Eye of the Trapped Animal
by Gordon Rowlinson
On the day Ted Ryan witnessed his own violent murder, his attention had been intensely focused on his heath and running conditioning. At 9:00 that Saturday morning, he tested his resting heart rate at 65 beats per minute. He knew that wasn’t low enough. He had to increase his miles per week, if he was going to be ready for next month’s turkey trot 10K race. He made a mental note to squeeze in more mileage on the weekdays.
Saturday mornings were perfect for running training. There were no motorcycles or cars on the road. Every Saturday morning, it was his ritual put in 6.2 miles on the lonely country road he lived on. He smiled as he rounded the last curve. He loved the repetitive sound of the rubber of his well-worn shoes slapping against the pavement. As he passed the road sign that was half a mile from his country home, he increased his pace. His body’s cardiovascular system automatically responded by regulating more blood fuel to his tired, straining legs. As the long strides of his legs ate up the road mileage, his numb brain began to blank out more of the outside world.
A gray, beaten-up Cadillac eased off the pavement of the country road onto the gravel shoulder. Instead of slowing, the car picked up speed, charging directly behind the unsuspecting, hapless runner.
Ted heard, too late, the strange crunch of gravel behind him. Then something as solid as a freight train hit him-then black.
He awoke to the blinding pain. Ted was unsure how long he had been unconscious. Lying on the grass a full forty feet from the road, he knew he must have been hit by a car. Ted was shocked to see that his right leg was bent back at a sickening angle and white bone was sticking out. A dark-haired woman in running gear knelt beside him. Ted recognized her as someone he had seen jogging and who lived somewhere down the road.
“I was running by and saw you in the grass,” she said. “You’ve been hit by a hit-and-run driver. I just called for an ambulance on my cell phone. I saw the car, but I didn’t get a good look at the creep.”
The merciless pain was tremendous. A frightening red pool of blood was growing around him. He realized, with horror, that he was rapidly growing weaker. He was only 35 years old. That seemed too young to die.
Suddenly the pain stopped and a tranquil, peaceful state enveloped him. He realized in this new real yet unreal state that he no longer had any worries. He rose up higher so that he was looking down at his own body. The woman runner had such a worried look on her face. He wanted to reach her and tell her everything was going to be all right.
The new peaceful state so engulfed him, that he now was unafraid to die. He rose higher and higher. Looking up he saw a long, black tunnel. There was a faint light at the end of the tunnel. He wondered if God was at the end of the tunnel.
From this new tranquil, high vantage point, he was able to see the entire neighborhood. Ted saw several homeowners rushing out of their homes to help out, or at least see what all the commotion was about. Next door, he saw his next door neighbor pull his gray car into his back woods garage.
Turning around, he saw an approaching ambulance, about a mile away. The screaming van was hurrying down the road with it’s lights flashing. In his detached state, Ted watched with interest as the ambulance rushed to the side of the road. Two Emergency Medical Technicians jumped out and immediately checked for his vital signs. Ted wanted to tell the EMTs that he was all right. The taller EMT ran back to the van and hurried back with a black case. The tall blonde man quickly reached in and brought out two paddles with wires attached. The EMT held the paddles in each hand and held them to Ted’s chest. Ted was surprised to see the violent jolt in his body.
Then he was on the ground again. His body was in great pain.
“It’s going to be OK” he mumbled to the EMTs.
“That’s right,” the tall EMT said. Both men moved Ted to a stretcher and into the van.
The ride to the hospital and the emergency room was a surreal blur to Ted. Doctors were frantically rushing around him. Ted had no perception of how long he was in the emergency room.
The next day, lying in a hospital bed, he thought in wonderment of what had happened. He was glad to be alive, but remained confused as to exactly what had happened back on the road. The out-of-body experience was too real to be a dream, but...
A visitor came into the room and broke his confused train of thought. It was an older, bearded man in a white coat. Something in the genteel bedside manner of the man told Ted he could trust the man.
“I’m Dr. Spring. You had us worried for a while there.”
“I must have had a heart attack. The ambulance guys used those paddle things that jump-start hearts,” Ted said.
