Trent sat on the curb, his head in hands covered in the woman’s blood. They painted streaks of red on his face, left chunks of human flesh in his hair. He thought, maybe if he squeezed his eyes shut, pressed on his eyeballs hard enough, the images might disappear. Seeing the woman run into the street. Getting out of the car and running back to where she lay, body broken, in the middle of the intersection. Rolling her over, seeing half her face crushed, one eye popped out of its socket, her body jerking, involuntary spasms, a final shuddering breath. Even if he gouged his own eyes out, he knew the images were permenant.
“Sir, excuse me,” the cop said, standing over Trent, the flashing lights of the cop car painting his face in red and blue. “I need to get your statement.”
Trent detached himself from the magnetic pull of the curb and for a moment thought he would fall back down, his legs struggling under the weight of his guilt.
“Arrest me. It’s my fault,” Trent said. Confession supposedly unburdened the soul. He wasn’t Catholic, had never practiced admitting his failings to another, and was disappointed when the feeling of responsibility wasn’t lifted.
“Sir, let’s just start from the beginning,” the cop said, his laser eyes focusing their beam of intimidation on him. “Tell me your name”
“Ok, Mr. McDonnell, which direction were you coming from?”
“I was going east on Fulton,” Trent said, taking a deep breath.
The cop nodded for him to continue.
“I was approaching the intersection at 43rd Avenue. I wasn’t speeding. I swear. I never speed here at night. She, the woman, ran into the crosswalk as I entered the intersection. I swear I didn’t see her. Not until…” He got distracted by flashes. “Are those really necessary? I’m confessing.” The other cops set out markers and took pictures of the evidence, of the crime scene.
“Sir, currently, you are not under arrest. I advise you to continue recounting the accident. Specifically, the facts.”
“Umm. Where was I?” Trent asked looking to the cop, stalling. In those intimidating laser beams for eyes, Trent found moments of blissful blankness. Maybe he could draw this exchange out indefinitely.
“She entered the crosswalk, and you did what?” he reminded Trent.
“Do you know who she is…was?”
“Don’t worry about that now. Right now, I need you to continue giving your statement.”
Trent looked at his hands. Was that brain under his fingernails? “Umm…she ran into the crosswalk. I didn’t see her until I hit her. Well, I mean, until a second before I hit her. There was no time for me to stop.”
“Your Honor, he is an upstanding citizen with no record,” said Jeff Benson, Trent’s lawyer, a friend from college. A friend who insisted on representing Trent despite his protests. Jeff continued, “The intersection where the vehicular incident occurred was a known blind spot. The bushes on that side of the street were overgrown. Kara Thompson was crossing against the light. My client, Trent McDonnell was entering the intersection on a green light going the speed limit. This was an accident, plain and simple. Today, he is pleading guilty to vehicular manslaughter. I request you take all of this into consideration when sentencing him.”
“Trent McDonnell,” said the Honorable Judge Waller. “I am sentencing you to four hundred hours of community service, a five thousand dollar fine and one-year probation.”
Trent looked up from his hands, fingers interlaced, each cutting off circulation to the others. He avoided looking up until now because Kara Thompson stood behind the judge passing her own sentence. After the accident, a short article appeared in the Chronicle with a picture of the beautiful twenty-two-year-old UC art student, Kara Thompson, showing off her smile, her dark curly hair, lips stretched across her too white teeth. But that’s not how Trent saw her standing behind the judge. She stood there, her skull caved in, brains leaking out the cracks, one eyeball out of its socket, the other bloodshot. Hers was the real judgement and the sentence was life in the prison of his guilt.
The first night, the night of the accident, he woke from a succession of nightmares. Kara Thompson was standing on Joanne’s side of the bed, staring at him, dripping blood onto Joanne’s sleeping form. Trent got out of bed, knowing sleep would not return, and went to the kitchen. Kara joined him for coffee. He thought a run might help him chase sleep. So, he dressed, but she chased him, blood drops trailing behind her. He tried to out run her, but she was just as fast, no matter how fast he went. Then he ran through the park. He stopped at that intersection and tried to drop her off.
“This is where you left your body,” he told her. She didn’t look anywhere except at him.
The next day he found the article in the Chronicle, the one that gave her name and the picture. He began stalking her on-line and in person. That is, if it’s possible to stalk a dead woman. She needed to move on, go to the other side, find heaven. He wanted to help her do that.
