Mystic, West Virginia
The sky was as dark as a witch’s heart, the smells of whiskey and sex as strong inside the titty-pink Cadillac as the vomit in the floorboard behind the driver. The speedometer was pegged out at a hundred and ten, and still the headlights of the car behind them kept gaining.
Eighteen-year-old Connie Bartlett’s fingers were curled around the steering wheel of her brand-new graduation present, her eyes wide and fixed on the white stripe down the middle of the blacktop, and she was screaming at the top of her lungs.
Her boyfriend, Dick Phillips, was on his knees, leaning over the seat and looking out the back window. Like Connie, he could see the headlights coming closer.
“Faster, Connie, faster! He’s gonna catch us!”
“It won’t go any faster!” she cried.
She swerved toward the right, then swerved back toward the left, tossing her passengers from one side of the car to the other. She was trying to follow the white stripe down the middle of the highway, but she was driving drunk, something her daddy had told her never to do.
In the backseat, Betsy Parr was three beers and most of a fifth of Jack Daniel’s drunk, down on her hands and knees in the floorboard, puking up her guts. She always felt carsick in the backseat. Being drunk and dancing with death only made it worse.
Her boyfriend, Paul Jackson, was passed out above her, drunk from the other three beers from Betsy’s six-pack and the rest of the bottle of Jack Daniel’s, oblivious to the drama and the danger.
Dick was pounding the seat and crying now. “He’s gaining! He’s gaining! He’ll kill us, too. What are we gonna do?”
Betsy groaned as another wave of nausea swept over her, but before she could follow the urge to puke again, the car fishtailed, throwing her against the door at her back. Too scared to look up, she began beating her fists on the back of Connie’s seat.
“Oh, my God...Connie, stop, please stop! You’re going to kill us.”
“We can’t!” Dick yelled. “He saw all of us. We have to get to the cops first or he’ll finger us for what he did!”
“We’re drunk. They’ll blame it on us anyway,” Betsy moaned.
“Shut up! Shut up!” Connie screamed. “You saw what he did! We all saw it!”
Betsy couldn’t believe this was happening. Twelve long years of slogging through an education all the way to their high school graduation, and three hours after getting their diplomas they were going to die. Her only consolation, even though she’d had to get drunk to do it, was that she wouldn’t die a virgin.
All of a sudden the car began to slide sideways.
“Connie! Take your foot off the gas!” Dick screamed.
Instead, Connie jerked the wheel in the other direction, and suddenly they were airborne. Her foot was still on the accelerator, the engine was roaring like the backwash from a jet, but the sensation of flying, if only for a moment, was real.
Paul Jackson woke up just as the wheels left the blacktop to find Betsy’s foot in the middle of his chest.
“What the hell?” he groaned, and then leaned over and vomited all over the both of them just as the pink Cadillac went nose-first into a tree.
Connie went through the windshield, landing facedown on the hood as steam from the broken radiator rose up around her.
Dick’s head slammed against the dash, cutting a gash across his forehead as he slumped down on the floor, pinned between the dash and the seat as it crumpled around him.
Betsy was ejected through the back window onto the trunk and then bounced off onto the ground a short distance away, awash in the exhaust from the tailpipe.
The back door popped open on impact, throwing Paul out against a nearby boulder, breaking his arm and his shoulder, and cracking his skull.
To add insult to injury, a dead limb knocked loose from the impact dropped, landing on Connie’s back, although it was overkill. She was already gone.
A few moments later, headlights swept across the scene of the wreck as the driver of the other car finally caught up. He slowed down only long enough to assess the scene and assume they were dead, then disappeared into the night.
* * *
Betsy Parr woke up to bright lights and heart-stopping pain. She could hear her mother’s voice; the fear in it was palpable. She heard her father, and then the sound of choking and moaning. It took a moment for her to realize she was the one making that noise. She heard her mother cry out, begging them to do something, and then the pain was gone as she sank into unconsciousness.
* * *
By midmorning, news of the accident spread through town like wildfire. One of Mystic High School’s brand-new graduates was dead, and three more critically injured.
Everyone was in shock, including the driver of the second car, who had been so sure they were dead. He thought about running. He thought about coming out with a story to lay blame on them first, and then decided to wait and see what happened. They could still die.
And when all the shock and drama was over, and the rush of gossip had long since cleared, waiting was what saved him.
Connie Bartlett took what she knew to the grave, and the three others had been so drunk, and then suffered such critical head wounds, that later on when they were questioned, none of them remembered anything after receiving their diplomas. The ensuing three hours of their lives had been erased.
His future had been saved by a quirk of fate, which made everything else he’d done worth it.