Hit Me Baby
by Jeff Hill
Sacred Chickens is delighted to publish this original story by Jeff Hill, a truly original writer and friend of the chickens.
Traveling back into the city from my small hometown of a less-than-impressive population of three hundred, I couldn’t help but think of what had transpired over the last week. I had quit my job, broken up with my girlfriend, lost my best friend, and the strangest thing is; none of those were what had changed me as a person. It was a strange encounter on the interstate that made me question everything I had ever known to be true, whether it was the laws of physics, the existence of a higher power, or even something as simple as the horribleness that lurks deep within every human being.
Psych ward patients are good listeners, and that is why I chose to work as a doctor in a low-security facility in the big city. Small town guy from a sheltered life, full of rich parents who don’t look it, six older sisters, one younger brother, and the notion of high school let alone college being unthinkable. That pretty much describes the first twenty years of my life. A doctor in psychiatry, living in a not-too-shabby apartment with his best friend of eight years, until just recently, and looking for a new reason to not give up on the entire female gender.
Let me go back to the beginning and fill you in on the back story of what will soon be regarded as “one hell of a week,” by my sisters. They’ll tell me, “Ryan, you should have just stayed at home with us and helped out with the farm.” I’ll begin by telling them about when I got off work and entered our apartment and how suddenly, out came a familiar man from the room that Tessa, my girlfriend, and I share. The man was tall, lanky, and I had known him for years.
He was my roommate in college, and until this very moment, the person I was going to ask to be my best man my wedding. Mike had always been a player and a drug addict, but then again, who wasn’t these days? That’s how we started hanging out in the first place. I was a dealer, trying to make it on my own without any work ethic – not knowing that my parents had been hiding away our family fortune. We met in an alley, made the deal, spoke briefly, and then returned to our respective dorm rooms. Ironically, that was our second meeting. We were, in reality, roommates. A partnership grew out of circumstance and fate, but the rest was a legitimate friendship. Until the moment I caught him with my girl.
It surprised me that she would betray me, but not as much as who she had done it with. We always used to joke around that Mike was more into little boys than grown women. It was a joke – but he seemed to love kids. The guy coached Little League every summer. Even when we got MIPs sophomore year, he did his community service time at the Children’s Museum.
Clean for six years now, I had no time for excuses about “spur of the moment” drug binges, drinking games, and the “accident” that followed. I kicked him out first, then her. I haven’t spoken to Tessa since that night, and it was to be the last time I’d see the face of the man who could have been my best and only friend. Except Leonard, that is. Leonard has always been there for me. He listens to me, lets me open up, but for some strange reason, I’ve never gotten to hear his story. You know, what makes him the way he is. See, Leonard is one of my patients. He doesn’t speak, can’t feed, or bathe himself without help from others, and is under twenty-four-hour surveillance on the suicide watch. A mystery. An enigma. A friend.
Finally admitting defeat and accepting the fact that I was going to have to just swallow my pride and explain to my family that the engagement was off, I started the drive back home. That’s when it happened, the first of many strange occurrences. It was around eleven at night, and I was trying to get home as fast as humanly possible, going about ninety miles per hour on the interstate, when my radio turned to static, and I changed the station. Searching for something that wasn’t static or late-night talk shows, I finally heard a popular song from about ten years ago. The lyrics of “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” filled the next few seconds of my drive. Man, I sure am glad that music has improved at least a little bit over the last few years.
Before I could react and change the station again, I glanced up at the road and saw the shape of a child. Even swerving, I couldn’t help but hit the kid head on, sending his bike flying into the air and trapping him onto the hood of my car. My windshield didn’t crack, but a mixture of the blood and the face of a little boy, no older than ten, covered my sight. Pulling to the side of the road, I made out the look of fear that I had forced to cover this boy’s face. His blond hair was now red, his face, pale. And with my fateful stop, literally only two seconds after the hit, the boy was gone.
“Fuck. Shit... Dammit. What the hell?” Getting out of my car, I frantically turned on my emergency lights and grabbed a flashlight from my glove box. “Kid? Kid?” I began. “You okay?” Dammit, Ryan. Of course, he’s not okay, I thought to myself. But I still searched for a few minutes. No sign of the bike or the kid, behind my car or in front of it. So, I pulled out my cell phone and called the police. They told me to stay put, and that an ambulance and the county sheriff was on his way. Those were the longest thirty-seven minutes of my entire life. It’s amazing how many people drive by when they see that you’ve been in an accident.
When the sheriff arrived, he told me to stay calm and then he took down my information. The police mounted a six-hour search but gave it up when they realized that there was no damage to my car, no broken windshield, no bike, no child, and strange enough, no blood. There was no sign of any kind of accident at all. They chalked it up to a nightmare, and they told me not to fall asleep at the wheel ever again. Where did the blood go? How did the bike just disappear? Why wasn’t anyone going to keep looking for that kid with the blue eyes and pale skin?
