This is a story I wrote a while ago... It needs to be edited again, so please keep that in mind while you're reading it.
It rang out through the night, muffled, but still audible in the unmoving darkness. Being drug to consciousness by the piercing sound, Justin’s dark gray eyes opened wide, trying to see into the inky blackness. Trying to decipher where the sound had come from...and trying to remember where he was.
Justin Black was new to this small farm town and was staying at a little bed ‘n’ breakfast that was set up on a large farm. Everyone seemed to know everybody here and news seemed to spread like wildfire in California. As Justin’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, the realization of what the sound was hit him like a Mac truck. A gunshot! His blood ran cold and the warm room became a freezer. He seemed to be engulfed in the darkness and there was no way out. He thought it was bad, but he did not realize how bad it truly was.
As he lay in his bed, the realization that the shot had come from the room below his seemed to sink in deeper and deeper. His imagination ran wild; he was unable to move, to see. He though, “Maybe I should go down there and check and see what happened. Maybe I should call the police.” But his mind was unable to send signals to his hands and feet to carry out those thoughts. He was jerked back to reality by the wailing of sirens and the dancing lights of police cars. “Good, somebody called the cops…but I should go down there and see if I can help,” but still, his legs would not carry him and his back would not straighten.
Just then, Justin thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. But he also thought he heard something…like somebody hiding a metal object very carefully. “No…my mind is just playing tricks on me,” he thought. But before he even finished the thought, he saw movement by the window. The window was open! “Oh, wait, I had opened it before I went to bed...but that sure did look like somebody climbing out onto the tree,” he thought. “Oh this isn’t good, I really need to get up!”
Finally Justin could move his body and get up! As he stumbled through the darkness towards the door, he heard footsteps coming down the hall. His hand reached for the light switch and as he flipped it on, he saw the handle to the door turning. “Uh oh, this isn’t good…” thought Justin. He was right, it wasn’t good.
The door burst open and 3 cops streamed in. “Put your hands where we can see them!” shouted the first policeman to enter the room. He was tall, had dark brown hair, heavy eyebrows, and buff. “Get those hands up!”
Justin’s hands flew to his head, “Why, oh why, did I have to get up?” he wondered to himself. “What’s going on?” he asked. No answer came. The policemen glanced around the room.
“Search the room and don’t leave anything unchecked,” said the first cop, who was clearly in charge. The two other policemen, a thin woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, and a short, balding man, started to search the room. Turning to Justin, the brown-haired cop said, “Who are you?”
“What are you doing here?”
“I am renting this room until I can find a place to stay. I’m new here.”
“What were you doing five minutes ago?”
“Sleeping,” answered Justin. He was confused and becoming irritated by all of the questions, while his was left unanswered. “Sir, will you please tell me what is going on?”
“Didn’t you hear the shot?”
“Well, yes. Of course I did. It seemed to come from the room below.”
"That’s right, young man. The man who owns this place was shot and we have reason to believe that you are the criminal.”
“Me?” asked Justin. He couldn’t believe it. “What would make you think that I shot Mr. Steele?”
“Do you see anybody else in this building other than Mr. Steele, Jake Long, who called us, and yourself?” Justin shook his head. “Well, that’s why we have reason to believe you are guilty. Why didn’t you go down and help? Or call the police?”
“I wasn’t able to move, sir, I tried but I couldn’t…I don’t know why,” Answered Justin, trying to remain calm. “Sir, I think I saw somebody leave through my window, but I’m not sure. All I saw were shadows.”
“We’ll check it out,” said the brown-haired policeman. Justin could finally see his nameplate. Doile.
“Sir, I think we found something!” shouted the blonde, motioning towards the opened closet.
“What is it, Crain?” Within a few seconds, everyone was around the closet. On the top shelf, half hidden by a folded t-shirt lay a pistol.
“Great! Just great!” thought Justin. “This doesn’t look good…”
“Do you know what this means, Black?” asked Doile. Before Justin could answer, he continued, “It means that you get to take a ride with us. You’d better hope that Mr. Steele lives…sadly it doesn’t look like he will.”
