Chapter Excerpt

Without Warning

Sometimes

you're traveling

a highway, the only road

you've ever known,

and wham! A semi

comes from nowhere

and rolls right over you.

Sometimes

you don't wake up.

But if you happen

to, you know things

will never be

the same.

Sometimes

that's not

so bad.

Sometimes

lives intersect,

no rhyme, no reason,

except, perhaps,

for a passing semi.

Triad

Three

separate highways

intersect at a place

no reasonable person

would ever want to go.

Three

lives that would have

been cut short, if not

for hasty interventions

by loved ones. Or Fate.

Three

people, with nothing

at all in common

except age, proximity,

and a wish to die.

Three

tapestries, tattered

at the edges and come

unwoven to reveal

a single mutual thread.

The Thread

Wish

you could turn off

the questions, turn

off the voices,

turn off all sound.

Yearn

to close out

the ugliness, close

out the filthiness,

close out all light.

Long

to cast away

yesterday, cast

away memory,

cast away all jeopardy.

Pray

you could somehow stop

the uncertainty, somehow

stop the loathing,

somehow stop the pain.

Conner

Arrival

The glass doors swing open,

in perfect sync, precisely

timed so you don't have

to think. Just stroll right in.

I doubt it's quite as easy

to turn around and walk

back outside, retreat to

unstable ground. Home turf.

An orderly escorts me down

spit-shined corridors, past

tinted Plexiglas and closed,

unmarked doors. Mysteries.

One foot in front of the other,

counting tiles on the floor so

I don't have to focus the blur

of painted smiles, fake faces.

A mannequin in a tight blue

suit, with a too-short skirt

(and legs that can wear it),

in a Betty Boop voice halts us.

I'm Dr. Boston. Welcome to

Aspen Springs. I'll give you

the tour. Paul, please take his

things to the Redwood Room.

Aspen Springs. Redwood Room.

As if this place were a five-star

resort, instead of a lockdown

where crazies pace. Waiting.

At Least

It doesn't have a hospital

stink. Oh yes, it's all very

clean, from cafeteria chairs

to the bathroom sink. Spotless.

But the clean comes minus

the gag-me smell, steeping

every inch of that antiseptic

hell where they excised

the damnable bullet. I

wonder what Dad said when

he heard I tried to put myself

six feet under -- and failed.

I should have put the gun

to my head, worried less

about brain damage, more

about getting dead. Finis.

Instead, I decided a shot

through the heart would

make it stop beating, rip

it apart to bleed me out.

I couldn't even do that

right. The bullet hit bone,

left my heart in one piece.

In hindsight, luck wasn't

with me that day. Mom

found me too soon, or my

pitiful life might have ebbed

to the ground in arterial flow.

I thought she might die too,

at the sight of so much blood

and the thought of it staining

her white Armani blouse.

Conner, what have you done?

she said. Tell me this was just

an accident. She never heard

my reply, never shed a tear.

I Don't Remember

Much after that, except

for speed. Ghostly red lights,

spinning faster and faster,

as I began to recede from

consciousness. Floating

through the ER doors,

frenzied motion. A needle's

sting. But I do remember,

just before the black hole

swallowed me, seeing Mom's

face. Her furious eyes

followed me down into sleep.

It's a curious place, the

Land of Blood Loss and

Anesthesia, floating through it

like swimming in sand. Taxing.

After a while, you think you

should reach for the shimmering

surface. You can't hold your

breath, and even if you could,

it's dark and deep and bitter

cold, where nightmares and truth

collide, and you wonder if death

could unfold fear so real. Palpable.

So you grope your way up into

the light, to find you can't

move, with your arms strapped

tight and overflowing tubes.

And everything hits you like

a train at full speed. Voices.

Strange faces. A witches' stewpot

of smells. Pain. Most of all,

pain.

Tony

Just Saw

A new guy check in. Tall,

built, with a way fine face,

and acting too tough to tumble.

He's a nutshell asking to crack.

Wonder if he's ever let a guy

touch that pumped-up bod.

They gave him the Redwood

Room. It's right across

from mine -- the Pacific

Room. Pretty peaceful in

here most of the time, long

as my meds are on time.

Ha. Get it? Most of the time

, if my meds are on time. If you

don't get it, you've never

been in a place like this,

never hung tough from one

med call till the next.

Wasted. That's the only way

to get by in this "treatment

center." Nice name for a loony

bin. Everyone in here is crazy

one way or another. Everyone.

Even the so-called doctors.

Most of 'em are druggies.

Fucking loser meth freaks.

I mean, if you're gonna

purposely lose your mind,

you want to get it back some

day. Don't you? Okay, maybe not.

I Lost My Mind

A long time ago, but it

wasn't exactly my idea.

Shit happens, as they say,

and my shit literally hit

the fan. But enough sappy

crap. We were talking drugs.

I won't tell you I never tried

crystal, but it really wasn't

my thing. I saw enough

people, all wound up, drop

over the edge, that I guess

I decided not to take that leap.

I always preferred creeping

into a giant, deep hole where

no bad feelings could follow.

At least till I had to come up

for air. I diddled with pot first, but

that tasty green weed couldn't drag

me low enough. Which mostly

left downers, "borrowed" from

medicine cabinets and kitchen

cabinets and nightstands.

Wherever I could find them.

And once in a while -- not often,

because it was pricey and tough

to score -- once in a while, I

tumbled way low, took a ride

on the H train. Oh yeah,

that's what I'm talking about.

A hot shot clear to hell.

Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Hopkins


Excerpted from Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.