A SHORT STORY
▼ ▼ ▼
[Download the story]
A noise is making its way through my brain. I cannot understand what it is. It is strident, continuous, haunting. Its volume is growing slowly, as if I am emerging from a dull torpor.
At last I realize itís a car horn. A tiresomely near car horn. Mine.
I strain to lift my head, and the noise suddenly stops. But my head drops forward and the noise starts again, more piercing than before. I canít stand it.
With an effort that costs me an unforeseen fatigue, I arch my neck, pushing my head back until it falls, heavy as lead, on the back of the seat.
Now the silence is complete. I open my eyes, and the only thing I find is darkness. An impenetrable blackness such as I have never experienced before, and it dismays me.
Only in my nightmares, sometimes, have I felt a dismay like this. This, too, must be a nightmare. If I manage to awaken, it will end.
I try to move my legs and a shooting pain like the bite of one thousand snares cuts off my breath. I faint.
The dawnís dim light brings me back to consciousness. Now I know very well what has happened. I drove off the road. My car is crumpled up at the bottom of a ravine. And I am trapped within.
My legs are entaqgled in twisted metal. My left arm doesnít respond, it must be broken. My lips taste of blood and all of my body aches. I feel cold. I feel sick. I breathe deeply, as deep as I can, and my breathing aches too.
The most important thing is not to panic. The sun is rising, and someone will notice the accident. Someone will see the car. Someone will come and save me.
My God, let someone come and save me.
But in the meantime I cannot stay as I am. I must find the courage to assess the damage. I cannot see my legs, they are lost in a tangle of engine and dashbound, but if I donít move them I can bear the pain. I must try hard to see what has happened to my arm. I feel it, wet and sticky, and I am surely bleeding. I have never been able to stand the sight of my own blood, but I turn my head slowly. There is a hole torn in the sleeve of my tee-shirt. The hole is with black blood and from it, white and shiny, a piece of bone sticks out.
I am sick again.
I must endure it, I must endure it, I must endure it. If I want to save my own life, I must endure it.
I divert my eyes to look at the sky. Itís beginning to take on an impossible blue. I unfasten my trouser belt and take an endless amount of time doing so. With trouble, with pain, I succeed in strapping it around my upper arm. Just above the fracture.
As impossible as it seems, I succeed. Now the haemorrhagehas stopped, now I can take a breath. But I feel extremely weak.
No one is in sight. Not a trace of house or even cowshed, where sooner or later someone always appears. But itís logical. Here the ground is too rugged: there are only the trees, the brush, and the road that runs somewhere up above me.
I try to turn my head to see that road, but the pain in my arm overwhelms me, makes me give up.
Then I remember the rearview-mirror. By using it I should be able to look around.
The rearview-mirror is still there, but it is cracked into a thousand shards that draw an ominous cobweb. I move the mirror carefully, and I see the ravine at my back as if it were a kaleidoscope of crystal chips, all kinds of different greens.
And, in a far corner, above all that green, a little piece of sky and, in the middle of it, a white spot, a milestone.
I stare into the mirror, hypnotized, as if the strength of my sight could make someone show up. No use. No one comes by. Itís too soon yet for a road so seldom used.
To think this was the only reason I chose it...
But how did I happen to end up down here? I left the city late, though I didnít have any alcohol. I wasnít sleepy. I was enjoying the moonlit landscape. I was driving slowly, with the convertibleís top down and the cool night wind keeping me awake.
Keeping me awake. So, I was sleepy.
The last thing I remember was a long, straight stretch and the red lights, there at the end of the road, that turned slowly to the left. I, on the contrary, must have gone straight ahead. Straight ahead to the end of this bloody ravine.
I am still looking in the rearview-mirror when abruptly, painfully, I realize that I can see only a little foreshortening of the road. Everything else is foliage. While in front of me there is only a sloping strip with a few trees, behind me there is something like a thick briarpatch.
My car had stopped just inside the patch and the trees above now conceal it.
Nobody will notice the accident. Nobody will come and save me, unless...
A truck is passing by. Using my good hand, I push on the car horn with all my might to get the driverís attention. Nothing. The only thing I get is a flight of scared birds.
I am scared, too. For the first time I really think that nobody will save me. That I will remain here, trapped in this car for God knows how long. Until I die alone, drained of blood. Or from hunger or thirst or...
No! No, I must find more courage, reject these thoughts. Other cars will pass by. Maybe somebody will see me, maybe somebody will hear the horn. Maybe the truck driver was listening to his radio at full blast...
I keep staring at the rearview-mirror, pushing desperately on the horn each time I see a car passing up there, on the road. The traffic becomes heavier, but nothing happens. I realize itís already too heavy for someone hearing the noise of my horn to understand that it comes from down here.
The merciless August sun is now at its peak. It is blinding me, it is draining me. Unbearable. My calves are swelling, and my arm is throbbing painfully. Iím thirsty. I feel terrible. Iíve never felt so terrible in all my life. I would like to close my eyes, forget everything. I would like to sleep.
No. I must not give up. I never have. I must stay alert and overcome these hours of stifling heat. Something will happen. At least the heat will diminish...
I keep staring at the rearview-mirror, I keep pushing on the horn, but now I am doing it automatically, reflexively. Iíve managed to find the way not to surrender to the anguish. Iíve moved my thoughts elsewhere. Iím trapped here, but my mind is with her. With Milena.
