Rain poured down the windshield, harder, faster. Wind beat on the windows, pounding like a drummer.
“Dad! Are we there yet?” Kaitlin whined. Sylvia, who was younger, simply kept sucking her thumb.
Timothy groaned.”Go back to sleep!” He looked to his wife for help. But Karrie was sound asleep. He glanced at the cliff ahead and got ready to turn to the right. Timothy’s phone vibrated in his pocket, begging to be checked. He looked down at the screen and was disappointed to see it was just a spam text. He deleted it and blocked the sender. Suddenly, the car was rocked by a huge BANG! and the road’s rusty guardrail was gone as the car shuddered and then fell off the cliff. Time seemed to slow down. Karrie woke up and everybody screamed. There was a dull thump as the airbags inflated, and Timothy struggled to breathe as his airbag hit him in the face as the car turned upside down…and he was plunged into darkness.
When Timothy came to, all he felt was throbbing pain. He was in a white room–a hospital room, with an IV stuck in his arm. Eventually, he adjusted to the bright light, and saw a nurse standing beside his bed.
“Can you tell me your name?” she asked.
“Timothy Hay. What happened?”
The nurse jotted something down on a clipboard, said, “It will be all right,” gave him a sad smile, and left, followed soon after by the doctor who answered Timothy’s questions all at once with the words that would haunt him for the rest of his life: “You were the only survivor.”
Everything went fuzzy like a television that lost its connection.
As Timothy opened his eyes, he groped for the espresso he had left on his bedroom nightstand the day before. After glugging it down, he glanced around the bedroom; all he saw were depressing memories– bookcases that were filled with scribbled-on picture books, photographs on the wall of his family, discarded toys on the floor, his wife’s clothes and the fragrance of her perfume. He moaned, turned over and closed his eyes. Painful memories raced through his head, in a blur — the nurses telling him it would be all right when he knew it would never be again, the hours of crying, then somehow dragging his emotionally-beat up body back home. Or what used to be home, before the accident. Timothy was still in shock. How could he move on without them? What would he do when he got home from work? Who could make his coffee the special way Karrie could? Timothy’s tortured thoughts lingered like the warmth of the blankets covering him. He hated the room. He hated it all, hated the whole house. Everything reminded him of them. It was the third day since the accident. The doctors had pronounced Timothy bruised but okay. It was more than a miracle that Timothy had survived the 100 foot cliff drop with only a few minor bruises. It was a curse.
Timothy could not live in the house not anymore. It had too many painful memories. He had to get out. He scanned the real estate section of that day’s newspaper, selected a cheap house for rent in Cottagetown, his best friend Rob’s neighborhood, and called the owner. He was in luck; everything fell into place seamlessly; the house was immediately available because the previous tenant had left in a hurry. Timothy could move in that night; the key would be under the doormat. He agreed, threw the last photograph taken of his family and a few necessities into a bag, and left. It would be a new beginning. Or at least he could stop remembering.
It was after dark by the time Timothy got to the house, and as soon as he pulled into the driveway, it started to thunder and rain heavily. Contrasted against the moonlit sky, the four story house that towered over him seemed even more daunting. It was old and Victorian with gargoyles on the roof and dark arches in each room. This was actually quite strange because Rob’s neighborhood was mostly made up of modern houses. The wood paneled walls seemed to radiate an eerie aura. It felt to Timothy like there were shadows lurking around every corner, ready to pounce. Dust coated the floor, and every floorboard and hinge creaked. The appliances were ancient. As the only occupant in a house that felt like a cathedral, Timothy had never felt so lonely.
The next morning, Timothy woke up to the smell of fresh coffee. Then, he heard his wife’s creamy voice calling out to him…
“Tim! Come on; your coffee is ready!”
Could it really be Karrie? Timothy’s head filled with thought of confusion. Was he going insane? With hope and a flicker of doubt in his mind, Timothy hurried to the kitchen, and yelled,
But the kitchen was musty and dark; there was no one there. No coffee smell—or any sign of Karrie. Suddenly, a scratching noise echoed through the room. Timothy’s skin prickled. Was it Karrie? Timothy shook his head a few times and pinched himself. Karrie was gone. Forever.
