Sean Hill’s Twitter feed, @VeryShortStory, was recently turned into the book Very Short Stories: 300 Bite-Size Works of Fiction. When not writing fiction, Sean provides training and coaching to others who want to unleash their creativity. This story is a Peninsula exclusive, only available on this website.
Take a Second Chance
On my eighteenth birthday, I got a second chance at life. I didn’t know I needed it. My life was going great, but it was about to get off track. I had no idea what was coming. Somebody had to tell me, and that somebody was me.
Let me explain.
My parents threw a birthday party for me at the house. All my friends came. There was cake and burgers, and swimming in the pool. Ginny Merkson was there. The best part was the present my parents gave me. A blue Camaro convertible. It sat in our driveway gassed up and ready to go. Mom had taken me to get my driver’s license that morning. A reward for good grades at school.
When the party was over and the guests were leaving, Ginny lingered on the front porch till the others were gone. I’d liked Ginny since the beginning of the school year but had been too scared to do anything about it. My mom was the one who had called and invited her to the party.
‘Thanks for inviting me, Davy. I had a good time,’ she said.
‘I’m glad you came.’
We were both nervous. Neither one of us were able to look the other in the eye.
‘Umm . . . my cousin, Daphne, is coming to town. We’re gonna go to the pizza place tonight. Maybe you could come meet us. We could go for a drive or something.’
‘Sure, that sounds good. I’ll meet you guys there,’ I said.
Ginny glanced up at me with a big smile.
Later that evening when it was time to go, I went out and climbed in my car. There was a card on the front seat. It said Meet me at the Pay And Go at 7 pm. I figured it was from Ginny. I knew that the Pay And Go was around the corner from her house. I put the top down on the car and pulled out of the driveway. It was great to drive my own car. Life was good.
I pulled into the Pay And Go and parked. I checked my watch. 7.00 p.m. exactly. I didn’t see Ginny anywhere. The only person outside was an older guy standing by the pay phone. I got out of the car, went inside and bought a coke and some chips.
When I came outside, the guy from the pay phone was sitting in the passenger seat of my car.
‘What the –?’
‘Get in, Davy. We need to talk,’ he said.
‘I’m not getting in with you.’
‘Davy, it’s OK. We need to talk. Get in.’
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Davy, get in the car. I’ll explain.’
‘No, and how the hell do you know my name?’
‘Man, you’re hard-headed. It’s me Davy, I mean you. I’m thirty-year-old you and I’m here to save you.’
That was enough for me. I dropped my coke and chips, turned and took off running through the big field next to the store. I heard the car door open and the sound of feet running behind me. He was chasing me.
I ran as fast and hard as I could. I made it to the middle of the field and was thinking about which way to go when his hand grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled me down.
On my thirtieth birthday, I got a second chance at life. It came when I was doing ten-to-twenty for armed robbery in state prison. I shared a small cell at the end of block D with an old-timer named Roddy. He had short white hair and crooked teeth that looked surprisingly white in contrast with his weathered face. Originally from Louisiana, Roddy was doing life for killing somebody in a bar fight. He believed in voodoo and swamp magic. He told all kinds of tales about his momma and how the neighbors would come around and pay her to cast spells. Most of the spells involved Roddy having to catch a chicken that his momma would use to make the magic happen.
I liked Roddy. We shared a cell for almost twenty-six months and, over that time, we became friends. Thing was, though, Roddy was dying. He had some kind of sickness inside that was eating him up. On my birthday, Roddy was feeling real bad. He was curled up on the bottom bunk. The top bunk had been his when I moved in, but we’d switched when the sickness started slowing him down.
I leaned over the edge of my bunk to check on him. ‘Hey, Roddy, you doing all right?’
‘My time is coming. I want to give you my dying wish,’ said Roddy, his eyes closed.
‘Don’t talk like that. You’re gonna be here a while, just like me.’
‘Nope. Feels it coming. He’ll soon be here and I gotta give you my wish before he comes.’
‘I don’t believe in that stuff, Roddy. Fate has a hold on me already.’
