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The Confession of Hemingway Jones
When Hemingway Jones swerves off the road and accidentally kills his father, he makes a desperate choice to take his father's body to Lifebank where he works as an intern and does what the doctors and scientists could not: bringing his father back to life with a host of unintended consequences.
To Whoever Finds This:
This isn't a diary. So if you're reading this in hopes that I've actually written down exactly how I did what I did, you're going to be extremely disappointed. I haven't written that down anywhere and I never will.
This is a confession, pure and simple. And I'll tell you right now, before you start reading, or listening, or whatever it is you're doing -- I'm the bad guy. Don't forget that.
It's weird to be the villain in your own life story, but it is what it is.
Confessions are done for the sake of forgiveness. I don't deserve forgiveness. I know that. And I could claim I don't want forgiveness, but I guess I do. So if this is you Melissa, know that it’s your forgiveness I’m asking. I don’t deserve it, but I loved you then and I love you now. I'm sorry for ruining your life.
Just for the record, I was trying to save you.
It’s been a few months, but I still remember the day I killed my father.
Todd and I were absolutely blazed, sitting on the front steps of his family’s doublewide when Dad pulled up, the tires on his Ford F250 skidding to a stop about three inches from my sneakers, while the "Jones Construction: Disaster Mitigation and Restoration" lettering was practically shoved up my nose. Dad hiked himself out the driver’s side door with a slam and I knew I had about fifteen seconds to sober up.
We hadn’t planned on doing this – skipping school and getting baked. Or at least I hadn’t. But Todd had found this brick of hash in his parents’ barn, and well, it was the first spring day where temps were due to hit 65 degrees. So we’d cut out fourth period, rode our bikes back to his place, and got rocked. Seemed like a good idea at the time, and we’d had fun tormenting the chickens, but now I was going to pay for it.
I wasn’t the only one who was nervous, either. Todd tucked his drink behind his back while my dad crunched gravel. Todd had obviously forgotten that all he had was a Yoo-Hoo. He nodded and called out, “Hey there, Mr. Jones.”
Dad murmured “Todd,” in his general direction, but kept his eyes focused on me.
He was just standing there, directly in front of the late afternoon sun. I squinted, but all I could see was this ominous black silhouette of rippling muscle.
I realize I'm making him sound scary, but he's not. Everybody likes my dad, even Todd. Even me. He's this pretty cool, off-the-grid kind of guy. He can build or fix just about anything, and I’m not just talking about when you’ve had a kitchen fire or a burst pipe -- that's just what he does for work. He's also the guy that pulls over when you've got a flat and the one who starts applying the Heimlich on some choker in Kentucky Fried. (It's happened.) He's smart, too. He doesn't have a college degree or anything, but he can talk about Black Holes and Relativity. He can take any online Mensa or IQ test and come up genius, every time. He even beats my scores, and I'm not easy to beat.
Anyway, the point is stand-up guy Bill Jones can be a little scary when he's mad. And I was about to get reamed.
He turned his face profile before he spoke, so I could see just how much air he was furiously pumping through his shadowy nostrils. "Got a call from the school. And another one from Cass."
My first impulse was to cringe, make excuses, and get up, knowing I was busted. But over the last year or so I’d learned that if I waited long enough in these fights, my pangs of guilt would pass and I’d turn into a cocky a--hole, someone far more capable of fighting with Bill Jones. So I waited until I saw Dad as a thunderstorm, rudely blocking out my sun. And I shrugged. I mean, big deal. So I'd skipped school again. I knew the real problem was the call from Cass. I'd never skipped the Tuesday/Friday afternoon internship before, and that was what he was really pissed about. He'd filled out all the paperwork for that internship himself -- he'd even written the essay when I refused -- all so that I would have "the future" he never did.
"Hem, I'll uh --" Todd looked around quickly, hoping some excuse for his desertion would magically appear. "I think maybe I gotta help with dinner. See ya, Mr. Jones." He practically ran inside.
"Do you have any idea what you're doing?" Dad exhorted. "You have this gift. My God, you want to end up like that?" He gestured to the disappearing form of Todd.
"Dad, that's low. Leave him alone."
He didn't even pause. He just growled, "Hemingway Jones" in that low, throaty way that he always does before lecturing. And he knows I hate my name. But he only rarely calls me Hem -- he says it sounds like a pronoun.
"You have absolutely no idea what you're risking. NONE!" And with that crack of thunder came the rain. He blasted on, salting his sentences liberally with words like "responsibility" and "commitment."
I just rolled my eyes. The lecture was so generic I didn't taste anything close to regret. Basically I could recite a variation of this speech as easily as I could the Periodic Table. Anyways, due to some really good dope, the tweaks and nuances of that particular version are lost forever.
