This story is by David J. Brown and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Keep it Simple
Lies, so many Lies! Jake had heard enough. Plausible deniability. Shady alibis. There must be a way to know the Truth.
Few things darken a sunny day like jury duty. This was the fifth time Jake had been called. Each time it was about the same thing. Drugs. Jake hoped he wasn’t picked so he could go home with his ten-dollar paycheck. But today he had not been so lucky. He had been chosen to be on the jury.
He had tried to be too radical like that one fella who kept saying ‘everyone takes drugs, even chocolate is a drug.’ That guy never got picked.
Jake hadn’t grown up around drugs, he had heard of them. His second cousin had been in prison for drugs. Jake had been a little whipper-snapper when that went down, and it had made an impression at the right time. Drugs did not enhance life in the long run. And drugs were hard to get in prison, at least that’s what his second cousin told him when Jake’s dad took him to visit.
The crazy thing about it was Marijuana was legal in Oregon now, it was difficult to determine the scope of influence, what was caused by it, and how much could be credited to inherent stupidity? The guy loved pot. He said so. But was it his fault that the car flew out of control, ricocheted off another car and pole vaulted into the icy Columbia River killing his girlfriend and her kid?
It wasn’t a case of right and wrong. It was a case of wrong or wronger.
Jake didn’t have a problem with beer, so he swung into the Rivertap for a brew. God knew he deserved one.
He sat there at the bar, a frothy brew in his hand. The tv playing silently above the taps. It went on about robberies, drug raids, child molesters.
I can’t say it was the beer that night, but I’m sure everything factors into those occasions when a person gets a radical notion in their head. But Jake decided something that night.
He would find a way to know the truth.
When he got home that night, Jake immediately perused the internet. He became painfully aware that the internet contained every version of the truth you could ever want. Every conspiracy theory had 20 explanations with varying amounts of evidence.
After several hours Jake realized how little he actually knew. The only news he could believe wholly in the past few days, had been about a landslide along the river, and a few days later when the traffic opened up, he drove by and saw evidence of it. It might actually have happened, but 99 percent of the rest of it he had no way of knowing for himself. The only real way to know is to experience.
Jake had a crazy childhood friend who worked on the fringes of sanity. They had known each other since they were 5 years old, and Isaac had come up with some clever stuff.
To save time, we will call it Regressive Location Hypnotism. Isaac had claimed to go to locations and observe what had happened. He had seen Mt. St. Helens erupt, and watched Harry Truman’s last moments. He had gone back to Sasquatch sightings and watched the creatures run about. He might have even gone to New York and watched the Trade Center attacks. Isaac said about himself that he knew too much.
Jake drove the secluded road to Isaac’s house the next morning.
The two men slipped into the basement, where Isaac’s laboratory waited.
“What’s up Jake? Something’s eating at you.”
Jake ran his fingers thoughtlessly over a copper coil as he prepared to pad Isaac ego.
“Can you take me to a location and and do that thing you do with the helmets and wires?”
“What!?” Isaac let slip his surprise. “I thought you didn’t believe all that crap I was telling you. What’s happened to you?”
“I’m tired of all the bull. I want to know.” Jake stated.
“You can’t bring any proof back, though. You can only see.”
“But you could see things that you could prove in current time, right?” Jake asked.
“I suppose, If you haven’t regressed too far. What’s gotten into you? You usually don’t care?”
“I’ve always cared,” Jake said slowly. “I’ve never been in the position to do anything about it. Now that I’m on the jury, I have to decide between versions of the truth. I want to know what really happened.”
“ I don’t know if you want to mess with this Jake. It could get you into more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Knowing the truth could get me into more trouble? I don’t see how. I don’t want to live the rest of my life not knowing if I put an innocent man behind bars. I need to know.”
“Cool!” Isaac smiled. “‘bout time you tried out one of my experiments.”
An hour later, Jake and Isaac had loaded up some equipment into Isaac’s van and headed out to the crash sight.
“So what happened according to the defense?” Isaac asked.
“Well, Mark was headed westbound on I-84, he was just coming up to Mosier, when he lost control of the vehicle for unknown reasons, flipped over the guardrail and sank into the water. He got out, he doesn’t remember how. But his girlfriend and her 3 year old child drowned. He is hesitant to say if he was heavily under the influence of pot, or mildly. He isn’t sure which one would have the least damaging effect on his sentence. So he doesn’t remember that either.”
