From filming ‘Samaritan’ to writing ‘One Bullet’
The city of Melbourne experienced a traumatic event on 18th June 2007 when Hells Angels member Christopher Wayne Hudson opened fire on two men who came to the aid of his girlfriend, whom Hudson was pulling by the hair on to the street after exiting a nearby club. One man died, while the girlfriend and the other man were injured. Hudson fled for two days before turning himself in to police.
The shooting occurred at 8.20am. On that morning, I had decided to start work at 8.30am. My walking route to work would have taken me right through the street on which the shooting occurred, and at 8.20am, I would have been right there to witness it. However, I had woken up a half hour earlier than normal that morning and decided on a whim to leave earlier and start at 8.00am. I heard about the shooting a little later that morning when word started to spread about what had happened.
I reflected on this for quite a while after this incident. It forced me to ask myself, if I had left that morning at the time I intended, I would have been in the middle of that; would I have been brave like those two men and rushed to the aid of the woman being pulled by the hair on to the street by Hudson? I would like to think yes, but then again, do you ever really know how you will react when you have a loaded gun pointed at you?
The result of all my thoughts on this topic inspired me to make a short film the following year called “Samaritan”. You can watch it below. You can also see more material about the film at the website www.wouldyouhelp.com.
I re-visited this topic several years later with the short story entitled “One Bullet”. Whereas “Samaritan” dealt with the psychological fallout of the shooting, the media sensationalising what happened and showing the shooting in flashback, I felt “One Bullet” should tell the story as it actually happened on the day, trying to imagine what it would have been like to be in that situation. No third-party words can make up for what the real life victims experienced and that was not my intent. “One Bullet” is more an examination of the question, “what if I had been one of those people caught in this terrible incident?”. I’ve included “One Bullet” at the end of this post.
Both of these pieces book-end my feelings on this topic. I won’t try to explain any more than what’s presented in “Samaritan” and “One Bullet” other than to say that our desire to help others in trouble may or may not be countenanced by our innate instinct for survival. What would you do if you saw someone in trouble? Would you help? These seem like simple questions in theory but they can have complicated answers when facing the reality of the situation presented.
Short story by Ben Warner.
The smell of freshly percolated coffee drifted out from the kitchen. The aroma hit his nostrils, sending the electrical impulses to his brain in to overdrive. Even the anticipation of caffeine flooding his system was enough to stir him out of his usual, foggy, morning mindset. He quickly brushed his teeth, washed out his mouth and walked eagerly to the kitchen.
Martin woke a half hour earlier than usual. Most mornings he had to rely on the alarm clock, not being an early riser and all that entailed. This morning however was different. A head start on the day would mean he could leave work early and prepare for an evening he had been looking forward to for many months, and to seeing someone he had missed for quite some time.
Kristy had left in a hurry. The offer had been immediate and she couldn’t pass it up. To oversee the Monet gallery in Paris was an incredible opportunity for her. The normal curator, who was also a friend, had decided to take a sabbatical. Kristy could build her credentials with this role, but it also unfortunately meant that they would not see each other for six months. It had been difficult, but they had stayed in contact, and to his delight, she seemed just as excited to see him as he was to see her.
Martin chomped down on his butter-soaked raisin toast and savoured his coffee for the ten minutes his morning routine allowed him. He quickly put on his shirt and work pants, and rushed out the door to begin his fifteen minute walk to work.
The sun was out. He felt the spring warmth on his skin, a refreshing change from the months of winter cold. There was no wind, just a pleasant stillness that radiated calm. As he crossed the street from his apartment building, the grid-locked traffic was busy doing its usual thing: going nowhere fast. He was grateful for living so close to the city and his work. He did not have a car, nor did he need one. Everything essential was within walking distance and public transport was readily available. He didn’t know how people could put up with long commutes and traffic. As he thought this, he glanced at a driver that he passed while crossing the street, seeing the tension and frustration building on his face.
Yep, that’s why.
Martin walked across the bridge, looking out at the river. The morning sun appeared as a bright yellow disc on the horizon, with the light glistening across the water. Ripples appeared as rowers in their boats conducted their morning training exercises. Martin looked up to see a rowing instructor riding a bike along the river bank, keeping pace with his subjects that were gliding quickly along the water in their thin boat. Evidently they were not as fast as the instructor had hoped, given he kept barking orders at them. He saw other people on the bridge walking to and fro. A tourist with a Nikon camera, snapping away at the sunrise, caught his eye. He made a mental note to book some leave and take a holiday. He wanted to take Kristy somewhere special, now that she was back and free from obligation.
