Knight Rider Part 1
By Lisa D.
“Anna, David, Joe, come on! We’re gonna be late as it is!” Wilton Knight called down the narrow hallway. He looked impatiently at the clock on the wall and stifled a groan.
Doors slammed and feet pounded the worn, stained carpet as three children appeared in the living/dining room. It was fairly easy to tell that the three were related. All had inherited the same dark brown hair and brown eyes from Peter Knight, the patriarch of the Knight family. Wilton was the odd-one-out, having inherited his fairer features such as his light brown hair and blue eyes from his mother. Only his tallness hinted that he was his father’s son. Wilton, now eighteen, preceded the eldest, David, by five years. Then followed Joe, who was ten, and Anna, the baby of the family, who was five. Seeing her eldest brother, she ran for him and jumped into his open arms. She sat in the crook of his arm, staring intently at her other two brothers from her preferred perch.
“Would it kill you to get up five minutes earlier?” Wilton scolded the two as he ushered them out the door, handing them their books as they went. He paused to lock the door as he did every morning, and, as he did every morning, wondered why he bothered. It was not as if the Knights had anything of value. In fact, few people did during this miserable Depression. He had read accounts of people who had lost millions, but his family had actually lost very little. They hadn’t had much to lose in the first place. His father’s company had been forced out of business twelve years earlier, and his father had been one of two hundred people to lose their jobs.
“Why would we wanna get to school any earlier than we have to?” David reasoned.
“Yeah,” Joe said. “You’re the lucky one, Will. You got to drop out!”
“It’s not as great as it sounds,” Wilton said, shaking his head and leading the two boys down the squeaky staircase until they reached the bottom floor four floors later. While Peter Knight did his best to support his family by doing whatever odd jobs he could find and his mother worked tirelessly as a housemaid for one of the lucky upper-class who had not lost their fortune on Wall-Street, it was still not enough to make ends meet. Wilton had graduated top of his high school class, but there was no way that he could go to college, and, as much as it hurt him, he accepted that fact. Instead, he had tried to find a legal job, but since there were none to be had, he risked jail to help transport contraband into Canada. It was wrong, and it was dangerous, but it kept his family off the streets. Besides, in Chicago, it often paid better than the legitimate jobs.
He ignored his brothers’ chatter and looked above him. Strung from one window to the other were crisscrossing ropes, displaying yesterday’s wash. Ten hours from now, when he returned home, he knew that there would be different laundry, but he would never have a clear view of the sky. It was a pity, given the blue, cloudless sky. What he wouldn’t give to move away from the crowded to city into the open countryside. If he had enough money…A biting wind drew him back from his thoughts, and he hugged his sister closer. He saw his brothers shiver and move behind him in an effort to use him to block the wind. Their threadbare clothing was a poor match for the infamous winters of Chicago. Someday, he vowed, he and his family would never know poverty again. Never.
Stopping in front of the school grounds, he turned over the care of the five-year-old to David and paused just long enough to watch them safely enter the building. It was inconvenient to have to take his brothers and sister to school week after week, but the neighborhood was too dangerous to allow them to go by themselves, not to mention the fact that David and Joe would probably take advantage and play hooky. Another gust of wind chilled him, and he shoved his hands in his pockets as he bravely turned into the rushing air and continued onward. With a little over two weeks left until Christmas, winter had just begun, and he had already grown tired of the cold.
“United States attacked! Read all about it! Japan bombs Pearl Harbor!” a teenage, freckle-faced boy called, holding up a newspaper with the shocking headline. “Hey, wanna buy a paper?” he asked Wilton as he passed.
Wilton, who had been caught up in trying to brace himself against the cold, looked at him, startled. “What?”
“Wanna buy a paper?” he asked, slightly annoyed at having to repeat himself.
His eyes naturally wandered to the paper’s bold headline. His eyes widened. “The U.S. was attacked? When? By whom?”
“Where have you been?” he asked, surprise replacing annoyance. “It’s been all over the radio! Japan bombed Hawaii yesterday! We’re in the war!”
Stunned, he snatched the paper from the boy’s hand and scanned the article.
“Hey, that’s five cents!” the boy protested.
“That’s okay, I only wanted to see that article,” Wilton said and handed the paper back.
“If everyone read the article without paying, I’d be out of a job!” the paperboy complained as the other walked away, his complaint carried in the opposite direction by the wind. Irked, he resumed his call. “U.S. attacked! Japan bombs Pearl Harbor! Read all about it! Five cents!”
Wilton was stunned. The United States attacked? What had the U.S. done to Japan to make them so angry as to bomb the mighty U.S. Fleet? He hadn’t even known that the navy could suffer such destruction! Anger rose within him as he remembered the quickly rising death tally. Not all of those deaths had been soldiers. Innocent civilians had also been caught in the midst of the slaughter. How many families would be notified that they would never see their loved ones again? He picked up his pace as the wind increased in ferocity. He pulled the worn cap over his eyes and held onto it with his hand to keep it from being blown away. Bending forward, he fought the powerful gusts.
