Home > Gun Shy(5)

Gun Shy(5)
Author: Lili St. Germain

My Sketchers sank into the muddy snow, and I fell over a couple of times. I was getting closer, inch by painstaking inch. The wind whipped my hair around my face, matted blonde strands sticking to my lips and teeth as I kept running and falling. Running and falling and getting back up.

Almost there.

I didn’t even look for oncoming cars as I ran across the highway and up to Gun Creek. The banks of the creek were rocky and I slipped in my sneakers. It was cold but I barely felt it, my focus so narrowed in on the Mustang that had smashed over the bridge and landed fifteen feet below on a pile of icy bedrock. One of its red taillights flickered weakly, on and off, a sign of life amongst the otherwise motionless vehicle. Nobody was moving inside. The radio was still playing, but I couldn’t place the song. It all sounded like static to me as I tried to pick my way through snow and ice.

“Cassie!” A voice sounded from the bridge above. I didn’t even look back. I couldn’t. I had to get to the car and tell everyone it wasn’t Leo inside. “Get the hell away from there!”

I scrambled over the last of the rock and onto frozen creek bed. I was almost at the car when flames started to spread inside.

“No!” I yelled, the wind buffeting any noise that might have come out of my mouth, literally making me choke on my own words as cold air slammed into my lungs. I coughed, water streaming from my eyes, tiny icicles already forming on my eyelashes.

I knew this car. I’d driven this car more times than I could count. Midnight-blue, with a white racing stripe. I’d held its parts in my hands, their oily black lifeblood smeared over my skin, and watched as Leo put it back together over several years.

It’s not him.

We lived in a small town, and when it wasn’t football season, there was very little to do. Our favorite pastime was sneaking out to have sex, careful little rabbits we were, and having a car made that so much easier. Hence our rebuilding of the old Mustang wreck that Leo’s father had somehow acquired but never gotten to fixing. That car was going to take us to our new place after we finished school. It was going to take us to Vegas so we could get married the weekend he turned eighteen. It was going to take our first baby home from the hospital in ten years when we were settled and ready to start a family. We might’ve been young and stupid, but Leo Bentley and I already knew where life was taking us. Life was a midnight-blue Mustang, and it was going places. Places that weren’t Gun Creek.

I was thirty feet from the car when I saw the arm of a blue football jersey being devoured by flames.

And I knew, without a doubt, that the boy I’d wanted to marry since I was twelve-years-old, was trapped, bleeding and unconscious, in a car that was on fire.

“Cassie!” I heard a voice to my left, barely audible over the wind. The voice sounded familiar. Damon King was—is—the town sheriff. He was also my mother’s new husband. He was a nice guy. They’d been married for a couple months when the accident happened. He’ll help, I remember thinking, my teeth chattering so hard I imagined them smashing into pieces that I’d have to spit into the snow. Damon. He’ll get Leo out.

He didn’t. He ran down the embankment, his sturdy boots and sheriff’s uniform much more weather-appropriate than my flimsy shirt and sneakers. I watched him, assuming he’d go straight to Leo’s door, but instead, he climbed over icy rocks and disappeared around the passenger side of the Mustang.

What the hell?

“Leo!” I screamed, my words lost in the wind. It was cold and my throat hurt and I didn’t know what to do. Instinct told me to run away from the car, but love was stronger. Love was foolish as it pulled me to the car like a moth to a flame — ha, a flame, a fucking bonfire now, strangely comforting as its warmth took the edge off my frozen state. Something about the fire snapped me out of my dream-like fog. I looked around and saw nobody. Nobody wanted to risk coming too close in case the car blew up, and I can’t say I blamed them. But me? They’d have to drag me away because I’d burn sooner than leave Leo to die.

I surveyed the car, my breath bubbling up in my chest as I struggled to stay calm. I had to save him. I had one small thing going for me - the fire was raging much harder on the passenger side of the car. I could see Leo’s arm being licked by the flames, but so far his body and face were out of their path.

I stepped into the freezing water and waded over to the driver’s side of the car. The car was at an angle and partially submerged in the creek, the water line barely below Leo’s open window. The driver’s door was pinned against a large boulder; there was no way to open it.

I would have to pull him through the open window. I lay down on the boulder, gasping as icy water seeped through my clothes. I reached my hands into the car window and realized that I’d have to crawl through the window and across Leo to undo his belt. It meant I had to put my hand in the flames. White-hot pain seared every nerve-ending I had, and some I wasn’t aware existed, as I screamed. It burned hot enough to choke me, but I couldn’t pull away until Leo was safe.

With the pain and the smoke, I started coughing almost as soon as my head was in the car window. I couldn’t bear to look too closely at Leo, not yet. If he died…. No. I refused to even think like that.

Operating on adrenaline, high on smoke fumes, I was about thirty seconds from passing out when a hand locked around my ankle and pulled. “Cassie!” Damon yelled. “Get back!”

I kicked my mother’s husband square in the face as hard as I could and resumed my rescue operation. Please don’t die. Hand in the fire, I undid the seatbelt pinning Leo and hooked my hands under his arms. Don’t fucking die on me, not here, not like this.

Somehow, I managed to pull a two-hundred-pound linebacker out of a burning car and away from the wreckage, dousing his burns in ice water. I made it to the rocky shore, thankful for the slippery ice for once as it helped me pull Leo’s lifeless body along, just in time to cover my face. Something exploded - probably the fuel tank - and showered the creek in pieces of burning metal.

Shaking wet and on the verge of hypothermia, I pulled Leo into my lap, surveying the damage. He was burned badly along his left arm and part of his neck, but the flames had spared his face. I slapped his cheek softly, my fingers numb slabs of meat. “Hey,” I rasped, quietly at first, then a louder, more insistent yell. “Hey!”

He didn’t wake up. An ambulance arrived on the bridge, then another. Damon was back, his face ashen, bright blue eyes bloodshot, a streak of blood painting his left nostril down to his lips. I did that.

“I don’t need an ambulance,” I said to him, as the paramedics pried my fingers away from Leo and lifted him onto a stretcher.

He said something I didn’t quite catch, something like “other”, pointing to the other side of the embankment where a second team of paramedics were taking a stretcher, and that’s when I understood. My vision narrowed to two pinprick tunnels, and all I could see was my stepfather’s bright blue eyes and the fire as I deciphered his words. He wasn’t saying “other”.

He was saying mother.

My mother had been in the car. In the passenger seat. In the fire. There’d been a party at the high school to celebrate the football team getting into the finals. My mom had been there since her husband–my stepfather–helped coach the team after work and on weekends. Leo, I surmised, must have been giving her a ride home. It was less than a mile from the school to our house. Yet somehow, in less than a mile, they had driven off a bridge instead.

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