Karma and Coke

Ben’s blood froze. His face was pale and his skin was beaded with a cold sweat. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen a dead body. As the county coroner dead bodies were his business. But this time was different, this time it was his fault…

Tom had pushed him. One more drink. One more drink he kept saying. Sure he’d have one more. What could it hurt? Fill the glass high, make it a double. It was a celebration. Ben and his brother, Tom, were close. More than just family. They were best friends from the beginning. Not twins, but the eleven months between them hardly mattered. Now, after dreaming and saving for years, they had finally reached a deal and made the down payment. The nightclub they had envisioned in their wildest fantasies was nearly theirs. But now this…

Ben looked down at the mangled body. She was young, twenty, twenty-one? Her hair had been golden blonde but was now streaked and stained with that god-awful crimson. The skin-tight black dress she wore was torn and muddy. There was no question. She was dead on impact. Ben looked around in a panic but there was nothing to see. Take the back road he had thought. It would be safer. Less traffic, no cops. He could go slow, take his time. One hand on the wheel, the other over his left eye. It helped bring his blurry vision to a focus. Or so he had thought…

This wasn’t his fault though, it couldn’t be. Why had she been walking on the road, out here in the middle of nowhere, at this late hour? Why was she dressed in black? Surely she knew it would be hard for anyone to see her. He couldn’t be responsible for her mistakes. She wasn’t even walking on the proper side of the road. She should have been facing the oncoming traffic so she would be able to watch out for danger. By the time his headlights found her it was too late. He couldn’t be expected to react that fast, regardless of the situation. No. Absolutely not. She was to blame for this tragedy…

Ben punched the fender of his old, white Chevy. He screamed into the night air. His voice was hollow and the humid darkness dampened his wail. Stupid girl. Damn stupid girl. Blood was dashed on his bumper. The plastic was cracked on the passenger side corner where that stupid girl had run into it. The headlight was smashed and dark. Ben’s cheeks flushed as the rage began to boil inside him. This piece of junk car was what he had to drive the last five years. He had bought it used and in bad shape as it was. And now it was even worse off. It was a sacrifice he had made. Every penny counted when it came to saving up for the club the brothers were destined to run. But he did the best he could with it. Washed it, took it for routine maintenance check-ups. Then this stupid, foolish girl had to ruin it all…

This can’t be happening. Ben clamped his eyes closed. He shook his head, mouthing the word over and over again: no, no, no. The deal was closed. They would be starting renovations within the month, open the club within the next year. If he could just keep his eyes closed, maybe it would all be gone when he reopened them. The girl. The blood. The cracked bumper. What did he do to deserve this? He had saved, sacrificed. And this is the platter the gods serve him with? No. Just let me have this one. Make it go away. I’d do anything. I’ve done everything. I need this to happen. Just let me wake up in my bed. This is only a terrible nightmare…

Ben slowly opened his eyes. He had expected darkness, but a headlight pierced through the foggy, swirling air. The mist glowed with a reddish hue, tinted by the Chevy’s taillights. He look down. There she was. Dead as when he had first discovered the body after the collision. After he had skidded to a screeching stop. The burned rubber still lingered on the wind. Tears came to Ben’s eyes, he fought against them but was quickly overwhelmed. He fell to his knees beside the girl. He leaned over, wrapping his arms around her in a mournful embrace. Sorry. He was so, so sorry. He tried to speak but the words caught in his tightened throat. His body shook as he wept. The tears flowed freely down his face. There was nothing he could do. There was nothing he wanted to do. Nothing but sit there and cry…

He didn’t know how much time had passed while he sat crying. When he finally had control of himself he realized it was still dark. He had killed a girl. His fault or hers, it didn’t matter. She was dead. He was not. He had a life to live, and dreams to fulfill. He had to move on. He had to continue, and going down for this was not something that was going to work for him. He thought about calling Tom, asking him for help, but decided it would be best not to involve him at any level. Besides, he had stayed at the bar to drink more. Tom had never married, he was a bachelor for life. He had nothing to go home to. No reason to leave. Ben’s wife, however, would be up waiting for him, wondering why he wasn’t home yet. He had to take care of this nasty business. And he had to do it now…

Ben dug out an old sweatshirt from his gym bag he kept in the trunk of his car. He was always ready to get in a much needed workout, however, this was not what he had in mind. He began wiping away the blood. From his hands, his face. He hadn’t been concerned when he hugged the poor girl, but coming home looking like that was going to be a dead giveaway. He polished up the bumper, swabbed the broken headlight. For as much as he could see in the darkness he did what he was able. Ben’s legs were wobbly as he hurried around, half in shock, half intoxicated. He would just drag the girl up to the road. Leave her out in the middle. Maybe someone would drive through while it was still night. Maybe they wouldn’t see her. They would think it was their fault. He didn’t know what else to do. He wasn’t a criminal. He was just looking out for his own well-being…

She was in the ditch but it wasn’t deep. When he had finished doing what he could to make the car look presentable he climbed down and picked up the girl. She was light, thin. But she hadn’t been unhealthy. As he crossed through the glow from the car’s one remaining headlight he glanced at her face. She was young, so young, he thought. And she was pretty. What a tragedy. Having her life snatched away before it even really began. Yet it had happened. And Ben needed to go on with his. He set the body down on the pavement, just off the center line. He frowned, shaking his head. It was too bad. It really was…

Headlights crested the hill not one-hundred feet from where Ben stood, still gazing down at the poor girl. He became aware of the lights but never had time to turn. The car was speeding down the road. Fast. Hurling along like a race car. But if it was racing anything it was only racing time…

Tom hiccuped when his car jerked. His eyes opened, blinked, closed, opened. He fought every second to keep his eyes from closing for good. He just had to get home. Get to his bed. He needed sleep. Wonderful, refreshing sleep. Dreams, sweet dreams would be his. They had become reality, he couldn’t know all that the future had in store for him, but he knew the nightclub he and his brother had dreamed of would be opened soon. He couldn’t know what the immediate future held…

In the morning Tom will wake up with a splitting headache and soiled bed sheets. He will reek of liquor and smoke. After vomiting the entire content of his stomach, the flashing light on his answering machine will prod at his pounding skull. Through blurred, bloodshot eyes he will jab at the play button with a shaky finger. As the message plays, he will hear his mother’s voice. She will be sobbing, trying to talk through heavy tears. He will only understand enough to know that his brother was killed, a hit and run. Tom will sober up fast due to the shocking news. He will head to his car to rush over to his mother’s house. She will need him during this time of grief, and he will need her. As he approaches his car he will see his own headlight. Smashed. His own bumper. Splattered with blood…