Fifteen minutes later the police car pulled into the station’s parking lot. Within its doors, Justin sat and wondered how in the world he had gotten into this mess. As he stepped from the car, Justin felt the iron grasp of Doile’s might hands around his arm. He was taken through the front of the small office and back to the cells where he was given his very own. “We’ll be back in a bit, Black,” said Doile as he locked the door. Justin watched as he walked back out towards the office, and then sunk back into the corner.
“Well, this is not exactly great. How did this happen to me?” frustrated and angry, Justin sank to down on the hard cot and tried to hold back his tears. “I’ve been good. I haven’t stolen anything or killed anybody. Sure, I’ve lied a few times, but who hasn’t?” The questions just kept coursing through his mind. He glanced up as the door opened and a policeman he had never seen came in.
“Alright man, Doile is planning on sendin’ you to the judge. Doesn’t look good…Steele that is. Oh, by the way, the name is Hatch,” said the big man. He seemed friendly and didn’t act as though he thought Justin was guilty. “Can I get you anything?”
“Uh, some water would be nice,” was all Justin could say. “And maybe some clarification on what is going on.”
“Alright, tell you what. I’ll give you information, but you need to give me some, got it?”
“Well, you see, Steele was shot, as you already know, and Doile, Harding, and Crain found that gun in your room, there was nobody else around except Long, who called us, so Doile is pinning it on you. You’re going into court in two days to stand trial.”
“But, can he just pin it on me like that? I mean, wouldn’t he need more information?”
“Who could give it to us? Long was down there helping and he called us. You didn’t. Doile is sure that you are guilty…and the judge listens to him. Sorry man, it doesn’t look good for you,” said Hatch with a shake of his head. “But I’ll do what I can, if you’ll help me out.”
“How can I help?”
“Recount the story to me. Leave nothing out.”
And with that, Justin told him everything that happened from sun down to when he arrived at the station. Hatch listened intently, nodding occasionally. When Justin finished he said, “Alright buddy, I’ll see what I can do…I honestly don’t think you are guilty. Sometimes Doile decides something and doesn’t open his eyes to the other possibilities. It’s a shame.” There was a small, awkward silence before Hatch rose and said, “Well, Justin, I guess you want your water? I’ll be back in a minute.”
Within seconds, Justin was alone again, unsure of what his fate will be. “How do I get into the messes?” he asked himself. “Oh what is going to happen?” His mind was racing, trying to imagine what might happen, which wasn’t good.
A minute later, Hatch returned with a glass of water. He handed it to Justin and said, “Well, you should get some rest. I’ll be back in later and I will see what I can do to help you.” And with that, Justin was alone again. He decided he would take Hatch up on his suggestion and he lied down and fell asleep surprisingly fast.
It was cold and eerie. He felt fear coursing through his vanes, but didn’t know why. “Where am I?” Justin said to no one in particular. “What is this place?” but still, he was at a loss. Glancing around, Justin tried to make out his surroundings. He took a step; at least he thought he did. Nothing changed. He thought he felt something brush up against him. What was that!? Justin spun around; trying to see what was touching him. What could it be? Because Justin was spinning around, he fell. With the fall came the realization, that it was a dream! He woke up when he hit the bottom of the cell with a small scream. Catching his breath, Justin thought, “Dude, I hate dreams like that!” He got up and sat on his cot, trying to catch his breath. He still didn’t know where that fear had come from.
Time seemed to crawl as Justin sat there on his cot, alone. There were no windows in the jail so there was no light from outside, just the yellow glow of a small light bulb that was always lit, even when the other lights were off. Was it morning? Or was it night? Justin couldn’t be sure. He leaned back against the cold, hard wall, trying to go back to sleep. But it didn’t come. No matter what he tried, he could not fall asleep. So he just lay there, looking at the ceiling, thinking.
