel rust, and at least five years late for the crusher. In the trunk is three million dollars’ worth of Peru’s finest. Pure white snow, direct from her high mountain meadows and brought to America by the magic of me. That’s what I do when I’m not dodging bullets. It’s a living, and a good one, at least it was until today.
I can’t afford to wait until this asshole’s friends show up. I can’t leave on foot, it’s a damn desert out there and way too open. There’s nothing to see for miles; no trees, bushes, nothing. I’d stick out like a sore thumb when his buddies showed up. Leaves me one choice.
I bust two caps into the Lincoln, shattering windows. I’m around the house and through the back door while the glass is still falling – I was a sprinter in high school.
Out of the frying pan and into live fire. I can only pray that the sounds of destruction distracted him enough.
It’s cooler inside, out of the hot sun, and I can feel the difference as soon as I enter, my skin crinkle popping as it eases its tight protective grip. It’s darker inside too. Where is Carlos? Come out, come out, wherever you are. If anybody ever needed a good old fashioned crinkle pop it’s my not so good friend Carlos.
Coming in from the bright sunlight to this semi-dark room it’s hard to see. No time for my eyes to adjust. Move, squint, move. I hear him then, see movement down the hall to my left. I turn and fire at the once dark figure in front of me, now lit up and all too recognizable from the muzzle blast of his hokey old wheel gun.
Like I said, that crazy Carlos always said he could shoot.
I’ve expected to die young my whole life. When I was a kid I knew I was going to die at thirteen. I don’t know why I thought that. Looking back I figure it was just because thirteen was supposed to be unlucky, and dying is often considered an unlucky thing to do. Right up there with stepping on cracks and breaking mirrors. I was never bothered by the thought of dying so young. I accepted it as I accepted all the other things kids have to put up with.
“You start school on Tuesday.” (Okay)
“You go to the Dentist next month.” (All right)
“You die when you’re thirteen.” (Okay)
What the hell did I know?
I was an only child, with loving parents who loved to say yes but knew when to say no, and loved me enough to say it and make it stick, so I escaped the dangers of childhood relatively unscathed. It was a good childhood. I mean, hey, if you can handle the fact you’re going to croak at thirteen you can be cool with just about everything. I think the worst thing that happened to me when as a kid was when my Grandmother baked a round loaf of her special bread, just for me. She called it my “big biscuit”, and I dropped it on the ground getting out of the car when we got home. A tragedy at five.
Dying at thirteen I could live with - well, you know – but Grandma’s bread was something else. God, I loved that bread.
My breathing was the first thing to go. It’s a funny thing, breathing. It’s there your whole life, right in front of you, right inside of you, and we never think about it. Every few seconds you breathe in. Your lungs inflate, delivering oxygen to the blood, then you breathe out expelling crap you don’t want anymore. In and out, in and out all day long and we never notice, but you notice when it’s gone. Damn right you do. An atomic bomb going off down the block would be less noticeable.
I’m lying here on the cracked linoleum of this dirty kitchen floor just trying to breathe. I don’t hurt anywhere; whether from shock or spinal injury I don’t know, and I can’t spare any time to think about it. I can’t breathe! There’s a huge weight on my chest, a Jumbo the elephant kinda weight pressing down on me like I was a grape in a wine press. No pain, as I said, but there’s a terrible pressure, an emptiness. Part of me is gone and I feel its loss keenly. I would gladly exchange that emptiness for any amount of plain old fashioned pain. Pain can be good. Pain means you’re alive.
I graduated high school with honors, a full blown idealist. I was young, smart, and eager to do my part, to serve my country and give back some of what had been given to me. I also wanted to kick some ass and take some names if the truth be told, and lying here on this dead linoleum, truth is all that’s left to me. It didn’t hurt that the G.I. Bill was still around either.
Al-Qaeda brought the towers down and there I was, trained and ready to go, with orders to protect my country from evil men. I couldn’t have asked for a better assignment to begin my military career. I was like a knight of old embarking on a sacred quest; killing evil dragons and rescuing fair damsels.
My naiveté lasted less than a month once we were boots down on enemy soil.
We were on a routine patrol thirty clicks down the Euphrates searching for hidden weapons caches. We hit bank and exited the boat near a lone farmhouse. I’m forty meters from the house waiting for the order to move in when a huge dog erupts from a pile of hay nearly right under my feet. He attacks, and momentarily stunned, I don’t shoot him but I do manage to hit him with my gun butt sending him flying. Before he can recover and attack again I click the safety off and shoot him.
I’m still freaked. It feels like a movie monster attack or an alien, not a dog. It’s only been two or three seconds and I’m still trying to figure out what going on. I’m scared, I’m confused, and I’m angry; angry mostly because I’m scared and confused and I think that’s why I shoot the kid when he comes running out of the house to help his dog. Seven, eight years old maybe. Hard to tell with half his face blown away like that.
