Thick sheets of rain pattered furiously on the windshield, almost obscuring the view in front of us. I leaned forward from the backseat and tried to discern the curvature of the road ahead, but I couldn’t make out anything.
“Mrs. Murphy, I really don’t think it’s safe to drive in this rain,” I said apprehensively. “Even I can barely see out of the windshield.”
Mrs. Murphy was our next door neighbor and a friend of Mom’s. We had known each other ever since we first moved in on Fairfield Lane about a month ago, several hours away from my hometown. She was the only one who readily greeted us upon arrival, unlike the glowering faces and dirty looks our other neighbors gave us. Thanks to the Murphys’ welcoming company, I didn’t feel quite as homesick as I had expected.
“I know, but we have no other choice,” Mrs. Murphy replied distastefully, squinting to read the road sign that was approaching us. “Who would’ve known the rain would be this bad.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right about that.” Seriously. What was the weatherman even thinking when he forecasted thirty percent chance of showers?
I couldn’t blame Mrs. Murphy, though. It just so happened that both my parents had to attend a mandatory annual conference tonight regarding Dad’s new company project. Mrs. Murphy, being the considerate neighbor she was, offered to take me and my four-year-old brother, Jason, to a basketball lesson held at our local gym. So, here we are now, struggling to get home safely through the torrential downpour.
"Emmy--" Jason started to whine.
"It's E-mi-ly," I corrected him, enunciating each syllable. "Get it? You should already know that by now."
“Emm-ily?” he tried again, although his pronunciation was still imprecise. “Are we home yet?”
I sighed. Of course, he’ll never get my name right. “No, Jason. We’re still five minutes away from home.”
Out of nowhere, an ear-splitting crack of thunder reverberated around us. Jason flinched in his seat and curled up into a tight ball. That was when I noticed his seatbelt wasn’t buckled. Oh great, why do I always have to baby him on something as simple as wearing a seatbelt?
I opened my mouth to remind Jason, but his whimpering cut me off.
“It’s dark and scary outside. I want to see Mommy.”
Jason scooted closer to me, his face now inches away from mine. His round eyes were consumed with fear, and it felt as if his distress was radiating into me. I knew that feeling all too well. Six years ago, when I was Jason’s age, I remembered hiding in the back corner of my closet for hours just to wait for a thunderstorm to be over. I even ended up falling asleep in there a few times.
“Shh-shh, it’s okay Jason. I know how scared you are...and I am too," I comforted him. “Just hang in there. We'll be home very soon, alright?”
He nodded his head in acknowledgment. I tore my eyes away from him and focused on the road, seeking for any signs of potential danger. From a distance, I caught a glimpse of a vehicle’s headlights shining in the side-view mirror.
That’s weird, I thought. Why hadn’t I noticed another car following us from behind until now? Whoever is driving, I hope he’s not trying to stalk us or anything like that.
Even through the rain droplets that coated the windows, I could clearly see its headlights rapidly glowing brighter, which made it obvious that the driver was actually accelerating.
Why in the world is he driving so fast? Is he crazy?
“Watch out! He’s going to hit you!” I shouted at Mrs. Murphy as the light engulfed the backside of our car.
It was too late.
The car’s bumper rammed into the rear end of our car with a loud clank! The next thing I knew, we were skidding uncontrollably over the slick roads. I squeezed my eyes shut and clung onto the headrest, bracing myself for impact while an irrepressible, centrifugal force heaved the rest of my body off my seat. In a desperate attempt to gain control over her car, Mrs. Murphy slammed on the brakes. My mouth gaped, but my screams were drowned out by the squealing tires.
Deafening metallic crunches rumbled from our car as it smashed right into the guardrail...and then...eerie muteness. All I could hear was a high-pitched ringing in my ears. Everything moved in slow motion...windows shattering into a million pieces...our belongings falling towards the front of the car...
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jason’s face contorting into a horrified expression as he flew out of his seat and crashed through the windshield. Several seconds elapsed before our car finally jolted to an abrupt stop.
“Mrs. Murphy,” I felt myself mouthing out, my voice fully muffled by the persisting, uncanny ringing. “Are you alright?”
Slowly, I lurched out of my seat, my right hand groping along the leather surface of the stowage. A sharp, stabbing pain shot up through my arm. As if the pain brought back my senses, my hearing returned.
“Mrs. Murphy, are you hurt?” I faintly heard myself speak in a shrill voice I couldn’t even recognize.
She groaned in response and feebly raised her head from the dashboard. “No, sweetie, I’m fine.”
“Can you move?” I asked, trying to steady my voice.
Mrs. Murphy strained to move her leg from the brake pedal, but it was twisted at an odd angle beneath the crumpled hood of the car. “Aaaaaagh!” I heard her yelp in agony.
“I...can’t! My leg...it’s stuck...and it hurts so much...I think I broke my leg...it’s getting numb...” she replied in between painful gasps. “Can you...check on...Jason?”
I nearly forgot about Jason...until the images started slipping into my mind.
The horrified look on his face...
Flying out of his seat...
Crashing through the windshield...
Realizing what had just happened, a sense of foreboding settled in the pit of my stomach.
No, he’s not dead, I told myself. He can’t be dead.
Lowering my gaze, I caught sight of something viscous oozing in a puddle around my hand where it had rested on the leather stowage. I lifted my hand and saw large shards of glass jammed deeply into my palm, but I didn't care. I had to find Jason. I had to know if he was still alive.
Opening the passenger door, I dizzily wobbled out of the car. I was immediately greeted with a raging cascade of rain, thoroughly drenching my basketball uniform instantaneously.
The headlights were still on. Tracing the light to where it was shining, my eyes spotted a small figure slumped at the base of a tree, about ten feet away. Chills ran down my spine as I wearily stumbled towards Jason, my heart pounding faster for every step I took. My hands trembled vigorously as they reached for his torso and propped his shoulders against the tree.
There I saw it--the incessant rivers of blood spurting from the side of his head.
An excruciating wave of nausea seized my stomach. I staggered backwards and dry heaved instantly. I swallowed hard, mustering all the strength I could to resist the urge to vomit. After a few minutes of calming my churning stomach, I gingerly touched the side of his cold, clammy neck. No pulse. I hovered my hand over his nose. No breathing.
I couldn’t bring myself to think of that word. His pale, stiff body seemed to have already shouted the truth.
Strangled sobs escaped my mouth as I shakily cradled Jason’s lifeless body against my chest.
Why did this have to happen? Why Jason instead of me?
Suddenly, I felt something dark and tangible boiling inside of me, forcibly clawing its way out. Then a sharp burst of hysterical screech ripped through the air.
I knew it was coming from me, but I couldn’t make myself stop.