BY KEITH NEWTON
Copyright is held by the author.
THE SNOW was thick and heavy and the roads were slippery, their edges indistinct. He passed safely through the village and cautiously took the winding riverside road. No guardrail. Go slow. It’s a big drop, a few trees, then the river. But he’d entered the curve too fast and felt the car slide sideways towards the edge of the road. Neither steering nor a tentative touch on the brake did anything to help. There was no time to be scared. He just hung tightly to the wheel, his face between his forearms, as the car rolled gently over the edge. A loud crash and the car rolled over once, then again, then end-over-end to smash head-on, right side up, into a sturdy tree. Silence.
Dazed and bewildered, he struggled to take in what had happened. It had all been so fast. Just a few seconds of rolls and cartwheels and earsplitting crashes, his body wrenched in various directions, restrained only by the seatbelt. Through the hole where the windshield had been he had a close-up of tree bark.
Think. Think. Check. Move. He gingerly unclasped his hands from the steering wheel and sat back. Come on idiot, take stock. His head felt like hell but he found that he could move his neck, his arms too. What the……Jesus ….what the hell happ… But his other voice managed to cut in again. Think. Think. Get..a…fucking…grip. Legs?
He couldn’t move them at first but then felt oddly reassured by the pressure on his knees. He said a silent prayer to the designer of the Beetle: he had an empty trunk wrapped around a tree rather than an engine in his lap. He squirmed and his legs budged; pulled up his knees in a sitting position. Nothing broken.
OK, now what? Get out you silly bugger. He unlatched the seatbelt, mouthing another silent prayer of thanks. Why am I getting so religious all of a sudden? Get out. Get out. Easier said than done. Bloody door jammed fast. He squirmed to the other. Same thing. Through the window, then. Mind the glass. He carefully removed splinters and crystals of glass from his clothing, knelt on the seat and pushed himself through the hole. With his belly on the doorframe he shoved against the seat with his feet and landed in the snow. Hurting all over, bewildered and disoriented, he seemed to be alive.
Slowly, painfully, he got to his feet and surveyed the scene. The word “surreal” (one which he usually disliked) flashed into his mind in a millisecond, took hold and clung on ferociously — (a ghostly presence that would continue to irritate him). The car’s path down the precipice was clearly visible. Tracks where it had slid ended abruptly where it must have bumped and become airborne; then further tracks, then the tree.
Dotted in the snow, from a point about half way down, to the beginning of the car’s final slide, were the entire contents of the vehicle. Everything had flown out including, incredibly, the rear floormats. He stood transfixed, his back to the thin strip of trees between himself and the river. The light was grey, the snow fell steadily and there was an eerie silence. His upward gaze took in the various items scattered down the steep slope and, to his relief, he was able to make out the briefcase, half-covered, at the end of its own little track in the snow. Then, through the snow and the dim light, he saw it: the hockey stick, vertical, silhouetted starkly against the grey-white background. Not a cross, exactly, just that angled blade, but strangely symbolic. It took his breath away. The whole scene was ethereal, sepulchral.
No time for bloody poetry. Get your ass in gear. He forced himself into action. This can’t be real. This isn’t happening. He felt himself all over (a mere pinch didn’t seem enough) to reconfirm: yes, alive; nothing broken. Now get going. Get the hell out of here. Was there anything in the glovebox? Screw it. Get it later. Go, for God’ sakes! He retrieved the hockey stick. It was virtually useless as an aid in the snow but it had a comforting feel to it as he made his clumsy way over the rough snow-covered ground to the base of the cliff. Pausing to pick up his briefcase he slung it over his shoulder by its long leather strap. With one free hand and a little help from the stick in the other, he began the daunting climb.
He slipped often, cursing, half-blinded by tears, snow and a trickle of blood. Near exhaustion, he managed to get his elbows hooked onto what he hoped was the lip of the precipice with the more or less flat verge beyond. He gathered himself for one last heave and pushed hard with his legs. Most of his body was then close to what he judged to be the roadside. Having crawled forward a little he crumpled and lay panting, spent.
Shit, I made it. Now what? There won’t be much traffic along here in this bloody blizzard. Gotta try to stop someone, though. Must. He had barely got to his knees when he heard it: a vehicle of some sort. He shuffled on hands and knees, briefcase trailing, stick useless. The sound of the motor grew louder and he could see the pick-up looming through the curtain of snow. Raising himself he waved the hockey stick. Once again a silent prayer: I hope to Christ he doesn’t skid like I did or I’m a goner for sure. The truck came to a halt, sliding a bit, but safe.
“Get in” came a gruff voice and a powerful wave of beery fumes.