Rolf crashed his car outside the Taco Bell behind the Staples on Barnstable Road. He had been hungry and few other restaurants had been open. The gossip, mostly spread by older generations, blamed it on texting, Rolf’s finger’s flipping through songs he disliked on Spotify. In truth, he’d veered off the road to avoid flattening an opossum. Opossum’s eat thousands of ticks in a year, never spread rabies, and are unfortunately vilified for their cranial structure. Rolf frequently said so to his friends on various occasions. He was a young conservationist, the president of his high school’s environmental club. It was unfortunate that it had been the only marsupial in North America crossing the road instead of a squirrel or rabbit, neither of which had declining populations.
Many saw Rolf’s ghost waiting in line inside the Taco Bell, moving along with other customers until he reached the cashier. There were articles written about this phenomena in the paper, memes made on social media. When he arrived beneath the glowing purple signs advertising taco combos and Baja Chalupas, he vanished, never placing his order.
Lexi worked at Taco Bell for two and a half years, snagging shifts after she got out of her classes at Cape Cod Community College. She was studying to be a phlebotomist, part of the reason all the blood from the accident hadn’t slowed her response. She’d called 911 in a breath. She’d been ready to pull Rolf from the driver’s seat, ready to give him CPR or whatever else the dispatcher said, before they stopped her. If it’s his neck or spine… She had to step back and wait for the paramedics to declare him dead at the scene, for a wrecker to drag his sedan away.
Rolf only approached the counter when Lexi was working. She asked Pam and Miguel if he ever came up to them, but they shook their heads, avoiding the subject as if Rolf were some curse they could catch.
“It’s not like he’s evil.” Lexi said. “He’s not going to give you cancer or sneak up on you in the bathroom.”
“You don’t know that,” Pam said. “The guy was a creep. He was probably watching porn on his phone when he hit that pole.”
“I’d just prefer not to talk about him. It makes me nervous. Can you imagine spending the rest of eternity walking up to the counter but never getting to eat?” Miguel asked.
“No, I can’t,” Lexi said. “But it’s not going to hurt you to be a little nicer.”
Both replied noncommittally and went back to pouring yellow cheese over endless nachos.
Lexi tried to get Rolf to talk when he reached the front. She prepared questions on cue cards, holding them up over the shoulder of the next customer so his ghost eyes could have a few extra seconds to prepare his response:
WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?
CAN I HELP?
CAN I DELIVER A MESSAGE TO YOUR LOVED ONES?
Rolf’s eyes flicked up to each, before moving off, rising to the menu.
This happened for months, Lexi writing cue cards, questions growing more existential as time moved on (WHAT DID YOU SEE WHEN YOU CROSSED OVER? / WHAT IS THE FINAL JUDGEMENT LIKE?/ARE THERE REALLY DEMONS?). She came to the end of Spring semester and considered trying to find another job for the summer, something that paid better, maybe something with healthcare, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave Rolf.
With each cue card, each question hurriedly asked as he hovered before the counter, Rolf’s face sagged, gravity dragging his features towards the floor in a slow melt. Lexi felt as if time was running out, as if he’d end up in a worse place if she didn’t get to the bottom of things. Purgatory? Hell? The McDonald’s down the road? She wouldn’t let that happen.
Out of exasperation, on the first day of summer, she held up a card that read WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ORDER? Every other question had been asked, existential dread reaching its peak.
Rolf smiled and leaned on the counter, elbow resting, but not really resting, on the scarred formica.
Ghosts don’t eat. Lexi felt the words slip through her mind, Rolf’s mouth remaining still.
“Then tell me what I can do to help? I can’t think of anything else,” she replied.
Next time you hear someone say I was texting, or scanning through Instagram, promise you’ll tell them it was an Opossum. That I was trying to avoid one in the road.
“That’s what happened?” Lexi asked.
Yeah. An Opossum. Just because I’m young, doesn’t mean I’m inconsiderate. Rolf transmitted before vanishing, giving way to a thin woman in yoga pants with a hankering for something spicy.
The next time Pam made a joke about the haunter in the parking lot, how inconsiderate he was, how he deserved what he got, Lexi slapped her. She recited the bit about the opossum, mentioning their tick eating prowess, their immunity to rabies, before removing her smock and heading for the entrance. She’d been looking for a final note to leave on. That was it.
As she passed through Taco Bell’s doors, she caught a translucent shimmer out of the corner of her eye, sitting in the only tree abutting the parking lot. Rolf swayed in the limbs, a small gray opossum at his side. He waved.
“At least he’s somewhere better,” she muttered as she unlocked her car.
Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. He is the fiction editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. His work has been published in The Southwest Review, Catapult, Tiny Nightmares, Reckoning, Hobart, Flash Fiction Online, Bourbon Penn, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com