Photo by Yousef Espanioly on Unsplash
Emerald green-eyed tears drizzle down her plump sun-kissed face. Broken dried twigs and shriveled brown leaves hitchhike on bouncy red Shirley Temple curls.
Auntie Bell lives near Warm Daddy’s Bar & Grill—The trip never takes this long, she remembers.
Her favorite pink cotton dress with embroidered butterflies and flowers tells the tale of fresh splattered blood at home.
Auntie Bell knows what to do about Daddy, Mommy, Uncle Mike, the puppies, and me on the kitchen floor, she trusts.
The five-year-old ducks under the barrier to cross the highway. Skidding rubber against asphalt creates a foul stench to which she winces and wrinkles her freckled button-nose. Crumpling metals and glass explosions scrape, tinkle, and litter the road left and right of her. Fire and smoke funnels smear black and gray streaks beneath the clear blue sky. Settling dust clouds dull the shine on her tiny red patent-leather shoes. Her reflection she no longer sees crying up at her. She hears chaos echoing high and low-down from center view. Women scream. Car horns blare agony and fear. Whirring emergency vehicles approach warning her to be careful. The world stops. It’s safe to finish crossing the highway without a scratch.
Auntie Bell will make it all better, she believes with all her heart.
The Highway Patrol team searches for the little red-haired girl wearing a pink dress and red shoes. Action news reporters arrive at the scene. Firemen extinguish fires.
“Roll tape. Can you tell us what happened, ma’am?” the reporter asks, shoving a microphone in a woman’s blood-streaked face. Helicopters hover.
“When I saw the child step onto the highway, my foot jammed on the breaks,” the hysterical woman replies. “Then, the car following me smashed into my bumper and rolled down that embankment over there,” she points. Her body trembles in shock.
“Where did you see the little girl, Sir?” A patrolman asks, searching underneath and in between damaged cars and burning SUVs.
“Man, she came from outta’ nowhere ‘bout a-quarter-mile back!” proclaims a tractor-trailer driver stepping down from his jack-knifed cab. “Her dress is fulla’ blood. She ain’t but a minute big, officer.” Bewilderment floods his heart. Tears spring into his eyes. “She’s out there all alone. Cryin’.”
“My infant is asleep in my back seat!” screams a frantic new mother grabbing a patrolman’s arm. “The door is jammed! I can’t get him out! PLEASE, HELP MY BABY?!”
“Officer!” an elderly man calls from one of several rolling gurneys, “The child. Find the little child. I saw her running across the highway to the other side before she disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” questions the emergency technician. “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” shouts the elderly man. “She vanished right before my eyes!”
Mayhem, sirens, traffic, and death choke the miles between Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina.
Later that day in Durham …
“Welp, it’s that time of year again,” Glen Bolton calls to his wife Carolyn from the living room standing in front of the television. Thunder rumbles in the distance as lightning cracks the sky. Uncrossing his arms, he turns and walks into the kitchen.
“Don’t tell me,” Carolyn answers standing at the stove. “Bell’s niece done crossed I-85 again.” Shaking her head, she sighs stirring a pot of beans. “It’s been a hundred years since the murders. That poor little lost soul may never rest in peace.”