The Sound

Transcribed from tape labeled, “Taylor.”

TAYLOR: “It sounded like a pod of whales, and looked like a sea of lights.”

My Layla passed away a few years ago. One morning she woke up and died. Doctor said something popped in her head. I never talked about it much. I guess a lot of us wish we had. I know I do.

I heard on the news it started at 12:42, when all the lights went out. Some people online said it was later than that. Of course, some said it was earlier. I don’t know what time I heard The Sound. I only remember it was late, and cold. But, The Sound? The Sound… it was soft, pleasant. “It sounded like a pod of whales, but it looked like a sea of lights.” Sometimes I wish I could keep waking up to it. Sometimes, I dream that I do.

Layla waited for me outside the front door of our apartment. Pale in white, like the day I married her. And in The Sound, I heard her voice. She called, she cried. She said things – things only she knew. Things only I knew. Things she shouldn’t know. Called me awful names when I wouldn’t let her in. All I wanted to do was let her in.

I never thought I deserved Layla. She was too kind, too sweet, too understanding. Too trusting. I was a mess before she met me.

I was a mess when she married me. I was a bigger mess after she left me. I don’t know what I am now. But to see her standing there? I didn’t deserve to have her back. But I’m starting to think, maybe… maybe I deserved what came next.

From the window, I saw others opening their doors. They let in whatever they saw. I once heard someone saw a cat. So, who knows? But they saw what they saw. We all heard what we heard. And some of them… they opened their doors, and let that light in.

Our neighbors – sweet girl, awful mother. We used to hear them scream at each other through the walls. One day I realized the fighting stopped. Saw the girl one day in the laundry room, and she was all smiles. That night, when the sound began, she was screaming at her mother to go away. Screaming and screaming, “You’re gone, you’re gone! I killed you! You’re gone!” She kept her door closed.

The woman across from us… she opened her door. She’s gone now. Like everyone else.

My neighbor moved the next day. I helped her load a few boxes and bags into her car. We didn’t say anything the entire time. Box, car, box, car. (CHUCKLES) She didn’t even thank me, now that I think about it. But before she drove off, she, uh… She said, “It sounded like a pod of whales, and looked like a sea of lights.” I don’t know where she is now. I guess she’s gone too.

264 Hours

Transcribed from tape labeled “Sergio.”

SERGIO: When I try to sleep, all I see is a man’s eye dangling in a way that eyes shouldn’t.

I haven’t slept in about… seven days? I’m not sure. What day is it?

I once read a man went like, 264 hours without sleep. I don’t know what happened after that. Maybe he died.

I saw a guy die once. Did I ever tell you about that? Not too long ago, actually.

I’d been working overtime, extra shifts. Whatever I could get. We had to get some serious work done on my wife’s car. Cost a fortune.

One night, I’m scheduled to work swing. My wife needed my car, so I got a lift to work. But I was on my own going the other way, though. Had to take the bus.

(SIGHS) All I wanted was to get home.

It’s like a forty-five minute trip home. Straight shot, which is nice. No transfers. But that’s plenty of time for something to go wrong.

The old man was there when I got on. The kids came in about ten minutes later. Buncha college kids – not anymore, of course. But they were at the time. And they were laughing, giving the driver a hard time. I think they were drunk.

Something about the old man caught their eye. Maybe it was just him being there. Could’a been me.

It started with some jokes. One of them pulled out their phone, started recording the whole thing. Made the old man the star of their pretend late-night talk show. They sat there on all sides of him, asking all sorts of personal, awful questions they had no business asking. I can still hear the twisted way one of them cackled. Not a laugh like the others, but a cackle. Like this was the funniest thing in the world to them, but they hated it at the same time. It was… sick.

The old man wouldn’t play along. They got mad. And then, they hit him.

I love hockey. Something about the raw, hard-hitting nature of it. This big kid – red hair, something he thought was a beard – he body checked the old man – boom! – right against the glass. Shook the whole bus.

The bus driver didn’t say anything, he just pulled over and ran. Maybe I should’ve done the same.

Sometimes I wonder if those kids were just bad people. Not that I’m much better. I sat there and watched it happen.

They pounced on him, stomped on the old man like they were putting out a fire. By the time they stopped, his head… his head, it… it looked like a kicked-in jack-o-lantern.

Sometimes I wonder why he was there. Where didn’t that old man get to? It keeps me up at night, that old man and his eye.

Lexi

Transcribed from tape labeled “Lexi.”

