Kyle looked over at me, the color drained from his face. We were both in shock, like the world just stopped for a moment. “What just happened?” He instinctively asked, not really wanting an answer. We stared at each other for a moment, both trying to process the situation. It was waiting for us, about 30 yards behind the car, on the cold, wet pavement. Our heads slowly turned toward the rear-view mirror, as if they were connected to our bodies by rusty gears. Maybe he had just gotten up and left, or was just hurt, maybe just broke an arm, maybe we didn’t kill him. Smoke from the exhaust clouded the view, filled with the red reflection of the brake lights. As it began to clear, there was the mangled body of a young boy, his blue and grey flannel shirt shredded, his legs bent and twisted to an unnatural position, and with one lifeless eye peering back at the car. The moment before the impact was so close, only a few seconds had passed. We’ll never be closer to the time before the crash than we are now, almost as if we could somehow go back and stop it from happening. My life, my normal life, was only a few seconds away from me, like I could reach out and grab it and pull it back. As we sat in the car, contemplating what to do, we could see it floating away, like the shoreline disappearing into the fog as a ship sets sail. There was no going back now.
“I didn’t see him, he just came out of nowhere.” I said uncontrollably. “What do we do now? What do we do now?” The words barely came out, my breath lost, my eyes welled with tears. Kyle’s head snapped toward me.
“Just drive!” He said.
“Shouldn’t we go back and check on him?”
“Drive! Before someone else comes!”
“What if he’s still…”
“Just get us the hell out of here!” He shrieked, cutting me off.
“Alright, alright.” The car was still in gear, I eased off the brake and it began moving again. We both watched as the body disappeared when we rounded the next curve on the road. A few miles down was a wide gravel shoulder, enough to pull off and regroup for a moment.
My hands and feet thumped as my heart pounded. Myriad scenarios raced through my mind. What if they find out it was us? Will we go to jail? What about my future? Will I ever see my family again? Will everyone hate me? My head rested against the steering wheel, it took every bit of effort to hold myself together.
“We just have to get out of here, act like nothing happened. They’ll never know who it was.” Kyle said, amazingly calm considering the circumstances. This really shouldn’t have surprised me. We’ve been in a few pickles before, and he was always the one with the cool head. The one with the answers, the getaway plan. Like the time we were caught drinking at Sharon’s house. Kyle came up with a cover story in a matter of seconds and got us out of trouble. Or the time we got in that fight at the mall. Kyle put on such a good show afterwards, the police never suspected that we were involved. But this was different. In those other situations, I wanted out. We weren’t hurting anyone, we were just trying to have fun. Now, we had hurt someone, maybe killed them.
“I think we should call the police.” I said between gasps.
“Are you crazy?”
“They’ll understand. We can explain. We weren’t doing anything wrong. We weren’t speeding, weren’t drinking, it just happened. It was unavoidable.”
“Yeah good luck with that. What do you think, they’re just going to let us walk away?”
“It was an accident!” I screamed at Kyle, pushing back as hard as I could against his impulse of self-preservation.
“That doesn’t matter. We’ll still have to pay. What do you think will happen to your scholarship? Do you think they’ll just say, ‘well this kid’s kind of smart, he has a bright future, we should just let him go’? Your life will be over. Both of our lives will be over.”
My life was clean, until now. I hadn’t done anything really wrong, never hurt anyone. Broken some rules maybe, but those were all victimless crimes. That was over. I was stained, damaged. Nobody would ever again see me as the innocent boy I was five minutes ago. I would always be that person, the one who killed somebody.
“We have to come up with a plan, a cover story, and stick to it. It’s our only option,” Kyle decisively said. “We’ll just forget about it, it wasn’t our fault. We shouldn’t worry about it.” Hard as I tried, I couldn’t keep his words from forcing their way into my ears. My silent reaction was part disbelief, part contemplation.
Could I turn my back on this? Could I really carry this burden my entire life? Bury it down somewhere deep inside where no one can see it. Force it into a dusty room and lock the door, throwing away the key. Ignore it when it pounds on the walls and wants out. When it forces itself up right to the base of your throat, and it feels like if you open your mouth it will crawl out, the whole morbid, disgusting truth. Like it will fall out of your mouth onto the floor, like a snake regurgitating its last slimy meal. Could I stare down those that question me without breaking? Watch the pain of a lost child crush others, reducing them to a small pile of ash and dust before my eyes, knowing that I could provide closure, but won’t. Could I be that cold, that resolute?
