This story is by H. P. Borley and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“No, no, no, no – damn!” The phone tumbled from Sebastian’s grasp, through the open sunroof, and disappeared into the darkness below. Panic rose in his chest. “I could have gone anywhere,” he whispered. “I was supposed to be free.”
The car rested on its roof, balancing haphazardly on a tree clinging to the side of a cliff. The road stood empty, and probably would for some time. He hadn’t passed another car in at least an hour. He cursed himself for leaving without telling anyone. Who would rescue him now?
A gust of wind rocked the car and he heard spindly branches scratching at its sides. The sudden movement caused Sebastian to grip the steering wheel tight, as if it would do anything to save him. His hands trembled and he whimpered softly. It wouldn’t be long before the car was knocked from its perch, hurtling downwards like a direct flight to hell. Miserably, he figured that it was probably where he deserved to be.
All he ever wanted was to be happy. His life was miserable, and he was desperate to get out of it. Stuck in a cycle of self-pity and self-destruction, he sometimes felt like there was no way out. Until one day a thought occurred to him: he wasn’t stuck. He was never stuck. What was stopping him from starting over? The thought of dropping everything and moving somewhere new, somewhere nobody knew his name, was tantalizing. He could abandon every label, every rumor, everything that anyone else thought about him, and become whoever he wanted to be.
The fantasy stayed in the back of his mind for years, until suddenly it was the only choice he had left. He’d been fired from yet another job and his family refused to take him in this time. They said he needed to learn how to fix his own problems. But why do that when he could just leave all his problems behind?
That night, Sebastian packed up his suitcase, booked the first flight out of the country he could get, and took off. Everything was going great until a deer decided to cross the road at a very inopportune moment, sending Sebastian’s car hurtling over the edge. How incredibly unlucky that his car got caught before making it to the bottom.
As if it was taunting him, the car shifted further towards the end of the tree trunk and Sebastian heard branches snapping under its weight. He looked on with a mixture of fear and disbelief as the car began picking up speed.
“Oh no,” he whimpered. “No, no, no…” The car tipped forwards and he screamed. He clung to the steering wheel as tears streamed down his face. Fear gripped his chest so tightly that he nearly doubled over. He found himself repeating over and over, “I don’t want to die, not like this, please…”
Suddenly he realized that he really didn’t. It didn’t have to be like this. He wanted so desperately to live – and it was up to him to ensure that he did. After years of feeling powerless, suddenly Sebastian felt like he was in control. No one was coming to rescue him. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t rescue himself.
As if taking pity on him the car slowed to a stop, still teetering slightly. The tree roots groaned as they strained to keep their hold on the cliffside, threatening to drop him at any moment.
Think, think, he commanded himself. He frantically searched the dimly lit car for a way out. The car’s fate was already decided, but maybe he could still save himself. The gleam of his seatbelt buckle caught his attention. He’d need to unbuckle it if he wanted to get out of here. Certainly, the sudden movement as he fell onto the roof would send the car hurtling over the edge, if he didn’t just fall straight through the sunroof first. Why in God’s name had he opened it in the first place? He had to laugh. Six years he’d owned that car and never opened it, too afraid he’d forget to close it just before a storm came to ruin the interior. Today he’d felt so free, he wouldn’t have cared if it did.
He reached for the buckle, moving so slowly that sometimes he wasn’t sure he was moving at all. He didn’t dare turn to look at what he was doing. Eventually his trembling hands brushed warm metal. In one fluid motion he calmly pressed the eject button… and let out a scream through clenched teeth as the wind chose that exact moment to batter the driver’s side door. Sebastian held his breath for several seconds until he was sure the car was staying put. Okay, he thought, now what? He tried desperately to think of any way out, but nothing came to mind. Maybe all of this was just going to prolong the inevitable. He quickly shook the thought from his head. If he was going to die anyways, he might as well die trying. If you turn over a new leaf, only to die a few hours later, that still counts, doesn’t it?
Movement outside the car caught his eye. A large spindly branch was swaying gently in the breeze. It looked strong enough to support his weight, if only for a moment. He didn’t have much time to test that theory. He steeled himself with a few slow, even breaths, made difficult by the pounding of his heart, and wiggled his fingers, trying to get the blood to flow back into his fingertips. He’d need all of them if he was going to pull this off.
Sebastian released his iron grip on the seat cushion and threw himself at the open window. He shrieked in terror as the car lurched towards the edge of the tree trunk. His fingernails scrabbled at the rocky cliffside before latching onto the branch. He threw himself at the tree, feeling the edge of the open window scrape against his belly as the car slid away from him and tipped silently over the edge before crashing through the trees. He watched the car disappear into the woods below as he dangled over empty space. A small blue rectangle, faintly illuminated against the inside of the rear window, caught his eye and he swore loudly. How the hell was he supposed to get on that plane without his passport?
But there wasn’t time to think about that now. His arms would give out any second and he had no intention of joining his car at the bottom of the cliff. Using strength he didn’t know he had, he hoisted himself onto the base of the trunk and somehow managed to pull himself onto the road. The smell of asphalt brought tears to his eyes as he pressed his cheek to the road and waited for his heart to slow down. Shaking, he pulled himself unsteadily to his feet, using the guard rail for support, and gazed out over the cliff. The sunrise was beautiful, he noticed, and the smell of rain hung heavy in the air. He watched it until the last bits of twilight disappeared from the sky and his heart had settled to an almost-normal rhythm.
As the adrenaline left his body as quickly as it had come, he began to realize just how tired he was. All he could think about was finding a warm bed. He no longer had any intention of traveling; to hell with his passport. After all, his problems only seemed to follow him. Why did he ever think he could escape them by running away?
Sebastian took a deep breath and cradled his head in his hands. He was far worse off than he was just yesterday. All of his possessions were either sold off or laying at the bottom of a cliff. He had no phone to call for help and no car to get back to civilization. He was homeless, jobless, and couldn’t think of a single person who cared about him enough to help him get back on his feet.
But he was alive. That was a start. And it was light enough to see now; he even spotted a tiny farmhouse way off in the distance. He could ask for help there.
Sebastian took one unsteady step forwards, and then another, starting the arduous journey to the little farmhouse. From time to time his gaze drifted over to the cliff lining the road. The forest below stretched on for miles, and the soft rolling hills receding into the distance were beautiful. He did not look down.