I was instructed to follow the sheriff to the nearest motel, only four miles away from the site of the mysterious accident. Not wanting any trouble, and sure as hell not wanting to add more drama to the lives of my family members, I simply obliged him and followed his lead. I fell asleep as the sun came up and didn’t wake up for over a day. I found it strange that no one bothered to call me in an attempt to follow up on the boy that I hit. Waiting around for another five or six hours, I simply picked up the phone in the motel room and dialed the number that the sheriff had given me the night of the accident.
I got a deputy. He was rude, and he was very brief. He told me to drop it, and said that they had real problems to deal with. If the police weren’t going to take me seriously, I supposed that there was no reason for me to worry about it. But I was still terrified of the ride home. That’s right. I was just going to go back to the city and tell my parents and siblings about the breakup over the phone. I was in no mood for them and their judgments and fake concerns.
Not planning, as usual, I ended up starting my drive at sundown. Wanting to get home more than fearing another accident, I simply walked to my car and tried to stay under the speed limit. Around three minutes into my drive back home, my radio started to get fuzzy again. Sure enough, that same damn song came on. “Hit Me Baby, One More Time.” Trying to ignore the irony in the song in my current state, I simply turned the radio off and kept my eyes on the road, slowing down to ten miles under the posted signs. The rest of the drive home, I was terrified, but alert. Two things came out of my ride home. No one was killed, and I needed a drink. The first was a good thing, the second… not so much.
Alcohol had become my drug when I quit taking illegal ones. It was part of the reason why I had never moved up in my line of work. Sure, the patients referred to me as “Doc,” but it was more out of a common courtesy. I was more than qualified to be their psychiatrist, but the time I spent in rehab prevented me from ever being able to complete my schooling. I was nothing more than an orderly, but the patients didn’t mind when I talked to them. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings took up the last two hours of my days, and it was starting to look like I had just wasted six long months of hard work in that group.
Getting drunk was probably the worst idea I’d had in a quite some time, but I still called up my buddy and old roommate. Instead of yelling at him or cursing his name, I simply told him what had happened on the interstate. I told him about the music, I told him about the accident, and I told him about the boy. Realizing about a minute-or-so into the conversation that it was in fact one-sided and on his answering machine, I simply hung up the phone and immediately regretted telling him the story. If only I knew how much importance that call was going to have that night.
The next morning, I woke up to my cell phone ringing. I didn’t recognize the number on the phone, so I simply ignored it and threw it across the bed. It wasn’t until that very moment when I realized how much I missed her. Tessa was the best thing that had ever happened to me. She helped me through rehab, she stood by me when I was kicked out of school, and she never once pressured me into anything. Even my family loved her. But she betrayed me, and that was that.
Getting up two hours later and preparing for work, even though I had already taken the whole week off, I decided to take a shower and treat myself to bacon and eggs. I could have stayed home all day, but it was much easier to just go into work and cancel my vacation. Besides, what else was I going to do all day? Walking to work, still a little hung over from last night’s binge, I decided it was time to check out who called me that morning. Whoever they were, they had left me a voicemail.
It was a brief message, and it still haunts me to this day: It was a cop, a detective, and he had bad news. The people staying next to my best friend’s hotel room heard strange noises last night in his room. Upon further investigation, the landlord found him hanging from the ceiling fan. The policeman wanted me to call him back as soon as possible. It turns out that I was the last voice that he heard. My message was still on his answering machine, and the cops wanted to ask me a few questions.
I immediately called Tessa. No response. Now what, I thought. How could this week possibly get any worse? I had no one to talk to, and I was sure as hell not going to talk to some damn cops. I hate cops. So, having no one else to talk to about my horrible ordeal that had taken up a good portion of my week, I talked to the one person who is always there for me. Always listening. I told my story to Leonard. True to form, he didn’t say anything, but I could tell he was listening to every word I told him.
Before I could get into the part about how my best friend committed suicide last night, I was rudely interrupted. It was a visitor. For Leonard? This was strange to me, because, as long as I had been here, no one had ever come to see Leonard. I was going to stay around and ask the guy who he was, but then I saw that he was wearing a badge. He was a cop. I had to get out of there; maybe it was best if I did just take the rest of the week off. Afraid to go to my apartment for fear of being interrogated and pushed for answers about my friend’s death, I walked to the library across the street and decided that I was going to take my mind off the situation. Ten minutes into the new Stephen King novel and I was fast asleep on the couches on the basement level.
