I saw a man die once.
He’d just been walking along the footpath when the car hit him. A screeching mess of metal and blood and tires and he was gone.
I was only a few steps behind him, enough to save my life but not enough to save my sleep.
I was eleven.
Seeing something like that isn’t something you just get over, especially when you’re young. I had nightmares for months afterwards.
Sometimes I still do.
Our glasses clink and I take a long drink of champagne. I set my glass on the table when I’m done.
There’s five of us here tonight: Emily, Kate, Sophie, Jess and me.
“Hey Mel, pour me another!” Kate yells at me, holding out her glass and swaying a little. She’s obviously a little drunk, and I suspect she’ll be sleeping on Jess’s couch tonight.
“I think you’ve had enough,” Sophie says, picking up the bottle and giving it to Jess to hide.
“Don’t mind if I do!” Jess grins and shrugs, topping up her own glass.
Emily and I laugh. Sophie gives Jess a look, which makes us all laugh harder.
“What?” Kate demands.
Even Sophie laughs this time.
The conversation carries on for a little while. We don’t talk about anything in particular, just weave from topic to topic. It’s nice. I can’t remember the last time we all got together like this.
Then at ten to midnight, Emily claps her hands to get our attention.
“I had an idea,” she begins. “That we should start a New Year’s tradition.”
I nod, interested. Emily goes on.
“Well, you know how lots of people make resolutions and stuff? I thought that maybe rather than making a promise of something we’re going to do, we should maybe let go of some of the things we have done.”
She gets up and takes a sheet of paper and a pen each from Jess’s desk. She rips the paper up so we all have a little piece, then goes to get a bowl, some matches, and sparklers.
“Okay,” Emily continues, “so we all have to write one thing that we regret on this paper. When you’re done, fold it in half and place it in this bowl.”
We all take a pen and a piece of paper. I pause with the tip of the pen barely touching the paper and dart a look sideways at Emily’s paper. In neat script, she writes ‘I didn’t study enough’, then folds it and puts it in the bowl.
Emily hadn’t done so well at uni this year, mostly because she slacked off a little. She’d thought it wouldn’t matter, but her grades said otherwise.
I look at Sophie, on the other side of me. I only catch a glance of what she’s written before she folds it and puts it in the bowl. ‘I took the job.’
Sophie quit her old job for a new one this year. She hates her new job as much as anyone could hate a job, but finding another one is difficult and she needs the money.
I can’t see what Jess and Kate write before they put it in the bowl. Probably something like Emily and Sophie’s. Normal things.
I’m the only one left now. I hesitate a moment longer before writing. It was probably meant to be something that happened this year, but Emily didn’t actually specify, so I write ‘I watched him die.’
I put it in the bowl.
Emily claps her hands again. “Okay!” she says, and checks her watch. “We only have a couple of minutes to wait now.”
She hands everyone a sparkler and we all sit in silence, waiting and watching, wondering what’s going to happen next.
When there’s only thirty seconds of this year left, Emily lights a match and touches it to each of our sparklers before dropping it in the bowl of regrets.
“See your regret burn,” she says. “You don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
“Ten seconds to go!” Jess says excitedly, and we all count down with her, watching our sparklers and the flames in the bowl.
The world flickers, and with a sickening jump, everyone around me disappears.
I’m eleven years old again, standing outside my old primary school.
Kids swarm around me, shouting and running, eager to leave.
What am I doing here?
I stand and stare, unsure what to do. A second ago, I was at a New Year’s party with my friends. What’s going on?
A kid bumps into me and I turn to apologise.
“Sorry, I-“ I break off.
It’s Jess.
A much younger version of Jess, but still.
She grins and bumps into me again. “What are you just standing there for, Mel? Come on, we’re gonna go over to my place!”
A little Sophie comes running up, out of breath. “You’re so mean, Jess!” she complains. “You left me behind on purpose!”
