Amy's mind was on the PTA meeting instead of the narrow winding road. She knew every curve, every hill of the route between Boxley and Jasper, so she consciously allotted a small portion of her attention to her speech. She glanced down at her watch. Ten minutes after six - she still had thirty minutes.
When her attention returned to the road, she discovered her car had drifted slightly over the center line. Ahead was a sharp curve, so she let off the gas and whipped the car back to her side of the road. It all took only a fraction of a second, but in that time another car rounded the curve - and it, too, was over the center line. Amy wanted to move over and give the car more room, but the narrow highway had no shoulder. There was no escape.
Amy's throat constricted with fear, cutting off the scream before it could reach her lips. So much happened in the next few seconds that it seemed as if the world was in slow motion. The woman in the other car jerked on the steering wheel, her eyes large with fear. Amy squeezed over as far as she dared, but the highway dropped off sharply on her side.
With a combination of luck and skill, Amy managed to make it around the corner before her car began to pitch and yaw like a boat in a storm. The harder she tried to bring the car under control, the worse it responded. She drove almost one hundred feet before the car seized control. It aimed toward the edge of the road, oblivious to her hands on the steering wheel.
The car plunged over the edge of the highway, and the scream finally exploded from her lungs. Amy clung to the steering wheel, illogical thoughts claiming part of her brain. Her seat belt was buckled. . . The trees would stop her fall. The remainder of her brain was devoted to hysteria. Someone was screaming, nearly drowning out the sound of brush and rocks slashing at the car. Her hands frantically jerked on the steering wheel, and her foot stomped the brake pedal, but the car remained in control. Its only response was a sideways slide over slippery vegetation. The front tires lunged off a rock outcropping, and the bumper plowed into the ground.
In spite of the pounding, the car lost no momentum. In fact, the law of gravity was forcing it down the hill with increasing speed. When the car bounced off a huge oak tree, her shoulder took a numbing blow, and glass from the driver's side window showered over her body. Undaunted, the car careened over some rocks and lunged at another tree. No amount of turning the steering wheel had any effect on the course of the runaway car.
A big tree seemed to leap at the car. The sound of crushing metal was instantly followed by an explosion in her head.
Amy slowly opened her eyes to darkness and shivered with cold. Her head throbbed with every heartbeat. Where was she? She lifted her head and winced at the pain. Lifting a hand to her face produced excruciating pain in her left shoulder. She explored her shoulder with her right hand, gasping as she touched the swollen flesh around the collarbone. Further exploration revealed a deep gash in her scalp. It was crusted over with blood. At least it had stopped bleeding. She unbuckled her seat belt and pressed her right hand against the dash, pulling her right leg from the cramped area below the steering wheel. She would have to get out on the passenger's side of the car. She cautiously shifted her body and moved her left leg. Pain shot from her foot to her hip, and a wave of weakness threatened to rob her of consciousness. She gasped. Was the leg broken? Clenching her teeth and preparing herself for the pain, she tried again, finally managing to pull her leg from the mess of twisted metal on the floorboard. It was obviously broken.
When would help arrive? Did anyone know where she was? Her heart pounded frantically against her chest.
"Panicking isn't going to do you any good," she said to herself.
Light flickered in the treetops ahead of her. "Just what I need," she muttered bitterly. "A thunderstorm."
How long had she been unconscious? What about the other car? Surely someone had gone to report the accident . . . unless . . . maybe no one knew there had been an accident. She had been out of sight - around the corner, when the accident happened. The woman in the other car probably thought it was nothing more than a close call. There had been no other cars on the highway.
She squinted in the faint light, trying to read her watch. Not enough light. She pressed the headlight button but nothing happened. Nor did the dome light work. The impact had probably disconnected the ground wire or something. She steeled herself against the pain and groped her way through the glass to the other side of the car. With her right hand, she found the door handle and lifted it. The door was jammed. The glass was gone, but the jagged edges would have made it unsafe to crawl out the window even if she had been in perfect condition. And the back doors? The idea of crawling over the back seat made her sick to her stomach, but she had to get out.
Again the treetops flickered with light. She'd best hurry and get to the highway before it started to rain. Using her good leg and arm, she managed to get into the back seat. After resting a few minutes, she tried the door. It opened, and she sighed heavily with relief. She half crawled, half fell out of the car, sobbing with pain when she hit the ground.
"Help!" she called out in what seemed like a pitifully weak voice. But there was no one to hear. The night was cold and silent. There was no moon, no light - except . . . The light flickered in the trees again. This time she was in a position to see the source. High above her was the highway. As cars passed, their headlights flashed on the treetops above her. On the bright side, there was no storm.
Her attempt at being positive plummeted to despair as she stared up the hill. There was no way she could get up that hill. It would be difficult enough in the daylight with two good arms and legs. She slumped to the ground in tears. Would she die here alone?
At some point she must have passed out again, because she woke again to a full moon. The trees cast eerie shadows in a light breeze. She shivered. By now she had missed her speech, and surely they must be looking for her. She glanced up at the highway. How could they find her down here? Her teeth began to chatter, which did nothing for her throbbing head or shoulder. Would she live until morning - and would they even find her then? It was unlikely that anyone in a helicopter or plane could see her car because of the trees and brush. She had a mental picture of some hunter stumbling across her body months from now.
Tom wasn't expecting her home until at least 10:30 p.m.. How late was it now? Again she squinted at her watch. In the moonlight she wasn't sure of the time, but it looked like it was nearly 1:00 am. Could it have been that long since her car left the highway?
