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White Lines

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge Round #2

By Alyssa NicolePublished about a month ago 8 min read
Top Story - June 2024
White Lines
Photo by Maria Orlova on Unsplash

Author's Note: This story was originally written and submitted for the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2024. The genre/subject/character assignments were drama/closure/a tow truck driver.

Weak sunlight broke past the curtains in streaks as Cole Hayes squinted through weighted eyelids. The light struck his face as he lay face down on his bed. Without a glance at his phone, he knew it was mid-afternoon, the sun hanging low in the autumn sky. The drowsiness was a soft blanket, one Cole wanted to pull tighter around himself. The warmth numbed his limbs, but his head sparked with the onset of a migraine.

Cole groaned, squeezing his hazel eyes shut. He slowly coaxed his muscles, and the sparks ignited an intense pain that radiated out towards his forehead. Cole hissed and managed to swing his legs over the side of the bed, leaning his elbows on his knees and pinching the bridge of his nose. He was still wearing the stained khaki pants and polo shirt from the night before. His cropped copper hair, once neatly combed and parted, was now plastered stiff against his temples. Somehow, he had managed to make it back to his townhouse and flop onto his bed before passing out.

It was Cole’s new routine.

His room was a chaotic display of his current life. His black leather belt lay coiled on the carpet next to his gray Sperry sneakers, which were tossed haphazardly at the foot of the bed. Empty beer bottles scattered the afternoon light, casting warped reflections across the room. Prismatic shapes waxed and waned like the twisting of a kaleidoscope. Traces of white powder dusted the surface of his nightstand, complemented with several credit cards. Amber-orange bottles and Ziploc bags filled with white and gray-blue pills accented the top of Cole’s dark mahogany dresser.

Cole stumbled out of his bedroom and down the narrow stairs to the kitchen. As a twenty-seven-year-old bachelor, he had no use for his glass top stove or double oven. As far as he was concerned, the only appliances worth their value were the refrigerator and the microwave. But sometimes Cole wondered if his mother would have cooked in this kitchen, baking his favorite lasagna recipe with freshly prepared tomato and basil sauce simmering on the stove, if she had made it through those grueling experimental treatments several years ago.

Shaking the last images of his frail mother, Cole shuffled to the marble island separating the kitchen and the living room and reached for the amber bottle lying in wait. He popped off the white plastic cap and shoved two round gray-blue pills into his mouth. The bitterness hit his tongue and he waited for the familiar reprieve as he took a swig of water. The little pills were just enough to take the edge off, to separate himself from the agony. He knew he would have to find someone with the yellow or green pills soon. The pain in his back and the static in his head continued to intensify, keeping him tethered to the rope that dangled into an abhorrent abyss.

Cole dropped onto the couch and switched on the TV, catching choppy bits of daytime soap operas as he flipped through the channels. Mia Hansen, the attractive news reporter on Channel 6, caught his attention and his thumb hovered over the remote. Mia’s golden hair was pinned back into a tight ponytail, her usually cheerful face twisted into a frown as she stood near the edge of a busy road. The somber look in her Nordic blue eyes pulled his nerves into a tight bundle. His left eyelid twitched as Mia brought the microphone to her lips.

“It was a terrible scene early this morning here on Route 7, just outside of Manchester. Forty-two-year-old Henry Langford of Arlington, owner of Langford Towing, was fatally struck by a vehicle while he was stopped on the northbound shoulder.”

She motioned behind her to her right where a tow truck sat abandoned on the side of the road. Cole recognized the tow truck, the faded red and blue logo of Langford Towing stamped across the chipped white paint. His heart slammed against his ribcage when a photo of a smiling Henry Langford appeared.

Jagged fragments of the night before splintered his mind.

A solid white line, a jerk, a speed bump.

Cole swallowed sandpaper as he remembered the last time he had seen Henry. It was last summer; the night Cole had totaled his father’s old Mercedes convertible. He had been driving home from a party after one too many drinks and dove into a ditch, killing the convertible’s axle and its frame.

Cole winced as he recalled how furious his father had been when he showed up at three in the morning, the humid July air thick and suffocating under a full moon. Henry had been pulling his father’s beloved Mercedes out of the rugged ditch, the tail end sticking out at an awful angle. Cole himself had not walked away unscathed. But that wasn’t his father’s concern. Cole had fractured several vertebrae in his spine, leading to stacks of prescriptions ripped from the pad of his generous primary care doctor. By September, Cole had fallen within the reach of addiction’s greedy grasp.

The weight of a single square piece of paper had never felt so enormous.

Mia continued as the memory faded to the back of Cole’s mind.

“This occurred during the early morning hours, according to the county’s medical examiner. Due to the timing and the remote location, there were no witnesses to this horrific accident and authorities weren’t alerted until after five o’clock when a driver noticed an obstruction in the right lane, several yards north of Langford’s tow truck.”

Mia paused, taking a deep breath. Cole gripped the remote in his hand, unable to let go, feeling weightless and ladened simultaneously.

“The dense rolling fog in this area may have played a role in this accident. As of this afternoon, there are no leads on the car or driver responsible for this heartbreaking hit-and-run. Anyone with information is urged to call the Manchester Police tipline.”

The camera shifted to Dara Langford, now Henry’s widow, with her ten-year-old daughter, Kimberly, clinging to her side. Both mother and daughter faced the camera with tear-stained faces swollen with grief. Wisps of their matching walnut hair stood on high-alert, evidence of a sleepless night.

“Please, if anyone has any information…”

Dara trailed off, sobs flooding her voice as another woman gently led her and Kimberly away from the microphone. The camera panned back to Mia, who stood with her head lowered for several seconds before speaking again. Cole’s bloodshot eyes latched onto Mia, and he stared until her face became distorted on the screen. But her blue eyes remained unwavering as they penetrated his chest, ensnaring his racing heart.