“Watch it!” a male voice protested when Wilton plowed into a muscular body. The man whirled around and stared at him with such irritation that Wilton stumbled backwards.
“Sorry,” Wilton hastily apologized, sidestepping to get around the other. It was then that he realized he was at the end of a long line. “What’s going on?”
“We’re joinin’ up,” the one in front of Wilton explained, his irritation subsiding. “I’m going to be a pilot!”
“It’s the only way to go,” the stranger continued, his green eyes lighting up at the thought. His clothes were threadbare, and multiple patches had been hastily sowed to allow the garments to survive yet another generation of wearers. A brown scarf was wrapped around his nose and mouth, concealing the rest of his appearance and muffling his voice. “And to go where the action is. I hope I’m stationed in the Pacific. I wouldn’t mind putting a bullet through the brain of the Jap that killed my brother!” he said vengefully.
“Your brother was in Hawaii?” Wilton deduced, stepping forward when the line crept closer to the small building.
The man nodded, his eyes clouding for the briefest of instants. Then his guard quickly rose back into place. “He was on the Arizona when she was attacked. They said he had a chance to escape, but he stayed to man one of the guns.” He paused, and then said proudly, “They said he died a hero.”
“I’m sorry about your brother,” Wilton said sincerely.
“Thanks,” he said. He extended his hand. “By the way, my name’s Todd. Todd Madison.”
“Wilton Knight,” he said and grasped the offered hand firmly.
“So what do you wanna do?”
“Infantry, tanks, planes…what do you wanna do?”
“I, uh, hadn’t thought about it.” Wilton looked across the long line. He was angry at what had happened to his country, but was he mad enough to join up? What about his family? What would become of them without his support?
“Where are you going?” Todd asked when Wilton started to step out of line.
“I can’t join,” he said.
“What, you 4-F or something?”
He shook his head. “There’s too many people depending on me. I can’t just go off and leave them.”
“I had the same thoughts, but you know what? They’re really better off without you. My family is. I mean, it’s one less mouth to feed, and I’m sending my pay home.”
“You can do that?”
“It’s what the Sergeant told me. Plus, you’ve got a little time to get things in order before you have to go.”
“How much do they pay?”
He shrugged. “Enough, I guess. Course, the higher your rank, the more you’re paid, and, I heard that you get extra for being in combat zones.”
Wilton grew excited. In joining the military, he would no longer have to help transport stolen goods, meaning that he no longer needed to fear the police. It was a chance to get out of Chicago and see the world, while at the same time defending the homeland he loved.
“Name?” the recruiting officer asked briskly.
“Wilton Knight,” he answered and then added determinedly, “I want to be a pilot.”
Large snowflakes fell on the roads, splattering as they hit the concrete and asphalt. Slowly, the white fluff began to accumulate, and layer by layer, the mass grew, taking over the roads, the sidewalks, the buildings, and the shoulders and hats of the people foolish enough to be out in the chilly weather. The overcast sky seemed appropriate for the mood at the bus station. Sadness hung particularly heavy over the six gathered on the platform.
“I wish you wouldn’t leave,” Susan Knight said dismally as she looked up at her son. She was a petite woman, but there was nothing weak about her small frame. Her hair was pulled back into a low bun, the only part of her hair uncovered by the toboggan that she wore.
“Someone has to protect you guys against the Japs and Krauts,” Wilton said and hugged her tightly. He released her and stooped in front of David, his heavy uniform coat reaching the ground. “You’re now the oldest, so you take good care of your brother and sister, and if I hear of you skipping school just once, I will personally come back and blister your bottom. Understand?”
David nodded, and then hugged his brother.
“Do I have to listen to David?” Joe whined.
“Yes,” Wilton said, moving to his other brother. “And do everything Mom and Pop tell you too.”
“Or what?” Joe bravely dared.
Wilton frowned and looked at him severely.
Joe ducked his head. “Okay,” he said obediently.
Wilton smiled and hugged him as well.
“Hey, what’s this? Tears?” Wilton asked and lifted Anna into his arms.
“Please don’t go, Will!” Anna begged, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck and burying her head into his neck as she sobbed.
“C’mon, Anna, don’t cry,” he soothed, patting her back. “It’s not like I’m going to be gone forever, and we can write each other letters.”
“I can’t write!” she sobbed.
“I’m sure David or Joe would be happy to help you, wouldn’t you, fellas?” he asked, eyeing the two.
“Uh, yeah, sure,” they agreed.
