The Thursday Night Club, a novella from #1 bestselling author Steven Manchester is out today! Visit our website to learn more and enjoy this excerpt!
It was a raw autumn morning, a hard driving rain causing the air to feel ten degrees cooler than it actually was; it was early enough that the gas-lit lamps along the buckled sidewalk were still buzzing with a dying glow.
With his sweatshirt hood pulled down over his head and brow, Jesse checked his watch and cringed. Damn, I’m gonna be late, he realized. As he hurried along to his first class, he realized that the heavy pack slung across his shoulder wasn’t helping his progress. As he approached a cross walk, he waited for the light to change—and checked his watch again. Just as soon as the light turned yellow for oncoming traffic, Jesse took a step off the curb and—trying to time the light turning red—started sprinting for the sidewalk across the wet, glistening street.
A silver Lexus, speeding up to beat the red light, raced toward the crosswalk. Jesse looked left to see the sharp teeth of the car’s front grill just inches from him. Oh, God, he thought and, as he held his breath, the car’s tires let out an eerie shrill—just before taking a hard, mind numbing bite out of his side.
As Jesse went down, the world quickly faded to black—and disappeared.
After squealing sideways, the car jerked to a sudden stop. An older male driver—his bloated face bleached white and showing signs of shock—jumped out of the late model Lexus and hurried to assess the damage. The young man he’d struck was lying motionless in a growing pool of blood. As several curious co-eds gathered around the gruesome scene, the driver began to panic. “Someone call an ambulance!” he yelled and looked back at the young man’s bloody body. “Oh, what have I done?” The driver checked Jesse’s pulse. “Oh God, no!” he screamed.
As the crowd grew thicker—with some of them becoming visibly upset—a siren wailed sorrowfully in the distance.
Across campus, Kevin was walking to class when his cell phone rang. “Not again, Randy,” he said under his breath. He looked at the phone’s display and nodded. “Not Randy,” he confirmed and answered the call. “What’s up, bro?”
Kevin listened intently for a moment. His face became distressed, until a grin appeared. “No way, bro, I’m not buying it! Jesse just lost one our stupid contests and now he’s trying to even the score.”
Kevin listened more and the grin was completely wiped from his face. He hung up and made a quick call. “Izzy, did you hear anything about Jesse getting hit by a car this morning?”
He listened and nodded. “Yeah, me neither, but some dude from my Psych class told me that he just got messed up pretty bad over near the park on Elm. Grab Ava and meet me over there. I’ll put a call into Randy.” He listened and shrugged. “I know, but even if it is a hoax, I say we play along.”
At the accident scene, an even larger crowd had gathered as Kevin, Randy, Izzy and Ava tried to make their way through it. There were police lights—even from town—flashing. A sheet-covered stretcher was being loaded into the rear of an ambulance.
Kevin looked back at his friends and gasped. “I don’t think this is a prank!”
The gang fought harder to make their way through the thick crowd. Just as the four friends got close, the ambulance doors closed and a siren howled away from the scene. With panic etched into each of their faces, they approached a police officer, who was trying to keep the crowd away from the spot of the accident.
“What happened here?” Randy screamed toward him.
The police officer motioned with his palm that they remain on the sidewalk.
“Okay, okay,” Randy yelled, “but tell us what happened?”
“Some kid tried to beat the light and paid for it,” he said, nonchalantly.
Randy looked back at his friends, then down at the street—near where the police officer was protecting. There was a giant red blood stain. “Oh no…”
White-faced, Kevin grabbed a co-ed standing nearby. “Who was it?” he asked.
“Some guy named Jesse,” she said, and shrugged. “I didn’t know him.”
Randy overheard this and screamed back to the police officer, “Do you think he’ll be alright?”
The cop shook his head. “He was already gone by the time we got here.”
“Gone?” Izzy screamed. “What?”
The police officer put his portable radio to his ear and listened. He shook his head again. “They just pronounced him dead,” he reported, sadly.
Ava collapsed to the sidewalk. “Please God, no! Not Jesse!” she shrieked.
Izzy and the others immediately began to mourn.
An hour later, Izzy, Ava and Kevin sat in shock on the girls’ front porch. Randy slowly approached the stairs, shaking his head. His face showed every sign that he’d recently been crying.
“What…” Ava began to ask.
“…they told me that he died instantly and that…” Randy interrupted, but began crying so hard that he couldn’t finish. Izzy hurried to him with a hug. “…and that he didn’t feel any pain,” he finished between sobs.
“Thank God for that,” Kevin said, trying to be strong. “Where did they take him…” Kevin also stopped. Everyone already knew the answer.
Randy looked up from Izzy’s shoulder. “The chaplain’s trying to get in touch with his parents.” He shook his head. “That’s all I know.”
“What about the driver who hit him?” Ava asked, angrily.
