This story is by D. A. Harrell and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
After six weeks on the run, a journey that spanned over two thousand miles, Josh parked at the entrance to Dead Man’s Rock—South Carolina’s highest scenic overlook. “Helluva way to spend your eighteenth birthday,” he said, threading his fingers through Fiona’s hair. “You sure about this?”
Fiona stared out the window as if in a trance. “Yeah. Are we high enough?”
“See that bench over there?” Josh pointed to a viewing platform, some fifty yards away. “Dad used to bring me here on weekends. We’d toss rocks over the ledge and count seconds till they hit the trees.”
“How many would it take?”
“Six. Seven if you threw really hard.”
Fiona lowered her window. A crisp October breeze wafted through the car, lifting a lock of her recently dyed hair off her shoulders. “I think I hear them.”
Josh studied the rearview mirror. The single-lane road behind them was flanked by rhododendrons and hollies. Dappled light sprinkled through their branches, splashing onto the blacktop in patches of reds and yellows. The scene would’ve made a great postcard or calendar photo until the first police cruiser appeared. “Yep. They’re here.”
The lead car stopped twenty yards away, blocking their exit. The officer flung open his door and crouched, gun raised. “Get out with your hands in the air!”
Fiona’s brown eyes flicked to the ignition. “Should we go now?”
“Nah. In a minute.” Josh removed his Glock from the glove compartment and fired two rounds into the sky. A crow squawked and winged away.
“What the hell are you doing?” Fiona asked. “He’ll shoot, you know?”
“Not with you in here. Your safety is the most important thing. Besides,” he said, looking out his window, “they’ve got the whole world watching.”
Channel Seven’s traffic chopper crisscrossed the sky as if it were a child’s toy. The pilot must be having a blast chasing bad guys instead of five o’clock snarls on I-85.
“It’s not fair,” Fiona said, her voice sounding like a little girl’s.
“What’s not fair?”
“The whole thing. You’re gonna go down as one of the worst villains in history. I’m talking Adolf Hitler bad.”
Fiona was exaggerating again, but not much. Josh’s picture was on every cork board from New York to L.A. He’d even headlined last week’s episode of America’s Most Wanted. “If the shoe fits, wear it,” he said.
She slapped his shoulder. “Would you shut up? This is all my fault. I’m the one who shot my stepdad.”
“Doesn’t matter. The gun was registered to me. The police have a guy with a bullet in his brain and a witness who saw a twenty-two-year-old fleeing the scene with a minor.”
“But you didn’t do it! If you just tell them the truth maybe they’ll—”
“The truth? Should I mention that you’re pregnant while I’m telling the truth?”
“I’m not an idiot, Fiona. I heard you puking in the bathroom this morning.”
“I’m stressed. Get over it.”
“So you’ve been stressed every morning for the past two weeks, huh?” When Fiona didn’t respond, he asked, “Are you late?”
“Can we not fight right now? What’s your problem?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Fiona slumped into her chair, arms crossed. “It’s not gonna matter after this, anyway.”
As she turned away, a megaphone crackled behind them. “Mr. Freed, this is Agent Tom Stone, FBI. I need you to call my cell.” Agent Stone recited his number, then added, “We can work this out. No one needs to get hurt.”
Fiona looked over her shoulder. “What’s he trying to do?”
“Negotiate. As far as he knows, this is a hostage situation.”
“And if you don’t call?”
“Doubt he’s gonna be very patient. Not after that stunt you pulled in Gatlinburg.”
Josh felt a smile tug at his lips. Posing two wax dummies in their hotel room had been a stroke of genius. “You’re probably right. My guess is they’ll try to force us out of the car and separate us.”
“How long do you think we have?”
Josh rechecked the mirror. Officers were scurrying around Agent Stone like bees in a hive, a SWAT truck idling further back. “Not long. A few minutes, maybe.”
Fiona settled back in her chair and started chewing her thumb. “Always thought I’d die in a hospital. Like in those movies where an old woman is surrounded by her kids and grandkids—everybody’s crying—and her soul drifts up to heaven. Sounds nice, you know?”
“Do you believe in God?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. Used to think the whole idea was stupid. Kinda like Santa Clause for adults. But look at that sky. It’s insanely beautiful.” She propped her elbows on the dashboard, her face pinked by the setting sun. “You know how long it took Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel? Four years! And that’s just a ceiling. This is, like, the whole world. No way it could just happen.” She leaned back and sighed. “What about you?”
Josh lifted her hand to his lips. “I believe in God every time I look at you.”
Fiona squeezed her eyes shut. She hadn’t cried as long as Josh had known her. Even that son-of-a-bitch stepfather of hers hadn’t brought her to tears. Only now, at the end….
“Mr. Freed, my patience is running thin,” Agent Stone’s megaphoned voice announced. “You have one minute to respond.”
“One minute.” The words limped out of Fiona’s mouth. “What should we do?”
Fiona’s face brightened. “Are you serious? Like, now?”
“Sure. Why not?”
Fiona released her seatbelt and crawled into Josh’s lap. Her one-hundred-pound body felt weightless as she pressed her lips against his. “Hold on,” he said. “I want to play something for you.”
Josh had given a great deal of thought to his exit music—six weeks in a car gave a man plenty of time to think—and while Frank Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way” or Van Halen’s “Jump” would’ve been fitting for obvious reasons, he didn’t want to check out with a musical middle finger. Instead, he’d chosen a song that reminded him of Fiona.
Before they’d met, before he’d even known her name, Josh would lower his bedroom window, turn off the lights, and fall asleep to the sound of his neighbor’s piano. One of the songs Fiona used to play was Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Josh didn’t realize at the time that the piano was her only refuge from her alcoholic stepfather. All he knew was that the music expressed something true, something real, something that couldn’t be contained by words.
Josh inserted a CD he’d picked up on their most recent Walmart trip—Debussy’s Greatest Hits—and pressed play. The piece started slowly. Delicately. Like an angel testing its wings. As the music crescendoed to a climax, Josh rolled down his window and cranked the volume.
“Are you taunting them?” Fiona asked.
“Maybe a little.” Josh didn’t mind serenading Agent Stone with some piano music—if the man was like most cops, he could use a little culture in his life—but Agent Stone wasn’t the person Josh needed to distract. He leaned into Fiona’s body, his lips caressing hers, while his fingers reached for the door handle.
When Fiona didn’t react to the sound, he whispered, “Forgive me.”
“Forgive you for what?”
Without answering, Josh whipped Fiona off his lap. She tumbled from the car, slamming onto the pavement as Josh sped away. By the time he’d reached the viewing platform, the speedometer read fifty mph. The car barreled through his old rock-tossing bench, ripped through the railing, and catapulted over the edge.
For one weightless second, Josh glided through the air as if on wings. The view was glorious: Rolling hills stretched into a cloudless horizon, the tree tops tinged scarlet by the sun’s dying light. But as Josh floated over Dead Man’s Rock, he turned for one last look at Fiona.
She was on her feet, screaming, while a man—presumably Agent Stone—fought to restrain her. If he hadn’t been there, his girlfriend would probably follow his car off the cliff. Maybe now Fiona could finish high school and go to college with her friends, find a decent job, a good husband, have kids, and die in that hospital bed like she’d always dreamed. Who knows, her oldest child, the life growing inside her, might hold her hand and whisper, “I love you, Mama,” as her soul fell into the sky.
Josh smiled at the thought, then closed his eyes and counted to seven.