LEXI: Sometimes I dream of a shape of a man, little more than a vague approximation – two arms, two legs, something like a head. Maybe more, sometimes less.

At least, I think it’s a dream. Pretty sure.

Most nights it stands outside my home, beneath the dirty glow of the street light. Other nights, closer. Sometimes on my lawn, beneath my orange tree… or, uh… at my door.

They stand there, looking at me looking at them from behind the safety of the curtains hanging in the window of my living room, this shape lost in fractured light and shadow. It shouldn’t see me, but it does. I can feel it.

Tearing Me Apart (Sam)

DENA: I still have this picture of us from that day. See? That’s the three of us, sitting on the sand a little bit out that way. Cassi is the one on the left, Sam’s the brunette in her swimsuit. And that’s me, sitting on a bit of driftwood. It’s been… God, it’ll be fifteen years this summer. I’m older now than Sam ever was. Has it really been that long?

We, uh… We were all coworkers. We all worked at [REDACTED]. Remember those? (LAUGHS) I guess I’m showing my age. But, uh… Cassi and I, we were both just kids then – we went to the same college, actually. Sam was a bit older than the two of us, but you couldn’t really tell by the way she acted. The two of them worked together for a bit before I came along. I transferred to that location a little less than a year before that photo was taken.

(SIGHS) If we only knew…

I’m sorry. It’s… It’s been a long time, but it hasn’t. Ya know?

Umm…

A SILENCE.

Anyway. The three of us were close, I guess. We talked a lot. We even went out for drinks after work, especially if we all got stuck working the night shift on a Friday or Saturday. You start doing that, you get to talking and sharing. Sometimes a little bit more than you probably should. Sam shared – a lot. But she never said much about her husband. With everything she told us, Cassi and I knew Sam like a sister or a… or, her gynecologist. Ya know? I knew more about her body than my own. I knew the name of her high school boyfriend – that I still remember. But I couldn’t tell you her husband’s name.

One night while we’re locking up, Cassi asks Sam why she’s been looking so tired all the time lately. And that’s when Sam told us her husband left her.

An hour later, we’re drinking and talking. And Sam tells us how she found all these messages and photos on her husband’s phone. They were watching TV, and he left to use the toilet. And he just left his phone there, with all this opened up for anyone to see – he was that checked out. And as she’s looking at all this, he comes back and sees her looking at all this. And she said that’s when he told her he was leaving. Just like that. He said that, turned around, packed a bunch of his things, and walked out. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since.

The three of us didn’t work together for a while after that. It was just the way the schedule came out, I guess. At one point, Cassi got to thinking Sam had asked not to work with us anymore. But I don’t think Sam would have done that.

After a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, we all worked the same Friday night together. Cassi got there first. And as I’m clocking in, we both see Sam walk through the door, looking like the living dead. She must have lost twenty pounds in just a few weeks. Her hair looked thinner. We asked if she was feeling sick, and she just sort of waved at us and said it was a bit of food poisoning.

I don’t remember who suggested the beach first, if it was Cassi or me. It was warming up lately and we’d been throwing the idea around for a while, but our schedules hadn’t lined up in forever. But at some point that night, Cassi looks at the schedule and sees we all have that Saturday off. So, she and I start talking about maybe going to the beach first thing in the morning. A minute later, Cassi shouts across the store, “Hey, Sammy! You wanna see me in my bikini tomorrow morning?”

Sam said, “No,” actually. (LAUGHS) But, uh… Cassi eventually convinced her. Somehow.

A SILENCE.

I only saw Sam two more times after that day at the beach. This is the way I like to remember her.

Sam emailed us that and a bunch of other photos later that same night. She was so happy to use this expensive looking camera of hers, with all these lenses and accessories. The way she ran all over the sand and tide pools, snapping a photo of the waves and seagulls and starfish, you’d never think anything was wrong. Like, everything that had been pulling her in every direction let go all at once. Even if only for that morning. She didn’t even realize she’d cut her foot on something until after she sent the photos.

I didn’t see Sam again for another week, but Cassi worked with her that Tuesday. Cassi actually called me up during their shift, asking me to keep an eye on Sam, telling me how Sam somehow looked worse than ever, that she was hobbling around on one foot and complaining about an infection on the other. By the time I saw it on Friday, the skin above her ankle was all red and tender, with these blistering sores that oozed and stuck to her socks. Sam said she was taking antibiotics and left it at that.

I was scheduled to work with Sam two nights later, but she never showed.

