05 Jul The Ditch
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"The Ditch"Written by
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Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
The first thing that Geoff noticed when he opened his eyes was that he was completely immobile from the neck down. Next came the realization that it was now early in the daytime. The last thing he remembered was running alongside the Maryland stretch of Route 50 between Salisbury and Abandale at nighttime. Now it was day.
Geoff tried to gather his whereabouts. By maneuvering his neck around, he could see that his body was lying at the base of some sort of deep depression, a ditch, alongside the highway. A steep ledge on the side of the ditch he happened to be upon rose at an almost vertical angle for about eight feet, then gradually sloped another ten towards the pavement and guardrail. In front of him, the ditch had a small slope, no more than five feet, leading up to some marsh grass and a dense gathering of trees that lined the road for about ten miles.
Once all of this had been ascertained, Geoff tilted his head forward, pressing his chin uncomfortably into his chest. He wanted to see why he could not move.
Geoffrey Callister, former wide receiver for Kent Island High School, the college track star who could run a five minute mile no sweat, even a decade hence, was now a mangled, grotesque caricature of his former self. It looked like everything from the torso down had been jammed through a meat grinder. His legs were broken in at least twenty different places. The bottom portion of his abdomen was sliced open, and trailing about ten feet or so from his innards stretched a line of intestine, looking like a pale snake in the grass. Dried blood had covered his clothes and the surrounding space, caking him in a sticky film of goo.
Geoff began to scream. He did not relent for a good five minutes. He cried for help, cried from confusion, cried in pain, cried.
What was he doing here? How had he ended up in this situation? He forced himself to try and recall the events of the previous evening. Geoff recalled his car running out of gas. In his hurry, he had forgotten to refill it, and the tank was already low when he was on his way home. He was running though. Why had that been? Was there somewhere he desperately needed to be?
Mackayla. He was trying to get to her before it was too late.
So he was running, and then next thing he knew, everything grew bright. Then he had woken up in the ditch. From the looks of things and where he was, he must have been hit by a car. But why hadn’t the driver stopped? Or perhaps they had gone to get help?
No, that wasn’t it. They wouldn’t have abandoned him here like this. They would have called 911, or flagged a car down down for help or something. And why was it daytime?
Three words simultaneously struck him that caused a surge of panic throughout what was left of his body: hit and run.
He kept trying to shake the words out of his mind, he didn’t want it to be so. Yet, try as he might, he could not deny that this had to be the scenario. He had been struck by a speeding car that evening while running down the highway to find a gas station. The car must have sent him flying through the air into the ditch, where he had spent the night, miraculously alive after the ordeal. Had he only been on the opposite side of the guard rail, or had he only filled up his gas tank before going home.
Had he only not gone to work in the first place, and stayed with her…
Geoff realized that “what if” scenarios weren’t going to change his present state. He had to figure a way out of his predicament. His cell phone was in his left pocket. If it wasn’t smashed, he might be able to call for help. By forcing his concentration upon his left arm, he tried in vain to get the slightest movement from his hand. He couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t move. It wasn’t until he looked at his arm that he realized it was bent so bad in every which direction that it far more resembled a question mark than it did an appendage.
Not that it really mattered. He had come to the conclusion that he was, in all likelihood, completely paralyzed, save his head and neck. He was thankful that he could at least move these about. Geoff recalled an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which a paralyzed man couldn’t move any part of his body, and was mistaken for being dead. At least this way, he could scream and call for help.
But it was early in the morning, probably no later than 7am. In the ten minutes that he had been awake, he hadn’t heard a single car pass by. Soon, however, he knew that cars would be roaring their way to work. He’d just have to stay conscious long enough to listen for them. Geoff wished that he could see them, but the steep ledge of the ditch he had come to rest in would not permit it. Instead, he lay in a deep shadow that obscured his vision of anything above the ditch.
A rumble could suddenly be discerned. It was distant, yet growing intensely as it approached. There was no mistaking it; it was probably a pickup truck on its way to Abandale.
