This story is by Lorraine Hurley and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Kara wake up!” I screamed between tears and blood rolling over my eyelids. Again. “Kara! Wake up!” I was sobbing at this point. Panicked. Cold. Disbelieving.
I am not sure what time it was that our car hit a guard rail to the left of the road. I felt the car begin to slide along the rail like a train on tracks. Then without warning, our speed caused the front tyre to flip the car over the top of the barricade. That’s the last I could remember as I lay pinned by the steering column that had impaled my right leg through the thigh. A part of the car roof had sliced open the top of my head near my hairline and blood was trickling down my face. I couldn’t move. My lap was still in the seatbelt, I thought as I felt around. My hands met with a tapestry of metal and my flesh. At once, I realised the seatbelt had pulled so tightly across me that it was now partially inside my legs. The pain in my head felt like I had gone 15 rounds in a boxing ring with Ali but none of that was my concern.
Kara was unconscious, non-responsive to my shouting and my crying. I could see her slumped forward. There was blood of course. Lots of it. I didn’t know it then, but the blood loss wasn’t the issue. I could only keep calling out to her hoping she would answer me back. I must have tried for a while but then darkness. I clocked out at some point as I stared at the pale skin of her lifeless arms.
Everyone had warned us not to drive to Jindabyne at night. Kara and I were only able to go skiing for four days and so we wanted to start the trip early at the snowfield the next morning. Jindabyne is a town in the Australian Alps and is the gateway to the best skiing that our state has to offer. People drive there every year and navigate the winding and picturesque roads, but they rarely do it at night unless they have plenty of experience with driving with black ice. Black ice is the ice on the road that can cause catastrophe that you don’t see in the beam of your headlights. You feel it though, but often after your wheels are sliding over the tarmac.
How long was I out, I wondered? A new dawn triggered my eyes to blink. As the sunlight started to pour in the windows, I could see the full extent of my injuries now. The pain was cutting in as some of the sensation was returning to my legs. A pain so unimaginable that I started to cry out “Help me, help me, anybody, please help”. I knew it was fruitless, as the car had rolled at least fifty metres down the embankment and I didn’t even know where we were relative to the snowfields. Who would even know we were here? I asked myself. The thought that I might die due to not being found caused me to look over at Kara.
I looked at her. Her head faced down sloping towards the splintered window. Her skin looked like it would be cold to the touch if only I could reach her. No breath was escaping her mouth. I had just noticed that in the light of day, I could see my shivering breath against the morning fog. I could not see hers. I realised I was crying again as the consequence of our decision the night before to start our drive really hit me. I’ve killed Kara.
As I lay there with full feeling starting to return to my lower body in searing, throbbing pain, I tried to lean closer to Kara. I couldn’t reach her without pulling the seatbelt through my skin. I tried maybe twice before I couldn’t bear it. The seatbelt was so strong. It did the job it was designed to do I supposed. Although by keeping me in my seat, it had forced me to become a part of the car itself.
“Kara, please” I begged lethargically. Again, nothing answered but the early sounds of the trees and branches creaking as the sun started to thaw them through. Kara and I were 19 years old. We were high school sweethearts. Although we had been together for over eight months, this was our first overnight trip. Four whole days together with some of our friends from school. It was the highlight of our year so far. Or so I had thought. The rest of our mates were traveling over the mountain today. A convoy of first cars, burning too much oil with sub-standard rubber and various eighties fixtures. My best mate Matt had a cassette player in his Honda Accord. I don’t think any of us had even seen a cassette since we were kids. I thought of them. Would they drive by us and not even realise that Kara and I lay here below in a cage of twisted metal?
My thoughts raced. My plan was to tell Kara that I loved her on this trip. I looked at her now and I couldn’t help but say it over and over again. She must have known, but my heart ached at the thought that she could be dead, and I had never told her what she meant to me. One of my eyes had closed over from the swelling so I looked at her through barely a sliver of a gap. She was a kind of whitish blue colour. I had been hopeful for maybe the first while but now it was sinking in. I started to cry again. It wouldn’t stop now. Tears flowed freely down my cheeks. The pain increased across my body. I was broken in more ways than the physical. I cried myself to sleep as the daylight hours passed. I think I wished to be with her and the weight of that gave way to my utter exhaustion.
An unknown time later, I was woken by a ringing sound. Persistent and loud, I realised it was Kara’s phone. Confusion became hope. Someone was trying to reach us. The call rang out, but I knew where the phone was and mercifully, it was right next to me down beside the seat. My seat. I couldn’t reach over to Kara, but I might be able to get to the phone. Just maybe. I felt down in the gap between the seat and the centre console of the car. A moment past and I hadn’t felt more than some loose coins and hair but then……the aerial. My fingers rolled over it and I gripped it between my pointer finger and thumb. I pulled it up as it rang. Perfect timing, I thought. I answered. It was Kara’s best friend Lisa. My emotions took over and I sobbed the words, but I got the message out. “We have been in an accident. We rolled down an embankment off the road to Jindabyne. Get help please!”.
Her voice was crackly. The phone reception was probably terrible down the side of a mountain. I have no idea what she heard. “Ben, are you and Kara ok?” Lisa begged through the white noise. “Help us” was all I could manage. My arm was weak from the pain and the phone slid down and onto the floor. This time further away. I wasn’t going to be able to reach it this time. Had I done enough? Would anyone come? Questions circled in my mind. I thought of my Mum and Dad. I loved them but hadn’t told them in a long time. I wished to go back and hug Mum before I walked out the door. She was calling to me from the kitchen as I was leaving to go and pick up Kara. Like any teenaged boy though I had yelled back “Mum, I’ve got to go!”. That’s it. The last words my mother heard from me. My hope surged at the thought of maybe getting to see them again. Like a virtual rollercoaster ride though, I was once gain flung into a combination of grief and immense guilt over one question:
What would I say to Kara’s parents?
Just then, a noise broke my thoughts and pulled me up from the spiral. A helicopter. Overhead. It was circling us. It had seen us. “My god, thank you!” I cried silently in my head with relief flooding my body.
I am told that it was about an hour after the call that my friends came upon the busted guard rail and the elaborate rescue in progress. Everyone says that Lisa saved my life that day. I like to think it was my angel Kara who never left me. I will think of her for the rest of my life. I love you.