I recently installed the Waze app on my phone, a GPS that spoke up to tell me when a red light camera was reported up ahead, when a police officer was reported up ahead, even when a goddamn pot hole was reported up ahead.
It knew everything about the neighborhood because other Waze users helped keep it updated by sending in traffic reports. A group effort to save us all from getting tickets and getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper congestion.
Of course, it also functioned like a traditional GPS by telling me how to get from place A to B, which was a lifesaver all on its own.
I’ve always sucked with directions. Back in high school, my parents had given me their clunky handheld GPS that I’d programmed to take me to my best friend’s house and back. No matter how many times I’d driven there, I couldn’t remember the names of the roads, the right corners to turn, the right street signs to follow.
It’s safe to say my observational skills suck.
That’s why, when I was driving home from an overnight shift at four in the morning, I was surprised I even heard the GPS voice say:
“A dead body is reported up ahead.”
I swung my head toward the cup holder where my phone sat. Tried to get a better look at the screen. I must have heard wrong. The voice must have said somebody is up ahead.
The app announced when a broken down car was perched on the shoulder as a safety precaution, so maybe they programmed a new feature to mention people on the road, too. It made sense. It would save lives.
Unfortunately, I kept my eyes on the phone screen for a second too long, because before I had the chance to glance back to the road, I heard a thump. Felt the car rise and fall. Felt the tires tremble and glide.
I had hit something. A cat? A raccoon? A person?
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck.
I swerved to the side of the road lined with trees and a smattering of street lights. If anyone drove past, those lights would illuminate my dented Civic and its bumper smeared with blood.
Did I run over the body the GPS warned me about? Was it dead before I hit it? Was it dead now that I hit it?
My pulse raced as I slunk past the damage on my hood and toward the tree line. I could see a man on the ground. Blood on his cheeks, down his neck, across his shirtsleeves. And then his leg…
That’s where my tires must have hit. His thigh looked puffy and then his knee sloped down to the ground like his leg ended there. The rest of his meat was flattened, ground into the dirt.
I bolted over to check the pulse in his wrist and it beat fast, but steady. He was definitely okay — well, definitely alive.
But his eyes stayed closed. Maybe he passed out from blood loss? Could that happen so quickly?
I tried to push my questions away as I patted him down, feeling for additional injuries. Aside from his leg, I didn’t notice any broken bones or fractures. I did feel something in his jeans, harder than a wallet and shaped differently than keys — but I ignored it, just like I ignored that the blood on his face was three shades darker than the blood on his jeans.
I stumbled back toward my car to grab my phone, breathing heavy. If I had called the cops right then — if I fucking dialed 911 instead of mindlessly sitting in the driver’s seat for another few minutes — then maybe the rest of the night would have turned out okay for me.
But I hesitated to help a man I thought was dying, and I had no excuse for it. My phone wasn’t dead. My charger wasn’t missing. My service didn’t suck.
I waited out of fear. What if the cops took me away in handcuffs? What if I ended up in jail for the night, in court for the next three months? What if, for some fucked up reason, the judge ruled it a homicide and I spent the rest of my life behind bars?
And what the hell was up with the GPS? Did it actually warn me about a dead body seconds before the hit? It couldn’t have predicted the future. It couldn’t have known what was about to happen.
Besides, the man wasn’t even dead. Not yet, at least.
I didn’t know how long I zoned out for. How long I sat there, stuck in my disturbed head. Long enough for him to die?
When I got out of my car to check, he looked lifeless. His head sunk into a pile of mud. His hands flopped to either side.
I scrambled over on my hands and knees, focused on the man’s chest. Watching to see if it rose and fell. If it would give me any signs of life.
No fucking luck.
My criminal future flashed through my mind. The handcuffs that would be locked around my wrists, chafing the skin dry. The endless line of cops questioning me about why I didn’t tell them about the accident earlier. The parents I’d never get to see again, the kids I’d never get to have…
It took me longer than I’d like to admit to notice the man’s legs. Both intact.
And the bullet hole. Straight through the center of his head. Old, dark blood trailed out of it and pooled around him in an inky outline.
This wasn’t the body I hit with my car. This was another body.
What the..? How did…?
I replayed the last few moments in my head and realized I’d had another brain-dead, not-paying-attention-to-my-surroundings moment.
The body I hit with my car had been toward my left, closer to the bumper. After sitting in my car daydreaming, I walked toward my right. Toward this other body.
The body my GPS tried to warn me about.
When I turned back to the man I actually hit, I saw him sitting up, leaning all his weight on one hand while the other held his gun. The same gun I’d felt in his pockets earlier. The same gun he had used to murder whoever was sprawled on the ground beside me.
And now, it was aimed directly toward my chest.