The first and only thing that enters my fractured mind, is pain.
Both physical and psychological versions of this feeling have hit me harder than a freight train. A split second after my subconscious becomes aware I am awakening, adrenaline floods my system, knocking all structured thought from my brain.
I move to lift a hand to my forehead, causing an excruciating jolt to shoot down my right arm. My eyelids snap open from the shock, and the sudden brilliant white of morning sunlight assaults my eyes.
As the piercing brightness subsides, I take a cautious look around me, and find that I am in a disturbingly precarious position. With my seat-belt firmly around me and the steering wheel closer than it should be, my beautiful white Subaru WRX looks like it has tried to hug a gum tree. Taking deep breaths to stem the panic rising in my chest, I scan my surroundings and try to recall this mornings events.
Nothing comes. Think harder.
It's Tuesday. The alarm sounded at 7:30am, I showered and dressed, let the car warm up, and began the half hour drive to work. As usual, the frigid August morning had shrouded the alpine mountains in dense fog. I stopped in the small town of King's Creek to fuel up and buy some lunch...
Ahh, what is that?
Hot and metallic tasting, I lick blood off my lips and spit it back out. Using my left hand, I tilt the rear vision mirror and see there is a large gash across my left eye. Looking down, I find that the crash impact has pushed the WRX's steering wheel almost to my breasts, and the firewall up against my shins.
Pain. There's the source of my goddamn pain.
I struggle to unbuckle my seat-belt, and whisper thanks to Subaru as I slowly move my electric seat backwards. Though the relief is instant and amazing, a heavy ache still burdens my bruised legs. Taking a sip from my water bottle, I try to massage some feeling back in to my lower half with my left hand.
Why hasn't anyone seen me? Did no one notice what happened?
Recognising where my Rex has come to rest, I sigh. Halfway between work and home, the S-bends of the highway are sharper, and the trees denser. Many trucks have come unstuck here in the past due to speed, wet roads, or a combination of both. I have ended up on the eastern side, missing huge pine and redwood trees during the decline and engine-kissing this enormous eucalyptus gum. The myriad of shrubs and bushes on the hillside, along with my Rex's 4-star safety rating, must have slowed my descent enough to save me from complete annihilation. I wonder how lucky it is that I didn't hit another vehicle before careening over the edge.
This triggers a memory, another piece of this morning's puzzle: a pristine late-eighties BMW coupe heading towards King's Creek on the highway. It is one of the few vehicles I see almost every day on that road, the male driver in his late twenties seems to watch me lately.
"Help me," I manage to croak. "Help!"
There are no houses here for half a kilometre, but surely I am visible from the road. Gently, I ease myself sideways on the blue leather seat and attempt to get out of the car. I fail miserably, ending up sprawled on the muddy grass, cursing my partially numb legs.
Gasping for air, I clamp my eyes shut and wait for the agony to dissipate from my shoulder. In the darkness behind my lids, I see the driver of the BMW mouth something as he speeds past me, his left hand waving frantically. Something that looks like "NO! Go right!"
This gash above my eye should have been the first clue, I have hit my head harder than I thought. I have never spoken to that man in my life, nor has he ever given any sign that he acknowledges me. Besides, why would he tell me to 'go right' at a time like that? Using my legs, I heave myself into a seated position and feel around my right shoulder. Dislocated, I'm certain.
"Are you okay?"
Jumping at the sound, I look up into the square face of the BMW driver. He looks around twenty-seven, handsome, with a prominent jaw, full lips and brilliant grey eyes. Strands of dark brown hair fall across his brow as he reaches down to help me back into the driver seat. Swallowing nervously, I tear my eyes away before I blush.
"Hello, can you hear me?" he asks, "I said are you okay?"
Say something! "Uh...yeah, I think so. My shoulder is out, and my legs are a little weak." Biting my bottom lip, I look back up at him. His eyes are so light they almost look white. "Where did you come from?"
Concern crosses the man's face. "I pulled over after seeing the truck in my rear vision mirror. Someone else was seeing to the woman in the Commodore, so I jumped the guard rail and made my way down here."
Truck? What truck?
"NO! Go right!" Perplexed, I wrench my eyes back to the maroon Holden Commodore in front of me. We've been stuck behind a KingFreight logging truck for ten kilometres now, fog hindering any chance to pass. Suddenly, one of the tie ropes on the semi's trailer snaps, causing the load to shudder loose. Logs fly off the trailer, bouncing off the road surface in unpredictable directions. The woman driving the Commodore slams on the brakes, leaving me with a split second decision to avoid rear-ending her at 95km per hour: swerve left into a culvert, or right over an embankment. I don't listen to my instincts, I don't even think about it. I go right.
"Oh, that truck." I squint with pain as the man prods my right shoulder. "Do you think this will buff out?" I joke, nodding to my non-existent bonnet. He shakes his head and gives me an incredulous grin. How could he have known? I wonder, This is not the adrenal gland talking, I know he passed me before that strap broke.
The man exhales dramatically, "I apologise in advance."
"For wh-?" Pain knocks the question from my lungs as he grips my shoulder and wrenches skilfully on my arm, popping the bone back into it's socket. I double over, gasping for air.
He reaches behind my seat for an old microfibre cloth. Ripping it in two, he prepares a makeshift sling and gently pulls it over my head. "Like I said, I'm sorry," he says, squatting in front of me. "Had to be done though."
"Thanks," I breathe, "I suppose you've done that before, right?"
He laughs, showing slightly stained but straight teeth. "Yes, yes I have. Used to be a medic in the Air Force. If it makes you feel any better, I've heard more screaming from grown men in better condition than you are."
