The morning air smelled fresh and inviting to Aimee Myers as she carried her purse and travel mug to her car, parked at the end of her parent's driveway. She felt she lived the easy life of a middle class college student -- free room and board for the length of her academic career. This arrangement didn't extend itself to an allowance, however, and so she worked part-time at a nearby coffee shop called Don't Be A Drip.
Everything about this morning had been nothing but routine. Her light-brown hair was done up into a bun, intentionally sloppy. Her makeup was just mascara. Getting dressed, she had chosen yesterday's jeans, her broken in sneakers, and a simple white cotton shirt with three-quarter sleeves. Breakfast had been a yogurt while watching the morning news with her mother. Finally, a kiss on her mother's cheek was the last moment at home before her morning drive.
Feeling the engine 'turn over', Aimee eased out of the driveway and began to follow the familiar roads out of her neighborhood. Liberty Avenue had the only four-way stop before reaching the main road, and it was here that Aimee would wait momentarily for other commuters. This morning, while two other cars took their turns, she reached down for her travel mug and took a long sip. Tastes like Christmas, she thought with satisfaction. She had used cinnamon flavored coffee grounds -- a specialty at the Drip -- and sweetened it with peppermint creamer.
She put the mug back into the holder, and looked to the left to see if the final car had left. Routines can be a dangerous thing, and this morning would drive home the point. Easing her foot off of the break and on onto the gas, with her head still turned to the left, Aimee felt her car jolt as something solid collided with her front bumper. The car jolted again as her foot immediately sought the break.
A man wearing a jogging track suit was stumbling in front of her, seeking a steady footing. She had barely been moving, but the idea of hitting another person with her car caused something in Aimee to wake. It began as a cold, empty, feeling in her stomach which crept slowly through her body. Gooseflesh raised the hairs on her arms and her palms began to itch with sweat. Her breathing was coming in short and shallow.
They were alone in the intersection, she and him. Aimee felt that something was wrong with the man she'd hit. She couldn't seem to take her eyes off of his legs. He swayed on his feet, then took one unsteady step after another. He made his way around the side of the car, into the middle of the road and from there he slowly progressed passed her car.
With clammy, shaky hands she reached for her phone and by rote unlocked it and navigated to the call screen. Aimee broke her gaze long enough to dial 911, then found the Shambling Man in her rearview mirror.
"911, what is your emergency?" The operator paused from his scripted opening and when a response didn't come he continued, "Hello? I can hear your breathing. Are you in danger?"
"N...No. I... hit... man.... car..."
Slowly, and through gasping breaths, Aimee told him what had happened. How she had thought the streets were clear; how the man now shuffled down Liberty Avenue, his head down and his feet dragging.
"Ma'am, you're going to be okay. I want you to stay in the vehicle. I'm going to send an officer to take a report and an ambulance for you. Please, stay on the line."
Relieved, Aimee let her head fall back against the headrest and her eyes flutter close, replacing the image in the rearview mirror with the welcoming darkness behind her eyelids. Laboring now only to catch her breath.