(Content warnings: Swearing/Mental health issues)
It was dark by the time she had regained consciousness. She pried her forehead from the steering wheel and wiped the coagulated substance off with the back of her hand. She cried out in agony as muscles spasmed in her neck. The only source of light was the faint glow from the full moon hovering over the car. She had no recollection of where she was, where she had been, where she was going, or even who she was. All she could tell was that she’d somehow collided with a tree and the older model, two-door vehicle was unequipped with an airbag.
She surveyed her dark surroundings. Although the driver’s door was badly dented, but the passenger’s door had been slammed against a protruding mountain rock.
She managed to get her car door open enough to activate the interior dome light; unfortunately, the bulb had burned out, and darkness prevailed with the exception of the full moon above.
She searched the passenger side in hopes of finding identification and a cell phone to call for help. She found a handbag in the floorboard and dumped its contents onto the passenger seat. Even though dimly lit, she could tell what the items were by touch; lipstick, hairbrush, pack of gum, big wad of cash secured with a rubber band, and a flip-type burner cell phone. She opened it, revealing the date and time: Wednesday, October 31, 2020, 12:22 AM. Also illuminated by the cell light was a damaged triangular street sign that read, Curved Mountain Road.
“Just great; stuck on a mountain road in the middle of nowhere, in a wrecked car, on Halloween night with only a burner phone and a wad of cash,” she said, rubbing her temples.
She turned her attention back to the handbag and gave it another shake-down, searching for any form of I.D. What the hell, no driver’s license? she wondered, throwing the empty purse back into the floorboard. A burner has emergency capability; I can still call 911. She flipped the phone open to lighten her dark surroundings; hopefully, she’d find something that might lead the authorities to her whereabouts. I can’t tell them where I am if I don’t know, myself; hell, I don’t even know who I am.
Using the light from the phone, she looked in the glove compartment for identification. Registration papers indicated the 1977 El Camino belonged to Joann Blankenship of Casper Wyoming. Is that me? she wondered. “I can’t just sit here and wait for another car to come speeding around that bend and crush me like an accordion,” she said, looking in the rearview mirror and picturing the worst-case scenario in her mind. “I must have hit my head really hard, cause I’m talking to myself. I’ve got to get out of here,” she said, slamming her shoulder against the door. On the fourth and final thrust, she was able to squeeze her slender frame out, landing on the cold, damp cement. Using the door handle, she pulled herself up to a standing position which made her head spin. She stood still until her equilibrium returned. She shined the cell light on the wreckage revealing extensive damage to the front-end; especially, the fender, which was partially embedded in the tree.
“Blood!” she yelled, staring at the dark red substance splattered on the hood and grill. “I probably hit a deer, then swerved into this damn thing,” she said, kicking the base of the tree. The cell light inadvertently illuminated what appeared to be a body lying about fifty feet down the road. "Oh my God! Are you okay?”
She grabbed a hold of a broken but still adhered limb for support, and made her way down the hill, toward the lifeless man in running attire; his body, appearing bloody and contorted. “I’m so sorry; It was an accident,” she said. At least I think it was an accident. Yes, I’m sure it was. After all, I’m not a bad person, am I? she wondered, searching her amnesic brain for a sign that she did indeed have a conscience.
She kneeled by the victim to check for a pulse but couldn’t find one. Was it because her fingers were too cold or because he didn’t have one? She searched his pockets and found a wallet with a driver’s license belonging to Dale Blankenship, of Casper, Wyoming. She glanced back at the car. Blankenship was the last name on the car registration. Inside the victim’s wallet, was thirty-seven dollars, a photo of two children, and a picture of a woman with long red hair. She swung her ponytail forward and shined the cell light on it. With pictures in hand, she stumbled back up the hill and back to the car, squeezing herself into the passenger seat. She pulled the visor mirror down and shined the cell light on her face and gasped. Just as she suspected; the woman in the picture and the reflection in the mirror were one in the same.
“Oh my God; if that poor man is, was my husband or ex, these are probably my children,” she said, shining the light on the children’s photo, hoping to generate a memory or at least an emotion, but it didn’t do either. “I’ve got to call 911 and at least report this to the police. I’ll just explain my situation; that I don’t know where I am and that I’ve been in an accident and have amnesia; surely, they’ll understand,” she said, rubbing her forehead.
