When she hit him it made a terrific thump. Her car absorbed the impact and then bounced as his body rolled underneath the wheels. Sasha stopped the car. She was breathing heavy, whispering “Oh God oh God oh God oh God.” A mindless rambling.
She put her phone down. She turned off her music. She leaned her head against the steering wheel and took three deep, racking breaths. “I was on my way to dinner,” she said.
Then she unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the car door.
The night was chill, turning cold. The sun had set long ago. The street was wooded on the left and right. A creek burbled and leaves rustled. It was autumn, and the cast of the orange streetlights shaded the turning leaves goblin gold.
He was mutilated fifty yards back. A broken mass pooling thick ooze. He was dead. Had to be.
And then she called an ambulance. And then she walked over to the victim. It was her fault, she knew – she had been on her phone, texting Stephen. He had written something flirty. She was texting something flirty back. And then the man had fallen from the sidewalk and underneath her speeding car. Or was she speeding? Hazy, hazy.
His face was broken. That was the best way to put it. Broken, split. An eyeball gushed out, attached still to the insides of his skull. Splinters of bone poked through the ripped denim of his jeans. Blood pulsed from his open mouth, seeped from his ears.
The air stank of filth. Blood and shit and death.
Sasha looked up the road. She had drug him for a hundred feet. A long thick swath of blood marked their time together. Woman on top, man on bottom.
She began crying, and that is how the medics, the firemen, and the police found her, sitting on the curb in her red dress and black high heels, sobbing at the mess she had made.
In the investigation that followed certain inquiries were made. Sasha confessed that she had perhaps been speeding. She didn’t know. She was put on record stating that she had been on the phone when she hit the stranger, who medics had declared dead at the scene. Sasha claimed that he just crumpled and fell into the road as she drove by. But who could be sure? She was looking down at the text when the accident occurred. Who really knew, indeed?
Sasha was charged with involuntary manslaughter. She was at the police station and was going through the booking process when the station received a curious call from the hospital.
Sasha was giving her booking officer Steve with personal information. Age, height, eye color. When prompted Sasha had informed the officer, whose name was Steve, that she had a tattoo on her inner right thigh. The tattoo read “Life Is Either An Adventure Or It Is Nothing.” Sasha thought it was sexy. Steve had no comment.
A jowly man stuck his head in the steel-framed door where Sasha and Steve worked.
“Eh, Steve?” the fat man asked.
Steve looked up from his computer. Sasha sat still, hands folded in her lap. “What’s up, Jon?”
“Hold off on that for a second. Can you come over here please?” Jon gave Sasha a thin smile as Steve rose.
They engaged in conversation outside of Sasha’s hearing. She could still see them. They weren’t letting her out of their sight. But she could not hear what they were saying. Her heart felt like it was going to explode. It had been racing for two hours. She had killed someone. She was a murderer. She was still wearing her red dress. Her eyes were puffy from tears, cheeks streaked black from mascara, and her head hurt.
What would Stephen say? What would her parents say? Her life in town had ended – Dolce Springs was not big enough to buffer the social impact of this man’s death. She would have to move. She would have to find a new community. Assuming she could. Assuming Jon and Steve and the Dolce Springs Police Department let her leave. Assuming she wasn’t spending the next five, or ten, or twenty years in prison.
Steve returned. He was smiling. Smiling!
“Ms. Briggs,” he said. “You are free to go.”
“You can leave. The man you ran over is clearing you of all charges.”
Sasha sat there. Still. “How?” she asked.
Steve laughed. Laughed! “This guy, this—“ he looked down at a sheet of paper Jon had passed to him. “-Daniel Powers, he had a note in his pocket. A suicide note.”
Realization dawned on Sasha. Her body, so tense, relaxed. She almost let her bladder go. Goosh.
“Can you read me the note?”
“Why don’t you just take a look at it,” he said. “Someone from the hospital dropped this by a few minutes ago. Said they found it in Mr. Power’s right boot when they stripped him.”
Steve handed Sasha the piece of paper.
It was yellow, and thin, and felt odd on her fingertips. She was thankful there was no blood on it. It was dry too. She looked up, questioning. Steve understood. “Ah, it was in a plastic baggie. In his, ah, boot.”
Sasha nodded, satisfied. She looked down at the scrawling script.
* Medics – doubtless you have found this note, provided my shoes did not fly off in the accident. I have no family, have no friends. If you search for next of kin you will find none. Please give this note to the police station as evidence.
* Police – doubtless you have been given this note by the hospital. I hereby absolve the driver of any crimes, though you are want to charge her with involuntary manslaughter and perhaps something else if it suits your desires. This was a premeditated suicide that the individual driving the car had no prior knowledge of. I request you release the driver and drop any charges. Please give this letter to her so that I might explain further.
