One long ago evening, I took a shortcut through a dark alley and stumbled over a dead body. Most of it was hidden on the far side of a filthy dumpster. Only the feet stuck out. The toes of my left foot caught on the edge of the Nike. I lurched forward, flailing my arms about like I was trying to fly. When I regained my balance, I turned to see what I’d tripped on. That’s when I saw the sneaker, and noticed it was attached to a body.
I’m not in the habit of stumbling over bodies in dark alleys. Outside of funeral parlors and made-up faces in caskets, I’d never seen a dead person. In the shadows that evening, I thought this guy might be drunk and had passed out there. Or perhaps he’d been mugged and was hurt. I didn’t immediately think dead body.
Until I knelt beside him.
Half his face was missing.
Fortunately, the missing half also happened to be the half he was lying on. I saw enough detail to cause the Kahlua sombrero I’d drunk at the bar around the corner to creep up the back of my throat. I turned away and focused on his shoes. Average-sized men’s Nikes. Flecks dotted the white leather. Blood, maybe. Hard to tell without a good source of light.
Whatever morbid curiosity I felt soon gave way to fear. What was I doing in a dark alley, alone with a dead body? I sprang upright too quickly. The booze and the burst of adrenaline made me lightheaded. I reached for the dumpster to keep myself from falling onto the dead man with the missing face. I quickly realized my night was getting no better.
My fingers slid through a wet, sticky substance. Blood. Red, gooey, and smeared over the edge of the dumpster. I pulled my hand away, but not before scraping against tiny fragments of something hard. The missing pieces of bone from the man’s face, perhaps? Or pieces of his brain? The fragments clung to my fingers as I pulled my hand away.
Then I vomited on the average-sized Nikes.
I was still retching when gravel crunching beneath shoes alerted me to someone’s presence. You’d think I’d be smart enough to run. But, no, I’m ever the optimist. I thought this person approaching would be able to help. He or she could go to the phone booth across the street and call the cops. As I straightened up, a solid steel baseball bat slammed into my cheek. Okay, I’m exaggerating. I was really punched in the face with a fist, but it felt like a steel bat.
The blow sent me reeling backward. A moment later, I found myself lying on top of the dead man. The person with the steel fist laughed, which I found insulting. I told him so. Obviously, I’m not too bright. He gave me a kick for good measure.
Lying on a stinky dead body freaked me out. I reached for the man with the steel hands, snatching a handful of his denim pant leg. The bone fragments on my fingers crushed into my skin as I pulled and yanked. He cursed and tried to kick me away. Finally, I managed to get to my knees and I scurried away from the dead guy.
The man with the steel hands grabbed my arm and yanked me off the ground. For a moment, I was dangling in the air, my feet dancing above the pavement. Then he set me down, and that’s when I noticed the gun.
I didn’t know anything about guns. This one was black and silver, and pointed at me. That was all I needed to know at the time.
He was going to kill me. I was sure of it. Only he didn’t. He said he would let me go on one condition. For the rest of my life, I would have to write about murder. He wanted everyone to know what he and people like him did. Most of all, he wanted people to know why. No, not excuses. The truth of it. The madness behind it.
Of course, I agreed. What choice did I have?
And, so, here I am. One crazy night murder paid me a visit, and I’ve been telling the story ever since.