The rain fell in a steady rhythm, beating a constant cadence on the pavement. It felt like the angels themselves were weeping, an unending barrage of sorrow. My light jacket had long ago given up its fight to resist the water’s assault and hung limp and heavy from my sagging shoulders. My hair lay plastered against my scalp while I stood on the side of the road, surveying the emergency response workers as they finished up their duties and prepared to leave. Back to whatever normal lives they were leading before being called away to deal with tragedy.
I pushed my hands deeper into my pockets and huddled against the chill even though it really didn't matter anymore. I had long ago given up trying to stop the shaking; it wasn’t from the cold anyway. The EMT who’d questioned me had said I’d probably experience some shock like symptoms. Guess he was right. I slowly rocked from one foot to the other, my sodden shoes squelching against the hard asphalt.
The slamming of the rear doors of the EMT van brought me out of my reverie. The two emergency responders climbed in and pulled out onto the road, gliding over to stop next to me. The driver put down the window and leaned on the door looking out at me.
“You need a ride somewhere?”
“Nah. I’m fine. Wife’s on the way, she’ll be here in a bit.”
He nodded, his moral obligation complete. Funny how those obligations still exist, even for killers. Rocks and loose gravel from the shoulder of the road crunched under the tires as the van pulled away leaving me alone on the desolate stretch of highway.
I sat on what remained of the crumpled guardrail, its icy touch winding its way through my designer jeans. I slouched forwards, my forearms on my knees, head hanging, and began to sob. The dam had finally shattered, releasing great wracking sobs that threatened to tear me apart. My ribs ached from the effort as the grief poured freely from the shell of my body, leaving behind an empty vessel. Life would never be the same.
I finally finished my weeping and sat up wiping tears and snot from my face with the back of my jackets sleeve. As I took a shuddering breath a sound coming from behind me caught my attention. I jumped to my feet, heart threatening to burst from my chest, and spun towards the damp rustling creeping up on me. After a moment of terrified waiting I reached into my pocket and took out my cell phone flicking on its tiny flashlight. Hesitantly I crept back towards the crumpled guardrail and cautiously peeked over the edge like a child trying to watch a horror movie with their hands in front of their face.
The shrubs and alder bushes swayed gently as the rain pelted their leaves, silently dancing to their own unheard music. I was about to turn back to the road when I caught sight of it, a flash of yellow lost in the saturated roadside scrub. I stepped over the twisted guardrail and cautiously stepped down into the small depression being careful to not slip on the slick gravel. With trembling hands, as if I’d downed a dozen dark roast coffee, I hesitantly reached out and rescued the imprisoned umbrella from its leafy jail cell.
I turned it over in my hand, looking at it from all angles under the bright white light from my phone. It had been a vibrant yellow but now had bits of mud and dirt smeared across it while speckles of gravel dotted it like sprinkles on a child’s ice cream cone. There was a single small tear along the seams of two adjoining panels and the handle was scuffed and scratched. I shook the water from it and closed it up only to have it jump open again, flicking pebbles and water into my face. Apparently the spring was broken too. I forced it closed and pulled the strap tight around it before letting it go this time, making it look like some sort of childish scepter. With my new royal accessory in hand I trudged back up to the guardrail and stepped over before sitting back down on the damp, cold metal. I turned the umbrella over and over in my hands, staring at it as if it held all the answers.
“It’s not your fault you know.”
My head snapped up at the sound of the voice while my rear end lost its seat on the slick metal and unceremoniously dumped me into the dirt. I sat there in the sodden sludge along the side of the road, heart hammering, and looked up, expecting to see a straggling police officer or ambulance EMT who’d stayed behind. The road was deserted.
I nervously crawled to my feet and began to look around. Both lanes of the road were empty and silent, only the hiss of the rain making any noise. I turned and looked back into the ditch behind me where I’d rescued the umbrella only to be met by the still silent dancing of the shrubbery. As I pivoted back towards the road I saw him.
He was kneeling on the road about fifteen feet away from me. Where the body had come to rest after being smashed against the merciless guardrail. He looked almost comfortable despite only wearing a thin white t-shirt and blue jeans in the midst of the cold drizzly rain. His head was bowed, hands resting lightly on his knees. He seemed to almost shimmer, an ethereal light emanating from his body.
“It really isn’t your fault, my mom told me not to walk along the highway. I didn’t listen though.” His voice seemed almost musical, but wistful too, lamenting.
“Wh..who are you?” I stammered, amazed that any sound at all would come from my trembling lips.
“Rhyan. Well I guess I used to be Rhyan, I’m not really sure if I’m still him or not now.” He looked up at me with a puzzled expression. “Do you know?”
“Ah…I have no idea.” I answered unhelpfully, my mind clouded and foggy at the surreal situation. “Where did you come from?”
“My friend Bobby’s. He lives just back over that hill there,” he pointed off into the darkness. “I was walking home and decided to take a shortcut along the highway. Mom told me not to do it but it was raining and my umbrella had a hole. Didn’t stop the wind from taking it though!” He finished with a sullen twist.
“Oh Jesus…” I whispered.
The umbrella had come from nowhere, a blur entering my vision as I tried to see through the long streaks my wipers were leaving behind on my windshield from the fat rain drops relentlessly pounding away at the thin piece of glass. I jerked the wheel hard to my right and lost control as the tires skipped across the pooled water. As the car neared the guardrail I braced for the impact and had the slightest idea that there was something else in front of me. I couldn’t focus though, the spinning of the car and the smear of the rain made it impossible to see anything clearly. The car smashed into the guardrail, screeching and grinding as it slid along the reinforced metal barrier. My air bag exploded in a puff of pressurized gas cushioning my head as it hurtled towards the steering wheel.
I sat there for a moment or two, trying to shake the cobwebs from my mind and slow my breathing. I was vaguely aware of other vehicles slowing and stopping outside. A man tapped on my window, a nervous and worried expression plastered across his lined face. He asked if I was okay, but wasn’t really listening to my answer, his attention drawn to something on the road. I thanked him and told him I was fine and gingerly crawled out from under the air bag and into the wet rainy evening.
That’s when I noticed the body. A boy, maybe seven or eight years old, a shock of dark hair spilling across the slick asphalt, his light blue coat torn open to reveal a thin white t-shirt that was mostly crimson from the blood it had soaked up. A crowd had gathered around him, most talking into cell phones while a couple of people positioned themselves and began trying to resuscitate him. The rest of the evening had been a mind numbing blur.
“Seriously,” he said, “It’s not your fault. These things happen.”
I stared down into his dark eyes, my knees weak and wobbling, threatening to dump me onto the road. “I killed you. I lost control…I didn’t even see you until after.”
“It’ll be fine,” he said reaching out with one hand to gently pat my arm. His touch was surprisingly warm, the sensation spreading quickly through my body, relaxing me. “It happens. I’m gone now, I’m off to the next step. It’ll be fine. But you need to be okay too.”
I looked down at my shoes, studying the laces intently letting the warming sensation flood my body while I tried to process what he’d said. When I looked up he was gone. It was just me, the rain slickened highway, the twisted and ruined guardrail, and the yellow umbrella, which had somehow popped open again. ns 126.96.36.199da2