A smile crossed Geoff’s face. Any second now, he’d hear the brakes squeal, the thumping of footsteps, and a friendly, concerned voice that would be his salvation. The rumbling of the pickup grew nearer and louder. Geoff began to imagine what the driver looked like. Closer it grew, not a hundred feet off. He bet that the truck would be green for some reason, his favorite color. He found a tear to be streaming down his cheek, so excited was he.
The truck continued on without stopping.
Geoff’s jovial attitude disappeared back into the fear and tormented cloud that had been over him since he had awoken. Why hadn’t the truck stopped? Why hadn’t they helped him?
“Hey!” he screamed as loud as he could, shocked at the croak that had escaped his lips. He was severely dehydrated and exhausted. Geoff persevered. “Come back! Please! Down here, I need help, I’m hurt real bad!”
He continued to scream for help long after the truck was gone. Eventually, another rumble could be heard coming down the road, two cars. This time he was sure he’d be seen and helped out by one of them, if not both. He waited expectantly, yelling “Hey!” over and over again, hoping that they’d hear him. Like the last time, they continued on without stopping to check on the shattered man lying in the ditch.
Geoff racked his brain at what was going on. Why wasn’t anyone stopping to help him? When one sees someone that’s been hurt real bad lying on the side of the road, typically at least one person is gonna stop and call for help.
Then it dawned on him.
When he had been in high school, Geoff had done a show for the theatre department. It wasn’t anything particularly good, he thought, but he enjoyed the camaraderie of the theatre students. He recalled one of the rehearsals during which he had been standing backstage in full view of the audience section. The stage manager, a little snot named Steve, had hissed at him to get back and out of view. “If you can see the audience, then the audience can see you!” Steve’s words were ringing through Geoff’s head at this moment. He could not see the vehicles on the road, or the road itself, therefore the vehicles could not see him deep down in the ditch.
Geoff began to panic. If the vehicles couldn’t see him, how would they be able to stop and get him out of here to a hospital?
For the next hour or so, perhaps even several, Geoff screamed his head off at each passing car. It wasn’t long before the rush of vehicles came, heading to work, yet not one of them could hear the poor man in the ditch, shrieking desperately for help against the roaring of rush-hour traffic.
Geoff prayed for an accident that would cause the traffic to slow up just a little bit, long enough so that he would be heard during the standstill.
No such luck appeared for him, and he found himself lying in the ditch, unable to do a thing but yell. After hours of such raucous activity, he found his voice growing fainter and fainter. He hadn’t the energy, consciousness was fading fast for him. He imagined his larynx had been reduced to ribbons by now, so hoarse were his cries and pleas for assistance.
Soon, the noon-day sun appeared over the lip of the ditch, almost directly over his face. At first, he had welcomed the heat, for he was rapidly growing colder due to the blood loss he had endured. It didn’t take long though before he started to see spots blurring his vision, and was forced to close his eyes. He did not want to do this however; he feared he would fall asleep. And if this were to happen, he was not entirely sure that he would be able to wake up.
A cold sweat began to break out across his brow. He itched for the opportunity to wipe his forearm across his head to clear the uncomfortable beads from his face, but knew this was quite impossible. Instead, he attempted to distract himself from everything by thinking about something else. Yet, the only thing he could find himself thinking of at this moment other than his battered condition was Mackayla McGuinness.
She had had an affair with him for nearly a year; she was married four years to some guy named Scott. Despite the nature of the situation, Geoff had always seen their relationship as stable. Never did a bit of guilt creep up into his mind. Mackayla insisted that she didn’t love Scott anymore and any day now she would leave him for Geoff.
Geoff liked her, no- ass over heels loved her! But Scott got a promotion and they were moving from Abandale to someplace up in New York. It wasn’t until yesterday though she had told him that they’d be permanently leaving and the affair was over. Geoff had found himself in such a state of shock at such a sudden bombshell that all he could do was leave her house and go to work. He was stupid enough to turn off his phone for the day and just leave. Why hadn’t he stayed home? Why hadn’t he tried to talk things out with her?
Geoff intensely loved Mackayla; had he stayed with her yesterday, he would’ve shown her the wedding ring he’d selected to give to her when she decided to leave Scott. He didn’t want to lose her, but he was so dumbfounded by her revelation that he knew that, if he did not want to hurt her or himself, he had to be out of and away from that house.
