They drove in silence. Jessica folded her hands in her lap and glued her eyes to the glove compartment in front of her. Occasionally, at a red light or stop sign, Bruce turned to her, opened his mouth to speak. Jessica’s body immediately tensed upon hearing his intake of breath. She pinched her eyes closed, braced herself for his pathetic apologies and condolences. She wouldn’t accept them. What they had done was unforgivable. A man was dead because of them. A man who loved her. A man who would’ve done anything for her. Either Bruce recognized his culpability, for he didn’t say a word the entire drive back to her apartment, or each time he attempted to speak, his tongue caught at the back of his throat, and he choked on his words.
The flashing cameras, the uniformed men wearing white latex gloves, the caution tape, and the red and blue flashing lights were all gone when they arrived.
“Well we were at the police station for a while,” Bruce said. His voice was hoarse, as if he’d been screaming.
“I guess they would finish up quickly. There’s not much to investigate when it’s a su—”
Jessica flinched. “Don’t say it.”
“I’m sorry. That was stupid of me.” He reached over to cup her cheek in his palm, but she jerked her head back. “Are you hungry?” he asked, squeezing the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. “We can find a place that’s still open. Get something to eat.”
“I don’t want fast food. I have food inside.”
“Look at me.” He leaned over the dashboard, lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him. “You don’t have to go in right away. You don’t have to go in at all. You can stay at my place tonight.”
“No, I have to do this.”
“Ok, I’ll walk you—”
“No. I’m fine by myself.” Before he could speak, Jessica scurried out of the car, slamming the door behind her. She hiked the stairs two at a time, however, once at the top, she couldn’t move any further.
Her vision blurred, but from eight feet away, she could still see the blood. The authorities hadn’t cleaned it up. They’d left it for her as a haunting punishment. She shuffled her feet forward, but as she slowly approached her apartment, a sudden spell of vertigo swept over her. She was halfway to her door when her view of it began to stretch diagonally, distorting. Her once white door was painted the color of a blood orange. Thick blood pooled from the crack at the bottom. She felt a bar of weights drop onto her shoulders and pin her to the ground. Down on her hands and knees, she coughed and retched at the reeking smell of Whitmore’s decomposing body on the other side.
Jessica crawled to the door and pounded against the wood. “Whitmore!” she screamed. “Whitmore, please! I’m sorry!” She called his name repeatedly. The pool of blood collected around her legs, and she started to sink. She frantically wiped and scratched at her arms, coated from elbows to finger tips in an even red. Suddenly, she could no longer feel the ground beneath her, and she went under. Her cheeks swelled as blood filled her mouth. Hot iron singed her taste buds.
Something grabbed her hair at the crown of her head and pulled her up just as she was beginning to lose consciousness.
“Help!” she said as blood drained from her mouth. She blinked her eyes open, drops of blood clinging onto the ends of her eyelashes. Through the red curtain, she looked up and saw a cocked smile and thin, uneven eyebrows. “Whit—” she began, but before she could finish, he pressed his palm flat on her head and dunked her under again. She flailed her arms and legs. She tried to scream, but the blood poured into her mouth, filled her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. She coughed and gurgled. All around her, she saw red. A black veil crept down over her eyes and from the sides until all she could see were tiny circles of red as if she were looking through binoculars. Then then those vanished, and her body fell limp.
Jessica opened her eyes. She was back on her hands and knees, the dry concrete cold underneath her fists. She tilted her head toward the door of her apartment. Only the single slash from where Whitmore’s head slid down covered the white-painted wood.
She turned around. Bruce was running toward her. He fell to his knees beside her and pulled her into a tight hug.
“I heard you screaming. Is everything alright?”
“He tried to kill me! He tried to take me with him!” she cried. Her shoulders trembled from her sobs.
“Come on. You’ll stay with me tonight.” He stood to his feet, picked her up, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist as if she were a child, and carried her down the stairs back to his car.
Jessica buried her face into the crook of Bruce’s neck, afraid that if she looked up, she would still see Whitmore’s murderous ghost standing outside of her apartment, waiting for her to return.