I've been talking so much recently about finishing the edit on Wrongful Death, which finally wrapped up this past Friday, that I decided to post the first chapter for all to see, while recognizing the ridicule it opens me up to. Unfortunately, the pragmatic side of me won't let me post the whole novel, so you'll have to get it when it's released to get the whole story.
HIT & RUN
The last thing that went through my head was a chunk of concrete. Of course, the windshield had done the same only a second earlier. In the instant before the lights went out, I could almost hear mom nagging me about wearing my seatbelt.
Standing, I tried to dust myself off. I felt surprisingly fine and hadn't yet made the connection between my situation and the mangled piece of meat in the road.Tires squealed and rapidly faded into the distance. I turned and stared into the setting sun just long enough to see the outline of something black disappear over the hill. However, I quickly refocused my attention when another car screeched nearby.
"Jen, call 911."
I spun around to find a heavyset man in a gray sweater kneeling over something on the sidewalk. He placed his hand on whatever it was and gently shook it before racing to his car and opening the trunk.
In spite of the scene, I was more interested in what had happened to my car. Yes, the Chevy Malibu was ugly and had gotten me a lot of grief over the past couple of years, but it was mine. I'd finished paying Walt back for the loan he gave me, and now I had a POS I could call my own.
My heart sank when the damage became apparent. The front end was crumpled against the light pole, white smoke pouring from the engine. The windshield had a hole in it, and the front left tire was turned in at an angle that I'm sure only Mr. Wells, my 9th grade geometry teacher, could have measured.
"Whitaker Street, about half a mile south of the Cross Roads Shopping Center," jabbered a thin blond on a cell phone. Another couple of cars had come up behind her and people were stepping out.
"Why the hell are you blocking the road?" yelled a frumpled looking bald man.
Before his wife could answer, the first car's owner said, "There's been an accident you jackass. Someone's hurt and we're trying to get an ambulance." The man slammed his trunk and raced back over to the sidewalk with a blanket in his arms.
Someone's hurt? I thought. God, I hope I didn't run over anyone when that douche forced me out of my lane.
My pulse racing, I sprinted to the motionless figure to see if I could help. A flitter of guilt passed through my mind as I also wondered what hitting someone else would mean for my future.
Another person came out of a nearby house and ran towards the crowd. "I called 911. Someone should be here soon."
"I also called them," said the first woman.
I wanted to just fade away and hope no one noticed, but since it was my car that caused all of this - as well as whoever the guy was that ran off - I couldn't disappear. Walt had at least pounded that into my skull.
The man standing next to me tore the blanket with his teeth and ripped it into long strips before trying to tie them around several parts of the carcass. Even Mr. Johnson's biology class from sophomore year hadn't prepared me for seeing this hunk of meat.
"Anything I can do to help?" I tentatively asked. The man ignored me and kept tying cloth strips onto the thing.
I could tell just by the sight of it that there wasn't anything that could be done for the poor bastard. His skin looked like ground up hamburger, occasionally punctured by shards of bone. The guy's arm twisted itself around his back, and his face was buried in the concrete. There was a pool of blood around what I think was his head, as well as more blood smeared on his legs and what was left of his University of North Carolina t-shirt.
Sweet Jesus, I thought once things started to soak in. That's my UNC t-shirt.
Normally I'd have noticed the sirens wailing as they approached, but my mind was now blocking out almost everything but the grotesque body laying to my front. Looking closer, I saw blood matting the hair. Although red obscured the color, the style was unmistakably mine.
"There's nothing you can do for that boy," someone in the crowd ventured.
The man working on my body ignored them and kept trying to stem the flow from untold number of wounds. I was glad he kept working, but the pit of my stomach dropped. A sound escaped my mouth that would have made my buddies laugh if they'd ever heard it.
In my mind, the sound shook the ground, but nobody reacted. My heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out of my chest, as if it could will me back to life. The small part of my brain that helped me get into UNC in the first place told me that my heart couldn't be beating any more than it could sing, but I didn't listen.
