Best Friends Forever by Meghan Hunt

The car smells like spring, those first days when the permafrost melts and the air fills with the scent of new earth. We have the windows down, the cool night breeze ruffling through our hair as we drive along the old road.

“Tell it again,” Jo says from the back seat.

From the passenger seat, Vic huffs a laugh full of sarcasm and implied eye-rolling.

Despite it all, I have to smile. We’ve had so many road trips together, the three amigos – us against the world, over and over and over again. None like this, though.

“Your car broke down, you called me to come get you and Vic was at the house. That’s why we’re out here in the middle of the night.”

Jo’s quiet for all of ten seconds. “What if they ask you to open the trunk?”

“For fuck’s sake, Jo,” Vic snaps, “they’re not going to ask her to open the trunk.”

“They might!”

“Only if you tell them there’s something in the fucking trunk!”

The giggle slips out before I can stop it, the kind of manic noise a person makes just before they break into a million jagged pieces. The girls go quiet and I take a deep breath, subdue my instinct to shatter.

“I’m driving normally,” I say, my voice far calmer than I actually feel. “There’s no reason for anyone to stop us.”

I immediately regret putting it out there as the car’s headlights catch on the legs of a moose in the near distance. I slam on the brakes and someone – likely me – screams. The car stops well far from the animal, wood and metal clanging against each other in the trunk as a reminder of why we’re out here in the first place.

The dash throws off a dull blue light in the pressing darkness, our profiles sharp and angular in the eerie illumination. The moose looks our way briefly, then wanders into the woods beyond. In that instant, I think a hundred thoughts: about the last two years of my life and the time I wasted with a man who never loved me but instead loved control and violence; about the scars no one sees, the stories I can’t even tell my best friends; about how, hours ago, I stood in my kitchen covered in the result of an impulsive decision, convinced I’d never be clean ever again.

What’s done is done…

These thoughts – and others – make me wonder if the monster I once loved didn’t, in fact, make a monster of me in the end.

“What the fuck was I thinking?” I ask, not realizing I’ve said it aloud until Vic answers.

“That it was either him or you,” she says, her soft voice far too loud in the quiet of the car. “Survival of the fittest.”

Et tu, Darwin?

“Well,” Jo says, her voice breaking through my thoughts, “I guess it’s true what they say.”

“What’s that?” I ask, hands tight on the steering wheel. The forest is a dark, living thing around us. Is that my heartbeat thudding in my ears or the memory of another’s?

“Good friends will help you through a breakup,” she says, “but best friends will help you bury a body in the middle of the woods at night.”

The hysterical giggle returns, unabashed and unwavering. The girls join me, the car filling with the kind of laughter that makes you cry, that pulls the air straight from your lungs, that makes people think you’re going crazy.

Maybe I am…

Eventually, the laughter subsides. I release the brake, hit the gas; metal and wood yet again thud and clang against each other in the trunk. It was quieter before, when there was something back there to muffle the noise.

My arms ache, my hands blistered and rough. Beneath all the discomfort, though, I feel lighter – all that weight I once carried tossed into a deep, dark hole where no one will ever find it.

“Thank you,” I say because it’s all I can manage and yet, I know it’s nowhere near enough.

“Worst breakup ever,” Vic says.

On that, at least, we can agree.

Mercy by Meghan Hunt

It comes from the dense shadows to the right of the car, a vaguely familiar form running through the slant of our headlights. The impact is loud and violent in the quiet of the wooded road—a crack and an inhuman scream, the squeal of brakes and the crunch of gravel. A symphony of pain and fear and panic.

As the car comes to a stop, my husband Arden lets out a curse, fuck hissing into the air alongside our heavy breathing and the gentle hum of the radio. My heart beats against my ribs, a caged animal trying to escape. I struggle to recall what we were saying right before the world went sideways.

Remember to breathe, Grace… Continue reading “Mercy by Meghan Hunt”

The (Un)Settlement by Meghan Hunt

5…

At exactly midnight, I walk down the yard towards the lake. My footsteps echo across the emptiness as I walk down the dock, carrying a single object wrapped in stained linen. I waited until now, until the middle of the night, so that the thick banks of trees would block me from the other houses nearby, leaving me alone in the wilderness to dispose of “crucial” evidence with a well-executed throw. It lands with a soft splash that echoes in the quiet.

For the first time in years, I feel peace.

…4…

He crumpled under the first strike, the hammer connecting solidly with his broad forehead. The blood spread outwards, ran through grooves created by confusion. It made me smile with pride to think I had surprised him.

The top of his skull bore the brunt of the second blow, catching bone as he sunk to the floor. The third lodged in his eye when he turned his face up to me, pleading. I stayed within his fading line of sight as he fell to the side. I had patiently waited for this moment; I wanted to savor it, to watch his life leave him…one labored breath at a time.

This was my settlement, after all.

My payment for services rendered long ago.

…3…

I stared at the photograph, the back of my neck prickling with awareness. Six years, thousands of dollars spent on therapy and self-defense classes, and still I saw his face when I closed my eyes.

“I know you’ve got a history with him…” I snorted before I could stop myself and she sighed, shook her head. “He shouldn’t have gone free.” I said nothing. “Look, you’re the best I have, Hannah, but I’ll understand if you recuse yourself.”

I shook my head. “Not necessary.”

“There’s more evidence this time, an eyewitness…”

“I’m fine, Maria. It’s fine.” I smiled calmly. “Honestly.”

She nodded. “You won’t spend a single minute alone with him. I promise.”

That suddenly seemed…unfortunate. Lines of thought began forming in my mind, shining light on dark pathways I hadn’t known existed before now. I smiled a little wider.

“Of course. Whatever you think is necessary…”

…2…

Regrets grow from the tiniest seeds, from moments in time constructed by choices made. I so may regrets, some penned in indelible ink in places only I can see.

I shouldn’t have accepted the dinner invitation.

I shouldn’t have agreed to one more drink.

I should have said ‘no’ louder…hit him harder…run away faster.

I should have killed him when I had the chance.

…1

The elevator doors closed on us and, as we began to descend, he turned and smiled at me. My knees went weak in the most cliché way possible.

“You’re the new attorney,” he said. I nodded. “How are you finding the work?”

“Quite a change from the prosecutorial side of the fence.”

He nodded, a man who knew everything. Older than me by ten years, tall and lean, hair starting to grey at the temples – he was, as many of my female colleagues had said, sinfully handsome.

“The illustrious District Attorney’s Office.” His smile took on a predatory glint; the air in the elevator grew thin. “I’d very much like to hear all about your time there, Counselor.” He reached across the space between us, placed his hand on my forearm. The warmth of his palm bled through my sleeve. “Perhaps over dinner? Tomorrow evening?”

I returned his smile with my own.

“Yes, sir,” I said, “I’d very much like that.”