It wasn’t until Chris pulled off the road onto a bumpy track that my stomach started to bubble again. My fingers flexed even harder around my thigh, the muscle groaning at the vice-like grip. Snakes of anxiety curled in my stomach.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale...Focusing on the breathing made me forget what was happening. Made me forget that the world spiralling away into darkness around me was literally turned on its head. Made me forget that I was utterly and completely alone. Sure, Chris and Bella could stay a little while. But what about when I got to the address? Would I be told that I was actually an extra-terrestrial being who needed to come home to fill up on some blorg juice? Or that I was actually half-man, half-wolf and that this was some coming of age thing? My friends couldn’t stick around after that. Not after hearing their best friend was secretly a centaur.
“Thomas, I can hear you thinking from all the way over here,” Chris sang, surprisingly at ease considering his car was bouncing over tons of rocks. Usually, if someone even breathed on his car, he would threaten to pull their brain out through their nose and eat it.
I worried at my lower lip and mumbled, “Can you blame me?”
He didn’t respond.
The dark had crept in so far that it was impossible to see more than a couple feet in front of the car. We bounced along the rocky track, Chris swerving as corners appeared from nowhere. As far as I could see, we were surrounded by empty fields, all coated in a hard frost. Fence posts loomed from the sides of the road like jagged teeth, sticking out at odd angles from the shallow banks.
“I’m yet to understand how you knew that this place is up here,” Bella murmured, leaning forward between the seats. “I didn’t see any signposts—“
A dash of black shot across the road.
A r e w e s p i n n i n g ? !
Flash of blonde.
No one realises that silence has a noise until all other noise stops. It’s deafening and soundless, all at once. It’s the quiet click when the record finally finishes. It’s the moment between your foot slipping and your body connecting with the ground. It’s the pause before and after the words i’m sorry and i love you. It’s the quiet as the firework is released and before it explodes in the sky. It’s the pause when the world scrapes to a halt and you realise you are the last survivor.
I used to think silence was my best friend. Now, I’d never hated something more in my life.
Glass sprinkled from my hair as I stiffly lifted my head.
Arms pinned down by something tight, I shifted, groaning when fire-hot pain shot up my spine. My eye was burning for some reason—clouded, too. I blinked once, twice, three times to try and clear it. If anything, my eye simply clouded even more.
Frustrated, I leaned forward and my hands lifted weakly to pluck at my seatbelt. I was almost blind in the black night. My fingers fumbled shakily for the seatbelt clasp. Finally feeling the give, I slipped it away from me and brushed myself off. My temple throbbed, my arm ached and something was ringing dully in my ear but overall, I seemed okay. Wait—Chris? Bella?
I turned, more glass shifting under my feet. The night had leaked into the car like ink but it wasn’t enough for me to miss the pale body lying still beside me. My throat closed tighter and tighter until my breath was barely scraping through it.
He laid stock-still, body motionless underneath the strap of his belt. His ankle lay twisted under the crushed dashboard but I swallowed and forced myself to focus on his face. I needed to check if he was alive—broken bones could be dealt with later.
Ignoring the twinges in my head, I clambered over to unbuckle his belt. Despite my panic, my fingers moved surprisingly slowly. I pressed two against Chris’ neck, my own heart thumping desperately loudly in my ears. What if I was doing it wrong? I wasn’t a god damn doctor! I hadn’t even passed my First Aid training in primary school.
“C’mon,” I whispered, chin shaking. “Chris, c’mon, don’t do this to me...”
There. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. It was a dull beat, but it was there and it was steady. I huffed out a sigh of relief. He was alive. At least for now. Once checking that his chest was in fact moving and there was nothing blocking his airways, I shifted to glance into the backseat.
It was empty.
My entire body flooded with ice as the dark backseat grinned at me.
I swore loudly and began frantically scrabbling along the floor. But no matter where I checked, my fingers didn’t touch anything soft, didn’t brush anything breathing. Swearing under my breath, I twirled and suddenly—
Flash of blonde. Crash.
The windscreen had an enormous spider-web crack radiating out from the shattered hole in the centre of the glass. I could only imagine what sort of impact was needed to create damage like that. Stomach flipping, I frantically kicked open my concave door and tumbled out onto something soft and wet—grass?
The air nipped at my cheeks. Now upright, I began to really feel my injuries. Temple stinging openly, I squinted into the darkness. A little way away and I could see the gaping fence where we’d obviously crashed through. Suspended somewhere in a field, I guessed.
Bella, I reminded myself. Get to Bella.
