Written by: Joseph D. Stirling (1996)
There was a pressure on his left shoulder and both hips. This became more and more alive as his head cleared and Ban began to wake. He slowly found the memory of what had happened. Brodie had been playing drums on the dashboard with two lighters and Rand was just lighting a joint when the steering went out. The car veered into the guardrail to the right of the bridge. Ban had hit his head on the steering wheel and fallen unconscious, leaving everything blank between then and when he awoke.
Ban jerked a little and felt a strong tug that twisted down and stopped abruptly. He opened his eyes wide as he looked down into the river a good seventy feet below the car. He inhaled deeply, holding the air in and tried to push into the seat as if he could get out of the car that way. Brodie’s hand touched him on the shoulder and squeezed gently.
“Don’t move man, every time you move the car slips a little more. Don’t move man, please.” His voice was shaking and pushed through his lips as if the air had been held prisoner in his lungs and now had its freedom after a thousand years. “You’ve been out cold for about half an hour. I’ve been here alone, crying. I’ve been fucking crying man!”
Ban sat taut with every muscle solid and unmoving, keeping him pressed into the seat. From what he could see, the car was sitting almost vertically on the passenger side of the bumper. The rear bumper was caught by part of the bridge and seemed to hold. Ban looked out his window and could see the train tracks sitting about fifteen feet below the bridge and holding the front of the car at its edge. Ban let his breath out in short spasms and tried to close his eyes.
“What do you mean alone?” He managed to spit out. The words tasted like a sour liquid mixture of metal and urine.
“Rand fell past us and knocked out the window. I watched him fall into the river. He was screaming as the way down.”
He shivered and looked over with weak reddened eyes, “Can I have a cigarette, mine got wet and I tossed them.”
And after a momentary pause, “Don’t tell anyone Ban, please don’t tell anyone.”
“I wont man, I swear I wont.” Ban felt clueless as to what he wasn’t supposed to tell as he dug into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Marlboro Reds. “I don’t have a light, you were drumming with it.”
“I don’t know where they went.” Brodie moved his head looking around at what little of the car he could see without moving his body too much. “I don’t know. What about the glove box?” He reached forward and pressed the button opening the door. Three lighters sat amidst the clutter of papers and scratched CD’s. Brodie picked one up and grabbed a sandwich bag as well. “We’ve got six joints left, maybe it’ll help us relax?” His voice was so pressed by fear that Ban could barely hear it but seeing the bag he understood a little better.
“Go out with a head change or just something else to smoke,” asked Ban, trying to figure which way he was to understand it.
“Smoke, that’s all.” Though Brodie seemed to be thinking over the first part of Ban’s statement. “Besides I think better when I’m high.”
Ban had heard this before, from the mouth of everyone he had ever smoked with, it was an excuse. Fuck excuses, Ban just liked to get high. He took a cigarette and lit it.
As Brodie lit his own cigarette, Ban asked, “What time is it?”
“I don’t know man, Rand had the watch.” Saying this sent Brodie into another small fit of shivering.
Ban lifted his cigarette to his mouth and saw that his hands were shaking and for the first time he realized he hadn’t stopped shaking since he woke up. His head was suddenly full of pain as if it had just been struck. He raised his hand to his forehead and winced. It was bloody when he looked at it again.
“You hit your head on the steering wheel before the car jumped lanes,” cracked Brodie through a dry throat.
Ban looked at him with wide eyes, “Jumped lanes?”
“Yeah, we hit the wall and I thought you died when you hit your head. Rand hit both of us when he came out of the back seat. He hit the windshield hard and fell onto us. Then the car hooked left and went straight through the rail on the other side, we landed here. I don’t know how, but Rand hit the window again and it popped out and fell with him. I want to go home Ban, I want my mom,” and he was crying again.
Ban let him cry for a little while before touching the back of Brodie’s head gently. “It’s alright man. Hey, you want to smoke one of those to your head, man? I sure as hell do,” he thought his calm voice sounded fake to his own ears and could only imagine how fake it sounded to Brodie.