My Dear Killer,
Thank you. My name is Daniel Powers. With your car’s assistance I have committed suicide, and for that I am truly sorry. I can only imagine the difficulty of these past hours. I hope that you did not bother looking at my corpse, for I planned to have rolled my head under your left wheels, and my legs under your right. I must have been quite a sight.
I had been planning to kill myself for some time now, and for weeks did not leave the house without a suicide note of some sort, which I decided was best left underneath my left foot. This suicide note is the fortieth I’ve written, and I hope it is my last.
As you have read above, I have no next of kin. For all I care you are my closest relative. Please take this letter to the law offices of Donald Duggins and he will see to it that you inherit my estate, which is more than modest. I only request that of the money I have left you $2,000 goes towards weekly therapy with my psychiatrist, Dr. Lisa Graves. In twenty weeks I bet she will have you right as rain, scars healed from this harrowing night.
You do not speak of this incident to anyone other than Duggins and Graves. Donald Duggins has already sent a letter to the Dolce Springs newspaper threatening action should any mention of this accident appear in print or online. For all concerned I was a nobody, and I died a nobody, and nobody need know of it.
This never happened. I never happened. Clean the blood off of your car, my dear killer, and repair your front fender, and you were never involved.
Daniel Powers, deceased
Sasha’s hands shook as she looked up from the letter. Steve just shrugged. “You’re free to go, Ms. Briggs.”
So she went. And did not look back. Her car, which had been impounded as evidence, was released to her. The blood and gore of the accident had crusted to her fender and wheels. There were scrapes and dents. Perhaps flecks of bone adorned the underbelly of the sedan.
Sasha drove to a car wash and serviced the vehicle herself. She cried while she worked, scrubbing, soaping sudsing the death off. The letter of Daniel Powers was laid atop her dashboard, a bright yellow under the white fluorescents.
She called Stephen, apologizing for missing dinner. He was not happy. Sasha did not tell him what happened, making up an excuse about being ill. Sasha drove home. She parked the clean, dented car in the gravel driveway and went inside.
Sasha ran a hot bath. She soaked for an hour, shivering. She drained the tub and toweled off. And then she went into her bedroom. She fell asleep, and did not dream.
The next morning Sasha called in sick to work. The school was not pleased – finding substitutes on such short notice was difficult in the flu-riddled fall – but they were able to locate someone to keep her second graders busy for the day.
She drank coffee and thought. She read again the last words of Daniel Powers and considered her options. Ignore or act.
The plum was ripe to burst – Powers had an estate he was giving to her. He had taken all the blame from her and drug it down into his grave. She looked up David Duggins office number. She called and got no answer.
She decided to pay Duggins a visit anyways. It was a weekday. He would be there. Sasha dressed, wearing a simple brown wool shirt and black leggings. She made to grab her car keys, and then thought again.
“I’ll just walk,” she said, though to whom I do not know. Perhaps me.
Sasha left her house. In her driveway the car sat, a slate gray Fresco. It was two years old, had driven 30,000 miles, and had killed one man. It was so clean it gleamed. The dent was apparent. “I’ll have to get that fixed,” said Sasha.
I agreed. She could do the bodywork at Dolce Hard & Car. I used to work there—in the Hard Department. The hardware part of the store.
Up the hill she walked, headed to David Duggins. The internet said that he would be at 303A West Deuce Avenue. The street view gave a glimpse of what to expect – a brown brick building set in the woods with a small black plaque to the right of the deep stained door. The internet said the walk would take twelve minutes to walk, or only two to drive.
It was duplex set back off the street. Sasha had to take a gravel drive off Dulce. She walked slow, watching the leaves wiggle on their trees. Orange dances of the dying. Duggins office was on the right. An unmarked door was to the left. There were no cars parked in the drive. Sasha read the plague and used the door knocker. It clanged. Clong clong. Clong clong clong.
A wisp of a man opened the door. He was a breath. He was a ghost. Bald and pocked. A hundred pounds, no more, a bent man, strained against the weight of the door. Sasha helped him open it, and let herself in.
“David Duggins?” she asked.
“What?” he said.
“Are you David Duggins?” she asked again.
“Eh?” the man looked at her as one might observe a fish at the store. Ponderously, curious as to its origins and whether this was its natural coloring, or if it had been dyed a more attractive shade of salmon. He looked at me the same way. Made my skin crawl.
Sasha handed him the final letter of Daniel Powers. The man took it with shaking hands. He read for a long minute and then he chuckled.
“Ho now, old Daniel did it.” He looked at her again. “I guess you’re the gal that got him?”