“How did you know that?” Dr. Spring inquired.
“I was floating above them watching the whole thing.”
“Tell me exactly what you saw.”
“There was a tall blonde guy and a short guy with glasses. The tall guy carried this machine out of the van. He put some lubricant on the paddles. Then he put them on my chest and made my entire body jolt. Then I jumped back into my body.”
“You’ve accurately described the two EMTs that brought you in and the method they used on your heart,” Dr. Spring said. “What has occurred is you’ve had a near-death, out-of-body experience. Being a cardiologist, I’ve seen it before in heart attack cases. It is possible for the body to die briefly and with the aid of modern medical technology, bring the person back. I can give you some reading on the subject.”
“I’d like that,” Ted replied.
When Dr. Spring came back with the books, Ted spent hours reading and contemplating the meaning of what had happened. As it took time for the doctors to rebuild his broken body, Ted had free time on his hands. His right arm was placed in a cast. Two pins were inserted into the shattered right leg to hold the leg together. The shattered right kneecap had to be carefully reconstructed. After the knee healed, his physical therapy could begin. He probably would never run a 10K road race again. It was going to be an accomplishment to be able to walk normally again.
In addition to pondering the meaning of his out-of-body experience, Ted had time to think about the hit and run. Even with his mind numbed from pain-killers, he played out the incident in his mind over and over again. The doctors said that a gray car was seen leaving the scene of the accident. He remembered that during his out-of-body experience, he had seen his neighbor, Spike Rikker, pulling his gray Cadillac into his garage.
Ted always had a fear of his biker rebel neighbor. Spike weighted a fat 300 pounds and had a face that looked like it belonged in a mug shot. He ran a small motorcycle repair business on his wooded, overgrown property but probably earned most of his income by selling illegal narcotics. He was never seen in town wearing anything else but a T-shirt and a black leather vest. It was as if he had a giant wardrobe of nothing but T shirts and black leather vests. Every weekend, Spike’s back garage was the site for loud, crazy parties for his motorcycle riding friends.
Three months ago, Rikker tried to open a motorcycle bar on his weeded property. Ted went to town hall and blocked Rikker’s alcohol permit. The nightmarish scenario of leather clad motorcycle gangs continually running wild through the area would have had a disastrous effect on neighborhood property values.
A week after the critical town hall meeting, while shopping for tires, Ted ran into Spike at a local auto parts store.
“Maybe you should change your mind about my motorcycle bar,” Spike leaned forward and said in a low voice. The hulking biker was close enough for Ted to smell his bad breath.
“Spike, I didn’t mean to be a bad neighbor. I just thought that a bar would be a bad development for the entire neighborhood.”
“Buddy, maybe you should start thinking about your own entire health,” Spike said. Ted not wishing for Spike to start using a tire iron or a motorcycle chain as a discussion aid, turned and walked away. Now Ted had discovered how serious Rikker’s threat was.
On his third day at the hospital, Ted was overjoyed when a police detective arrived to investigate the hit and run. The older man shuffled in and spoke in a dull monotone.
“I’m detective O’Reilly. You’ve been involved in a hit and run. Did you see or remember the car that hit you?”
“No. I was hit from behind,” Ted said.
“That’s not much help. We did get a witness who saw a gray car speeding away from the scene.”
Ted thought for a moment, then spoke.
“Detective, this will sound crazy, but I know who did it. ”
“When I was lying by the road, I died for a few minutes and had a weird out-of-body experience. During this out-of-body experience, I saw my neighbor hiding his old Cadillac in the garage on the back part of his property. If you go to his back garage, you’ll find the car that hit me.”
“Any reason that your neighbor would try to kill you?” There was a skeptical look on the detective’s face.
“We had a property disagreement about six months ago. I prevented him from opening a motorcycle bar on his property. Maybe he thinks if he gets rid of me, he can open his sleazy bar.”
“I don’t know what you think you saw, but I can’t get a search warrant on psychic evidence. A judge would laugh your testimony out of court.”
“This guy might try something else crazy.”
“I’ll come back when you’re calmer. You’ll have to excuse me.” The impatient detective turned to leave.
