Sleepers Unbound #7: The Rule of the Game is There Are No RulesJan 3, 2017
Sarah Jewel’s diary
August 3, 2016
Sometimes it takes a death in the family. Other times, it takes a death of a stranger. But it always takes a death for the living to go on living.
A fat man in a tight black AC/DC t-shirt sat down at the workstation beside me: Workstation Eight. He was breathing like a freight train was lying on his chest. In my periphery, the man’s mouth was hanging agape, saying FEEDME—FEEDME—FEEDME! A roll of marble-white blubber had fallen out from beneath his shirt onto his lap. His arms were buried under a carpet of pubic-like hair. The computer mouse clicked beneath his heavy forefinger, and he leaned over in my direction, saying with a bubble in his throat, “You know they block the porn websites?”
I scoffed and rolled my eyes, locked the computer and left without looking at him. I grabbed the empty Styrofoam cup and headed for the Coffee Lounge to snag a third—Fourth? Fifth?—cup of black coffee. It was a new brew, extra bold. Susy, you doll-face, I thought. Susan Blackburn is the master librarian. She’s responsible for coordinating all the events that take place at the library, and she’s also the person responsible for the new computers. (And, most importantly, she brews the coffee.)
The New Castle Public Library houses a brag-worthy selection of digitized newspapers. There’s even the entire history of the Tribune Graphic (a southern-Indiana paper that stopped circulating in the mid-80s). The archive is housed in a windowless room called the Projector Room. It’s a blocky machine that stands waist-high and perpetuates an incessant hum—similar to a dish-washer—which is why it’s kept in its own domain closed off from the rest of the library. Every spread can be searched by date and promptly brought up on one of four monitors connected directly to the archive. You sign in on the log hanging by the entrance to the room with your name and account number and wallah.
The only other name on the log was from August 1st at eight in the morning. That’d be yours truly.
I pushed a button on the monitor and a blurry screen winked awake. In the KEYWORD search box, I typed the words: new+castle+fatal+car+accident. In the date section, I typed: april+2014 and hit enter on the keyboard. The machine croaked angrily as it searched for the criteria, and I sip[ed delicately at Susan’s classic brew, waiting patiently. Mom and Dad would tell you I’ve moved on. They’d say something like, “You’ve come a really long way, Sarah. We couldn’t be more proud of you.” And then they’d undoubtedly say, “If there’s anything we can do. We just want our little Jewel back.” They’d smile gingerly and call me a hero.
A newspaper clipping blinked into the scope of the computer screen. I sat my cup of coffee next to the keyboard and leaned forward, my chin resting square in the palm of my right hand. The flutter of my heart intensified. I could feel it beating behind my chest. The newspaper clipping spoke of a car accident in April of 2014—on the back-roads of southern Gnaw Bone county minutes from midnight. A sixteen-year-old sophomore, Abbi Porter, was driving home from a party. She was sober save for a small amount of THC in her bloodstream. She was getting a text from her boyfriend, Tommy, about how sorry he was. About how much he loved her. About how little he enjoyed kissing Brittany Sinclair’s neck in his parent’s upstairs bedroom. Abbi was crying profusely at this point, wiping her eyes with the cuff of her jacket. With each incoming text, she’s forgetting how often she had traveled those back-roads, and she’s forgetting how sharp the roads turn around Mr. Boyd’s bean-field. She felt like crying herself to sleep. She just wanted to get home; she wanted to tell her mother about how right she was about Tommy.
The article said the car flipped six times before coming to rest in the brook at the base of the hill. It said she was traveling upwards of 40 MPH when it happened, and Porter was ejected from the vehicle mid-air. Her body landed in the water. A good-Samaritan named Sarah Jewels was the first to the scene. The area where the accident occurred is a dead-zone. Jewels was unable to reach the authorities. She located Porter’s body and attempted to wrap her injuries with pieces of clothing on her person. Jewel sat with the young girl until the accident was discovered hours later by a second passing vehicle. An emergency helicopter was called to the scene. Porter died at the scene, and Sarah Jewels stared into the girl’s glassy eyes and watched it happen.
