Midnight Drive

With school over, it was time for this chick to head back home for the summer. I couldn’t wait to get back into my own bed and the quiet of my own home. Sure, dorm life has its perks, and it’s certainly a fun experience while it lasts, but there is a limit to the amount of chaos one can handle. As for me, I had reached that limit about a week too soon, and so going home, I was ready for a refreshing and calm summer.

By the time I left campus, it was already dark. Looking through the windshield, I couldn’t see the stars because a fine layer of percolating clouds had moved in just that afternoon. I hoped to get home before the rain started, but as a single drop smacked the glass, I knew I was in for a dangerous drive.

I opened the window to let some cool air in because I had always really liked the smell before (and during) a good rain. It was as I had predicted. Refreshing, cool, and comforting. In fact, it was almost too comforting. I closed the window because it was starting to make me sleepy, and I knew that I still had two hours of desert to go before I reached my parent’s house.

Gradually, the road became slick, reflecting the headlights. This effect made me thirsty, and I was immediately glad I brought with me a lunch box with a premade, quartered sandwich and two bottles of water. It wasn’t my usual practice to be prepared for anything let alone a three hour car ride, but I knew I would be either thirsty or hungry or both, and I didn’t want to be in the unique position of being in the middle of nowhere thirsty as hell.

Reaching to the back seat was no easy task because I was short, which meant my arms were short. Maybe they weren’t as handicapped as say a T-Rex, but you can be certain that I had to push against the floor with my feet to get far back enough to reach the handle. After feeling around for a moment, I finally snatched up the strap, and pulled the bag into the front seat.

The cooler had one of those frozen ice packs in it, and so the water was cool and crisp. Some of it dripped down my chin and landed in my cleavage. It was cold, but it didn’t feel that bad. I was never the kind to get too cold, so a little icy water was pleasant in its own way.

After capping my drink, I realized that the rain was dropping enough for me to need the wipers. The headlights were no longer cutting through the night, instead, a curtain of rain reduced my visibility to half. For this reason, I slowed. I had started this trip at eighty miles-per-hour even though the posted limit was seventy-five, and although I wasn’t exactly afraid of crashing, I was afraid of being stranded in the middle of nowhere with no one near enough to help.

As the engine quieted, I felt a sudden coldness go through my body. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it felt like pure fear. It felt like needles in the back of my neck, like someone was stabbed me, but that wasn’t the worst part, it was then that I saw the red and blue lights begin flashing behind the car. This overwhelming oh, shit sensation came over me, and I slowed the car even more.

When the Chevy was finally stopped, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I had only one other interaction with a police officer in my life, and his name was Red, a man who frequented the bars back near my college. While the exposure to that side of the blue wall was more than pleasant, I doubted this one would even come close to it.

As tired as I was, I had no idea I was dead tired. When I opened my eyes, the spotlight in the review was bright; in fact, it was almost too bright. The cop approached on the left side, which I thought was unusual since I figured she’d want to come from there other side where she was less likely to be hit by a car.

When she reached my door and I looked up at her, she suddenly pulled her gun on me. Fear put my tired, aching body into overdrive, and I suddenly tensed up.

She screamed as she moved toward the front of the vehicle, “Get out of the car! Now!”

I put my hands up, and stepped out. My legs were weak. I had been driving, but because I had used the cruise control, I didn’t move my legs much. Embarrassingly enough, my legs gave out, my knees drove into the ground, and I winced in pain.

“Get the fuck on the ground!”

Harsh, I thought, but I was in too much pain to care. I laid down, scared half out of my mind that I was going to become another statistic. I was going to get shot, and my family was going to find me on the news tomorrow. Cop murders Jessica Larkin, the tabloids would say.

I kept my eyes locked on the cop, and she said something into the radio attached to her shoulder. She then proceeded to grab the handcuffs from her belt, and walked toward me. To be honest, I had no idea what I did, and maybe I was a strong girl growing up, but at that moment, there wasn’t anything else I could do but let my fear and anxiety take over. A moment later, this girl passed the hell out.