I finally interrupted him. “I didn’t even want the effen internship!” I stared at him, waiting for a response. The fact was empirically true. But he just stuffed his hands in his pockets, so I charged on. “I don’t want college, either. School bores the crap outta me. You know that. Why would I pay for more torture, when I could be a project manager at your company and earn some money? Stanton got an honors degree from Chapel Hill. He's still working at the gym full-time AND living at home, just to pay the loans. Why would I buy into all that crap?”
I tilted a little, trying to duck down and check my face in the side view mirror of the truck without him noticing. I was pretty sure I was smirking -- a dead giveaway. No smirk, but the face that looked back at me was a little worrying. My black hair had gone all stringy from sweat and stuck in clumps around my face. My eyes, normally green, were cayenne pepper red. I looked like a stoner. If I didn't shift the conversation soon, he'd notice. I needed a move.
So I conjured up the ghost of my mother. "Mom wouldn't make me go there. Do you have any idea what I do at that place? Do you think she'd want me doing that? Do you think she'd want that done to her?"
That worked. Dad looked as if I'd punched him. "Of course not," he finally choked out.
I knew the image was unfair. Bottom-feeding, in fact. I instantly wished I hadn't said it, but I didn't take it back, because if the situation was reversed, he wouldn't take it back. My dad sucks at apologizing.
Still. I could practically read his memories of Mom in his body language. His shoulders sagged with her diagnosis, quickly followed by a head nodding south to the ground, as she exacted promises out of him about how I was going to be raised. By the time his hands found his hips, I knew her body was being carted out of the cancer ward at Northeast, into a mortician's hearse. That was two years ago.
Now who sucks at apologizing?
Fair would be admitting Bill Jones didn't have the faintest idea what company I'd be interning for when he applied in my name. He'd just been all excited that this fabulous new Biotech Research Center was going to take high school students on as interns. He’d gone on and on about what an "amazing opportunity" that would be for me. That said, he’d grimaced when I got the acceptance letter. He’d guessed almost immediately what kind of company it was. But he’d still wanted me to do it because he thought it would lead to better scholarships for college. He rattled on that even if I didn't want to go to college right now, I should still want the option. When I finally gave in and said okay, he told me what they did, or at least, what he thought they did. I absolutely flipped. I'd told him there was NO WAY I was going to work there.
The curtains shifted. Todd was watching us. I glared at him and they pulled tight again, but his fingertips were still visible at the seams. He really could be a dumbass.
My dad saw it too and checked himself, knowing he'd lost his temper and embarrassed me in front of my friend. He suddenly tossed me the keys. "We'll talk about this at home. You drive." He climbed in the passenger’s side.
I did pause, keys in hand. That much is true. But I didn't confess. I used to think it was because I was so shocked that I’d won the round. But the truth is I was pleased with my merit-less victory. I didn't feel like ruining it and getting another lecture.
Plus I really wanted my license. Bad enough I was the only junior at school that didn't have one. Okay, I'd skipped a grade; but you're a joke if all you've got is a Learner’s Permit. I wanted my freedom. I wanted to be able to get up and leave -- just drive away -- whenever he started in like this. Then he'd have to stop living vicariously through me.
Truth? I don’t really remember what I was thinking. I just climbed in, stuck the keys in the ignition, and pulled away.
Todd and his parents live way the hell out on Gold Hill Road, which is the kind of road your grandparents take you on for a Sunday drive in the country. While the southern half of Concord has been transformed into commuter sprawl for the city of Charlotte, this easternmost tip is the last gasp of Cabarrus County farmland. Rolling fields of corn and collard greens rise and dip in every direction, interspersed between wide pastures of native wildflowers and woods. The road rises and curves with those fields, and there’s only the occasional little clapboard house visible. Most of those are recessed way back too, stuck in copses of trees so the farmers can get a break from the scorching summer sun. Other cars are rare, but when they come, they come fast.
I remember the pickup that zoomed by, headed the opposite direction. Our spacing was so close and his speed so great that I felt the backdraft blast me through the open driver’s side window. I pulled my head back inside, knowing I was a mental trainwreck. But too late now. If I confessed I was stoned, my dad would cut up my Learners. He’d told me if I ever got caught driving under the influence, I’d have to wait until I was 18 for a license, plus I’d have to be equipped with a car I'd paid for myself.
I concentrated on each turn, going over it slowly, careful to lift and twist with the road. He didn't watch me. He was lost in thought, staring out the windshield. I bet he was still thinking about Mom. But we'll never know.
The dope overtook me again in the silence. I got all caught up studying the budding spring green on the trees against the impossibly blue sky. Spring in the Piedmont is something to see. Everything flowers in April -- dogwoods, Bradford Pears, weeping cherry trees, azaleas, loropetalums and bulbs of all kinds. We were only days away from a rainbow bath.
That's when I missed the curve.