“Ok, so Mark was either bad, or really bad. I don’t get why you’re so concerned?”
“The prosecution has a much different story. He intentionally veered into the guardrail to kill his girlfriend and child.”
“Does he have a motive to do that?”
“They indicated she may have been sleeping around and invoked his jealously.”
“Hmm.” Isaac raised an eyebrow. “Them there’s a lot of political type words. Sounds a little fishy. Did an autopsy prove any other foul play involved?”
“There was water in the lungs, her seat belt was still on, and there was no mention of concussion type injuries about the head. The child was still strapped into the carseat.”
“Who knows….” It was one of Isaac’s favorite sayings.
The guardrail was still bent over, so the location of the accident was easy to find. Isaac pulled the van onto the off ramp at Mosier and they walked back up the highway to the wreck site. Each carried a lawn chair and headgear.
They leveled spots off to set the chairs where they could observe the freeway and the river from the back side of the guardrail. Then making themselves comfortable, put on the headgear and relaxed.
It was a strange scene. Vehicles reversed, and flew backwards up the road. Barges backed into their wakes, leaves fluttered back to the trees. Things went faster, until they became a blur of movement. Then a giant splash near their location made Isaac bring the reversal to a stop. They sat watching up the road.
Jake noticed as he waved to the vehicles passing by that no-one noticed him. He didn’t actually exist here. He was only a witness. Where they had leveled the rocks to set the chairs had returned to their former positions. The chair merely disappeared into the stones.
An hour went by. Isaac was in the middle of apologizing for backtracking too far, when they heard a squeal from up the Interstate. Here came the blue Honda Civic. It was exceeding the speed limit by about what a Civic would do. Jake could make out Mark at the wheel, frantically beating at his head, then grabbing at the wheel at the last second, overcorrecting and launching into the river. The car sank quickly into the river. Mark bobbed up moments later thrashing about frantically.
A vehicle that saw the incident pulled up to help. The tall sleek man was already on his phone as he hurried from his vehicle. Jake heard this bit of the conversation as he walked by Jake and Isaac lounging in the lawn chairs.
“….in the water, yes. Subject has surfaced, on busy thoroughfare. Orders?” The man was silent as he walked out of earshot.
“Isaac, can we move about?”
“I don’t know, never tried it. You might ‘wake out’, and lose it all.”
They watched the man swim out to Mark, inject him with a syringe as he pulled him back to shore, he lay him on the shore, Mark appeared unconscious.
The stranger was checking Mark’s pulse, when he suddenly wheeled around to stare in Jake and Isaacs direction. He searched the bare rocks uneasily.
Other cars had stopped, soon after emergency vehicles arrived. The savior disappeared into the crowd, and left. Jake memorized the license plate.
A week had past and the next hearing was under way. So much of what he saw wasn’t even mentioned.
Mark was up for questioning, the defense questioned first.
“You said you enjoyed pot. What exactly do you enjoy the most about the experience?”
Mark answered quickly. “I enjoy the concentration on any one subject, anything can be so fascinating, it’s all so profound, but at the same time you create no new memories while high, so all the profoundness is in there,” he pointed at his head. “You just can’t remember it.”
Jake could hold it in no more.
“Do you remember the man who pulled you back to shore?” he blurted out.
Mark shot Jake a startled expression. “I can’t remember. I thought I swam back myself.”
“Objection.” The prosecution interrupted.
Jake wasn’t allowed to question any further. And was quickly removed from the jury.
Jake sat at his favorite restaurant the following Saturday. He wondered if he had been the cause of Mark’s ‘suicide’. There was definitely something fishy going on.
Suddenly he became aware of a man sitting down at his table. He smiled politely.
“Yes?”Jake answered nervously.
“The Truth is a strange thing. Not something you want to toss about carelessly. It is a dangerous weapon. Fortunately, most people won’t believe it. And the people who do are usually of no importance, or soon to be.”
“Who are you?” Jake was aware the man was familiar.
“It doesn’t matter. But what does matter, Jake, do you enjoy your life?”
“Most of the time. Why?”
“Those who dig the well of truth, find a grave full of the bones of a thousand martyrs. Then, the well is often filled back in before they can shout the news. Or return to the surface.”
The man stood. Dropped a 20 on the table. Smiled and said as he left. “Keep it simple Jake, one day you’ll realize that’s what you always wanted anyway.”