Authors: Cylin Busby
I reached the doorstep, and stopped. A large puddle of blood was pooling at my feet. It was a cool night so I’d worn the zip-in vest lining from my police jacket over my uniform shirt. I quickly took this puffy vest off and held it to where my lower jaw used to be, which was just now starting to hurt. I was doing two things—trying to control the bleeding and making my uniform visible so they would know I was a cop.
A young girl opened the door immediately—obviously they’d heard the gunshots and me driving up on their lawn. She took one look at me and ran screaming into the house. An older woman appeared—her mom, I guessed—and I somehow managed to indicate that I was police and I’d been injured. She led me into their kitchen and, in shock herself, started yelling for wet towels. I knew from my EMT training that I had to maintain my airway even though I might bleed to death anyhow, and this was a major fear as I watched the pool of blood spread slowly around my feet into a circle, and then across the entire kitchen floor. I had no way to tell her that dry towels would really be a lot better, so I just took what she gave me.
I had to lean over and let the blood flow out of my face, onto the floor, because to lean back or try to stop it in any way sent it down my throat, and I was literally drowning in it. Time slowed down, the wet towels being handed to me, the pool of blood on the floor creeping wider. I knew they had called to report a police officer shot; I heard them on the phone. Then, far away but growing louder, I heard the sirens coming. But it wasn’t an
ambulance; Tony Mello, a fairly new cop, was in the neighborhood and heard it over the radio. Once he saw me, the situation, he radioed in immediately, confirming that a cop had been shot and an ambulance was needed. Tony didn’t know who shot me, what had happened, where the shooter or shooters were. He did know that EMTs won’t enter until the scene is secure, so that’s what he did, making the family sit together on the couch in the living room, away from me. Then he started pacing between the kitchen and front door with his gun out, keeping guard.
I was losing so much blood I could see it everywhere. No matter what, I just wanted to live long enough to describe the vehicle. Tony was walking a bloody trail into the carpet between the door and the kitchen, looking for that ambulance and telling me, “They’re on their way, on their way.” But I knew I was safe now from being shot again—they were going to have to go through Tony to get to me, and he had his weapon, so that was one worry off my mind.
They can’t shoot me any more tonight
, I told myself, and just as I did, the pain caught up with me. Suddenly, I was hurting bad, with electric shooting pains radiating from my jaw and through my head, right into my brain, like I was being shocked, electrocuted. It’s the feeling of touching a live wire, but in my face, my skull, and it wouldn’t stop. I started shaking hard, going into shock.
Looking at the blood, the amount of it, I could tell I was going to either pass out or bleed to death before the EMTs arrived. I wanted them to know that I needed a transfusion of O
positive blood. I wanted to let them know about the car, in case there wasn’t time. This was all I could think about, that I had to write this down somehow. I always carried a small notebook and a pen in my shirt pocket when I was on the job, for anything I might need to write down to make a report on later—plate numbers on cars I wanted to run, you name it. I managed to hold the wet towel to my face with my left hand and to pull out my notebook and pen with my right. If I couldn’t keep pressure on my face, I was definitely going to bleed out. But this was more important. Somehow, I scrawled the words “not an accident” on the paper, smearing blood on it as I wrote.
I heard more sirens, and Craig Clarkson—a fellow cop, good buddy, and also an EMT—ran into the house. I was so relieved to see he had the emergency kit from his cruiser; I was beyond happy to see this guy. Now Tony had the door covered and Craig was the best medical coverage I could have asked for. I shoved the notebook at him so he could read what I’d written, then I tried to write more while Craig was checking me out. I wrote the name “Ray Meyer.” This is the only person I could think of who would want me dead, and I knew why. I also knew what this guy was capable of and how much he hated me. He was a convicted arsonist and a suspect in several murders and “disappearances,” too. And if I was right, he was going to try to burn down my house and kill my family tonight, while the police department was distracted taking care of me. Last I wrote, “Polly and the kids—not safe.”