When I woke, I was in the back of an ambulance. I guess when you pass out, it’s mandatory that they call for medical help. Of course, that was the mandatory reason, and I wasn’t so lucky.

The cop was sitting in the back of the ambulance with me, and when she saw that my eyes had opened, she scowled at me. She said, “Are you okay?”

My mouth was dry, and my voice was sticky and hoarse. “Yeah, I guess.”

She said, “You’re not hurt.”

I supposed she wanted to make sure I was okay so I wouldn’t press charges against her. After all, she did manage to scare me half to death. However, I was awake and alive. There wasn’t anything better at that moment than the sweet sound and smell of the rain.

I said, “I’m fine.”

She said, “You were out for a long time.”

“It feels like it. My head hurts.”

“I bet it does,” she said, and smiled briefly.

I looked passed her, and there was a man in cuffs talking to another officer. I said, “Who’s that?”

The officer hesitated. “Warren Hicks.”

“Who?”

“Near as I can tell,” she said, and held out for a dramatically long pause, “not a good person. When I pulled you over for speeding, I swear to god I thought you was alone.”

“I what?” I said. The confusion from passing out was still pretty strong, and I didn’t really grasp what she was trying to tell me.

She continued, “Mr. Hicks over there was in your back seat. Saw him back there with a knife in his hand, and couldn’t take a chance, so I drew my weapon.”

I felt my heart hit harder than ever. My face felt numb for the first time in ages as if I had just weathered a searing wind in a subzero climate. “He was what?”

“My guess, ma’am, is that he was hiding back there. Had a syringe with him, too. EMT tells me he stuck you with it. God only knows what was in there. I was afraid you was never gonna wake up and I was gonna have a murder on my hands.”

I felt my face get even colder. The cop put a hand on mine, and smiled. She said, “I’m just glad you’re all right, honey. They’re confident you’ll be okay, but they’ll take you to the hospital down the road to check you out.”

I smiled thinly and looked passed her. Warren Hicks, a man who would later plead guilty to hiding in the back of four other women’s cars, drugging them, raping them, and finally murdering them. Maybe just then, as I sat in the back of that ambulance, I had no idea how lucky I really was. I could have been his fifth, and I’m thankful every night that I wasn’t.

Snapped: The Tale of a Mad Barista

The coffee rolled from the center of the counter, passed through a pool of blood, and then dripped from the edge. The tick tick tick could be heard in the now silent cafe. Blaine Carver looked at his work, smiled, and tilted his head ever so slightly as he thought about how much better he could do. He then left through the double-pane glass doors leaving the bodies of the customers and employees to stew in this hot summer weather.

After quitting at the cafe and before leaving, he had washed his machete. He did this because he knew no one would understand what he’d done. The bloody weapon would likely set off more alarms than merely the act walking down the street with a clean one in his hand, and although the walk wasn’t too far, he didn’t want to take the chances.

The other reason he wiped her down was that Lacy deserved the pampering. She was the epitome of craftsmanship. The black anodize accentuated the polished edge of this perfectly ground blade. He couldn’t let people see her in any condition other than pure perfection when he wasn’t busy slicing or dicing.

Not surprisingly, no one noticed the 18-inch blade in his hand, or if they did, they didn’t say anything. This wasn’t anything he thought as unusual. In the past, he’d seen and heard people ignoring the brutality of life simply so they wouldn’t have to get involved. From a wife getting beat on in the middle of the street to the local Kroger being robbed at gunpoint to rape to murder. He knew no one cared, and if they did, it was because they were busybodies that needed the attention.

