When Jim decided to leave the party early, he had meant to escape the approaching nasty weather. Unfortunately, he still got stuck in the middle of the raging torrent of blinding rain, gusty wind, and brilliant flashes of lightning. Switching the wipers to maximum intensity, he pressed onward, turning right at the final light before the long stretch of rural road leading toward home.
The rain wasn?t the only reason for his early exit from Don?s house. He realized, though he was trying his best to keep somewhat temperate, that the room was beginning to spin around him, and if he downed another drink prodded on him by one of his giddy friends, there was no way he was going to make it home. He had a long day of work in front of him, thanks to his tyrannical boss, and unfortunately he was the most sober individual in the house that evening.
So here he was, guiding his pickup through a wall of wind-driven water, leaning forward, closer to the windshield, as if that was going to help penetrate the silvery darkness. A couple of times the truck hydroplaned, nearly sending Jim?s head into the windshield and compressing his heart like a sponge with fright; and on top of all this, he wasn?t even sure if he was sober enough to tell if he was actually on the right side of the road. It made for a very harrowing ride, and the indentations in the lining of his steering wheel showed an incredible tension that made him want to turn back, now — screw work.
The rain continued to fall in steady, rippling sheets, chattering on the glass of the windshield like millions of tiny marbles, subduing Jim?s attempt to focus solely on the road ahead. Continuous vivid flashes of lightning seared his vision, leaving slowly fading imprints on his retinal walls which never really had a chance to disappear before the next blinding flash. Thunder shook the road under him as the lightning sought targets in the trees nearby.
Just ahead of Jim?s truck, lightning managed to hit a power pole, causing a loud popping sound and spraying sparks in every direction. Still unsure of exactly what happened, Jim swerved left into the other lane, trying to avoid the flying pinpoints of light shooting out from the transformer?. And then he felt and heard his worst nightmare, a loud ?thud? and a vigorous tremble from his truck, as the tires ran over something.
He had run over something back there.
His nerves iced with fright, he slammed on the brakes, pitching himself forward, spinning the truck around, momentum pushing it into the grass , pitching gravel and turf, very nearly tipping into a roll, seatbelt pushed to its limit?. Until the vehicle finally came to rest facing the road, about three inches away from a large tree. Jim struggled momentarily to regain his breath; it was difficult getting the thought processes working again.. odd how in these situations, pissing one?s pants nearly became more reflexive than breathing.
Other than a mild ache in the back of his head, Jim pondered, he didn?t seem to be hurt. He wearily clicked open his seatbelt, pulled the door latch, and leaned outward, nearly spilling out of the truck in a somersault. He nearly fainted from the sudden wave of dizziness and nausea that came upon him as he exited his truck onto the cold, damp grass. The rain had settled down into nothing more than a drizzle. If I had waited just a few minutes more, he thought. Now I nearly killed myself, and God knows if I killed somebody back there.
Yes, in his panicked reaction to the lightning strike, Jim had definitely hit something of substance, and he had to find out what. Trying to contain his spinning environment, he slowly ambled forward along the road to where the truck had begun to spin out, and further still, taking his time, until he saw what he had hit. He couldn?t see it very clearly through the steam rising from the road and the soft raindrops trickling into his eyes. It looked like something small, like maybe a raccoon, or a cat. Shuffling ever closer, he squinted at the object resting in the emergency lane, until he could get a make on what it was exactly. Then he could go home and not ?
It was a human arm.
Retching, Jim collapsed to his knees, emptying whatever hors d?ouvres he had eaten with his Jack and Coke earlier. God, he had killed somebody!
He quickly came to his senses and began stumbling around, looking for the rest of the person he had hit, but it was so hard to see, and he could barely keep himself upright without tumbling to the ground.
God, what do I do? If anyone finds out about this, I?m toast? they?ll know I was drinking. I?m a murderer. What can I do now? Nobody can find out about this.. it was just an accident?
