The crunch of bone. The crushing of metal. A sharp, enveloping pain.
A good ten, fifteen, feet. I was sent flying that far, at least.
I skidded on the road, my back hit and slid against the pavement. I only stopped when my shoulder slammed against the curb.
“Uff!” I cried out.
My head swam. Eyelids as heavy as pool tarps. When I eventually could open my eyes, a considerable challenge, all images that came back to me were meaningless. Pink and purple flashes floated in my vision as I blankly gazed upward.
Eventually, things did come back into focus. There was something calming about the starry night that twinkled back at me.
I couldn’t say the same about the pain.
It hurt. A lot. A burning sensation wrapped up my entire body, thrumming in waves. Every individual muscle, joint, tendon, stung like I was on fire. The desire to just stay here, lie down and star gaze was insurmountable. I just didn’t want to move. I continued to get pounded by a quick, rhythmic ache.
I had regretted not taking a shower back at the locker room, having been so sticky and tired. Now, it no longer mattered. I was even more sticky, even more tired.
My right arm kept shifting. Something kept burrowing into my chest, getting it damp. There were muffled groans. Oh yeah.
I was still holding onto the kid.
It took an extensive effort to move my arm, with my fingernails digging into my side. When I did release him, he fell over beside me, his crying piercing my ears.
“Aaaah! Maaaaa! Maaaah!”
It didn’t look like he was severely injured. If he was, he wouldn’t be so damn loud. As I pushed him away from me, I thought that would give me a good opportunity to take a deeper breath, but nope. I only managed a light gasp. Dry.
Instead, I patted my body down. First, my chest. That dampness from earlier, not blood. Good. Just that kid’s tears. Couldn’t blame him. Then, my left arm. A whole new, razor sharp pain shot through me. I flinched in response. That wasn’t good.
In terms of my bearings, I knew I was still on the road, close to the sidewalk opposite from where I was originally. I was probably okay here, maybe, but I didn’t want to risk another car not noticing me or the kid as we were collapsed here. I needed to get up.
My mind began to fight against my desire to stay down. I knew I had to concede to those thoughts. As I cursed at myself from under my breath, I turned over onto my stomach, pushing myself up with my right arm and right leg.
I got myself to a decent balance, my weight largely resting on my right leg, I tried stepping with my left.
“Fuck!” I screamed.
I hobbled forward and fell back down, my cheek hitting the asphalt. No coherent thoughts this time, I just mindlessly tried getting back up again.
Now knowing better, I kept myself leaning, favoring my right side. I looked down at my leg.
“Fuck,” I whispered.
It was shattered. Utterly broken and completely useless. It bent in ways a human leg shouldn’t ever bend. Blood trickled down my calf, staining my shoe, and small droplets dripped onto the road. It was closer to a bendy straw than a person’s leg.
I began to panic. “-God, oh my god, ohmygod-”
I brought my hand to my face, using it to cover my eyes as I bit my lower lip, until it throbbed and threatened to bleed. I had to bring out what little strength I had left to shut up and keep conscious. Trying not to think too much about my leg. But I couldn’t help it. The sight was too ghastly.
I saw the femur and fibula sticking out.
Recalling how much my left arm hurt just before this revelation, I had a feeling the case was the same there, too. The sleeve of my hoodie prevented me from seeing for myself. And I didn’t have the heart to roll it up.
My breath quickened as I continued to inspect the damage I took. Everything from minor scratches to broken bones. How the hell was I standing?
I had to stop myself. For the moment, I couldn’t afford to look at my leg for too long, with the fear of passing out at the sight of it. I had to keep going, find something else to concentrate on. I put my arms to my sides.
I wanted to drop my backpack, but from what I felt a few seconds ago, moving more than I needed, than I wanted to, was not very viable. So it stayed, stuck to my back, like a vestigial organ.
Repeating over and over every curse word I knew, I decided to limp towards the kid. As I did, I got a better view of my situation.
The whole street looked undisturbed, save for us two, and the truck just past us. It had swerved off the road, and slammed into a tree at the edge of the woods. Chipped remnants of a skateboard littered the road. I expected my notebooks and school supplies to be right along with it, but from the weight on my back, I knew that wasn’t the case.