A harsh buzzing snapped Cole back into his living room. In a daze, he watched his cell phone shimmy across the grimy glass top of his coffee table. He grabbed his phone before it jumped off the edge. Cole sighed and answered.

“Hey, Mike.”

“Dude, what happened to you last night? I thought you were meeting us at Jacoby’s?”

Mike’s voice jolted Cole back to the crowded and stuffy bar they had crammed into last night, a bar that Cole had never been to before and now he could not remember the name.

But it had been on Route 7.

Cole had been driving home after working overtime at the financing office when Mike had called and told him to meet him and a few of their other local friends for drinks.

His car.

“I…I had a rough night. I decided to call it and just head home,” Cole stammered, his tongue suddenly heavy in his mouth.

Mike blew out a puff of air. “Man, you picked a hell of a night to call it quits so early…”

Distracted, Cole rose from the couch as Mike narrated the events of the night. Mike’s voice was a muffled static at the fringes of Cole’s mind as Cole glanced over at the key hook on the wall.

It was empty.

His heart plunged into his stomach as his eyes fell to the kitchen floor, to his keys splayed on the white silver-laced tile.

Cole didn’t remember dropping his keys.

Without another thought, Cole cut Mike off.

“I have to call you back.”

Cole ended the call and dropped his phone on the marble countertop. He bent over and retrieved his keys, turning his gaze to the door leading to the garage. With a lump lodged in his throat, Cole approached the garage door. He placed his clammy hand on the doorknob and steeled himself as he opened the door and switched on the light.

The dim overhead light hummed and illuminated his dark green Range Rover. Cole quickly scanned the exterior, nothing looked out of place or damaged from the driver’s side of the vehicle. He cautiously stepped towards the front end, slowly making his way to the passenger side. His blood crystallized in his veins and the air compressed from his lungs as his eyes landed on the crimson streaks smeared across the bumper, now dented and crooked. A thread of fluorescent yellow fabric caught in the black grille cover drew him back into another fragmented memory.

Pulsing amber lights, a flash, a loud thump.

A strong surge of nausea erupted from his gut and Cole heaved into the utility sink in the corner of the garage. Bile burned in his chest as Cole’s mind ran rampant, his thoughts circling and preying on his shame and recklessness.

He would be facing vehicular manslaughter.

The Canadian border was just three hours away.

Adrenaline pricked his skin, propelling him into the office down the hall. Cole dropped to his knees and flew through the combination of the small safe hidden in the bottom drawer of his desk. He shoved papers and documents aside until the gold lettering of his passport appeared.

Out of breath, Cole sat back onto the floor with the small blue book in his hands. He flipped it open to his photograph and stared at his younger self. Cole was twenty in his passport photo, barely out of his teenaged years. His life had been so much different, so much better seven years ago. He was not the same man now. His eyes swelled with tears, clouding his vision as his shoulders shook with regret. He was broken and torn apart from the inside out.

What had he done? How had he gotten to this point?

“I’m so sorry,” Cole cried to himself, to his mother, to his father, to Henry Langford and his family. He let his tears streak the glossy pages of his passport.

As his grief settled, Cole knew what he had to do.

Cole grabbed his keys and drove four miles into town, adrenaline still pumping through his body. Pulling into the parking lot on Albatross Road, Cole steadied himself as he gripped the steering wheel of his Range Rover for the last time. He studied his ragged face in the rearview mirror. It looked as though he had aged a decade in the past twenty minutes.

Mustering whatever courage from the depths of his soul, Cole walked into the lobby of the police station, the walls collapsing and expanding as if he were trapped in the belly of a lion. Sweat snaked down his back in beads as his heartbeat pounded in his ears. His feet moved towards the desk; his aching muscles controlled by an unknown puppeteer.

“Can I help you?”

The uniformed woman behind the glass partition waited for Cole’s response. His throat constricted, choking off the guilt rising from his gut. Cole placed his trembling hands on the cool surface in front of him, grounding himself.

“My name is Cole Hayes…I’d like to turn myself in.”

Short Story

About the Creator

Alyssa Nicole

A toxicologist who secretly hopes to be a full-time author. One novel in progress with too many other ideas taking up space in my head until I get around to writing them. Some of those ideas end up here.

Instagram: @alyssa.n.mussowrites

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Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (10)

  • Dr. Jason Benskin26 days ago

    Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. It’s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • ROCK about a month ago

    Newly subscribed; congratulations on Top Story!

  • CHRISTIAN Pabout a month ago

    Beautiful story Alyssa Nicole

  • Christa Leighabout a month ago

    Kind of hoping he was going to run first.... Nice piece!

  • Kenny Pennabout a month ago

    I'm so happy you made it to round 2! That's awesome! I just made it to the second round for their 100 micro-fiction challenge, though I don't think I'll make it to the final round with the prompt they gave me 🤣

  • TahimaAniabout a month ago

    Congratulations on your top story.. good job👍

  • Margaret Brennanabout a month ago

    congratulations on TS. This is truly fantastic!! What a brilliant piece of work. Love it.

  • JBazabout a month ago

    Guessing how this was going to end was the mystery. All signs led to Cole, then you add the twist of the run for the Canadian border. A disciplined written story and well drawn out, Congratulations you have a new subscriber

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    Very impressive work! Top Story, indeed!

  • D.K. Shepardabout a month ago

    This was a great read!! I felt the sickening lurch in my own stomach as Cole realized what he had done. Great use of your NYC Midnight prompt! I made it to round 2 but didn’t move on to the 3rd round. Love reading other contestants pieces here on Vocal!

Alyssa NicoleWritten by Alyssa Nicole

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