The night began with drinks and dancing. A night of being lost in the throngs of a pulsing mass of people packed into the small confines of a dance floor, the lights little more than repeating, multi-colored bursts above their heads, the music a dull roar that shook their very organs, almost physically touched them.
Sara didn’t know anything about the man she exited the club with, leaving behind three friends with bemused smiles, Sara herself far less drunk than any of the others, including the man she got into a car with. When the police did a blood test on her at the hospital an hour and a half later they would see just how little she had had to drink, more lost in the art of club dancing than alcohol.
Whatever affects the little alcohol she did have might’ve had on her were certainly dispelled when the rough thud of a body striking the front of the vehicle forced it to swerve to the right, towards the side of a brick building, sending both of the car’s inhabitants into a jarring halt.
Sara managed to pull herself out of the vehicle first, her right arm and shoulders aching, but the rest of her otherwise okay. Her new acquaintance hadn’t faired as well, his hair stuck together in wet red, his greater height adding to his injuries. He didn’t stir when Sara laid him down on the sidewalk along the driver’s side door before calling the police, fully aware she shouldn’t have moved the man at all.
Only briefly before the police arrived did her gaze shift towards the man they had struck. Even at the distance she was, the stink of the bum’s clothing drifted towards her, but his face drew her the most, or what had once been a face.
Four years as a nurse in a busy ER in the middle of the worst part of the city had allowed her more interaction with the city’s homeless than she had ever wanted, and left her permanently and perhaps willingly jaded against them. None of her friends or coworkers had any knowledge of the hatred she had. Even now, when the police cars pulled up, she made sure the scowl was gone.
“He was driving, and the man just, he seemed to just be there,” Sara said to a police officer ten minutes later, her eyes falsely vacant, absently staring at the flashing of the police car while two men lifted her desired one-night-stand onto a stretcher.
“Why did you move him out of the car?” the officer asked. She recognized the man from the hospital, bringing in drunken or hostile bums more often than not. Anyone with any decent alcohol level was for some reason brought to the hospital, rather than the jail, as if to specifically force Sara to try to care for the belligerent and oftentimes violent men.
“I thought maybe the car might catch fire. I know I wasn’t supposed to move him, but after the wreck, I wasn’t really thinking straight. Is he going to be okay,” she asked, while knowing full well from the odd angle of his neck and the amount of blood on the back of his head he surely wouldn’t be.
The bum, it was clear, was already dead, but Sara wasn’t there to watch them take the corpse away. A quick call from the hospital got Melinda to bring over Sara’s car, and for the next hour the two of them waited, silent, absently watching a late night talk show on the only TV in the ER waiting room.
Near one in the morning Melinda left to go home while Sara remained, no serious injuries, they had already concluded, but still waiting to hear about the condition of her recent acquaintance, if only to keep up appearances. She wasn’t happy he had been injured, but she hadn’t known him well enough to create any deeper emotions. Her profession of choice was, after all, looking after strangers who had been injured, and watching many of them waste away into death.
“Things aren’t looking good,” a nurse Sara rarely worked with finally told her. “I’m sorry, but odds are good he won’t make it through the night.”
Sara passed down the hallway leading to the hospital’s parking garage. She stepped, alone, into the small elevator. Her current position was on the first floor with options to go up higher, along with a set of numbers for the parking garage, but before hitting the button for G2, her finger stopped, hovering over the options given to her.
She could choose between G1 through G3, but also, oddly, had the option for G6 as well; a floor she knew full well didn’t exist. Curiosity made her reach out her finger towards the G6, and gently press down.
The elevator didn’t move at all. The doors immediately opened, but what had been a hallway within the hospital, now opened up into a floor of the parking garage. She could see rows of empty spaces just outside the elevator door, devoid of cars.
During those first few minutes the previous five hours of her life were gone. She took a step forward in confusion, unaware she was passing through the elevator door until she heard the mechanical whir behind her of the door closing.
There was no button to call the elevator back. Her fingers ran across the cement along the side of the elevator for what inexplicably wasn’t there. She had no choice but to turn back towards the parking garage and step out from the small alcove the elevator was in.
To her left, just a few spaces down, Sara stared at the unmarred car of her now critically injured almost one-night-stand. It looked exactly as it had when Sara walked out to it, the roar of the club pulsing at her back, the hot breath of an inebriated man blowing across the side of her neck.
A full sweep of her surroundings confirmed there were no other cars, nor other people. Before she could turn back to face the only vehicle, she heard the engine rev to life. Behind the driver’s seat of the car she saw the figure of a man, but before she could see anything else the car pulled out, turned to let its headlights blind her, and lurched forward in an attempt to run her down.
She pulled back into the elevator alcove, her back against the closed doors when the left side of the vehicle skidded across the wall in a spray of light, her eyes catching sight of the face turning towards her behind the wheel of the car just a second before the vehicle shot by. It looked like sheer plastic had been pulled tightly around a person’s face, the features smashed and distorted, but the image was brief, and the car was zooming by, tires screeching as it swung back around for another pass, and Sara couldn’t make herself pull forward, hand still groping uselessly for a button that wasn’t there.
Her worldview had always been lucid, quick to change if circumstances changed, because adaptation was the best means of surviving in any environment, even those beyond her understanding. When the doors to the ER burst open and stretchers were rushed in filled with the dying, all thought needed to end in order to take care of the moment. Now she thought of only the car trying to run her down, and the best way to get away from it.
On the second pass the right side headlight shattered on the wall. Sara felt the sting of a plastic shard digging into her arm. As soon as the car passed she shoved out from the alcove and started running towards the opposite wall where a space existed, allowing one to slip onto the ramp leading to the next level down.
