If a Butterfly Flaps Its Wings…
Robert Wrecks It
The highway was almost deserted as Robert navigated his minivan towards home. Behind him, his three children slept; in the darkness, Robert smiled to himself. A Newbery, he thought. 20 years listening to critics take my work apart at the seams….and now…a fucking Newbery medal. Winners had been announced earlier in the day; Robert’s latest book of children’s poetry, titled Teddy Bear Dreams, was among them. He’d written it for his children, and his editor didn’t want to publish it, but he’d insisted. He was certain critics would obliterate it as simplistic, derivative even. Instead, they’d loved it. And now he’d won one of the most prestigious awards given for children’s literature. His smile widened; the world was suddenly a glorious place.
He was approaching his exit; the last underpass was coming up. He noticed briefly that there were people on top, close to the guardrail. What the actual fuck, he thought. He caught a quick glimpse of something dropping from the bridge, and tried to swerve, but it was too late. An object — dark and round —crashed through the windshield, landing unceremoniously in the passenger seat. His swerve only added momentum as the van spun out. The brakes locked, tires screeching, and then the van flipped over neatly, three times, like an elephant performing gymnastics, finally landing with a hollow crunch on its roof. The silence following the crash was deafening.
Dazed and bleeding, Robert fumbled with his seatbelt, finally releasing it, only to fall two feet onto the car’s roof, adding a bitten tongue to his injuries. One of his outstretched arms landed on something cold and wet on the passenger seat. Dimly, he could hear his children screaming. He couldn’t see them, there was too much blood in his eyes and the world was still spinning, but their terrified screams immediately spurred him to move. Slowly, he started to crawl on his hands and knees towards those cries. The smell of gas was overpowering. Two feet away from the driver’s seat, the van shifted with a sound of metal on metal —
And then the world exploded in a white-hot blast.
Sarah Sees Everything
Sarah sat on the uncomfortable wooden bench, waiting with no real anticipation for the bus that would, hopefully, take her to work. She wondered for the umpteenth time if the mechanic fixing her car was stalling her because she was a woman; a few days had turned into a couple of weeks, and a couple of weeks had now become a month. Every time she talked to him, it seemed it was going to take longer for the repairs to be finished.
She started to turn back to the book, Teddy Bear Dreams, on her lap, but movement on the other side of the road caught her eye. A small child, perhaps 4, was trying, without much success, to ride a bicycle. Her outfit spoke of an independent spirit (and perhaps a little parental exasperation): shorts, a long-sleeved flannel shirt, and red cowboy boots. Tracy watched as she slowly pushed the bike to the top of the driveway where a cinderblock acted as a step stool, climbed laboriously onto the bike, and tried to coast down to the road. Each time, the bike wobbled three feet and then fell over on its side; every time, the girl pushed it back to the starting point and tried again.
Sarah found herself rooting for the little girl’s success, watching each attempt with her breath held, willing the bike to stay upright. For the next ten minutes, her entire attention was fastened on the age-old conflict between four-year-olds and gravity. Finally, the child found the perfect balance; the bike coasted smoothly down the driveway with its rider – whose feet wouldn’t even reach the pedals – perched triumphantly on top.
Sarah had just raised her hands, intending to clap for the child’s success, when the sound of a car motor roared to life in the background. A Mustang raced around the corner and sped down the street towards them down the road. Sarah gasped, hands over her mouth; the little girl never saw the vehicle at all.
The bike rolled down the driveway and into the street. The Mustang hit its brakes, but it was not enough, and it crashed into the bike, throwing the girl twenty feet through the air and onto the pavement, where she rolled a couple of times and then lay motionless just a few feet from where Sarah sat in shock at the suddenness of the crash. The driver’s door opened, and a young man started to lift himself out of the seat. He caught Sarah’s eye and froze like a deer in the headlights. For a moment, Sarah and the driver were frozen, staring wildly at one another. A light seemed to dawn in his eyes. Sarah realized he was going to run just a bare second before he dropped back into the driver’s seat and gunned the motor. By the time she opened her mouth to say….something, anything, he was speeding away, the Mustang’s back-end fishtailing as the car disappeared over a hill.
The silence once the car disappeared seemed to spin out forever.
TJ Takes a Walk
Friday nights are so freakin’ boring, TJ thought. It was just him, his older brother, and a couple of guys from school, all hanging around the living room with nothing to do. The TV played a talk show mindlessly in the far corner. Some old bag was talking about a book that had won some lame medal; he could just barely make out the title. Teddy Bear something. The old bag sounded like she was gonna stroke out from the excitement. Lame AND boring. He turned his attention back to the group, where his brother was talking with growing enthusiasm.
