Another Drive Home
Adrian Michaels was woken by the gentle hum of tires on a smooth highway. It wasn't a rattling alarm clock that stirred him from peaceful slumber or an energetic puppy tugging at his sock. It wasn't his roommate asking for a ride or a few bucks. It wasn't a caress from the girlfriend he missed so much these days. It wasn't the hustle and bustle of the city street right outside his open window. It was most certainly not a nightmare. It was more like those scenes in movies where angels are talking to a soul that's prematurely reached heaven and has "one more thing it has to do on earth" muckity. It was that kind of serenity. It was a peaceful rouse from repose. It was a gentle nudge to wake, that which he had not experienced in quite sometime.
Sadly, he had but a brief moment to enjoy the soothing hum before he realized what was happening. Having fallen asleep at the wheel he was now veering off the center lane and headed strong for the shoulder. He was crashing, or about to crash. Hours on his feet and the dark quiet highway had equaled a perilous combination. He reacted quickly. Even with the fog of dreams still wafting through his head. He tapped the brakes to avoid a lock and he cut softly but despite his impressive response it was too late. He was going over.
The hum turned to a grumble as the car left the pavement and hit the gravel. Then the grumble exploded with the bang of a demolished guardrail...and then there was no sound. For a good two seconds the tires spun silently and frictionless beneath him. Then there came a hideous chorus of shattering glass, metal rending and screeching. Percussive thuds pounded around him as up became down and left became right. He likened the sensation to what a stone must feel as it skips across the water. It went on toppling for an eternity it seemed to him. Not in dramatic slow motion, as he always imagined things like this would happen, instead, it played out as if it were snap shots of reality. It was like stop animation, a series of pictures that gave the illusion of movement. Every shot was blurry.
With an enormous crunch the car stopped. It rattled on all sides, but it was right side up and he was at least conscious. He wasn't sure if he was hurt or not. He was on pause. Like he was watching the ending credits to the snapshot movie. It was probably shock but he didn't realize it. The car rattling shook him from the trance and with no panic he reached to grab the keys, he could reach. That meant his right arm was operable. He pulled the keys out and reached with his left hand and tried to open the door. It was stuck but at least his left arm was working too. He shook his legs and wiggled his toes, nothing strange. He arched his back and turned his head in all directions and this was a good idea because it solved two of his questions. He wasn't paralyzed and he had a way out of the car. The passenger's side door had completely torn off and if his door refused to open then he'd just shimmy out the other side. He unbuckled his seatbelt, being worthy to note that he anticipated it to be stuck or broken like in the movies. The car would surely begin to flame up by then and he would have only seconds to break free and clear himself from the impending explosion.
With no drama at all, the buckle came loose upon engagement and he casually slid across the seat and stepped out of the car. There were no flames or explosions involved. Instead he backed off slowly, paying more attention to his limbs and extremities than his beloved car that lay dying in front of him. He wanted to make sure he wasn't bleeding somewhere. Shock can do all sorts of things. He had seen it enough to know that.
He glanced at the car, long enough to see that it was indeed a mangled mess. Once an amazing example of ingenuity and style, it was now nearly unrecognizable. Yet, here he stood with what appeared to be, not a scratch on him.
Then he felt it.
Not pain, but warmth. It rolled down his forehead and stung his eyes. It was a dark burgundy warmth and it was pooling in the corner of his left eye. He cupped it and took a few more paces away from the wreckage before he sat down. He knew he needed to sit down. If it was bad he might pass out. If he was going to pass out it was best to be as close to the ground as possible to avoid collision injuries when falling. He lightly touched his forehead to check. There were no detectable lacerations or abrasions but blood was definitely flowing over his brow. This meant his injury must be above the hairline. That would be trickier to gauge the severity. He was content for a moment to just clear the blood from his eyes and forehead.
He didn't have to feel for it because he was beginning to actually feel it now. Pain was breaking through the daze. Adrenaline was wearing down and his nerves were going back to work. Having seen the blood and its rate of flow, which was alarmingly minimal and unimpressive compared to scenes in films he'd watched, he wasn't overtly concerned. It was going to bleed and it was going to hurt but he wasn't going to die. The pain was not unbearable.
He tore off a piece of his shirt and matted the wound. It stung. And with each press he checked to see if it would be sopping with gore and brains but it wasn't. He might need a few stitches and a new hairdo but that was about all.