Lights flickered in the trees again and she glanced up toward the highway. The car never paused. Obviously there was no indication that a car had left the highway. If she was going to get out of this alive, it was going to be on her own. She stared at the battered trail her car had left through the brush. It looked impossible.
She waited long enough to seek some courage and strength from a higher source, and then began the ascent. If only she had carried a flashlight or a flare gun in the car. She pulled with her right arm and pushed with her leg, slowly inching her way up the hill. Several times she became so exhausted that she nearly gave up. But each time she cried and prayed, and each time she found the strength to go a little further. Twice she woke up on the cold ground where she had passed out. She concentrated on Tom, hoping that somehow she could teleport her location to him. He was the one who had always believed in ESP, not her. Still, it couldn't hurt to try.
She continued. Pull, push . . . pause, pull, push . . . pause. She couldn't give up. She had to keep moving.
Again she woke on the cold ground, and this time it was in the inky blackness of pre-dawn. She pushed on. How far had she come? How far was it to the highway? A frightening thought struck her. What if she had been moving away from the highway? When was the last time she had seen car lights? It was early morning, she reminded herself, and everyone was still in bed. Everyone but the people searching for her.
"Tom," she cried weakly. "You've always been there for me. Don't fail me now. I know you didn't want me to travel the road alone. I promise I'll never do it again. Please!" She started to cry again.
She daubed at her face with a gritty hand. It was pointless to cry like this. It wasn't going to accomplish anything, and it wasted energy. With a trembling hand, she searched the ground and found a solid rock jutting from the earth. She tugged on the rock and, using her good leg, pushed herself a few more inches up the hill. Her hand felt swollen and bruised from the rocks, and her head felt like it was splitting in two. Each time she dragged her body upward, pain shot through her shoulder and foot. She forced herself on until she was moving in a fog of semi-consciousness.
The next time she opened her eyes, the sun was warming her body. Above her, she heard a car go by on the highway. She lifted her head and stared up the hill. Maybe a hundred feet - at the most. She began dragging her body again, and this time it seemed like she was a little stronger. Each pull brought her about a foot further. Her lips were dry and the thought of water rarely left her mind. Once, as she reached for another hand hold, she noticed her hand. It was swollen and bleeding from cuts. It was filthy and there must have been a ton of dirt under her fingernails.
"Just a little further," she coached herself. "Someone will see me soon."
She pulled and pushed on until the highway was only a few feet away. There she stopped. If she crawled out onto the highway here at the curve, a car might not be able to stop in time. Yet she couldn't be seen from where she was. She glanced around and found a long stick. Ripping the sleeve from her dress, she tied it to the end of the stick. Inching closer to the highway, she poked the stick out into the road. Yes, it would work. She waited for another car.
The voice brought her back to pain and consciousness. She squinted up at the young face above her.
"Lady?" the boy repeated in an anxious tone. "Are you alive?
Amy nodded and tried to smile, but her lip cracked. She winced. "Barely."
"Whatcha doin' out here?"
"I wrecked my car . . . down there," she nodded down the hill. "Can you go call an ambulance?"
The boy looked doubtful. "I hate to leave you here like this."
Amy tried to sit up. "I've made it all night long. I'll make it a few more minutes."
He nodded vigorously. "Hang in there. I'll get back as fast as I can," he said as he turned toward his car.
"Drive as safe as you can," she called after him, but he wasn't listening.
His tires smoked as he took off down the road. For a few minutes she could hear his car engine, and then all was silent.
Where was Tom? She shook her head and then winced at the pain. "So much for mental telepathy," she mumbled through thick lips.
Somehow she managed to drag herself to a scarred tree and got into a sitting position using the tree as a backrest. She glanced down the hill and her stomach twisted in a dry wretch. Far below she could see one green fender - only because she was looking for it . . . and because she knew where to look. It was possible that no one would have found her for weeks.
Above her on the highway, another car stopped. How did they know? The stick with her sleeve tied to it lay beside her and she was well hidden from the road. It couldn't be someone the boy had sent. The car was coming from the wrong direction.
Footsteps. Someone was searching through the brush close to her -- and then Tom stepped out of the brush. He stopped abruptly when he saw her. His expression was a mixture of relief and anxiety.
"Amy! I've been looking for you all night. I had the police out looking and we were back and forth all along this highway. I must have passed this place a dozen times, and each time I had a feeling you were calling me, but I couldn't see anything. I finally decided to walk down the hill a ways." He knelt beside her. "Are you hurt bad? You look . . ." He hesitated, looking uncomfortable. She must have looked a sight. "Where's the car?" he concluded.
She lifted her good arm and pointed down the hill. At the moment she didn't trust her voice.
He peered down through the trees. "I don't see . . .holy smoke," he gasped as he finally spotted the car. He swung his head back around sharply and his expression revealed deep concern. "How bad are you hurt?"
She smiled wryly. "Not bad, I suppose. I made it up that hill. It took me all night, but I did it."
The sharp wail of a siren pierced the cool morning air, and Tom gave her a startled look. "Someone else found you?" His gaze was tortured. "You were out here hurt and all alone."
He was blaming himself for not being with her and not finding her first. She leaned back against the tree and sighed.
"I wasn't alone, Tom. I thought I was at the time, but I wasn't."
He nodded soberly. "God was with you."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, and you. I was talking to you and thinking about you all the way up. I guess you were right about ESP. You knew where to look and you found me. You didn't let me down."
His lips twisted into a sardonic smile. "I found you, eventually. But ESP didn't save you. You survived with the help of God . . . and the fact that you didn't give up."
She slumped against the tree, suddenly exhausted. Some day she'd tell him how many times she had given up, but right now all she wanted was a drink of water and some sleep.
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