Sunday 5 July 2009

BLEEDING OUT By Eric Beetner

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Will knew that somewhere back in the eighth grade his science teacher had told the class how much blood was in the human body but he couldn’t remember the answer right then. He couldn’t recall her name either, just that she had a crazy amount of arm fat that swung violently when she wrote on the chalkboard. Must have been that swinging sack of fat that distracted him from learning how many quarts of blood a body held.

He didn’t have anything to measure it with anyway. Sure was a lot though. More every second. Harlan didn’t look good.

Kris was weaving the car in and out of traffic with much more expertise than he had a right to after only two years of having his license but necessity is the mother of good driving. Will kept both hands on the wound that pumped blood out of Harlan’s chest and onto the tan cloth seats in the back of Kris’ ’92 Escort. Not exactly the car of choice for hardened thieves but as criminals these three were about as hard as oatmeal.

Here, in high-speed retreat from their first job, Will couldn’t believe it could all fall apart so completely so quickly. It made him rethink his entire position on his second amendment rights. That whole argument that he used to buy into that guns don’t kill people, people kill people he knew now was bullshit with a capital B. If they hadn’t gone into that liquor store with a gun, the guy behind the counter wouldn’t have felt as threatened and he wouldn’t have pulled his gun.

Kris had insisted that bringing the gun was an effective tool to get anyone to do what they wanted. It wasn’t loaded and Kris said that made Will’s point moot when he protested that it wasn’t safe. It doesn’t really work, though, when the person you’re pointing the gun at doesn’t know it isn’t loaded. And if you tell them, then the effectiveness of the gun is really lost. The logic of it had eluded them at the time of the planning.

That guy, the one who shot Harlan, was scared shitless. Will could see it the second Kris pulled the piece. Skinny, Indian or Bangladeshi or something, his eyes got wide and watery. He thought for sure he was dead. No way would he have gone that ballistic trying to save two hundred bucks in the till. He moved fast and kind of jittery like watching an old silent movie only the blood that erupted from Harlan’s chest was in technicolor. He must have popped off ten shots in about three seconds. Will and Kris ducked and dove for cover behind a towering display of bargain tequila. Bottles shattered, glass and liquor showered on them. Harlan was hit twice in the chest.

Kris made it through a red light with a nanosecond to spare. Can’t afford a traffic stop now.

“We’re going to the hospital, right? Right?”

It was a continuation of an argument that Will had started with Kris while they were still in the store. After the clerk emptied his gun he ducked down behind the counter to wait for his inevitable death. Kris was trying to wipe tequila from his burning eyes when he began shouting like a marine on the beach at Normandy, “GO! Go! Move it!”

Will was already at Harlan’s side doing triage which wasn’t easy because Harlan was tossing his body across the slick floor like a shark out of water. He kept jumping and leaping as if he could somehow still dodge the bullets now lodged in his chest.When Will first applied pressure to the hole just above Harlan’s left nipple line he brought with it the alcohol burn of the tequila and some shards of broken bottle. It made Harlan arch his back and yelp. Kris was already out the door leaving the two of them behind.

Outside, Kris had been able to open his eyes enough to notice that he was alone. He crouched and made it back to the doorway but stayed outside.

“Come on! Leave him!”

Will was outraged.

“What? Fuck you. Come help me!”

Kris wiped at his eyes again and changed his mind sixteen times in a single second before giving in and going inside to help. The echo of the gun shots had faded and the only sounds were glass crunching under Kris’ feet as he ran to meet them, Harlan’s moans, which were hollow since he couldn’t catch his breath with two bullets in his lungs, and the continued drip of tequila from the busted tower of bottles.From behind the counter came the unmistakable sound of reloading.Will snatched up Harlan’s legs, Kris grabbed him under the armpits and they carried him out slipping on blood and booze as they went.

That was all of ten minutes ago but never in Will’s life had so much been crammed in to so little time.

“The hospital, Kris. Come on.”

“We can’t. They have to report bullet wounds to the cops.”

“He’s dying, man!”

“Let’s just think it through.”

Will gave up on trying to use direct pressure and drilled a finger into each hole in Harlan’s chest. His right index finger plugged the hole just under his left armpit and his left index finger pushed all the way up the the knuckle in the hole on his right side. It seemed to work. It couldn’t have been a good sign that Harlan barely even flinched when he did it. It had to hurt like hell. He looked groggy the way he had so many times before he passed out drunk in high school. The last time was at the graduation party in Harlan’s own basement just three months ago. It was just another excuse to get drunk, not like any of them were going to college. Only a week after they graduated Harlan had noticed that during high school they wanted nothing more than to hook up with older girls from the community college and how instantly after graduation the real thrill was in trying to score with high school chicks. Funny how that works.

So much damn blood. Will’s socks were soggy with it. Kris gnawed on his finger nails as he drove, trying to figure out some other alternative to delivering Harlan right to the steps of the authorities.

