The Time(s) I (Almost) Got into a Car Accident

Submitted into Contest #30 in response to: Write a story in which the lines between awake and dreaming are blurred.... view prompt

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Fantasy Mystery

The first time it happened, I was driving in my local neighborhood. The speed limit was 25 miles per hour, but I was going at 15 miles per hour and taking my sweet time. I shifted my hands on the steering wheel and leaned back. There were no other cars, not even any parked on the street. No pedestrians either. Or birds. It felt peaceful and empty at the same time. Wishing that I wasn’t driving alone, I settled my hand on the front passenger seat. It had been a month since that seat had last been occupied, and I still wasn’t used to it. The traffic light turned yellow, and I gradually slowed down to a stop. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of gray to my right. Looking closer, it turned out to be a gray cat with white paws scurrying down the street. Just as the cat successfully crossed the street, the light turned red. Where was that cat going? Wanting to catch up to the cat, I leaned forward, my eyes darting between the gray blob on the sidewalk and the red traffic light. The second the light turned green, I slammed my foot on the gas pedal. Suddenly, there was a loud honk next to me, followed by someone yelling, “PAUSE!” And then I was being carried through a tunnel, the honk replaced by tapping and thumping noises. Everything felt light and airy. Just when I was starting to fall asleep from the rhythmic noises, I was behind the wheel again.



The second time it happened, I was driving in the city. The speed limit was 35 miles per hour, but I was going at 5 miles per hour because of the traffic. I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel while the cars around me honked at each other every few seconds like a flock of geese. The light had turned red three times already, but I still hadn’t crossed the street. I was probably going to be late to work again. Since I was driving in the right lane, I took advantage of the unobscured view of the street corners and busy sidewalks. Each time the light turned red, I examined the wave of people crossing the street. The fifth time the light turned red, I saw it: a gray cat with white paws in the midst of a throng of people wearing business attire. I no longer worried about getting to work on time; my new mission was to catch the cat. Afraid of losing sight of the cat, I parked my car on the side of the street, got out of my car, slammed the door, and started sprinting after the throng. But as I crossed the street, I heard a bike bell, followed by someone yelling, “PAUSE!” A bicyclist crashed into me, the force lifting my body momentarily. Right before my head collided with the ground, I closed my eyes. Suddenly, the city noises were replaced by rhythmic tapping and thumping noises. I was lying down and moving through a tunnel on what seemed to be a conveyor belt. Confused, I opened my eyes, and then I was behind the wheel again.


The third time it happened, I was driving on the highway. I gripped the steering wheel tightly and increased the speed of the windshield wipers. It was early in the morning, and I was driving at 60 miles per hour. With barely any cars in sight and the rain pouring down, I felt exposed and lonely. Just when I was about to turn on the radio, I noticed a gray blob on the shoulder of the highway. When I drove closer, I realized that there were four furry limbs extending from the blob. And then I saw a tail, and small pointy ears. Was it a cat? But as I was trying to make out the face of the creature, my car began to skid. Panicking, I slammed my foot on the brakes, which made it worse. The highway divider came closer and closer. Just as I was about to hit the divider, I heard someone yell “PAUSE!” And then my car skidded through the divider into a tunnel. 



This time, when I came out of the tunnel, I saw a figure dressed in white in front of me. I was lying down, and everything was so bright. I wondered if all the “almost” car accidents took place in Hell, the tunnel was a bridge, and this was Jesus coming to take me to Heaven. But then the figure was no longer blurry, and I realized that it was not Jesus, but a doctor dressed in a white coat. Everything seemed really bright because I was in a hospital room. As the doctor wrote some notes on his clipboard, I turned my head to examine my surroundings. There was an fMRI machine to my left, and a small table with a phone on it to my right. 


And then I remembered. I moved my right hand slowly to my left breast pocket. Reaching inside, I took out the photo I started carrying with me a month ago. A tear trickled down my cheek as I saw my best friend who had gone missing last month. The blue eyes stared back at me, and I traced my hands over the gray fur and white paws in the photo. Her paws were my favorite things in the world. When I was sad, she would climb on top of me and hug my head with her soft paws. In the mornings, she would gently pat me with her white paws to wake me up. And when she was feeling frisky, she would crawl onto my piano and bang on the keys with her round paws.


“How are you feeling?” 


I looked up to see the doctor looking at me kindly. His eyes glanced over the photo, and seeing my tears, asked gently, “Is that your cat?”


“Was. Is. I don’t know. One day I went out into the yard to do some gardening work and left the door open by accident. When I went back inside, I couldn’t find Paws. It’s been about a month. She’s never been by herself that long before. I miss her.”


The doctor nodded grimly. “I’m sorry … Do you want to know what happened?”


I tilted my head. “You know what happened to Paws?”


The doctor pursed his lips and said, “No, I mean what happened to you … why you’re in the hospital. I’m afraid I don’t know what happened to Paws.”


I put the photo back in my pocket. “What happened to me?”


The doctor sat down next to my bed and took a deep breath. “You were in a really bad car accident. According to witnesses, a car ran a red light and you were hit really hard. Apparently, you yelled ‘Pause!’ right before you were hit. Your body only suffered minor injuries, but you suffered severe brain trauma and have been in a coma for three weeks.”


I was silent, trying to remember the real car accident.


“I saw Paws,” I finally said.


“Pardon?”