A week passed before anyone started asking questions. Two weeks passed before Cassi and I agreed to visit Sam’s apartment after work.

Sam lived in this cute little one-bedroom with her husband, just a block away from the store we all worked at. (LAUGHS) It was a five minute walk, but she still drove every day.

We knocked and knocked at her door until one of Sam’s neighbors stepped out and told us nobody had been in or out lately. They figured she’d run off or something. But the way they described Sam… they said she was a loud girl, always fighting with her boyfriend. Even after he’d left, they still heard Sam crying and screaming day and night. But now it’d been silent for a day or so.

We, uh… Cassi, that is – she managed to get us into Sam’s apartment.

A SILENCE.

It was dark. Very dark. All the lights were off, the curtains were drawn and pinned shut. And warm, so very warm with the way the doors and windows were closed up. But the smell… It smelled like dead fish and sea water. You could hear the hot water running from every faucet – in the kitchen, in the… in the, uh…

I threw up immediately, just as soon as Cassi opened the door and that thick, moist wall hit me in the face like a brick.

Cassi went in ahead. A minute later, I heard her screaming.

The carpet was so wet I almost slipped while walking down the hall to her bedroom. I remember that too. I took out this little setup she had there, with these photos of her dog and sister and mom. Knocked all of that to the ground.

But, uh…

Jesus.

(HEAVY SIGH)

There was… blood… blood and, uh, rotting flesh. Everywhere. The carpet, the walls. Like it had melted and dripped all over the place.

(SOBS)

I’m sorry. I just…

No. No, I’m okay.

(BREATHES)

Cassi is just… She’s screaming in Sam’s bedroom. Screaming and screaming and screaming. And it’s so hot and wet everywhere. And I’m still trying to catch my balance. I had to throw my shoes away after that, they were just soaked and caked in all of the, uh… They were ruined. Just ruined.

But I get into the bedroom, and there’s this leg on the floor. Like, just sitting there. Right there on the carpet by the bed, like it had fallen off in her sleep. Like it had melted off.

And then we looked in the bathroom.

Uh…

(NERVOUS LAUGHTER)

I turned on the light, and we found her. We found Sam.

(EXHALES)

Most of Sam was floating there in the tub, in this… (SNIFFS) this soupy mess of salt water, blood, and, uh… (CLEARS THROAT) and everything else. One of her arms was missing from the shoulder down. The other was a half-melted glob of goo. And her… Her other leg was floating in a puddle on the tile.

I remember screaming, and then not much after that.

A SILENCE.

I still dream of that day on the beach. It’s the rest I wish I could forget.

IT’S OVER

Brixby

ANONYMOUS: Mr. Brixby stepped out for his nightly smoke at a little past one in the morning. Fifteen minutes later, I’m watching him get his arms plucked off behind a dumpster.

I’d been working at the El Dorado for about two, three years by that point. I was hired to cover the swing shift a few nights a week, then it just sort of took over my whole life. Eventually, they had me working mornings and graveyard so often that it felt like I lived there as much as everyone else.

Mr. Brixby was what we called a “long-term resident.” Most of our guests were. Not that there were ever many guests for much of the year. Not outside the summer tourists. It wasn’t exactly anyone’s first-choice. And the ones who stuck around weren’t exactly there by choice, if you get what I mean. Mr. Brixby was one of those. He said he was there for work, but I don’t think any of us knew what he actually did for a living. But he was a nice guy. Paid his rent on time. Loved to talk about the latest tech toy he’d picked up somewhere. This one time, he came back from wherever with this 3D camcorder. Remember those?

Anyway. When he wasn’t out doing whatever it is he did when he wasn’t there, Mr. Brixby was usually in his room. The only time he ever stepped out before morning was for his nightly smoke. In fact, he was in a smoking room. Had been the whole time he lived there. So, I never understood why he always stepped out to smoke in the parking lot, same time every night. I’d say it was for the fresh air, but…

When I worked graveyard, I’d empty out the lobby trash cans and join him. We’d just talk about his latest toy, movies. Not the most stimulating conversation, I guess. But his weed was great. And plentiful.

The night it all happened, I was working graveyard. And I saw Mr. Brixby step out that night too, same time, same way. But before I could get to all the cans and join him, this couple came stumbling in, belching and farting something about needing a room for the night. If they hadn’t been so drunk, I wouldn’t have taken so long to get out there. Or maybe I should’ve just told them to kick rocks – it wouldn’t have been the first time. And I think about that a lot, ya know. If I had just gotten out there sooner, maybe, uh, Mr. Brixby wouldn’t…

Anyway. I get out there some fifteen minutes later, and I don’t see Mr. Brixby anywhere. His car’s parked back there. Not even a whiff of smoke. Just me, a bunch of dripping garbage bags, and a dark, empty lot.