With the kid’s collar in my right hand, I dragged him to the sidewalk. He was still a blubbering mess. I plopped him down, and my attention went back to the truck. A sweet smell. No, I was being distracted. I kept focused on the truck itself in order to concentrate on making complete thoughts again. It suddenly came to me that there was a person behind that wheel. Perhaps others.
Were they alive? Did they have a phone? Mine was dead, so it was a no-go there. I wasn’t even sure if it worked anymore. Where was it, even? If, for whatever reason, the driver didn’t have a phone, then maybe someone in one of the nearby houses heard, or seen, the collision. Maybe they already gave out the proper call. I had betted on that.
I was beginning to worry for the driver, and anyone else who might’ve been in there. If they were okay, they would’ve gotten out of the truck by now. I shrugged my shoulders, shifting my backpack strap. Immediate regret. A new surge, not unlike putting a fork into a socket, enflamed my whole existence.
If you fall now, you’re not getting back up.
I operated on that. Might as well check on the driver while I was still miraculously standing. That, and the fragrant smell that seemed to come from the wrecked vehicle. Did they spill syrup or something?
Hop, hop, hop. What should normally be an easy task stretched into an arduous ordeal. I had trouble maintaining my balance with each hop, but I was lucky to just be seeing straight. The scent got stronger as I got closer.
It was so… sweet.
With every step, my foot got more drenched in the red liquid, right down to the sock, seeping into my shoe. I shuffled passed the sidewalk onto the dirt. Tall grass brushed against my broken leg and the exposed bone, feeling like someone was beating the ends of nerves raw. I stopped briefly to wipe away the water accumulating in the corners of my eyes, and my cheeks. An attempt to breath deep was met with a hiccup. One more good hop, and I would at the door to the driver’s side. Come on.
Hop. I was there.
I placed my only usable hand on the door’s handle, lessening my unsteadiness.
My voice was weak, raspy, but I tried anyways. “He- Hello, anyone in there? I mean, you okay?”
No answer. I swallowed.
Gripping the handle until my knuckles were white, I opened the door.
The interior lights turned on as the door swung wide, and I was given a front row view to the intense scene.
A female. Definitely. I thought. Too bloody to tell. Too mangled to tell.
The inside of the truck was smashed into itself; a human body couldn’t fit into a space so small by simply getting in. The windshield fractured into tiny, but sharp pieces, sticking into skin. Splinters of wood stuck to her face, like the bruises and blood twisting her expression into something grim wasn’t enough. Glancing down at the red-soaked cell phone in her hand, I pieced together everything in an instant. In response to everything, I could only mouth ‘fuck’, for the millionth time. Gut-wrenching. No way were they alive. No way.
I tried looking for a silver lining; at least no one else was inside.
That wasn’t the worst of it. Not by a longshot.
Because the smell.
The smell was the worst of it. In that it was so wrong.
It blasted my face as the door opened, overwhelming my nose with an odor sweeter than any perfume Katy had ever worn. I almost forgot about the immeasurable pain I was still supposed to be experiencing. Reminiscent of a freshly baked pie, the smell was. It completely contrasted the gruesome sight right before my eyes.
But, I caught myself watching as pieces of metal and wood, the one that stabbed the driver’s body, continuously trickled with blood.
What am I-
You know you want to.
I scanned over everything again. The red color painted the entirety of the truck’s interior. It did look… kind of appetizing. Like a strawberry jam. I could put it over bread. The way it glistened in the moonlight, it called out to me. Enticing. I licked my lips. My tongue wasn’t dry anymore. Salivating?
I reached my hand out towards the body, coated in jam.
Maybe, one taste wouldn’t be so bad.
Try it. Lick it. Taste it.
Wait, what the hell was I thinking?
A whole new fear crept deep within me. The fact that I even actually considered that was frightening. Why? What was going on, here?
My hand was suspended there, half-extended, fidgeting as I fought the craving to keep reaching forward.
You know you want to.
I shut my eyes tight, until dark brown shapes clouded my vision. I thrust my hand forward until I met a warm, wet feeling. I leaned deeper into the truck, tilting my head back as I inhaled in hard, using my nose.
You know you want to.
Somewhere deep inside, a voice of reason rushed out of my throat.
“Shut up!” I yelled to no one.
“Ma’am, please back away from the truck!”
