Where One Goes

By: B N Toler

My grandmother had this saying she’d always tell me when I was down about life. This too shall pass. Considering she hung the moon, in my eyes, I believed her. She had a way about her; just being in her presence could right the world in an instant. To this day, I cling to those words, reciting them with every breath I take and release. Sometimes that’s all we really have to get us through the hard times. Something as empty and useless as words can be what keeps us treading water in the raging and unforgiving river that is life. And that is exactly what they’ve been for me. Words have been the fine threads that have tied me to this world, forbidding me to disappear when every instinct in my body is telling me to end it.

To just let go.

“Here.” My thoughts are interrupted as Casey speaks, pointing to an overpass just off the highway in Charlottesville, VA. It’s been three hours since our last stop and night has fallen, hiding the colorful mountain sides covered with bouts of fall. I pull over my Toyota 4Runner a few feet off the road into the grass just before we reach the bridge. I’m exhausted. Not just physically, but in every way possible. This trip has taken days, exhausted my dwindling funds, and brought me closer to darker thoughts than ever before.

“He left me under the bridge, in the area covered with brush. But it doesn’t look like me anymore,” she warns, and I give her the most sympathetic smile I can muster up. I’d love to touch her, comfort her with some physical gesture—like a hug.

But I can’t touch the dead.

I can only see them and speak to them.

“Casey, I . . .”

“You don’t have to go look,” she interrupts, “but you said you needed to, to be sure this was real.” This is true. I did say that. After all, if I’m going to tip the police off about a dead body, I need to know for sure it’s actually there.

It’s raining heavily and I stare wearily ahead as the rain beats loudly against my SUV and windshield. I’m wearing my rain parka, well, my brother, Axel’s, but it became mine when he passed away six years ago—back when the world tilted on its axis and sent me reeling into the oblivion.

Leaning over, I click open my glove box and grab the blue flashlight from inside. I haven’t used it in years, and I’m praying the damn batteries still work. “I’ll be right back.” I sigh and pull the hood of my jacket over my head before climbing out of the SUV and nearly falling on my ass on the slick grass. I should’ve known it would come to this. I knew it was only a matter of time before a soul would find me and ask me to reveal where their body had been left after a cruel murder. Nothing happens as I click the flashlight on, but after beating it against the palm of my hand several times, light begins to flicker, albeit very limited light, but I’ll take it. The ground dips where it meets the bridge and overlooks a steep hill. There’s a creek at the bottom, and it appears the level of the water is higher than usual, so I meticulously crawl down, hoping I won’t slide into it. The rain is unforgiving, pelting down on me with hard, cold pricks along my skin. The universe is always against me. Clear skies might have made seeing my first murdered body a little less traumatic—not much, but a little.

At the bottom, I stand, feeling uneasy. The water reaches my knees, seeping into my rain boots, filling them instantly. Scanning the area with my extremely dim flashlight, I immediately see the pile of vegetation Casey described against the pillar closest to me. Taking a deep breath, I swallow back the bile rising in my throat and put a hand to my chest, as if it might somehow calm my thundering heart. It takes me ten steps to reach the surrounding shrubland. As I stand frozen, I take another deep breath.

“Come on, Charlotte. Just do it,” I will myself. With a trembling hand, I reach out and grab some of the wet shrub and pull it back. Casey’s killer didn’t do a very good job of hiding her. As soon as I pull the debris back, her skull is in full view, with what little is left of her blonde hair matted to it. I let the shrub go and stumble back, losing my balance and falling into the water, losing my flashlight as I land. The light immediately flickers out, and I fumble blindly in the dark murky water for it, but after several minutes I realize it’s gone. Standing up, I close my eyes, praying I won’t get sick. It’s the last thing Casey needs to see right now.

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