“What would happen if I die?” he asked himself. He had never thought about it before; he didn’t have a reason to. He was young, talented, and had a full life ahead of him. But what would happen if he was sentenced…he didn’t want to think about it; but he couldn’t help it. The realization that his life was in the hands of the district judge made him shudder. He had heard stories about this man, Lance Darsie, but he wasn’t sure what was true and what just a story. Rumor had it, that Darsie was cruel and didn’t judge fairly. “But would this man really see me as guilty? Will I be able to convince him that I am innocent? Will he even listen?” the questions raced through Justin’s mind like cars racing in the Daytona 500, but no answers came. Justin couldn’t be sure where he would go, if he would go anywhere. He remembered years ago, when he was only a few years old, maybe four, he had gone to his grandfather’s funeral and had heard something about Heaven and hell. Even as he thought about it, Justin just couldn’t be sure where he would go.
Just then, he heard a noise and looked up. The heavy door that separated the cells from the rest of the station opened, and in stepped Hatch. He looked at Justin with a look that said, “I’m sorry, I have some bad news for you.” Justin saw the look and read it, so he was braced for the words when they came from Hatch’s lips, “Hey man, I’m sorry…but I have some bad news for you.” Justin just sat there, not moving, just waiting for Hatch to continue. After a small pause, Hatch took a deep breath, let it out, and then continued, “Steele didn’t make it. He died this morning, about an hour ago. Doile is sending you to court tomorrow, you will go before Darsie…sorry man.”
Justin took a deep breath. “This is it,” he thought, then asked, “What do you think will happen?”
“I don’t know kid, just gotta watch and wait.”
“Okay. I really don’t like waiting though.”
“None of us do…but it’s something that we’ve gotta do and learn to do.” The two men sat there, just thinking their own thoughts. Hatch wasn’t sure what to say. He knew that Darsie was a strict man, and not always honest, but he didn’t want to send Justin’s spirits any lower.
Justin looked at him and asked, “Hatch, may I ask you something?”
“Sure man. What’s on your mind?”
“Well…do you know where you will go when you die? Like, to Heaven or hell, or nowhere?”
“A lot of people say different things…but I, myself, know that I am going to Heaven.”
“Why is that? How do you know?”
“Well man, I believe what the Bible says, that Jesus is the Son of God. And because I ‘confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead’ I have been saved.”
“Really?” asked Justin, not really buying into what Hatch was saying. “What do you have to do?”
“All you’ve gotta do is confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead. That’s all man, that simple. Sure, it doesn’t make life perfect, it doesn’t make you perfect either, but in God’s eyes, he just sees the blood of His one and only Son that covers your sin, and the sin of the world.”
“Wow… But I just can’t see how,” muttered Justin.
“How what? God loves you so much, Justin, that He sent His only Son to die for you, so that you could spend eternity with Him in Heaven. All you have to do is believe.”
“I just don’t think I’m ready, man… I’ve gotta think it over.”
“Alright, but uh,” glancing at his watch Hatch continued, “you’ve gotta go before Judge Darsie soon. Come on, I’ll get you some breakfast and we’ll head out.” Justin looked at Hatch as he followed him out of the cell, “How could this guy be so sure of where he is going?” he wondered.
The doors opened and the summer breeze greeted Justin with its warm embrace. “It seems like it should be raining,” he thought, “there should be clouds everywhere and thunder and lightning.” But there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no sign of a weather change. Justin followed his escort, Hatch, to the police car and got in. “Here we go, off to see Judge Darsie…” But as the car drove off the station’s property, his mind switched back to pondering where he would go if he died. That thought led to Hatch and his assurance of where he was going. “I wish I had that faith, but I just don’t see how he can know for sure,” thought Justin.
The drive to the courthouse was not far; it couldn’t be, the town was small. When they arrived, Hatch opened the door and let Justin out. “Alright man, just stay calm and tell Darsie what you told me last night. I won’t be able to help here though…and Darsie doesn’t like me.”
“Okay,” was all Justin could muster as a reply. The two men walked up the big stone steps and through the heavy door of the courthouse, they were followed closely by Crain and Doile. The court was called to session by the plump Judge Darsie. His green eyes shifted around the room and landed accusingly on Justin. “Great, just great,” Justin thought to himself, “I think he already chose what’s gonna happen to me. Come on Jus, pull yourself together!” On the inside, Justin was freaking out but to everybody else, he looked calm and collected.