I turned back. I hadn’t seen that the truck’s body was catching a flicker of red and blue light.
A stronger light suddenly flushed into my eyes, and I flung an arm to shield myself, offsetting my balance.
“Please let go of whatever you’re holding, and back away from the truck.”
A voice. Male. A cop? Did he think I was stealing something?
He continued to talk. “Ma’am, I see that you’re injured. Please take a seat by the curb so we can take a look at you and put you in the ambulance.”
An ambulance? Here? Already? When?
The blinding light stunned, getting more intense as he got closer.
He grabbed for the arm I used to shield my eyes, tightly holding my wrist.
The thought crossed my mind in a second. Huh? It’s not like I was gonna steal anything.
“What! Wait! I didn’t mean- I wasn’t going to-!” I cried, hastily descending into incoherence.
“Ma’am, calm down, I’m trying to help you stand!” His voice squeaked rather than anything commanding, which didn’t help as an attempt to settle me down.
With more force than necessary, he pulled me away from the truck. My left hand reached into the truck to grab a hold of something, to not let him take me.
“Ah! Aaah!” I shouted, forgetting that I shouldn’t have moved that arm. Coupled with the fact that my hand slipped every time I tried to grab the seatbelt, the handle, and then the edge of the door, I never managed more than a light touch.
I writhed. I didn’t want this guy to take me anywhere. He fought against my struggling, getting more agitated with every second.
“What’s wrong!? Stop – ugh – resisting!”
Delirious. Not thinking straight. Or at all. But I didn’t have much faith in this guy believing whatever story I had to yet come up with as to why I was so bloody. Or why I was even there to begin with.
He screamed out something, and not even a second later did I feel another pair of hands on me. My struggling increased.
In me fighting him – them – off, more strength than needed was used against me. Arms around my waist, he lifted me up in the air, and tried to carry me. Either I was heavier than he expected, or that I hadn’t stopped wriggling around, he dropped me.
All the pain from earlier came back and amplified when I hit the ground, landing on my bad shoulder.
“Shit!” I heard him curse, having not yet realized the full extent of my injuries.
Every inch of me felt so wrong, so off, that I was on the edge of throwing up in delirium. A swarm of voices, faded and far away, came to my attention. The neighbors, I guessed, being a little more curious than I would’ve liked. The kid’s cries for his mother could still be heard in the background. Red and blue lights bathed the blurry scene, coating my vision to only primary colors.
Lying here, fighting to stay conscious, senses dulling by the second. The night sky above me. Certainly, I had been in a situation like this before. It all seemed uncanny in how familiar it was.
I don’t like it.
Once again, I flipped onto my stomach, and had to give myself time to try and stand back up.
Somone pulled me up from my backpack, setting me square on my feet. An intense sting shot back up my left leg.
“Please stop moving so we can get you inside!”
I surmised that ‘inside’ meant the ambulance mentioned before, but I was in no mood to be taken anywhere outside of my own volition. As limited as it currently was.
I felt arms about to go around my waist again, and I took that as my opportunity.
It was a plan that had little forethought. I was going to anyways, so I let myself drop somewhat, throwing off the person’s hold on me, and as I gritted my teeth, I pushed back up again to headbutt their chin.
“Affhh!” they cried. It sounded like I clipped their tongue.
“Aoow!” I cried. I had to stop putting weight on that leg. Everything considered, it was nearly unbelievable that I could manage this much right now.
There were also some surprised gasps around us. We’ve must have started to attract a crowd.
Meaning I needed to leave. Now.
Blinking away tears from the pain, I looked for a way of escape. The woods. The woods were right over there, I could make it. How? I couldn’t even walk.
Don’t care. Go.
As the person staggered back, I took that to my advantage. I fell forward, toward the truck bed. It was about an arm’s length away, I hoped.
My hand, my only good one, got a hold of the tailgate, and with a swift motion, I pulled myself up to get over and inside the truck bed.
Didn’t know how, but I went over the length of the truck bed, landing clumsily on the roof of the vehicle.
“Hey! You get down from there right now! You-”
Someone yelled something, but I didn’t care to hear. I didn’t even care to be here. The woods were right over there, I could make it. How? I can’t even walk. Didn’t care. Go.