“Well, bout time.” He cleared his throat and a large ball of phlegm shot forth. It landed yellow and hard on the wall by Sasha. He stuck out his hand. “Name’s David Duggins. Pleased to meet you.”
Duggins invited her in. His office was cluttered. Terrible was its state. Shelving was overflowing with documentation. Piles of paper lay scattered as drift snow. The table was under a foot of open books and eared volumes. The room stank of old man and Chinese food long left to rot.
Sasha was asked to sit down on a chair that held a ream of leafed legal paper. When she picked up the stack and looked at Duggins he shrugged and waved his hand. “Anywhere you like.”
She put it on the floor. Sasha sat, and they looked at each other a long moment. Duggins eyebrows were wild. White pointy spikes above deep eyes and hollow cheekbones.
“Sir,” said Sasha, “I want to know what’s going on. I killed Daniel Powers last night, and his letter informed me to contact you. Now here I am, but perhaps more confused than before.”
Duggins clucked. “Yes yes sure.” He said. “Powers was a disturbed man, and I worked with him for three years before he gave himself to your car. No doubt it’s been very hard for you but pray tell, how do you think I feel, him being a client of mine?”
Sasha shrugged. She didn’t really care how Duggins felt. In her eyes he was as guilty as Powers for last night … just less dead. So she said nothing, and Duggins plowed on.
“I feel good.” He smiled, eyebrows waggling. “Damn good, truth be told. And so should you.” He shook a thin finger with all the roguish energy of the caffeinated youth. “You, Ms.—“ he stopped, questioning. Sasha realized she hadn’t introduced herself.
“Briggs. Sasha Briggs.”
“Right. Thank you.” He continued. “You, Ms. Briggs, have a sizeable fortune from Mr. Powers. Some $900,000 no less.”
Sasha felt her body sink into the chair. She was stunned. “How?”
“Mr. Powers was a successful man. Made his fortune in textiles in Vietnam. Retired at age fifty, and killed himself at sixty. With your help, of course.” He winked as Sasha, and she felt her skin crawl. So cavalier, was he.
Duggins bent under his table. He muttered. Sasha heard papers sliding. There was a curse, then a bump, and then Duggins rose up, holding a bound set of papers. A red mark shone atop his spotted head.
“I just need you to sign the papers and the fortune is yours.” He said. “The two thousand dollars set aside for Dr. Graves in a separate money market. When you’re ready call Lisa at this number-“ he handed her a business card with only Lisa’s name and number, “-and put those twenty weeks to good use!” He winked again, and Sasha felt her skin crawl.
At what price is death paid? At what cost do we forget?
These are questions Sasha wondered, and I have answered on my own time.
Sasha signed the documents, simple as that. Duggins assured her that the money would be available for transfer within the week’s end, and he was right. In two days Sasha’s bank account was fit to burst with the money. It weighed on her mind. She called Duggins office but was not surprised when he did not pick up. She had seen no phone in his space, and doubted that the old man could even hear it.
Sasha took the rest of the week off from work. She lazed around her house, but was ill at ease. Now her nights were plagued with nightmares. Three long nights Sasha awoke slick in fear. Fading images of gore, smells of blood and shit. His empty eye socket with its pink entrails, the eye glued to the asphalt some inches from his crushed nose.
She would wake with a scream on in her throat. And the terrors were getting worse. She saw menace in the nights, felt the gremlins in her dreams. She drank coffee, and then vodka neat, and then milk. Nothing made her feel better. She fingered the business card of Dr. Lisa Graves, its edges distressed from her worrying.
Friday morning she called. Lisa picked up on the third ring.
“This is Lisa Graves.” The voice was easy, slow, dripping like long strings of chilled honey.
“Dr. Graves. My name is Sasha Briggs.” Sasha paused, waited.
“I killed Daniel Powers.”
“Oh. Oh my.” The voice was soft. Dr. Graves sounded concerned but Sasha could not be sure. “You best come in then and see me.”
Two hours later Sasha was staring at the drive to 303B West Dulce Avenue. Graves Counseling was connected to the Law Offices of David Duggins. Sasha thought this weird. Weird was a good word for it. I remember having a case of the heebies. Almost didn’t even walk back down that gravel drive. Wish I hadn’t. Wishes are fishes.
There was no sign outside of Graves Counseling, so how could Sasha have known that Dr. Graves was just next door to Duggins? She couldn’t. But now, standing on the front stoop of Lisa Graves, Sasha did not like the feel of this half of the building. So she had not knocked, or rang. Sasha just stood there, dread seeping into her bones.
I must leave this place, thought Sasha. I must leave and not come back. I will forfeit the inheritance because of it, but I will still have my life. And my sanity. I will not pay for Daniel’s life with my own. I won’t. I won’t. I won’t. It seemed like a stupid thought, with so much money on the line. But stupid thoughts are sometimes the right one.
