Police lights flashed, reflecting off the gray banks of dirty snow. A shivering rookie with a whistle and winter gear directed traffic away from the cordoned off area. Horns blared and voices shouted, the noise like shards of glass in my gray matter. Beyond a large Fed Ex truck and a wall of hulking construction vehicles, I caught sight of people through the gaps. Lots of pedestrians, faces creased with a mixture of denial and horror. They shuffled, heads bowed, clustering in groups as much to ward off the wind’s relentless assault as to gather for comfort. Strangers. Together. In Chicago.
Chase drummed leather-gloved fingers on the steering wheel then, cursing, consulted the navigation display for a way out of the mess beyond waiting his turn. Men like Chase didn’t take turns, unless one counted golf and women. I stared at the scene ahead and the buzzing began. My vision changed. The world warbled like I was witnessing reality through one of those flexible fun house mirrors. Emotions that weren’t mine expanded like a coil of razor wire in my chest.
Bottomless sorrow. The loosening sensation, like a boat slipping from its moorings and drifting away with no pilot. Wind on my face from some high place, biting my cheeks and numbing my bare hands and feet. Then rushing, rushing, faster, accelerating…then impact.
I jerked in my seat from the force of the vision, but Chase was still too busy cursing at the GPS and didn’t seem to notice. I felt the impact, the powdering crush of bones. The jolt as inertia met an immovable ground. Closing my eyes, I floated above her, seeing her in my mind. Young. Too young. Ebony hair and porcelain skin, dressed in a red satin robe several shades lighter than the blood now pooling around her. Her arms and legs were twisted at hideous angles. Once beautiful face, collapsed.
I used to tell people the things I saw, but that’s how I ended up in my first nuthouse, rooming with a fat acne-covered girl who’d tried to kill herself by setting herself on fire. By the time I was fifteen I learned people didn’t want reality, they wanted an illusion. Anyone who questioned The Collective was medicated until they towed the party line. The first three times my family put me away, I fought it. But large people in white uniforms with angry faces restrained me, stripped me and strapped me down until I was out of fight. They tore away any sliver of dignity. Traded my second-hand clothes for scrubs with no zippers or buttons. No shoes, only socks with rubber tread; a plastic world of rounded edges, sporks, and toilets with no seats.
No personal items allowed. The staff said it was for my safety even though I wasn’t suicidal…back then. I freaked out the first time, but by the third? I saw through it. Saw the method to contain the madness.
Break me down. Strip me away. Make me comply.
Made it easier to drug me, force me open and insert their professional opinions. Mind-rape. I learned it was easier if you played along. Maybe even act as if you liked it. Smile with a face as placid and calm as water. Know your lines.
Oh no, I’m happy I’m here. It will make me a better person. I want to be a productive member of society. The meds are working great. I feel much calmer. Pass the green yarn…
Eventually when I had meltdowns or breakdowns, I made up stories of childhood abuse, rape, incest, nasty breakups, or family member in satanic cults. I was quite a talented storyteller. The lies they bought. Lies got me out in a week or less. The truth? Could have gotten me locked away permanently if I hadn’t figured out the game as a juvie.
I watched Chase with growing irritation as the cars inched forward. There was no way I could know what I knew. That there was a girl, Serena, being scraped off the pavement. A jumper who couldn’t take that her boyfriend was cheating. A rich girl crafted to be delicate, and who cracked like the blown glass soul she was when the pressure was on. When Mommy and Daddy couldn’t redact the harshness of life.
Which begged the question. Why only visions like these? Unwanted. Random. With a gift or curse like this, I should have seen Chase was banging Bee behind my…
Wait a minute.
Nothing had added up since Chase picked me up. If I was a real suspect in a murder investigation, I would’ve only been at the hospital until the doctors cleared me as competent enough to be questioned by detectives. Chase was a shit-hot lawyer, but even he had to follow some of the rules. Especially if he was a suspect too. He’d have to be on his best behavior and bailing me out of a quack house was just dumb…and random.
Chase laid on his horn and yelled. I stared at his strong jaw, the one I once loved to trail my fingertips down on lazy cold mornings. When he turned to me, his face shimmered as if glowworms crawled beneath his flesh. He was saying something but his face was different, inhuman. Sinew and fire and teeth…then normal.
“Excuse me?” I stammered. “Sorry. Drugs have me slow.”
“I asked what you told them about Dee,” he said slowly as if talking to someone mentally retarded.
Dee. My head throbbed in time with my racing heart.
He kept talking, frowning at the gnarled traffic ahead. “I read your story second-hand, but need to I hear it. You didn’t kill her, but what’s your alibi? Since I know you weren’t with me. I’ll never get reservations at Les Nomade again, by the way.”
I licked my chapped lips. Adrenalin fizzed through my system like my blood had been carbonated.
We were still inching forward. The crowds had expanded. Stranded drivers had simply parked and began fiddling with smart phones. Some got out to see what was going on beyond the wall of large trucks and police barricades.
Finally, shaking, I said in a voice barely above a whisper, “Her name was Bee.”
“What?” he said distractedly, brushing me off like a gnat hovering over his wine.
“Not DEE. BEE,” I shouted, then unlocked the door and bolted. I ran. Ran like hell into the frozen tangle of metal and concrete…