I crouched on the roof, hanging what remained of my left leg off the edge. I readied my right leg. Not wanting to slip off, I took a second to get some equilibrium.
The woods. Right over. I could make it. Possibly.
Another shout from someone, voice cracking. “Hey! Get down from there!”
A fusion of terror and amazement swelled in me, taking my breath away. Nothing would truly prepare you for suddenly being thirty feet in the air.
The emergency responders, the wrecked truck, the crowd of onlookers, the crying kid, all long gone as I seemingly floated. Instead, there were nothing but trees. Trees immediately below me. Trees behind me. Trees in my view of the horizon. The only thing that weren’t trees was the dazzlingly stunning night sky above me. I thought I could actually reach the brilliant stars above me. They felt so in reach.
That thought quickly fell flat, almost as fast as I did.
I crashed through branches and leaves. You’d think they would slow you down, but when you were already in that much pain, it hardly made a difference. They tore through my skin and clothes.
In an effort to break my fall, I grasped at anything I could feel. A cutting sting sliced up my hand. Not a smart move. I let go.
All wind was wholly knocked out of me as I crash landed.
I didn’t even make a sound. Just a low thud.
Pain, everywhere. Everything hurt. Even thinking of breathing was impossible. The backpack prevented me from fully lying on the dirt, bending me into a more difficult position.
Okay, Alexis, get your bearings, I ordered myself, Where are you?
In a clearing in the woods. Tree branches obstructed my view of the sky. Again, familiar.
Enough about the sky. How are you right now? Gimme a number.
On a scale of one to ten, a solid ‘stop playing with numbers and someone start helping me the fuck out already’.
Alright, alright. Try to focus on anything, anything to stay alive.
I focused on the pain. It was the only thing that could keep my mind alert and awake. Going to sleep would not be ideal. No guarantee of waking up.
All the pain came back and intensified exponentially, like it was trying to get revenge on my body for having pushed it so far. I had cuts all over, now. The few places left that hadn’t sustained an injury were now without mercy, and every previous injury was laid waste to a good slicing and dicing. Every cut I sustained from my fall got more concentrated and sharp over time, as though someone was soaking lemon juice into each individual wound. The occasional branch had tugged at the jutting bones of my leg, pulling it out further and scraping deep grooves into the bone itself. My left arm lay lifeless by my side as well, impossible to move. Would it even be accurate to describe the left side of myself as a ‘body,’ I wondered. Half of me was ruined, broken.
My thoughts went back to just a couple minutes ago. Why was I here again? Oh yeah. Stupid. Of course that guy wouldn’t think that. I wasn’t going to take anything. I wasn’t going to drink anything. Stupid.
Trying to get rid of all the sweat on my forehead, I wiped my brow, and that sweet smell returned. I brought my hand in front of my face, and even though I was collapsed in the middle of a pitch black woods with no notable source of light, I saw perfectly fine.
A deep gash tore out a sizable chunk of my right palm. If I wanted to, I could probably force a finger through it, poking out the other end. Disgusting thought aside, I was at a loss on what to do. Here, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees? Cold, hungry, thirsty, alone. Was this where I would die?
Stretching out my hand, caked with blood, I stared at it for the longest time. An appetizing aroma whiffed from my fingertips. My heart sank.
My gut told me that the blood wasn’t my own, and that my hand must have slipped on it earlier. Also, my gut began to rumble. The inside of my throat rubbed together like sandpaper.
In your lowest moments, you start to think the craziest things. What if I actually licked my fingers?
I answered myself. “Please, stop.” It was hardly audible.
I winced as I spoke, my body’s way of telling me I only had a few breaths left. My throat was dry. So dry. Focusing on the pain was no longer doing me any good, I was already feeling sleepy. This was it. The end. This sucked, I had just gotten out of the hospital, too. Why was I in the hospital, again? I couldn’t remember.
My arm was getting fatigued, I probably shouldn’t hold it out for so long. The blood from my wound had already went down to my tattered sleeve, seeping in a red coloring. There wasn’t a single bit of my hand that was the color of flesh.
You’re going to die here, Alexis, might as well…
I dropped my arm to my chest, and I felt the wet of the hoodie there. The kid tears. It’d have been nice if we switched places, I briefly mused. I traced a hole the branches had cut on the front of my hoodie. I pressed down.
