My wife worked for a large insurance company and recently received a long overdue promotion to senior agent late in 2018; the catch was that there were no available openings where we lived. She agreed to relocate to secure the significant pay raise and benefits package. Our son Aiden just turned eleven and Sarah stayed long enough to celebrate his birthday and help us pack the house with the movers. Not long after that she caught a flight to our new home in Birmingham, Alabama to begin work as soon as possible.
It was stressful, depressing and caused a few arguments with Aiden, this is the only home he’d ever known so it was expected and understandable. We were to finish up with the movers and drive to our new home a few days after Sarah. We got the last bits of our belongings loaded up later than expected and we were tired. But with the bedding packed up and nowhere to sleep we decided to go ahead and hit the road. Seven in the evening found the sun beginning to set and our drive just beginning with both Aiden and I already exhausted, but we both missed Sarah and we just wanted it all to be over.
A few hours later and after a pit stop at a Waffle House, we were deep on I-20 heading towards Birmingham… heading towards home.
It was dark, pitch black and inky dark, the kind that headlights barely pierce. The highway turned into a two lane for a long stretch surrounded by thick woods on each side. One vehicle passed us in thirty minutes and that was miles behind us. I’m not saying we were dead alone out here on this road in the woods, but if anyone was around we damn sure couldn’t see them.
The road started winding a bit in various places but with no one around and Aiden asleep I just used both lanes so that I could handle the turns without decreasing speed. In all honesty I was sleepy myself but the GPS said we were under a couple hours away from our destination so I would speed every chance I got.
There was this one wicked turn that I rounded and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see the “Slow, 35 mph” sign posted. I ignored it as I hugged the turn at around fifty five miles per hour. It was then that it happened, piercing the blackness all around us the red and blue flashing lights lit up the night like flares. They bounced off of the towering pines around us as the patrol car sped up behind me.
He didn’t have sirens on; he didn’t need to, anyone who would pretend they didn’t see this cop in the middle of this dark nothingness would be outright lying.
That was basically all that ran through my mind. Aiden was waking up because of the lights and decrease in speed as I pulled over… Sarah was going to kick my ass over this ticket.
With it being so dark his headlights behind me were blinding, I tilted my mirror up for some relief and readied my license and insurance.
Oddly the officer did not step out of the vehicle; it just remained there behind us on the side of this dark and empty interstate. Lights flashing and headlights pouring into my cab I was confused as to what was taking so long. A good solid two minutes went by and after Aiden asking me what’s wrong several times I leaned out of my window and faced the police car shielding my eyes from the bright lights.
“Officer, something I can help with?” I asked.
There was no response, the door to the squad car never moved but my heart did when I heard a voice just to the front of my car.
“Sir please remain in your vehicle, for my safety and yours.”
I pulled myself back into my driver seat properly and completely confused, I was all eyes and I swear on my mother not a damn person ever got out of that police car…
“Sir why you speeding in my county?” The officer asked as he shined his flashlight into my car.
Aiden squinted and looked away from the light while I just couldn’t get over the fact that this guy simply appeared in-front of my car.
“Yeah I’m really sorry sir, I didn’t see the speed limit and I’m just a little tired and trying to get my son home.” I answered in the most respectful and apologetic tone I could.
The officer lowered his flashlight and I could see that his face was badly scared and burned on the right side, other than that he was a hefty man with a strong build. Not sure exactly where I was I looked at his shoulder patch, City of Brookwood Police, Officer Parnell.
“Hang tight boss, I’m going to be right back with ya.” Officer Parnell said as he took my documents and began walking to his squad car.
I looked over at Aiden who was shaking his head at me, “Mom is going to be pissed dad.”
I just shook my head but was again legitimately freaked out by what I saw next.
He was in his car, inside it but once again I never saw the door open! He wasn’t doing anything, just sitting behind the wheel motionless staring straight ahead. I couldn’t see his features only his silhouette through the headlights but I could see him just motionless like a statue.
What the hell is he doing, just sitting there?
After several minutes and even my son picking up the feeling that something was off he opens the door this time and steps out of the cruiser. He walks over to my window again and leans down producing a ticket and my documents, he asks me to sign the speeding ticket in which I do.
“Listen guy, these roads at night are killers, that’s why I lit you up. Slow it down out here… I don’t want to be scraping you off the concrete cause you disobeyed the speed postings.”
With that he stands up robotically, turns stiffly and walks straight back to his cruiser and gets in.
What a cryptic thing to say in-front of my son I thought, and am I free to go? I sat there for a minute before just chancing it and easing on the gas slowly pulling away. After around a quarter of a mile all lights behind me vanished, just gone. This was alarming as in this kind of dark on a two lane road you could see headlights damn near a mile away but his were just… gone.
I dismissed it and blamed the weird happenings on the dark, stress of the move and lack of sleep… but deep down I knew what I saw, and so did Aiden.
We made it to Birmingham and collapsed on beds with no sheets to sleep while we could. The next evening I decided to take Aiden and drive to the address on the ticket Officer Parnell issued me for speeding. I wanted to pay it and have it over before Sarah found out, and Brookwood was where I had to go. After an hour and a half I arrived in the very small town and made my way to the courthouse that doubled as a police substation.
Aiden and I went inside and approached the service desk where a middle aged woman wrapped in a light day blanket sat waiting to help.
“Yes sir, how can I help you?” She asked as I approached her smiling with Aiden just behind me.
She smiled at Aiden as I produced the ticket from my pocket and handed it to her.
“Yes ma’am, I was a little careless while coming into Birmingham last night and was doing a little speeding, but one of your guys got me and I’d like to just go ahead and pay the fine now.” I said looking down at Aiden who was shaking his head at me.
The woman looked the ticket over and her eyes got wide as she shook her head back and forth, “Excuse me sir, I’ll be right back.”
She gets up with the ticket in hand and walks behind a door leading to the back of the building where I could see police officers moving about through a glass window.
After a short while she comes out with a police officer.
“Sir my name is Captain Davis here with Brookwood Police; I’ll tell you what… you just moved to Birmingham right?” He asks me curiously.
I nod my head confused, “Uh… yes sir that’s right, just in from Louisiana with my wife and son here.”
The captain smiles and nods, “Well I’d hate to add another expense onto your family what with ya’ll just moving, tell you what… I’m going to treat this as a warning and you folks just go on with your move.”
I was completely dumbfounded, I didn’t understand a bit but I wasn’t about to argue with the man letting me off the hook.
“Okay sir… thank you very much.” I said as I looked around for Aiden who had wandered near a bulletin board close to the exit.
The captain nodded and proceeded to crumple up the ticket as I turned and walked away. As I approached my son to get him and head for my car before things got any weirder, Aiden stops me.
“Dad… dad!” he says in a whisper but with urgency.
I walk over and he points to the bulletin board, my heart felt like it would explode as I read it and looked at the pictures.
It was a picture of Officer Parnell on a memorial for fallen officers, there was no mistaking his build and the scars on his face.
Officer Jesse Parnell, an Iraq war veteran who was injured by an I.E.D blast in 2004 served the city of Brookwood with honor and distinction until his tragic death in a late night traffic accident on I-20 on August of 2014. He is remembered by his mother, fiancée and daughter. Heaven is a little safer with your presence Officer Parnell.
I felt sick to my stomach, I grabbed Aiden and almost jogged to the car, we drove back to Birmingham making sure to obey the speed limit, I didn’t want to get pulled over again… ever.