Shoot an innocent kid in the face and you don’t feel like a knight in shining armor anymore. You feel like the goddamn dragon.
It was so hot outside in the sunshine that I was constantly wiping the sweat out of my eyes, but in here on the linoleum it’s beginning to feel downright chilly. I hear car doors slamming outside, a bunch of them. They sound a million miles away. Even so, my heart jumps a bit, skips a beat I guess, when they all come storming in; a dozen guys with guns, organized and professional. Law enforcement or military I suppose.
I don’t really care at this point though because my heart has stopped. That last jump/skip seems to have worn it out. That steady beat is missing. That lub-lub-lub, that lub-a-dub-dub gone bye-bye now. Well hello Mary Lou, good-bye heart! Didn’t need it anymore anyway. All it does is send oxygen to the cells and I seem to be all out of oxygen at the moment. Maybe you can come back tomorrow. I may have some then; the trucks due in at four.
I brace myself for the shooting pain in my chest and down my arm – it’s the left arm isn’t it? I can never remember. It doesn’t come. In fact, the pressure on my chest has eased up a bit. I’d say I feel better, but with my heart and lungs shut down better ain’t in the dictionary anymore. Damn it! Nothing is.
I can’t even remember the name of the place. I was high a lot those days. Hell, it might not have even had a name for all I know, just some little podunk rat infested raghead village in the middle of nowhere. There was a deal going down there, a big one, and everybody knew about it. The bozos doing the dealing were supposed to be some kind of big shots; drug lords of the old Byzantine Empire with the whole world bowing before their magnificence, but they let the whole world know their business. That made them dangerous to the rest of us in the business, so they had to go.
Army reconnoitered then sent a whole company in. Me and the boys, my squad, went in just a little bit ahead of everyone else. We were what you’d call self-starters, especially when there’s money to be made. We knew just where to go so we went in fast and hard. We killed everybody, I mean we burned them down. It was easy.
There was more smack in that ratty little shack than we could carry, must have been nearly a ton of it. Thirty or forty duffel bags of the stuff, and heavy, but we couldn’t find any cash. There was supposed to be cash. We grabbed what we could, getting more than half the drugs, then torched the place. We left enough burning heroin behind to fire the imagination and edify the mind of anyone getting close enough to breathe it in. We used the smoke to slip out while the others slipped in, with a lovely sense of unreality in our minds and big, wide smiles on our soot covered faces.
We got the stuff to our transport quick as we could, putting it into empty ammo cases brought for just that purpose. The craziest part of the whole thing, just after we got back we were spotted by some brass. Fight was over and they were showing up so we could tell them how wonderful they are. I can’t believe how gullible I was when I joined up.
They saw us, tired and a bit worn, our faces blackened by soot and reeking of poppy power and declared us heroes; gave us medals. Real heroes all over the place, throw a rock and you hit one and we get a bronze star. Crazy old world.
It wasn’t long after that that I realized I was no longer in control of my drug use. I’d ridden the wave too long and it finally broke over me, dragged me down. Drugged me down. I had a monkey on my back and he was one needy little bastard. I couldn’t make enough, or steal enough, to please my new master.
When I finally crashed the Army sent me back to the States and got me cleaned up. I was ready for clean and vowed to stay clean forever. Yeah.
Used my G.I. benefits, went to college, got a B.S. in Botany. Stayed clean. The first couple years were tough. I felt alone and without purpose. In the Army there were always buddies around and there was always a clearly defined goal. A purpose. Civilian life was different. No friends, no purpose, no drugs, but during my junior year I met some people who helped me find some of the purpose I had lost. Four months later I applied to be a Peace Corps volunteer and was accepted providing I completed my degree.
I graduated in May and left for my station in Peru three weeks later. I had a lot to make up for. Maybe this would help.
I’m dying. Not much doubt about that now. Gunned down over a trunk load of cocaine. I’m dying and I’m scared. Scared of what come next, cause I don’t know what comes next. I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life. I killed that little boy. Killed him right there in front of his mother and father. Didn’t mean to, but I did it. Couldn’t take the dreams after that. Kept seeing his face all angry-mad and scared exploding into a pink mist, a thousand tiny shards shooting out and twinkling in the sunlight like fireflies at night. Relived it every night, over and over. I turned to the drugs to chase away the reality. I was weak, that’s all it was. I tried, I really did, but I was weak.
Went downhill fast after that. Hell, I didn’t really care anymore. Taking drugs, selling drugs, killing folks to steal their drugs. Did awful things. I…
Oh Lord! That hurt. Don’t know what it was; kidney, liver. Whatever it was, it’s shut down, left town, kill that fuzzy Charlie Brown. Little dizzy. Can’t move, can’t even move my eyes. All part of the deal when you fly Dead Air. I can still see though, and mostly hear. I can see my hand, the right one. It’s so pale, all the blood run out of it. Looks like the hand of a statue, one of those old Roman or Greek suckers. White. Ugly.
