The gravel is unforgiving on your bruised, shoeless foot. The sneaker was a small price to pay for escape from the metal that had twisted around your right leg. Luckily, your undamaged left leg carries your weight for the hobble into town. Another small blessing: the accident happened close to someplace, and not in the middle of nowhere. You didn’t see a name, nor had Mary—
Don’t think about it.
Focus on finding a phone. Call the police. Report the accident.
Must Get help.
Keep moving or the blackness at the edges of your vision will win.
Your hope slips away when you see no lighted businesses. The town must roll up their sidewalks at eight. You reach a corner and just as you’re about to collapse, you hear music.
An alley two blocks away. Again, your left leg pulls you on, the right feeling more like dead meat with each step taken.
The sign says “Coffee” in blue and crimson neon letters. Neighboring shop windows indicate they’re the local team’s colors. Why you notice this, you’re not sure. Maybe your brain needs something to focus on other than …
You misstep when you lean against the door, falling forward. A half-wall catches you before another injury. The establishment is empty. No customers. No staff. Did a bell ring when you entered?
You recognize the song blaring from hidden speakers as the one Mary sang when she first appeared in your life. Your semi-charmed kinda life started with that song. You two would’ve made it your song, only the subject matter; crystal meth, wouldn’t made a good wedding dance number.
It’s comes out as a croak. You push yourself further in, making it to the counter.
A curtain of beads separates the main room and back room. A young woman pokes her head out.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you …” the words die in her throat when she sees the shape you’re in. “OMG! Are you okay?”
“Accident. Up the road. My wife.”
Message delivered, you slump to the floor, letting the black take you.
Consciousness comes with a price as throbbing agony returns with it. You’re in an overstuffed chair. The girl leans across your vision, a wet cloth in her hand wiping blood from your temple. It reddens with each dab. She sprays anti-bacterial on the spot, and then applies a bandage.
“I’ve called the Sheriff. Unfortunately, we share him with another county.” She shrugs. “Times are tough, y’know. Would you like something? Coffee? Water?”
She fetches you a glass. As you look up, your brain takes in another piece of unwanted information. The light bulb above you isn’t lit. You scan the ceiling and none of them are, but the room is as bright as day.
“How long was I out? Is it morning?”
“No, you were only unconscious for ten minutes.”
“Is there an ambulance …?”
She shrugs apologetically. Her eyes are the same color as Mary’s, but her nose looks like your mom’s, perky with an upturned tip.
“Eventually, but it’s coming from even farther. They said to keep you comfortable.” She won’t look at you. “You mentioned your wife. Is she, y’know, still in the car?”
You acknowledge the reality by the words. “She’s dead.” The shock keeps you from crying.
The admission visibly upsets the young lady. Her shoulders shake and she hugs them. “I’m … I’m sorry for your loss.” Pulling herself together, the girl tries a smile; tear streaks glisten on her cheeks. “Let me make you something.”
You nod. She bounces away jubilantly. “Bagel with cream cheese and peach marmalade, right?”
The food selection confuses you. That’s what Mary makes when you start off the day running. In fact, she had made it that very morning before you two set out on your vacation. One last road trip before the …
“Do you mind me asking what happened?” she calls out from the back.
Tired of just sitting, you stand. The right leg isn’t giving you as much trouble. You decide to talk about it, especially to her. Who does she remind you of? You rack your crash-addled mind.
“Elk. I swerved to avoid it. I didn’t avoid the tree.”
“That’s horrible. Especially since it was going to be awhile before you two could get away again.”
You stop cold.
“How could you know that?”
A mirror on the wall shows your marred face. One eye is bloody and your jaw is an ugly shade of purple. The girl returns and the realization hits you that you both share the same shade of dirty-blonde hair.
“You need strength,” she continues, “There’s a lot to do.”
“What’s your name?”
Ignoring the question, she arranges a shelf, instead. “You’ll recover, but not before too many questions by doctors and cops. Oh, and those gut-wrenching calls you’ll have to make.”
You step closer, but she avoids your gaze.
“Plus the funerals. If it’s any consolation, they can be done at the same time.”
You’re directly across the counter from her.
“What. Is. Your. Name!”
She turns, tears flowing like time. The answer comes in sobs.
Mary’s grandmother’s name.
The name you agreed to call your unborn daughter—cooling in Mary’s lifeless womb—the passenger door crushing them both. No chance to save either.
You back away from the impossible. Blood drips from a newly-formed gash in the young girl’s forehead; the side of her skull bashed in. She crosses her arms across her abdomen. “I’m so sorry, daddy,” she mouths as you flee from the coffee shop.
It’s still night. You reel, getting your bearings. The coffee shop is gone. You’re on the corner of town where you entered. A police car appears from an alley. Blue and crimson lights flash. You stumble. An officer is by your side. An ambulance arrives.
Was it all delusion?
The E.M.T. pulls the patch from your forehead to look under it.
The officer questions, “Where’d you get the bandage?”
You answer truthfully.
by David Boop
David Boop is a Denver-based speculative fiction author. He’s also an award-winning essayist, and screenwriter. Before turning to fiction, David worked as a DJ, film critic, journalist, and actor. As Editor-in-Chief at IntraDenver.net, David’s team was on the ground at Columbine making them the first internet only newspaper to cover such an event. That year, they won an award for excellence from the Colorado Press Association for their design and coverage.
His debut novel, the sci-fi/noir She Murdered Me with Science, returned to print from WordFire Press. In 2017, he edited the bestselling weird western anthology, Straight Outta Tombstone, for Baen. Dave is prolific in short fiction with over fifty short stories and two short films to his credit. He’s published across several genres including weird westerns, horror, fantasy, and media tie-ins for titles such as Predator, The Green Hornet, The Black Bat and Veronica Mars. His RPG work includes Flash Gordon, Rippers Resurrected and Deadlands: Noir for Savage Worlds.
He’s a single dad, Summa Cum Laude creative writing graduate, part-time temp worker and believer. His hobbies include film noir, anime, the Blues and Mayan History. You can find out more at Davidboop.com, Facebook.com/dboop.updates or Twitter @david_boop.