“And I need to do something about my forehead.”
Brodie lifted his head and looked at his friend, a small smile broke through his grief stricken face. “What about the oil rag in your glove box? Wouldn’t that work?”
“But that’s an oil rag man…”
“Yeah, but you’ve never used it since your dad gave it to you.”
The two laughed so suddenly they both almost began to cry again, then stopped dead still afraid they might have moved too much. The car groaned, an iron-thick sound, but seemed to settle without moving. Ban could hear the sound of water dripping. Brodie shook violently and started to cry again.
“I’m sorry Ban, please don’t tell anyone…please?”
Ban said nothing, he understood then how Brodie’s cigarettes had gotten wet. Suddenly his own bladder called out to him; it was full and ready to spill. He looked over to Brodie and smiled at him.
“I wont tell if you wont,” and he let his bladder go.
Brodie continued crying, though he cried differently at that moment. Ban made a promise in the only way he felt would show his honesty. He took the bag from Brodie’s hand and removed two joints from it.
“Could you pass me that oil rag man?” He put the cigarette pack into the bag and put both joints in his mouth. Ban lit them and passed one over to Brodie. “Here man.” He dropped the lighter into the bag and zipped it shut tucking it into his pocket.
Brodie handed the oil rag over and Ban carefully slipped his belt from his pants. He folded the oil rag and tightened it to his forehead with the belt. It stung a little but would help stop the bleeding. Ban did his best to stare anywhere but at the river, he let his eyes pass over the speedometer and fuel gauge, the oil gauge and temperature gauge, and finally on the stereo. He reached forward and touched the dial, then held it firmly and turned.
Welcome back music fans! We’re at the bottom of the hour and dropping fast…
Ban changed the station.
…ome on down to Dalton Motors, we’re slashing prices on new and used cars! Bring your old car down and we’ll give you a deal on a trade-in, even if you’ve had a little fender-bender…
Ban changed the station.
Samantha, please. I love you.
Love me? How could you love me John? You murdered my husband and threw him in the river! I could ne-
“Maybe the CD player?” asked Brodie.
“I don’t know where the disk-man is,” answered Ban.
“It’s outside the car,” said Brodie pointing. “Look.”
The cord from the tape accessory was stretched tight and hung out the windshield. They both leaned forward a little, stretching their necks till they could see it. The CD player was hanging by the plug, and just barely. Brodie took the wire and slowly reeled it up to the windshield frame where it snagged and fell. With small frightened gasps they watched it spin end over end down to the river. They lost sight of it before it splashed.
“That’s a long drop,” stammered Ban as he turned his attention to the joint he held. “I don’t want any more of this.”
Ban flicked the joint out into the dark open space and both watched as the small red coal burned its way down to the river.
Brodie was silent; his wide red eyes said everything they needed to. The lines at the corners of his eyes made him look much older than nineteen but his mouth hanging open confirmed his youth. Ban started thinking about that morning when he was just leaving for a weekend camping trip with two friends. A trip to celebrate their high school graduation just three short days ago.
They both jumped when they heard something crash behind them. They stared at each other with wide shaking eyes. The look they exchanged was one that meant to say what they could not–Well, here it comes. It’s been nice knowing you man, I hope to see you on the other side–and then their eyes slammed shut, waiting for the drop and the steely cry from the car. But it never came.
“Hello? Is anybody down there?”
They jumped at the sound. It had scared them more than perhaps the fall they thought was coming. Ban opened his eyes first and yelled back.
“Hello! Yes, there’re two of us, Rand fell out of the car! Oh, my God! Please help us! Please!” Ban could feel the panic and hysteria gripping him again. Wrenching his insides and twisting his courage.
“I don’t have a phone!” the man yelled back, “Wait there, I’ll go for help! It’s only a ten-minute drive to the next gas station! I’ll be right back, don’t panic,” his voice was cracking and shaky. “I promise, I’ll be back with help!”
They heard the door slam a second time. Brodie broke into tears once more and Ban tried desperately to turn and see who the man was. The car tore off down the road leaving the echo of squealing tires behind.