He surveyed the area around him. It was dark though the waxing moon, veiled in light cloud, still gave enough light to see the demolished car and beyond. He looked up and could see the trail of destruction left from his descent. He had managed to miss the sparse trees jutting from the hillside here and there and was certainly thankful for that. He saw the broken guardrail atop along the highway and scoffed at its ineptitude at being both a rail and a guard.
He was in pain but it had stopped getting worse and after a couple of minutes he decided he would stand up and start climbing. Surely by the time he reached the top someone would have stopped and would be there to help. He wasn't on some abandoned stretch of highway where he would have to wait for hours with the threat of dehydration or heat exhaustion.
He could climb back up so he wasn't going to have to make a danger-filled excursion through unfamiliar woods that would become a quest for survival in and of itself. It wouldn't be a journey fraught with danger in the wilderness or the ultimate test of human will/spirit over adversity. He wouldn't have to fend off some wild animals, a bear or wildcats or wolves or whatever...nope...just a semi tough climb and a short wait, if any, for rescue.........there might be mosquitoes.
The car hadn't bothered to catch fire or explode by then so Adrian figured it was safe enough to approach. The only space in the entire vehicle that had not been affected in the crash was the front seat. It was a long, one piece, leather clad, ultra padded beauty he had custom made when he'd first started renovating the car. The dashboard was in tatters and pieces of spiky this n that protruded from inconceivable angles all about the cabin, but the front seat was fine. It was like he had created some protective barrier around himself that had encompassed 'the pew', as he had come to call the front seat. The backseat had earned the moniker 'the confession box'. Maybe it was divine intervention or dumb luck. Whatever had happened he was indeed fortunate to be alive and standing no less. He contemplated getting his jacket if it was still inside the wreckage but shrugged the idea off as he turned to the slope. He was going to follow the path of carnage back to the hole in the railing.
There were several folded over bushes he could use and at parts it wasn't very steep at all. Wiping a small stream of blood from his brow he began the ascent. As he climbed he came across random parts of his divinely annihilated automobile. He didn't bother picking them up. He lost his grip on a branch at one point and almost gashed his legs on a jagged piece of metal spiked into the ground.
He occasionally glanced up to see if help was waiting but nil so far. There were no headlights, or flashlights shining down with 'traveler #1' saying "Hey, buddy! You okay down there? Help is on its way!"...It wasn't the rescue sequence he'd come to expect.
Each step the ground seemed to be holding him down more, like gravity worked harder to suppress him the further up he went. Maybe it was the will of his car urging him to stay with it until its final exhaust. Halfway up the hill he was in need of a short breather. It looked less steep from the ground. The darkness had been enough to trick him. But now the moon had come out from hiding in the shrouds and he could see much better. He looked down at his beloved car and it pained him more than the wound on his head. He loved that car. He had owned it for years and never had a problem with it. It was his favorite color and had comfortable seats and a great sound system. Now, as he looked down upon the scene he could make out bits of debris everywhere. He saw the missing door a few yards away from the car.
There was his jacket a few feet away from the door and a few yards away from the jacket he saw a body. He saw what at least appeared to be a body.
Panic should have set in but didn't. Could just as easily be shrubs. It wasn't startling enough for him to rush down there but after staring for quite sometime curiosity won the best of him and he decided to trek back just in case. The moon had already tricked him into believing a huge slopping hill had been but a few yards inclined; and he was certain that shadow and foliage was running chicanery on his eyes now.
If he had hit someone he was going to need to know it in order to somehow curtail the negative consequences something like that has on one. You can't come up with a good alibi for hitting someone if you don't even know you've hit someone.
He kept his eyes on the shape as best as he could and the closer he got, the more it looked like a body. Panic barely registered. He was worried more about the victims ghost coming back to haunt him ala horror flicks, than the possibility he had just committed vehicular manslaughter.
That didn't last long.
Soon he was close enough to tell that it was more body than shrub. Panic registered. He didn't recall hitting anyone. Maybe he had but he honestly didn't believe so. There was no thud in the gentle hum until the guardrail impact. He couldn't have hit someone. If it was a body chances are it was already down there before he decided to...park there. Maybe there was even a reward for finding the missing person. There have been movies about a random person or people finding a body and having dramatic or hilarious consequences.