As soon as he had clocked out, he received a text from Mackayla; they were leaving that night. Geoff tore his way down Route 50 towards Abandale. A drive that typically lasted twenty minutes was increased to two hours when he ran out of gas. It was then he had taken off running, desperate for a gas station so he could get to her home before she left with Scott if she hadn’t already.
Undoubtedly she was far gone by now. She and Scott were likely to be over the state line, maybe even at their new house. Geoff began to weep. He was overwhelmed with several emotions right now, ranging from betrayal to loneliness to pain. The pain was the severest of all, and he wished to God it would go away. Once or twice that morning he had heard an ambulance siren go by, and imagined they would halt and jump out and pump his body full of drugs to stop the searing agony.
The ambulance was never for him, unfortunately.
Geoff had been so distracted by his thoughts for the past half hour that he had failed to realize the sound of a car door slamming just fifteen feet above his head. A thick, Eastern Shore accent broke his concentration.
“Gimme a sec, hon, I’ll be back.” Geoff’s eyes flashed open.
“Tim, you can’t do that out here! There’s a station not two miles up the road,” a middle-aged woman’s voice drawled.
“I said I’d only take a second, hon!”
Geoff grew excited. He began to hyperventilate, someone had stopped! They must have seen him! They were probably checking to see what it was lying in ruin at the base of the ditch, expecting an animal, but instead would see him. His rescue had finally arrived.
Try as he might though, Geoff was unable to make a sound. He had screamed so much that morning that nothing escaped his lips, not a croak nor a groan, much less a cry for help. But this did not matter, for in a few seconds he would be res-
A yellow trail of fluid came showering over the ledge of the ditch. For a quick second, Geoff was confused, but in a moment the urine was splashing over his mangled legs. A few droplets were spewed upon his face, and he tried to spit them off. His eyes closed and his head turned the opposite direction.
‘He hasn’t stopped to help at all,’ Geoff thought viciously, ‘he only needs to urinate, the bastard! Can’t he take a step further and see that I’m down here? Why doesn’t he see me??’
Geoff tried to scream, but to no avail. The urine continued for about twenty seconds before the man zipped up his pants and returned to his vehicle with a brief mumble to his wife. Then the car zoomed away down Route 50, onwards to Abandale. The salt from his fluid stung in every scar upon Geoff’s poor, broken figure. He began to cry. He knew the man hadn’t meant any harm or to humiliate him further, but how he wanted to hate the man, how he wished he could curse him for his ignorance! If only he’d been seen! If it weren’t for this impossibly deep ditch, Geoff would have been in a hospital by now. He knew he didn’t have too much longer to survive this hellish ordeal, he just wanted it to be over. He wanted to see Mackayla just once more, if that was all he was allowed. He had so much to say to her, but feared he would never have the opportunity.
A police siren whirred by, this time in the opposite direction, coming from Abandale instead of heading towards it. He didn’t bother screaming for help now; if he couldn’t gather attention from some dumb hick peeing on his body, how was he was supposed to get it from a screeching cop car?
It was then that Geoff became aware of a feeling deep inside his person. It was the first physical feeling beyond torment that he had felt in his body all day. Instantly, he knew what it was, and he tried to fight it. However, due to his condition, his muscles couldn’t even begin to give up a fight, and he found himself defecating in his shredded jeans.
Weeping, Geoff reflected on how he was slowly being stripped of his humanity. Robbed of all movement, no more voice, pissed upon, and now he was unable to control his bowel movements. He had no help from anybody but himself, and even then he was powerless to do a thing.
The smell was almost unbearable. He found himself breathing through his mouth and closing his nostrils, though it didn’t help too much. The stench combined with the sun’s heat made the air around him thick and hard to breathe. Flies buzzed about him, and he had to shake his head side to side to clear them from his mouth, nose, and eyes. He coughed and puked a few times, covering his personalized varsity jacket (which he wore from time to time) in waste. Now he began to feel the desire for water creep up throughout what was left of his body. He hadn’t had anything to drink in what he estimated to be around 16 hours. Looking up, he saw a few dark clouds gathering. He hoped it would rain, not only so he might have something to drink, but with enough water flooding the ditch, he might be drifted to somewhere visible from the road.
