Steve knew he shouldn't be driving. But he had to get home, it was late and Susan would be waiting up for him. It had been a great party, even if office Christmas parties weren't normally his cup of tea.. or bourbon.

This year, though, he had let himself go. Boy, had he let himself go. The life of the party! That was good ol' Steve! He knew he shouldn't be driving, he was over the limit; well over the limit. He was as drunk as a skunk. He giggled at the thought, drunk as a skunk, that's you boyo! The car swerved, he corrected. See, he told himself, in perfect control.

The car headlights scorched the tarmac ahead, a beacon racing ahead of the car through the dark deserted streets. He took the back streets, avoiding the police patrols on the freeway. Can't catch me,, he sniggered, as the car flew through the night.

God, he hadn't felt so good in years... he was Superman.. no, he was an astronaut hurtling through space, the street-lights flicking past like meteor showers. The cats-eye reflectors on the lane dividers, distant stars disappearing under his spaceship as it bravely ventured where no man had been before. Whoops... reflectors under the car? Hang on that means something. He tried to think. A giant Mother Ship lumbered towards him, two bright landing lights illuminating the dark space ahead of his racing beacons.

Shit! A truck! Wrong side of the road, you dummy. He wrenched the steering wheel, and his car lurched back to the correct side of the road. The pantec roared past, its horn blaring. Alright, alright, I know.

Gotta concentrate. It's not a problem. The scare with the truck only served to pump more adrenalin into his alcohol soaked bloodstream. He put his foot down.
 

 

*        *        *

 

 

She was standing at the kerb, waiting to cross the road. She would take a step, hesitate, and scurry back to the sidewalk. The traffic was light, the street dark, and the downhill grade, although reasonably straight towards the point where she waited to cross, was never-the-less too great a temptation for most drivers where strict adherence to the speed limit meant riding your brakes.

Steve crested the hill, and the car took off like a startled rabbit on its downhill run. He saw her too late.. too late he hit the brakes.. too late he realised the speed at which he was travelling.. too late. He saw her pretty party dress, white with blue ribbon, her long blond hair tied in pig-tails with matching ribbon, her blue eyes, wide, scared, her pretty eight-year-old face bathed in the yellow glare of the headlights. What was she doing out here at this time of night.. who was she? What..?

Her scream and the sickening thud, both hidden by the squeal of brakes. Steve staggered from the car, and found her on the roadway behind the car. He looked at the pretty party dress, white with red ribbons twirling down the fabric to puddle on the asphalt. He looked at the wide, pretty blue eyes staring, but unseeing, up at him.

Steve quickly glanced up and down the street, no traffic in either direction. Across the street, a front porch light was suddenly switched on. He didn't think, he ran. Back into the car and screeched away into the night.

He wove his way homewards, ignoring the sirens he heard in the distance travelling in the opposite direction. After he halted the car in his driveway, he sat in the seat gripping the steering wheel for a few minutes, shaking. Slowly he eased the car in to garage, and then made his way quietly into the house. Susan was asleep as he negotiated carefully into the bed beside her. He tossed for a while, but the night's consumption of bourbon soon had him asleep.


Steve could feel her looking at him. He snapped open his eyes, and there, at the end of bed, bathed in moonlight from the unshuttered window, she stood, her party dress smeared with blood and with the black oily grime of the roadway. Her eyes stared at him... pretty blue eyes, pleading.

He screamed.
 

 

*        *        *

 

 

"You were late in last night," Susan observed as Steve unsteadily navigated a passage to the breakfast table. He grunted some incomprehensible reply as he picked up the morning newspaper from beside his cereal bowl.

"That must have been some party," Susan continued as she stirred the scrambled eggs atop the stove. "You shouldn't drink so much, you know, Steve, it gives you nightmares."

Turning the pages of the morning paper, Steve mumbled an apology, concentrating on manoeuvring the coffee cup to his lips. Suddenly the cup dropped from his grip spilling its contents over the gingham cloth as he tried to stifle a gasp.

"What is it, darling,?" Susan cried anxiously. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing.. it's nothing," he replied, slightly recovering his composure. "I guess I've just got the shakes.. it's nothing."

