County Route 10 is snaky and dark, and Jay’s driving is bad as usual. The knob of my skull knocks against the headrest. My right foot presses into an imaginary brake pedal.

Yellow caution signs mark the edges of the twisting road. The headlights split the night apart, bouncing off neon reflections, and scatter right into my brain stem. My eyelids close and I focus on the orangey dimness of my blood vessels or whatever’s in there. Capillaries maybe, I think.

When I open them again, a white-tailed deer steps out into the road. Jay swerves, and the Honda skips into a marsh like a pebble.

When the car stops moving forward, we get our bearings, and I see Jay’s face is bleeding from the airbag. He grabs his phone and leans forward. “I’ll call 911. There’s a first aid kit in the trunk,” he said as he pops the lever.

I’m able to shove my car door open against the reeds, so I get out and make my way toward the back of the car. squelch. The muck is still slightly sun-warm and about knee deep. squelch. It sucks my Birkenstocks right off my feet, which is a huge bummer. It took forever to break them in.

The katydids and frogs fall silent for about a minute, sizing me up, but soon pick up their scratchy mating rattle. All around me, fireflies shine their abdomens and bump into each other. They fly in patterns that, if I stare long enough without blinking, look like a stop-motion.

I round the passenger brake light and the hum of insects grows and grows. Soon the noise throbs like I’m standing inside the chamber of a heart. The fireflies flash. Then the marsh takes a deep gulp of air and sucks the car down with my friend inside. squelch.

I lean down and try to dig with my hands, but the ooze fills in any hole I make. I realize I could get swallowed whole too. The moon is full and bright, so I can see the road’s edge across the marsh. The frogs and katydids are still beating at full volume. I head that way one labored step at a time.

I’m close, but something is crawling on me. Fireflies are landing in my hair. And on my arms and back. I’m waist deep in mud and the tickling is so intense, I’m laughing between gasps. The fireflies swarm on my neck and face. The yellow glow is blinding. They pulse with light again and again. I taste their bioluminescence on my lips as they flow into my laughing mouth and into my belly.

I make it to the road, and see headlights coming around the bend. I step into the road and wave my muddy hands up and down. The truck stops. My throat floods with warmth. I bend over and throw up what feels like a gallon of neon liquid onto the black pavement. It tastes like alcohol. My nose is dripping fluorescent mucus and my face is streaked with glowing tears.

The driver motions for me to get into the truck bed with his sheepdog, on account of I’m covered in mud. I climb in back and we head off into the night. The dog rests its chin on my wet lap and I watch the stars whirr by along the tree-line.

17 Comments

  1. Taylor Grieshober

    Hi Anna!
    Wow, what a vivid piece of flash! The setting details are so well-executed. I know this windy road, I know this marsh with the fireflies and the katydids and frogs. Your verb choices are really precise and cut deep. I especially like “The headlights split the night apart…”.
    I think there are some places where less might be more, where the language is a little overwrought like, “scatter right into my brain stem” and ” fireflies shine their abdomens” and “I taste their bioluminescence on my lips as they flow into my laughing mouth and into my belly.”
    The other suggestion I have has to do with pacing. I think pausing a bit longer in the scene where they crash would be helpful–it’ll give readers a chance to process and really orient themselves more in what’s happening. I would suggest the same for the moment the car gets sucked down into the marsh–wonderful imagery and detail, but slow down a bit. I was also wondering how the narrator felt in this moment? It seems like he/she/they are drunk and so out of it, but I still would have liked some interiority there.
    This is a really lush, vivid story. Thanks for sharing!

    • Anna V

      Totally agree about pausing after the crash, and the interiority being lacking. I’ll flesh that out 🙂 Thank you Taylor!

  2. Bud Smith

    This is amazing!! I did some line edits and consolidation for you, but yeah, this concept and this voice … YES!!

    County Route 10 is snaky and dark, and Jay’s driving is bad as usual. The knob of my skull knocks the headrest. My foot presses into an imaginary brake pedal.
    Yellow signs mark the edges of the twisting road. The headlights split the night. I close my eyes and focus on the orangey dimness of my blood vessels. Capillaries, I think.
    A white-tailed deer steps out into the road. The Honda skips into a marsh like a pebble.
    The car stops moving forward and Jay’s face is bleeding from the airbag. He grabs his phone. “I’ll call 911. There’s a first aid kit in the trunk.” He pops the lever.
    I shove my car door open against the reeds, and make my way toward the back of the car. Squelch. The muck is still slightly sun-warm and about knee deep. Squelch. It sucks my Birkenstocks off my feet, which is a huge bummer. It took forever to break them in.
    The katydids and frogs fall silent, sizing me up, but soon pick up their scratchy mating rattle. All around me, fireflies shine their abdomens and bump into each other. They fly in patterns that, if I stare long enough without blinking, look like a stop-motion.
    I round the passenger brake light and the hum of insects grows and grows. Soon the noise throbs like I’m standing in the chamber of a heart. The marsh takes a deep gulp of air and sucks the car down with my friend inside. Squelch.
    I lean down and try to dig with my hands, but the ooze fills in any hole I make. I realize I could get swallowed whole too. The moon is full and bright, so I can see the road’s edge across the marsh. The frogs and katydids are still beating at full volume. I head that way one labored step at a time.
    I’m close, but something is crawling on me. Fireflies are landing in my hair. And on my arms and back. I’m waist deep in mud and the tickling is so intense, I’m laughing between gasps. The fireflies swarm on my neck and face. The yellow glow is blinding. They pulse with light again and again. I taste their bioluminescence on my lips as they flow into my laughing mouth and into my belly.
    I make it to the road, and see headlights coming around the bend. I wave my muddy hands up and down. The truck stops. My throat floods with warmth. I bend over and throw up what feels like a gallon of neon liquid onto the black pavement. It tastes like alcohol. My nose is dripping fluorescent mucus and my face is streaked with glowing tears.
    The driver motions for me to get into the truck bed with his sheepdog. The dog rests its chin on my wet lap and I watch the stars whirr by along the tree-line.

