May 24. 10:17 p.m.
The rain poured down, blanketing everything in its path with a cold wetness that chilled to the bone. The dark sky blew up with arcs of forked lightning, lighting up the area for miles. In the distance, sirens wailed, getting louder on approach. Gasps and inaudible sounds came from the onlookers who stood around drenched yet watching. Unable to help. Unsure of where to start.
Aurora drove through the pounding rain, with her momma in the passenger seat, and Carmen behind her. Normally Carmen would drive, as she attended the University there, but tonight she let Aurora take the wheel. They enjoyed a perfect girl’s weekend– eating more than normal, staying out late and shopping.
Laughing, and singing off key to an old country song on the radio, they headed back to their hotel after an exhaustive but successful search for the perfect dress. Aurora’s high school graduation was less than two weeks away. Carmen, her older sister, said the ball gown made the blue in her eyes dance, and Derek would think she was the most beautiful girl at the ceremony. But Aurora knew he’d think that anyways. He always told her that.
Still blocks from the hotel, Aurora drove down the scenic one-way street and thought nothing of checking for traffic approaching the stop signs. A set of white lights, bright enough to blind her peripheral vision, appeared out of nowhere. No time to react and slam on the brakes.
“Momma!” she screamed, as her head cracked against her mom’s shoulder, which was now closer than it should have been. When the vehicle stopped moving, Aurora’s head smashed into the driver’s side window, shattering it into millions of pieces before her world turned dark.
Coming back from the dark, she slowly pieced together what she saw. A dark grey dashboard, the cream colour of the airbag puddled on her lap, and several red blinking lights in the distance. Not a fender-bender, but a major accident. She was involved in a car crash. The kind she’d watched on her favourite medical dramas. One day she hoped to be on the other side as the ER doctor. But today, she’d be the patient.
Her jeans, cold and wet against her skin, made her shiver, bringing her back to the present. Were her ears deceiving her? All around her, an eerie silence stretched out – like the kind you get when you wake in the middle of the night from a nightmare. Yet as she strained her ear, murmurs could be heard. A gasp here and there. And some gargled breathing. And that sound chilled her even more than the cold. Because it was close. Too close. It didn’t help her stay calm when the smells surrounding her were as frightening – strong and overpowering, but also unfamiliar as there was no textbook or literature on that. And without a moment’s hesitation, she never wanted to smell them again. They reeked of fear and death.
“Momma,” she said in a painful, whispered breath.
Her head leaned on the edge of the window, allowing the rain to mix with her tears. She tried to lift her head, but it weighed at least fifty pounds. And it ached. Like every other part of her body. A quick roving body search confirmed that she was alive – the indescribable pain told her as much. Pushing against the door to right herself, she screamed in agony and blacked out again.
Awaking later as warm fingertips palpitated her face. A soft male voice said, “My name’s Jordan and I’m here to help you.”
A clap of thunder overhead startled Aurora more than the hands that slipped something solid and plastic around her neck. “Momma? Carmen?” she called out in a hoarse whisper. Forcing her eyes open, she tried to twist her restrained head to search for her mother and sister. Even straining from the corner of her eyes, they weren’t there.
“Don’t move.” Jordan’s voice spoke with such calmness that for a moment she thought the situation wasn’t as bad as it was. Momma wasn’t there, no sound from Carmen, and yet Jordan spoke as if he were simply removing a splinter from her finger. Maybe I’m dreaming.
Lightning split the sky into two distinct pieces and ground-rattling thunder immediately followed. It lit up the empty passenger seat with a missing door. “Momma?”
“She’s been removed from the car already,” Jordan said. His warm fingers caused an involuntary shudder to course through her body. The shaking hurt her in more ways than she could count, or wanted to count. It made her nauseous. It made her nervous. “Carmen?” she screamed in her mind. Surely she could hear her?
Aurora returned her focus to the person talking to her. What was his name? Joe? Jordan? What in hell was he doing on the hood of her car? Where was her windshield?
She focused on his face. “You’ve been in a bad accident, and your mom’s already en route to the hospital. We’re trying to get you out. You’re pinned against a railing, so once we have you properly protected, they’ll pull your car away, so we can get better access to you. Shouldn’t be much longer.”
She performed some version of a nod, but it was hard to gauge with her immobile head.
I remember seeing the headlights. Bright and almost on top of us. I don’t remember hearing the squealing brakes from that vehicle. The sliding lasted forever, but I think it was only three or four lanes. I don’t remember seeing a brick wall, but I do remember suddenly stopping.
Straining her eyes to the edges, she tried to take in her surroundings. Like something on the news, blue and red lights flashed around, belonging to a firetruck and an ambulance or two? It was hard to tell. The area was lit up with beams of light and there were voices everywhere.
“She’s secure,” Jordan called out as he turned his head. To her he said, “They’re going to pull the vehicle back so you’ll feel a deep shaking.”
Oh fuck. She understood what that meant. More pain. Because it wasn’t enough to hurt from head to toe already. However, this pain would be nothing when the vehicle moved, rattling her once more. Unlike the crash, she knew what was coming. Preparing for it was another matter. I need to focus or I’m going to black out. Think, Aurora, think. Look at the man. Jordan, was it? Don’t think about the pain that’s coming. I’m in good hands. She focused on the paramedic as he slid off the hood and stepped back, nodding to someone.
The vehicle violently shook as it skidded and scraped against the ground, the noise deafening. Unable to cover her ears, it invaded her soul. But the worst was the horrible metallic sound of a saw blade cutting into metal surrounding her. This time she figured she’d go deaf as the noise pierced her ears. Reactively, she jerked and blinding pain radiated through her before she blacked out again.