I woke up in pain. My head was pounding, my ears throbbing; my sinuses burned, hot blood dripping down my throat. Hot pain like fire licked all across my skin.
My head swirled and my vision swam. I couldn’t focus my eyes on anything in front of me, I was too disoriented. I closed my eyes and tried to gain my bearings with my other senses. My eyes were no use, and the rest of me just as useless. I thought I was upside down, tethered to something, my head and shoulders pressed against the ground. Where was I? My mind couldn’t conjure up any images before right now—what was this? How did I get here? Where was I? I opened my eyes, grasping for any strand of thought—I knew my name, I knew who I was, I knew where I lived—but my immediate surroundings were a mystery. I vaguely remembered my mom talking to me, her voice light and happy—when was this? Today? A week ago? A lifetime ago? Where the hell was I?
I tried to shove the panic back down my throat. I tried to listen to my surroundings. I could hear dripping (a cave?), a hot sizzle (a kitchen?), the sound of creaking metal (what was that?). And, as I shifted my burning body, the sound of crunching glass.
Was I in an overturned car?
I was strapped into a car wreck.
And I wasn’t alone.
As my vision slowly cleared, I slowly stretched my head to the left and saw a person. My heart sank to my feet. I knew him. That was Ben. He’s my best friend, my boyfriend. How did he get here? What happened to us?
He wasn’t moving. Blood glistened all over his gray shirt and dark skin. His eyes were closed. I felt tears well up in my throat as my subconscious ran ahead of my mind, telling me something I had yet to decipher. But before I could listen to what it had to tell me, it stopped—his chest rose and fell, evenly and alive. The feeling melted back a bit as logic comforted my shell shocked brain. I was alive, he was alive.
I slowly started to become more aware of where I was and what had happened, my vision came back stronger but my mind raced just as as fast as before. I was pressed against the roof of the car, my lungs ached with every breath I took, but I could feel all my limbs and as far as I knew, I wasn’t bleeding anywhere substantially. It was nighttime outside, and a faint light shone somewhere—the headlights? My window was broken and the windshield was a spiderweb of fractures, impossible to see out of. I had no idea where I was. My airbag had gone off and wound deflated in my hands. And I was trapped, pinned underneath the steering wheel and, presumably, the crumpled car.
I reached my bloodied hand over and gripped Ben’s bloodied arm—warm, alive. I shook him as hard as my weakened arms would let me.
“B-Ben,” I coughed, blood catching my voice. “Ben, wake—wake up, Ben.” His eyes remained closed, and he was as still as before. He was okay. He was alive, I told myself, backing the panic back down to where I could control it.
My eyes fell to my smart watch, a gift from—someone, I couldn’t remember. But I did remember it could ping my phone, and I could call for help. If my phone wasn’t destroyed. I drew my hand back from Ben’s form and flipped my finger across the cracked screen. I could feel my phone’s vibration in my pocket. I must have never taken it out. I pulled my hands up to my pocket and slipped it out, but a sudden burst of pain made my drop it and cry out—but it was no use. The screen turned on, and I could vaguely see the tiny letters in the corner—NO SERVICE.
I let out a strangled cry. How was I supposed to fix this? They don’t teach you how to survive car wrecks, or even what to do. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to wait until someone drove down the same road? How long would that take? Hours, days even. I didn’t even know where to start.
Ben would know what to do. I stretched out again, and gripped his arm in desperation. “Ben, please wake up. Wake up! I need your help,” I whimpered, desperate. he would remember what happened and what to do. He would know what to do, he just had to wake up.
I heard it then. Crunching of boots on broken glass. There was someone out there, walking around my car. Why hadn’t they tried to help us? What were they doing?
“Help,” I croaked, my mouth not forming the way it should. “Please help us.”
A growl sounded outside. I must have been hallucinating.
“Help, please!” I cried. Why wouldn’t they help me?
They stepped, crunching the glass, around to my side. I could see their legs. And then the stench rolled in. I still didn’t understand, I just wanted to get out of there. I desperately reached my hand out, out the window onto the pavement, towards the person’s legs.
“Please help me,” I whimpered.
They dropped something on the ground. Something mushy, wet, like a washcloth. Too smooth to be a washcloth. I heard another guttural growl. Closer that time. The smell was nearly overwhelming, putrid and sharp, stinging my nostrils and turning my stomach. Couldn’t be real.
Beside me, finally, Ben shifted. He groaned, moving, alive, alive, alive. He’d know what to do. I crane my head back to him, back toward his familiarity. “Ben? Are you okay?”
He groggily turned towards me. Something dripped on my hand, warm, wet. I didn’t turn around. It didn’t matter. “Ben? Ben? Please tell me you’re okay.”
Ben strained towards me. “I’m okay, baby. I’m okay. What happened?”
I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to tell him, or what to do. I turned to the person outside.
They were crouched down now, looking at me. Something was wrong about their shape. I couldn’t identify it. Too crouched, too still, too long, too tall. Too empty. “Pllleease helppp uus.”
I didn’t say that. I didn’t say that. My words, out of their mouth. My voice. That person just looked at me, face shrouded in shadow, too sharp, too—what? Not enough. Not enough of something.
“Pleassse heeelp us.”
That wasn’t me. How were they sounding like me?
“Hannah, we need to call for help.” Ben’s voice, not mine. Not from that person, from Ben. That’s really his voice.
My thoughts centered again. “I tried, there’s no service. Where are we, what happened? I can’t remember where or what—“ My voice is breaking. I’m crying.
“Hannah, calm down, it’s okay. Why can’t you remember?” He turns towards me, his eyes sharp. He’s a nurse. He will know what happened. “Baby, does your head hurt? Can you remember how we got here?”
“My head…” It’s throbbing. I can’t focus. The smell is overwhelming. I turn back to the person. I could hear their breathing, jagged, deep, panting. Not enough, but not enough of what?
“Hey, hey! What are you doing? We need help!” Ben’s tone changed. From gentle to angry, wary. “Hey, what the hell!”
The person let out another growl. Why would they do that? I didn’t understand.
Then, he moved. He backed up. Too jerky, to slow, too stiff. On all fours. Crawling. No, standing now. Backing away. Swallowed by the trees. Too wrong. He didn’t move right.
My whole body ached. My head swirled, again. Ben’s hand rested on my shoulder.
“Hannah, don’t go to sleep. Hello? 911? We’ve been in an accident, were pinned underneath our car. My girlfriend is injured, we need help right away. No, I’m okay, but I think we need police, too. We might be in danger, there’s some dude lurking around our car. I-95, just past Walberg Exit.”
I open my eyes. I’m in an ambulance. woman shines a light in my eyes. Too bright. I could hear Ben’s voice. He’s here too, talking to someone.
“No, Officer, neither of us are under the influence. We just came back from her Mom’s house.”
A man with a deep voice. “And you’re sure of what you saw? Totally positive?”
“Yes, sir. There was a man, in the middle of the street, leaning over some sort of carcass. A deer or something. That’s why we crashed because my girlfriend swerved to miss him.”
“Alright, thank you, Mr. Jules. Let’s get you and your girlfriend to the hospital.”
That’s all I remember.