It didn’t say that last part. But it’s true. It’s also true that Sarah Jewels heard Abbi’s last words. She said she loved Tommy more than she ever loved another boy, and one mistake shouldn’t define a person. Especially Tommy. “He’s such a good boy,” she said.
Fast forward two years and I still can’t stop thinking about her. I feel like I’ve known Abbi my entire life. Part of me wishes we were sisters. Maybe I could have stopped her from ever being with Tommy or going to that party. We could have been best friends. Sisters who did everything together. She could have leaned on me and I on her.
If we had been sisters, it might have changed everything.
Some things for the better, sure. Probably mostly for the better. For instance, I wouldn’t have had to grow up feeling lonely. The worst thing a parent can do for a child is never having another. An only child has too much time. Always thinking and pondering and being curious. A person shouldn’t have that much time to let their mind wonder. It’s dangerous. Scary, even. A person with time can do anything they want to do.
If Abbi had been my sister, maybe I wouldn’t have finished school. Maybe I wouldn’t have had time to read the Nicholas Sleeper novels. I wouldn’t have written all those short stories, some of which, in my opinion, should never have been published in the first place.
More importantly, perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see Abbi Sinclair die that night. Or feel the weight of her body relax as she took her last breath. And if that hadn’t happened, I would never know what it is to be happy. To be truly, completely happy.
The truth is, I will always love you, Abbi. Everything I do is for you. Every word I write, is because you have given me inspiration. I need you in my life now, in a way that you never could have been if you were still alive.
Forget the promise I made to you, about letting it all go. About keeping it contained. I thought it was wrong for me to feel. But it’s wrong not to. The abuse is in the denial. I won’t do that anymore. That’s my new promise, Abbi. You’ve given me this gift—this fascination—and opened my eyes to a new world.
Thank you for dying.
And thank you for letting me watch.
I will not let it go to waste.
When I got back to my workstation, the pervert was gone.
Posted August 03, 2016 11:36 AM
The first time I wrote this, none of you had shown up yet. I thought you never would. To be honest, I didn’t think this was real. Or that Miles Granger was really dead. I guess I was still in shock. I’ve had time to think about it, and I’ve decided I want to do this. I need this.
I could say I owe it to Miles, that it’s my responsibility to at least try, but even if those things weren’t true, I’d probably have come to the same conclusion: I love to write. It’s in my blood. I owe it to myself to do this.
I want this.
My name’s Sarah Jewel. I’m 22-years-old, and I live in New Castle, Indiana, and in case it’s not implied, I’m unemployed and live in mom and dad’s basement. My favorite color is purple, I hate sushi, and I’ve never ridden on a roller coaster. I’ve published nine short stories—all of them under a different pseudonym—and written three novels. All three have been annihilated from the face of the earth (or so those were my intentions).
But none of this matters. Most people skip the introduction. A story never starts with the antagonist saying “Hello.” It starts with the world imploding. Or the house on fire. Or the demon sucking noisily on his inconspicuous victim. The introduction is never important.
A good writer saves the introduction for the middle of the story. After the fact.
If we’re going to do this, I say we do it right. We need rules. Organization. Collaboration. This is a writer’s group, basically, right? We have until the end of the month. They say one of us is going to replace Miles Granger, to continue writing his legacy. They’re not looking for a new voice, then. They’re looking for the same voice. (Keep that in mind, Pastor.) The Nicholas Sleeper novels are exaggerations of the truth. “Emphatic re-imaginings,” is I think how that reviewer from the Times put it. So it’s not enough to write solely from imagination. We have to write from experience. We have to live our stories. Something dramatic. Something more than just note-worthy. It has to be extraordinary. It has to steal their breath away.
And also—if any of us are going to have a shot—nothing can be off-limits. It must all stay here. Nothing leaves.
I’ve got my idea.
Have you got yours?
© Elliott J. Scott 2017. All Rights Reserved.