“Bring it home, baby,” chirped Madison, as the heavy bass beats pounded their way out of the Lexus’ high-end sound system. It was time to let the song list at WXZL's Friday at Five replace the last forty hours worth of ringing telephones, office chatter, and clicking keyboards. Madison’s head bobbed along as her fingers kept time on the rim of the steering wheel. Her mental starter’s pistol had fired, propelling her toward the long-awaited weekend.
She’d finally eased her way through the sloth-like uptown traffic and was now flying down the interstate, Taylor Swift's mellifluous voice riding shotgun. She’d quickly been making progress until the traffic slowed to a painful crawl a few miles before her exit. “Come on, people. You’re standing between me, and an ice-cold Margarita. Are you sure that’s where you want to be?”
The traffic in the lane next to Madison began moving. “God! Why’s the traffic always faster in the other lane?” As soon as she saw a space between the two vehicles to her left, she darted in.
Predictably, she’d only gotten about ten yards when her current lane came to a stop and the one she’d just abandoned started moving again. She thought of an old song by The Eagles with the line, "Life in the fast lane . . . surely make you lose your mind." Her frustration gradually became hostility. Hostility became impatience. Some people drive defensively, she thought, but I drive competitively! As soon as she saw an opening in the right lane, she whipped in.
Now Ed Sheeran was crooning an R&B ballad through the speakers, the smooth melody washing away Madison’s tension. She took a deep, cathartic breath and let her mind wander toward the evening out she’d be enjoying later with her boyfriend, Todd. She envisioned the laughter and music in the bar, the tastes of craft beer and high-end cocktails, and the scent of expensive appetizers. She smiled at the sensory explosion . . . she glanced up at the rearview mirror . . . she saw the grill of the eighteen-wheeler filling its space. It was closer than it appeared. The entire accident seemed to happen in a flash of time: crumpling metal, exploding glass, nothingness.
The first sensation Madison experienced when she became conscious was confusion: What just happened? The second was intense pain: How bad is this? The third was terror: Am I gonna die?
She heard the sounds of heavy traffic around her: horns bellowing, people yelling. "Oh my God—is she still alive?" . . . "Somebody call 911" . . . "We need to get her out of there" . . . "Stay back; it might blow up!"
The pungent odor of charred rubber and steaming radiator fluid attacked her nostrils. As soon as she could think clearly, she went through a mental checklist of physical assessments. Wiggle your fingers and toes. She couldn’t tell if they were moving or not. Try speaking. The best she could manage were choked gasps.
There was movement around her, feet scurrying over asphalt. She tried to move but felt pinned in by the crushed car. Her thoughts bounced around inside her head like a pinball. To calm herself, she thought of all of the things she’d be doing once the nightmare was over and everything returned to normal. She was comforted by thoughts of her mom and dad, two sisters, her many friends, and, of course, Todd. I’m not gonna die here. I’m comin’ home as soon as whatever happens, happens. Nausea filled her stomach; she was blanking out again.
Sometime later, her mind re-awakened. Madison struggled to open her eyes. It took her a moment to recall the accident and its aftermath. She felt numb with cold. She had no sense of time. What am I still doing here? Why am I not in a hospital? Again, she became aware of the tight, metal enclosure in which she lay motionless. She attempted to cry out. Her thoughts became words, but her throat would not release them.
Finally, she felt some movement of the vehicle. Something lifted the wreckage and moved it forward. They must be moving me off the interstate. Thank goodness! I just need to hang on. Patience was her adversary, as she waited for the vibrations from the tools that the first responders would be using to pry her from the mangled car. After a few moments, she could make out some soft murmurings close to her vehicle. What are they saying? Then she experienced the sensation of being lowered. Okay, here we go. She heard something soft raining down on top of the metal trap, followed by profound silence. What’s happening? Where are they?
Todd wept as he and Madison’s loved ones left the cemetery.