“Wait! Don’t leave us here alone! Don’t leave!” and Ban was crying as well.
His hopes of rescue carried away with the roar of a motor and the shouts of a man neither of them knew or saw.
“Ban,” said Brodie through his tears, “Do you think he’s really coming back?”
“Yes. He’s coming back, I know he’s coming back.” As he said it, he knew he was trying to make himself believe it as well.
Brodie flicked the nub of his joint out the window, “Para-roach.”
Ban laughed slightly through his tears, “101st Home grown.”
They laughed quietly watching the glowing red tip of Brodie’s joint fall into the abyss below them, and then Brodie stopped and tensed all his muscles.
“Do you feel that?” he asked breathing in spasms and suddenly terrified.
Ban went silent immediately, “Feel what?” His fear was growing again.
Brodie said nothing and the two sat quietly searching for something that only Brodie could feel. Then Ban felt it as well, a small vibration in the car flowing like the river below them from the tracks. Then came the one noise that frightened them more than anything ever had. It dropped their stomachs to their toes and launched their hearts to their throats. A shrill whistle broke the night silence and held for a few seconds before quieting. A train whistle.
Ban started to shake again, “Oh my God…”
“Ban,” Brodie was in tears again, “We have to get out of the car we have to get out of the car!”
“Oh my God…” repeated Ban.
Ban was beginning to cry as well, it was a thing that could not be helped. Brodie looked from right to left, frantically trying to see the train that would cause them to drop into the water so far below. Or maybe it would just slam into the vehicle and kill them outright. Ban looked to his right and screamed. Brodie followed his gaze and began to hyper ventilate and shake terribly. In the trees at the edge of the bridge they could see the train’s cyclopean headlight shooting through the branches.
“Brodie put your legs on the dashboard and unbuckle your seat belt!” Ban could barely understand his own words as they spilled from his mouth, but Brodie had heard them for what they were and was even now bracing his feet against the dash.
Ban did the same and they unclipped themselves from the car. Brodie sat there getting his breathing under some semblance of control before he looked to Ban afraid that he was going to suggest that they jump.
“We need to open the door very slowly, your door.” Ban spoke with an unnatural calmness despite the tears that wet his cheeks and reddened his eyes. “Use your belt and fasten it to the door somehow, let me get closer to help.”
They could feel the vibrations in the car growing ever so slowly and the light continued to brighten as it rounded the bend that would aim it at the car. Ban slid over till both of them leaned against the passenger seat. Brodie looped the belt through the door handle and Ban opened it.
“Get a good hold on the belt before I let go of the door.”
Brodie nodded and held tight. Ban let go of the door and they slowly lowered it till it hung open. The train whistle sounded again, three long blurts of noise that sent waves of shivers up the two boys’ spines.
“We have to jump don’t we,” said Brodie closing his eyes and trying desperately to find some small ounce, some tiny puddle, of the stuff called courage.
“And we have to do it quick Brodie,” said Ban watching the headlight break the last bit of forest and start its run across the bridge.
“The engineer has to see the car right? I mean he can see your car right, can’t he?” Brodie was becoming hysterical.
“Brodie,” Ban’s voice was suddenly the most calm summer afternoon that had ever existed, “Brodie, you can make it. Just jump out onto the train tracks. I’ll be right behind you. Just jump out.”
The vibrations in the car were becoming audible and it suddenly slipped three inches, twisting the drivers’ side further out over the water.
Brodie turned his body and jumped out of the car towards the train-bridge. Ban followed. Brodie was screaming as Ban quickly rushed to where he lay on the tracks.
“My wrist, oh shit man. It hurts, oh shit it hurts.”
Ban could see the twist in Brodie’s wrist and the swelling through his sleeve. It was broken. He looked around desperately trying to find some place to get clear of the train. The whistle screamed at them again followed by a horrid wrenching of metal on metal. The rear end of the car was shifting, stretching the muffler that it hung from and finally tearing it. The car seemed to sit still for a moment as they watched, feeling the fear of it as if they were still inside, and then it was gone. Falling from the bridge and into the abyss. As it hit the water the hazard lights flickered on and the horn sounded, though the river quickly muted the sound as the car sank.
