The maroon Aries K Car navigated the treacherously winding coastal road with an ease that illustrated the driver’s knowledge of the area. The sun was setting, the sky above deepening to a deep, royal blue, and accentuated by swirls of magenta and soft gold as it melted into the aquamarine of the ocean below. Wave after wave of white water crashed against the rocks at the base of the cliffs, working desperately to smooth the jagged edges then drawing back in wistful retreat.
A flock of seagulls floundered against multiple cresting waves, searching for unsuspecting fish as they littered the sky in pockets of white. The scent of a salty ocean, ripe with marine life, filtered through the open windows of the car, where a woman and young girl sat side by side.
The woman, stylishly dressed, sporting a bob of cropped blond hair, held a cigarette in her right hand as her left steadied the steering wheel. Boldly, she sang along to the tunes on the radio, a little off key, but no less cheerful than the originating artist.
The girl, no more than eleven, with the same blond hair only much longer, had her nose buried in a book and was paying no attention to the beauty just outside her window. She’d seen the view a hundred times before and didn’t care for the water, especially since she could not swim.
A sharp left turn propelled the young girl closer to the passenger side door, a slide to the right and then left again, drop a couple of feet, then start all over. The girl hated this road, hated that every time they went to her grandmother they had to drive on a path that was obviously made when a paver simply followed an intoxicated snake rather than his normal route.
Another sharp turn brought her head up and out of her book. Her mother sometimes referred to the edgy twists in the road as COD turns, which meant ‘Come Over Darling’, the girl believed ‘Call Of Death’ was more appropriate. The speed posted was 30 MPH, but her mother was pushing 50, now 60…65… She noticed that her mother had tossed out the cigarette and now held the wheel with both hands.
The woman’s mouth thinned in fierce determination as one black high heel continued to pump the breaks. The coastal view was whipping past now at an alarming speed as she fought for control of the car and swore. She glanced at her little girl, her dear sweet baby girl, her face filled with regret and then terror.
The girl was not surprised that the guardrail did not hold, but the sound of their car hitting it did startle her; like someone crushing a thousand pop cans at once. Her heart leap into her throat the minute they were airborne, a flush of heat swelled through her and gushed out with her scream.
The woman’s arm shot out across her daughter in a vain effort of protection, just before the car crashed into the water below. The girl had expected the landing to be softer, it made sense; as it was just water, but from a thirty foot drop it was like hitting concrete. The girl couldn’t tell if she had been thrown forward into the dashboard or if the dashboard and retracted back into her little body.
I can see underwater, she thought as the car started to submerge, and then a second later remembered she couldn’t swim. She felt her mother clawing at her, then realized it was to release the seat belt. Water rushed as she felt herself being propelled forward.
“Out!” the woman screamed shoving her daughter towards the window before the car was completely beneath the waves. Get out! Swim!”
“I can’t!” the girl cried. “Mommy! I can’t!”
“Do as I tell you! Swim!” The woman managed to push the girl through the window, then tried to release her own belt but found it wedged. She looked back at her daughter. “You have to! Now! Go!”
The girl, reluctant to leave her mother but too scared not to do as she was told, kicked and flailed until she reached the surface, but she was not strong enough, and ended up clinging to the back of the car as it sank. She was pulled back down beneath the waves and watched as the red glowing taillights of the car started to sink further and further into the deep, taking her mother with it.
She broke through the surface again, sputtering, crying for her mother, but there seemed to be miles and miles of ocean surrounding her. Her mother was gone, there were no boats, no sounds, no one to help her and she couldn’t swim.
Closing her eyes she sank beneath the waves again.
Jenny broke out of her daydream with a start. Her book had fallen closed on her lap while she stared out the passenger side window of her mother’s car. The winding road was boarded in places with steel guardrails to prevent a car from slipping over the side and crashing into the ocean below; but only in places. It was the areas that were left unguarded by these rails that inspired Jenny, caught hold of her imagination and refused to let go.
Unlike most eleven-year-old’s, Jenny didn’t daydream about movie stars, boyfriends or having nice clothes. Her fantasies were always morbid, surrounding death, destruction and tragedy. She never understood why her mind worked that way, or why she focused so much on people getting hurt, maimed or killed, but she’d come to accept it. She supposed that as long as they were just fantasies, it wasn’t wrong to think about them.
She glanced at the speedometer, much as she had in her daydream and saw it was holding at 50MPH. Her mother’s stylish black pump was pressing against the accelerator as the wind whisked away the ash she tipped off her cigarette.
Jenny looked up at the road, then back at her mother again; concerned at how familiar everything seemed. The speedometer was now at 60 and her mother was no longer smoking. She tightened her seat belt with shaking hands and heard her mother swear as the scenery whipped past them. Fear coiled its way into a heart that threatened to burst from her tiny chest.
She offered a silent prayer of thanks that she had taken those swimming lessons her mother had insisted upon just a few weeks prior. Maybe having such thoughts were a bad thing after, she thought, just as they crashed through the guardrail.