“Yeah, man, it’s just layin’ by the fence, hard as a fuckin’ rock. Bet we could drop it from the overpass, see if it smashes or fuckin’ bounces.”
It was a large watermelon. The plant had come up out of nowhere in the back yard last summer and produced a single watermelon When it died two months ago, in November, the watermelon, instead of rotting, had hardened as it sat, neglected, in its place near the fence. TJ had all but forgotten about its existence.
Sure, he thought, why not. It’s not like there’s gonna be traffic this late at night. “Let’s do it,” he said, standing up, “Tom Steed overpass’s just a few blocks down the road.”
His brother and one of his buddies took turns carrying the watermelon, which was indeed hard as a rock and very heavy. Five minutes later, the group was standing on the overpass, TJ balancing the watermelon on the guardrail with one hand. “Fire in the hole!!” he yelled, and let the watermelon drop. The group waited a few seconds, anticipating the thud as it hit the pavement below. Instead, the sound of tires squealing, breaking glass, and the unmistakable noise of a car crashing filled the air. TJ stared blankly at the group, eyes widening in shock. The others raced to the guardrail and peered over the edge. The smell of gas rose from the road below. Slowly, TJ looked over the rail to see what he’d done, and that’s when the vehicle suddenly exploded into flames. The rest of the group fell back, scrambling, running away. TJ got a rapid glance of a minivan in a full blaze, and then he, too, turned to run. The others had already scattered. He ran the few blocks home, dropped into the driver’s seat of his beat-up Mustang, and took off. He couldn’t shake the image of the wreck. He just drove, no plan, no destination, trying to outrun the sights and sounds of the burning van.
When the sun rose the next morning, TJ was still running.
Maggie Metes Justice
The courthouse was old, the metal detectors not working, when Maggie arrived for the hearing. A sheriff’s deputy waved her through impatiently. The bailiff nodded briefly at her as she took a seat in the gallery. An eyewitness – Sarah something — stood near the prosecutor’s table, waiting to be called for her testimony. There were only a handful of other people at the hearing. The bailiff stood patiently at the side entrance, the one defendants used. An air of calm solemnity lay over the proceedings.
After the longest five minutes of Maggie’s life, the side door opened and a young man, handcuffed and shackled, was guided into the courtroom by two deputies. He looked far younger than she’d expected, just a kid, really. In another world, he’d be passing her French fries and drinks through a drive-in window; she would have looked at his pale, not-quite-finished face, muttered her thanks, and forgotten him immediately. But in this world? In this world, he’d run her Evie down, not even stopping to see if she was alive or dead. In this world, he had taken everything from her. When the doctor told her that Evie was dead, she’d collapsed into his arms in shock and grief, a grief that was still overpowering today, more than a year later. She hadn’t even been able to visit her daughter’s grave.
The memory of her last night with Evie haunted her with its innocent simplicity. She remembered getting her out of her bath, wrapping her warm, sturdy body in a towel, carrying her to her room to put on pajamas. Then reading to her from her new favorite book, Teddy Bear Dreams. Just a quiet, ordinary night, not knowing it would be their last. If I had only known…she thought hopelessly. But she didn’t know, didn’t savor those last moments. And now her daughter was gone.
He was nearing where she sat. She eased the gun out from under her shawl and stood up, moving into the center of the aisle, blocking his path. His bloodshot eyes took in the gun, then her face, then the gun again. He raised his handcuffed arms in front of his face as if they could protect him; she lifted the gun and pulled the trigger. Her first shot went wild; the recoil of the gun jerking her arm up and around. The bullet struck the witness in the throat, and she collapsed to the ground while the attorneys scrambled for cover. Maggie locked her elbows, tightened her grip, and pointed the gun at her daughter’s murderer, firing two more times in quick succession The young man fell backwards against the deputies, red blooming suddenly on the front of his orange jumpsuit.
Dimly, Maggie heard deputies shouting at her to drop the gun, but she couldn’t unlock her fingers from the trigger. She saw them raise their guns at her, and realized it didn’t matter, anyway. Nothing mattered anymore.
AP: A shooting in a Norman, Oklahoma courthouse today has left 3 dead, including the shooter.. The dead are identified as TJ Ruiz, 19, on trial for manslaughter in connection with a hit and run last year, Sarah Thomas, 33, a witness to the accident, and the shooter, Maggie Lawson, 36, mother of the victim of the hit and run. Police confirm…
AP: The Newbery medal was posthumously awarded to Robert Werthly, 45, for his book of children’s poetry, Teddy Bear Dreams. Werthly and his 3 children were killed last year in a single car accident on I-40 near Harrah, Oklahoma………
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