Hit And Run

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Guilt can do strange things to a person. Just ask Tanner Giddings, the hit-and-run driver who killed a young child.

Submitted: October 19, 2013

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Submitted: October 19, 2013

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I.

“Yeah, I heard. Of course I heard.” Tanner says this in response to the obvious question, the question that has held the medium-sized Kentucky town in its meteoric fist since for the past few weeks. Tanner had run out of pot and cigarettes, and was afraid to go to the store. Afraid to be seen. Afraid to look into the eyes of passing strangers, for fear of their judgment.

II.

Never mind that he’d basically got away with it as long as Cassidy didn’t spill! Never mind that. That’s absolutely unimportant, but they’d still somehow know it was him, he was the driver…Tanner sighs at his sister’s next question. “No, Sara, I don’t know who it could be. I mean, if I did, wouldn’t I have reported him?” He says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But really, he has to wonder. He views loyalty as an important trait, and would turning in a friend be loyal to him in something like this? Doesn’t matter – he’s the one who did it, in the end. “So why did you call?” he asks.

“Oh,” Sara says. “I just wanted to hear your voice, really. Also, how do you know the driver was a he?”

“That’s nice,” Tanner yawns. “I just woke up.”

The implication does not strike her. “Oh, I got up three hours ago. Just as the sun was rising. Was really pretty.”

“That’s cool,” Tanner says. “Okay, I need to go.”

“You don’t have anything to do.”

“Oh, how do you know that?” Anger seeps into his voice; he doesn’t like being challenged. Even if what Sara is saying is fundamentally true. She’s clueless, she doesn’t pick up on things. Mom always said she had a condition. Tanner called it being a dumbfuck. “I just got a job.” Lies, lies.

“Oh, cool!” she says, but Tanner is already gone. He’s hung up, he’s walking in the kitchen, searching the goodies drawer (as he thinks of it) for the smokables, legal or otherwise, but they’re all gone, and he knew that, really. His fear of being judged turns into smug knowledge that no one can detect his guilt.

Tanner sits at the table and thinks about, well, things. There’s a dull surprise at not feeling any guilt. I mean, they haven’t said the kid’s name in the news, he’s never heard anyone talking about the kid, and besides, he (was it a he?) darted into traffic like he was running from the cops. It wasn’t his fault, even if Tanner’d been texting and had just looked up.

Some kids were idiots. The schools tried to make everyone special by not having anyone win recess games and handing out passing grades like Halloween candy, but some kids were just dumb, stupid, retarded. Like Sara, Tanner thought. Hunger gnawed at his edges, mixing in with the irritation from her call. Anyway, he knew it wasn’t his fault if the kid was dumb.

Why did she think Tanner would know anything about what happened? Did she have some sixth sense? He wondered how many people would suspect him. He was so lucky, so so lucky that he was able to drive home without being spotted. But then, he reconsidered that. It was so late, three or four in the morning, would anyone have seen the blood on his hood? Surely that wouldn’t be spotted. In any case, he took great and deliberate care to wash the car in his garage, sponging it in layers of hot soapy water. Cassidy had asked, “What makes you clean it off for once, you run over someone?”

“Yes,” Tanner had said, calmly. “A little kid. I think I killed ‘em.”

“If the cops come by, I don’t know anything,” she said in a singsong tone. That was the end of that. Cassidy surely had watched the news as he had, but she didn’t appear to have any plans of turning Tanner in. Thank God, it would be the ultimate revenge against an unfaithful lover. After letting him move in with you and gaining his, well, not quite trust, because Tanner made it a Personal Thing to never trust anyone…

So, here’s Tanner Giddings. 29 years old, lives with an ex-girlfriend, Cassidy. His hands twitch, his fingers are like quivering snakes as he makes a ham sandwich. Cassidy’s vegetarian but she buys cheap, shoddy lunchmeat for him. He realizes as he eats that he’s never thanked her for thinking of him like this. They certainly didn’t when they were together, but he certainly should probably get around to the thank-you. Yeah.

Cassidy seems to come from nowhere, or maybe time jumped forward, because here she is, and she’s saying, “Mail’s for you.” There’s never mail for him. There are bills, but there is never mail. There’s nothing on the envelope but his own name drilling into him like an accusation.

