It Rolls Downhill

It Rolls Downhill

A Story by Joel McCarthy

I saw patterns flash across the inside of my eyelids as the sound of my pager ripped through a deep sleep. I called the number and Anthony told me to make my way down to the campus for an emergency.

            I slipped into whatever clothing was piled next to the bed, a pair of athletic shorts, a long sleeve shirt, making my way to the front door. I wiggled my bare feet into a white pair of Nikes that I’d purchased earlier that day.  The work boots seemed too much of a chore to put on, tucked away in the back of the closet and smelling of last week’s toils.

            The road was empty and dark. I caught several red lights and considered flying through them, but couldn’t seem to muster up the automotive courage. I checked the glove compartment for gum, a cigarette, anything to keep me awake. I managed to find a cigarette butt in the ashtray that had enough left on it to resurrect. The tobacco was stale and tickled my nose hairs when I exhaled the smoke. A few yards ahead I saw two glowing eyes near a dear crossing sign. When I passed by, they disappeared into the roadside greenery.


            The campus was dark and quiet; probably the only time it could be found this way. It was too early for students to wake but too late for them to continue socializing and drinking. My tires crunched over the gravel road that led to the storage room at the west end of the campus.

            Tony leaned against the bed of his ford, smoking a joint. His battered Eagles hat was pulled down, covering bushy eyebrows. I pulled up beside him and shut off the engine.


            “Same to you.”

            “What’s the damage?”

            “You don’t wanna know.”

            He led me toward the door which led down toward the storage room. The metal door was dented and tagged with graffiti. His key jammed in the lock and he had to butt his shoulder up against the door before it relented and opened. A set of concrete stairs, leading down, became visible when Tony flicked on the utility light. The smell of excrement and urine flew up the stairs and hit us both.  Tony pulled two foam drywall masks from his pocket, tossing one at me.

            “What the f**k is this supposed to do?”

            “Protection,” he smirked.

            When my foot came off of the last step and hit the floor, I stepped in a puddle that didn’t seem to end. I looked at the floor, a still river of brown and black, weaving through soiled banker’s boxes, stacked plastic chairs, leading toward the septic tank in the corner.

            “There’s a drain in here somewhere,” Tony said.

            “Well what’s the plan?”

            “The chairs,” he said. “We gotta take em’ up and hose em’ off. They need em’ for a ceremony.”

            I looked down at my Nikes. They were bordered in chunky sludge. The fabric along the outside of the sneakers was already discolouring.

            “Where’s the hose?”

            “There’s water access next door. I’ll run a hose. Do you bring an extension by chance?”

            “Yeah I think I got one. What about the drain?”

            “I gave Mika a call. His boys should be here in a few hours with extractors. We just concentrate on these here chairs.”

            “Let’s get some air,” I said.


            My nose never became acquainted with the stink, no matter how many times I descended down to grab new stack of chairs. On the surface, we set them out in a line like POW’s in a firing squad. Tony was executioner, armed with a power washer riffle set in a triangular spray pattern. He would move the wand across the chairs, the filth melting off of them, disappearing into the long blades of grass beneath.

            “This lawn’s going to be fucked,” I said.

            He didn’t hear me. I moved down to the s**t crypt for more chairs. The last few were stacked against the back wall. I went to grab them and I heard a voice at the top of the steps that wasn’t Tony’s.

            “Hey,” it said.

            I looked up and saw a balding guy with glasses that looked feminine. He wore a shirt and tie and gray slacks. A leather bag was slung around his shoulder. His shoes were business appropriate. They clacked against the concrete as he slowly stepped down to my level.  He looked about the room like a man visiting a science exhibit, like he was calculating the reality of it all. I didn’t like it.

            “By God. Look at all this... Man.”

            “Yeah,” I said.

            “Look at that there. Tampons,” He pointed. “There’s f*****g tampons everywhere. Jesus Christ.”

            “Uh huh.”

            He paused, his thin hand covering his nose and mouth.

            “Well, see you later.” He moved back up the steps and closed the door at the top of the stairs after stepping out.

            I grabbed the last of the chairs and went up to see Tony, who was chatting with Mika’s guys who unloaded their utility van. 

            “Who the f**k was that a*****e?” I asked.

            “Who was who?”

            “The guy who came down there. The smart guy who pointed out the obvious.”

            “Didn’t see him.”

            “He wore a tie,” I said.

            “Probably just somebody from the school maybe.”


             The power washer died. I went to the ford and grabbed a can of gas that was just about empty. The sun was leisurely rising up over a stone monument of someone I didn't recognize. A plane flew overhead, heading south, flashing a shadow over us all for just a second. Life at the campus began animating as students came out of their caves to fetch newspapers, puff cigarettes and sip coffee. I thought of how I hated this time of day. I liked the world a lot better a few hours before, when there was no one on the road and I could taste the stale tobacco smoke floating across my tongue. I liked the world a lot better when I could spot glowing eyes on the roadside, and I knew that my Nikes were still white. I somehow knew they wouldn't stay that way for very long.

© 2010 Joel McCarthy

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"automotive courage"? You're so awesome! That's such a cool string of words...I wish I thought of that. I'm so subscribing to you. You're a great author with lots-o-talent. Keep writing. What will humanity do without people like you?

Posted 11 Years Ago

When I saw the title to this, I immediately thought about my Navy days and how they used to use that saying "s**t rolls downhill." Your narrator sure had a crappy job, and I don't blame him a bit for preferring the time of day when things were quiet and his shoes were clean. Excellent writing, my friend.

Posted 12 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Shelved in 3 Libraries
Added on June 11, 2010
Last Updated on June 19, 2010


Joel McCarthy
Joel McCarthy

Mississauga, Canada

My name is Joel McCarthy and I write. Some of work has been published in magazines like PRISM International, The Feathertale Review, and Macabre Cadaver. I'll review whatever work I find that is polis.. more..


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