As he entered the publisher’s building, the first thing Blaine noticed how beautiful the woman at the front desk was, and he even caught himself trying to hide the machete behind his leg. This, of course, made Lucy all the more obvious, and the secretary immediately became terrified. Blaine didn’t waste time. He ran up to her, and she screamed as she picked up the phone. It didn’t take long for her to register that calling for help was going to take too long, so she got up to run. She didn’t make it far. He planted Lucy right between her neck and shoulder as hard as he possibly could.

He tried to pull it free, but he buried it too deep. The blood poured out of her neck, wetting her clothes as she gurgled for help. The wound of mangled, torn flesh reminded him of barbecue roast beef. It was his favorite dish growing up, not by choice but because it the was only meal his father would eat. For this reason, his stomach gurgled. God, did he hate his father.

He wiggled Lucy a couple times but she was stubborn. So, he resorted to putting his foot on her back and pushed. Lucy finally released her bite, and he pulled the wedged weapon free.

As the receptionist fought for her life, he considered giving her another whack to the back of her skull just to end it. After all, she was beautiful. She didn’t deserve this, but he thought it might expend too much energy. He needed more if he was to pull back on at least another forty people.

She’ll die anyway, he thought as he went to her computer. Perhaps maybe she deserves to suffer. Who’s to say otherwise?

Blaine wasn’t familiar with the internal mainframe, but he was able to navigate well enough to find the number to the office of the man who made him do this, the man who took away his future.

The receptionist was an early casualty, he had planned to kill Frank Villas first and then kill as many people as he could on his way out. He had also suspected, however, that he would have to do some bad things on the way to Franks office, and that was okay as long as he got his chance to kill him.

The elevator dinged a few times, and the slow-moving car finally made it to the first floor. When the doors opened, there were three people inside. An attractive man in his 40s stood to the right of two women. He was the kind of man that needed attention, and he didn’t care from who he got it. One of ladies was almost too heavy to agree with the internal weight management system of the elevator, but she was still too big for comfort. The other woman was slender, but boring. Probably a religious freak who couldn’t be bothered to show a little skin once in a while.

I can’t let them leave, he thought, knowing full well if they saw what he did to the receptionist, they’d call the police and end it all for him.

They tried to push past him, but he didn’t let them. The obese woman took a whack to the head, and her skull split clean in two. The man tried to grab Blaine, but with quicker movements, Blaine was able to hack of one of the man’s hands, which dangled loosely by nary a thread of skin. He stabbed him through the neck. Ashe pulled Lucy free, the slender woman tripped over the larger one, and when she went down, Blaine held Lucy against the woman’s neck.

He knelt down close enough to talk into her ear, and he said, “Why are you so prude?”

She only whimpered, unable to comprehend his question in the face of all the fear and confusion.

He continued, “Such a pretty bitch like you, I’ll bet you’d have made some skunky church whore a happy man.”

She started to scream for help, but he quickly stabbed her in the back. It was difficult the first time, but after the second stab, the blade broke through her rubs and punctured her lungs. She gasped for air for a short moment until he hacked her neck a few times to fully decapitate her.

He stood, a little woozy and out of breath. Looking at the aftermath, he had to drag the bodies out of the way of the door, which was going to take a little effort. One he moved all three, though, the elevator doors closed and it rode smoothly all the way to floor M.

In the hallway, he looked around and found a gold plate riveted to the wall. It had Frank Villabos’s name, under which was the office number M213, and and arrow pointing down the hallway.

It couldn’t be any easier, he thought.

No one bothered him as he made his way through the corridors. When he finally reached Frank’s office, the door was ajar. Sitting in one of the seats was a little girl who couldn’t reach the floor. Franks was laughing and telling her a joke about some disney character. Blaine stepped inside and closed the door.

“Who are you?” Frank asked, and his face when ghost white. He had no idea who was in his office, he he certainly knew what the bloody machete meant. He said, “Please, leave my daughter out of this. For the love of God, let her go.”

Blaine walked to the girl, looked down, and smiled. She was crying by then, her tears wetting the sides of her face. He smoothed her golden brown hair out of the way, and said, “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you.”