Jess laughs. “So what if I did? Maybe I was just seeing if you could keep up with me?”
Sophie pouts and moves to stand on Jess’s foot, but Jess giggles and jumps away, running in a circle around me with Sophie chasing her.
Briefly I wonder where Emily and Kate are, but then I remember we didn’t meet them until high school. It’s funny, it feels like it’s been the five of us forever.
“Mel, you coming?” Jess asks me again.
“Huh?” I look at her. She and Sophie have stopped their fight and are now standing side by side and watching me.
“Geez, why are you being so weird today?” Jess says, wrinkling her nose.
“Are you sick or something?” Sophie adds.
“No...I...” What am I supposed to say? I quickly make up an excuse.”I just...I just remembered that my dad told me to go straight home today! He says I have to clean my room before I can go anywhere with you guys.”
“Awww, no fair!” Jess complains. “Your dad’s mean!”
“I suppose it can’t be helped though,” Sophie says. “See you tomorrow, Mel!”
“Bye!” I say, and hurriedly walk away. I have to find out why I’m here. I decide the best way to start is to go home. Maybe there’s something there for me?
Only problem is, I’ve forgotten the way.
I start walking anyway. Maybe it’ll come back to me.
I go down the shopping street. This seems right, I remember walking past that supermarket...
There’s a sudden squeal of tires, and I look in front of me.
I gasp.
It’s him.
Everything seems to move in slow motion as he turns his head and tries to move out of the car’s path.
But he’s not fast enough.
The car hits him, crushing him between its bonnet and a wall. There’s a loud noise and smoke everywhere. People are yelling, but my mind drowns them out.
So this is why I’m back.
I’m in front of my school again?
But was I just-?
What is going on?
I think to myself. What could have happened to cause this? What in my adult life would have transported me back to primary school? And why today of all days?
Jess bumps into me again, giggling. She has no idea what’s going on. Why should she? Today’s just a normal day for her.
It was for him as well.
I watch Jess and Sophie run around me, playing as they did the last time I was here. My mind’s going a million miles per minute. Why why why why why?
I think back to the last thing that happened to me as an adult. There was the New Year’s countdown- before that, the thing Emily made us do-
My regret.
I almost gasp out loud. I’d written down that I regretted witnessing that man’s death. Was this all because of that? Was I stuck here until I undid my regret? I’d thought it just a game, silly and fun like Emily. But I could think of no other explanation.
I jerk my head up suddenly at the sound of my name. Jess is standing in front of me and pouting.
“You haven’t been listening to anything, have you?” she says accusingly. “I called your name like three times!”
“Ah- sorry. I was just... thinking about our homework!”
Jess looks disgusted. “Why?”
Sophie jumps to my rescue. “Well at least she’s going to have better grades than you.”
“Whatever.” Jess turns to me again. “So, you coming or what?”
I hesitate. The best way for me to solve this is to just not be there when the crash happens. That way I’ll never see it, I won’t have nightmares, regret gone.
“Yeah,” I say to Jess and Sophie. “Yeah, I’m coming.”
I have a pleasant time playing with both my friends at Jess’s house. It’s a little odd to be back here, but fun nonetheless. I almost forget about the crash.
But then at four pm, about an hour after I arrive, I blink, and I’m standing in front of the school again.
It didn’t work.
Why didn’t it work? I didn’t see the crash. That’s what I wanted, right?
But for some reason, it’s not enough. Deep down I know I have to do more. The fact that I didn’t see his death doesn’t mean that I don’t know it happened.
So I have to stop his death.
That’s the only way for me to be free.
Jess and Sophie are running around me again. Why hadn’t I gone with them the first time this happened? Surely I’d have wanted to.
I struggle to think of the reason. Most of this day in my memory is hazy, the only clear thing being the crash. But...
Suddenly I remember. My mum had promised she’d take me to the movies tonight. A reward for something I’d done, but I’m not entirely sure what now. So I’d gone straight home, excited for the movie.