There’s no return address, and that makes him think, but he decides screw it despite his heartrate just ratcheting up. So, he opens it like a kid unwrapping a Christmas present from the token weird-ass uncle. What he sees confuses the fuck out of him, then makes his mouth open and quiver slightly. “Cass, look at this!” he shouts after a few seconds of numb staring. She trots into the kitchen, matchbox in hand, incense burner above the sink just waiting to be all lit up. Tanner hates incense but it wouldn’t be wise to start fights with the person letting you live with them, occasionally do some wonderful things with. Tanner says, “Look at this shit.” And hands her the letter.

When she sees it she drops the matchbox, then slowly picks it up, like it’s a really embarrassing thing to drop a little container of matches. Then she says, “I’d tell you to go to the cops, but it’s not an option.”

“No,” Tanner says. “It’s not.” The threats of what will be done to Tanner, what will be removed from his body and force-fed to him, what metallic instruments he will taste the rust of in more than nineteen ways, the cartoony images of it amuse him. But the amusement is dwarfed by not fear of the message’s sender, but the fear that someone knows his secret, someone knows and he doesn’t know who they are. They could do anything. They could go to the cops…

…but it’s been a few days. Tanner’s brain starts whirring the gears, then: Wait a minute! If they wanted me to get in trouble, he thinks, and they know I ran over the kid, I’d already be Bubba Joe’s bitch. This is someone who is very adamant about having things done his way.

“I guess I gotta get to him first,” Tanner says. The question of whether or not he can kill someone has never crossed his mind, but he supposes that if it came down to it? Yeah, yeah he guess he could. If he had to. Then he remembers, the fucking dipshit, that he’s already killed someone. Then he starts thinking about murder, accidents, and the whole morality of it. But the important thing is, can he justify it to himself?

Cassidy interrupts his reverie. “How do you know it’s a he?”

Tanner laughs. “Second time someone’s asked me that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind,” he says. “So how do I find him?”

“Wait for more letters,” Cassidy said, shrugging, as if this is an everyday thing. “He wants to scare you, I think. So he’ll go on and on, and in that time, we’ll figure out who he is.”

“And then?” Tanner asks. But he already knows the answer.

“Pre-emptive strike,” Cassidy says, big stupid grin that Tanner’s never seen, not even when they were together. “That’s what.”

And now: they’re talking about it at dinner (Caesar salad) like it’s an invitation to your best friend’s wedding. “So, you think it was someone related to the kid?” Tanner asks.

“I don’t,” Cassidy said. “They’re probably crying their stupid eyes out, and it was really late, so they were probably asleep.”

“Don’t know if it was a him, but yeah,” Tanner says, spearing a crouton with his fork, causing it to crumble. “I don’t think anyone saw me. And I don’t think anyone could have seen the blood if there was someone. Unless they had a flashlight, I guess.”

“Lucky bastard,” Cassidy says through a mouthful of greens. “If I have to run over someone, I’ll take lessons from you.”

“Yeah,” Tanner says. “Thanks for being loyal to me.”

“You’re welcome.” She says, “You owe me.”

“I guess I do.”

“Yeah,” she said. She’s smiling and it’s like she’s a stern-ass teacher. But then the smile breaks and she starts laughing like Tanner told the world’s funniest joke. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But you do owe me.”

“Sure, okay. Whatever,” Tanner says, and he’s realizing that he’s falling in love with her again. Again. No one has ever been this loyal to him.

That night, they embrace in bed, and it makes Tanner feel like he doesn’t ever need cigarettes, or pot, or booze, again. Her body is warm, it’s like a sun. A sun that shines on you, and you alone. The threats on the note are in the distant past, who even cares about that? Tanner slides his tongue into her mouth and he hears a stifled giggle. He can’t remember anything else, just that he’s suddenly awake staring at the blades of the ceiling fan and she’s gone.

So what happened? He just stares there at the whirring of the blades and he’s thinking, did I fuck up or get fucked? And in the kitchen she’s in there, smiling. Like she has good news. “Your biggest fan left another letter,” she says.

“Oh?” Tanner says. “Let me see.” He’s trying not to be nervous in front of Cassidy, he really is. He is more scared than he ever has been, knowing that another person…another person knows what he did. So he didn’t get away.