He went to her funeral. Lurking on the fringes, afraid to offend the mourners, he tried to drop her off at the church and the graveyard. Her family recounted her life, her childhood antics, her adult dreams and ambitions. She didn’t seem to care. She had eyes, eye really, only for him.
While on probation, when he wasn’t picking up trash on the side of the road, he continued to research her life, her favorite foods, favorite restaurants, previous boyfriends, current friends. He went everywhere that Kara loved to go. He thought if she went one more time, she might move on. At first, he brought Joanne along, but soon realized two’s company, three’s a crowd. Besides, he got the feeling Kara didn’t like his girlfriend much. And every night since the first night, Kara stood on Joanne’s side of the bed and dripped blood on the quilt. When Joanne moved out, Kara climbed in.
Trent stopped driving. He sold the car, gave it away really because who wants to pay for a car with dead woman’s brains stuck to the undercarriage. He took the bus and everywhere he went his second shadow, Kara, came too.
Once, Trent took Kara to her old apartment. They watched her boyfriend leave in the morning, eyes bloodshot from crying, or from drinking too much. It was hard to tell. “See,” he told her. “Look how much he loves and misses you. Maybe you should stay with him. It might help him mourn you.” A lock of her curly hair fell off onto the sidewalk, bits of scalp still clinging to it. That was all she left for the boyfriend; the rest she took home with Trent.
On another day Trent discovered the dead woman had a sense of humor. He was walking behind her best friend, when a cop car pulled up next to him. “Mr. McDonnell,” said the cop. “You have to stop following Ms. Edgerly. If you persist, I will arrest you.” Kara smiled, a hideous sight – lips wide, jaw hanging askew.
When Trent’s probation was over, he took a trip to her home town. He thought nostalgia might trap her attention long enough for him to escape. He tried to buy her a seat on the plane, but the airline refused to sell a ticket to a dead woman. She made it through security and onto the plane anyway. She sat in an empty seat across the aisle from him and only left a little blood on the seat back.
“Is this where you went to school?” he asked her while sitting in the stands of the football field. “Did you kiss your first boyfriend under these bleachers?” She wasn’t interested. Her one functional eye, the blood-shot one, stared at him unblinking, never leaving his face.
Desperate to get rid of her, Trent went to Australia. She had pictures of koalas and kangaroos and articles about the Great Barrier Reef posted to her twitter and Facebook accounts. He learned to scuba dive, tried to leave her in an underwater cave. She swam with the fish, no oxygen tank required. She left her dangling eyeball and some brain tissue for the fish, but the rest of her returned home with him.
He took her to the Louvre, Notre Dame before it burned, the d’Orsay in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, the Uffizi in Florence. “Don’t get blood on the paintings,” he told her, having given up hope she’d stay for the art.
When his savings were gone and couldn’t afford another trip, he took her to a psychiatrist. “Doc, my friend is seeing dead people, well one dead person in particular.” The shrink put Trent on antipsychotics. They made him sleepy and left Kara smiling permanently.
Trent took her to a psychic, admonishing himself for not thinking of it sooner. He told the psychic, “My friend won’t move on. No matter what I do, she won’t leave me alone.” The woman came to his apartment. She burned sage and performed a ritual to open the door to elsewhere. When she finished, she packed up her things and said, “Your house has been cleansed. Your ghost is gone.” Kara laughed so hard her jaw fell off.
Kara laughed even harder when Trent jumped from the bridge and woke up in the hospital. Once he was sufficiently recovered, they moved him to the locked ward on the third floor. She seemed to enjoy being there. The residents never minded the bits of skin she left lying around. He convinced the doctor to let him stay a little longer.
Then the unexpected happened on the third floor, behind the locked doors. For the first time, Trent saw her, and she was not alone. Her ghost left bits of rotting flesh behind as he followed her. Her second shadow. Her ghost’s name was Roger and her name was Anne.
He introduced himself with his hand held out, “Hi I’m Trent.”
She stared at him for a moment longer than was comfortable for either one of them. “I’m Anne.”
They ate lunch together in the common room of the locked ward. She sat next to him in group therapy. He never talked about Kara in group. And she talked about Roger only once. Two days after they met, Trent put his hand on Anne’s and she smiled.
The doctor released Trent and Kara soon after he released Anne and Roger.
Every night, forever after, they had dinner together, she and her ghost, he and his ghost. And at night they slept together, Kara standing over her, Roger standing over him, their guilt standing watch together.
Megan Schmid is a writer who currently lives in Pacifica, CA with her dog Jack.