But of course I never actually went.
Jess yells at me and I look at her. “Sorry, I can’t come over today.”
I don’t wait for her reaction. I run out of the school gates and up the shopping street. I watch the road, and soon enough a silver car turns up the street, speeding and swerving all over the road.
It comes towards us, and I run up and try to push the man out of the way.
It doesn’t work, of course. I’d forgotten I was eleven- I’m too small to move him.
Wheels skid and I turn my head just in time to see the car hit both of us.
I’m back in front of my school again. Well, obviously that hadn’t worked. I don’t even wait for Jess and Sophie this time before I run off again.
I reach the shopping street in plenty of time. The man is walking in front of me, but he hasn’t yet reached the spot where the car hits.
I run up to him and tap his arm.
“Um... hey!” I say quickly, trying to come up with a reason to make him talk to me.
“Are you lost or something?” he asks before I can say anything else.
“Yes! I was wonder if you could tell me the way to uh...the post office! Yeah, my parents are there.”
“Just keep walking along this street and you’ll see it,” he says, glancing at his watch. “Sorry, I don’t have time to help you. I’m late as is.”
He leaves, almost running now. I run after him, desperate to stop him but I’m too late. The car hits him.
I blink and I’m back at school. I run to the shopping street, determined to try again. This time I try to get him to walk on the other side of the road, but a random kid can’t make him change his path and the car hits.
I try again. I try the really annoying kid route this time, tugging on his sleeve and begging him to help me find my parents. It doesn’t work, and he’s still there when the crash happens.
My next try involves stealing a bike from the racks at school and riding slowly in front of him so he can’t pass. But he just rushes onto the road in order to go around me. He dies faster this time.
Finally I’m out of ideas. I can’t get him to move away from the car, no matter what I try.
But what if I can get the car to move away from him?
I run to the shopping street. My first idea is to gather a bunch of pebbles and throw them at the car’s windscreen, trying scare them into slowing down.
But the driver just opens her window to yell at me. Not looking where she’s going, she crashes straight into the man.
I steal a bike again, riding on the road so she’s forced to slow down. She doesn’t, and I get hit.
At this point I’m out of ideas again. How is an eleven year old supposed to stop a speeding car?
I go to the shopping street anyway. Another car drives past, and a way behind them is the speeding car. As I watch, the car in front turns onto another street, and the speeding car rushes past to hit the man.
I blink and I’m back at school.
But I think I have an idea.
I sprint to the shopping street. I’m ahead of both cars now, but the first one is coming. I take a deep breath, and step onto the road in front of it.
I shut my eyes and brace for the impact but it never comes. The driver panics and smashes the brakes, managing to stop just in time so I don’t get hit.
I look up just in time to see the speeding car is behind them now, and she can’t slow down in time. She rear-ends the car in front, causing it to jump forward and push me down. I hit the road, but I’m unhurt except for scrapes and bruises, and as I stand I see that both drivers are relatively unhurt too. The cars are another story, but I reckon that’s a necessary evil. What’s a few damage expenses over a life?
Speaking of, I look up. The entire street is watching now, including the man.
I realise I don’t know his name.
I will probably never know his name.
He won’t know mine, and he will never know I saved his life either.
But it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to know. But I am brimming with the knowledge that I just saved a life, and it feels good.
I grin to myself.
“Happy New Year!” we all shout, lifting our sparklers into the air.
I’m still grinning. I did it.
I look around the room at my friends. Kate, Emily, Jess and Sophie.
Did they get to undo their regrets too?
Emily yawns, and Jess and Kate are having a heated argument over the right way to eat cheezels. Sophie’s already starting to pack away the dead sparklers.
Somehow, I doubt it.
But maybe someday they will.
I pick up my glass and swish around what’s left in it. I make a silent toast to myself.
To life.
You know, I don’t think I’ll have nightmares this year.

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