He stepped back and pointed at the door with Lucy. The girl hesitated, and Blaine screamed, “Now!”

She hopped off the chair, and started across the room. She tripped over her own feet, struggled to get up, and rant to the door. She struggled again to open the heavy door, but she finally got it open. She ran screaming down the hall and Blaine approached Frank.

Frank said, “What do you want, man?”

“I want your head in my refrigerator.”

“What the f–” Frank started to say, but Blaine hacked the man’s head off. It took a few more tries than the woman on the first floor, but Frank was considerably meatier.

He set the Frank’s head on the desk, and right next to it he noticed a small letter written by the Frank’s daughter.

 

Dear Daddy,

 I love you very much. You are the best daddy. You always make me laff. Even when I am sad you make me feel happy. My teacher telled me to write this letter to you. You are a good daddy. I hope you have a good day. I hope we can go to the playground when you get home.

 Love,

 Natalie

 

It was at that moment, something changed in Blaine. He thought about how that little girl loved her father, and how good he must have treated her in order to get that kind of love in return. This was a love Blaine never knew. His father was an abusive drunk and his mother was a literal whore. There was no love at his house growing up. The only thing he could find to make himself feel better was writing, and that all came crashing down when Frank Villabos took it away from him.

Blaine stretched his arms, wiped the blade clean with his shirt, took Franks head by the hair, and left the office. Today would be his day to show everyone his pain. Today would be his day to teach the world they can’t mess with Blaine Carver, for this day he will finally shine.

Did you enjoy my story? Read more here!

Skin Tags

The jagged square of flesh pinched between my fingers felt strange as I stood over the dead man’s body. Beads of sweat dripped down my face, and I held back the vomit while I thought about this horrible place. This wasn’t where I thought I would be today. I thought I would wake up, start another day of work, and cap the day with a savory meal and a cold brew. I wanted so bad to wake up in my warm bed, hit the snooze button, and then roll over so I could fall into a new dream. I wanted this to be nothing more than a nightmare.

Indeed, it was a nightmare, but a living nightmare. I wasn’t asleep. I was awake and very alert. I had to be, because a lack of diligence would get you killed in a place like this.

Earlier, when the loud trombone-like sound woke me, we found a note on the floor. It told us that we all had a talent for couponing, and that in order to stay alive, we had to rely on that talent. I certainly was a good coupon clipper, and even competed in plenty of extreme couponing competitions. My OCD made me a perfect candidate to get it done, and get it right. However, nothing could have prepared me for this hell.

There used to be six of us. The man at my feet was Michael, and like him, all the others were dead. That left me alone to complete the challenge. I could no longer rely on anyone but myself, which considering the circumstances, it was much better than having people fighting while a clock slowly ticked away toward my demise.

I stepped over Michael’s crumpled body. Not long ago he’d taken a shotgun blast to the skull. It wasn’t suicide but rather a fatality resulting from a mistake he made trying to complete the puzzle for this room. This was no surprise to me because he wasn’t as good at couponing as the rest of us. What was a surprise was that he outlived everyone but me. Of course, the rules of this game were ever changing based on the whim of the man who talked over the intercom. That faceless monster who built this kill house toyed with constantly, so anything that could change did change.

I stepped through the door, and entered the next room. It was like this from the get. As the note informed us, we were to go from room to room and solve each puzzle. Well, they weren’t really puzzles. They were areas with set coupons, and if you used the right coupons to get the best deal possible, then the door would open. If not, the trap would kill the person who offered the deal. We all took turns per room. When one of us didn’t make it, we just rotated to the next person. After twenty-two room, there was just one person left.

This room was not new to me for I had been here before, but not in the sense that I had been here before I came to this awful place. I came into this room earlier after I solved the puzzle that killed Michael. As it turned out, there were no coupons in this room, so I had to go back and find them.

