VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Anthony Kane Evans

A Walk in the Woods

There was a car crash.  One of those accordion-style pileups.  Black ice.  The cars were still skidding in, adding to the damage.  I saw her trapped in the middle of it all.  Blue-gray car.  Make smashed out of all recognition.  She was screaming.  I was trying to get onto the motorway, but had to keep on leaping back over the barrier – scrambling down the embankment – every time another car came gliding in.  There were people running out onto the motorway, waving, trying to get the cars to slow down, before the inevitable next vehicle skidded in, but they were simply coming in too fast.

Every time a car hit, and the ricocheting movement started, the woman would scream.  Of course, others screamed along with her, but her scream was the most prolonged and the one which sounded most desperate, as though some part of her was trapped.  Of course, she was trapped, otherwise she would have got out of there.  A middle-aged man was filming the cars coming in, on his mobile phone.  There must have been thirty cars involved as well as one HGV.   At least thirty people (myself included) must have called emergency services, who else would they have been calling?  Ten minutes must have passed since then.  Where were they?  The ambulances, the police, the fire brigade, the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club?

I went over to the guy filming.

“I’m going in,” I said.

“You must be nuts,” he said.

“Shout out if you see something coming, alright?”

“You’re nuts!”

“Will you please shout out?”

“Sure.  Sure, I will,” he said.

I climbed over the barrier.  Looked back. 

“Clear!” he shouted.

I started clambering over the cars.  One colour after another.  An artist’s palette.  She was still screaming intermittently. 

“I’m coming,” I shouted.

“Clear!” the man shouted.

“I’m coming,” I shouted.

I was on the bonnet of a white Saab.  There was a yellow car in front of me, a 2CV; I didn’t know they were still going, well, this one wasn’t.

“Clear!” the man shouted.

I saw her clearly, the woman in the blue-gray car.  A redhead.  The colour combination didn’t work.

“I’ve come to help you,” I shouted.

“Car!” the man shouted.

“Brace yourself!” I called.

I clung onto the roof of the Saab.  I heard the incoming vehicle crash, but it was a dull kind of hit and there were no reverberations.  It must have managed to slow down some.

The 2CV was partly lodged into her door; I climbed over it, there wasn’t much left, and onto the roof of her car.  She stopped screaming.

“Clear!” the man shouted.

I got down onto the passenger side of her car, opened the door and got in.  It was a Golf.  She looked at me.  I looked down at her trapped knees. 

On what remote frontier of heaven and hell

Shall time allow our divers ways to meet?

“You’re not the ambulance people,” she said.

“No,” I said.

“Then what … now what?”

I wound down the window.

“Clear!” I heard.

I took off my tan leather jacket and put it over her legs.

“We wait,” I said.

“I’ve already been waiting an hour,” she said.

I looked at my watch.

“It’s only been fifteen minutes since the first pile up,” I said.

She squinted over at my watch.  A Hamilton with no second hand.

“You sure it hasn’t stopped in the crash?” she said.

“I wasn’t in the crash,” I said, “I was over there.”

I pointed past her head.

“In the woods,” I said, “Looking at the new buds.  Trying to find the three-hundred-year-old oak tree.”

“Walking?” she said, “In this weather?  It’s freezing out there!”

“I had a flask of coffee with me,” I said.

“Truck!” the man shouted, “Truck!  Get out of there!”

“Better brace yourself, this could be a bad one,” I said.

There were a few seconds of silence.  A real calm.  Then it struck.  Like thunder.  I heard the grinding of metal.  Other hits.  The accordion being squeezed.  The noise getting louder and louder.

“Brace!” I shouted.

“Fasten your …” she said.

We got hit.  We moved.  The yellow 2CV seemed to move backwards.  A black Mercedes – driverless – shot by my window.  Another car, one of those small Italian jobs, possibly electric, crunched into the passenger door of our car, pushing me over closer to her.

“Well, this is cosy,” she said.

“Clear!” the man shouted.

I could hardly hear him as there were still noises going on ahead of us.  And screams, though it was easy now to figure them out as the screams of spectators, rather than the screams of participants or participant observers (as I took myself to be, not quite prepared to admit I was in the mix).

“I think I can move my right leg,” she said.

I lifted my jacket and looked down.  Her right leg was gone.

“It’ll need a bandage,” I said.

I took off my tie.

“Bit thin that, isn’t it?” she said.

“Sixties-style.  I’m a bit retro, I’m afraid,” I said.

“Shouldn’t we just try and make a run for it?” she said, “What’s up, can’t you get the other leg free?”.

“Best that we stay here till help arrives,” I said, “Now, you hold the jacket and look out of the window, while I …”

I got the tie around her thigh and made a tourniquet.   There was blood all over my hands.  I wiped my palms on my pants.  I took her hands in mine – she seemed suddenly a little paralyzed – and I made her lower the jacket.

“Clear!” the man called.

“What’s your name?”

She turned towards me, her wild ginger hair all over the place, as though we were under water.

“You know, I’m an awful snob,” she said.

“Me, too,” I said.

“You’re just saying that to be nice,” she said.

“Ambulance!” the man shouted.

I wound the window all the way down.  You could hear it, its siren, echoing.

“I’m just going to get on the roof,” I said, “You stay put.”

“I won’t go anywhere.  Promise,” she said, “Have we met somewhere before?”

“No,” I said, “Look, I’ll just be on the roof.”

“The Swedish ambassador’s?” she said.

“No,” I said.

I climbed out of the Golf and up onto the roof.  At the back of the pile-up, beyond a white pick-up truck, there seemed to be a bank of ambulances or police cars.  There were flashing blue lights anyway.  An army of them.  And sirens, an army of sirens.  I took off my shirt and started waving it.

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