“It’s kind of…bad,” she says, with another stifled giggle that makes Tanner think of their bodies touching, exchanging their different kinds of heats. He’s in heaven now. No one can bring him off of the top of the world. Except that this note – no sender – appears to have a lock of dyed-magenta hair taped to the middle of the black construction paper that was inside the envelope.

No message, no words. And Sara was the only person in this goddamn hemisphere with hair dyed THAT particular shade. “We got a problem,” Tanner says. “We got a fucking problem here.”

“What is it?” Cassidy says, but then she sees the look on Tanner’s face, and what’s taped to the paper, and her eyes go big and Tanner knows that she doesn’t need to be told who the hair belongs to.

Tanner’s mother, Cindy, picks up on the third ring. Tanner has elected to use Cassidy’s house phone, not his own cell phone, God, no. “Tanner, it’s good to hear from you!” she says. Her happiness is shocking. “Sara keeps talking about you, and it’s making me miss you.” Wait, what? This was getting weird. Had she lost it? Maybe she had. Maybe Sara’s kidnapping…no, no, can’t think like that. He shook his head, he bit his lip.

“Yeah, that’s what I wanted to call about. Ah, do you know where she is?” He’s trying to form thoughts into words, craft them into coherence like God breathing the spark of life, and it seems to be working. But he can’t ask: Is she missing? Is she gone? Is she hurt? “Like, now?”

“She’s upstairs, Tanner. Would you like to speak to her?” Tanner gently places the phone on the rack like it would break if gripped strongly. He looks at Cassidy, who is standing next to him.

“It’s a fake,” he finally says, relieved he can speak. “I, uh. She was upstairs. Sara. I mean. In her room.”

“That’s good,” Cassidy says. “I guess.”

“I’m torn,” Tanner says. “I feel like I got away with it, but that people will know if they see me. Like something in my eyes will give it away, you know?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Cassidy says.

“What if he’s watching us? What if it’s a she?”

“Does it matter?”

“I don’t know, honest. I just want some – some relief.” He sighs. “Can’t fucking explain what I need, but I know that I need it, that’s for sure.”

“As for relief, I’m sure that kid’s parents do too, Tanner,” she says. Tanner frowns. Then immediately afterwards he can feel his body turn warmer, his teeth clamp down. Like he’s the victim here, like he’s the one who’s been wronged by the child. Maybe that’s true, if you interpret things a certain way. Tanner feels like he’s been wronged by Cassidy, too. Until she says, “Sorry about that.”

“Yeah,” Tanner says emptily. He’s staring at the green wallpaper, eyes trailing the intricate floral pattern, the whorls and knots and twists and spirals. “Yeah, maybe we should go somwhere. I don’t know. I just want to be okay.” Desperate longing, the desire to escape judgment and consequence, floods him.

“You are okay,” Cassidy says. “You know I love you.”

“I love you too,” Tanner says. He doesn’t know, really, but he’s sensing some chance at redemption and has to walk the walk, speak the language, in order to get that shot, he thinks. “I love you, babe,” he says, and kisses her, no tongue this time, just a big childlike kiss. “I love you.” A third time, still not sure if there’s anything behind it.

“You don’t have to sleep in the guest room anymore,” Cassidy said.

“After yesterday,” Tanner said, depression fighting, grappling with his body, his soul, “I don’t think I want to, lovey.” He had never used that pet name before. First time for everyone, for everything, he supposed. He felt really happy, but the thought of the torture, the letters, the threats, were at the back of his mind, always there, always ready.

Where had the hair come from? Surely it was someone who knew that Sara dyed her hair that hue but it seemed that Sara was unharmed. At the same time, Tanner knew he didn’t want to call the mother again and awkwardly explain why he hung up out of nowhere. Mothers always remember things like that. Always, never forgetting, never forgiving.

That night, Tanner decides he needs a joint, and searches the kitchen and den futilely for grass he knows isn’t there. In the hallway, one foot on the bottom stair, Cassidy smiles at him. “Hey, I’m really tired,” she says.

Tanner feels something heavy, shadowy, and unstoppable come over him and he snaps, “All right.” He sounds rather aggressive, as if insulted by a passerby on a busy street.

Cassidy frowns. “What’s the matter?”

“Don’t know. Don’t know at all.”

III.