‘Don’t matter if you don’t believe. Still works. Just got to say you’ll take it.’
I could see this meant something to Roddy. No reason to make things worse for him. ‘All right, Roddy, I’ll take your wish.’
‘Good, wouldn’t want my dying wish to go to waste. Come hold my hand.’
I climbed down, sat on the bunk next to him and reached out and held his hand. Roddy’s eyes were still closed.
‘David, I’m wishing you a second chance. Don’t die in here like me.’
A few moments later, I felt his hand go slack. His breathing stopped. I put my ear to his chest and listened for a heartbeat that wasn’t there. Roddy was done. Finally free of living in a cell.
I didn’t cry. That part of me no longer worked. I just sat there on the bunk next to him. I noticed he was holding something in his hand and checked to see what it was. A piece of chicken. He’d snuck it off his lunch tray and brought it back to the cell with him.
As I took the chicken out of his hand, my head started feeling dizzy. I looked up and saw the wall of the cell shimmering. It looked translucent, like someone had hung a pool of water sideways on the wall.
I stood up and looked into the wall. I saw a yard and a house on the other side. I touched the wall and my hand went straight through. There was a cool breeze blowing on the other side.
Whatever was on the other side seemed better than staying in that cell, so I stepped through the wall and found myself standing in a yard in front of a house. I reached down and felt the grass. It was cool and soft. I looked behind me to see where I’d come from. The translucent hole was there. I could see into the cell I’d just left. Roddy was still on the bunk. While I looked at him, the hole shimmered. In a few moments it faded away and was gone.
I turned and faced the house. It took me a moment to realize it was my parents’ house. The green three-bedroom that I’d grown up in. There was a big banner above the front door that read Happy 18th Birthday Davy. The blue Camaro my parents had given me was sitting in the driveway. I was stunned. Old Roddy’s wish with the piece of chicken had worked. I was back at the time and place where my life had gotten off track, my eighteenth birthday. That was when I’d met Daphne. She was the reason I was in prison.
‘Let go of me!’ I yelled. I was laying face down in the grass in the middle of the field. The guy who had chased me was holding me down.
‘Davy, it’s all right. I just want to talk to you,’ he said.
‘Let me up.’
‘Will you let me talk to you?’
I thought it over. Whoever this crazy guy was, he was bigger than me. I didn’t see a way to get him off of me. ‘OK, I’ll talk to you. Let me up.’
He let go and we sat facing each other in the middle of the field. The moon was out so I could see him pretty good.
‘Davy, it’s really important you don’t meet Ginny tonight,’ he said.
‘How do you know about that?’ I asked.
‘Like I said before, I’m thirty-year-old you, Davy. I’m here to give you a second chance.’
I wanted to get up and run. This guy was saying crazy stuff and thought he was me. ‘There is no way you’re me,’ I said.
That’s when he showed me the scar on his arm. I recognized it. I had one just like it on my arm. I’d gotten it the year before when I fell out of my tree house and ripped my arm open on the fence.
‘How can this be happening?’ I said.
‘A friend of mine made a wish. He wished us a second chance.’
‘A second chance at what?’
‘A second chance at life so you don’t make the mistakes I made. The girl you’re gonna meet tonight is bad news.’
‘Ginny is awesome. I like her.’
‘Not Ginny, her cousin Daphne. Daphne is trouble. You’re gonna fall in love and run away together.’
‘No way. I don’t even know her, and besides, I like Ginny.’
‘I know you like Ginny, but that won’t matter. Daphne is like a drug. You won’t be able to get enough of her and you’ll do whatever she asks. She will want things and you will do things you shouldn’t to get them. You have a second chance tonight. A chance to avoid meeting Daphne and stay out of prison.’
This all sounded completely crazy to me. I was a good kid. I got good grades and got along with my parents. How could I possibly end up in prison because of a girl?
