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“Candace, I know, don’t worry,” Everett sighed into the phone. He was walking through the supermarket doing some shopping for his sister, Candace. “I know, Alee likes apples and not pears.”
Everett turned down the drink aisle and heaved a liter of Coke Zero into the wagon; Candace lived on this stuff. “Candace, I got you Coke Zero. See? I know what you like. Let me go, okay? I’ll be faster. Okay … okay, Candace … I know! … Goodbye, Candace.” He hung up and slipped the phone in his back pocket.
Ten minutes later, he only had one item left to get: baby food for Candace’s daughter, Alee. He shuffled down the aisle and stopped in front of the display of glass baby food jars. Out of the corner of his eye, Everett spotted a stern-looking woman eying him with disapproval. She fussed with her starchy bun and harrumphed at the teenage boy who inspected the baby food. Everett decided to have some fun.
He casually picked up a jar of mashed apples and gingerly placed this other hand on his stomach. He cooed down to his stomach, “You’re gonna love apples! Yes, you are! Ooh, who’s gonna be the cutest baby ever? You are!” The woman pursed her thin, dry lips and turned away, fiddling with the few items in her hand basket. Everett tossed the jar into the wagon, along with a few more and grinned, satisfied.
From behind him, Everett suddenly heard a little laugh, one of a little girl. Everett smiled and turned to look for her. Looking down the aisle, he screamed.
There, almost at the end of the aisle, stood a little girl in a blue dress. Blood oozed from her skin and clotted in her light-colored hair like little crimson jewels that beaded and trickled down onto the shoulders of her dress. Her face was bruised and scraped. Her sallow skin hung loosely from her bones and blood dripped down her body and legs and pooled on the floor. Her right arm hung limply at her side, as though it were broken. But she was smiling and laughing, and she was looking right at Everett.
Everett couldn’t feel his legs. He fell backwards against his wagon, which banged into the metal shelves and managed to hold Everett up. The woman from early frowned and grumbled, “Now, what?”
Everett struggled to move his eyes away from this little gory girl, but he was finally able to tear his gaze away and focus on the frowning woman. “Do you see her?” he whispered, overcome with terror.
The woman shook her head, exasperated. “Who?”
Everett trembled. His knuckles were white on the shopping cart. He turned to look back at the girl, his finger shakily pointing. “She’s right there.…”
This time he was even more terrified than before. She was gone.
The woman rolled her eyes and walked past Everett, crumpled against the wagon, and down the aisle, then turned out of sight. Everett didn’t blink. He couldn’t. His eyes scrutinized the place where she had been moments earlier. There wasn’t a trace of blood on the shiny tile floor, only the reflection of the fluorescent lights overheard, glowing like a halo on the floor. He wasn’t sure how long he had stayed there like that. The sounds of the squeaking grocery wagons and the distant beeping of the cash registers and the indistinct mumbling of the people milling around the store made Everett feel crazy. It must have been ten minutes later when his cell phone vibrated, yanking him from his motionlessness, like glass-breaking.
“Candace?” Everett cleared his throat, hoping to swallow his nerves. He closed his eyes and rubbed then. “Um, yeah. I’m done … I know, sorry. I saw something weird.” He said goodbye and hung up.
Slowly, Everett came back to reality, his eyes avoiding the floor as he thawed. There was no bloody little girl; he was seeing things. He had imagined it. He pushed the car gingerly to the checkout, his eyes darting unnaturally and jolting slightly at everything he saw in his peripheral vision. He finally got onto a checkout line, beginning to pull items from his basket with quivering fingers and laying them on the conveyer belt. He glanced up and released a yelp before he could clamp his mouth shut.
She was back. She sat on the conveyor belt, playing with a box of tissues. Laughing and smiling, she juggled the box in her tiny hands. Her small fingers dribbled blood, leaving little red marks all along the sides of the cardboard box. Blood flooded from her body and made a tiny dark red puddle around her, staining the outer folds of his dress. Her mangled arm bent awkwardly in the air, her hands still managing to toy with the box. She glanced up and met Everett’s eyes.
Everett nearly fell over the wagon of an old man behind him. The red-headed girl working the cashier peeked at Everett curiously behind some stay clumps of hair in her eyes. A short Haitian man bagged his groceries, unfazed by his small outburst. Everett’s heart pounded. He forced himself to blink… and then she was gone.
He didn’t need as much time to recover this time. She straightened up, his legs shaky and his heart still blaring in his ears. He pretended that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He apologized with a laugh, “Thought I saw a spider.” The bagger shrugged, not even looking up from the half-filled plastic bag in his hands. The cashier girl batted her eyes at Everett. The old man fiddled with his hearing aid. Everett was safe.
As calm as he could fake, Everett paid for his groceries and pushed his wagon into the parking lot. He pretended he wasn’t rushing to his car and threw open the trunk.
There she sat, smiling and giggling and exuding crimson onto the bottom of the trunk. Everett choked out a sound of anguish. Who was this girl?! He slammed his eyes shut and wrung his hands. His body was coated with goose bumps, his face burning, and his legs trembling and just barely holding him up. He finally pulled himself together, telling himself over and over again: ‘She’s not real, she’s not real.’ He rapidly unpacked the bags from the wagon, setting them around her in a circle, making sure not to touch her. Everett slammed the trunk shut and fast-walked to the front seat. He threw the keys into the ignition and stomped on the gas. He peeled out of the parking lot and began speeding home.
Sweat condensed on his forehead and back. His knuckles were white around the steering wheel. This girl had pervaded his mind. He saw a traffic light ahead of him flashing yellow. He thought nothing of it; ‘I can make that.’
Suddenly, there was a giggle. Everett’s heart lurched into his throat. He slowly glanced sideways. There she was again, bouncing in the seat, her little arms leaving vermillion streaks on the side door and cushion. He laughed at Everett, her open mouth dribbling blood down the side of her mouth. Everett chomped down on the inside of his lips, trying to keep himself from shrieking, and forced his eyes back on the ride, trying to block her out.
The light clicked to red, but Everett pushed the gas pedal down further, trying to outrun this girl who haunted him at every turn. He noticed two figures in front of him, a tall woman who was holding hands with…
A little girl in a blue dress.
Everett couldn’t make a sound. He was horrified. There was no blood on this girl, no mangled arm. Her hair shined in the sunlight, and she was smiling. She turned and saw Everett, her eyes locking on his, her smile changing. Everett looked to the passenger seat, and the bloody twin of the girl in the street was gone, leaving not even a spot of blood behind. He looked forward again, one more look, maybe this wasn’t the same girl….
Everett’s car was going too fast. The mother and daughter shrieked from the crosswalk. The mother suddenly broke away from her daughter, running to safety, leaving the child alone. Everett couldn’t stop. The little girl smashed into the car, tumbling up the hood, her skull shattering the windshield. Glass shredded through her neck and arm as the girl collided with the dashboard. She fell clear through the curtain of glass shards suspended in the air and landed in the passenger seat. Everett was smothered by the air bag. His face was forced sideways; he had no choice but to look at the little girl sitting next to him.
No, she wasn’t sitting. She lay in a crumpled, bloody mess. Everett’s mouth went dry as a trickled of blood made its way down the side of his face. He waited for the girl to smile and laugh at Everett. But she didn’t.
She was dead.