TITLE: Chasing the Taillights
NAME: Kate Larkindale
GENRE: YA Contemporary
The darkness is absolute. I’m not sure if my eyes are open or closed.
I strain to push the lids up, but they’re already wide. Something covers my mouth and nose, making breathing difficult. My lungs burn for air, but I can only suck in tiny mouthfuls through whatever smothers my face.
I turn my head, crying out as a savage bolt of pain shoots through it.
I teeter on the edge of consciousness, wavy grey lines wafting across the blank space before my eyes. I struggle to keep my wits about me - what’s left of them - fighting the darkness threatening to drown me.
I gasp for breath, certain now I won’t pass out. There’s nothing covering my face. It was the ground my nose and mouth were pressed into. Reaching out my left hand, I try to find something to hold onto. My fingers scrabble over small objects, pebbles perhaps, that skitter away beneath my touch. I reach further, wrapping my fist around them. Pain prickles my fingertips. Not pebbles. Glass.
Small, sharp shards of glass.
Using my torn hand, I drag myself forward, an inch, maybe two. A huge weight pins my legs to the ground. I can’t move them, can’t even feel them. Raising my head, I see light. Not a lot of light, but light.
Red light, bright at one end, dull at the other. I know what this is.
I do. My heart thumps at the side of my head and I can almost hear the gears of my brain creaking to make sense of this weird red glow.
I let my throbbing head drop as a reward, a surge of relief passing through me at this small achievement. It’s a taillight. But why is it there? What is there? And if that’s there, where am I? The questions whirl dizzying circles around my skull. What day is it? I struggle to remember. What did I have for breakfast? My eyes fix on the taillight, broken I realize, staring into it as if hypnotized.
That’s why it’s brighter at one end.
More light. White this time, sweeping in an arc across me. I blink, dazzled by the flood of brightness. All around me I see fragments glinting in the beam, tiny jewels strewn across what I can now see is a road. The yellow line is inches from my nose. Why am I lying in the middle of the road? Ghostly music drifts in my direction. A song I know, an oldie, The Beach Boys. It makes no sense here, must be in my head. I try to drag my other arm forward, wanting to raise myself onto my elbows for a better perspective. It won’t move. Pain rocks through my shoulder, my chest and courses up my neck to my still-aching head. The heavy, metallic scent of blood hangs over me.
When I glance back down at the road, I see the yellow line is smeared red.
The slamming of a car door breaks through the dull thumping in my skull, chases the music away for a moment. Footsteps scuff across the gravel, heading away from where I lie.
“I’m here!” I can’t tell if I’ve spoken aloud, or if the words are just in my head, like the unearthly jaunt of the Beach Boys song.
The footsteps grow nearer. “There’s another one over here.” The voice is a woman’s. Another what? I try to form the words, but my tongue is heavy and thick, my lips uncooperative.
A face hovers over me, pale and moon-like in the unforgiving glare.
“This one’s conscious, I think.” The same voice as before. She leans closer, coffee and cigarettes on her breath. “Honey? Can you tell me your name? You’ve been in an accident, but you’re going to be just fine, okay?”
An accident? The cogs and wheels in my head speed up again, grinding together as they try to absorb the words.
“Mom?” The word is painful to form, “Dad?” Somehow I know they’ll be there.
“Is that who you’re with?” The voice is gentle, soothing even, but I sense the urgency in her tone, “Your mom and dad?”
I try to nod, not sure if my head moves or not. I’ve been in an
accident. That’s what she said. Does that mean Mom and Dad were in an accident too? Where was I before here?
“…Okay?” I ask, only the last part of the phrase making it out of my mush-filled mouth. Are they okay? That’s what I wanted to ask. Are they here? My parents? Are they okay?
The words build to a scream behind my forehead, hammering the bone with the need to escape. I’m aware of the woman’s hands coming down to hold my shoulders and realize I’m writhing on the cold blacktop, every movement awakening new hurt. A shriek rises and falls in the distance, growing nearer whoop by whoop. It’s in my head, extinguishing any music that lingers there. It stops abruptly, as if a switch has been flicked. Seconds later, flashing lights, red, white, blue, replace the sound.
Voices surround me. They’re all talking at once, the words swirling into a dull cacophony. I let myself drift in spirals on the rise and fall of their voices, the steady thud of my heartbeat an underlying rhythm to their song.
“Sweetheart?” The voice by my ear startles me. “What’s your name?
Do you know your name?”
Do I know my name? Of course I know my name. I’m not an idiot. “Lucy…”
“Okay, Lucy.” The man’s voice is soft, yet firm at the same time.
It’s a voice I can trust. A safe voice. I can’t see who’s speaking though. A white beam shines right into my eyes and he’s nothing more than a silhouette against it. “Do you feel any pain, Lucy?”
I nod again, still not sure if my head moves or not.
“Can you tell me where it hurts?”
I shake my head this time. Everything hurts. Those wavy gray lines dance across my vision again. His shadowy figure appears to melt into the darkness for a moment, then comes back into focus.
“Mom?” I ask again, certain she’s around somewhere. “Dad?” My parents must be here. We were at a wedding. I remember that now.
Tony couldn’t come. Mom was disappointed about that, but Dad told her… What did Dad tell her?
“The diving’s more important, Monica.” Dad slides a second cup of coffee across the table. “If he’s going to make it to Nationals this year, he needs all the wins he can get. He can’t skip meets to go to weddings.”
“Oh, I know.” Mom stirs her coffee, the teaspoon making a bright tinkling sound against the side of the mug. “It’s just a shame. He and Adam were such good friends.”
I don’t even look up. “Tony and Adam haven’t been friends since they were kids. I doubt Adam’s going to miss him.”
Mom sighs. “You’re probably right.”
I know I’m right. The DeMarcos used to live three doors down from us, but since they moved to the other side of town, we’ve seen them maybe two or three times a year. When the wedding invitation arrived a month ago, it surprised me. If I was getting married, I don’t think I’d be inviting people as peripheral to my life as the DeMarcos.
“They were good friends,” Dad says. “Even though Adam’s a couple of years older than Tony.”