Craig was looking in my eyes, and I noticed his pupils were huge. He was doing his best with what he had. He looked at the wound, then just put the towels back up to my face without saying anything. He didn’t bother to even open the kit, there was nothing in there that could help me. Now he was the one applying the pressure, so I could write down more, about the car description; about the
, delay, third
; about the light blue sedan with four headlights horizontal, not vertical. He kept telling me that I was going to be okay, but I knew I was dying, and I wanted him to have all the facts. I had to get this information to somebody. “You’re gonna be okay,” he kept saying, but I could always tell when Craig wasn’t being straight. I knew the guy.
He was worried. So was I.
Everything slowed down more. It was quiet; everyone kept doing the same thing over and over. Craig checked my stats; Tony walked his bloody trail in the carpet, his police-issue black shoes making a swishing sound when he came near the kitchen. I wrote a note to Craig saying, “Where are the kids?” He said he was going to take care of that. “Don’t worry about it now.” I wrote more: “bone pain.” My face was hurting in a deep, horrible way, but that’s all I felt, besides the sensation of blood surging down my throat with every heartbeat, and even that was starting to slow way down. I could feel what was left of my face keeping time with the beats. Pump, pause, pump, pause, pump. Then
I heard more sirens, but these ones were different, they sounded so far away, like they were coming from underwater. I kept hearing them, but they didn’t seem to get any closer. I kept hearing them, and hearing them, and hearing them. “They’re coming,” Craig said. “Hold on, Buzz. Hold on.”
WE lived on a cul-de-sac called Decosta Circle, which was just off of Sandwich Road, on the border of Falmouth and a town called Hatchville. On our left were the Sullivans. They had only one kid, a daughter named Erin, who was in my grade at school. Erin was okay to play with when I was at home, but at school I thought hanging out with my neighbor just wasn’t cool. I had other friends at school and I ignored Erin from the moment we got on the bus.
Mom was aware of this silent rule I had made and tried to talk to me about it, but I had my mind made up. Erin’s parents were also aware of the way I treated their daughter, and they didn’t like me very much. In fact, with their perfectly kept yard and prim white house, I don’t think they were very fond of the big, loud Busby family next door, with all the cars rotting in the driveway, the unmowed lawn, and the barking beagle tied up
outside. I saw the inside of their house twice, and it was perfect and clean, not anything like ours. Erin’s mom was a bit older than my mom, and she stayed home all day, making Erin tuna-fish sandwiches with the crust cut off. My mom was a teacher, and she was in nursing school at night, so we mostly made our own sandwiches.
When my brothers and I tried to cut through the Sullivan yard to get over to our other friends’ house, the Zylinskis, Mr. Sullivan would come out and yell at us. He was a big Irishman, with white hair and a high round belly that would have made him look like Santa Claus, except for the fact that he was always yelling. Mom told us that he had already had one heart attack and was “headed for another one,” the way he got so worked up. “You’re cutting a path through my grass! You’re killing my yard, you Busby kids. Get out of my yard!” Never mind the fact that we really weren’t cutting a path—we would walk along the fence at the edge of his property, where grass didn’t grow anyhow. What really bothered him was the fact that we were cutting over to see the Zylinskis and we didn’t invite Erin to come with us. But Mom would kill us if we walked down on Sandwich Road, so the only way to get there was by cutting through Mr. Sullivan’s yard.
