The tips of my fingers tapped the top of my steering wheel, I reached down to the radio and clicked the seek button repeatedly, flipping through each different station.
That is the time my clock read as I sat in traffic along Highway 70.
It was a hot summer day in mid-July, I had just got off work, and I was ready to be home. I was used to the occasional traffic jam during rush hour, but things were moving extra slow today.
I had my windows rolled down listening to Take It Easy, by the Eagles. One arm rested on the outside of my window while the other held the top of my steering wheel. I sang along as the song blared through my speakers, “Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona.”
The traffic was dragging on, I was probably only going about five miles an hour. The semi in front of me put his left blinker on to change lanes, and that’s when I noticed the flashing blue and red lights ahead.
Great, an accident.
The tune of the Eagles hummed in my ears as I tried to stay entertained, “Come on, baby, don’t say maybe. I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.”
I was coming up to the first patrol car. The cop was standing outside of his car, holding orange cones in each hand. He was motioning big circles with his left arm as his right arm held the orange cone straight ahead, I guess to keep the flow of traffic moving.
I kept listening to the radio and rolled forward, “Well I’m running down the road trying to loosen my load, got a world of trouble on my mind.”
The back-left corner of the ambulance slightly protruded into the right lane of the highway. The EMTs didn’t seem to be in too big of a rush considering the magnitude of the accident. I rolled past the ambulance just as they pulled the stretcher out of the back.
My eyes darted back to the road. I hoped that whoever was in this accident would be okay.
The cars in front of me were swerving into the left lanes ahead. I blinked a couple of times as I looked at the scraps of metal left from the totaled car. The car had been swept horizontally, blocking a portion of the right lane. I tried to make sense of what type of car it was (hoping it was nobody I knew), but the car was too far gone to put together a make or model.
My car putted past the metal debris scattered across the side of the road. I saw two paramedics holding up a black tarp to shield the view from oncoming drivers. As I passed the black tarp, I noticed this putrid smell radiating from the black tarp. The smell brought me back to junior year biology class, the day we had to dissect pigs. The smell of the formaldehyde on the dead pig made me gag and I couldn’t make it through class that day.
I then began to dry heave from the stench. I pulled over to the side of the road, thinking I was ready to hurl. Oncoming cars started honking at me as I cut them off to pull onto the shoulder of the highway.
I took a few deep breaths, and another steaming whiff of formaldehyde crossed paths with my nostrils. I burped as my late lunch splattered across the pavement. I used the sleeve of my shirt to wipe my mouth off, then got behind the wheel of my car to get the hell out of there.
The humidity of the day wasn’t helping me feel much better and the sun was boiling down and reflecting off the metal cars around me. The exhaust from each ignition made it seem 10 times hotter than it was that day.
My sweaty palms gripped the top of my steering wheel. When I looked out my left mirror, I saw an old lady waving the universal signal saying she would let me in. I turned the knob on my radio up to distract myself, “So take it easy, take it easy.”
I looked up and out my rear-view mirror, and that is when I saw it. A lifeless, bloody hand laid just inches out from the black tarp. The paramedic must have seen the horrified look on my face because I saw him use his shoe to kick the hand back behind the tarp.
I swiveled the wheels of my car into the left lane, and proceeded on my way in the slow-moving traffic. Something felt off about this whole situation. I have cruised passed a car crash before, but I have never seen paramedics be so oblivious to letting a dead body show, plus the smell seemed unnatural for someone who had just died.
Feeling unsteady, I looked again in my rear-view mirror, except this time I didn’t see a bloody hand. No, I saw something way more sinister looking back at me. The dead body was sticking out from the tarp, just enough for me to see the head and upper torso. My eyes darted back and forth between the paramedics, but they didn’t seem to notice the change in the body’s positioning. Just then, the head of the body twisted up, and smiled at me from upside down.
I don’t drive on Highway 70 anymore.