"Help me turn him over," said the man.
"I don't think we should move him," said someone else.
"We're gonna have to if we want to get at the wounds on his face," said the man. "Just help me."
Two others knelt by my body while the first man put his goop covered hand under my head. They gently rolled me over, but the sight of what used to be my face only confirmed that it was too late.
The guy by my waist covered his eyes and turned around. Someone in the crowd sounded like they were going to barf. None of this was what you'd call comforting.
An ambulance finally roared up. Two guys in white raced out, one of them holding a yellow backboard. They pushed their way through the crowd and started working on me, for all the good it would do.
“Amazing, isn’t it?”
I looked around to find the source of the new voice and saw a shimmering gray figure. Wisps of smoke hid his feet, and it looked like this new arrival was hidden by curtains.
“What?” I responded.
“That people try to bring back to life that which is already gone,” said the figure. “They know you’re dead, but their hearts won’t allow them to accept it yet.”
I opened my mouth several times, but words wouldn't come. I'd been hoping it was all a mistake, that I’d wake up at home or in the hospital and ready to laugh about this dream. It couldn't be real. I had plans – homecoming was this Friday and the gang and I planned a great night after the game. I’d already “acquired” beer from the fridge in the garage.
"Who are you?" I finally managed.
"My name is Alexander, and I'm here to help your transition. There is much to discuss."
Shaking my head, I said, "No, this can't be happening. Mom and Walt will flip out, and there's no way Kathy can make it till graduation without me. Me and Tim are gonna be roommates next Fall, so what is he supposed to do?"
"You have an inflated sense of your importance," Alexander said. "They'll find a way to cope. Yes, there will be grief, but life will continue, just as it always has. You'll provide inspiration for some, and smiles down the road as memories become less painful. You'll never fade completely from their hearts."
"But those people can save me!" I yelled, jabbing my finger at the still working paramedics.
Now I sensed pity from Alexander, even if I still couldn't see him very well. "No, they can't. It's not like you can just slip back into that meat suit. Look at it - it's mangled. If your soul managed to somehow reintegrate with it, you'd be a burden to those you claim to love. It's not the way things are done."
"But I'm only 18!"
"Your death wasn't my call," Alexander said. " That decision was made long before today and written into the annals of fate while you grew in your mother’s womb. My job is simply to take you to the other side.”
"I don't want to go." Even in my own ears it sounded pouty. I was glad Kathy never heard me whine like that.
"This is the natural order. Do you think you're the first one who was shocked at their death and didn't want to leave? It happens all the time, especially among the young, but the cycle of life will be thrown out of balance if we were to accede to your request."
Tears brimmed in my eyes. I tried to hold them in - Walt drummed into me that a man doesn't cry unless he's missing a limb - but a couple spilled down my cheek anyway. Alexander placed a shimmering hand on my shoulder, and I felt electricity pop into what would be muscles if I was alive. A small whirring noise began to vibrate on the wind, a low hum that was growing louder.
"We need to go," Alexander said, a note of impatience in his voice. "You're not allowed to linger, and those who defy the natural order are forced to mindlessly wander Earth for decades, sometimes centuries, before being offered another chance to cross the Great Barrier."
The paramedics were still working on me, but I knew what they were doing was mostly for show. I was no longer in there.
I still couldn't see Alexander's face. The gray figure flickered for an instant before turning and walking to the middle of the road. He held out a hand and traced a circle in the air. The area inside the circle grew dim before exploding in a shower of light. Once the light died, mist that shimmered silver at the edges appeared, and I felt a gentle tug.
Alexander motioned for me to join him, and I briefly thought I felt a new presence as the hum grew louder around me, but it was overwhelmed by the portal. I exhaled and slumped my shoulders a bit before trudging forward. I didn't even bother glancing back at the crowd or the now empty shell they were gathered around.
I felt like I was being pulled by the inside of my ribcage, but that was unnecessary. This had to happen, so, bracing myself, I lowered my head and walked into the portal.