Welcome to the fifteenth installment of Fiction Fridays, where I post a new short story each week. Today we reach our final edition of our series within a series.
If you haven’t read the previous three stories, I’ve been sharing deleted scenes from my novel THE LAST NIGHT. You can read the special announcement to learn more or check out the story archive. Otherwise, read on…
If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry; you can still enjoy these pieces just like any other Friday story. However, readers familiar with the novel will get more out these interactions — particularly this one. While it didn’t make the final cut, it remains an essential moment in this character’s life, which still resonates in the background of the published book.
So let’s continue…
Semi-spoiler alert: THE LAST NIGHT is about two friends, Alex and Ed who go in search of Alex’s birth parents. They track Alex’s birth father, David, to a remote town in the California dessert. This sequence was removed only because the book is narrated by Ed, and it would have broken from his point of view. Fortunately, what you’re about to read has been included in the screenplay adaptation for it grants an important glimpse into one of the novel’s more enigmatic characters.
Thanks for taking this journey with me this past month. I hope you’ve enjoyed these excerpts as much as I enjoyed revisiting them.
Stats: 1544 words. Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 43 seconds.
David awoke in the emergency room at Southern Inyo Hospital. The slow chirping of a heart monitor synced with his blinking as he struggled to focus on his new surroundings. The room was shadowed and cold. He lifted his head, but the motion induced a pressure in the center of his forehead and he dropped it back to the pillow.
The chirping continued. He located the piercing sound one bed over, attached to a man with bruised eyes and a bandage wrapped around his shaved head. David raised his hands to see whether his head was wrapped the same way. There was no gauze. Running his fingertips over his scalp, he flinched when they reached his forehead. He gingerly touched it again. A lump. A big one. He examined the rest of his body. He saw no casts or slings. Only his left elbow was dressed. His finger lifted the bandage to evaluate underneath. He considered only a scraped elbow minor damage despite the full-body hangover.
He wondered how he got here. He remembered a car, without headlights. He turned around just before they collided, and even then he barely saw it. But something happened before the car. What was it?
He’d never seen the boy before. Yet those light eyes and dark hair, the structure of his mouth and nose. He looked just like her.
David made sure no one other than his fellow injured was in the room before he attempted to get up again. This time he pushed forward despite the throbbing. He gritted his teeth and sat upright. The pain subsided enough for him to relax a moment. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, planted his bare feet on the icy linoleum. His right leg stiffened under his weight, but he forced himself to step forward anyway. He exchanged his drafty hospital gown for his jeans draped over a nearby chair, then slid one arm through his asphalt-stained white shirt. Then he carefully replaced his bandaged arm back into the cotton elbow spotted with dried blood.
Outside his room, early morning light filled the hallway. He knew his way around the small hospital after various visits throughout his life. He hobbled down toward the front desk only to find an empty chair. The nurse must have been getting coffee to begin her day. So he left.
He walked the mile or so back to Frank’s Bar. When his truck was in sight, he looked around for the boy again. He scoffed at how absurd the idea was — as if he’d still be waiting there. He looked at the corner where he’d stood only hours ago. He tried to picture the boy’s concerned face. Then he remembered, just before he blacked out, he saw the boy dial his cell phone. Had he called the ambulance?
David’s heart quickened. He stopped his thought and hurried to his car.
For some reason, the cabin’s normal aroma of woodchips and motor oil smelled particularly strong today. He turned the key in the ignition. The engine and radio roared to life, and his finger stabbed the volume button to stop the pounding in his head. The leather seat groaned as he settled in with relief.
He drove home, taking his time around turns, as the sun cleared Keynot Peak and spilled into the valley. His home was a welcomed sight as he climbed the unpaved driveway. It seemed like forever since he was last here when it had only been twelve hours — still too short a time to process what had happened. He slid the shifter into park, turned off the ignition.
Walking toward the side door, he twirled his lucky key ring around his finger. The feel of the keys’ lopsided spin around the D-shaped loop — Ol’ Red, as he called it; a scratched, red carabiner from a particular rock climbing trip — reinstated a sense of the familiarity.