So, I go to the dumpster.

SILENCE.

Working graveyard at a motel, you see your fair share of freaks and crazy shit. I’ve seen people hiding in other people’s rooms. I’ve been threatened by people meth’d out of their mind. We even got cursed once, this family we kicked out laid out these weird, I dunno… markings? They drew markings in salt at the front entrance as they left with all their shit. But you never expect to see a man being…

(SIGHS) I know what the cops and papers said, but it wasn’t some coyote. I was there, not them. I saw them. And, look. I know it sounds how it sounds. But there were two… At first, I thought it was a couple of homeless guys digging in the dumpster. It happens. But…

One of them was holding Mr. Brixby there by the arm, twisting it, and he’s got Mr. Brixby doubled over on his knees, like this. And his eyes are screaming – I see his eyes looking at me looking at him, and I can see they’re screaming – but nothing’s coming out his mouth. And the other one is there, just off to the side, eating Mr. Brixby’s other arm. Just gnawing and tearing away at it like, uh… like one of those big turkey legs you get at the fair.

And then, I screamed.

The cops showed up not long after. One of our other guests must have heard me out there screaming and called. But by the time they got there, those two… I told the police the same thing I told the papers, and somehow they turned it into a story about a coyote attack. But I told them I saw two homeless men attacking Mr. Brixby and that they both took off running, over the fence and into the river trail.

Truth is, I don’t know what I saw that night. Or maybe I know exactly what I saw, and I can’t even admit it to myself. But whatever I saw, I guess my screaming scared them off. And I did see where they went. But they didn’t run. And they didn’t head for the river trail.

SILENCE.

My family didn’t exactly live in the best part of town when I was growing up. I still don’t, really. It was never bad, but… This is an old town. There’s a lot of the old sewer lines and drainage running beneath any given block, ya know? So even in the nicest house on the nicest street, you’re likely to find a cockroach here and there – those big ones that look like they could run off with a small dog if it tried. They crawl out of the sink, out of the bathtub. Had one climb out of our toilet once. When I screamed, those things dropped what was left of Mr. Brixby, fluttered these fleshy flaps or wings on their back, and scurried down an old storm drain. I don’t know how, but they… squeezed and slipped right down through that small hole. (SNAPS FINGERS) Just like that.

Just like that.

IT’S OVER

Mark

MARK: My wife and I used to rent a place a couple of blocks up that way. She got a new job and we moved here to cut down on the commute. That sort of thing. It’s a nice little spot, isn’t it? Quiet. Lots of sun. Plenty of trees. Parking’s a little… But we made it work.

SILENCE.

Sorry. Drifted away for a second.

Anyway. The first few nights, I slept better than I had in years. But after that… I don’t know. Maybe it was the stress from the move, sleeping in a new place with new sounds and new people making sounds, but after that first week, I’m sleeping less and less. I’d just lie there in bed for hours until I’d dozed off without even realizing it. Eventually, I’m up pacing for just as long, back and forth, back and forth, until the sun’s starting to rise and my feet beg me to stop. I don’t want to read, I don’t want to look at a screen, I don’t want to listen to music. I just want to sleep. But I can’t.

After a couple of weeks of me waking her up and keeping her up, my wife went from concerned to annoyed to leaving me a hand-rolled joint and a note that said, “If you’re going to huff and puff for several miles all night, I would prefer you do so outside.”

So, I went for a walk.

I went for a lot of walks, actually. A lot of walks on a lot of nights. And something about doing that, walking around when the rest of the world was asleep, it worked for me. I still wasn’t sleeping much, but I was sleeping.

And as I kept doing this, I developed a little routine. I’d walk up Gomer, cross to Pyle, and then back up around Howard or Fine. Just like that. I liked to watch the ships come into the harbor from the hill.

That’s where I first saw the old man.

Actually, I’m not sure when I first saw him. One night, it was like he was just there. I mean, nothing stood out about him. Not really. Aside from him being this one-hundred-year-old man walking up Pyle at two in the morning with what had to be about twenty, thirty pounds of something in this large canvas bag. I never saw him in or around a car or bus. Every store in walking distance closed hours earlier. But every night, there he was, inching his way up the hill with that heavy bag of his. Crawling in and out of the shadows and street lights.