“Brodie you have to get up, you have to get up! The train Brodie!”
Brodie looked back at the train, it was racing along the bridge, bearing down on top of them. Brodie stood with a pained scream and Ban got an arm around him before he fell again. He pulled him forward as fast as he dared go on the tracks. He looked behind him and knew they weren’t going to make it. He began to panic again; there was no place to go.
“Ban, I can’t make it,” Brodie screamed through his wracking tears.
Ban stopped and turned towards the edge of the bridge, “We have to climb over the edge and hang from the bridge,” he said in a voice that was all too meek. “It’s the only way to get clear of the train,” his voice was so laced with fear and tears that it sounded like a wee babe that had skinned his knee and was trying not to cry in front of his friends.
“I can’t, my wrist,” said Brodie through thick tears, “I’m jumping.”
Before Ban could speak, Brodie was rushing forward and gone from his sight over the edge. Ban stepped to the edge and looked down, Brodie was nowhere to be seen and farther below the moon shimmered on the rushing water. Ban could feel everything inside him rushing to his throat and sitting like a lump. He took a step backwards and heard the whistle screaming to his right. He snapped his head and saw the train roughly thirty yards away and quickly closing the gap.
Ban jumped and felt the wind of the train rushing past his back. He felt weightless for the longest time and began to wonder if he’d ever hit the river or if he’d just stay here and float forever. The wind was suddenly full of fury as it blew past him and the thunder of a train played across the back of his ears. Just before he hit the water he thought he heard sirens somewhere in the distance, and then everything was silent and muffled.
He plunged deep into the water and could see a yellow and red glow flashing from the car below him. The muffled cry of the horn was bleating as he struggled to reach the surface and thought suddenly that he wouldn’t make it. He broke through and sucked the air into his lungs. The river was moving incredibly fast and he tried desperately to get to shore.
He dragged himself onto the wet earth and dropped his head into the molding leaves and mud. He lay there breathing for a long while before he remembered Brodie was out here somewhere. He was on his feet and staring into the river, up and down stream, and across to the other shore which was lost in the night.
“Brodie!” His scream echoed across the torrid water. “Brodie, where are you!”
“Brodie!” He called one last time before turning towards the bridge and walking, “Brodie will know to make for the bridge, he’s probably already there.”
He dug into his pockets and pulled out the bag. Everything was dry, the lighter, the cigarettes, the joints.
“Thank God for zip-lock,” he whispered as he opened it.
He lit one of the cigarettes and sat down for a bit to calm his shaking hands and body. The water was freezing, and colder still now that he was in the night air. As he smoked and shivered he remembered some things from when he was in Cub Scouts. He stood quickly and gathered as many dry branches and leaves as he could find. He peeled his wet clothes off and dug a shallow hole filling it with the tinder he had gathered. The leaves caught fire and Ban smiled.
The branches wouldn’t light though. He pulled all the branches out and stacked them so they formed a small teepee. Shivering and naked he tried again. It seemed to catch. He spread his clothes out on bushes behind him and stared into the river as the fire grew. He sat as close as he dared and could feel the warmth soaking into his skin. He lit a joint and sat there, waiting for his head to swim in the THC so he could finally calm down and relax. He lit a cigarette as the joint dwindled and he tossed it into the fire.
He heard a crash in the bushes farther down the shore away from the bridge and his heart suddenly jumped into his throat. He grabbed a thick branch and stood there with the smoke hanging from his mouth. A figure fell into the fire light with a bloody shirt belted firmly in place on the left side of his head. The skin was pale and the breathing was short and raspy.
“Help me please,” choked the figure.
Ban dropped the branch and ran to him. His eyes were welling with tears as he scraped his knees on the ground next to Brodie. But it wasn’t Brodie! The Marlboro fell from his lips as he spoke.
“Rand?” His voice was shaky and afraid, “Rand!” He began to cry. He dragged his friend closer to the fire. “I thought you died, oh my God, Rand!”