It was slumped over on its side with both arms, not branches, outstretched before it. One leg, not root, was cocked back in a crude contortion. He passed his dead car and was so focused on the emerging crisis that he didn't notice the small flame coming from underneath the bent hood. The pain in his head wasn't registering but panic definitely was. His chest was heaving and his heart was pounding. He was a few yards away and he was positive now. He wanted to shout out at the lump but as he approached panic went off the charts. Panic choked the words in his throat and stopped him in his tracks. Adrian was once again on pause. This time it was a pause filled with chaos and agony and confusion and fear. He was unaware of the tears pooling in his eyes as he stared down in disbelief.
It wasn't a body.
It was his body.
And there was his genuine Hollywood moment. There was the cliché he had been searching for. It had to come sometime and the irony was completely lost to him in his current plight. Everything had seemed so real until now. But this couldn't be real. He had to be dreaming right? That would be an even better cliché because then he could use the warnings of the dream as catalysts for living a purer life, Scrooge and all that stuff.
Hope and doubt withered as Adrian stared down at his own lifeless body. And it was he. There was still a smug look on his face. He had evidently been thrown from 'Christine' (as he had named the car). He had probably shattered several bones and suffered multiple fatal injuries and he still died with that smug look on his face The look that people had often warned him about. How pompous was that? Blood was trickling down his brow and pooling beneath his lifeless head.
After minutes of staring in horrified disbelief he knelt beside himself and tried to grab hold or push but his hands past right through his limp body. That was another classic he wasn't concerned with appreciating at the current moment. He was consumed by a deeper woe than he'd ever known. It was a dread like a never-ending cloud over rain-withered fields. A foreboding of the unknown he couldn't recall experiencing...though he had, many times over. And soon he began to sob and then wail. He shouted for help. He begged and he pleaded. He moaned and he wailed and lashed frivolously at the corpse. It was one of those scenes; the protagonist yelling "NOOOOO!" while shaking their fists at the sky. It was hours to him that he sat yelling into the night like a banshee.
At several times he tried to get up and walk away but was tethered by some unseen force. He wouldn't allow himself more than a few steps away from the lifeless husk. The sun never came up and the moon never moved. He was confused and frightened. He wanted to look away from the mangled body but couldn't for more than a few minutes. His eyes were drawn to it as though he felt it would change if he stared away long enough. It would turn into someone else and he'd just be crazy from a head wound. All along he felt the truth deeper in his soul. Blood mixed with tears in his spectral eyes and he inhaled deeply. The air was real. He was now certain that if this was a dream he was never going to sleep again. It was terrifying. He was trying to calm down to no avail. His desolation continued unabated for quite sometime. He was not sure what to do. If he were dead what would he do from here? Where should he go? Would he even be able to get more than a few feet away if he could even make it back to his feet? Gravity seemed to be on steroids now. Maybe that was shock to. There was no light to go to like they have in the movies.
He lay down inside himself and wept on. He laid his head even with his corpses. He was intangible but somehow he felt the earth beneath his head. He wondered if he had been alive when his body came to rest at the bottom of the hill. He wondered if he had lain there bleeding and wheezing until death took him. If he were to fall asleep here would he wake up to the tugging of an energetic puppy at his sock, or a rattling alarm clock?
That's' when he heard it, a soothing sound. It was distant but familiar. It was like a vibration almost. It was comforting in the oddest way. It was like a caress from the girlfriend he missed so much these days. It coaxed him while his sobbing eased. It was growing more distinct. It was so familiar. He began to settle and his mind began to slow down. He wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. There was nothing he could do for now. Maybe he was crazy or he was dreaming or he was dead. In either case it was best to get some rest and hope the sun would finally rise. He was feeling a unity with the husk he lay inside. Almost as if his soul was melding once more with the host it was so drawn to.
An acceptance washed over him and the vibration turned into a gentle hum. It grew nearer. It was even more comforting now that it was close. He closed his eyes. He had laid there for countless breaths and was almost asleep when Adrian Michaels was woken by the gentle hum of tires on a smooth highway. The fog of dreams was still wafting in is head. But the hum was soothing. It was a gentle nudge to wake, that which he had not experienced in quite sometime.
Sadly, he had but a brief moment to enjoy the soothing hum before he realized what was happening.