My hand froze.
It wasn’t this soaked before. The kid didn’t cry that much onto my chest. But a delicious scent emanated from my clothes. And then it all clicked. Must have gotten it wet when I leaned too far into the truck. My head went limp on the ground and the dirt, leaves getting tangled in my hair. Eyelids growing heavy again, I let them close this time.
No more thoughts.
I tightly gripped my chest, catching as much fabric into my hand as I could. So sodden, that I could wring out blood. I brought the clump of cloth to my mouth. Digging my teeth into it, I squeezed and brought out as much liquid as I could. I sucked.
My entire tongue was electrified. A burst of flavor overtook me. I arced my back.
Eyes strained as they rolled into the back of my head. If I didn’t die from the pain, I’d end up dying from how good this tasted.
Sweet. A word that was too simple, betraying how good it really was. But at the same time, it captured the essence of what I meant in a short and succinct manner. A universal understanding. No need for million dollar words. A shiver down my spine. The curling of my toes. The smile on my face. One couldn’t be blamed for acting this way when the taste was this sweet. Sweet, like a strawberry jam.
And as if to turn on the heels of my high, I was met with another new experience.
That numb feeling of a foot falling asleep, but expanded out to my whole body. My broken arm, my broken leg, and my gashed hand felt the brunt of it.
Confused, I dropped the wad of cloth out of my mouth, and again took a look at my hand. My bloodied hand, torn open from trying to rely on a tree branch to break my fall. Except the gash was getting smaller.
It was getting smaller.
It shrank at a gradual rate, the flesh meeting together and closing up. I rotated my hand around, observing the other cuts. They were also following suit, soon disappearing without a trace.
I may have been close to failing biology last year, but I knew that the human body didn’t heal that easily.
“Uhn,” I grunted as I sat up straight. To think I could still do this much. I slipped my backpack off my shoulders. So much for doing any homework tonight.
Making a joke at a time like this, I wanted to slap myself.
Wait, I realized I could move my left arm. Rolling the sleeve up the elbow, I checked on the state of that particular limb.
Not a scratch on it. Odd, considering that it hurt to just touch it, let alone move it. And now, I was able to make a fist. It was definitely broken beyond use just before, how had it healed all by itself?
And my left leg answered that for me, as I saw it for myself.
The bones weren’t protruding out as much as they did initially. Instead, they were retreating back into the leg, like it was the most natural thing it the world. The muscle and skin closed up behind the bones as they fully withdrew. I actually felt the bones mending together inside my leg. Like putting pieces of a puzzle together. Except that things were not making any sense.
And just like that, the numbing subsided, and I was left fully healed. I patted myself down again. Nothing scratched, nothing broken, no waves of pain, nothing. Ignoring the dirt, blood, grime, torn clothes, messy hair, and overall weakened constitution, it was like I never got in an accident. Never got hit by a truck.
A cold sweat ran down my body. I had no clue how the hell I survived something like this in the first place, but from what I just witnessed, whatever the answer could be horrified me.
Despite having confirmed that I had zero injuries, I was still apprehensive about standing. So I took it slow, crawling backwards and dragging my lower half until I bumped against a tree. Turning so I could press against it, carefully, I propped myself up with my legs, keeping myself steady with my hold on the tree. I got up without incident.
“Is that it?” I said, fully standing but propped against the tree, face in my sleeve. It sounded more like a cry for air. A cry for help.
“Ha… ha ha… So that’s that…” I croaked.
Screaming soon filled the air. Loud. Some birds flew out of the trees above. I was probably close to hyperventilating, yet I kept screaming. Because I remembered. I remembered what happened to me that night.
My birthday. My walk that night. That encounter. That girl. That thing. It all came back to me. Everything came back and hit me harder than any truck ever could.
So I kept screaming. And screaming. Screaming until it hurt. Until I gripped my sides and fell on my knees, heaving for air, eyes watering and throat dry. But I kept screaming. Screaming until it sounded like I was laughing. Until I was mostly coughing. Until I threw up.
“Ha… haha… haaaah…”
I didn’t know long that lasted, but I eventually did calm down. At least enough to get a better sense of where I was. Literally not out of the woods just yet. And, even if I did make it out of here, I’d still have to deal with the possibility that I may not be even human anymore.