Weíre swimming together. The sea water glides along my body, fresh and restoring. I plough through it with long quiet strokes. Milena overtakes me and laughs. She knows very well I can beat her, even weighed down as I am by my spear gun. I let her reach the rock first to have the pleasure of seeing her getting out of the water, gilded and supple as she always is. She will get tanned while I go hunting for fish in those deep holes I found last year. And, come evening, we shall grill them on the charcoal in the garden, and we shall drink cool white wine and toast the cottage we have just bought on the sea...
The cottage in which she is now waiting for me. It was to give her a surprise that I left the city early, during the night, without saying anything. To wake her this morning with a kiss and a bunch of flowers...
I suddenly realize that this means it will take a lot of time before she starts looking worriedly at the clock, before she becomes aware that something must have happened to me. And more and more time before she calls the police, before she thinks to sound the alarm.
My enchantment is broken. The dear face of Milena has vanished. I am here again, at the bottom of this ravine, trapped, wounded, frightened. The belt on my arm is not enough anymore. I have started bleeding again. And the sun remains unbearble. It burns my eyes, it drains me... I donít even want to consider how much time it has been since I had a sip of water.
A red hue in the rearview-mirror. I rouse myself. A car has stopped. A woman and a small boy get out. They are facing in my direction. I have the crazy hope that they are staring at me. But the woman bends to unzip the childís trousers...
I push on the horn with all my strength. Now itís impossible that they would not me.
From under the convertibleís hood comes only a small, sharp noise that changes rapidly into some kind of dwindling hum. The battery has run down. Finished. Dead. So I start crying for help, crying as if I were crazy and the woman, for a moment that takes my breath away, looks around herself. But a truck goes by, and then another. Their noise surely covers my screams. The woman shakes her head, certain that she was mistaken. Taking the childís hand, she gets into the car.
And is gone.
I am overhelmed with fear, and the fear multiplies the pain. I have no strength anymore, I have no nerve. I can no long stand it. I close my eyes, and I let myself go.
Hands. I feel hands on me. Someone has found me! I try to open my eyes, but I am not able. I remain there motionless, neglected. I thank God. Someone has found me. Someone will call an ambulance, will look after me. I am safe. Safe. I donít need to do any more. I will not die. Not now.
The hands are all over me, probing even jerking me. A sharp pain shakes my whole body. Makes me recover consciousness and open my eyes abruptly.
His face is very near mine. Then suddenly, far away and cringing in fear. I realize that he is frightened, that he had thought I was dead. I turn my head wearily. Now I can see him better. He has something in his hand. A black and brown thing that I recognize. My wallet...
The bastard. He thought I was dead and was robbing me!
I take a gulp of air. My lungs burn. I try to speak, but the words donít come out. I try again...
ď Help Ē I whisper. ď Help...Ē
He jumps backward, alarmed, and hides my wallet in his pocket. He moves his head in little twitches. He studies me as if I were an unknown beast .
ď Help meĒ I manage to say now. ď Call someone. I canít move. Iím trapped. And hurt.Ē
It seems that my words reassure him. He comes close again. But he doesnít help me. On the contrary he goes slowly around my car, as if were estimating the damage. Now he is at the back. I cannot see him anymore. I hear the click of the trunk latch. He comes back. He is carrying my bag and... laughing.
He is mad.
I am dying and I am at the mercy of a maniac. I could scream with desperation. I could scream until I cannot breathe. I am in a cold sweat. God, please help me. God, please give me strength.
I must keep my mind clear. My mind clear. I try to smile at him.
ď Take it Ē I whisper. ď Take the bag. Itís yours. But pleas call someone to help me. Iím hurt.Ē
And he looks at my left arm. He looks at it with some kind of grim curiosity.
ď You understand? Ē I say to him, as if I were explaining something to a child. ď Iím bleeding to death. Call someone, please.Ē
He laughs, louder. And his laughter pierces my brain. I am afraid of becoming mad myself.
ď Call someone Ē I beg him . ď Iíll give you money. A lot of money. As much as you want. And I wonít tell anybody you took my bag. I wonít tell anybody. I promise. I do promise.Ē
The features of his face change.
I have made a mistake. I shouldnít have mentioned the bag. I shouldnít have.
He comes nearer. His expression menacing. A wave of panic breaks over me.
He stretches out his hand. He takes hold of the belt snapped around my arm. He jerks it. A sharp pain bursts in my brain.
He wants my blood to flow more freely. He wants me to bleed to death!
It is under my seat, and it is loaded. I always keep it loaded, when I drive by night.
Now he is pulling at my belt, hard. I throw myself forward. My good hand gropes under the seat. He keeps pulling. It seems to me that my left arm is being torn off, that my legs are being broken, that my body is being torn apart.
Then my fingers close around the gun.
Suddenly I donít feel any pain. I have a superhuman strength.
I draw myself up. I level the gun, centred on his chest. I fire.
The impact stuggles him, his knees bulking. The hooked end of the sear is sticking out of his chest, the line uncoiling behind it like a snake.
I am safe.
I keep looking at him. Gasping. I see him in slow motion, falling to the ground.
My belt still in his hand.
I look at my arm. It is gushing blood.
I try to stop the flow with my right hand, but itís useless. My blood spurts like water between my fingers. My sight grows dim. I hear a roar in my head.
I feel cold. Very cold. The roar gets louder. Louder and louder and louder still...