It never even crossed my mind to offer to help the old man with that bag of his. Not once. Not until that woman did.

Can’t remember her name off the top of my head, but there was a bit about the woman in the news. I think. Right after it all happened. I didn’t know her, but I’d seen her around here before. Probably lived in one of these apartments. She was always in workout gear, always out for a jog. A lot of people run by you like you’re not even there, but she’d always look your way, give a little wave or smile or nod.

That night, I heard the woman before I saw her. They were standing right over there, on the other side of Pyle. I was standing about here, bunch of cars parked in front of me, and I heard someone say something. I don’t know what she said exactly, but with it being as quiet as it is at night around here, I still heard her say something to the old man from this far up the street. Maybe she was trying to get around him, or she turned the corner and almost ran into him. Anyway, I heard someone say something, so I looked around and saw her standing over there with him. And she pointed at his bag, clearly offering to help. But the old man shook his head and waved his free hand at her and clutched that heavy bag with the other. The way he’s acting, I figured he’s told her, “No, thanks,” and wants to be on his way. But then, she insisted. And then, he resisted. And they went back and forth like that for a minute.

Finally, the old man relented.

I remember reading something about how the woman had some kind of heart defect. That she must have just dropped dead on her jog that night, blissfully unaware that her heart was ready to stop at any second. It’s a cute story. But, uh…

(SCOFFS) Look. I know this sounds absolutely crazy. And I feel crazy for even being here, telling you all this and hearing myself say it out loud. I know I’m crazy every bit as I know that woman didn’t drop dead from a bad heart. I know there was an old man with a, uh… a bag. This plain, normal, not-crazy looking bag with, I dunno, something in it just as plain, normal, and not crazy. But when he opened the bag and she looked at whatever it was she found there, that’s when she dropped dead. She didn’t tip over. She didn’t clutch at her heart. She didn’t even try to brace herself. She just, uh… It was like she was a puppet and someone cut her strings. Whatever held her up was just… gone. And then, she… she collapsed and folded up on herself. Just right over there. Sometimes, I think I heard her ribs cracking.

And the old man, he stood there for a bit. I don’t know how long, but he stood there. He didn’t look around. Didn’t call for help. He just stood there, shaking his head.

And then, he left. Same way he always did. Walked right up Pyle, passed me like I wasn’t even there, and then over the hill.

SILENCE.

Sorry. I was just…

Anyway. That was, uh… that was years ago now. I don’t go out much after dark these days.

IT’S OVER

Amber’s Story

SOMEONE speaks as they eat.

SOMEONE: My grandfather died when I was four. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I learned he was supposed to stay that way.

When I read the recent news story about the first natural death in over fifty years, I was skeptical too. Of course I was. This wasn’t the first story of it’s kind. It wasn’t even the first this year. Ever since the tragic 1968 pandemic, the world has latched on to any and every hope that maybe, just maybe the end is in sight – medications, genetic treatments, and, yes, stories like Amber Sawyer’s. And every year, we’ve been left disappointed.

The first such story that I could find in print is from 1973. Gloria Whitaker of Philadelphia claimed her thirty-year old sister, Dolores, passed away in her sleep. But unlike countless incidents of families – even entire apartment complexes and neighborhoods – devoured in their sleep during those first five years, Gloria awoke to a quiet house and her sister’s inanimate corpse still in bed. And according to the article, instead of running in terror, Gloria wept. But she wasn’t heartbroken about Dolores’ death, as they both had been with the passing and subsequent reanimation of their parents in ’71. No, she was overcome with joy at the thought that her sister might be the first of many to once more find rest after death.

Turns out, Dolores died from a ruptured aneurysm that mercifully damaged the part of the brain affected by Romero’s.

When Amber’s case started trending, I assumed the inevitable autopsy would show something similar – perhaps a head or brain injury she decided to sleep off instead of seeking medical attention. Perhaps drugs or alcohol were involved. This was a nineteen-year old college student, after all. In a world where the dead simply don’t stay that way, it’s not hard to feel a little bit immortal at that age.

But then… nothing.

Far as I know or can tell, Amber Sawyer is the first person to be medically declared dead of natural causes for the first time since 1968. There was nothing in her system. No aneurysm or head trauma. No defect. Nothing but a dead girl with a bad heart who stayed that way.