As the minutes passed, Justin was sure his fate was sealed, he didn’t like it. “Alright,” came the husky voice of Judge Darsie, “we’re gonna break then come back with Black’s sentence.” The courtroom came alive as its occupants stood, stretched their legs, and chatted with neighbors as if it was just an ordinary day and they were meeting in the street, not that they were at a murder trial.
Hatch walked up to Justin and handed him a glass of water. “Come with me,” was all he said. As they exited the room, Hatch grabbed a brown paper package from the seat he was sitting in. “Justin,” he began, “I know what Darsie is going to decide. I’ve seen that look before…and I’ve seen the outcome too…” after a short pause, he continued, “I know you are innocent and I can’t see you go like that. Take this. It has been mine for years, and it has served me well…but only open it after the trial is over. It was nice getting to know you a bit, you seem like a great guy and I want you to know, that you reminded me a lot of my little brother…” Hatch’s voice broke and trailed off. For a few minutes, he couldn’t seem to find the right words. Then he added, “I will see my little brother again someday, soon. Please Justin, remember our conversation this morning and keep that gift close.”
Now it was Justin’s turn to fish for the right words. All he could come up with was, “Thanks man. It was nice getting to know you. Take care, and maybe I will see you again someday… Thank you for being there for me, and believing what I said. I don’t know what I would have done without you.” Justin’s voice was weak and unsteady. He also knew what was coming, and he didn’t want to go like that either; but he didn’t have a choice. Justin looked into Hatch’s dark brown, nearly black, eyes and the two young men realized how much the other meant to him. They embraced, like men would, and went back in to the courtroom as the trial was brought back to session.
“We have decided,” said Judge Darsie gruffly, “that Justin Ayden Black is guilty of first degree murder, and will be given the death penalty.”
Before Darsie could adjourn the trial, Hatch stood up and said in a strong, confident voice, “Judge Darsie, this man, Justin Black, is not guilty!”
“What makes you think that, Hatch?”
“Because, your honor, I am the guilty one. I was the one who shot Steele, not Justin. I deserve the penalty that you have decided.”
“Are you sure about this, Hatch?” asked Darsie. Then, turning to Doile, he asked, “Where was this man on the night of the murder?”
“He was off duty,” came the reply from Doile that sealed Hatch’s fate.
Looking at Justin, Blake Hatch said, “Please, release that man. I am the man you want.”
Justin could not believe it. Not Hatch! There was no way that Hatch would have murdered Steele! Hatch had said how much he respected Steele, and Justin could see it in his eyes that he meant every word he said. But Hatch would not let Justin deny what he said, so the penalty was given to Hatch, and Justin was released.
That night, as Justin lay on his bed in the same bed ‘n’ breakfast that he had been in a few days before, he cried as he opened the gift that Blake Hatch had given to him. Inside he found a small, well worn book. He flipped it over and read the gold inscription that crawled across the face of the book; “Holy Bible” was all it said. Justin cracked open the old covers; inside he found a folded piece of paper. Justin took a deep breath and unfolded it. The note was addressed to him, from Hatch. It read,
I knew that if I had told you what I was planning, you would not have gone along with it. I just couldn’t see you go that way, you weren’t prepared…and I am. Please do not feel bad, I chose this with my own will, and there was no way that you would have been able to change my mind.
I am thankful that I got to know you, even though it wasn’t much. The only thing I ask of you is that you read at least some of this book. It has given me new life, and it is the reason that I could lay my life down for you. At least read John 3:16 please, it is one of my favorite verses. Today I see my little brother again, in Heaven, and I hope to see you there someday too.
May God bless you, my friend,
P.S. Justin, in case you are unsure, no, I did not shoot Steele. The man was my best friend, and the previous owner of this book.
Justin stared at the paper he held in his hand. “Could this really be?” he asked himself. “How could Hatch have given his life up for me?” He wanted to read the Bible, but at that moment he could not. He couldn’t even see because the flood of tears that now leaked from his eyes.
Two days later, Justin walked into the local church for the funeral service of Blake Richard Hatch. As he walked past the coffin that Hatch lay in, he noticed a piece of paper laying on his chest. On it was written, “Great love has no one than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends.” Justin realized just how much of a friend Blake Hatch really was.