The door hinges creaked. Inside, he relished the fragrance of coffee as well as the vacuum sound of the door’s snug fit. He tossed Ol’ Red on the kitchen counter. Despite the bitter smell of the Starbucks roast, he switched off the timer on the coffee maker and headed upstairs. He didn’t even take off his shoes when he collapsed on the bed.
David awoke with the sun in his face. It must have been afternoon since his bedroom windows faced west. Yup, two o’clock, according to the travel-sized timepiece on his nightstand. He rolled over to figure why he’d slept so late, but one look at his dirty shirt and still-laced sneakers helped him remember.
He needed to move. He felt lazy staying in bed any longer than necessary. He always had to go go go. He kicked off his shoes, replaced them with work boots. In the bathroom, he redressed his elbow and popped some four Tylenol to numb his head and arm.
Pulling a T-shirt over his head, he made his way downstairs. He paused at the bottom landing. He looked to the finished living room on his left, slightly tempted by the appealing sofa and television. He thought better of resting. He’d slept enough. Instead, he lifted the clear tarp on his right separating the livable half from the unfinished portion of the house.
He pressed play on the stereo atop his workbench. The speakers warmed with the brass sounds of Miles Davis. Jazz cleared his head unlike any other music. He found it both soothing and energizing. He didn’t know why. That’s just the way it was. Already feeling the calming effects of Davis’ trumpet as well as the Tylenol, David marched toward the wooden skeleton that would later become his new sunroom.
He worked for hours. He marked beams with a pencil, cut them with the smooth power of the miter saw, savoring the smell of sawdust. He fired nails atop the frame, keeping rhythm with the faint sound of the drums. He pictured himself silhouetted against the falling sun: the image of the quintessential craftsman.
David enjoyed his solitude until he heard a car coming up the driveway. The crunching of tires over dirt and the popping sound of rocks grew louder until the sheriff’s cruiser rounded the final turn over the hill. David climbed down. He hopped through the open wall and landed on the ground below.
The sheriff stepped out of his squad car and greeted David with a grin.
“How’s the addition coming?” the sherriff asked.
“A little at a time, Harold.” David wiped the sawdust off with a rag so they could shake hands.
“Any idea when you’ll finish?”
“Did you really come all the way up here to chat about my house?”
“Of course not. I came to see how you’re doing after last night. That and I told Dorothy at the hospital that I’d get you to sign your release forms.”
He pulled out a clipboard. David searched for a way to sign until Harold clicked a pen out of his pocket.
“Where’d you get off to in such a hurry?” the sheriff continued. “The nurse said she came to check on you this morning and you were gone?”
Without raising his eyes, David replied, “Had things to take care of.”
“She said you should drop by to get checked you out.”
“You sure? Looks like you were limping a second ago.”
“Really, I’m fine.”
“I forgot: you’re hardcore. Don’t forget to initial there.”
David scribbled a DM and the date and returned the clipboard.
“Well, I’ll tell Dorothy you’re alive. Just give her a call if you need anything.”
The sheriff slid back in his cruiser. He shifted the gear just as David waved his hand and said, “Wait.”
He took a moment to reevaluate his question, but decided to ask anyway. “Do you know who called the ambulance?”
Harold shrugged. “Some good Samaritan.”
“Did they go to the hospital or leave their name?”
The sheriff shook his head. “Probably someone just passing through. All the same, you have someone looking out for ya.” He repositioned his hat. “Word to the wise: try to avoid playing in the street next time.”
David managed a smile. He watched the sheriff drive down the mountain when he noticed another car by the tree line: a black Mustang.
He rubbed the fatigue from his eyes, and the Mustang was gone. David only imagined it. No. He remembered it there yesterday.
He’d seen the car a couple times. The sun had blocked it in his rear-view mirror, and its windows were too heavily tinted to make out the driver. Was it the same car? It had to be. You didn’t see many of those around here. The thought had crossed his mind that it might have been following him, but he hadn’t given it much credibility at the time.
David turned back to the house, lifted himself back over the foundation. He crossed under the wooden ribs of the sunroom to his dusty workbench and clicked stop on the CD player mid note. He grabbed his keys and left before the Mustang returned. He didn’t know where he was heading. He just had to go.