Someone tries to find a pulse but I got none so they ignore me. I see the back of his jacket as he leaves though. Says ATF. Don’t know what they’re doing here. Oh I had a few guns but hell, this is Texas, everybody’s got guns. Case of beer on the back seat. No tobacco. Don’t know… know what. Oh boy. Dizzy. Hurts.
I tried to be good, tried to make up for all the bad. Went and helped people cut down trees and all that other stuff. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go to Hell. Killed that poor little boy. I punched his ticket for him all right and proper that day and earned a lifetime pass through the gates of Hell for myself. An E ticket too, just like at Disneyland. I’ll get the full treatment. All the rides. I went to do good. Tried to do good. Ha. Good intentions, that’s what I was trying to say. The bricks used to pave the road to Hell. I’m sorry for screwing up. I’m sorry little boy. Never even knew his name. I’m sorry little boy with no name. I’m … I’m so sorry.
The Peace Corps gig ran two years, and two years is a long time to be stuck out in the boonies. After six months I got three weeks off and got to live in a real town again. First thing I did was to get a pizza. Delicious.
I met some guys and we had a few laughs. One thing led to another. Six months later when my next break came I started moving white powder again. Cocaine instead of heroin, but the job was the same and the ride was fantastic. I was back on top and that nameless little boy on the banks of the Euphrates became just another sad memory.
I served out the last year of my volunteer duty. My trip back to the States was one of the most exciting of my life as I successfully smuggled in half an ounce of cocaine. A piddling amount of blow, but this was just to see if it could be done. The method I’d come up with was simple and worked perfectly. Within a month I was bringing in ten and twenty pounds at a time. I built up a list of customers, a “clientele” that got bigger and bigger as my stockpiles increased, finally culminating with my largest customer so far, old straight shooting Carlos which brings me right back to where I started.
Carlos was major, man. Anyone who buys three million dollars’ worth of coke is a big time dude. He said he wanted the same every month if the quality is as good as I say. He failed to mention he was going to shoot me to get it or I would have pointed out, reasonable business man that I am, that killing me would make it harder to deliver more. Some folks just never think ahead.
I can hear Carlos talking in the background. Says I started shooting when he badged me. When he badged me! He’s ATF, or maybe FBI, they’re here too. Don’t know Known him for six months and never had a clue. Clever bastard.
I’m beginning to feel light now. Light all over, and it’s getting harder to hear. I have to strain to hear what they’re saying in the other room. Cell phone in the truck so he couldn’t call? That’s why he wanted to use my cell phone, to call his buddies and leave no record traceable to him. He’s dirty. Couldn’t use his own cell phone to call people to haul away the goodies. Mine! Mine goodies. I mean my druggies. Lighter now, won’t be long. Head hurts. I didn’t think it was supposed to take this long to die.
Somebody’s tugging at my soul. No, wallet. Tugging at my wallet. Everyone’s so surprised when they find the badge inside, especially Carlos. Makes his story sound pretty fishy. Good. Damn good. Squirm baby, squirm.
The friends I’d met during my junior year put me through an accelerated training course during my next summer vacation. After graduation I took a two week refresher course then joined the DEA as an unofficial undercover asset two days before I left for Peru.
When I got back to the States I began working my way up the scumbag ladder, looking for the big guy, the one at the top. Carlos wasn’t the top rung, but he was close, and we were going to take him and try to turn him in hopes of reaching the number one guy, but my guys got lost somehow and I got shot. Turns out Carlos wasn’t what we thought he was anyway. Turns out he was worse, a bad cop. Not my problem anymore.
My mind is clearer now that I’ve left my body behind, but the fear is still there. I tried to do good. I tried to make amends. I tried to erase the black stain from my soul.
I’m going now, I can feel it. Not rising, not ascending to heaven, not going down a tunnel, just… going. Going in a direction I could not have gone when I had a body to impede me. As I go I can feel all the accumulated baggage of a lifetime dropping away, piece by piece, the once fiery rocket of my life shedding its stages as it ascends to glory... or destruction.
I am going home. I feel that. Going home to face the music. Unsure of the tune, uncertain of the outcome.
No one really knows how long it takes to die. No one knows when our minds shut off, when we stop seeing and feeling what is going on around us. No one knows when consciousness flees or where it goes when it leaves. No one knows what doors death opens for us, or how difficult it will be to pass through them. No one knows. It is the uncertainty that frightens us so, that once frightened me.
Rod Serling always said, “There’s a signpost up ahead”, so I am unsurprised to see a signpost appearing out of the shadows. With a sense of relief and a rising, almost giddy excitement, I rush forward into a wondrous uncertainty.
Dying time is done.