My mother is getting on in years now. She’s called me up every night since Amber’s story made its way to her local newspaper, sharing stories of a world where Amber’s death wasn’t news, only a fact of life. And like many others, she’s afraid of what will become of her when what should be the end comes, but doesn’t. She doesn’t want my father to keep her around in chains, like how her mother had kept her father, my grandfather, all those years ago. Every night she asks me to tell her that Amber’s story isn’t yet another news story that will come and go like all the rest, and every night I’m left unsure what to say.

When she asked me again last night, I replied with a question of my own: “Why did grandma keep grandpa around?”

And to her credit, she finally shared with me what grandma had said all those years ago: “God took him, but left the rest behind for me.”

I want to tell my mother that the world is a different place. That when she’s gone, she’ll stay that way. But I can’t. Because I’m unsure. Because I still have my doubts. Because I worry Amber’s story will be no different than Dolores’ or my grandfather’s. Because a not-so small part of me is scared of a world without her in it. Because in a world where the dead don’t stay that way, it can be that much harder to let go.

An uncomfortable silence. And then…

They continue with their meal without another word.

THE END

Coyote

A safe place. A PERSON sits in a chair before all, restless.

PERSON: I never thought I could kill anyone. Until I did.

All I wanted was some fuckin’ ice cream, man. It’d been pushing’ a hundred all week, and I was sweating’ like crazy every night, all night. And… I mean, y’ever been so hot you stick your head in the freezer just to cool off? Y’ever get stoned out of your mind just so you can forget how hot it is? Well, when you’re both, ya know, shit happens.

The last thing I remember before it all went screwy, it’d have to be standing in line in this sweatbox of a gas station, right around the corner from my place. I had that ice cream in my hand, man. Sweatin’ there in this long fuckin’ line, wondering the fuck there’s a line at two in the mornin’. Then I finally pay, step outside, and then… nothin’. No stars, no black, no nothin’. Just, nothin’. Didn’t even get to open the wrapper, man.

I remember the way the man cried. He was… how do I put it? He was fuckin’ losin’ it, ya know? I remember’ just kinda blippin’ into that, ya know? One minute, I’m all about that ice cream. The next, I’m in the middle of a fuckin’ canyon. The sun’s coming out. It’s finally cold as shit, and everything’s wet. And there’s this guy tied up next to me. He’s just layin’ there, losin’ his fuckin’ mind. Crying and screaming. Shit was runnin’ down his nose. He was choking on his spit and everything. I don’t know what happened. He looked fine. Nothing had happened. Not yet.

Maybe I’m the weird one for not acting like that.

She wore a Coyote mask, jeans, and a Ramones tee. Her voice sounded young, but something about the way she talked, I don’t know, it’s like she’d been doing this a while. Like, there’s that way people talk when they’re really comfortable doing shit, ya know? Like, they got this shit handled. No worries. Ya know? Real boss-lady type shit.

The whole thing’s really fucked up. The whole fuckin’ thing.

“Pick one.” That’s what she said. She tossed me a fuckin’ tire iron – a tire iron! And she says to me, “Pick one.”

And I just stood there for a minute, looking at her like… I don’t know. I guess like she’d just kidnapped me, dragged my ass to the middle of a fuckin’ canyon along with some dude who looks and sounds like he’s shitting himself, and then tossed me a tire iron and instructed me to, “Pick one.”

Then she pulled out a piece and aimed it at my head. So, I picked one.

She took our phones, our wallets. I had to walk out of the canyon, down the highway. Caked-up in dirt, in tears, in vomit… in bits of blood and brains and bone. I don’t know how long I walked. Maybe it was a few minutes, maybe longer. Eventually CHP pulled me over, and they pulled a gun on me too. Not that I blame him. I mean, you should have seen me.

You think she was watching? I bet she was watching.

Sleep is hard. Being awake ain’t easy either, I guess. But sleeping is harder. I should probably see someone about that. Money’s a bit tight. But sometimes when I can’t sleep, I think about her. Did she know what I would do? I didn’t know the guy, he didn’t know me. Probably. She could’ve picked anyone else in that gas station. Why me, huh? Why him? Or that piece of hers. It’s not like she fired a warning shot, or whatever. She just kinda held it, waved it around a bit. 

“Pick one.” Do you think she meant her too? Did I kill some guy I didn’t know with a fucking tire iron when I didn’t have to? Maybe if he had to pick, we’d both still be here. Did I fuck up? Does it even matter?

Person grows silent, still, lost deeper and deeper in thought.