Three days have passed without incident. There have been no letters from the mysterious stalker. Cassidy and Tanner have rekindled their relationship, and sometimes Tanner is able to forget about his incident of vehicular manslaughter? Homicide? Murder? Life-taking-away?

He’s got a joint in his hand, it’s lit up, and the more he takes in the more bliss and forgetting he feels. He thinks about the kid sometimes, though, late at night, when the stars are staring down and he knows – he knows – that there is someone under the indigo night that realizes his secret, and that’s more damning than the secret itself. What if this kid that he splattered was the one to cure AIDS? Become the next fucking President, for God’s sake?

Tanner’s hands quiver and he drops the joint, but catches it with a quick movement before it touches the ground. The rolling paper is stiff and does not uncoil. Thank God for small favors, though if only the kid had God on his side. On the subject of God, Tanner doesn’t know what he believes in, just knows that you’re born, you die, and you’re out like a candle eating the last of its wick and fucking off into smoke.

He wonders if they kid believed in God. Of course he did, it’s Kentucky, church membership is one of the state laws or something. Like, not officially, but socially. Well, whatever. He shoves the clumsy thought-rant to the mental cobwebs and continues perusing the joint.

Afterward he says, “I need to find out who sent those weird-ass death threats.”

Cassidy giggles, as if he’d told a dirty joke she’d heard a dozen times. Maybe in a way he has. So he says it again. “I need to find out, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Cassidy says. “They, uh, they stopped, right?”

“For now,” Tanner says. “I have a feeling they’ll be back.”

In his dream, Tanner’s head is poking through a wooden hole, looking right up at a gleaming silver cutting blade. It’s that French death machine, he thinks, the name guillotine escaping him. He knows it’s a dream – first time in his life he knows it, in fact. They say you can control the dream if you know you’re dreaming, so he tries to wiggle his head out of the hole, which is constricting his neck. It hurts.

And it’s a dream, he knows it’s a fucking dream, but it still hurts. It chafes. He can’t see where he is, it’s just a colorless hazy void. And he screams and screams and hears footsteps. Somewhere, outside, he hears, “Tanner? Tanner?” and it’s a woman saying it, a scared woman, but she can’t help him, and he tries to wedge his eyes open but he can’t.

He can’t open his eyes. He can’t stop dreaming. He’s stuck in his dream. Oh my God, he thinks. Oh my God. I’m going to die…

And then what, promptly wake up? Still, the pain from the wooden hole, the gleam from the blade, it’s so lifelike. Would his neck be sore in the morning? Probably. Then the figure to the left is visible. Wearing a gray cloak. Gray hood. Tanner squints and he can make out a face…yes, a face…a familiar one, but he can’t fucking place it…thhhhhwwwaaack and the blade goes down!

“Oh my God you were screaming,” Cassidy says, and he’s back in bed, sweaty-damp and breathing like his lungs had the air sucked out of them. His hair seems glued to the pillow. True to his prediction, his neck feels like it’s been squeezed or compacted. And he’s just so lightheaded.

“Fuck,” he says, because honestly, what really can he say? “Fuck.”

IV.

It’s afternoon now. There were two splinters on the right side of his neck, just below his ear. He plucked them out with his too-long fingernails and shook his head. What the fuck had that been? He says to himself, “I can’t fucking explain it,” as if submission to the unknown means mastery of it. Of course it doesn’t, of course it doesn’t.

Sara calls. Against all odds and reason Tanner answers, somehow knowing what will come. “I had a dream where someone cut off a piece of my hair,” she says, and she laughs. “And then he gave it to you as a present!” It reminds him of Cassidy’s laugh. Maybe Tanner oughta spend more time with her. According to Mom, the girl fucking idolizes him, though he knows deep down in the truth of it that he’s a grade-A one hundred and ten percent loser.

He’s not sure how to react or what to say. Then a detail pops up. “The man who cut your hair,” Tanner whispers. “He was wearing a cloak-kind of robe-ish thing. And it was gray, and you couldn’t see his face…but it looked like someone you knew.”

There was nothing for a brief moment. Then: “I knew you had magical powers, Tanner. I knew it. I’ve known it for years, I think you have ESP, it stands for extra-sensory perception, just like in this anime…”

“I’ve got to go, Sara,” Tanner says. He hangs up. No booze in the house, no drugs, no herbs. He lights up some incense without even bothering to see what flavor it is. Do you call the smells flavors, like ice cream? Or just smells? He doesn’t know.