I knew Kyle could do all those things. He had a quality about him, everyone could see it, he measured everything in life by how it affected him and him alone. He didn’t feel remorse, or regret, or guilt. He could just trudge on through life, like nothing had happened, while he leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. The hard, inconvenient truth is that this quality would continually benefit him, just like it always had before. People like to glorify humanity, as if doing right and being honest were noble acts, perpetually rewarded. Kyle knew this was bullshit. He knew that life rewards the winners, and punishes the losers, and whatever you have to do to put yourself on the right side of that division, you do, no matter the cost.
Before we could say anything else, my phone lit up. It was my sister. It buzzed and vibrated. Then it buzzed and vibrated again. And again. Eventually it stopped.
“What do we do now?” I softly asked.
“Let’s check the front of the car,” Kyle suggested.
“Good idea,” I replied. We quickly threw the doors open and circled to the front, assessing the damage.
“Just looks like a broken light, could have happened anywhere. Tell them you hit a deer.”
My hands were cupped against my face as I considered Kyle’s cover story. “It can’t be tonight,” I replied. “We’ll have to hide the car for a week or so and say I hit a deer next weekend.”
“Good point. Let’s do it.”
“Wait a minute, what’s this?” A small piece of fabric caught my eye, hanging from the twisted corner of the headlight housing. A shred of blue and gray flannel. Instantly folding, my heartbeat sped up again and I lost my breath for a moment as I rested my weight on my knees.
“Relax,” Kyle snarled, as he pulled the fabric off the car and tossed it off the road. He scoured the rest of the area, finding several more pieces, calmly removing them all. His composure performing such a grisly task was shocking. “There we go.”
“Look, I don’t know if I can do this,” I admitted to Kyle, my hands and lips trembling.
“We don’t have a choice,” he insisted. “What happened tonight, it’s over. In the past. You can’t change it now. All we can do is move on with our lives. One life destroyed is better than three. Now we didn’t do anything wrong. You said yourself there wasn’t anything you could do. We have to just stick to our story, and move on.”
I heard my phone buzzing again from inside the car. My sister again. I squelched my face together for a moment before answering, preparing what I would say.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Where are you guys? You’re supposed to be here by now.”
“I know, we’re almost there…”
“Hey, tell her we’re not coming, we can’t show up with the car like this!” Kyle said, interrupting me in a loud, animated whisper.
“Yeah, that’s right, I just remembered, we’re not coming. We have other plans,” I said.
“What do you mean, other plans? Where are you?” She asked.
I ended the call without a response, hoping that she’d think the call was dropped.
Kyle continued “Let’s take the car to my house, we can hide it in my garage for a few days, let this blow over a bit, then we can say we hit a deer. I can even find some deer hair from a roadkill somewhere and put on the front, make it more…”
“I can’t. I mean, I’m not. I’m not doing this,” I stammered.
Kyle stared back at me, his face reddening. “Well, it’s your choice. I mean, you were the driver. None of this is my fault anyway.”
At that moment, the breadth of Kyle’s psychopathy was clear. He was prepared to watch me burn to save himself. Fighting against him was futile, he lacked the capacity for empathy, or guilt. This was a path I would have to walk alone.
The road ahead for me was dark, unpredictable. Everything I had planned, all the things I wanted to do with my life were suddenly in question. For as long as I could remember, I saw a clear vision of my future, like standing atop a ridge, with a full view of the trail ahead. This was a dark, unfamiliar place I now found myself, where every step would be into the unknown. Angst and dread flooded my mind, filling it with visions of harsh punishments and a wasted life.
Kyle, perhaps sensing the peril, did the only thing he could. He ran. As fast as he could down the road, into the darkness. Away from responsibility, away from consequence, away from me.
Gathering as much composure as I could muster, I pulled up my phone, and entered the numbers 9-1-1. This was a demon that I couldn’t bear. That I wouldn’t bear. And one that the parents of that boy laying twisted and broken on the road a few miles back don’t deserve to bear. If that makes me one of life’s losers, so be it. As the phone rang, Kyle slowly disappeared in the distance, content to spend the rest of his life running, hiding in plain sight. The angst, fear and dread were slowly replaced by a feeling of satisfaction, that I was choosing not to run, not to hide. That the dark, dusty room in my subconscious wouldn’t become the home of such a terrible secret.