Sometimes I wonder, if Carter were still alive, would he still like those late night trips to Taco Bell, or those stupid Lifetime movies where he’d sit and turn out the lights and you swear he’d have a tear in his eye, a small glint but you wouldn’t want to say anything… or the laugh he had that could break any awkward silence and turn heads.
I don’t know, but Carter was full of life and he deserved more than the life he was dealt. Not a bad kid; just a kid who did a bad thing because he went against the grain, and this happens to tons of people tons of days out of the year and he was just the unlucky one in this mess we call life. But I can’t dote on these things – I have a story to tell, because something tells me that Carter would have liked it. You know, getting it out there, like the millions upon billions of stories he told us, not even caring if they were credible or not.
My father was a trucker and if there was one thing he taught me about truckers, it’s that they adopt a no-shit lifestyle. My friends and I stood out at the end of the road that turned off onto the highway, seven years old, and motioned for the truckers to blow their horns only to have a few of them give a fake, half-assed smile and pull their little horn just to get we annoying fuckers to leave the next ones alone. But it didn’t satisfy our need, and we’d continue this lifestyle until one day, my father walked out of the house and caught us.
He yelled and drunkenly slurred something about, “One day you’re going to piss someone off with your little shenanigans and something bad is going to happen.” But we kept playing our little games and suddenly those seven-year-old kiddie games turned into fourteen-year-old games of dare.
You see, my friends and I played this little game called, “Ditch or Die.” It’s as simple as this: You listen to the roar of a tractor trailer coming down the road, and as it nears and comes extremely close, close enough to hit you and smear your guts all over the street, you jump out in front of them and cross the street as quickly as possible, to the point where it scares the living shit out of the driver, gets a horn reaction, or causes them to brake quickly. And then when your friend makes it, like they always do, they run into the woods and you follow behind them, snickering the entire way home about the near-death experience you just stupidly caused yourself or a friend.
The game was like an unspoken secret between Carter, Angel, Robert and I and we chose to play it at dusk or before midnight hit when we would tread home under the comfort of street lights and head off in different directions to each separate home. Since my father was away and the rest of my friends came from broken homes, they never wondered where we were so late at night, and this is part of why stupid games like “Ditch or Die” came to be – because nobody really cared about our safety and we were out to test the waters and act like idiotic little children all the time.
One particular night we had all just taken a walk to the corner store and were finished eating our fifty-cent snacks when we decided it was dark enough to play a round of our favorite game. We headed out to the underpass, nearly abandoned at this time of night, but full of trucks as the employed were heading to their destinations all over the country, heading into different states and going about their nightly routine journeys as usual. My father had been down south on a mission for the past two days and I hadn’t been expecting him home for at least another 20 or so hours judging by what he had told my mother, but it seemed that there was a lot of action on this particular night to accompany our game.
First went Angel. Robert joked in his sing-song pre-teen voice, “Make it across the road or else you’ll become an angel tonight!” It was a joke we didn’t usually use on each other as it was a bit morbid, but we knew there was always a chance that a truck would be going too fast so we pushed each other with slurs to make it across.
Angel chose a red big rig and just as she was passing, the horn blared as we watched behind trees in the woods. She got to the other side and kept running and the rig kept going, its horn blaring away and an angry fist out the window. He didn’t even slow down, he knew that it was some idiot kid who had taken the chance of a lifetime. She was howling in laughter from the other side of the road and one by one, lured Robert and I across the street as new trucks came. I went a little too early (Robert said I just “pussed out”) and the truck didn’t even notice that a kid had run out in front of it. Robert got one to slam on its brakes, and the driver opened his door to look for the fat figure of a child he had almost hit, but then he just shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and kept driving. And then it was Carter’s turn.
We waited a good ten minutes of zero action or small cars passing by, and then a gold truck came around the bend into sight. It was a familiar look for trucks in the area and we snickered as we called across the street to Carter, urging him on, calling him a pussy and the likes. Carter was secretly afraid of the game and, as the smarts of the group, tended to tell us about how stupid it was and how one day it would get us into trouble, not thinking of any other consequences. Being the most reasonable in the group earned him a lot of heckling but he still played the game and kept us well entertained – Carter was like the life of the group, always having something to say, and we knew that he loved us through anything. “Here I come!” he screamed as he started running across the road, the trek seeming like forever.
And then he tripped on a pothole…and then he fell.
“CARTER!” Angel screamed, but before she could completely finish her screech of terror, we heard the crunch of hundreds of bones being sucked under a too-huge tire and shattering to pieces. It was this lurching sound like a liquified mess being sucked up into a vacuum, and then the last screech of utmost horror like a cat being flattened, followed by a bitter silence besides that of a truck screeching to its stop and us running through the forest, never looking back.
We left our friend that day, and vowed in the middle of the woods to never play “Ditch or Die” again, not even in his memory. There was regret to follow us after that night, I bet we were all thinking about it in our beds that night and a long time to come. That night I was unable to catch a wink of sleep and stayed up all night thinking about our friend and how there was no way he survived the crunch, or how we left some poor trucker to clean up the mess and call the police to report the fact that he had smashed some poor kid lifeless into the road on his way home, on some meaningless journey.
I woke up the next day and heard my parents talking downstairs, my mother’s usual upbeat voice, and my father’s usual tired voice as it was when he came home from a mission.
When I came into view in the hallway, my father appeared and, almost seemingly trembling, he came over and gave me a hug and said, “I have to go catch some sleep Son, it was a really long night.” I was feeling shaken up, knowing my father would be so let down if he knew what had happened to us the previous night. I just nodded my head and, zombified, got on with my day.
Sometime in the afternoon Angel got ahold of me and asked me to come over because she needed somebody to talk to, so I hurriedly threw on my shoes and ran outside. Before I could get out of our long driveway, I noticed my father’s gold truck pulled up beside our house, a hose sitting next to it, and the yard somewhat flooded with water.
He had given it a thorough, proper wash sometime in the middle of the night. He had never washed his truck past midnight before – any other time he would have just parked it, went to bed with my mother, and worried about it in the morning. I walked up to the truck and I climbed the small ladder to the door, only to peer inside and shriek at the top of my lungs.
There, on the seat, was a white sneaker. Carter’s size.