In high school, I ran with a group of guys who, in retrospect, I call “The Four Horsemen”. Greg, Steve, Doug, and I, with our gaggle of girlfriends and anciliary characters. Doug was the last of us to join our group, with me the third. I met Greg in bowling class, and Steve through his friendship with Greg; I’d join them for lunch because they were nicer than most. Doug I met a year later in drafting class; a loner, he’d go off to not eat lunch down by the DECA snack bar. Finally, after enough harrassing, we got him to join our ranks and we all proceeded to do adolescent nonsense at each other’s houses.
I think it was my 18th birthday or somesuch. Maybe a sleepover. My mother, preparing for a houseful of hungry guys, made a huge pot roast with all the trimmings for dinner. It got loud and raucous, as we were wont to do sometimes. Occasionally we’d attempt to outgross each other. Stuff guys do. And so the meal went.
I took a bite of meat and chewed for what seemed like forever; there was gristle or inedible fat in my bite, so I reached in, pulled it out, and set it on the side of my plate. Without missing a beat, Doug, who sat to my right, reached down, picked up the chewed-up wad of beef fat, shoved it into his mouth, and commenced to eat it until it was gone.
It was then that I knew that my friend, Doug Marshall, was the Devil.
Run forward to the end of that year. I had returned home for the holiday after my first semester at college, and I would hang out with these guys, all high school seniors at this point, as much as possible during the holiday break. Doug’s family was gone to north Arkansas for the holiday but he had to stay behind due to his pizza delivery job, so we went to his place a lot. Can’t let a buddy stay way out there alone with no parents around, right? Call it charity.
The Marshall compound was, by my standards, a rather sizable house with a pool, hot tub, pond, patio, woods, and fireplace miles beyond the farthest end of South State Line. It took a considerable amount of time to get out there depending on which path you drove — there was no such thing as a quick run to the store. You could drive the longer, normal route, meaning you took Highway 71 and Line Ferry Road, or you could go the quicker, fun way, which is the network of twisting, half-paved, half-graveled unimproved county roads beyond South State Line. We took to the fun way as often as we could.
One night, three of us were hanging out at the Compound. Steve was on the phone in the game room, Doug was loading up the fireplace in the den, and I was in Doug’s room dubbing off CDs onto tape. Doug walks in and tells me he and Steve are going to go collect some firewood. I nod at him and return to my dubbing.
An hour later, I hear the faint sound of the outside door slam, and Doug stumbles down the hall and into his room, barefoot, dazed, out of breath, and with his forehead covered in blood. “Shawn, c’mon, let’s go. We just had a wreck.”
We jumped into his mother’s car and headed back up South State Line. “Where’s Steve? Where’s Steve?” I asked.
“We went to town and picked up Jennifer.” Jennifer was Steve’s underaged girlfriend. Their dating was forbidden by her parents, given their age difference, so she would have to sneak out after they went to bed. So by now it’s obvious who Steve was calling. As we went, I could make out the faint shape of Steve and Jennifer hobbling towards Doug’s house. We picked them up, and went up to examine the wreckage.
The wreck was at a quick dog-leg in the gravel road where a large oak sat inches from the outside of the curve. Doug’s silver econobubble looked like it was breaking quantum physical laws by sharing spacetime with the tree, like the tree was growing through the front right corner of the car. The driver side of the windshield was spiderwebbed around the impression of a head, steering wheel bent at rough angles. Doug clutched his chest. The driver seat was twisted at the right shoulder from where Steve flew into it from behind before crowning himself on the dash. Luckily, Jennifer was buckled in the back next to Steve, so her injuries were minor. The front passenger seat? It didn’t do so well, either. Anybody sitting there would’ve been pinned and damaged for life.
I don’t know what caused the wreck. Don’t know if Doug was up to his usual risky behavior. Maybe his headlights were off while going fast, trying to prove he could drive the familiar road blind. Maybe he swerved to miss some sudden wildlife. Maybe it was a random patch of ice. Who knows for sure anymore?
But I know that it was Doug’s bald-faced white lie that saved my life. If I knew they were going in to town, I would’ve dropped my tapes in search of adventure. If I knew that “collecting firewood” meant “going to pick up Jennifer”, I would’ve been in that passenger seat. But the Devil lied to me, and as a result I live able-bodied, twenty years almost to the day later, to tell the tale.
I never really thanked him for his betrayal.