I tossed my empty bottles in the trash, squeezed through the front door, and headed for my driveway. My boss was doing his yearly reviews and I was worried about losing my job. Needed a little bit of Budweiser to loosen up before having a chat with him. Not a big deal. Not enough to put a dent in my liver.
But when I got in my Hyundai and pulled the stick shift into reverse, the backup camera popped on, showing me the area behind my bumper. A little girl was playing in the street, purple chalk balanced in her hand.
It wasn’t unusual to see kids littering the block. I lived on a dead end with an elementary school on the tip of it, so toddlers and pre-teens were always riding their bikes up ramps and playing hockey in the middle of the street.
I beeped my horn, signaling for her to get out of the way, but she didn’t even look up. Kept on coloring. Moving her purple dusted hands up and down. Up and down.
I unrolled my window and craned my head out of it. I couldn’t see around the car, couldn’t see her, but I yelled out anyway. “Hey, could you move for just a minute? I need to back out.”
When I glanced at the camera, she was still in place. The damn kid wouldn’t budge.
I withheld a groan and got out of my seat with the intention of tapping her on the shoulder. Helping her to her feet. Ushering her to the grass.
But when I reached the street, no one was there. There weren’t even any chalk marks on the ground.
I didn’t dwell on it. Maybe I’d had a little more to drink than I thought. Maybe I was hallucinating. Seeing things. So I chugged a bottle of water I’d left steaming in the cup holder, backed the car up, and drove to work.
I saw the little girl again a week later when I was leaving a Friday’s parking lot. My older sister had just broken up with her boyfriend, so we ordered a few drinks to go along with our salads. Started with a Heineken. Ended with a Long Island Iced Tea.
After I kissed my sister goodbye and tried to pull out of my parking space, the kid was there. Sitting on her knees with a handball, rolling it back and forth on the pavement.
Who the hell was that? A neighbor’s kid? She looked a little like the woman across the street, blonde and pale and freckled. Maybe that’s whose vagina she popped out of.
I got out of my car to talk to her. To see if I could give her a ride home, because what the hell was a six-year-old doing outside of a strip mall at midnight?
But when I walked toward the spot she should’ve been, she wasn’t there. She wasn’t walking toward the restaurant. She wasn’t in another car. She wasn’t underneath my car. I even opened up my trunk to check for her, to make sure she hadn’t climbed inside. Nothing.
I didn’t care how much I had to drink that night. I refused to believe that I was making her up. It must’ve been more than a hallucination.
It must’ve been Nikki.
Nikki was the young girl my father had killed when he was in his early 30s and I was in my early teens. She was selling cupcakes and lemonade from a stand when he accidentally backed onto her lawn and crushed her chest. Her lungs collapsed. Both arms broken. She survived for a few minutes, but died in the ambulance.
I still had the newspaper clippings from the accident in my bedroom drawer. To remind myself that I shouldn’t become him. That I should cut back on the drinking.
(How’s that working out for you?)
On that drive home, I swore I had it all figured out. The little girl must have been the ghost of the girl my father had killed. She wanted revenge. My father had passed away earlier in the year, so she targeted me instead.
Or maybe… Maybe she didn’t want me to become like him either. I’d only seen her on the nights I drank. It made sense. Maybe she was a warning. A reminder.
When I got home, I shuffled through the papers in my drawers, and found the ancient newspaper clipping to test my theory. Except, I didn’t see a pale girl with blonde hair. I saw a dark-skinned, big-boned, brunette girl.
So she wasn’t the kid my father had killed. She wasn’t a ghost.
Then what the hell was she?
Maybe she was real. Maybe she was just a sneaky little kid that wanted to prank me. Or maybe she was some type of projection from the future. The image of the girl I was going to kill if I didn’t take it easy. If I didn’t stop drinking.
It sounded like sci-fi nonsense, like a badly written nightmare, but it convinced me to stop.
No beer. No wine. No shots. Not even any weed.
My sober streak lasted for three straight weeks. And then there was a party.
I didn’t intend on drinking. But I didn’t intend on seeing my ex, either. As soon as we locked eyes, I headed for the fridge. Grabbed a cherry wine cooler. And then followed it up with several jell-o shots of the same flavor.
When it was time to leave, I checked my entire car to be safe. Looked in the trunk. Looked on top of the hood. Looked underneath the wheels.
And saw a tuft of hair.
I dropped to the ground and crawled under as deeply as I could. Grabbed the yellow strands. And pulled out an oversized doll.
It had Xs over the eyes, drawn in purple chalk. Half of its body was covered in a tight black dress, similar to the one I was wearing. And there was a star drawn on the ankle in black Sharpie. It kind of looked like my tattoo.
The little girl must have done this. It must’ve been her. I couldn’t see her, but I could picture her laughing at me. Sitting behind the wheel, watching me from the backup camera.
And I could picture her next moves. Shifting the gear from neutral into reverse. Slamming on the pedal. Running me over and watching my chest burst.
And that’s when I realized. She wasn’t the girl my father had killed. She wasn’t the girl that I was going to kill.
She was the girl that was going to kill me.