"I guess I'm one of those logical thinkers in times of crisis." Using a McDonalds serviette and my water bottle, the man cleans the blood from my forehead, then starts probing my legs with the professional etiquette of a donkey. "Hey, take it easy could ya?"
"Again, I'm sorry," he replies sincerely, "I'm just seeing if there's any compound fractures or the like. The ambos are going to have a fit if they need to get you out of this valley in a heartbeat."
Raising an eyebrow and nodding to himself, the man seems happy with what he's found, and glances thoughtfully back up towards the road. I follow his gaze to the path of destruction carved down the mountainside. There are numerous logs resting on giant gum trees near the road, and more in the next copse. Not far from where the commotion began, an ice-blue BMW is parked across the lanes, hazard lights blinking.
The vision of him frantically waving his hand and yelling at me fills my vision. I gaze over his defence force hardened arms and shoulders, to the sweat beading at the back of his head. I fix my glance on a small tattoo behind his right ear. "You would have been the last thing I thought of."
He turns, his grey eyes meeting my bright green. Searching for the right words, he moves to touch my face, "I-"
"HEY! You okay down there?"
The man clears his throat as he stands, turning up to the young police officer who is leaning over the rail. "All okay! She's going to need an air lift, can't walk." Passing me my water bottle, he grabs an old jacket from the back seat and drapes it over my legs. "Comfortable?" he asks.
I can't help but snort in derision at his question. "About as comfortable as a hooker in church." This gets another laugh. He cocks his head and smiles down at me.
He looks so angelic. The sun is shining down the valley now, lighting up short strands of his dark hair like a halo. There is no way angels look that good; James Dean looks like a scrawny high school kid compared to this rugged stranger.
A loud cracking echoing down the valley brings me back to my senses. I frown, looking to the copse of trees. Before I have a chance to ask, the cause of the noise becomes apparent, as two large logs break free of the gums and begin to roll down the hill. Directly for my WRX. Oh shit. "We should-"
"Move." The man scoops me out of the seat, one arm under my legs and another around my back, and runs for dear life across the mountainside. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I tense myself so I am easier to carry as he bounds lithely over rocks and shrubs.
Thunderous echoes fill my ears as the rogue logs hurtle down the valley, snapping small trees and pulverising bushes. I look over the man's shoulder just in time to hear a sickening crunch, and see my beloved Subaru flattened. The man takes a cautious look around before he stops and sits me on a large boulder jutting out of the ground.
The man lets out a low whistle. "Another close call. I'm starting to think you are just bad luck today." Grinning, he takes a seat beside me and focuses on my right shoulder. "Hey, are you okay? I didn't hurt you, did I?"
"No, no. I'm fine," I say, "Just admiring my newly acquired pile of scrap metal."
He snorts with laughter. "Unbelievable. I save your ass and all you're worried about is your car."
"Hey!" I say with a punch to his left shoulder, "This ass you just saved worked for two years to afford that car. It's an STI model, you know."
We both laugh. I'm suddenly aware of a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach, an uneasiness that doesn't match how comfortable I feel around him. A chill runs down my spine. I have always been very good at judging people, and my intuition has never failed me. My mother used to tell me I could find truth in a room of politicians, and she was grateful for that when I started dating.
A policeman yells something down from the highway, but I'm not listening. The man beside me gives a thumbs up and stands. "I have to get back and help. The rescue chopper will be here in about five minutes to lift you out and take you to hospital." He holds my gaze, and seems to look right into my soul. "You'll be fine, trust me. I'll see you later."
I open my mouth to speak, but decide against it. Emotions are catching up, and I am dangerously close to tears. He touches his thumb to my cheek, then begins the steep walk up to the emergency lights. Not for the first time this morning, my thoughts turn to the man's face as he yells at me from the driver's seat of his BMW. "Hey!" I yell as loud as I can manage. "You never told me your name."
He pauses and looks back over his shoulder. "You never told me yours, either." Shrugging, he delivers a cheeky grin, then continues his ascent.
I stare for a moment, dumbfounded, then laugh at the nerve of this guy, who runs down a mountain to help a stranger but won't tell them his name. I wonder if it's something original, like Jack or Mike, or something completely out of the ordinary like Zane, or Garrick. Shaking my head, I ease myself back on the boulder and let my eyelids close. Attempting to drown out the voices and sirens from above, I allow my mind to wander. Why did the man in the blue BMW want me to go right? And how could he have possibly known something was going to happen?
Twenty minutes later, I am strapped into a stretcher and being airlifted to King's Creek Hospital. As we reach the tree line, I can finally see the chaos on the highway. Logs from the truck have gone in every direction, there are emergency vehicles surrounding the scene and cars backed up along the road for kilometres in both directions. A local news crew have already set themselves up behind the police lines.
Craning my neck for a better view, I see that the maroon Commodore I was following is still in one piece, but three other cars weren't so lucky. Two coming from the opposite direction have collided into the right side of the logging truck, and the last is a small green car I also recognise from this morning. The little Toyota Camry was half a kilometre behind me, and now lies to the left of the Commodore in a culvert. I start shaking as I take in what I'm seeing. I cannot believe my eyes.
"Honey," the paramedic says, "please lay down and rest, you've been through a lot today." She gently pushes my left shoulder down to the stretcher. "We'll be there soon."
My body gives one last shudder as morphine kicks in and clouds my senses. I allow my eyelids to close and feel every muscle relax as sleep comes closer. The last thing I think of is the green Camry in the ditch, the choice I would have taken if I hadn't been told to 'go right.' Circled by shattered window glass, two giant logs were crushing it's roof, and a severed limb hung out the driver side door.
There was no sign of the ice-blue BMW.