“See? So you can tell them what you want in the letter, and they’ll write it, and they’ll read the letters to you that I send,” he said.
Her crying subsided into hiccups as she pushed herself upright. He wiped her eyes with his handkerchief. “Why can’t you stay here?” she asked.
“I have to fight the bad guys,” he answered patiently. “They’ve done some bad things, and they have to be punished.”
“Are you going to make them sit in the corner?”
The others laughed lightly, and he grinned. “Well, not quite, but something like that.” He hugged her again and handed her to his mother. Turning to his father, he extended his hand. His father took it and pulled him into a brief hug. “Bye, Pop,” he said.
Still grasping his hand, his father looked into his eyes. “I’ve always been proud of you, Will. Don’t try and do something foolhardy. You don’t need a medal on your chest to make me prouder. I couldn’t be any prouder than I am now seeing you in that uniform.”
Wilton swallowed hard. “Thanks, Pop,” he said, his voice husky. Seeing his bus approach, he grabbed his duffle bag and swung it over his right shoulder. “Well, I guess this is it,” he said to his family.
“Write often,” his mother said.
“I will,” he promised.
The brakes hissed as it stopped behind him, and he looked up at the passenger windows. It had obviously made previous stops, because there were already other soldiers sitting in some of the seats. With one last look at his family, he boarded the bus and chose a seat facing the platform so that he could see them. He waved, and they returned it. The bus rocked as others filed onboard, and, all too soon, the platform began to move away and grow smaller. He watched until he could no longer see them before he finally turned in his seat and rested his head against the back. It had been an early morning for him, and all he wanted to do was sleep before they arrived at their destination.
“Hey, Wilton!” a voice said as someone jarred the back of his seat with their foot.
Wilton sat straight up and turned in his seat to see who was behind him. He recognized the voice, but, in seeing the face, his mind became blank. “And you are…?”
“Don’t you remember?” he asked, not the least bit put off. “It’s me! Todd!”
“Todd?” Wilton studied the other. He recognized the green eyes, but the scarf had hidden the rest of his face from view the other day. His features were well-proportioned and came to sharp, defining edges that women found attractive. His black hair was clipped short, but not short enough to keep the natural wave from showing. There was no doubt that Todd was a ladies’ man. “Are you training to be a pilot too?”
“Yeah, though I barely passed the primary exams. Man, what a hard test!”
Wilton decided not to mention that he had found the test particularly easy. “I heard that we only spend two months training before they ship us out.”
“I heard that too. I ain’t worried. It’ll be a piece of cake.”
“You’ve flown before?”
“Well, no,” he admitted, “but how hard can it be? No worse than driving a car.”
Wilton nodded. He had a point. “Where do you think they’ll send us after training?”
He shrugged. “Overseas, that’s all I know. I hope it’s the Pacific, but I heard that they’re shipping a lot of guys over to Europe too. I guess I really can’t complain where they send us, so long as they put us where the action is. So, was that your family?”
“Family?” Wilton asked, confused by the sudden turn of subject.
“Back there at the station.”
“Oh. Yeah, they were. They came to see me off.”
“Guess it must be nice to have a family that cares about you. My ol’ man’s still sleeping it off.” A look of resentment crossed his features but was quickly hidden. “You the oldest?”
“Uh-huh. Two younger brothers and a sister. She’s the charmer,” he said and proceeded to describe his family as Todd listened. Their conversation continued through the rest of the bus trip, and by nightfall when they reached their barracks, a strong friendship had formed between the two.
The bunks weren’t particularly comfortable, but Wilton was used to it. He quickly stowed his gear in a footlocker at the edge of his bed while Todd claimed the bed to Wilton’s right. Well, that is, after the former owner lost it to Todd in a game of high-card. The trainees had been warned that morning would come early, and lights were out at precisely ten o’clock.
Yet, before he could sleep, there was still one thing he needed to do. Pushing the covers away, he crawled to the edge of his bed, trying not to wake the others. His jacket lay across the trunk, and he turned it over and dug into its pockets. Feeling the smooth, cool texture, his hand grasped the folded paper and pulled it out. A small window above him allowed the soft glow of the moonlight to stream into the building, and it provided just enough brightness for him to distinguish the scrawl he recognized as his father’s handwriting.
By the time you read this, you will be far away from home. Everything will be a new experience for you as you’ve never had the opportunity to travel. Some of it will be exciting, some will be frightening, but I am confident that no matter what experiences you encounter, you will not turn your back, but instead, embrace them.
You are no longer a boy, Will. Your life is your own. Enjoy every day that you are given because you only have one chance to live it. Be careful in the decisions you make because you never know how they will affect you or others later on. It only takes one man, Will. One man can make a difference. I know that I have said that many times, and I am sure that you still do not believe me. However, it is a lesson that you will learn in time.
Stay safe, Will.