“Ugh, I hate this song”, I say as I quickly reach to change the radio station. Driving for hours gets boring fast, but overly repetitive pop music is much worse.
“What do you-“, I had started to say before a loud crash, I was jerked to the right side, followed by a crack. My vision narrowed as the almost panic set in. Through the pain in my neck I turned to try to see what happened: my car had been hit hard by another, which was swerving wildly. I overcorrected to get back into my lane to not drive into the median and simultaneously hit the brakes. That second part was an instinctive reaction, and the wrong one. The other car, unknown to me, had a damaged front wheel and was slowing down from its misalignment.
As both cars re-matched speed, and my over-correction took me just over the right line of my lane, both cars slammed into each other again. This time the bent in front bumper of the other car had an exposed frame, which was sharp enough to puncture my front passenger side tire, crushing it against the wheel housing. That wheel was now forcibly turning to the left and dragging.
I wasn’t prepared for a second strike, barely keeping focus as my vision narrowed further, the adrenaline pumping through me was not helping. This time I noticed, however, that my passenger wasn’t sitting up right; her head was wobbling oddly. At this moment of fear I missed my chance to make a final correction. My car was sent into the barrier, with added force from the other car pushing us into it.
Next, I am not entirely certain what happened. I must have blacked out after hitting the median, though I wouldn’t have had time to remember as my vision returned: I was upside down, my car in the oncoming traffic lane.
I knew. I. Knew. There was no doubt what would happen next. In the moments between seconds eternities passed. I could see the oncoming car dip down slightly. Oh, the other driver was able to engage the brakes. But, no. I knew. The oncoming car had too short of a distance to brake, was speeding, mine was still skidding forward. The roof of my car heating up from the friction against the asphalt, as if it too was helping. Trying to rob the inevitable of its outcome.
“No…”, I weakly said. No, No. NO. “NO”, this time roaring it. “NOOOO”, while thrusting my hands forward. Not to stop the oncoming car, but to stop everything. The intent, the moment, the pure clarity of my thoughts and desires. That is what did it. I didn’t know, I couldn’t have, and would never understand the feeling again. But I was able to reach into something deeper, beyond, yet not quite hidden. I could feel I grabbed it. I threw my hands aside, ripping it apart.
My final mistake, the Bargain laid into my mind, no negotiating, no reversals. Only a choice, one few would make. Against a known present, I thought this future seemed…not better, not really. The Bargain was too exact and precise to be better. It knew how much to put on the scale to balance.
“Accepted”, barely whispering the thoughts. The world still frozen around me.
The sound of nylon ripping and shredding was near deafening, as if a shirt the size of the universe was pulled and torn from every fiber. Just as suddenly as the ripping started it became a shattering sound, with a fracture appearing between our two cars.
It isn’t like time passed that I could perceive, its more that I knew the events happening around me, but without seeing. More tears followed by shatters, rising to a crescendo all around. A thousand fractures formed, bending and twisting the light of the early afternoon into a wicked pattern.
What happened next will forever be indescribable. True horrors, the nightmares of nightmares, whose forms lacked a depth only reality could provide, stalked at the edges of these fractures. I couldn’t focus my thoughts enough to look at them, but I knew they were there, unable to think of anything else.
As the shadows they cast clashed with the fractured light of the sun, the world…incrementally changed. The highway became convex, pushing outward. The other cars replaced by seemingly random objects of impossible size. Birds from eons past replaced the geese flying above. For brief moments I wasn’t in a car, but on a couch, then a bed, then falling.
Time started moving, it too subject to the whims of those horrors. Pieces of cars and trees flying in all directions, as if their momentum in space got swapped with that in time.
The universe was trying to find a way to undo the crash, and seemed to struggle. Before I could think this was all some kind of delusion, that I really was going to die and no Bargain made, everything moved faster and faster. More random changes, my car was pulled forwards and back through time, righting itself, another car separating into halves and then rejoining. It would pop in and out, I got pulled further and further back. The first strike, the barrier, then the second strike, then just before the first strike again.
It was all so jumbled and fast. Those flat horrors blurred faster and made so many changes. Against the fractured and torn view before me it no longer looked like reality.
PING. A high note, rang clear from and through me to the world around. A ripple washed out, centered around me. The horrors gone. More pings followed, faster and faster, then it all smeared together into a deafening high pitched squeel. With each passing ripple, a tear would slowly stitch together, a fractured space snapping its pieces back into place, as if nothing happened.
It was then I noticed how wrong everything was. The horrors had prevented me from seeing all the changes, but these pings were undoing it. Right, there were no coniferous trees, I realized, as they were replaced with the original oaks along the side of the highway. Grass had color, didn’t it? Right, green. It seemed green now.
Slowly, I was able to perceive more around me. I was…in a car crash. Wait, why is that so hard to remember? With the next ping passing I realized, the Bargain. I knew I agreed to the Bargain, but I couldn’t comprehend it anymore, the knowledge was just gone. The universe couldn’t quite undo the…the, something, with me….remembering?
My next memories would be burned into my mind. I had resumed conversation, but now I was looking out the passenger window, not even really knowing what I was saying. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t looking at the road, I knew I had to look this way. The other car swerved into my view, narrowly missing my car.
This truth didn’t cause me fear, or panic. I couldn’t react even if I wanted to. I was playing out a recording, now. All was decided, though I didn’t know it. But, something seemed odd about the passengers in the other car.
Their faces wrecked, smashed in, they too frozen, but with horrific screams etched into their melted faces. In their eyes, deep within, I could just sense some unspeakable horror there. Before I could see too deep into the void, their car lurched back before swerving into the space my car had just been. I was looking forwards now.
My eyes now locked onto the rearview mirror. My passenger was screaming from the near-hit, while I could only watch. The frozen passengers slammed into one car before veering back into the travel lane and striking a third. Both those cars, like mine, had drivers ill-prepared for what was happening. Five cars total collided, one going over the median and getting hit by an oncoming car, causing another three cars to rear-end each other.
I continued down the highway, in total shock at the events and how close I had come to death. I reached up to remove a wetness from my cheeks, but I saw nothing on my fingers. I looked back into the rearview mirror, this time looking at my face.