Eighteen-year-old me promised he’d go home and not meet Ginny. I was relieved. I sat in the field by myself after he was gone. I looked up at the stars. I hadn’t seen them in a long time. It was the most relaxed I’d felt since I’d been sent to prison. I started wondering about the magic. How was this supposed to work? Would the hole reappear and I’d step back into the time I came from? Would things be different for me when I did? Or maybe I was here now and there was no going back.
I started wondering about Daphne. Last time I’d seen her was right before I was arrested for robbing a bank. She didn’t come to the trial. She didn’t come visit me in prison. I wondered what had become of her. Then it hit me. Eighteen-year-old Daphne was sitting at Gordo’s Pizza Place at that moment. I was curious. What was it about her at eighteen that had drawn me in? I had let her ruin my whole life. I wanted to see her.
I left the field and went back to my car. Thirty-year-old me stayed behind in the field. He said he didn’t know how the magic worked and wasn’t sure if he’d see me again. I really didn’t know what to think. I drove home. When I got there, I sat in the car thinking. How could it be possible that I’d meet some girl, forget about Ginny and ruin my life? The more I thought about it, the crazier it seemed. I wondered about who Daphne was. What did she look like? What was it about her that had ruined things for thirty-year-old me?
I was curious. I drove to Gordo’s, parked and went inside. Ginny waved to me from a corner booth along the back wall. I’d been to Gordo’s many times with my parents, but this was the first time I’d gone there to meet a girl. And I wasn’t meeting just one girl, I was meeting two. Raven-haired Daphne was sitting next to blonde Ginny. They contrasted each other. Ginny looked innocent and sweet, the typical girl-next-door type. Daphne looked all kinds of wild, like a girl you see in a music video but never meet in real life. She was wearing heels and a tight dress that stopped halfway down her thighs.
‘Hi, Davy,’ said Ginny, ‘this is my cousin, Daphne.’
Ginny got up and I slid into the booth between the two of them. I was sitting between two beautiful girls. It was the second moment of the day where life felt really good. Everything seemed right.
We talked while we waited for the pizza to arrive. I tried to focus on what Ginny was saying about her plans for summer, but the smell of Daphne’s perfume was intoxicating. As Ginny said something about plans for a beach trip, Daphne slid her hand along my thigh.
I could not believe what I was seeing. Eighteen-year-old me sitting in the back of Gordo’s between Daphne and Ginny. Second chances are wasted on the young. All he had to do was stay away from Gordo’s that night and he could have kept on having a great life, but no, he was an idiot, just like I was when I was him.
Well, I was not going to let it happen. I went inside and walked straight back to the booth where they were sitting. ‘Hi, Davy, what ya doing? You’re supposed to be at home.’
‘Uhhh . . .’ said Davy.
‘Davy, who is this?’ asked Ginny.
‘Hi, Ginny, I’m David. You look great as always. Sorry about not showing up for prom,’ I said.
Ginny looked puzzled. Daphne looked at her.
‘Maybe we should go,’ said Daphne.
‘That’s a great idea,’ I said. I reached down and grabbed Davy’s car keys off the table then grabbed Daphne’s arm and dragged her out of the booth. Picking Daphne up, I threw her over my shoulder and carried her out to the Camaro. She kicked and screamed the whole way. Davy and Ginny were shouting behind me. I heard Gordo at the counter calling the police.
I climbed in the car with Daphne still over my shoulder, fired up the engine and squealed the tires on the way out of the parking lot.
The charge was kidnapping, although what I’d done was drive Daphne 300 miles to Tulsa and dump her off on her parents’ front porch. I was sent back to state prison for three years.
A few months into my sentence, I got a new cellmate. It was Roddy. He was twelve years younger than when I’d known him, but he was the same old Roddy. He looked me over and asked if we knew each other from someplace. I said we didn’t. He had done me a good turn. It would have been wrong to let him know he was going to die in prison. I knew he hoped to get paroled.
Now and then I got a letter from Davy, telling me about his life. He said my arrival had sparked an interest in science. He’d enrolled in college and studied physics. He married Ginny after college and had kids, a boy and a girl. He sent pictures; they were beautiful.