Martin made it to the edge of the city, walking across the first street and up a hill on the footpath to his office. Only a few blocks to go before he would be sitting down at his cubicle for another day of phone calls, emails, processing and auditing. It was dull work, and sometimes he wondered why he didn’t look for something else. It was another reason to look forward to seeing Kristy again. He found through her artistic interests and endeavours that he could experience a more colourful side to life.
He had repeated his morning walk to work hundreds of times over so many years. It was as if no time had passed at all between commutes. He traversed the same corners, the same streets, the same businesses, and in some cases the same people, over and over again, week in, week out. He saw the flood of business people marching to their destination with drone-like precision, not unlike himself in a way. He smelt the fresh coffee coming from the multitude of cafes on his route. They were everywhere, as were the line-ups of people waiting to get their caffeine fix. Then he saw the homeless man asking for a dollar, and the shonky man behind him who clearly could afford it asking for one as well. He walked past them as he always did, ensuring to avoid eye contact to prevent any interaction. Even as he walked away, he could hear the shonky man still trying his luck on other passers-by. He wondered why that man kept asking him for a dollar when his answer was always the same. Surely he recognised him each morning?
Martin turned the corner and walked up the hill to his office. As he looked up, he froze. A surge of adrenaline pumped through his system like a lightning bolt from the blue. Only a matter of seconds passed, but time seemed to stand still for him as what he saw unfold before him take shape.
A muscle-bound man sporting a tight white t-shirt and jeans in his late twenties burst out from the entrance to one of the all-night clubs ahead. A fraction of a second later, he dragged his victim out on to the footpath, a girl in her late teens with red hair, a slightly torn shirt and short skirt. Her heels clacked loudly on the ground as she tried to keep her feet from falling out from under her. She screamed in pain as the muscle-bound man tugged at her long red hair. He dragged her over to a car nearby with a minimum of fuss, despite the girl’s constant attempts to break free. She was no match for him.
As Martin stood their frozen, watching the violent struggle between this large man and defenceless woman, he could not think or focus. Everything else in the world faded away. He realised instinctually that he was facing a moment of crisis, and he had a choice. Would he run? Would he help? If he helped, would he be injured? Would he be killed? The thought of getting in to an altercation with the muscle-bound man was too terrible to contemplate. He was not fit and he would not stand a chance against that violent hulk.
But maybe that wasn’t the point. If he could distract him long enough, maybe the girl could escape. And maybe others would come and help him.
All of this passed through him in a second. It had felt like an eternity. He had never been confronted by a situation like this before, but somehow he knew that there was only ever one option he was going to take.
Martin dropped his bag and sprinted to the struggling pair.
Somehow the red-head had gathered enough strength to resist the muscle-bound man. She wasn’t as easy to control as before. The muscle-bound man became frustrated and annoyed. Suddenly, he lurched back and then thrust her forward against a car. The red-head let out a small scream, but before she could continue, the muscle-bound man punched her in the face and she collapsed to the ground.
As Martin sprinted, he felt the adrenaline surge through his veins, tightening his muscles and feeling more alert than he had ever been in his life. He felt an intense anger grow within him at the muscle-bound man as he saw him punch the red-head in the face. The gravity of the situation was growing larger with each passing second, and Martin knew he had to do something to stop this. He hoped he could get there in time.
It had only been ten seconds or so, but Martin had traversed the space between where he first saw the struggling pair to now being within an arm’s length of them. As he approached, he suddenly let out a yell the likes of which he’d never thought he’d been capable of before.
“HEY!” Martin shouted at the top of his lungs. His exclamation echoed off the buildings and down the street. People suddenly stopped as others now saw for the first time what was taking place, in their city.
Martin grabbed the muscle-bound man by the left shoulder, dragging him back from the red-head. The muscle-bound man, angered by the interruption, swung his whole upper body around, landing a punch across Martin’s face. Martin fell backward instantly, receiving the full force of the blow. He fell on to his rear end with a thud and rolled to his side, completely stunned by the hit.
He barely had a second to compose himself when Martin saw the muscle-bound man glaring down at him. Martin saw him put his hand behind his back and within a moment, he was pointing a black hand gun at him.
Martin lurched back in fear. He scampered back along the footpath, jarring his shoulder against the building wall behind him. As he glanced up and saw the barrel of the gun pointed directly at his head, he knew in that moment he was going to die. Nothing was going to stop this monstrosity from pulling the trigger. He could see it in his eyes. This man would not stop until he was satisfied that Martin, who had rudely interrupted his business, was dealt with in the only way he knew how.