In what seemed to be pure instinctive reflex, at least to him, he kicked the arm, sending it flying into the overgrowth beside the road. At least they won?t find the guy until I?m well away from here, he thought, and walked as hurriedly as his weakened legs could carry him toward the truck. He climbed back inside, clapped the door shut, and started it up. It came back to life with a throbbing rumble, further heightening his nausea. He slowly put weight on the gas. The pickup?s rear tires coughed up mud and pebbles briefly, whining as the truck struggled out of the muck on to the highway, until finally he was back on the road again, fleeing whatever carnage he may have caused in his drunken hysteria.
About fifteen minutes into his flight, his conscience had grabbed hold of him. He was certainly wary that he had probably done the wrong thing, that it was an accident; that the alcohol would probably be gone from his system by the time the cops arrived. He eased off the gas as he considered going back and doing the right thing. Yes, the rain was easing up a lot now, and visibility was much better?.
A figure appeared in front of him in the road, waving frantically. For the second time in an evening, Jim had to step on the brakes, screeching the tires and nearly skidding out of control. Fortunately, the truck managed to stop well in front of the person outside, who was now running toward Jim?s side of the truck.
It was a young man, in drenched jeans and a dripping rain poncho, He was clean-shaven, with long black hair. There was a large cut on his cheek that appeared fresh.
There was apparent confusion in the man?s eyes as he approached Jim?s window and knocked on it. Hesitantly, Jim rolled it down.
?Hey, could you give me a ride? I about hit a tree over there and left my cell at home,? the man quickly said.
Jim looked around nervously. No suspicions need be awakened. ?Uh, sure. There?s a gas station about five miles up the road. Hop in.?
As the man walked to the passenger side, Jim noticed that he was wincing in pain with every step he took. The man opened the passenger door and eased in delicately.
?Hey, are you ok?? Jim inquired. ?You look hurt.?
The man looked back at Jim, and replied, ?Yeah, I guess. I hit the tree pretty hard, as you can see. Big mess. I?ll be alright, just need to find a phone and a tow. By the way, name?s Mike.?
?Jim. Alright, then,? Jim said, and resumed down the country highway. Driving forward, he could see the car more easily, its crumpled hood emitting wisps of steam and smoke. The windshield had been shattered, the steering wheel pushed back against the driver?s seat. The guy, indeed, was lucky to be alive.
?Boy, am I glad you came around when you did,? Mike offered. ?I was beginning to think that nobody travels this road at night? been waiting for hours for someone to show. What brings you this way??
?Uh, had to leave a friend?s house early. Work tomorrow. This is the shortest way home.?
No mention of a party, or drinks. Good. Nobody needed to know. All this crap was enough to sober up the sottiest drunk.Glowing warmly just ahead was the tall Citgo sign and the bright security lamps around the service station?s pumps. Jim eased the truck into the parking space beside a pay phone in the shadows beside the gas station. Both Jim and his passenger got out, and Jim caught Mike?s eye and motioned to the store. ?I?m going to pick up something with loads of caffeine while you do what you need to do. Want anything??
?No thanks,? replied Mike, who began flipping through the yellow pages as Jim entered the store. Looking back, Jim saw Mike pick up the phone, begin dialing, and Mike waved at him. Jim helped himself to a large cup filled with ice and a generous amount of Mountain Dew, picked up a pack of mints to erase whatever scent of alcohol remained on his breath, paid the cashier, and left.
Mike was still on the phone, now hunched over and focused on his conversation, maybe with the insurance company, or the wrecker, or the police, or ?
Jim picked up his pace, stepping it up to a sprint, determined to find out who Mike was talking to. At first, he didn?t notice the large figure rising from the bed of his truck, from under one of the tarps he kept there, but as he drew closer to the truck, he spotted the large man climbing out, favoring his left side, apparently not seeing Jim, but moving menacingly toward Mike, who was still absorbed in his phone conversation. The hefty man sneaked closer and closer to mike, still clutching his left side
No! it can?t be!
– With his right hand, which also seemed to be holding something long and shiny, like a knife ?
He?s missing his left arm!
Taking advantage of the situation, seeing that the man was still unaware of his presence, Jim quickly circled the truck and reached into the bed, praying that what he was looking for was still there. His hand sought, and found, a large two by four that he had been saving to repair his fence.. thank God it was still there.