The room was the same size as the others, though poorly constructed with particle board. Don’t get me wrong, the walls and ceiling and floors were strong and reinforced. We couldn’t just escape by breaking down a wall. There was concrete and rebar and all manner of stuff. Whoever stuck us in here had it planned perfectly. Moreover, like a haunted maze, the particle board was there to terrify us, among other things of course.

These other things I’m writing about are the props. In this room, the walls had blood splattered all over them. Pig’s blood if I had to guess, but I could be wrong. There were pieces of animal limbs spread around the floor, with animal innards splayed from the ceiling by wire and a few too many bits laying on tables.

You might think that this was the most horrific room, but it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. You see, each room represented a different type of retailer, each a morbid representation of the type of business. For instance, one room resembled a barber shop, and there were severed heads, scalped flaps of hair hanging everywhere, and beards torn from faces and nailed to the walls. In another room, which was a nail salon, there were severed fingers hanging from fishing wire, nails ripped off and glued to the floor, and feet laying on the tables. All this among many other things.

I didn’t know where he got all the body parts, and I didn’t much care. All I wanted to do was get the heck out of there.

This puzzle in this room wasn’t hard, but it was by far the worst of the bunch. The coupons weren’t in a basket near the beginning of the room. I didn’t have to dig through body parts or a list of ingredients to find the right one. No. I had to return to all my fellow competitors. Each one of us had a tattoo of a coupon on our body somewhere, which had been inked there before we were locked in this place. It was clever for this guy to have done this because it meant we had to torture each other just to get through the final door—or what I presumed was the final room. What he didn’t count on was that there would only be one of us left, and I didn’t have to torture anyone to get the coupons.

After gathering the last of those five coupons, there was only one left. Mine.

As I mentioned, the tattoos were not in the same spots, and in some cases, it was difficult to get it off someone. Michael had his on his back, and I was thankful that mine was on my stomach in the front, where I could easily access it. This, however, didn’t make it any easier to clip.

The room had provided six pairs of razor sharp scissors, and I had already used a pair to cut out the other five. I grabbed a clean pair because I wasn’t sure how clean or dirty the other captives were, and if I did get out of there, I didn’t want to suffer from some disease I got from sharing someone else’s blood. Call me crazy, but that little OCD voice inside me needed to feel safe.

My hands were shaking as I looked up at the timer on the wall. It read that I had three minutes left to complete the room. I didn’t know what would happen if the timer in each room ran up, and I didn’t want to find out now.

After pressing the sharp edge of the clippers against the corner of the coupon, I struggled to make the first snip of my skin. The shaking became even more violent, and I felt my head go foggy. I fought passing out, but soon squeezed the handle and felt the blades cut through my skin.

I would like to tell you that I didn’t scream, that I fought through the pain without tears. It didn’t happen that way. After the first snip, I felt my body turn icy. I screamed and I cried and I pleaded to the maniac who brought me here. The snot dripped from my face, and my shaking hands moved the sheers a centimeter further, and then… SNIP.

I nearly dropped the sheers that time, but persisted. One snip after another clip, I pressed on. I glanced up at the clock, which told me I had wasted a minute and a half just getting thorough one edge of the coupon. This wouldn’t do, so I had to go faster. All the way around, until each side was cut.

Looking up at the clock, there were fifty seconds remaining. I still had to organize all the coupons to get the best deal, and that didn’t leave me with much of a choice. I had to tear the coupon off or I wouldn’t make it. So, I peeled back one of the corners, and yanked hard and fast. This, I fear, was nothing like ripping off a Band-Aid. It was hot. It was cold. My vision blurred. I was nearly down for the count.

After wobble-running to the door, I fished the other slices of flesh from my pocket. Some of them slipped from my fingers, and I had to quickly scoop them from the floor. The timer dropped second after second, but I dared not look up to see it.

