With one final crack that echoed the cosmos, the clouds parted to reveal rays of bright yellow and orange upon the stretch of road where she sat. On a single bench in the middle of nowhere wearing her Sunday best, the young girl, no older then eight years of age, sat with her face to the warmth of the sun on her freckled face. She felt at ease; peaceful and calm. There was no wind, no breeze, but her dress swayed as though there were one.
Her eyes opened suddenly. Hopping off of the bench, she began to look around, stumbling as though in the dark. "Mommy?" she called, but there was only silence. Her gaze finally fell upon a leviathan in the street, staring back at her. Frightened, she trembled and gasped for a moment, but calmly stopped herself. The monster was still, silent, and did not blink any one of its many eyes, which gleamed brightly into hers, forcing her to look away. Seemingly hurt, burnt, and bent, the beast did not whimper nor let anything affect its firm stance. When called to, it did not respond. Its mouth remained shut and broken. Confused, she turned and walked on.
Finding her way back to the bench, the girl now saw a man beside it. The blue sign beside the bench read "Bus Stop," and it appeared to be what the man was waiting for. He stood in a full-black suit with a pure white tie that shined through his darkness. On his head, the man wore a black fedora, with a white band that rivaled the man's tie in purity. The fedora cast such a black shadow that the man had no face to the girl, sending a shiver down her spine. Carefully and quietly, she sat down on the opposite side of the bench from him, as her mother had always advised her to avoid such men.
"It's impolite to stare," The man said, so abrupt among the deafening silence that the girl jumped upon hearing it. She looked away quickly, trying to avoid the stranger who was now gazing back at her, his face still invisible with shadow. Frightened, she turned her head to see if he was still looking, and turned back immediately when he was. He chuckled to himself, and turned away. Staring forward, the man calmly asked, "What are you doing out here all alone, Emily?"
Forgetting her fear, Emily turned to him, immediately, eyes wide. "How do you know me?"
The man turned, and faced Emily. His movements were swift and fluid. "I know a lot. I knew your mother. I knew your father. I knew your grandmother and grandfather, and your great-grandmother and great-grandfather before that. And now, I meet you, the gem of their lives, the one they would sacrifice everything for."
Quite interested in the man, Emily kept her distance. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm awaiting my ride. It will come when it is supposed to. Now, can you tell me why you are here?" The man was polite in his tone, and had a pleasant, calming voice.
Thinking long and hard, Emily closed her eyes deep in memory, but could not recall what brought her to the bench in the first place, nor when and how she ended up there. Frustrated she grunted and put her hands on her head, attempting to physically squeeze the memories out. Moments later, a cold hand lightly and delicately pulled her hands from her head, placing them back on the bench and pulling away quickly.
"It's alright if you don't remember. Do not strain yourself. I know why I'm here," the man explained. Emily noticed that he was now beside her. She tried to look up at the man's face from a closer angle, but did not succeed. "Curious," he chuckled, "It's alright to be. You little ones always want to see what you cannot."
Despite her shock and confusion, Emily finally found the words that were on her tongue. "Who are you?" she asked.
"You children are always so curious," the man laughed lightly. "I will tell you in a moment. Tell me, how was the party?"
When the man said this, memories flooded into Emily's head. She remembered what she had said to her parents was perfect. Dancing, cake, family, friends, cousins, uncles, priests, flowers, dresses. She had spent the day at her older brother's wedding earlier that day.
The man nodded as Emily described the party in vibrant detail. "That's quite an eye you have," he complimented as she finished her description.
"How did you know I was there," Emily asked, remembering that the man had asked without being told.
"I told you, Emily. I know a lot," he reiterated. Emily was frustrated that the man wouldn't give her a straight answer. After a pause, the man continued, "What happened after the party?"
Emily tried to remember what happened recalling spending time with her cousins afterward. They tried to explain to her a video game, but she wasn't interested. After some long goodbyes, they got in the car and left, where she fell asleep.
"We got home after the party, and I fell asleep. My mommy took me to bed while I—"
"No." The man interrupted abruptly. Oddly enough, she did not take offense to his rudeness. "This is where I finally answer your numerous questions. Give me your hand," the man said, and Emily, almost entranced by the man, took his hand. It was ice cold, but soothing.
The man led her forward, toward the large monster in the street. It was as it was before, only now, in the twilight, Emily could see what she thought were flames around the beast.
"Tell me what you see here," the man requested, keeping her hand tightly, yet softly in his hand.
Emily examined the beast. Bent, crumbled, and torn, it looked sad. With cracked and smoking eyes, and bent horizontal teeth, the beast lay there silently. Its black body was crooked and bleeding different colors. When Emily described this to the man he merely grunted with each word.
"Again, you are mistaken, dear," he stated, letting go of her hand, "It is not one," he added.
Squinting, Emily suddenly realized that this one, large monster, was in-fact two smaller monsters lying beside one another, wounded and dying.
"They're hurt!" Emily cried, running out to aid them. She felt the man grip her hand, and tug her back to his side. She began to cry, "Why? Why won't you help them!"
"I have already helped them. All of them," the man said. Emily paused, wiping her tears from her eyes. The man pulled out a handkerchief, wiping the tears from her eyes. She latched onto him, catching him off guard.
Gently forcing away and turning to himself, the man wiped his forehead. "So fragile," he muttered, "It's best if she doesn't know."
The man turned back to Emily, "Alright," he cooed gently, "Let's get you back to your family." Emily nodded, and the man walked her back to the bench.
They stood in front of the bus stop, just as a bus pulled up and its door opened. The light in the bus was bright, so much so that Emily could not see into it. She looked at the man. His face was no longer black, but now clearly visible. His eyes were a shining blue, rivaling the brightness of the bus.
"Take my hand," the man smiled, and Emily gripped it. It was warm and comforting, and they stepped onto the bus, and into the light. The doors closed, and the bus disappeared into the moonlight.
I was midnight when the accident was discovered. It was a two-car pile-up in the middle of nowhere. There were no survivors. In one car, a man intoxicated far over the legal limit. In the other, a family of five, which went unidentified until forty-eight hours after the discovery. Most of the family was damaged beyond recognition, except for one; a young girl, no older then eight years of age, wearing her Sunday best and a smile on her face.