Just as she started to push the last ‘1’ on the cell, she snapped the phone closed and picked up the large stack of cash that was still in the passenger seat. She thumbed the bills under her nose and inhaled. None of this look’s good. I can’t explain the money or the body. What if I was running from the law and someone has my license plate number? The cops won’t believe that it was an accident and I’ll probably do time for vehicular homicide. Besides, it’s too late to call for help for him because; he’s already dead,” she said, looking down the hill at the victim lying in the road. And, as for the children, his life insurance will provide for them. Besides, it’s not like I’d be a good mother if I don’t know who they are or who I am, she rationalized, managing to squeeze out a couple of crocodile tears. I know what I must do…
She kissed the pictures goodbye and laid them in the passenger seat. She picked up the wad of cash and stuffed it in her pocket and squeezed back out of the car. She paced along the mountain road, searching for anything or anybody that could implicate her in this being anything more than a tragic accident.
Tiny orange rectangles staggered throughout the mountains represented the windows of the nearby cabins. She prayed that no residents or bystanders would be witness to what was about to transpired. In a fugue state of mind, she meditated. …
I’ll create another identity. It won’t be difficult since I don’t know who I am, anyway. I’ll stage my death. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. No more Joann Blankenship, or whatever the hell, the papers say I am…or was. No one will ever need to know. Hopefully, along with Dale’s life insurance, Joann’s will also care for her surviving children. My surviving children.
She squeezed back into the driver’s seat and turned the key. She didn’t know why she hadn’t tried to start it before. Nevertheless, she was surprised when the old jalopy started on the third try. She put the gear in reverse and gunned the engine. The embedded fender made a grinding sound, finally releasing itself from the tree’s hold. She put the gear in park and got out, leaving the driver’s door open. She leaned over the seat, shifted the gear into drive, and backed away from the moving vehicle. It was as if she wasn’t responsible for what the old El Camino did. The car picked up speed as it rolled downhill toward the lifeless man lying in the middle of the road. “Stop! This is not part of the plan, you idiot!” she yelled, while charging downhill toward the runaway vehicle. Was it fate or luck that the car veered slightly to the right, avoiding the victim’s corpse? She sighed with relief. “That was close. Two impacts with the victim would rule out an accident for sure and really fuck-up my plan.”
Using the cell to illuminate her path, she made her way to the edge of the cliff just in time to see the El Camino somersault over the flimsy metal guardrail and disappear into the depths below. She could hear the shattering of glass and the crushing of metal. She shined the cell light down the cliff just in time to hear a loud ‘boom’ and see a plume of smoke, confirming its final impact on solid ground. She smiled. Unfortunately, her celebration was short-lived by the realization of another flaw in her scheme. Her disappointment echoed throughout the mountains. “Dammit, there won’t be a body to recover!”
A sudden splashing sound was music to her ears for it was the welcome confirmation that both, the El Camino and its owner, had made it to their final resting place –the flowing river below. She shined the cell light down into the abyss, illuminating the tangled remains, drifting downstream. She smiled. No worries: the authorities will assume that Joann Blankenship’s body was carried away by the current.
Without warning, a dark shadow ran toward her, finally taking on the shape of a man. She shined her cell light on the image standing in her presence, then on the road where the victim had met his demise. The body was gone. “No, it can’t be, you’re dead!” she cried, covering her eyes with her hands.
“Melanie, it’s me, Johnathon,” the man said in a calming voice.
“Dale, you know I’m Joann, but the fact that I’m still alive is a secret,” she whispered, making a shush gesture. “What is this, a Halloween prank? she asked, wiping some of the gooey substance off his face.
“You’re scaring me, Mel. Your blood sugar must be getting low, let me get you something to eat.”
“Stop calling me that. What is it you want?” she asked sternly.
“I just want you and I want you to be okay, that’s all,” he said, his voice cracking. A paranoid expression flashed across her face.
“I know what you’re after,” she said, pausing to reach in her jacket pocket. “It’s this, isn’t it?” she asked, waving the wad of money under his nose. “Well, you’re not getting any of it; it’s mine, every fucking penny!” she yelled, backing away until her rubber sole shoes teetered on the edge of the cliff.
“Mel, stop!” the man yelled, grabbing her jacket, and pulling her into the safety of his arms.
“I don’t want the money, it’s not real, anyway; I just want you,” he said, still holding her tight. He waved his arms to get attention. “Zac, need help over here; there’s something really wrong with Mel.”
A bright light engulfed her in its celestial-like presence as human-shaped silhouettes descended upon her. The muffled sound of their voices harmonized in her ears. She could see the man she called Dale nervously hovering over her, but she was not afraid as a warm and peaceful feeling encompassed her soul. She closed her eyes, smiled, and asked. “Am I in Heaven?”
Although she received no answer from the Divine Creator, a loud human cue came from behind the bright light…
“Alright, that’s a wrap!”