He was also intensely hungry. He needed food and water if he was to keep alive long enough to be found, but how would he be able to find food here? The grass wouldn’t do him any good to eat.
There was a rustling of leaves coming from the trees. Geoff’s head darted over so that he might see what was advancing towards him. Undoubtedly it would be some sort of forest creature, not that they could be of any help to him.
He was surprised to see a little woodland mouse scurrying through the grass. It first approached the intestine that stretched out through the grass perpendicularly to him. Geoff realized that, had the intestine gone a different direction, the driver that had pissed on him might have seen it. He shook this thought off, realizing it didn’t do him any good.
After it had gnawed a bit on his intestine, the mouse followed its trail to the source. Scurrying up onto his torso, the mouse examined the gaping hole in Geoff’s abdomen. He prayed it would not scramble down inside of him.
Fortunately, it didn’t. Instead, it began to carefully inch its way up his chest. Geoff angled his head to get a better look at the little brown-orange creature. His movement sent the mouse back a few steps, but it turned and looked into Geoff’s eyes, and continued on its course across his chest and towards his head.
Geoff knew what he had to do. If he was to survive, he was going to need nourishment. From this mouse, he would get energy and some hydration.
Reluctantly, Geoff opened his mouth.
His eyes were closed tightly, he did not want to see the deed done. With every step the mouse took up his torso, Geoff grimaced in disgust. Soon, its furry head and front legs had crawled audaciously into Geoff’s mouth. He snapped his jaws shut with the force of of a bear-trap, and instantly the coppery taste of blood filled his mouth. A muffled squeal emanated from the tiny beast, it went stiff, and then ceased all movement. Geoff didn’t realize it, but he was crying. He wanted to scream, but his body again betrayed him and would not allow it. He tried peevishly to eat the mouse, but the crunching of its tiny bones and its hair forbade him from doing so; he threw up, his efforts in vain. The mouse carcass fell from his mouth and rolled away from his body, out of reach of his head.
Geoff passed out.
He awoke some hours later, much weaker than before. Something hot and wet was stroking his face. At first, in his awoken confusion, he thought that rain had arrived at last, but saw that a deer was violently licking him. It had been attracted by the urine of the man from earlier. Geoff felt its hot breath striking his face with each exhale, its sticky saliva being slathered all over him. It began to work its way down from his face to the hole in his abdomen.
Had he been hydrated, Geoff would have been sweating profusely. He watched worriedly as the deer eyed the opening in his body, fully aware that there was probably salt from the urine inside of him. The deer’s tongue darted into the hole and began to slap about his insides, slurping up what it could.
Geoff’s head began to slam against the ground repeatedly. His mouth was opened wide as if to scream. Each movement the deer’s tongue made was like a stab deep into his body. He thought at any moment his nerves would give out and he would die. The movement of his head caught the deer’s attention and it stopped. It blankly stared at him for a few seconds and scampered off into the woods.
Geoff began to pant repeatedly. He wept and prayed silently, mouthing the words, asking God to make the torture stop, that either someone would find him or that he would just die.
It was then that he noticed something. A dark shadow in the sky. It was too high up and near the sun for him to tell what it was. He hoped against probability that it was a traffic helicopter, though he heard no noise from it. It continued to circle and dive irregularly. It soon came close enough that Geoff was able to discern just what the flying object was; a turkey vulture swooped down from the sky gradually, obviously taking him for some kind of roadkill prey.
A wave of panic rose up in Geoff. He shook his head no, as if the bird would understand what he was saying. It didn’t care that he was still conscious and alive; from all appearances, he was dead from the waist down.
The vulture landed a few feet from Geoff’s legs. It eyed him hungrily, and began to bob its head back and forth intently, all the while rustling its wings. Geoff continued to shake his head, hoping the movement would send it off like it had done to the deer.
It hopped over about five feet to the end of his intestine. Its razor beak pecked at his innard a bit, before seizing it and giving it a solid jerk. The force of the bird’s movement caused Geoff’s entire body to surge over. A sharp pain rang about inside his chest cavity like he was some kind of pinball machine. How he wanted to scream so desperately, he was convinced that a strong, earth-shattering scream would alleviate the torment to some degree. Instead, he was mute, and continued to feel the vulture tug at his intestines, pulling more out of his body as if he were dispensing a rope.
