The road hummed quietly underneath the tires of my car as I cruised down interstate 5, the twin lights from my vehicle casting brief reflections on various signs that whizzed by, periodically proclaiming the miles left before my anticipated arrival at Ashland Oregon–my hometown. In the background the radio played quietly the heavy pop cadence offsetting the unnatural silence of the darkness around me.
For the past month I had spent the days hiking the lush national parks of Vancouver British Columbia, seeing the sights and taking in the fresh mountain air that seem to still linger the car. But as vacations always do, they arrive painfully slow and pass much too quickly, and just like that I was back in the car, making my way back home. The ten hour drive seeming like three vacations in contrast to the month I’ve been away. If only the current scenery could offer more to quench my boredom.
On both sides of me a mix of tall trees fought against the concrete river that slashed in the middle of their forest. Leaning over the interstate as if trying to regain what it had lost. It was an interesting thought, the trees taking back what was stolen from them; I’d have to write that down later.
Fiddling with the volume I sang along to a song that I hadn’t heard in a while; not caring if I was off key as the darkness continued to tunnel forward the trunks of trees like the walls of a cave. As I passed a sign announcing the entering of Wolf Creek Provincial Park, and the last milestone of long, yet very boring car ride, my car sputtered into momentary darkness the night swallowing my car.
I gripped the steering wheel in sudden fear and eased on the brakes trying to see in the moonless night. The night seemed to laugh momentarily before my headlights awoke and fought the threatening shadows. I sighed while the radio blared happily. Turning it down, I refocused on the road, thinking about the repairs I would need to do on my vehicle. It was bad enough that it was three in the morning, worse that I was in the middle of a decent sized park.
As I rounded the bend my vehicle sputtered again the lights flickering wildly as my car fought against the night. The radio gave a hiss, crackling and spitting in protest as it struggled to find power to continue. With a final cry it let out a sound akin to that of wet tires on pavement before it cut out with the rest of my car. Guiding my car to the shoulder, my car gave a final lurch and stopped altogether. Wonderful.
I gave a deep irritable sigh my weariness creeping up on me. Fishing my cell phone out of my pocket I hit the button and it flared up briefly before going black. I stuffed it back into my pocket with a pang of frustration. This was snowballing quickly out of control.
Now what was I going to do? The crickets chipped softly in reply.
With a shake of my head I stepped out of the car into night without the normal accompaniment of my interior light which left me strangely more alone. With only an hour left in my drive I felt the weight of the shadows even more. No one would be awake at this hour and I was so close to home. I stared off in the direction of Ashland longingly and then back the way I came both ways were shrouded in darkness, without the moonlight to break it.
I pondered the thought of traversing the interstate at some ungodly hour at night with the possibility of getting savagely attacked and ripped apart by a bear with spending the night in my car. Without much thought you could only guess which option I picked. As I bent to get back in the car two pinpoint of lights flared in the darkness.
Could this be it? Could a moment this serendipitous actually happen? I mean I guess it was possible; after all it is an interstate. Stepping a few feet away from my car I waved frantically the growing orbs of light. Even from the distance I was at, I could hear the pounding music that poured from it, its throbbing drums and heavy electric guitar solo disrupting the quiet.
As the vehicle drew closer I felt myself growing more anxious, the car appeared not to have seen me, its slight swerving a disturbing sign. But At this point I was tired and anxious, and I didn’t want to waste an opportunity, so I waved on doubling my effort trying to call past their blaring music. As I was swallowed in light and sound I watched the car zoom past in a dark blur, watching two red lights now receding.
“Well” I muttered to myself. “That was disappointing.
I watched the car forlornly as it neared the bend in the road where it swerved heavily spinning in a full circle the tires screeching in protest against the night, before in slammed downward into the ditch and into a young but strong tree. My heart pounded loudly in my chest and I found myself rooted on the spot, my mind going blank in the panic.
Finding myself I quickly sprinted forward toward the vehicle. The interior light was flickering and music came in spurts the old rock song fighting stubbornly to finish its solo. As I neared the vehicle the smell hit me. Gasoline. The heavy scent was pervading the air quickly. I hesitated a moment jumping back and forth on the balls of my feet. Cursing I ran forward with redoubled effort, I was wasting time.
In the front seat hunched around a tree branch that gored his shoulder was a man about twenty his sandy blond hair was gelled back in an old style. Ignoring the heavy scent I grasped the door latch and pulled. The door screamed with an angry protest before stubbornly refusing to move. I cursed and looked to the passenger seat where a petite brunette was groaning. Quickly running to the other side of the vehicle I prayed to whatever god was out there. Grasping the door latch it opened with ease. Thank god!
“Ma’am, Are you alright!?” I practically shouted at her in my panic. She groaned incoherently her head rolling to the side as she looked over to her friend.
“Brad?” she groaned. Her voice was thick with pain, and blood was seeping from the gash on her forehead. The scent of gasoline grew stronger its intensity sharp and eye watering.
“Ma’am” I reiterated forcefully trying to get her attention. “Please, you have to get out of this car.” She sobbed softly as he grumbled painfully before letting out a wet cough. I felt a sudden rush of air and the engine gave a puff of black spoke filling the air with its dangerous omen. Cursing I grabbed her arm, her skin ice cold, despite rising temperature. She sobbed harder as I pulled her away from the smoking vehicle. She struggled after me still disoriented but without resistance.
“Brad!” She was crying now, her voice was raw and full of grief. “Brad! I’m so sorry!” The car exploded with an echoing scream of torture. I froze in fear for the peril before me, in grief for the woman, and guilt for the man that I couldn’t save. I watched her collapsed painfully to the concrete road the emotion of the night overtaking her. I could not save her friend, and I could do little to console her, but I could make sure that we were found and headed for safety.
“Ma’am, I’m going to call the police.” I told her running past the burning car the rough scent of metal fabric and flesh searing at my senses making me choke. When I was a fair distance I turned away from the burning wreckage and fished my phone out of my pocket hoping that my phone was back in working order.
Hitting the button my phone flared brightly. Muttering a yes, I dialled 911.
“911 emergency assistance, are you safe and out of danger?”
“Yes” I replied swallowing hard. “I need to report an accident.” I turned back around toward the inferno and froze. The night was one again cool, and the truck and sobbing woman both had vanished, as if they were never there, even the tree that was pulverized by the force of impact was tall and regal.
“Sir?” the woman called urgently. “I’m going to pinpoint your location please stay on the line.” I clicked my phone off absently and walked back towards my car, the interior light flooding outward, my engine purring quietly. What had happened? Was this all simply a hallucination or something else entirely? I gave ragged breath, remembering the anguished cry and the horrible screaming. I certainly seemed quite real. Maybe I needed to see a psychiatrist? Quickly settling into my seat I buckled myself in and drove off wanting to put distance between myself and this horrible memory.
As I passed a few more bends in the road I finally exited Wolf Creek Park when a car quickly zoomed past me an old rock song blaring wildly. I looked back sadly but kept driving, away from the grief that had imprinted itself there.