I woke up covered in a cold sweat. I still can’t remember much of that nightmare, but I do recall one thing. The eyes. There were eyes following me around, everywhere I went. They were watching my every move. At first, I thought they were of my friend’s, but then that damn Britney Spears song came on. But it wasn’t just annoying, like usual. It was scary. I was terrified. It was distorted, and a little kid was simply humming it. It wasn’t coming from behind me, or in front of me, or even from another room. The song was coming from inside my head. The last thing I remember before I woke up was the face of the little boy, covered in blood, humming that song, and then a quick flash of a rope being pulled from a ceiling fan.
Beginning to feel like I had truly lost my mind, I left the library and started to run towards the police station. I needed to turn myself in. I needed to clear my head. It felt like I was using again, but that couldn’t be possible, could it?
As I reached the psych ward, I saw something unusual that brought me back to reality. Leonard was leaving with his visitor. And he was talking, though it was mixed with sobs and violent spasms, but talking, nonetheless. What had happened in those few short hours? Realizing that enough was enough and it was time to find out what was going on, I walked up to the officer and introduced myself as Leonard’s friend. Oddly enough, he knew my name. He knew a lot of things about me. As it turned out, he was the detective who had left a voicemail on my cell earlier that morning.
“You look like hell, kid,” he said to me. “We don’t really have any questions about your friend’s suicide. We’ve already talked to your girlfriend, and we’re very sorry about this whole thing. If there is anything we can do, here’s my card.”
He helped Leonard get into the car, shut the door, and walked back up to me. “I wasn’t completely honest with you, Ryan. There’s more to it than that. Leonard has been ill for quite some time, you see. Four years actually I just wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for him these past few months. It seems that whatever you were saying to him brought him out of his trance. The doctors say that he will make a full recovery within just a few short months, and I believe that is because of you. If you don’t mind me asking, what did you tell him?”
So, finally getting a captive audience that wasn’t crazy, I let it all out. My life, more-or-less. And the whole thing caught him off-guard. At first, I thought it was the fact that I was so open about everything, but then I realized that it was the description of my friend and how we met, what we did together, and the events of the last few weeks. I thought it was all just a really shitty week, but then he interrupted me.
“Wait a minute,” he started. “Are you saying that you hit a boy on the interstate near that old red motel? What did he look like?” He reached into his wallet and pulled out a picture of the exact same boy that I had hit. Dear God, what was going on? “This boy? Was it him?”
“Yeah! Fuck me, it was him! So, someone believes me! You’re finally going to investigate this thing?” I put out my hands and asked him to cuff me right then and there.
He didn’t, but rather proceeded to tell me a story about how he was a young deputy in the nineties and how he moved to the city to become a detective because of a brutal case that never reached its end. It turns out that Leonard wasn’t sick. He was traumatized. I never bothered to look at Leonard’s file because most of the patients in the ward were there because they had been crazy their whole lives.
“I was the officer who picked that boy up four years ago. He had been beaten within an inch of his life in the cornfield and was struggling to find help. Leonard was driving home from coaching his son’s baseball game when he hit the boy head-on. The trauma from the beating was what killed him, but Leonard never forgave himself. He stopped speaking and his wife reluctantly had him committed.” The officer began to wipe the tears from his eyes and put on his sunglasses. “Look, son… I appreciate what you did for Leonard, but I can’t have you leaving the city. I’ll be in touch.”
That afternoon, the police obtained a warrant for my apartment. Going through my friend’s things, they found a baseball jersey and bat that belonged to a boy. My call had ended my friend’s life, but he was already dead. He just didn’t know it yet. He was dead the minute he killed that little boy in the middle of the cornfield. We could never know what prompted the murder; just that Leonard was going to finally have a chance to live his life. His conscience destroyed him, but now it was clear.
The case remains open, but the killer isn’t going to strike again. As I drive home, I realize that this has in fact been one hell of a week. I’ve been trying to think about how to tell my parents about my best friend’s suicide, me not really being a doctor, and what I’ve been doing with my life since I went away to college. But then, as I see the boy along the side of the interstate, he waves to me, and the radio doesn’t turn on. Now I know the significance of that stupid song.
I’ve learned that the only way to get over an accident, is to get into a worse one. Putting everything in perspective can save lives. Sure, my friend was dead and so was the boy, but because of them, Leonard and I were finally going to start living our lives. I pick up my phone and dial Tessa’s number.
Redemption? Maybe not. But what about forgiveness? Sure, I suppose it’s time for something good to happen. My family goes back into the house and they all await my arrival. Tessa picks up.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” she returns.
Jeff Hill is a moderately reformed frat boy turned writer who left teaching after 10 years to split his time between Nebraska and New York and focus on his writing career. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and his mom has a binder full of copies for any doubters. He is the Chief Creative Officer of Comic Booked and is currently pitching the novels Dead Facebook Friends and Dead Week to agents in New York and Los Angeles. Jeff is a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a regular participant of the Sarah Lawrence College Summer Seminar for Writers, and a past faculty member of the Writer’s Hotel. He can be found on both Twitter and Patreon as jeffhillwriter.