Reading each label, I needed to find out what coupon should go in the scanner first, but there was nothing more than bar codes on them, which I hadn’t noticed before. Each tag of flesh twisted my stomach as I handled them, the torn flesh rough and slick against my fingertips. I had no idea what went where and in which order. So, I began scanning them all and throwing them into the basket. I ended with my own piece, but hesitated to throw it in with the rest. Whether it would save my life or not, tossing out a piece of myself felt weird, but I eventually scanned mine and dropped it in there.

The clock on the wall continued to count down, and I wondered what the heck I had done wrong. Something somewhere wasn’t right because usually the clock stopped the moment the last coupon went into the basket or, if it didn’t, you were immediately killed because it meant you failed the puzzle. Frantically searching the room turned up nothing useful, and the clocked began its final countdown.

…5

…4

…3

…2

…1

The red LED clock numbers began to repeatedly flash 0:00. I expected the room to close in on me or for a toxic gas to snuff me out. Maybe I would just be locked in the room with all these festering bodies until I eventually died of disease or starvation.

That’s when I heard the soft buzzing noise. The door behind me closed, and the one before me didn’t immediately open. Instead, I felt like I was floating for a second. A moment later, that semi-weightless feeling ended, and the clock changed to three hours. The door before me opened, and I entered a new room with five new people.

They watched me, and I sized them up because I had no time to mess around. I didn’t know if I would have to endure this forever, but these new sets of puzzles wouldn’t be the thing that would end me after all that horrific stuff I went through. I wouldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t. So, I pressed on, determined to lead this new group and help them succeed where the others had failed.

The Lonely Road

Oatman, AZ

The desert seems more barren in this area than in the previous. Jack is in the back seat looking out at the ocean of sand passing by at speed, my wife sits passenger, silent as well.

It wasn’t always like this. We all used to be a family of chatty best friends. My son would be bouncing around in his safety seat, and my wife would turn around and play along with him. My daughter would be humming in the back seat to some tune she found on YouTube. It was always perfect.

Not everything lasts forever. Not traditions and certainly not life. Not long after her fifth birthday, the doctors diagnosed Liliana with lung cancer. Within a year, she passed away.

Although any type of cancer can attack anyone, my daughter’s lung disease wasn’t abnormal. Well, it was, but it wasn’t just a random occurrence of cancer. It resulted from my smoking habit. I never gave a second thought as to how dangerous it could be to smoke in the car with my children in the back seat, even with the windows open. My stupidity was my daughters end.

My wife, Kelly, looks at me and then at the gauge cluster. She says, “You better fill up before we get stranded out here.”

She’s right. Plus, I’m incredibly tired. I need to get something to wake me up if I plan to drive through the night. So, I nod in agreement, and she doesn’t say anything further. We aren’t a catty couple. She doesn’t nag and I don’t pick fights.

Ahead, the road appears fluid, a river through this Egyptian-like desert. To the right of the lemon-lime horizon is a small gas station. The giant sign twisting languidly at the top of a long pole had once presented the name of the station. Years of weather and neglect caused one side to break apart and reveal the lamps inside. The other still had the name, but it had faded to a light pink logo that I couldn’t read.

Pulling into the station, we transition from tarmac to gravel. Small pebbles kick up and tick inside the wheel well. I stop at the first pump on the right, and the hot desert wind carries a cloud of dust past us. For a moment, it twists into a dirt devil, and then dissipates as quickly as it appeared.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell them. They know I’m coming back, but I feel like I have to say something. I want to interact with them because we all need it. Silence is a killer. Perhaps it won’t actually kill anyone, but it will destroy relationship, and I needed to break that silence to make sure that they’ll be okay while I’m gone. To let them know that I’m here for them, and that I will always return.

The inside of the station is much cleaner than the outside. A quick glance through the door behind the attendant reveals that he lives here. My guess is that he originally didn’t want to drive every day, so when he bought this station, he decided to move into it.

“Twenty, please,” I say as I hand him a fifty note. “Can I also get one of those energy drinks in the cold case back there?”

“Yes, sir,” the man replies.

