Carolyn Esposito Carpenter put another thin blanket over the huddled form of her son, Jonathan. The boy stirred but did not awaken. Stay asleep, my little one. How ironic she still called him that, though he was taller than she was. Even so, he would always be that, her one joy still to be found in this life of pain. Yet it was sad she couldn’t have done better. The trailer was cold and dark, not unexpected since the power was shut off. They at least had water until the end of the month. She turned toward the kitchen area, only a few feet away, and grabbed the envelope for the past-due electric bill. Pen in hand, she wrote:
Leaving for my new job. Will return tomorrow morning. If you need anything, see Cyrus at the Iron Horse.
Until then, love you. Mom
She left the envelope on the kitchenette table and grabbed her car keys. Doing a night shift was not ideal, but at least it was a job. If everything worked out, they’d be back on their feet in a couple of months and hopefully more comfortable in her mother’s trailer. Quietly she shut the door. The broken lock was not a forgotten worry, but she always prayed that no one would get curious enough to come snooping around, especially the creepy trailer park manager.
The single yellow security light, high on the electric pole in the park, provided enough illumination for her to find her mother’s twenty-year-old Dodge Dart. She slid inside and put the key in the ignition. Would it start? It better. Otherwise, she was screwed. Dear Lord, help me get where I need to be. With that, she twisted the key. The starter oscillated and whined, but the engine roared to life after a few seconds. Thank you, Jesus.
Now she only needed some continued luck to make the fifteen-minute jaunt to the Senior Care Living Center. In minutes, she eased the car down the gravel trail leading to the highway and made the left turn toward Jamesville. On an embankment high above Deer Creek, the road arced along a steady curve hemmed in by a tall stand of trees. The sign for the Jamesville Country Club appeared in her headlights. They dimmed briefly before snapping back to full strength. A shiver of anxiety sailed through Carolyn. Just last week, the car had done that shortly before dying.
She slapped the dashboard. “Please, please, don’t crap out on me.” Just past the sign, the lights dimmed again, then the dash lights flashed red. “NO, NO, NO!” The engine sputtered and coughed, then died, as did all the lights. Darkness enveloped her as panic seized hold.
Get to the side of the road. Carolyn took her foot off the gas and applied the brake, but the steering wheel stubbornly resisted her efforts to turn it. The grinding sound of gravel and the thump of tires leaving the pavement greeted her ears. She was going off the road; that much was clear. Her heart thudded wildly. Jamming the pedal hard, the brakes seized, and the car fishtailed. In seconds it began to tip. She screamed. The vehicle careened over. Glass shattered, metal shrieked, and branches snapped as leaves whipped against the sides. Carolyn raised her hands over her head as the roof caved in. Something slammed into her face, and the world went black.
She opened her eyes. Darkness surrounded her, as did the sound of running water. Her face stung, and her body ached. Wetness ran over her lips, and a salty metallic taste coated her tongue. She tried to open the car door with a push, but it wouldn’t budge. No matter; the window was gone anyway. Only a few tempered shards stood in her way. They quickly fell over as she dragged herself out the opening. Pain thundered in her head, and her right arm refused to bend. Once clear, she landed on her feet.
Water raced around her ankles. I must be the creek at the bottom of the embankment. She peered up the slope. At first, she could see nothing, then the faint glimmer of light appeared, as did the sound of a motor. Maybe they’ll stop and help. The glow and engine noises faded away. Guess not. After a sigh, Carolyn clambered up the slope by pulling at small trees and vines. Having to use her left arm exclusively made for slow progress. By the time she reached the shoulder of the road, her face and clothes were mud-streaked, twigs and branches stuck out of her hair, and her heart beat so hard she thought it might explode. A sense of relief poured into her, even as she dragged herself out toward the road.
Lights appeared ahead, as did a diesel engine’s rough and tumble rattle. She stepped over the shoulder line and tried to wave her arms, but only the left cooperated. The bright beams stabbed her eyes. They must see me. She shouted, “Help! Help!”
The crunch of gravel caught her ears. They must have seen her. She smiled for a millisecond. Oh no, they’re not slowing down. She turned to leap away.
* * *
A horrible thunk resounded, and brakes squealed. Tires skidded on the gravel, but the tow truck slid to a stop. Joshua Lawrence slipped out the driver’s door and took a couple hesitant steps around the front of his vehicle.
Near the right headlight was a dent filled with what looked like mud. A few leaves stuck out of the truck’s grill. He took a swig from a flask and stared into the dark. Something had been standing there. He was sure of it. But what? Running his hand along the bumper, he steadied himself as the world moved randomly around him. “Hello,” he called out.
The growly rattle of the idling truck filled his ears; he could hear nothing in reply. He quickly swam back to the cab and shut the engine off. The headlights still illuminated the trees next to the road, but he couldn’t see anything else. Making his way back to the dent, he ran a couple fingers through the middle of it. Red stuck to his fingers, as did some dark brown hair.
For a moment, concern sailed through his mind before quickly settling on something much more comfortable to comprehend. A deer. That’s what it must have been. He climbed back into the cab and started the wrecker. Time to get home.
He glanced at the trees and wove into the road on his way home past the country club. Behind him, the crickets chirped, frogs ribbited, and reddish water trickled through the creek. By morning it ran clear.