Martin froze in his place. As he felt the inevitable conclusion to this scenario bear down on him, he glanced up at the muscle-bound man. In that second, something happened that altered his fate forever.
Another man, younger than Martin, grabbed the muscle-bound man from behind. The muscle-bound man lurched forward, taken slightly off balance by the younger man, but he stood his ground, and still held the gun. The younger man tried to hold him as long as he could, but the muscle-bound man was too strong. With one swift movement, the muscle-bound man pushed his arms out and broke free of the younger man’s grip. He then rammed his elbow in to the younger man’s stomach and the younger man fell backwards to the ground.
Martin lay there in a frozen trance. He couldn’t move. It was all happening so fast. He knew he had to get up, he had to finish this. But somehow another part of him was holding him in place, frozen in fear. Why couldn’t he move? He had to help this young man who had just saved his life.
The muscle-bound man moved swiftly. It was all over in a few fatal seconds. As he knocked the younger man in the stomach and turned to face him, the muscle-bound man swung around and pointed the gun toward the younger man. He didn’t hesitate. The bullet erupted from the gun, with the noise of the shot drowning out every other sound in the street. The young man took the full force of the bullet in the chest, and he collapsed backward on the ground.
Martin stared down at the young man, completely oblivious to everything else. He saw the bullet enter the young man’s chest at point blank range. He witnessed the life drain from his face.
He saved me, but I didn’t save him.
The muscle-bound man hesitated for a moment, realising what had just happened. He tucked the gun in to the back of his pants. He looked in every direction and saw people approaching him. He looked down at the young man one more time before sprinting off down the street and disappearing down a back alley.
Martin lay there for a minute, unable to take his eyes off the young man. He slowly felt his senses return. He forced his arms and legs to move. He dragged himself over to the young man who was barely alive. He looked in to the young man’s fear-filled eyes. The young man looked at him. Martin clasped the young man’s hand in his, and tears welled up in his eyes. The young man looked at Martin one last time, before his head tipped back and his eyes closed. Martin felt the strength in the young man’s hand dissipate as he passed away.
Martin felt a strong sense of guilt wash over him. He lay there, watching the young man, now lifeless and laying in a pool of his own blood. Only a few seconds earlier, it would have been Martin in his place if not for his brave attempt to intervene. Now the young man was dead. He had saved Martin’s life.
The sharp focus of the violent minute that had just passed was replaced with a quasi-dream like state for Martin. He barely noticed the gathering crowd of people, and the police that arrived a few minutes later. The police tried talking to him but he was still in shock. It was all surreal, like one of the worst nightmares he had ever experienced. Martin hoped in the deep recesses of his mind that he would wake up at some point and this entire, tragic event had never happened.
He felt his eyes slowly close, his eye-sight blurring in to a pale white before everything went black.
* * *
Martin first saw white as he opened his eyes. He turned his head left and saw a white curtain blocking his view. He turned his head to the right and saw a window, a moveable table and some plastic tubes. Then he saw a reassuring face that immediately put him at ease.
She sat forward as soon as she saw him move. She smiled, taking his hand. In that moment, he thought of nothing else but her reassuring smile and alluring brown eyes. He watched her tuck her blonde hair behind her ear, another familiar trait he had always loved. He smiled at her, and for an instant, there was nothing else in the world.
And then in a flash, it all came back. He saw in his mind the muscle-bound man point the gun at him, the young man take the bullet to his chest, the frightening sound of the gun shot and the last look on the young man’s face as he died next to him.
Kristy saw his eyes glaze over, and she knew Martin had remembered everything. Tears streaked down her face, and Martin could not help but follow suit. He shook his head, overwhelmed with a barrage of emotional regret and anger. He clenched his fist and turned away.
Kristy leaned forward. “Hey,” she called to him calmly and softly. She placed her hand on his face, and turned his head back toward her. Martin lay still, waiting for her next words with baited breath.
“We’ll get through this,” she said reassuringly.
Martin started to cry. Kristy moved in and hugged him. As he lay there in that moment, he knew that nothing would ever be the same again. His life up until that point had been trivial compared to the prospect of staring at his own death straight in the eye. He knew that the man who saved him had paid the ultimate price so he could live.
As he sat there, looking at Kristy with a simultaneous feeling of hope and hopelessness, he knew that he was not going to take anything in his life for granted ever again.
“I’m here,” Martin said, self-consciously.
Kristy smiled. “Yes.” She hugged him tightly.
A second chance at life.