This story is by Janet Leigh Green and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
On my way to work, radio blaring, my car moved through the accustomed high-speed curve like a train, only to greet a large group of rubberneckers standing on the highway, right in front of me. I swerved right as I slammed on my brakes jerking to a stop praying I would avoid the commotion on the roadway. “Oh, my God. What the hell happened?” I said, getting out of my car to grab a better view. I edged my way to the front the crowd. “Oh no, this is horrible.”
A vehicle lay on its roof, while the first responders worked slow and steady to free the victim from the mangled piece of iron that was once a car.
“Do you know what happened?” I asked.
“No, it doesn’t look like there is anyone else involved, so I guess the driver lost control and rolled the vehicle. I don’t know how anyone could survive a crash this bad; the car looks like a pancake. I hope whoever is inside is ok.” A man said as I squeezed in beside him.
“Ok folks, we have cleared a pathway for you to get around the accident, so get back in your vehicles and move along. We need to do our jobs.” A police officer barked out.
The crowd started to dissipate, but I saw movement on the other side of the wreckage. “Who is that? The man standing beside the car,” I asked the officer.
He glanced at the accident scene and looked at me with one eyebrow raised, confusion clouding his eyes. “Who are you talking about ma’am? I don’t see anyone over there except emergency personnel.”
“The man on the other side of the wrecked car, he’s talking to someone inside. Don’t you see him?” Tiny hairs on the back of my neck stuck out like porcupine quills.
I turned to the man beside me for a little reassurance, “You see him, right? The man by the car, the one talking to the person inside.”
He looked down at me; his face laced with wretchedness, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t see him.
“I’m sorry ma’am, but you need to go. We need to do our job. We have a teenage girl who may be dying, and we need you all to move along.” The policeman said.
An uneasy feeling came over me when I took a closer look at the crushed vehicle. The car looked familiar, but I brushed it off while I watched responders use the ‘jaws of life’ to pry the woman from her car.
“It’s a young girl? She’s still alive?” I asked as hope replaced trepidation with the thought of saving the girl.
I looked up, the man beside the car looked at me and smiled, and a sliver of ice plunged through me, and I froze until the officer took my arm.
“Come on ma’am. Are you ok? You look distraught, can you drive?”
“I’m fine.” I pulled my arm away and by some act of God staggered back to my vehicle. I looked at the mysterious man again; his tall, lean form lounged against the demolished car, his black eyes never leaving me.
“Come here.” His words, though only a whisper, filled my head.
I navigated my way around the vehicles to a road that took me to a line of trees on the opposite side of the wreckage. I should get to work, why am letting this man control me like this? No, I need to see what this is all about, something is wrong… that car, I know that car. Fractured thoughts bounced around in my head, as I parked underneath a tree that looked to be a hundred-years-old.
Squinting through the gnarled branches, I searched for the man with dark eyes. The accident scene loomed in the distance. My hands trembled like an earthquake as I reached for the door handle to climb out of my car.
I jumped at the voice and turned and came face to face with the person only I could see.
“You scared me to death!”
He laughed, “Now, that is compelling.”
“Why is that funny? Who are you? What do you want, and why are you hanging around that girl? The words shot out like rapid fire from a gun.
“You will understand soon enough, but I am here to help the girl.
“None of this makes any sense; you are talking in cir—“ It all came crashing together. No one can see him except me, he is here for the girl, the wrecked car, familiar… I looked up at him. He flashed a wicked smile when he saw understanding settling in my eyes.
“You can’t take her; she’s just a child!” I pleaded for my niece’s life. The smell of burnt rubber tickled my nose, as a dull throbbing pain sliced through my chest, the heaviness of it threatening to smother me. Tears pooled in my eyes, then dampness covered my cheeks, and my lips tasted of salt as I collapsed to the hard-packed dirt road where we stood. On my knees begging for mercy, I watched as they pulled my niece’s small, damaged body from the mangled car and placed her on the stretcher. The oxygen mask tangled in her blonde curls streaked with blood before it slid over her angelic face and my heart filled with hope. She’s alive!
“I must take a life today.” He turned to mist and disappeared.
I raced to my car. I need to get to the hospital to be with my niece. Oh, my poor brother! I need to tell him; I wonder if anyone has called him.
Fumbling in my purse for the phone, I never saw the eighteen-wheeler barreling down the highway toward the intersection, and he never saw me. I get the joke, I know what’s funny. Death needed a life, and he took mine.