He returned his attention to the article in the newspaper that had jumped out at him: "Hit Run Driver Kills Young Girl. A speeding hit-run driver killed a young girl late last night on Park Boulevard. The young girl was identified as Angela Penumbra, aged 8. Police are continuing their..." His eyes travelled to the grainy photograph that accompanied the article. The pretty blonde hair, the pretty blue eyes that stared at him from the page.

He dropped the paper and rushed ashen-faced from the room. Poor dear, Susan thought, he really isn't used to drinking is he?
 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Showered and dressed for the office, he felt better as he kissed Susan goodbye. She waved to him from the kitchen door as he entered the garage. Shit! The car! he thought desperately. He checked the front bumper, and the fenders and, oh no, there were the crumpled indentations, the tell-tale evidence of last night's accident. He screeched the car from the garage, squealing the tyres down the driveway. Susan shook her head, wondering.
 

 

*        *        *

 

 

He threw the keys to the guy at the panel shop, "Look, just fix it. Don't worry about a quote. Just fix it. Give us a call when it's finished. It's the white Ford out the front." And he rushed from the smash repairers into the street.

He wandered the streets for a while, debating whether to go to the office. No, they can survive without me for one day. He passed the local primary school... and there she was! Pretty blonde hair, pretty white party dress smeared with blood and grime, her pretty blue eyes staring at him from beyond the schoolyard fence.

He raced along the street, looking for the gateway entrance to the yard. He turned through the gate, brushed underneath the overhanging branches of the shade trees, rounded the schoolhouse, and pulled up short as he entered the schoolyard.

It was empty. Not a soul in sight. He could hear the voices of the teachers and the murmurings of the children wafting from the classrooms. He studied again the empty schoolyard, and then with a shake of his head he made his way to the street.

Steve crossed town, his mind troubled. He should really go to the police. He should really confess. He should really get this burden off his shoulders. It was obvious that his conscience wouldn't leave him alone, and wouldn't cease projecting images of the dead girl until he confessed. He passed some shops on the main street, his reflection shimmering back at him from the display windows.

He stood before one shop window as he continued his internal debate... and there she was! Reflected in the glass, standing to one side, and slightly behind him. Her pretty blue eyes staring...

He turned quickly to catch her, but she was gone. The footpath empty, save for a couple of idle window-shoppers a little way down the street. That's it! he thought. I'll have to confess. She won't leave me alone until I confess. I'll own up.. like a man.

And like a man, his first thought was to have his wife beside him for moral support when he went to the police. He trudged to the corner, and hopped the cross-town bus homewards.
 

 

*        *        *

 

 

"So that's the story, darling. I'm so sorry." He glanced up from studying his grasped hands into the face of his wife.

"And you think you've been seeing this girl?" she asked, her mind still racing to catch up with the whole tale.

"Well, yes. But I know it's only my mind playing tricks. You know, with the guilt, I guess. I know it's not really Angela."

"Angela? You know her name?"

"It was in the paper." He dug the morning newspaper out from under the kitchen bench. He turned the pages furiously. "It was here… somewhere. Shit! Where's the story, I can't find it."

Disgustedly, he pitched the paper onto the floor, "It's in there somewhere. Anyway, darling, it doesn't matter. I have to call the police."

Steve walked woodenly to the telephone, a man on the steps of the gallows. Susan watched him pityingly. As he dialled she bent to retrieve the newspaper from the floor, and spreading it out on the kitchen table, she slowly and deliberately scanned each page.

"Well?" she asked anxiously as he returned and slumped onto the chair.

"They didn't know what I was talking about." he replied, baffled. "They said there haven't been any reports of any hit and runs. They've never heard of an Angela Penumbra."

"Darling, I've just been right through this newspaper; there's nothing in it about any accidents. No article anything like what you said." She reached out to pat his hand. "You sure you just didn't imagine it all. You sure that--"

She stopped abruptly as the telephone shrilled. They looked worriedly deep into each other's eyes, and then Steve, taking a deep breath, rose wearily to answer the ringing phone. As he talked into the mouthpiece Susan watched him apprehensively.

He hung up and staggered back to his chair. Susan came around and knelt beside him, her hands reaching out for his. "What is it? Who was it, darling?"