I wasn't speeding, but I didn't have to be, in order to wreck on this road. My reactions were slow, my instincts hairy. Dad yelled and tried to grab the wheel, but for some reason I pushed his hand away, as I used the other to try and correct the spin. But I was going against it, rather than with it, like he'd taught me to do.
Off the road, careening down an embankment, I felt his arm slam against my chest. He grabbed the handhold above me, pinning me in place because he didn't trust the seatbelt. When we hit rocks at the base of the creek, the resulting SMACK lifted the bed. My airbag exploded as the truck vaulted over the creek like a gymnast doing a handflip. I felt the roof above us buckle. The second flip -- the one that righted us -- was much slower, more like a backbend.
You know what the first thing I did was? I giggled. I say all this to keep reminding you -- I'm no hero. I was absolutely fine; nervously wondering what kind of trouble I was in for now. I was even stifling a laugh when I turned towards Dad.
His eyes were open and glassy, his mouth gaping. A punched dent in the metal roof was seemingly melded to his brain. He wasn’t breathing.
I tried dialing 911, but couldn't get a signal, so I dragged him out of the car.
My sneakers were instantly soaked with freezing cold creek water. That's when I had the first impulse -- he needs to be cold. I tugged at his shoulders and then at his legs, until his whole body was in that frigid creek. My hands were red, raw and shaking by the time I'd arranged him, but I paused to hit the timer on the phone -- like I knew what had to happen. Except I didn't. Honestly, I kept waiting for him to just wake up and start yelling.
I remember performing CPR. He’d forced me to take every course the Red Cross had to offer before I was ever allowed behind the wheel. I proceeded to perform them all, even though I already knew he was dead.
I started screaming. Then I barfed in the grass.
I tried again -- pumping his heart over and over again – while getting no frigging signal. I was going to have to climb the embankment to call, and that meant leaving him. I climbed, grabbing onto the knee-deep vines of dead kudzu to pull myself up. I kept turning back to check, fully expecting him to be awake and seriously pissed.
Calculations ran through my head as if I had nothing to do with them. It'd been approximately twenty-two minutes since the accident, so I tried to hurry up, but the ground was still loose from rain, so I kept slipping. Every time I did, the calculations shifted. It was going to take another five minutes -- minimum -- to get to the top of the hill. Total: 27 Minutes. Barring an EMT out on the prowl, it would take an ambulance at least another twenty to get here from downtown. That's forty-seven minutes. How much more time to unload and power up a defibrillator?
The answer mattered -- I only had thirteen minutes left to play with. If Dad was clinically dead for more than sixty minutes when the EMTs arrived, they wouldn't even try to revive him. I know this. They'd say he'd end up a vegetable at best, pat me on the back and let me ride next to his body on the way to the morgue.
I could lie. Tell the Medics he’d been down only been a few minutes. But even if they bought it and tried to revive him, they had less than a 5% chance of success. And at that point, with all that company, it wasn't like I could then move on to Plan B.
I’m not really sure when Plan B materialized. I mean, I’d instantly wanted the Gaymar machine when the accident happened, but I don’t know when that silent wish transformed into a plan to sneak my dad’s body into the Biotech Research Center.
It was one or the other. Call 911. Or the Gaymar Millennium.
The ground gave way and I fell again -- that cinched it. This time I let the kudzu go and slid down the hill all the way to the bottom.
Bill Jones didn't believe in God. Or Heaven. Even when my mom died, he didn't pretend he'd had some sort of a religious epiphany for my sake. He just told me she was gone and that was pretty much it, as far as he was concerned. That little nugget of truth should've told me what Bill Jones would want, what was right. But it just spurred me on: if there is no God, then there is no Heaven. Only Earth. And no one deserved Heaven more than my dad. So if Earth was Bill Jones' only Heaven, I had to bring him back. At least, I needed to try.
I checked my dad and the road again. Nothing. No one could see us. No one knew he was dead. Except me.
Did the truck work? If it didn't, this plan was over. I popped the air bag, stuck the keys in the ignition and turned the key gently. The car responded: time to load up my dad in the bed.
He was so heavy. I’m tall, but I only weigh about 150 pounds. Once he was inside the bed, I kissed him on the forehead and covered him with a tarp.
My next thought was ice.
After hijacking the Research Center overnight, Hemingway forces his father back to life. And while his dad is still distinctly Bill Jones, his skin has turned ashen, he digests hydrogen sulfide instead of food, and he cannot exist in temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite these limitations, the dying billionaire founder of the Biotech Research Center will stop at nothing to know the secret to what Hemingway did, including forcing him to recreate the very experiment Hemingway swore he'd never do again. Trapped by his own conscience, Hem finds a reason to live in Melissa, a young woman whose little sister is dying of a rare disease. "The Confession of Hemingway Jones "explores the Frankenstein themes of naturalism, the ethical boundaries of science, and the ever-blurring margin between life and death.