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Fiction #324
(published April 5, 2007)
The Road to Masonville
by Errid Farland
Ted Chamberlain didn't wake up one morning and decide to become a criminal. It happened gradually, by allowing one little thing then another then another. Shoplifting is how it started. He did it because he could, more than anything else. He didn't even want half the stuff he took. After he graduated from high school he began to stay out later and later at night, until eventually his body acclimated to a schedule of sleeping from six in the morning until late in the afternoon, and being awake through the night.

Ted liked to be out when he was awake. He got into the habit of carrying a laser light with him, and he'd use it to find unlocked cars. Unlocked cars always had interesting things in them. Something about the trusting or slovenly nature of people who left their cars unlocked also compelled them to leave stuff in them. He'd collect cell phones and CDs, iPods and earrings, pillboxes and flashlights, Bic lighters and sweaters. He kept some of the stuff, other stuff he sold.

He stole his first car when he noticed a broken off piece of a key protruding from the ignition. It was a nineteen-oh-my-God-that-car-is-ancient Chrysler, gold, with a dangling exhaust pipe that spewed clouds of black smoke. He used it to drive himself to a Shell station, thirty miles away, and once there, he used some wire clippers to snip the chain holding the donation box. The lone cashier was stocking beer in the back so he didn't notice and Ted just walked out with the box. He drove the Chrysler back to Turner where he lived, where the car lived, and left it a few blocks away from where he'd found it. He locked it.

He liked the freedom and convenience of the car, so he began to pay particular attention with his laser light to ignition switches, and he found a surprising number that were disabled in some way, missing, keys broken off, whatever. The last car he stole was a Volkswagen bug. There was a screwdriver sticking out from the ashtray, and he knew by then what that meant. He got in and tried the screwdriver in the ignition, and sure enough, it worked. That was the night he got busted. By God. God had had enough of Ted, and He told him so, straight up.

It was like Saul on the road to Damascus, only it was Ted on the road to Masonville. It was three in the morning, and he was alone on the highway, and all of a sudden a spotlight shined upon him. Scared the shit out of him. He nearly crashed.

He pulled over by the ditch running along a crop of soybeans and got out of the car with his hands up. He hadn't seen the police car, but how else would a spotlight follow him while he was doing sixty? His heart pounded in his chest and he worked out a story about the bug, why he was driving it. He hadn't checked to see the name on the registration. He usually did that right away when he took a car, so he could say, "So and So let me borrow the car," and the cops could look on the registration and see that was the name of the registered owner, but he had a bad feeling about this. He was going down. He could almost feel the handcuffs tightening around his wrists. He thought he might shit his pants.

All that happened in seconds, then seconds turned to a minute, and that's when he noticed the light was coming from above. A helicopter? What, had he stolen the Governer's Volkswagen?

But there was no helicopter. The night was silent. Ted put his hands down and tried to squint into the light above, but it was too bright for him to see. He stepped to the side, and the light followed him. He ran, and the light followed him.

"What the fuck?" he said.

"Show some respect," a voice said. The voice was loud, booming, like a thunderclap, and it came from—somewhere, everywhere, up there and over there—surround sound.

"Wha . . . "

"Ted, Ted, you're breaking your mother's heart," the thunder said.

The words rolled in excruciating, mushy sounds that might have been words, or might have been thunder, but there was no lightning, and the pounding in Ted's heart intensified, until he fell to his knees and put his hand to his chest and audibly panted.

"And you're breaking mine," he winced, the pounding in his heart bringing him pain now, like a heart attack. "I'm having a heart attack. Call 911."

"Don't be a coward," the voice said.

"It hurts!" he whined. "Who are you? Where are you? Just arrest me and get it over with. I admit it, I stole the piece of shit, but I was going to return it."

"Go home and go to bed," the voice commanded.

What? Ted shook his head, like he'd heard wrong. "Go home?" he asked, timidly.

"NOW!" the voice said.

Ted jumped up and ran to the car, but the voice said, "WALK!"

"Walk? But it'll take me all night."


Ted walked. The light followed him. He'd gone two miles, and he said, "Hey, could you turn off the light? I'm not so good about bright light."

"You'll learn to get better about it," the voice said.

"Who are you?" Ted asked.

"You know who I Am," the voice answered.

Ted almost couldn't say it, but he had to know, so he squeaked it out. "God?"


Ted pondered this for another mile, then he said, "I'm sorry. I've done wrong. I'm going to change."

But the voice didn't speak to him again. The light trailed him for the nine miles it took for dawn to break over the land. Then it was gone. Ted kept walking.

He got home but he didn't sleep. He kept telling God how he'd changed, and he meant it. Never again would he steal another thing. Never.

That lasted for a week, then he got the itch to be out at night again. He told himself he wasn't going to steal, he was just going to walk around for awhile, but he put his laser light in his pocket. When he stepped outside, the spotlight hit him, and he turned and went back into the house.

He tried it twice more before he understood it was permanent. He was lit up from then on, and that's when he gave up his life of crime. Cold turkey. He got a daytime job, slept at night, and always remembered to say his prayers.

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