He wants a rational, scientific explanation of what happened. He can’t fucking think that a gray-cloaked figure with a face he knows but doesn’t know cut off his sister’s hair, and cut off his head. Fuck, shit got weird after he killed the kid. Fuck, he’d almost allowed himself to forget that he killed a kid. Cassidy was certainly helping in that regard. She smiled at him a lot, with this troubled look in her eyes, as if you say, you need but don’t deserve this support and I don’t know why I’m giving it to you.

Cassidy arrives home from work. Says there’s no mail, none for him at least. But he knows she’s lying. That look in her eyes, it’s different now. Darker. Sadder. As if letting a shadow grow, he thinks, but he can’t figure why in the name of God he chose that image. But…hey, if it works, it works.

“Show me the note,” he says after dinner, as they load the dishwasher. “I know one was there for me.”

“I threw it out,” she said. “It wasn’t for you, anyway.”

“What?”

In response Cassidy storms out of the kitchen. Then the implication hits him like an elephant falling from the sky, right up on him. Tanner touches the cuts on his neck where the cuts were absently. He can’t bear to think of anything. He feels like he’s in hell. Maybe it’s not him. Didn’t someone say hell was other people? Maybe it was, maybe he was bringing hell to Cassidy, to Sara, to his mother, somehow. To all the people in his life. Not to mention the fucking kid he wiped out.

Tanner walks up the stairs yelling after Cassidy. “What did you do with it? What did it say? Dammit, I have to know!”

“Some things,” Cassidy says as she emerges from their bedroom, “you’re better off not knowing.” The door shuts. Tanner goes up the stairs slowly, one at a time, rage creeping up like a slow-moving insect or spider. He grips the rail, palm sweat-applied by his own angst, his fearful turmoil. He tries the door but it’s locked. Tanner sighs slightly, starts begging. From the inside he hears someone far off in the distance say, “I should have called the police…I should have…” between heaves and sobbing. Then his sadness turns to rage. "Let me in, you bitch!" he yells out. "Let me in! Please, I'm begging you, you...you bitch!" 

Tanner weeps. Please don’t call the police, he thinks. Please don’t call the police, I’ll do anything.

He rises up and the window shows it’s night. The bedroom door? Unlocked. Yet he can't bring himself to open the door all the way or go in, he turns his head away then shuts it immediately. It would be opening a door within him, he thinks, a door which he doesn't want to open. “Cassidy!” he shouts. “Cassidy!” Nothing from there. He moves down the staircase with all the speed of a slug. On the kitchen table? Stacks of colored construction paper.

Oh, shit. He doesn’t like this at all. Oh, fuck. He walks towards the table as if the gray tiling is dotted with invisible mousetraps, bear traps. Thumbtacks. When he grabs the first sheet of paper, he cringes, but does not drop the sheet.

It’s an orange piece of paper, and on it there is but one word written: FATE. He shakes his head and his jaw sinks, because he knows the handwriting to be his own. He prays to God that Cassidy comes out of the room, but moving up there would take the effort of running a marathon in a minute. He wads the paper angrily, hurls it as hard as he can. It bounces off the fridge and tumbles to the tiles. It seems to mock him, just being there. The next sheet of construction paper is lime green, and it reads: FATE. Once again, his handwriting.

Cassidy’s not come out of the bedroom yet. He creeps along to the garage. Her car is there. Oh, God, he thinks. What happened? He looks at every sheet of colored paper. It all has that same word, that damnation of a word, that taunt, the fearful, malicious, and godawful warning and reminder of what he has done.

It hits him, he finally admits it, knowing who truly wrote the death threats. Every word on each paper: FATE, FATE, FATE, like a neon sign flashing somewhere deep in his mind. He screams again, his throat cracking, Cassidy isn’t coming out.

In the kitchen sink, in the corner of his eye. Slight pink stains dot the sink. And two steak knives, they’ve been washed. Now? Now he doesn’t want to go upstairs and see what will wait for him in the bedroom. But he knows. Oh, he knows what it is that he has done, and he falls to his knees, and he falls on his belly, and he crawls to the stairway, knowing he must open the door, open every door. FATE. FATE. FATE.


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