I let my lids shut without giving her an answer, focused on leaving this reality and returning to mine, and the process begun.
My throat constricted. My limbs tightened. It felt like a vacuum pressed against every inch of my skin, sucking it dry. I woke up gasping, swiping my lips for blood drops that never came.
When I could see again, Hardwick yanked the plug out of my arm. He waited for me to deliver good news, any news, but I shook my head, which stopped him from asking. He already knew.
“I let the kid go,” he said, a bit embarrassed. “I wanted to wait until you got back to radio in our findings, so the boss wouldn’t come down here and see you using the equipment. But the kid threatened to tell on us, so I just told him to run. Little brat.”
I pictured the kid’s best friend holding her knife against his doppelgänger, slipping it in like it was nothing.
“Maybe I could stay with you tonight?” I asked. I forced a cough once I realized how it sounded. “Crash on the couch, I mean. Saw some brutal stuff in there. Don’t want to sleep in an empty apartment.”
“Don’t have to ask me twice.”
After telling our boss details about the ‘suicides’ and filling out a few hours worth of paperwork, we headed to Hardwick’s house. A tiny, one-story place with light blue paneling.
From far away it looked cozy, but up close it seemed cold and broken. The gutters stopped midway across the roof, like a rollercoaster falling off its tracks, and the steps leading up to his patio all had water damage. A mouse scurried out from one of them.
“Kids home?” I asked.
“Unless they ran away.” He tried to smile, but the corners of his lips barely lifted. “They should be asleep by now.”
When we walked in, the brunette babysitter walked out with vomit stains on her sweater.
“What a hottie,” I said, nudging him. Anything to get his mind off of his wife.
“She’s into chicks, so you have a better shot than me.” Bitterness tinged his voice, so I kept quiet the rest of the night. Let him silently toss me a pillow to prop my head up on his stained couch. Let him kiss his twins goodnight. Let him fall asleep himself.
I waited until his snores drifted from his room to mine. When they did, I crept toward the basement door, but my sneaking felt senseless. Even if he didn’t hear me, he’d know who did it. Maybe I should’ve explained everything to him and let him pull the plug himself. Maybe I should’ve let the matter drop. But I never had been the best decision maker.
After descending a dozen creaking steps, I saw her. She sat against the wall with her legs straight out, head lolled to the right, laptop perched on her knees. I walked closer and a few flies lifted off of her hair.
A deflated air mattress sat beside her, and I used it as a spot to crouch. I wondered how many nights Hardwick sprawled out on it, hoping she’d come back to life if he held her hand tightly enough.