This is the opening of my new book, Imperfect Stranger, now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
It happened right in front of me. Visibility on the narrow mountain road was almost zero in the rain and fog. I heard the crash before I saw it, pulled over and got out of my car.
It’s still there when I close my eyes. The car hanging at a crazy angle over the sharp embankment; the guardrail a twisted pretzel, all that kept the car from falling; the dead deer sprawled on the road. I stood there for what seemed an eon. What do I do? Will my touch tip the car out of balance and make it plunge over the cliff? Should I call for help, wait for reinforcements? Surely someone else heard the crash or saw the crazy headlights pointing to the sky. My paralysis was broken by a tentative little voice.
I approached the car, careful not to brush against it, and looked through the rear side window. A small face looked back at me. In the front seat, the driver was curled into the deflated airbag, motionless. I could see it was a woman.
My mind bounced between options, none of which were good. Carefully, I tried the front door, but it didn’t budge. The driver’s side window was gone. Reaching through it, I placed my hand on the woman’s neck, feeling for a pulse the way I’d seen it done so many times on television. Apparently it’s easier on T.V., because I felt nothing. I pulled away a hand smeared with blood. The baby whimpered again.
“Hang on,” I said, my voice coming out in a croak. “Hang on, kid. I’ll get you out.”
Holding my breath, willing my hands to be steady, I painstakingly tried the back door. It opened one creak at a time. I fumbled with the unfamiliar straps and latches of the baby’s car seat. Just as I lifted the small body clear, the car lurched sickeningly and resettled.
The baby seemed okay. I sat her on the ground and went back to the woman. Awake now, she was making feeble attempts to climb out of the window. Our eyes met, hers pleading.
“Emmy?” she said.
There was a smell of gasoline, pungent and dangerous. All it needed was a spark. I was out of time. I grabbed the woman’s arms and pulled hard. She screamed as the car pulled in the opposite direction, convulsed and disappeared almost soundlessly. We fell backwards to the ground, to safety, the woman and I. I eased her carefully onto the ground next to her baby, who stopped crying and sucked her thumb, holding a fistful of her mother’s hair. The woman’s forehead leaked blood that almost obscured her face, but her eyes held mine. I fumbled for my cell phone, dialed 911 and gave our location.
That’s when I should have gotten in my car and driven on, but the woman’s hand caught mine and held. I sat beside them and waited.
Sirens and blue lights announced the arrival of the ambulance and the sheriff. After paramedics screamed off with their patients, the cop got out his little notebook and asked my name. My mouth opened to lie. But what I said, sweating, my heart galloping, was the truth: “John Carver.”
If he runs it, he runs it. No point in trying to hide. Not now.