It all started on a windblown Friday night in October. It was the night before Halloween, the night we always called Wreck Night or Devil’s Night back when we were kids and Halloween was second in our hearts only to Christmas.
At least the newspapers got that much right. The day, I mean. They pretty much screwed up the rest of the story.
I was there that night. Let me tell you what really happened . . .
In the chill autumn months after my first child was born, I spent many late-night hours driving the streets of my hometown. It became a routine. Two, three nights a week, around about midnight, I’d creep into the nursery one final time to check on the baby (a healthy boy named Joshua, after my father) and then I’d kiss my amused wife good night and off I’d go, driving the streets in random routes until my eyes went blurry and my spine sprouted kinks the size of quarters.
Driving and thinking. Thinking and driving. Some nights with the radio. Most nights in silence.
That was a little more than four years ago, but I still go out and drive some nights. Just not very often now—maybe once or twice a month, tops.
My wife, Janice, is wonderful (and wise) and she’s known me for more than half of my thirty-six years, so she innately understands the need for these trips of mine. We rarely talk about it, but she somehow knows that this town where we both grew up and still live today, this town—its streets and houses and storefronts and lawns and sidewalks and the very sky above—gives me a real sense of peace and understanding I could never hope to find elsewhere. I know how funny that sounds, how old-fashioned, but it’s the best and probably the only way I know how to describe my feelings for this place.
When little Josh was born, it was an event that thrilled me to new heights but also deeply troubled me. That’s actually a pretty big understatement, the part about it troubling me. You see . . . I worried about the baby. I worried about my wife. I worried a lot about myself. I worried a lot, period. There were just so many new and important questions, and more and more of them seemed to be born with each passing day.
Could I be a good father?
Could I provide for the family with just a teacher’s salary?
Could I protect the baby from a world so different from the one I grew up in?
Fact is, I never found the answers to most of the hard questions that arose during that period in my life—hell, most of them still exist today—but the answers that I did find usually came to me during those midnight drives. They got me through some rough times.
So, you see, that’s the reason I went out for a ride on that windy Friday evening. There were budget problems at school to be dealt with the following week and budget problems at home to be dealt with that very weekend, and I needed a dose of cool night air to help clear my head. We were just recently a family of four, having added a terribly fussy but nonetheless adorable baby girl to the mix. Josh and the baby were sound asleep and Janice was upstairs resting, a few hundred pages into one of those romance paperbacks she loves so much. The house was too damn quiet. It was seven minutes past nine o’clock when I steered a hard left out of our driveway.
Copyright © 1996 by Richard Chizmar. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.