A massive arc of water erupted from beneath the tires of an oncoming pickup, illuminated by its high beams like a huge white fan of blinding light.  Garland Gerber hated driving at night, especially on wet roads. Roads on which traffic had worn tire grooves that collect water were the worst.

“You bastard,” Garland Gerber muttered, as the spray inundated his car’s windshield, “if you had a shred of decency, you would dim your headlights. And you wouldn’t be driving so damn fast in this weather.”

His wife, Christine, winced and gripped the arm rest a little tighter.

Heavy rain had been falling for more than an hour, but its intensity increased dramatically as they approached Hot Springs.  The roadside ditches could still handle the flow, but where the flowing water reached a culvert, there was just too much volume; the water spilled over the roadway in sheets an inch deep and twenty feet across. Every time Garland’s Toyota Matrix hit a culvert cross-flow, the car hydroplaned to the right for a second, sending shivers down his spine.  Christine reacted to each sideways slip by taking in a sharp breath and digging her nails deeper into the arm rest.

“You’re going too fast for conditions,” Christine said, after a particularly troubling slide over a pool that had collected in a long concave section of the road. Garland responded by pursing his lips and pushing a little harder on the gas pedal.

“Oh grow up! Slow down, Garland! This road is bad enough without you making it worse.”

He hated it when Christine rightfully chastised him for behaving badly behind the wheel. He was especially annoyed when she was so clearly right and he was so obviously being childish.

Another arc of water burst up from the roadway, temporarily blinding Garland.  Just as his vision returned enough so he was able to see the stripe marking the edge of the pavement, another spray covered the windshield and the car hit another broad stretch of water washing across the road. The Matrix hydroplaned sharply toward the right side of the road. Garland whipped the wheel to correct the car’s direction, but steering seemed to have no effect on the car’s motion.  Garland fruitlessly spun the wheel back and forth until, suddenly and violently, the tires found traction.  The front of the car veered sharply, the right side dipping hard; the car leaned and again slid for what seemed an eternity until the two passenger side tires slammed against an obstruction, flipping the car onto the passenger’s side for a fraction of a second before continuing the roll. Just as the car spun off the roadside, it completed the roll, slamming the roof hard against a flat expanse of exposed stone and tumbling into a water-filled ravine below, wheels down in a raging torrent.

The water, flooding in through the smashed windshield, was cold as it flowed over their feet.  Neither of them made a move for a few seconds after the impact.  Garland groped for the dome light switch and flipped it; though dim, it provided enough light to see one another.

“Are you okay? Do you have the pocket knife?” Christine finally blurted out as she struggled to unbuckle her seat belt.

“Uh, I think I’m all right. You?”

“Do you have the pocket knife?” she asked again, more urgently. “The one with the seat-belt cutter and glass break tip.”

Garland’s hands moved in slow motion as he reached inside his pockets.  Suddenly, he felt the water reach his crotch, then almost at the same instant, it was at chest level.

“Take a breath, Crystal!” he screamed, just as the water rose past her jaw.  He drew in a short breath before the water covered his mouth.

Struggling to retrieve the knife from his pocket, Garland felt a burning sensation in his lungs; a monstrous pressure in his chest was almost too much to handle. I’ll have to let out my breath, he thought, looking over at his wife, who seemed oddly calm.  She looked at him quizzically and made a motion with her arms and hands, pulling up her shoulders and stretching her arms in front of her with her palms up as if to say, “Now what?”

Finally, he pulled the knife from his pocket, reached over to Christine and sliced her belt, then cut his own.  With two sharp jabs of the glass break tip, his driver’s side window disintegrated into tiny shards of glass that fell in slow motion through the water into the car. After crawling out the window, he reached in and took Christine’s arms and pulled her out of the car, then stood upright, holding Christine in his arms. He was shocked that, when he stood, he rose up out of the water; it was just a bit more than chest-deep.

He coughed violently for a few seconds, sucking in air with each spasm.

Christine breathed in deeply, slowly, before saying in almost a whisper, “If you had a shred of decency, you would have listened to me. You almost got us both killed. And my name is not Crystal, you bastard.”

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to Mistake

  1. Thanks, Bev. I appreciate your suggestions and have taken heed. The story has morphed quite a lot since I posted it here a short while ago; it’s great to get suggestions!

  2. Thanks, Juan. Since I posted this one here, I revised it considerably. I may well submit it for consideration somewhere, unless I’m too lazy! 😉

  3. jserolf says:

    Naturally, I like the surprise ending, and that the ending changes from something near “angry or hateful” to some tone more human, almost forgiving.

    John, things like this happen in Florida quite a few times, though more often in ponds that aboud here and people either drunk or not watchng who go through fences and find themselves sinking into something like 10 feet of water … so I think you’ll have a market for something like this here. I’ve got a penchant for description and so I love that paragraph that offers us a real-fee view of the incident.

    Send it off for competition and/or publication. In any case, it’s a keeper…..

  4. bev says:

    It’s good, John. I like the ending. I will make a couple of suggestions. I would edit this a bit more and try to improve a few sentences. This is an example — I would try to replace either flow or flowing so that they both don’t occur so close together: “The roadside ditches could still handle the flow, but where the flowing water reached a culvert, there was just too much volume;” and here, “After crawling out the window, he reached in and took Christine’s arms and pulled her out of the car, then stood upright, holding Christine in his arms” I would replace the second Christine with “her”.

  5. jserolf says:

    I like this one~!

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