The End Came With a Kiss(3)

By: John Michael Hileman


The front of the sedan is crushed inward and the side looks like someone threw boulders at it. I can't believe I survived that. But there is no time for relief. I’m late, and the road below is now littered with angry loopers. As I turn, a sound catches my attention and I freeze. Did one of the loopers not fall? Is it behind the sedan? If so, I'll never make it to my car before it overtakes me.

There is a thump and several scrapes, but I can't see what’s making the sound. I creep around the front of the car and look down where the loopers went over. A piece of iron rebar comes up out of the concrete and bends backward over the edge. It’s wiggling as if something is hanging on it. Maybe one of the loopers got snagged on the way down. I inch forward and peek cautiously over the edge. To my utter astonishment, it isn't a looper at all. It's the rider! I fall to the ground and clutch his wrist. His helmet snaps up, and he looks through his dark visor at me.

"It's okay!" I say. "I'm not one of them!"

He lets go of the rebar with his gloved hand and grips my wrist. With all my might, I pull. It’s hard getting him up and over the edge, but surprisingly easier than I expected. A full grown man would have been an excruciating lift. Is this a boy?

No.

As the helmet falls to the ground, long, beautiful strawberry hair lays to the side, and I see her face. She is a teenager. Possibly Irish. Flawlessly perfect. I scurry backward on hands and feet, skidding on my butt as I go.

"Wait! Don't run," she says.

The dead don't speak. This thought causes me to freeze.

"Please don't run," she says. "Don't leave me alone."

My heart wants to have compassion on her, but she is too perfect. Too beautiful. If she's not dead, she will be soon.

"No. You're sick. I'm sorry. I can't risk it."

She scrambles toward me and I scramble back, in perfect sync.

"Look at me."

"I am looking at you. You’re like Miss Teen USA."

She scowls. "Have you looked at yourself lately? You look like a Hemsworth brother."

I shake my head. "A what?"

"You know. Hemsworth? Thor? Tall blond and Nordic—except thin—like his brother."

I start moving away again.

"Look at me," she repeats. "I have freckles. See! I have freckles."

I pause, and lean in to examine her nose and cheeks.

"They don't have these," she says, "They don't have freckles."

She's right. They don't have freckles, or moles or birthmarks. I'm reminded of the day my secretary came in glowing. She had lost fifteen pounds and the mole that had been on her chin since birth was gone. There was a lot of that going on. It happened so subtly, no one questioned it. Until it was too late.

"I swear I'm not sick! I don't have it!" her eyes are desperate.

I calm her with my hand. "Okay. All right. I believe you."

Her face is a tempest of emotions.

"So—where does that leave us? Am I supposed to take care of you now?"

My words are like smoke in her face. "You don't have to do anything." The disappointment drips from her tongue.

I frown. "I didn't mean it like that. I'm just- I can barely take care of myself."

"I'm good with..."

"Oh no!" I launch to my feet. "I have to go!"

Her eyes round. "Where?"

I turn and sprint toward my car. "If you're coming, you need to run!"





2

Reaching street level, I am relieved to see that it’s clear. The loopers are still focused on the motorcycle and pay no attention as I pass. I don’t wait to pick up speed; there is no time for caution. I’ll have to race the entire route and still might not make it home in time.

"Where are we going?" asks the strawberry-haired girl, sitting in the passenger seat with her helmet in her lap, and her gloved hands gripping it. Her biker jacket is open now, and I can see that she is wearing a bright orange shirt that is tucked into black and grey motorbike pants that go down into fashionable hard leather boots with lots of straps and no heels.

"Home," I say, bluntly. Not wanting to reveal too much and hoping she won't pry.

"Why the rush?" she pries.

Would she understand? Could I make her? I grip the steering wheel and stare at the road ahead. My new companion is quick to take offense to my silence.