He spent the rest of the day cleaning up and thought about what he had heard and smelled that morning. Had that been some hallucination? Or some kind of dream? Just as he was about to finish sweeping, he spied a bit of dust under the table that he had somehow missed. Kneeling to reach the little spot of annoyance, he noticed a scrawl written in the dust. It said: Why did you kill me? Timothy felt the blood drain from his face. Was this a twisted joke? It could not be; nobody else was in the house. It must have been made by the previous tenant. The message could have been written with Timothy in mind – a bitter coincidence. His family had died—because of him. He had been the one driving the car. He had taken his eyes off the road. He had checked that text. He had murdered his family. Timothy looked at the message in the dust again – but there was nothing there, not even a mark. Had it just been his imagination? Suddenly, his phone vibrated with a text. He froze. He hadn’t touched it in days. Ever since the accident, he’d had a bad feeling about the phone, as if it had the power to bring bad luck. Shakily he picked up the phone and read the text. It was Rob asking how he was.
The morning after, Timothy spilled coffee on his clothes. Deciding that it was better to wear a stranger’s old clothes than walking around dirty and damp, he explored the walk-in closet, running the tips of his fingers over the clothes hanging there. His fingers hit something that felt familiar. His heartbeat sped up as he tugged aside shirts, pants and jackets, to reveal rows of silk ties. They were the ones his wife had bought him for his birthdays. Confusion, hope and doubt swirled through his mind. He wanted his old life back. He couldn’t help himself. He leaned in and inhaled the scent of their love like a starving animal and reached to hug the ties to his chest, but as soon as he made contact with them, he saw that they had turned into more old shirts, pants and jackets. He felt shocked. Horrified. And yes, disappointed.
Timothy trudged to the bathroom. He wanted to feel those ties again—to touch them, smell them, to believe they were real. Grimly, he stared at his haggard face in the mirror. He was guilty and did not deserve to live. Why did he survive that day? Why him? Timothy reached for the razor, to shave his overgrown beard, but it was not there. High-pitched giggles echoed down the hallway.
“Kaitlin? Sylvia?” Timothy whispered, voice trembling.
Abruptly, the giggles stopped. A slippered foot peeked out from around the doorframe.
“Daddy, you killed us,” Kaitlin said tonelessly.
He ran out of the bathroom, down the hallway to catch them. They had disappeared into thin air. The only thing out of place was his razor lying in the middle of the hallway.
Timothy walked into the restaurant. He had called Rob earlier that day to tell him he needed to talk to someone. Rob had said he and Karen, his wife, would meet him at “The Yeti.”
“How are you feeling?” Rob asked. He furrowed his brow sympathetically.
“I keep seeing them!” Timothy cried out.
“Who?” Rob said.
“Karrie. Kaitlin. Sylvia. Not literally, but I hear them, feel their presence and the girls took my razor and I found the ties Karrie used to gave me in the closet, but they disappeared. Everything did when I got close. I’m hallucinating. Or I’m going crazy. I don’t know what to do. I killed them. I had to answer that stupid text. It’s all my fault.”
“You didn’t kill them. It’s not your fault. Tim, you need to see that. You need to confront your guilt. And you have to accept that they’re gone. Go to the accident site tomorrow—it will make you feel better. I’ll text you after.”
Timothy sat in the car and closed his eyes. He tried to relax. He steeled himself. He had to accept that he’d never see his family again. He put his foot on the gas and slowly the car moved forward toward the cliff. . The closer he got to it, the airier he felt; he felt as if more and more weight was being lifted from his chest. Twenty yards from the edge, he put his foot on the brake. He took a deep breath. He saw his wife and daughters in his mind. It was time to say good-bye to them. As he took in the area below, Timothy’s phone buzzed. He pulled it out.
“One new message!” the phone read.
He felt that familiar tickle of curiosity and opened the text. It said: COME FIND US
In shock, his foot lifted off the brake. He went over the cliff again, but this time was his last. During the slow flip of the car in the air, Timothy felt peace flow through his whole body. Rob had been right after all. He now realized his guilt had been causing him to hallucinate. Those were Timothy’s last thoughts before everything ceased to exist.
In the distance, sirens screamed. The uniformed men clustered around the mangled car.
“Wasn’t there an accident just like this about a week ago?” Officer Rodney asked the sheriff.
“Yes, actually–funny isn’t it?” the sheriff chuckled.
They searched the ruined car for any clues to the man’s death. Suddenly, Officer Rodney spotted an abandoned phone next to a bush.
“This could be the victim’s” he said.
“Well, let’s take a look and find out,” the sheriff replied. “It’s in perfect condition!”
On the screen was: You have one new text message! The sheriff clicked to read the text. It said: SORRY, LEFT OUT THE FIRST PART! GOT A NEW PHONE TODAY AND STILL FIGURING IT OUT. KAREN AND I ARE AT JACK’S GRILL; COME FIND US
Allie Quan, Age 13, Grade 8, The Anderson School, Silver Key