“I saw the light from the fire and,” Rand coughed through his shivers, “and I started to walk again, I didn’t think I’d make it.”
“It’s okay Rand, lie still.” Ban flicked the cigarette into the river. “We have to get you out of those wet clothes,” he said through tears of joy, “Come on, I’ll help you to the fire.”
Rand’s head was deeply gashed open from his impact with the windshield and he drifted in and out of coherency laughing in either state.
He sat up suddenly, “Brodie! I found Brodie. I couldn’t drag him all the way here. Oh shit Brodie, please don’t be dead.”
“What?” asked Ban, “You found Brodie?” Before Rand could answer Ban was on his feet and following the river downstream, “Wait here, I’m going to get him!”
He ran down the shore and almost tripped over Brodie’s body. He was lying in a heap and not breathing. Ban dropped to the ground with his breath caught in his lungs.
“Brodie,” he stammered shaking his friend. “Oh God, no!”
Ban rolled him onto his stomach and laced his fingers around his midsection. He lifted him with a quick jerk and water spilled from his lungs. Ban rolled him onto his back again and began to beat on his chest and then blow air into his mouth.
“Come on Brodie! Come on man! Don’t do this, please don’t do this!”
He beat on Brodie’s chest again with more force, and blew several lungs full of air into his friend’s mouth.
“Remember when we were kids,” he began as he beat on Brodie’s chest again and breathed, “when we built that tree house and I fell out,” more beating and breathing, “and you jumped out and carried me and my broken arm all the way to my house?” He blew four good lungs full into his friend again and beat him even harder, “You kept telling me it would be okay, remember? And it was okay,” he beat his chest again, “Well Brodie, it’ll be okay, I promise man, it’ll be okay. Rand is alive, man. Rand is alive! And you’re coming back with me to see him. So get the fuck up!” he screamed. “Get up you asshole!”
Ban beat on his chest again and Brodie began to cough. Ban picked his head up and held it in his lap.
“Holy shit! Oh my God! Brodie!”
He was laughing and crying as Brodie slowly stopped coughing and began to breathe a little more regularly. Brodie looked up and smiled, he was crying too.
“Rand’s alive man, he’s alive and back at the fire!”
Brodie cried harder and began to cough again; Ban just sat there and rocked him gently. After the two had calmed a little, Ban lifted Brodie in his arms and carried him back to the fire. Rand was mumbling the chorus to ‘Smoke Two Joints’ by Sublime when they got there. Rand and Ban stripped Brodie’s wet clothes off and set him between them.
“Looks like we get to go camping after all,” said Brodie through deep breaths, “So, who’s gonna to get the sleeping bags out of the trunk?”
They all laughed harder than any of them could ever remember laughing. Ban lifted one of the last few joints and tossed it in the fire as they huddled close together to keep warm.
“You know we’re all going to get arrested right,” asked Rand, “I’ve still got two ounces in my pockets and we’re all gonna have dirty piss. Kind of funny when you think about all the shit we went through tonight.”
The other two nodded as Brodie dug the weed out of Rand’s jeans, “I don’t suppose we have a problem with ditching this? Our parents are already going to be mad as hell.”
They laughed a little as they watched the bag full of weed go up in smoke. Ban and Rand pulled their clothes on and added more wood to the fire. Shortly after, Brodie’s things were dry enough to wear as well.
The first of the flashing lights sped onto the bridge followed by dozens of others as they tossed Rand’s pipe into the river. Smiles spread across the three of them, they were almost rescued.
“Sex lights,” said Ban.
Rand and Brodie looked at him with quizzical what-the-fuck looks on their faces.
“Sex lights,” repeated Ban pointing at the bridge,
“Somebody just got fucked.”
“Yeah, it seems like we all took it up the tailpipe tonight,” laughed Rand.
Ban did nothing but smile as he lit the last cigarette. Somewhere behind them and miles away the train whistled to remind them of the night, as all trains would for the rest of their lives.
©January1997 Joseph D. Stirling