Today’s post is a short story written by a dear friend. He doesn’t have a blog and lacks the time to maintain one for now, so I’ve told him my space is open to him any time he wants to share something he’s written.
Enjoy, my friends.
CLEANING UP THE WRECKAGE
“What a fucking mess!”
John couldn’t believe what he’d done to his wife’s car. The SUV had rolled six or seven times, skidded down an embankment and wrapped around the base of a Ponderosa. Bits of metal and glass, bumpers and mirrors and streaks of black paint left a trail of destruction several hundred feet along the road. A BMW symbol, seemingly unharmed and glinting in the sun, lay perfectly centered on a yellow hash mark, as if placed there for the opening frame of an uppity car commercial.
“Figures,” he muttered.
After realizing he was sitting on the side of the road, he stood and surveyed himself. Not a scratch. No blood. Just foggy. He couldn’t find a bump on his head but figured he must’ve been out for a few minutes, given the amount of steam and billowing smoke that had reached the tops of the massive pines.
“Thrown just in time.”
He felt strange talking out loud to himself, but the sound of his own voice was comforting after seeing the wreckage. Smoke trailed up out of the mangled hood and into the pine canopy above, and the acrid smell of antifreeze and oil sizzling on the engine block made him a little nauseated.
“Holy shit! John, you lucky sonofabitch!”
“You were one lucky sonofabitch,” said a voice to his right.
“Jesus Christ, you scared me!” John blurted out.
“You really shouldn’t swear…not after what happened to you,” said the stranger.
“You’re fucking kidding me, right?!”
“Quite serious, but I understand given your situation. How are you feeling?”
“Okay, I guess. A little groggy. But fuck. Fuck! Look at the car! She’s going to be pissed. That was a gift…it was supposed to help. Fuck.”
John wasn’t sure what to make of the stranger. Jet black, buzz-cut hair. Scruffy face. The kind of face featuring a permanent 5 o’clock shadow’ and gracing the cover of GQ Magazine. Red plaid shirt. Khaki shorts. Hiking shoes. A real life Eddie Bauer ad. And those Eyes. Piercing, drill-through-you blue eyes.
But…middle of nowhere on Highway 97 and here’s this dude. No car? Walking?
“Where the hell did you come from?”
“I was camping just up the road, off about 100 yards,” the stranger lied, pointing back up the road. “I am all over these woods. ‘God’s Country.’ Isn’t that what you locals call it? I like that. I heard the crash, thought I would come talk to you.”
Talk to me?
The stranger’s voice was calming, soothing. The words emerged from the chiseled jaw line, unblemished teeth, just so. Metered. Precise. A voice for radio. A face for movies. Grown in a damn lab. Guys like this. She wanted a guy like this.
The two stood together, a momentary silence, staring at the mass of mangled steel and debris field. John, arms crossed. The stranger, hands in pockets.
“It’s coming now,” said the stranger.
“The ambulance. I can hear it. From Chemult.”
“I don’t hear anything,” said John. “How can you hear that?”
“Don’t worry; that crash rattled your cage. They’re coming. They’ll be here soon. How long do you want to stick around, John?”
“The fuck are you talking about? It’s an accident scene. I can’t just walk off!”
“Okay. No problem. It’s normal. I can wait.” The stranger shrugged, hands still in his pockets, never pulling his gaze from the wreckage.
“You’re freakin’ me out a little bit. I don’t even know your name and you’re goddamn freakin’ me out!”
“Call me Mike. And please, don’t swear.” There was an emphasis on don’t that John didn’t like, almost threatening, parental but vague enough not to be.
“Mike it is.”
John wanted to forget the last request, no swearing. 30 miles, middle of nowhere between Crater Lake and Chemult, and I crash by the only weirdo in the woods, thought John. Fuckin’ figures.
“Wait a minute, Mike. You called me a ‘lucky sonofabitch.’ And you want to lecture me…Now…about swearing?”
“Come on, John,” Mike scoffed. “Sonofabitch isn’t swearing. I could’ve just as easily called you one lucky fucker.”
A North wind cut down between the tree walls on either side of the highway, filtering through the needles like so many wind instruments, laden with the scent of high mountain air and pine. Smells and sounds that always made John feel alive. Lying with his wife in the hammock, listening, feeling. That was supposed to last forever, those times. Arguing not three months before with his father-in-law about the height of those trees. Impossible 200 foot giants that Midwesterners couldn’t fathom, but were happy to argue about at family gatherings when decisions about moving away were assumed to be up for discussion. John and Samantha moved to Oregon to make things better, start anew, make things whole again. The trees were just a bonus.
Sirens cut John’s meandering memory short, and he looked up the road to see a string of emergency vehicles speeding toward them. The two stepped back into the pumice on the side of the road to avoid the rush.
A flurry of activity and voices erupted, clangs of doors slamming and equipment banging. Two men opened the side door on the pumper truck, quickly pulling out a giant set of tin snips and rushing to the side of the wreckage.
John had never actually seen the Jaws of Life, only heard them referenced in news stories. He barely paid attention to those stories, always with half of his attention on the news, half on some trivial argument that Sam was carrying on, that he was avoiding.
His stomach turned to a fist as he remembered, understood what those were for. A wave of heat cascaded from his head, down his body as realization began to overtake him, spreading through his veins to his fingers and toes. He lowered his head, his plight beginning to reveal itself, and he noticed the pumice beneath their feet. Thousands of years of fine pumice ash on the roadside always makes for interesting shoe prints, puffs of cloud lingering when hiking or stepping. He realized: no puffs.
“No prints,” he murmured, looking over at Mike.
“No, John. No prints today.”
“Is Mike short for something?”
“I don’t like to be formal. It makes people feel uncomfortable.”