The night road was long and winding, headlights along a curve that never squared, only sinking bend after rising bend on repeat. With an unsteady hand, I drove. Occasionally, a car would mesmer up beside me and I’d be without a clue as to how it’d arrived, a sure sign of sand having already been sprinkled onto my eyes when I wasn’t looking. I’d watch the car for miles on end until it passed me into the visionless horizon, its taillights trailing into the night before vanishing like a pair of candles left to wither. After two or three hours of this, I caught a vehicle moving in the rearview with such velocity that all its headlights could ever look like were two little demon eyes stalking me from afar, traces of neon blurring side to side as they honed in on me. Who would need to drive so recklessly at this hour; the police? No, there were no sirens. It was disconcerting, but I only needed to look out at the window beside me to reach for an escape, out at where there stood nothing but black abyss and shadow, to submit to the vista of stillness armored only in darkness, where not even the moon, wherever it was, I was sure, could do enough with its cosmic radiance to illuminate the sightlessness that was these backcountry roads. This was tranquility, this was peace; if even only of a fleeting type.

With the eyes still behind me, I would drive off a few miles until I forgot all about their gaze, only for them to come to lurching back through the rearview, gaining on me, a cycle of small reprieves. To pull aside would have been fine, yet there was no time for rest in my mind. Work was in the morning and I needed to be back in time beforehand. The back-and-forth was also a little fun, an incentive to lower the windows, scan the radio, and get on with the drive. Of course, I was far too tired to entertain the FM Pavlovian pop music that played and so instead switched over to try the voices of AM radio for a change. About a half an hour into this endeavor, I discovered that, at that hour, these broadcasts were mostly all occupied by hollow earth theorists and lizard people anthropologists, along with the occasional grift such as something called ParanormalDate.com. I could only tolerate this sort of content for so long until I needed something with more sustenance and began manualing shifting the dial-knob, searching for whatever signal I could find, when, in-between two out of tune stations—one playing a taped recording of what seemed to be a local high school football game, while the other rebroadcasting the earlier Red Sox-Cardinals game—came a strange mechanical voice emanating out from between a fuzz of static. As I zeroed in on the station somewhere between 1170 and 1230 AM, the voice came to sound more and more like an electronic recording of what seemed random numbers being announced, each in a set of five, followed by a strange dial pad tone that stretched in and out of key.


The first thought to fly into my head was that of dates; something caused, I’m sure, by the resemblance of the initial sequence with my own birthday. The following set of numbers, though, sounded nothing like dates at all. In fact, at one point, the same set of numbers was repeated five times, with the final number in the sequence (three) being repeated permanently over and over again as if stuck in a loop. A little disturbed by this malfunction, I decided to go back to scanning the stations when I noticed the familiar neon headlights rising up to meet me once more. It’d been a while since last I’d seen the gaze, but there was something different this time: the eyes were catching up to me. Whoever was driving had to have accelerated to some absurd speed now. Deftly, I had to pull into the opposing lane to allow for it to pass, trying quickly take a glimpse of the driver in the process, only to make out the bleary image of an orange cued sedan.

Back in my proper lane, I watched as these new pair of taillights zagged along the coming roadway, small lantern glows acting as guides. I expected them to quickly be swallowed by the ensuing dark only for the opposite to occur; the driver slowed. Was this a cheap play at juvenile revenge? For my resistance to yield earlier? Fine, then, I thought; the game would continue. Pressing down on the gas, I looked over at the edge of my window and checked for oncoming traffic—less than a quarter-mile’s way between us, the taillights growing clearer, their license plates almost visible—and began shifting into the opposing lane.

Yet something was wrong…three…three…the car wouldn’t turn, and the wheel wouldn’t give.

Their plates had read Indiana.


At the start of the weekend was when I turned myself in. All my stuff—a wallet, state insurance card, 23 bucks in singles, and a discount brand, 35 dollars a month smartphone I’d defaulted on—were stored inside these long Tupperware boxes. Afterwards, they had me wait inside a holding cell where I got to watch it fill throughout the day. No one talked to anyone; no fighting, no arguing, just cussing when first dragged in, sinking hope confined to a space, bodies squatting or standing along exposed brick walls, 20 or so odd guys in a room made for four. Cramped, agitated, and close to shitting my pants, I spent my time eyeing a bloodied pair of veneers left on top of the lone toilet chair, itself turned inside-out, fecal matter sprayed along the seat to the tank.

“—Been here since before I was born…”

.Without a sense of daylight, I lost track of time, and without a sense of time, I lost most outside standards I had for myself. Instead, I took to standing and staring with a glaring intensity out at the only window available to me: a small two-by-one Plexiglas opening where I could watch the guards as they strolled leisurely across the jail; docile, paunchy men, so full of smiles with their hands inside their pockets, wearing smugly satisfied grins across their faces. I watched them like a starved dog for hours until my name was called and I was lined up to get my mugshot taken. “Approach the white marker,” they had said. Stepping forward, I embarked on a long, downward walk beside a rectangular opening into the floor that looked to have been the end result of some architectural design flaw; a stretching, empty crevasse made of hollowed concrete. Once on the opposite end, I found the marker, waited for the camera to clock, heard it shutter, and approached the side-door where I’d seen all the other men before me exit, only to be told to come back around once more. The same pathetic walk followed, this time with chuckles.