As I wait for him to start the pump and make change, I walk back and grab one of the cherry flavored drinks. Returning, I spy something to my left. My eyes dart over there, but I see nothing more than a rack full of flavored jerky.

I thought it was my daughter. This isn’t unusual, though. I’m used to keeping an eye on her in my peripheral, as one must do with children of any age with so many creeps in this world. Even now that she’s gone, I still see her everywhere.

“Son, are you okay?”

I meet the old man’s lazy blue eyes, and smile weak and thin. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

With my change and drink in hand, I return to the car and start pumping the fuel. As the LED screen indicates that I’m nearing the end of my twenty-dollar credit, I hear for the first time in months my son screech with laughter. It warms my heart so much that I almost drop the pump and cry with joy. Thankfully, I’m able to maintain composure as I kneel down to see what has him so excited.

My wife is gone from the car. I don’t know exactly where she went. I don’t recall hearing her exit the car. My brow furrows, and I turn my attention to Jack.

He has his mother’s deep brown eyes that are reminiscent of crystal rather than mud. The light allows the small golden flecks in those pools of joy to twinkle with life. He looks away from me, and laughs again. I’m not sure what enamors him so, and although I want to study him for a moment to figure it out, the pump handle clanks hard letting me know it finished.

I get back in the car, and my wife is sitting in the passenger seat again. However, this time she’s facing the back seat, playing with Jack.

She says, “The bathrooms here are so clean. I expected to walk into some kind of CDC death trap, but I have to hand it to the guy, he really knows how to scrub.”

She hasn’t shown this much affection or attention to either of us in a long time, so I don’t respond. I know I’m still broken even if she has suddenly become okay, and I don’t want my dour mood to sour hers. So, I remain quiet as I pull out of the station.

Jack continues to play. Kelly lightly claps her hands and urges him on. I glance over at her, and I want to caress her skin, to feel her warmth, but I know I don’t deserve to touch her. Instead, I look in the rear view mirror to steal a glimpse of my son, and I see my daughter sitting next to him.

Slamming on the breaks causes me to lose control of the vehicle for a moment. I wrestle it back into a straight line on the road, and then I stop the Chevy entirely. I try to turn around and look at my daughter, but the seat belt stops me. I fight hard with it, and finally release the latch. I look back, and see her sitting there as alive as ever.

While Jack has his mother’s eyes, Liliana has mine. They’re azure, but warm. The light haloes from her blonde hair and filters through the fuzzy peach hair on her cheek. She looks scared because of my reaction.

Kelly says between panicked breaths, “What the heck was that?”

I shake my head, unable to speak.

“Babe, are you okay?”

My heart pounds in my chest, and I step out of the car. With my hands on my head, I try to control my breathing. I look out into that hot abyss. A lizard skitters from one dead bush to another. A fly buzzes near a pile of coyote droppings; it lands for a moment and then takes flight again.

I know this can’t be real, but it’s too vivid to be a dream. It has to be a reality, but then, how is my daughter alive? I don’t know, and because I figure that it can’t be real, I fear turning around because I worry she won’t be there.

Eventually, I gain the courage to turn, and gasp in horror. The car sits overturned in the embankment, fluid dripping from the hood. It takes me a minute to process what I’m seeing, and then I run to the car.

“Kelly!” I scream, and I fall to my knees to look through the window.

It is there I find my wife crumpled in the passenger seat. In the back, my son lays silent, still hanging in the safety seat. I search for my daughter, who is supposed to be in the car. She isn’t there. However, someone else is in the car. Me. I sit there with blood all over my face, teeth smashed, and eyes bulging and staring through the cracked windshield.

I look anywhere but there and find my daughter standing a short distance away from the wreckage. She smiles warmly, and beckons me with her hand. Her mannerism isn’t that of a child but of someone with finer motor skills. She smiles again, and I go to her. When I arrive, I find Kelly standing next to her with little Jack sleeping peacefully in her arms.