When it grew tired of yanking at his intestine, the turkey vulture began to come close to Geoff. It first focussed on the hole in his abdomen, dipping its head into the cavity. Every stab was a step closer to death for Geoff. He saw his vision splinter in half as a dark line began to tear his sight apart. He was fading fast.
Then the bird was upon him, perched atop his chest as if it were a bust of Pallas, pecking intently upon his body.
Geoff no longer sought to rid himself of the bird. Perhaps this was what he had been hoping for. He felt himself slipping into unconsciousness as he could no longer breathe with the turkey vulture upon his busted rib cage. He resigned himself to this fate. The bird continued to heave and jab as he lay there, helpless. Darkness was overtaking…
“Hey you!” a voice tore through the darkness. “Get off of him, lousy buzzard!”
Geoff’s eyes slowly opened. He saw a tall, handsome man in his early thirties shambling down the side of the ditch. His dark hair was shining in the late afternoon sun. “Go on, git! Leave him alone, you bastard!”
The turkey vulture, confused, spread its wide wings and flapped itself away. The man came over and looked down at Geoff, amazed. “My God, you’re still alive,” he marvelled.
Geoff smiled and nodded his head. He tried to speak up, but the man stopped him. “Oh no, friend, you’re in no place to be talking. The way you look, you probably shouldn’t even be alive.”
Geoff was beginning to get irked. Why wasn’t this stranger calling for assistance? Surely he had a phone?
“I didn’t expect you to be conscious when I came back, much less alive,” he chuckled.
Now Geoff was growing uneasy. What did the man mean by saying ‘when I came back’?
“Geoff Callister, right?” Geoff nodded, amazed that this stranger whom he had never met before in his life knew his name. “Pleasure to meet you in person. Name’s Scott McGuinness. We belong to a mutual appreciation party, I do believe.”
Scott. The name flashed like an explosion through Geoff’s head.
“Boy, you know, coming back here, I expected you to be long dead. I didn’t think, after the way I hit you last night, that you could have even lived through the night, much less almost a full day! You are taking it like a champ, sir,” Scott seized his shattered hand and gave the broken arm a firm shake. Geoff grimaced, screaming intensely without any sound emanating from his lips. “Oh, forgive me, Geoff! I didn’t think you had any feeling left in your body.”
They stared each other in the eye for an expanse of time. Tears streamed down Geoff’s discolored face, wiping away dried mouse blood. “You’re wondering why, and how, aren’t you? I’ve known for quite a while now about you two. Mack and I tell each other everything eventually. There are no secrets between us.
“So, last night, while coming home to pick her up, I couldn’t believe my eyes; there you were, running down the street, headed towards our house determinedly. I recognized you. Oh sure, who could mistake it for someone else with that varsity jacket of yours with the name plastered across the back of your shoulders, G. Callister? Had to be you. Well, I let my nerves get the best of me. See, I love Mackayla. I love her a lot, as a husband should. But part of me thought I would actually lose her to you, do you know that? I couldn’t risk you getting to her before we had time to leave, so I just jerked my wheel a bit to the right and off you went, soaring into this ditch! Hell, it was really a sight, you should’ve seen it.”
Scott stood. His domineering shadow blotted the sun from Geoff’s view. “Now, although I said Mackayla and I don’t have secrets, I don’t see any harm in keeping this one between us, don’t you agree?” He smirked at Geoff’s motionless, silent body, incapable of any response. “Good, I knew you’d understand!”
Geoff’s mind was racing. He was unsure of what to do, what to say. There was not much he could do, except continue to cry. He was powerless to do anything. Here he was, inches from the man that had robbed him of his life, unable to lift a finger against him.
“Well, I really should be going, Geoff. I thought by coming back here and seeing you dead I could put my worries to rest. I can see now, that, all I need is to give you a little more time. That’s all.”
Scott began to ascend the wall of the ditch. As he disappeared over the ledge and walked to his car, Geoff could hear him mutter “Just a little more time in the ditch.”
Credit: Samuel Pomerantz
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