“This is real!” Ted shouted to the detective’s back.
Ted was so steaming at the detective’s indifference, he didn’t notice his doctor returning.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help notice the police ignoring your out-of-body experience. Try not to get upset. If I can help in any way,” The doctor’s voice trailed off.
“Yeah, buy me a U.S. Army surplus tank. When I go home, I’ll be in a wheelchair and I’ll be a sitting duck,” Ted said in disgust.
Ted found a broken human body will heal, but it heals slowly. He learned to do most things with his left arm. The pin in his leg was successful in holding the leg together. The shattered kneecap was healing at a much slower rate. He could stand. But that brought a wave of blinding pain. The doctors were very confident that with physical therapy he would walk normally without crutches again. He would never be able to run a 10K race again. Ted left the hospital in a wheelchair. On his first day home, he called Detective O’Reilly. After a long 15-minute wait, O’Reilly finally came on the line.
“I wanted to know any updates on my hit-and-run case,” Ted said.
“I know you think all we do is twiddle our thumbs down here,” O’Reilly said in a cold monotone. “We checked out your lead. Your neighbor has a gray Cadillac still registered to him. On the basis of that-not your psychic evidence-we obtained a search warrant. We didn’t find any gray Cadillac. According to your neighbor, the car was stolen last year.”
“What are you going to do now? I’m living next to this maniac and I can barely walk.”
“We’re going to look into any leads that come up...”
“You’re not doing anything!” Ted shouted.
The line suddenly went dead. An icy, lonely feeling of fear gripped Ted as he realized he was on his own. Like a wounded frightened animal trapped in a cage, he was almost immobile and living in a house next to a hulking, remorseless menace.
A huge motorized roar from the road made Ted turn and look out the window. Like demons from hell, four black-leather clad-riders wheeled their huge Harley Davidsons past Ted’s house. One or two of the bikes didn’t have a muffler. The lead bike-Ted recognized as Spike’s chopper-turned into his long gravel drive. Spike turned a fraction too early and ran over an old flowerbed of Ted’s. The three other bikers followed and proceeded to run over the bed too. It was an empty, unimportant flower bed. But Ted couldn’t help wonder what else was next.
“Even a trapped animal fights back,” Ted thought. Using his crutches, he shuffled to the hall closet and picked up his old shotgun. He bought it seven years ago when he tried deer hunting. It was a short-lived hobby. He gave it up after realizing he enjoyed being in nature but didn’t experience the visceral thrill in killing. Perhaps now he would have to use the deer gun to kill a man.
Hobbling on his crutches into the kitchen, he stopped at the overhead cupboard second from the sink. He braced himself and counted to three. He forced himself to jump on the counter. Wincing at the extreme pain, he quickly snatched the two shotgun shells stashed there.
“Reaching for things is murder,” he said aloud.
Nervously he started laughing at himself and inadvertently twisted his painful knee. He cursed. Then with his left arm, he loaded the gun and moved to the side window. Sitting in a chair, he had a clear view of his neighbor’s property. If Spike dared to come on his property, Ted would be more than happy to personally show the pudgy biker punk what it feels like to be a plugged deer. He decided to watch his neighbor’s yard for the rest of the day. When night fell, he turned out the inside light to shield himself from being seen from the outside. He knew he couldn’t stand guard on himself indefinitely, but he could try.
Around 10:00 PM, in the boredom of standing watch at the window, he thought back to his near death experience. In some ways, it felt more real than real life. He was floating over his neighbor’s property and was able to see everything about Spike’s property. There was a house, a beaten up shed, a small back motorcycle garage and...something seemed missing.
Ted thought for a minute.
“Didn’t Spike have a Pontiac GTO with big tires on it?” Ted thought hard. It seemed he hadn’t seen the GTO for a while. It was possible-even likely-that Spike put the GTO into storage for the winter. Ted quickly reasoned, if Spike had a storage place for the GTO, then maybe he would put his Cadillac there too.
On a hunch, Ted turned on his laptop computer and went to the yellow pages. Soon he found a local storage area. It was Crossroads Storage-a facility with areas big enough for automobile storage.