"The guy from the smash repairers. I took the car in this morning. I thought I could get the damage fixed before any one found out." He noticed her wince, and the grip tighten on his hand, and hurried on. "But he reckons he can't find anything wrong with the car. It's only six months old, and there's not a dent on it! I don't understand, Sue. I just don't understand it. It was so real. I know I hit her."

"As real as you seeing her everywhere you go?" She stretched up and pecked him on the cheek. "Oh, darling, it was the drink. You're simply not used to it, and your imagination got carried away with you. I think you should go and have a nap. It's obvious there's no Angela, and there was no accident. Go on, go have a lie down, I'll bring you some--"

Again she halted at the abrupt ring of the telephone, but this time she wasn't concerned. "It's probably your office wondering where you are. I'll tell them you're feeling a little off colour," she said brightly as she bounced to the phone.

As she began to talk into the mouthpiece, she suddenly looked askance as she noticed Steve watching her. She turned her back, and continued her whispered conversation facing the kitchen wall. Steve could just make out bits of the murmured conversation.. "Yes... I see... I understand... yes... yes... I'll tell him."

"Who was it?" he demanded the moment the handpiece was placed back in its cradle. "What is it? What is going on?"

"It was the police, that sergeant you spoke with earlier. He said there was an Angela Penumbra..."

"Oh, god no." he sobbed. "I knew it. I knew it."

She rushed to his side. "No, darling. You've got it wrong. There was an Angela. She was killed in a hit-run accident ten years ago!"

"Ten years ago? I don't understand it. What's going on, Sue? I just don't understand."

She squeezed a hug around his shoulders. "Oh, silly. Don't you see? You must have read about it at the time, and last night when you were drunk, and with your imagination running wild, you must have dragged the story out of your memory."

He didn't feel totally convinced, but managed to mumble a "Guess you're right".

She continued, "Unfortunately, darling, the police said that they want to talk to you about misleading information or creating a nuisance or something for putting in your report. But I think they'll understand when I explain it to them. Now you go and have that lie down."
 

 

*        *        *

 

He had just managed to doze off when he felt it. There was someone in the room. He opened his eyes, knowing who it was. She was there! Watching him. The ribbons in her pretty blond hair trailed down untidily to the shoulders of her pretty white dress. The dress smudged with red splotches. Her pretty wide eyes now showing a fading blue, as if the light was dimming, as if the life was leaving them. Still, they stared at him.

Strangely he didn't feel afraid, and raised himself on one elbow to return her gaze. He was about to speak when she suddenly turned and began to walk away. She stopped, turned back towards him. She raised her finger crookedly, and smiled as she beckoned him to follow. Then she walked through the wall.

Steve rushed from the room, and passing Susan in the kitchen he barely slowed down to shout to her, "I'm off. I'm going over to Park Boulevard, maybe the answer to all this is there!"

"But, darling..." Susan called desperately after him. But he had gone. Out the door, down the drive, along the street, and around the corner to the main avenue bus stop.

 

 

*        *        *
 


By the time he had made his way across town to the Boulevard, changing buses three times, and naturally missing all three connections, it was getting dark. He didn't know what he hoped to find when he got there... maybe some blood on the roadway... tyre skid marks... anything.

He left the bus and walked along the footpath towards where he thought he remembered hitting the girl. As he approached the spot he was suddenly drawn to look across the road. There she was!

She was standing under the dull glow of a street light wearing her pretty white party dress. It was snow white and clean, edged with blue ribbons. Ribbons that matched the blue ribbons tied in her long blond hair. She was glancing anxiously left and right up the street, hesitatingly stepping off the kerb.

Steve looked up towards the crest of the hill as the lights from an eighteen-wheeled semi-trailer breasted the crown. The truck's engine scream was audible already, as it began its charge down the steep incline. He looked quickly across the road.

Angela had left the footpath and was crossing the street towards him. He opened his mouth to call to her. To warn her.

Then, she had halted in the middle of the road paralysed with fear. She had noticed the truck accelerating towards her. He rushed towards her. To grab her, to carry her to safety... to push her out of the way.

The lights from the semi-trailer were dazzling, and it's engine now a roar. He could feel the vibration of its pounding bulk on the roadway, smell the hot oil and dieseline. He flung himself desperately at Angela… and found that she had disappeared.

He grasped at the empty air as the truck roared on towards him.

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