She caught sight of the vehicle turning around for another pass, the front end shifting towards her moving form, headlights quickly consuming her entire world as they began to engulf her. But by then it was too late, Sara already slipping through the opening in the cement, feeling the rough edge tear a top layer of skin off her exposed calf before she landed on the other side and heard the shriek of metal right behind her.
The smile born from her small triumph lasted only until she looked to the left and towards the lower levels. A large chain fence had been pulled down to stop anyone from going any further. Sara knelt before the fence and saw the padlock holding the fence to the floor.
Her world brightened. Behind her the car had stopped, its headlight eyes watching her closely, the whole vehicle slowly moving forward, perhaps smiling at her plight. She knew the level she had come from had no place else to run from her initial sweep of it when first entering, so the only question became whether or not she could get the car to crash before it ran her down.
The car sped forward, engine screaming at her, headlights trying to hold her in place, and Sara inched towards the far corner, waited as long as she could so the car would have no choice when she moved.
Before she could she saw the vehicle swing to the side, flying horizontally towards her now, the momentum enough to keep the car moving, and giving her a much wider object to try to get around.
The surprise of the action delayed her, until the car was about to strike and Sara was just beginning to move, leaping to the side, but not in enough time. Her left side exploded in pain before her body collided with the harsh cement, everything around her spinning over and over again, threatening to turn black.
The slam of a car door stopped it from happening. Everything snapped immediately into focus with that single sound. She stared up at the ceiling of the garage, aware of the footsteps, of the labored breathing.
Her head rose enough to see the man with the plastic over his face. His nose was mashed into nothing, as if the skin had been pushed back through his skull. A cut had formed in his cheek, and red began to crawl outward from that single point below the plastic, while more of it ran down the outside, dripping from his chin. His right arm, she could she as he knelt down closer, was also wrapped, and she saw in her mind the bum on the street with a jagged piece of bone sticking up through his right arm, his face completely gone.
As soon as he was within reach of her his arm swung out hard enough to snap her head to the side, created a bruise welling up on her cheeks, but she didn’t cry or sob in the face of this pain, and she didn’t struggle when he grabbed hold of her neck and began dragging her across the cement.
Her body could barely move as it was, her left arm completely numb, something she didn’t dare look at in fear of what she would see.
“Not the first,” she heard it say, the words slurred and muffled, but clear all the same as he dragged her around the corner and back to the sixth floor. The floor wasn’t empty anymore five of the parking spaces contained bodies. Each had plastic wrapped around them, but in different places than her attacker. One was almost completely covered, the body underneath wet, it looked to Sara, as if the person underneath was melting.
She could see a different bum some five months prior in the depths of winter begging Sara to let her stay. Her threat to call the police forced the woman out into the vicious cold of the night to die and be written about two days later in the paper for Sara to read.
They passed by another space, another corpse wrapped in plastic, and she could see a man screaming profanities while the nurses strapped him down to the table. No one saw the actual dose of sedatives Sara gave him. In the hectic ER, no one noticed or cared when the man never woke up.
The foul odor of decay made her gag, but she couldn’t bring herself to lift up a hand to stop the stench.
“I will be the last,” the man said, fingers tightening on her neck as they reached the now open door of the elevator. He lifted her up enough for her to see a face that had been reduced to little more than bloody tatters beneath the plastic, as if the small cut on his cheek had expanded outward to consume his entire face. In the darkness of the wet sockets behind the plastic she could feel the eyes watching her, understood the words they were saying, before he threw her into the elevator, and the doors closed to the image of the bum watching her closely with those empty eyes.
The doors opened to the hospital hallway. Sara stood up with considerably more ease than she had been expecting, and looked down at herself to see no injury. This wasn’t complete, however, she understood when she took her first step and felt the pain well up in her cheek where the bum had struck her.
She walked in a daze up to the nurse behind the check-in desk. The ER was unusually subdued, Sara was completely alone when her coworker’s eyes rose to see her and the dark bruise spread across her cheek.
“What happened?” the nurse exclaimed.
“I was driving,” Sara said, holding the other nurse’s eyes. “The accident wasn’t hitting the bum. I did that on purpose. I killed him on purpose.”
“My God, Sara, what’s going on? You actually wanted to kill that man?”
“He wasn’t the first. He was the first one I hit with a car, but he wasn’t the first. I’d like you to call the police.”
She turned away before the nurse could say anything else. She took up a seat in the waiting room and wondered for the first time if the past few hours of her life had happened at all. From behind the desk the whispers were already beginning, spreading like a plague through the hospital, but Sara paid no attention to them.
She sat instead behind the wheel of another man’s car with her already disappointing one-night-stand passed out in the seat next to her while just up ahead she could see the red light and the man walking across the street right before she slammed her foot on the gas.
Some part of her had always blamed the hatred on them for asking so much of her, for wanting her to help them even when her own life lay broken at her feet. No one would miss them or care about their passing. They were the perfect people to take her anger out on, or had been.
In front of her the doors to the ER opened and a man walked out pushing a stretcher. Beneath the sheet she could see the outline of a person.
“Who is that?” she asked.
Bobby, a man she frequently worked with, glanced over at her, and from the look in his eyes, she knew he hadn’t heard yet what she had done. “Just a bum that got hit by a car a few hours ago. We were surprised he lasted as long as he did. Medics at the scene thought he was dead at first, but he held on for quite a while. Doesn’t matter now, I guess.” He shrugged and continued on his way, unaware of Sara staring at the hump where the head was beneath the sheet.
She didn’t know exactly what it meant. In truth, she understood it didn’t matter what it meant, not anymore. Her path had already been decided, and nothing she did anymore was going to change it.
By Philip Roberts