The headlights of the car still glaring into the darkness, I stumbled in front of the car. My eyes searched desperately for any sign of the girl but all I could see was grass. Still, silent grass.
Cupping my hands in front of my mouth, I yelled, “Bella! Bella, where are you?”
Only the howling silence answered me.
Tripping over invisible bumps, I lurched forwards, cheeks sticky with tears. She had to have landed somewhere in front of the car, right? But she maybe was thrown from the car before we’d crashed? Oh God, oh God, oh God. She could be lying somewhere, embedded in dirt, her heart thumping to a stop—
A weak cough.
I barely registered the relief before darting to the right. Just down a little hill I could see her, slowly getting to her feet. She looked like a baby elephant or something trying to stand on its legs for the first time. Without thinking, I tossed myself down the hill and I scooped her into my arms.
“Bella? Hey,” I whispered, shaking her. Her body felt limp in my arms but she coughed again. My pulse jumped.“Bells, say your okay.”
She nodded, clutching at me. Together, we pulled each other back up the bank. Her fingernails dug into my skin but I couldn’t feel the pain—not yet, at least. We didn’t stop until we reached the car. I let her down easily, avoiding her side. She’d mumbled something about it being sore. A dribble of something dark trickled from her nose.
My own body was on the verge of shutting down—I could sense it. Blackness chewed at my vision. But I couldn’t collapse, not now. From what I could tell, Bella and Chris were much worse off than I was. My priority right now was getting them to hospital.
Returning to the car, I pulled the driver side door away from the car. It groaned as my fingers tugged, creaking but not shifting. My teeth ground together and I hissed, “C’mon! Christ sake!”
“Tom,” Bella rasped. I jumped, not realising she was right beside me. Her watery eyes met mine and she touched my cheek gently. Face flushing with worry, she whispered, “Your face is coated in blood. You...you probably smacked your head off the dashboard when we crashed.”
I wanted to tell her to stop. To stop talking, to stop moving, to stop being. Concentration was key; otherwise, I would start to feel the pain, both in and out, and I’d just perfected the numbness. And I needed to hold onto it like it was a life-rope.
I grimaced. In all honesty, it was my life-rope.
Chris was still strapped into the driver seat, mouth slightly slack. It was clear that the door wasn’t going to come off easily—I needed a new approach. I tore off my top, bloodied and torn as it was, and wrapped it in a ball around my clenched fist.
I heard Bella blanch, “Tom! Are you insa—“
The glass exploded as I crashed my fist into the window. I let the shirt drop off my hand and fumbled blindly. Shards dug into my bare arm but I didn’t even flinch, my fingers finally grasping the handle. Bella helped me yank the door open and the two of us fell onto Chris.
“Baby,” Bella choked, hands running all over his still body. I leaned against the frame of the car, head swimming with sudden vertigo. My whole body felt like a train wreck. Or more accurately, a car crash.
I managed to find a smile somewhere. How delightfully sick of me.
Maybe it was the concussion speaking. Hopefully it was.
Chris coughed. I quickly crouched down beside Bella, who was sobbing into his jumper. Nudging her gingerly aside, I checked Chris over swiftly for any pressing injuries. When I pressed on his chest, just below his heart, he let out a guttural yelp, one that was half-conscious.
“Stop! Your hurting him!”
I batted her hands away irritably and continued checking him. Nothing else but one heck of a bruise blossoming across one half of his face and that dodgy ankle. He roused drowsily, eyes flickering slowly under hooded eyelids. Bella let out a choked noise and linked her shaking fingers in his. Closing his eyes again, he squeezed her hand feebly and croaked, “A-Are you two alr-right?”
“We’re fine,” I answered hurriedly, shooting Bella a look. “Don’t worry about us. All we’ve got to worry about is getting you to hospital.”
A groan rumbled deep in his chest and he whimpered, “Tom. Tommy, I’m so s-sorry, I didn’t see t-the cat, I couldn’t g-get you to the p-place—“
“Chris, don’t you dare,” I snapped. “I don’t give a crap about going to that stupid address. Let’s just get you well, okay?”
The blonde rolled his head toward me. I was surprised to see tears leaking out of his eyelids, leaving trails as they slowly dripped off his jaw. The muscles flickered as he moved his jaw. Half-noises escaped his throat as he struggled to form words that he couldn’t help but choke on.
There was something unnerving about seeing the giant wordless. He was such a confident creature, with a presence that filled whatever space you were in no matter how big or small. But now, he was completely folded in on himself, helpless as he lay broken in the car.
And it was something about that image that made me wonder if that cat—or whatever it had been—running across the road had been a mistake at all.