One of the things Sallie liked about her work; it was within walking distance from her apartment. That saved her a lot on gas and parking fees. When her car had broken down a year ago, she hadn’t even bothered to get it fixed. Living in the city, where you could have almost everything delivered and take public transportation for everything else, was so much easier without the headache of owning a car.
She traced her fingers along the wall she was passing. It was made of some sort of natural stone, almost completely covered in moss. It looked old and out of place in the city. The wall had no gates or windows, no indication that it was part of a building, or what was hiding behind it. It sparked her curiosity. There was history attached to this wall. She could feel it.
She had almost reached the end of the wall when she noticed a man running towards her like the devil was on his heels. A black car screeched around the corner. The red sky reflected off the paint, giving it a sinister aura.
Whoever was driving the car was steering straight for the man with no intention of slowing down. The man locked eyes with Sallie. She could see desperation in his eyes.
“Watch out!” Sallie screamed a moment before the car slammed into the running man. The force of the impact sent him flying off to the side like a rag doll. Sallie saw the headlights coming straight for her. With no time to duck out of the way, she pushed up against the wall and braced herself.
The car swerved back onto the road, missing her by inches. It sped off in a could of smoke from the squealing tires. The stench of the burning rubber made Sallie’s eyes water. When her brain caught up with the fact that she was safe, and the fear released her from its paralyzing grasp, Sallie’s first reaction was kicking herself for not getting the car’s license plate number. That number was important. This hit-and-run was no accident. They deliberately hit that man…The Man!
Sallie ran towards the victim, while rummaging through her purse for her phone. She scanned the rest of the street. There were no other people to be seen. That was strange, usually there were gawkers when something happened. Someone must have seen or heard. Where were they?
Her fingers found her phone and had already dialed the emergency number when Sallie knelt down beside the man. “I just witnessed a hit-and-run,” she yelled into her phone. She didn’t mean to yell, it just came out that way. “Please, send an ambulance. He looks really bad.”
The man struggled to reach for her, clawing at her clothing. Sallie grabbed for his hand to communicate she was here with him, even if she did need to relay more information to the dispatcher. As her fingers closed over his, she could feel something hard and cold to the touch being pressed into her hand.
“Please,” the man said weakly. “Please, don’t let him take it.”
Sallie put her phone next to her on the pavement and looked at the object in her hand. It was a necklace; three stones on a gold chain. She dropped the necklace in her lap and reached out for the man’s hand. He was busy pulling another object out of his pocket.
“Save your strength,” Sallie told the man. She tried to gently take his hands again. “Help is on the way.”
“Too late,” the man said. A brief coughing fit created red froth at the corners of his mouth. “It’s too late.” He finally freed a small book from his clothing and weakly waved it in Sallie’s direction. “Take it. Keep it safe.”
A detached part of Sallie watched the situation play out like so many scenes in the movies. Did she have to stick to the script of those movies? Was she now supposed to tell him he was going to be fine? He didn’t look like he would be fine. His labored breathing didn’t sound like he would be fine.
Instead she took the book and said: “I will, I promise”
The man finally grabbed for her hand. “It’s important.”
“I promise.” Sallie repeated, squeezing his hand gently for comfort. His or hers, she didn’t know.
She saw the corners of his mouth move into an expression that wanted to be a smile but didn’t quite reach it. “Thank…” he whispered.
Sallie waited for the breath in and the exhale that would finish the word “you”, but his chest failed to rise. The man’s fingers stayed curled around hers, but their strength slipped away. His eyes remained aimed at hers, but they lost their focus. She squeezed his hand tighter, desperate for a response, no matter how small.
That couldn’t be it. The man couldn’t have died just like that. He wasn’t done. He hadn’t finished talking. A person couldn’t just leave like that, it wasn’t…It just didn’t feel final, more like an interruption.
Sallie was still waiting for the man to finish his sentence when the warble of multiple sirens pulled into the street. Things started happening all around her. The paramedics quickly realized they were no longer of any use to the victim and started fussing over Sallie. She was sat down on the back of the ambulance and a cup of hot liquid handed to her. She didn’t drink it, but it felt nice to hold.
She did her best to answer questions, mostly the same questions posed in different ways by different people. She had to reply “I don’t know” to a depressingly large amount of them. She didn’t even know the man’s name.
Sallie didn’t look at the people asking her the questions. Her eyes remained on the man sprawled on the ground. She hadn’t noticed how unnatural his lower body had been positioned when she knelt down next to him. He must have been in pain; she couldn’t imagine your body twisting like that and not being in pain.
After some time that might have been minutes or hours, the paramedic moved the man’s body onto a stretcher and covered it with a cloth. The cloth was blue. Why blue? Even if they didn’t have the body bags with the long zippers along the front, shouldn’t the cloth at least have been white or black? That’s how the television had told her it would go. The deviation of what she had been taught to expect just added to this sense of events not being real.
What a strange state of affairs that fiction would dictate her sense of reality. Sallie knew, when watching a movie or a show, that the thing she was watching didn’t really happen. Yet, now that she was living them, the lack of dramatic flair, the lack of script, not to mention the horribly slow pacing of the scene, had her mind refusing to accept that this was how life really ended. Nothing about it felt right.
No one ever called her by her legal name. Sallie didn’t realize the voice was talking to her until a paramedic gently shook her shoulder. She tore her eyes away from the covered body and focused on the man looking carefully at her face.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked when he saw he had her attention.
She shrugged. “I guess so,” she replied.
The paramedic seemed unconvinced. Sallie didn’t blame him. She wasn’t convinced herself. She watched him walk off to talk to one of the cops who were standing around in the street. They both looked her way as they discussed something. She wondered if she would end up spending the night in a police station. In a way that would be the perfect surreal conclusion to the evening.
The cop nodded and started walking towards Sallie. She set the cup with now lukewarm liquid on the ground and got up. Her legs were not as stable as she wanted them to be.
“Miss Campbell? I’m going to take you home, okay?” the cop said.
So, no police station. Sallie nodded and followed the cop to his police car. It would be a short ride. She was happy she didn’t have to walk it. She didn’t know if she would have been able to with the way her legs felt.
Neither of them said anything on the drive to Sallie’s apartment building. She was grateful for the silence. Her mind was too busy trying to make sense of what happened. She kept getting stuck on how the car had deliberately run the man over. How could someone do something like that? And why? What had been the point?
The cop pulled over and got out to open the car door for her.
“Thank you,” Sallie said mechanically.
The cop nodded. Without an other word Sallie walked up to the building and unlocked the front door. One of her downstairs neighbors was peeking into the hallway.
“Is everything okay?” Missus Welders asked.
Missus Welders was her building’s busybody. The fact that a cop car had brought Salvia home would surely be gossip material for weeks.
“I witnessed a hit-and-run accident,” Sallie explained in a monotone voice. “The cops kept me for a while and then gave me a lift home.
Missus Welders clasped her hand to her chest with a dramatic gasp. “Oh, how horrible, dear.”
“A man died.” Sallie said and immediately regretted it. She could see a glimmer of hunger appear in the elderly lady’s eyes and questions form on her lips.
“I am going to bed, Missus Welders.” Sallie said before the woman could ask anything. “Good night.”
“Good night, dear,” Missus Welders called after her.
Sallie didn’t bother waiting for the elevator. She made her way up the stairs to her floor and quickly entered her apartment, before anyone else could ask anymore questions.
A shower was called for, as hot as she could stand it.
Tomorrow, she promised herself, she would feel a lot better.
This story precedes the meeting between Sallie Campbell and Lydus Farrimondt as described in In The Den Of The Beast.
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