“Yeah, he must be in custody, right?” Kevin said.
“I was wondering the same thing,” Randy admitted, “so I asked.” He shook his head again. “He’s not.”
Izzy was outraged. “He’s not?”
Like a broken man, Randy half-shrugged. “They said it was an accident, with no alcohol or drugs involved, so he was free to go.”
“Free to go?” Ava repeated, more furious. “Well, good for him!”
“So what about Jesse?” Izzy whimpered. “Is he free to go, too?” Izzy stopped, setting off a whole new round of sobbing amongst the friends.
Once they’d composed themselves, Kevin wiped his eyes and said, “You know if it was one of us behind the wheel, we’d be sitting in jail right now, charged with vehicular homicide.”
“Yeah,” Izzy said, “because they thought we were texting, or horsing around, or on our way to some housing project to buy drugs.”
“And this guy tried to beat a red light because he’s in a hurry,” Ava added, “and that’s okay.” She shook her enraged head. “Jesse’s dead, and he’s free to go.”
All four friends allowed the weight of Ava’s final statement to sink in and a new round of terrible grieving began.
Jesse’s funeral took place on Wednesday morning. In the cemetery, the chaplain had just finished his sermon when mourners passed by Jesse’s casket for one final good-bye.
Izzy, Ava, Kevin and Randy—each devastated—mouthed a few silent words to their deceased friend and kept right on walking until they reached a tree off in the distance.
As they sadly huddled together under the giant oak, their college professor, Professor McKee, surprised the friends by approaching them to offer her heartfelt condolences.
“Oh great,” Ava said under her breath. “Look who’s here.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Professor McKee said once she reached them. “I know Jesse was a dear friend to all of you.” She nodded. “He was a very special person.” The heavy-set woman had a mop of frizzy hair, with pair of reading glasses that sat on the bridge of a slender nose.
“He sure was,” Randy agreed.
“What a waste,” Izzy added, angrily.
“Excuse me?” the female professor asked, compassionately.
“It’s a useless waste of life,” Ava added, furiously.
“Jesse’s life,” Kevin explained, “a life that we all know would have done some incredible things…was wasted.” He took a deep breath. “All because of some stupid, random accident.”
Professor McKee smiled. “You may not want to hear this right now, guys, but I believe that there are no random acts in the universe, and nothing is done in vain—nor is anything useless.” She searched each of their eyes. “Sometimes, you have to be patient to see how things turn out and, with any luck, reveal the greater purpose.” She smiled gently again but—with a stern, rigid look permanently carved into her brow—she appeared as disappointed and judgmental as ever. It was only a look.
This comment was immediately met with scornful looks and a few negative grunts.
“Be patient for what?” Ava asked, bravely. She shook her head. “To die, so we can be with Jesse again?”
“Not at all,” the woman said. “The worst thing you could ever do with your life is to wait for it to end.”
“Unfortunately, Jesse didn’t have that choice,” Randy said. “His life was ended for him…” He wiped his eyes. “…long before it ever really began.”
“I agree,” the teacher said, “but you guys are still here…” She searched their eyes again. “…and you each have a choice, don’t you?”
They nodded in unison.
“From where I stand, I honestly can’t imagine some great purpose in this,” Kevin admitted.
“But your perspective may change,” McKee said, her tone soft. “It always does.”
As the four friends exchanged more skeptical looks between themselves, Randy shocked them even further. “So you really believe that Jesse’s life—and death—have some great purpose that we can’t see?” he asked.
She nodded. “I really do. Unfortunately, people within our society believe that he who dies with the most toys wins. For most, it’s all about amassing material objects, wealth. For others, it’s about compiling a list of accomplishments and accolades.” She looked back toward Jesse’s casket. “But have you ever been to a funeral and overheard someone praise the deceased for anything they owned?”
As their jaws dropped open, the friends listened in awe as the professor echoed Jesse’s recent words—almost verbatim.
Professor McKee changed her voice to drive her point home. “Oh, what wonderful houses and cars he had!” She shook her head. “No, people are truly remembered by what they did while on this planet and, more importantly, how they helped others. It’s not about what you had or took, it’s about what you gave…and eventually left behind.” She smiled. “Imagine if we all measured wealth that way?”
For the first time, the professor’s words were not met with negativity. The four friends remained silent, pondering the wonderful deja-vous experience.
“What a different and glorious world this would be,” Professor McKee added.
They each nodded.
“The good book says to place our treasures in heaven because that’s where our hearts will be,” she continued, looking toward Jesse’s casket again. “It’s not only a matter of faith, but the proof in your deeds.” She shrugged. “No great mystery here, guys. And I think Jesse figured it out early.” She nodded. “Giving more than you take… now that’s how you build a life worth living.”
The friends looked at each other in awe.
With a wink, Professor McKee walked away, leaving them to internalize her lesson.