“Er, I thought I saw Paws. A cat that looked exactly like Paws crossed the intersection. When the light turned green, I didn’t check the cross-traffic before going forward because I wanted to catch up to the cat and see if it was really Paws.”


“Oh. So you were yelling your cat’s name?” 


“Yes.”


The doctor sat down at the foot of the bed. “I’m sorry you lost your cat.”


“Paws was a good cat.”


“Was it just you and Paws?”


“Yes. I don’t have siblings, and my parents passed away when I was 18. I stopped doing human relationships after that. I got Paws after my parents died, and Paws has been my best friend ever since. This month, it would have been our fifth anniversary together.”


The doctor nodded. We were quiet for a bit, and then the doctor retrieved the phone on the table next to the bed and handed it to me.


“Someone has been calling you every day since last week. You might want to call them back.”


I took the phone and went to Missed Calls. There were 42 calls from the same number. After the doctor helped me sit up in the bed and left the room to give me privacy, I dialed that number.


“Hello?” a woman’s voice came through the phone.


“Hi, ummm I’ve gotten 42 calls from you. Do I know you?”


“Oh! You finally picked up! Ummm .... do you have a cat named Paws?”


My heart rate sped up, and I pressed the phone closer to my ear. 


“Yes, she’s been missing for almost two months now.”


“Okay, I think I have her. She showed up at my doorstep a week ago, and her name and your number was on her collar, so I’ve been trying to contact you.”


“Oh wow. Umm I actually got into a car accident three weeks ago and just woke up from a coma.”


“Oh dear. I hope you’re alright now! Let me send you a picture of the cat.”


A few seconds later, I received a text message. Opening it up, I saw the familiar blue eyes staring back at me. Its gray fur looked longer, and the white paws seemed thinner, but it was Paws all right.


“Yes, that’s Paws.”


“Oh good! I’m not sure how Paws ended up at my doorstep, but she was covered in mud so I gave her a bath and fed her cat food. I’ve been cat-sitting for five years now, but that’s the first time a cat ever let me give them a bath.”


I laughed for the first time in weeks. “Paws cares a lot about hygiene. She must have went out exploring and couldn't get back inside my house because I was gone. Thank you for taking care of her.”


“No problem! I love cats!” There was a pause, and then she said, “Which hospital are you at? I can bring her to you.”


“Oh, you’re very kind. That would be wonderful. I’ll text you the details.”


“Sounds good. I will make sure to return Paws safely. You take care of yourself too! I’ll see you … What was your name?”


“My name is Justin. Thank you so much for your kindness … What is your name?”


“Susan.”


“Susan,” I repeated quietly. That was my mother’s middle name. “Thank you, Susan.”


“I’ll see you soon, Justin.”


“See you later, Susan.”


A few minutes after I hung up the phone, the doctor came back to the room, carrying a tray of food.


“How did the call go? Did you find out who the mystery caller was?”


“Yes, Paws is alive.”


“Paws called you 42 times?”


I rolled my eyes. This doctor seemed to need a lot of clarifications, or maybe he was just trying to humor me. “No, a woman named Susan called.”


“Oh! I thought you said you don’t have any family members around and you don’t do human relationships?”


Realizing that he was teasing me, I chuckled. “She said she found my cat and will bring Paws over soon.”


“That’s wonderful! In the meantime, you should eat something. I’ll get you some clean clothes to wear.”


“Thank you very much, Doctor.”


“You can call me Doctor Holden.”


“Thank you, Doctor Holden.”



A few hours later, I was wearing some nice jeans with a button-up shirt, sitting on the hospital bed with the photo of Paws tucked safely into my left breast pocket. Doctor Holden was writing in his notes again.


Someone knocked on the door. Doctor Holden smiled and winked at me, and then opened the door. A woman wearing cat-eye glasses and carrying a pink cat carrier stepped into the room as Doctor Holden stepped out, closing the door after him. 


“Hi Justin! Sorry you had to wait a couple of hours. I was taking classes at the community college and couldn’t come here until now. I hope you’ve been doing all right.”


I didn’t realize I was staring at the cat carrier until Susan waved her hands in front of my face. “Are you all right, Justin?”


I tore my eyes away from the gray blob in the pink cat carrier and looked at her. Her cat-eye glasses framed her square face, and she had beautiful blue eyes, the same color as Paws'. Feeling rude for not acknowledging her presence, I got off the bed and held out my hand. 


“I’m much better, now that you and Paws are here. Thank you so much.”


Susan smiled, and I noticed the dimple on her right cheek. My mother had the same smile. Trying hard to suppress the tears welling up in my eyes, I sat back down on the bed. Susan turned around and brought the cat carrier over. I opened it, and the cat immediately crawled onto my shoulders and put its white paws around my face. At that, my tears fell uncontrollably. I thought I would never be able to feel those soft paws on my face ever again. After spending multiple afternoons driving around the neighborhood trying to find Paws and looking for a certain gray cat with white paws everywhere I went, I had nearly given up. But Susan’s unexpected call was the light at the end of the tunnel. With Paws in my arms again, the “almost” car accidents and losing Paws was just a dream.


“I see that Paws missed you just as much as you missed her.”


Hugging Paws, I turned to Susan, who was smiling at me with tears in her eyes.


I smiled and nodded. Then it occurred to me that it was already 6pm and I hadn’t really properly thanked Susan. “Can I buy you dinner? As a thank you for taking care of Paws?”


Susan smiled and said, “Only if Paws comes too. I'll drive.”


“Of course!”

February 28, 2020 07:24

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