“What is it?” I said to them.

“You gotta check this out; looks nothing like you!.”

They wanted to show me something on the computer screen. It was a printing of my previous mugshot from four or five years ago, when I’d barely been 17. How they got it, I didn’t know. “We got access to everything here,” they had said with a laugh. But there’d been no humor for me to find; not like they had, hadn’t laughed either.

“—You could lighten up, buddy. It’ll help.”

After photos, I was taken to shower, allowed to shit, and exchanged my clothes for a black-and-white inmate piece. The garb, thick and fuzzy to an uncomfortable degree, was tattered and I imagined probably first worn by a member of a chain gang in the 19th century while plowing away at the railroad tracks. From there, I was handed a tray with a powdered meal and sent into an even wider cell full of another 20 men, the coldest, most crowded room I’d ever been in, where, to the left and right of me, men were shaking, shivering, or sweating from going in and out of detox or withdrawals, whichever. I had to wait for the next shift to come in—morning, evening, or graveyard, I didn’t know—for my own medical diagnosis to be given. I thought the experience would be a comfort, but no; the nurses had been in collective disbelief as to my state. I wasn’t an alcoholic, they’d said, but my blood pressure was spiking way too high to be normal, mystified as to the reason why. Being in jail wasn’t enough. Half an aspirin was given to me, along with the passing suggestion of trying prayer to relax.

A couple weeks before my court date, I’d been in a church. My public defender, a lady who drove in from the city to do pro-bono work for us sub-rural folks, had suggested it. She thought it’d be a good idea to get a head start on my community service. I hadn’t minded it at all, to be honest. Usually no one else was there; maybe some illegals trying to get a drunk driving charge removed or something, but they only spoke Spanish and never talked to me anyway. The church was also close enough to where I was staying that I could walk most days. Sure, it’d all been absentminded work—vacuuming, sweeping, sorting pew aisles, and on good days getting to mow the lawn, too—but I’d liked it and even asked if I could find a gig there after I go out, to help get me back on my feet or something. They’d said sure and had even given me a number to call at another place in case they couldn’t work it out with the diocese, said they’d be my reference and everything.

That was all a distant memory inside my jail cell, though. Returned from the infirmary, I’d been taken up a slow, rattling climb a few floors up and was walked inside a cell to join another disheveled young man lying prone on top of a bunkbed. Given a wool blanket and left without comment or direction, a wordless agreement of silence formed between the two of us. It wasn’t until later that morning during some ungodly hour that it was broken, the cause of which was the sounds of a man wheezing and croaking down a few cells over, choking gasps of air escaping out a narrow tube of flesh, stuck somewhere by the Adam’s apple, over and over again.

“Hey…is that guy okay?”

“He’s probably just high. Shit’s been going around.”


As the gargled groans continued, my cellmate revealed to me, if only for the purpose of drowning out what was possibly a man’s struggling last breaths, that he was being held on aggravated assault. He denied having done any wrongdoing, though, before going on to say that what they had once called a lesson was now thought of as a beating, in regards to his wife. He said she hadn’t even wanted to press charges, but that the state had been obliged. “She ain’t gonna say nothing,” he’d said. As for me, all I could really bring myself to tell him was bullshit: “Bullshit charges that wouldn’t even had stuck.”

“Huh?” he asked. “You mean someone snitched on you?”

Someone else had been there, that night on the road. I hadn’t noticed them at all, but they’d been watching me, saw the whole thing, even showed up to the trial. Some guy, miles out from Wrigleyville, came to testify against me, said I’d been driving recklessly for miles before the crash. What he’d been doing out there, I don’t know, maybe driving home from visiting a friend. I mean, I wasn’t charged in relation to the crash, it’d been a proven mechanical fault in 1992 Chevy Caprices; I just never got the recall slip. But when something like this happens, and with me practically scratch-free, no bones broken, people don’t feel right. The family had wanted justice and closure, so the prosecution did the best they could, especially when they found more than just a couple empty bottles of beer in the back of my car’s wreckage. It’d been easy enough to paint a picture like that; a witness had just been the cherry on top they needed. My lady lawyer from the city, though, she’d said to consider myself lucky: “A couple months in county is nothing compared to spending years upstate, okay? You’ll be out before you know it.”

“How old are you?” I’d asked her.

“28. Why?”

“I’m going to be 23 when I get out.”

“What’s that have to do with anything?”

“Nothing, I guess. You’re right, I don’t know. Thank you.”


For all installments of “A Sigh from the Depths,” click here.