Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.
It was Good Friday and the stars were just starting to dissolve into the dawn. As I drove, I stroked the scar on my chest, by habit. My eyes were heavy and my vision unfocused, not surprising given that Id spent the night hunched over a mirror snorting away the bars of white powder that kept my face trapped in the glass. I believed I was keening my reflexes. I was wrong.
To one side of the curving road was a sharp drop down the mountains slope, and on the other was a dark wood. I tried to keep my eyes fixed ahead but I had the overwhelming feeling that something was waiting to ambush me from behind the trees, perhaps a troop of mercenaries. Thats how drug paranoia works, of course. My heart hammered as I gripped the steering wheel more tightly, sweat collecting at the base of my neck.
Between my legs I had wedged a bottle of bourbon, which I tried to pull out for another mouthful. I lost my grip on the bottle and it tumbled into my lap, spilling everywhere, before falling to the floorboard. I bent down to grab it before the remaining alcohol leaked out, and when my eyes were lifted I was greeted by the vision, the ridiculous vision, that set everything into motion. I saw a volley of burning arrows swarming out of the woods, directly at my car. Instinct took over and I jerked the steering wheel away from the forest that held my invisible attackers. This was not a good idea, because it threw my car up against the fencepost wires that separated me from the drop. There was the howl of metal on metal, the passenger door scraping against taut cables, and a dozen thuds as I bounced off the wood posts, each bang like electricity through a defibrillator.
I overcompensated and spun out into the oncoming lane, just missing a pickup truck. I pulled back too hard on the wheel, which sent me once again towards the guardrail. The cables snapped and flew everywhere at once, like the thrashing tentacles of a harpooned octopus. One cracked the windshield and I remember thinking how glad I was that it hadnt hit me as the car fell through the arms of the convulsing brute.
There was a brief moment of weightlessness: a balancing point between air and earth, dirt and heaven. How strange, I thought, how like the moment between sleeping and falling when everything is beautifully surreal and nothing is corporeal. How like floating towards completion. But as often happens in that time between existing in the world and fading into dreams, this moment over the edge ended with the ruthless jerk back to awareness.
A car crash seems to take forever, and there is always a moment in which you believe that you can correct the error. Yes, you think, its true that Im plummeting down the side of a mountain in a car that weighs about three thousand pounds. Its true that its a hundred feet to the bottom of the gully. But Im sure that if only I twist the steering wheel very hard to one side, everything will be okay.
Once youve spun that steering wheel around and found it doesnt make any difference, you have this one clear, pure thought: Oh, shit. For a glorious moment, you achieve the empty bliss that Eastern philosophers spend their lives pursuing. But following this transcendence, your mind becomes a supercomputer capable of calculating the gyrations of your car, multiplying that by the speed of the fall over the angle of descent, factoring in Newtons laws of motion and, in a split second, coming to the panicked conclusion that this is gonna hurt like hell.
Your car gathers speed down the embankment, bouncing. Your hypothesis is quickly proven correct: it is, indeed, quite painful. Your brain catalogues the different sensations. There is the flipping end over end, the swirling disorientation, and the shrieks of the car as it practices its unholy yoga. Theres the crush of metal, pressing against your ribs. Theres the smell of the devils mischievousness, a pitchfork in your ass and sulfur in your mouth. The Bastards there, all right, dont doubt it.
Excerpted from The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Davidson. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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