“Please man. He’s really dying here.” Kris tried to shut out Will’s pathetic whining. They had all undertaken this together. The possibility of a cluster fuck had always been present. They hadn’t discussed it much but Kris never felt they had to. They were all grown men. They could handle a little hitch in the plan.

“Please, Kris. Take him to a hospital. Please.”

Will was crying now. He didn’t feel like a grown man. He’d never felt like a criminal. He wanted to be back in science class, paying attention, writing it all down. Studying for tests, getting scholarships. He was scared straight. A little too late.The car slowed. They were nowhere near the hospital. Kris had driven them out beyond the town limits onto the road that used to lead to the drive-in before that closed back in 1974. Weeds grew up from either side of the road so high that you couldn’t even see the lights from the semis on the highway.

Will kept his head down, fingers thrust down into his best friend’s chest, weeping for all the bad choices he had made.

Kris gripped the wheel. He had no idea how he was going to explain the blood on the back seat when he brought the car back home. Fuck it, run the car off the road. Torch it. That was Kris’ way.

When they were all twelve they stole a stack of Penthouse magazines from Will’s Dad and spent the afternoon in the woods marveling at the world of sex that awaited them in adulthood. When they returned, Will’s father’s car was in the driveway and the boys panicked.

“Burn them!” Kris said.

Will and Harlan didn’t have any other plan so they let Kris use his zippo that he carried (in his front pocket next to his folding knife, neither of which he had a legitimate use for) and lit the stack on fire. Five minutes later when Will’s Dad came running into the woods to investigate the plume of smoke coming from his back yard the boys were in trouble on multiple counts.

Six years later Harlan and Will were still following Kris into some bad ideas. Will was barely aware that the car had stopped. When Kris slammed the front door it jerked Will out of his crying jag. The door behind Will opened and he nearly tumbled out backwards. Both of his fingers popped out of Harlan’s chest making a sound like a party favor. Blood began to flow unabated.

Kris pushed Will to the floor and reached in to grab Harlan by the ankles. He yanked once and Harlan slid on a wet trail of plasma toward the open door.

“What are you doing?” Will asked.

Kris yanked again and Harlan was out of the car, whacking his head on the door frame on his way to the ground.Will struggled against his slick hands and feet to get footing before he was able to vault himself out of the car onto the cool pavement. The headlights cast bright beams forward, as if there was still something to see ahead of them, leaving everything behind them in darkness like a secret. Like an erased memory.

Kris reset his grip on Harlan’s legs and dragged his body across the road leaving a streak of red that looked black in the night. Harlan groaned but did not protest, he moved but barely in a way you could call alive.

Will was weak. He didn’t rush across the road to stop Kris, didn’t scream at him to halt. He let his shoulders sag and resumed his crying. “Kris, come on. It’s Harlan, man. He’s one of us.”

Kris dragged the body into the high weeds and let him go. He wasn’t particularly well hidden. Where Kris and the body had broken through the weeds was a huge divot in the line of tall grass like a missing tooth. For a road that no one traveled on, it was good enough.

Kris didn’t look back as he returned to the car. Will crossed the road and sank into the weeds next to Harlan. The matted grass held his body up off the ground. The long stalks under Harlan had started to absorb the last few ounces of blood, turning the stalks from light to dark as if the ground was drinking him from a straw.

Will heard the door slam as Kris got back inside. The engine idled.

Unseen, the steady stream of 18-wheelers rushed by on the highway like the tide going out.

Will heard the muffled scream of Kris letting out his anger and his fear in a primal scream. The confines of the car trapped most of the sound but what escaped cut through Will. The engine revved into the red but the car did not move. Kris took his foot off the gas and the car returned to idle.The window rolled down.

“Let’s go, man.”

“I’m staying.”

The left headlight flickered and died. A single beam cut into the dark and lit the road ahead showing the curve of the pavement leading to the unknown.Will put his hands on Harlan’s chest. Not to stop the bleeding but just to know when he breathed his last. The Escort’s engine dropped into gear and Kris spat up gravel from the shoulder as he drove away.

Six quarts, Will remembered. The body holds six quarts. Not enough.

Bio: Eric Beetner's fiction has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Pulp Pusher, Thuglit, Crooked, Darkest Before Dawn and Powder Burn Flash as well as in podcast form on Eric's debut novel 'One Too Many Blows To The Head' (co-written with JB Kohl) will be out later this year. For more info check out


  1. Eric,

    Bloody (no pun intended) excellent story.

    Sometimes the best laid plans go awry and whenever there's a gun around, only bad things can happen. Especially when there are amateurs at play, trying to act like hard asses.

    You made me feel the emotions of everyone involved in this story, including the clerk at the liquor store. The anguish of Will and Kris bleeds off the page.

    I can't say enough good things about this one.

  2. Eric is one of my fave writers and it's great to see him here. Wonderful story.

  3. Hi Eric,
    great story and congrats about the upcoming debut novel.

  4. Hi Eric,
    Really felt this story.
    Come back again soon!