“Jackpot!” Ted said. Ted forced himself to stay awake the rest of the night. He had very big plans for the morning.
At nine o’clock he took an extra dose of his prescription pain pills and managed to get into his car. He wasn’t supposed to drive yet, but nothing could stop him now. After making a brief stop at the hospital, he drove to Crossroads Storage. He struggled out of the car and, with the aid of the crutches, made it to the small office. Behind a cheap metal desk was a minimum-wage-scale, long-haired teen-ager trying to look important.
“I’d like to rent an area to store a car,” Ted said.
“Sure-It’s a monthly rate. Payment is due at the end of the month.”
As the teen turned to produce the standard rental paper work and a key, Ted casually dropped three twenty-dollar bills on the office desk.
“By the way, it’s very important that I get the spot next to Spike Rikker’s spot,” Ted said.
With a momentary look of both surprise and greed, the teen looked at the bills for a few seconds, then said in a low voice, “Rikker has 13. You can have spot 14.”
“Just great,” Ted quickly scribbled his name on the rental agreement. He tossed another $20 on the office desk and walked out.
Ted drove around back to Unit 14. He pulled his car inside and with great effort closed the storage area door. He could work in secret now.
Ted examined, in detail, the metal wall between his slot and Rikkers. There was a small inch-wide vent on the ceiling. Perfect! He wouldn’t even have to use the electric drill he had brought.
Reaching into the back seat, Ted produced a long black case. The expensive case had ”Gastroscope - Property of Main Street Hospital” written on the outside. Inside the case was a long tube. Inside the tube were two strands. Ted carefully separated the two strands and carefully screwed a shiny metal cylinder and a battery to one of the strands.
After taking a stepladder from his car trunk, Ted had to stop to rest. Moving around so much was painful. After a ten-minute rest, he moved slowly to the top of the step ladder. Gingerly he paid out the tube into the ceiling vent.
“I wish the doctor were here. He’d know just how to take the perfect picture with this thing,” he said to himself.
He carefully varied the length of the tube being sent into the next storage area and systematically took pictures at every length. Then he slowly retracted the tube, broke down the parts and carefully replaced the device in the black case. He was able to get the case and the step ladder back into the trunk. The pain from all the activity was becoming intense.
By the time he returned home, he found he didn’t need any more of his scheduled pain pills. The adrenaline from the excitement pumping in his bloodstream energized him. He managed to get into his basement and his amateur dark room. The first six pictures were useless. The seventh clearly showed the gray Cadillac and the GTO in the storage area. The eighth shot was even more incriminating. It showed severe collision damage to the Cadillac’s right fender. Ted grimaced. The knowledge that the twisted metal damage was caused by the fender impacting with his body angered him.
“That brain-dead detective could mock his out-of-body experience, but he couldn’t overlook the views of modern photography!” he thought. Ignoring the pain in his injured knee, he charged up the basement steps and picked up the phone.
The two police cars filed out of Spike Rikker’s driveway and then turned south towards the center of town. Sipping a lemonade from his front porch chair, Ted Ryan casually leaned forward and spotted Spike Rikker in the back of the second cruiser. The cruisers filed around the south bend in the road and disappeared. With the exorcism of his biker nemesis from his life, a wave of relief and a feeling of safety came over Ted. There would be no more out-of-body experiences for Ted in the near future. The irony of it was that it seemed as if his near death experience had happened for a reason. The scales had finally tipped in Ted’s favor and the relentless wheels of the small town’s vindictive justice were now posed to grind Spike Rikker’s broken life into a downward spiral of courtrooms, prosecution and incarceration. There were no Harleys or open roads in Rikker’s future. Ted calmly took another sip of his lemonade.
A pretty figure in jogging clothes walked up the yard from the north road. Ted turned and was pleasantly surprised to see the dark-haired woman who had called for the ambulance on that terrible day.
“Hi, the last time I saw you, you weren’t doing too well. I came over to see if you are all right,” she said.
“That day was kind of a bad day for me.” Ted said with a little laugh.
“Are you OK?” She cast a concerned, confused look down the road where the police cruisers had gone.
“Oh yeah, I’m just sitting here watching my life begin again.”