He had to think, and act, quickly. The man obviously had harmful intent, as the knife in his right hand was now raised as he approached Mike, revealing a bloody stump that had once been a left arm. Jim ran as fast as he could, lifting the two by four like a battle club, and yelling, ?Mike! Look out!?
Obviously surprised, Mike looked behind him and saw the hulking man move toward him, dropped the phone and ducked just as the stranger closed in and slashed at him with the blade. Jim leapt forward and swung the two by four at the man?s head with all his might. Wooden splinters, blood, hair, and sweat sprayed from the impact of wood and skull, as the large man toppled to the ground, stunned.
?Quick, grab his knife!? Jim yelled, still waving the plank warily around the crumpled form. Mike kicked the stranger?s hand and the knife clattered to the ground underneath the phone. Mike then scurried over and picked the long bladed weapon up, brandishing it, and moving closer to the man lying on the parking lot, now bleeding profusely from a gaping wound on his head and quite unconscious.
Mike looked closer at the thwarted killer. ?No?? he mumbled as a look of strange recognition appeared on his face. ?You?re.. you?re still alive??
Jim, puzzled, asked, ?What are you talking about? Do you know this man??
Mike looked up. ?I didn?t tell you this.. I didn?t want to tell anyone; who would believe me? I thought he was dead.?
?What are you talking about??
?The accident..? Mike struggled to keep his composure. ?He was waiting in the car for me. I don?t know what he wanted? but as I was driving down the road, he attacked me. Had this big knife with him?.I had to do something. It was raining, foggy? I drove off the road, into the tree back there. I had my seatbelt on? but he flew over my head, threw the windshield.. caught his arm on some of that glass and nearly?ripped it off.. I checked. I thought he was dead!?
Strangely, both relief and horror consumed Jim simultaneously. So I didn?t kill the guy, what a relief. Now we?ve got some sort of homicidal maniac lying on the ground in front of us, who?s going to wake at any second and?Mike stepped forward and crouched over the figure. ?I?ll take care of him,? he said in a pained voice. Then he clutched the knife tightly and plunged it into the man?s neck, severing his artery. Blood spurted everywhere, and Mike quickly backed away and beside Jim. ?We?ve got to take care of the body before someone else sees this. Dump it somewhere.?
Strangely, Jim wholeheartedly agreed. This whole evening had been a nightmare. He just wanted to put this behind him. He had too much to worry about, let alone the police. He?d nearly had a heart attack a few too many times. ?Sure, ? he replied. ?Let?s load it in the truck.?
They stooped down, Jim at one end and Mike at another and struggled to lift the heavy body into the truck bed. When at last the body was fully in the bed, they wrapped it with some of the tarp the man had been hiding in before he had attacked.
They both then got back into the truck and pulled slowly out of the gas station, checking behind them to see whether the attendant had seen or heard any of the commotion outside. He was busy reading a men?s magazine, oblivious to the outside world. Good.
?So where to now?? Mike asked. ?Where?s a good place to dump a body??
?There?s a lake a few minutes more down the road, at a turnoff. We?ll head down there.?
The rain had totally cleared by now, and steam rose in greater intensity from the damp road. The full moon peered out silently from behind its cloudy cloak, illuminating the pickup with a spectral glimmer. Minutes passed, and Jim noticed they were about a mile from the lake road. Then Mike spoke up.
?I want you to know how much I appreciate your help, Jim. I bet this must have been some evening for you. God, I don?t know what I would have done.?
?No problem, man. Honestly, I thought I ran the guy over before I saw you. Almost got into a crash myself. I skidded out, and when I got out, I found this guy?s arm lying on the road?.?
Mike grinned. ?No, seriously, man, I just wanted to thank you.? His teeth glistened as he looked ominously at Jim, pulling the bloody knife out of his belt. ?You can?t imagine how long I?d been standing on the roadside, waiting.?
Jim looked back, stunned.
Mike drew closer. ?I knew I shouldn?t have picked such a big muscular guy. He was too much work from the beginning. Good thing you came along to rescue me, eh?? Chuckling madly, Mike secured his seatbelt and touched the tip of the blade to Jim?s neck. ?So do you want to pick the tree, or should I??