I listened in on her internal dialogue, telling at her to run! Run away you stupid!
She must have listened. Sasha turned to leave. Her boots squeaked on the splintered peeling planking as she spun. I won’t, she thought. There was a scrape at the door. Sasha took a step off the porch. And then another. And then another. She wanted to run, to get away, to be free of this place, but then the door opened and she heard a voice at her back. I won’t. I won’t.
“Ms. Briggs.” it was a slow, ponderous statement.
Sasha turned back to the front door of 303B. She planned to force a smile and an apology, tell Lisa that something had come up with her children at school. But all was forgotten as she looked upon the horrible face of Dr. Lisa Graves.
Her face was mottled, like curdled cottage cheese, a spoiled mass of flesh. There were whiskers sprouting from a collective of moles crowning her lumpy chin. It was a patchwork of coarse curling black hairs. Lisa was very obese. Her frame filled most of the doorway, and Sasha was appalled at the stench that wafted from the house and into the cold autumn day. Broken scabs littered her shins and knees, colonies of coagulations lost in the deep purple bruises that spanned the length of her shins. Despite all that … she saw some of Daniel Powers standing in the door. It was the nose – crushed and split open, bone stuck to the raw meat of broken skin.
A fun note – whenever I see Dr. Lisa Graves, M.D., I see the purple bruise of a noose dug deep into the soft skin of Mary Marks’s neck. I was the one who sold her the rope at Hard & Car. She said she was going to make a swing for her kids. Bah.
My God, thought Sasha. I am mad. Sasha bit down hard against a scream. Her tongue stung and she tasted blood.
“Please come in,” said Sasha. Her voice, so calm.
Sasha obeyed. There was nothing else. Only Dr. Lisa Graves. Sasha was powerless to the mass waiting for her in the doorway. She took a step, found herself again on the porch. Lisa smiled. It was grotesque. Rotting teeth dangled loose in their cavities. They were brown and cracked. Her tongue lolled out. It was green with moss, dry and scaled. “Let’s talk about how you are feeling.” She cackled, and a tooth fell out. It tangled in her chin hairs, bobbed as her jowls flapped. Her nose swung back and forth on the ragged flaps of skin.
This is death, thought Sasha as she took another step.
Yes, Dr. Lisa Graves was death. She had swung the door wide and her arms stretched towards Sasha. Lisa’s long yellow nails scraped at Sasha’s face, traced the line from chin to nape. Sasha felt her bladder go, but did not turn back. Lisa enveloped her in a hug. The force of it crushed the breath from Sasha. Lisa picked her up and shuffled them from the light of the porch into the dark of the house.
The door swung shut. Sasha was with Lisa now. I was left outside.
This did not bother me. I knew what would happen in there, inside the dark studio of Lisa’s practice. She would break Sasha, unravel her mind into a thousand frayed strings. Sasha would scream with the horrors of the coming night, but no one would hear. Sasha would live the deaths of all those Lisa Graves had killed.
Yes, Sasha would taste the cold metal of the gun as it slid into the mouth of Scott Wood. She would feel that last wink of existence before the back of Scott’s head opened for bullet and brain and bone to spout forth. She would chill with the rush of wind and cry as the ground raced up to meet her as it had met Porter Waters one hot city summer’s day. She would rasp against the rough cord of rope as it choked her from the closet of Mary Marks. Sasha would scream as the razor cut deep into her forearm and gout forth blood as she dug down the long vein of what was once my arm. She would reel up into the last conscious moments of Sarah Crisp. Her clarity would last just long enough to vomit over the spilt bottle of sleeping pills, and then she would sink back into the darkness. Sasha would die again. And again. And again.
And then, at the last, with her mind broken within the stinking refuse of Lisa Graves, Sasha would walk the final steps of Daniel Powers. She would feel the weight of her car crushing his skull, the ripping of his legs as the wheels ground him into the street. In agony she would feel his eye pop from his shattered skull, and know it to paste itself to the road.
So Sasha would feel all.
Then Lisa Graves would repair her mind, one thread at a time, until it was the quilt of one quite destined to die. Soon her day would come, though whether by gun or pill or car or noose or razor I do not know.
Yes, Sasha Briggs will die. She will leave the matters of her estate to the old man David Duggins, and request that her inheritor visit the offices of Dr. Lisa Graves.
Life is a cycle. That much I do know, for I have watched it. For years, and years, and years to come. Our audience grows. There’s Scott, Mary, Porter, Sarah, me, the others, and now Daniel. Soon Sasha will be added to our ranks.
She will be welcomed.