To our right, we didn’t have neighbors, we had a church. It wasn’t the kind of church that people went to on Sundays; in fact, we saw it open only a handful of times in the ten years that we lived in Falmouth. This church was rumored to have been
built by descendants of the Pilgrims in the mid- to late 1700s, and it was known as the East End Meeting House. A big, three-story boxy Cape Cod building, its shingles had weathered to a dark, dry gray, and the windows were trimmed in white paint. On top sat a huge steeple, with a weathervane that you could barely see from the ground. There had once been a bell in the steeple, but it had been removed a hundred years ago and hung from a wooden post near the front door. The front of the building was not ornate. It had a barn-style door, white and flat, and no steps, just a slim granite slab to step up on, worn down in the center from the footsteps of hundreds of Pilgrims, or at least that’s what I liked to imagine. And in back of the church was one of the oldest graveyards in New England. The gravestones—at least, the ones you could still read—dated back to the 1700s. This graveyard spanned an acre or so in back of the church, so while the building was our “neighbor,” we really lived next door to a cemetery.
Our property was separated from the sloping green lawn of the church by a row of tall shrubs, intermixed with bamboo, about five feet wide. We called that area our “tree house” because of how dense the trees and bamboo had grown. It was dark and shady, a nice place to dig and build stuff on a hot summer day. When I was about six or seven, I was digging a hole in there and came across a long, flat stone. My brothers and I dug all around it, outlining the shape. It took us all afternoon.
When we showed it to Dad, he swore under his breath and got the shovel from the basement. He put the dirt we had dug up
back over the stone and added some more for good measure, pounding it all down with the back of the shovel and pushing some fallen bamboo leaves over it. “Don’t dig over here anymore,” he told us. “Not ever.” Though the border of the graveyard was a few feet away from our yard, some old stones had been forgotten when they drew the property lines, or they had been lost over the years in the trees that bordered the graveyard. After that, whenever we felt like being bad, we would creep to the back of the tree house, at the very end corner of our property, and dig, looking for more stones, bones, and whatever else we might find.
The graveyard and the graves in it were not scary to us. In our minds, this was our playground, with wide green lawns and old oak, pine, and weeping willow trees to climb. You had to go down to the very back of the graveyard to even see any headstones that had legible markings on them. The ones up toward the front of the graveyard were old and weathered to the point of being mere markers. But some still had amazing engravings—swirling lines cut across the ornate tops into beautiful curlicues, ancient writing that had As and Es linked together as one letter. Mom would go to the graveyard with us around Halloween every year and we would do gravestone rubbings with her art supplies. The lines and letters on the stones that were invisible to the naked eye would come to life under paper with the help of a charcoal pencil. We would use the rubbings to decorate our house for Halloween, but still the spookiness of living next door to a graveyard never really got to us. It was just how we lived,
and since we had never known anyone who had died, the concept of death, of ghosts or the afterlife, wasn’t anything we had to grapple with.
One late-summer afternoon, as we played in the graveyard with the Zylinski kids, one of the older boys went to climb into an old oak and used a headstone near the base of the tree to get his footing. He pushed too hard, or maybe the stone wasn’t firmly planted anymore. It slipped out from under his foot as he pushed up into the tree, and fell forward, hitting the ground with a loud, resonating thump. All of us tried to lift it back up, but it was surprisingly heavy, and we couldn’t budge it. We knew we had done something wrong, and we told my mom later that night. Dad and one of his friends went over the next day and righted the stone, but we were in trouble.
“You cannot disrespect the people who are buried over there,” Mom pointed out. “I’m sure they don’t mind you playing and enjoying yourselves, but please remember to leave the stones alone, and let me know if you ever see anyone doing otherwise.” I didn’t really get what Mom was talking about, the “people” over there. Dad had told us that anyone buried in that graveyard was long gone. “Not even dust anymore,” he’d say. I had seen the far back of the graveyard, a section that was still being used as the town cemetery. We had walked down that far a few times with Mom and Dad. One time we saw a pile of dirt and a little red plastic flag on a thin metal pole marking the spot. There were lots of wilted flowers and silky ribbons around. “This is a fresh
one,” Dad pointed out to my mom. I asked Mom about it, and she explained to me the basics about how people were buried, in a casket. Then she reminded my brothers and me that we should never disturb a grave with fresh dirt piled on top, and that we shouldn’t be playing this far down in the graveyard anyhow.