  3. Amy Barnes

    Love the way you immediately immerse the reader here. We are right along on this ride from the minute the story starts. With vivid details like: snaky and dark, knob of the skull knocks, right foot presses into an imaginary brake pedal. Those initial details let us know that the narrator isn’t in control. There is something very disorienting in the way the narrator is reacting to their surrounding which passes to us as readers too. The eyelids. Headlights splitting the night. We know an event is coming but brace to avoid it — you may be able to speed that up even more because the early words convey the impending doom. You could even just jump to “Jay swerves and his Honda skips into the marsh.”

    The car being in the reeds with accompanying sounds and images is a great way to introduce a new setting/more tension. While we realize there is a break between the narrator and Ray, there is a bit of a jump to that happening. Maybe another sentence to orient us a little even though the narrator is disoriented. By having Ray speak and call 911, I assumed he survived but the narrator seems to just move on without him. The closing lines! There is something so sensory and memorable in the narrator climbing in this truck bed and being comforted by the dog.

    “The driver motions for me to get into the truck bed with his sheepdog, on account of I’m covered in mud. I climb in back and we head off into the night. The dog rests its chin on my wet lap and I watch the stars whirr by along the tree-line.”

  4. Neil Clark

    “My right foot presses into an imaginary brake pedal.” as a perennial passenger, I could totally relate to this!

    I felt really immersed in this piece of writing. The language literally glows throughout, and I love how you end it with an image of stars.

    Like others have said, I would have like to spend a bit more time in the immediate aftermath of the crash, before the narrator open the car door.

    The other question I was left asking it – what happened to Jay? Was that intended to be something unanswered?

    Beautiful piece – the imagery and concept are absolute winners.

  5. Janelle Greco

    Hi Anna,

    I really enjoyed this piece and, like Neil, could really relate to the narrator’s right foot pressing an imaginary pedal. I love the description here; I think there are some areas though like Taylor said that you could pull back just a little and, in pulling back, give the reader a bit more. I do love the ending so much; I still wonder about what happens to Jay. Maybe if we learn a bit more about their relationship before the crash, we can understand better why the narrator leaves him behind in the end. Also, the image of “my nose is dripping fluorescent mucus and my face is streaked with glowing tears” is really great and stayed with me. Some really lovely images here! I enjoyed this so much–thank you for sharing.

  6. K Chiucarello

    This piece was great! Like many others above I too was drawn to the imaginary brake pedal. I really felt each ‘squelch’, but naturally the final one was an excellent gut-punch. I can’t add much more than what has already been said above, but will echo those sentiments. I think if you were to trim a little from the second paragraph and the sixth paragraph that there would be more of a momentum when we finally hit bottom. Your descriptors are so vivid and I’m wondering if you shifted them out of the front half and placed them in the back half, as the narrator is digging holes, how that could kick up a frazzled mood. Or if you’re aiming to have this read flatter and not frazzled perhaps cutting back the descriptors to match the end paragraphs.

  7. Kevin Sterne

    I love the progressive escalation of this piece and how it dips further and further into the surreal. You have us from the beginning. “Jay’s driving is bad as usual”. That hooks me in right away.

    “My throat floods with warmth. I bend over and throw up what feels like a gallon of neon liquid onto the black pavement. It tastes like alcohol. My nose is dripping fluorescent mucus and my face is streaked with glowing tears.” This really got me. I love this.

    How about more tension between the narrator and Jay? Something besides the tension created from the external world.

    It feels a bit like “this happened then this then then” and I find myself wanting more of an emotional anchor, like what is the character thinking and feeling as this is going on?

    I think just a few tweaks and this piece is THERE. thank you for writing this

  8. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Anna, Splendid piece. We used to have a cabin in up north in Wisconsin. The landscape and the road you describe, the animals, and the marsh– I feel it vividly when I read this. And yes, the danger. I could feel myself tensing with your description of being a passenger when the driver is reckless. Been there. Gah! And here, I gasped: “Then the marsh takes a deep gulp of air and sucks the car down with my friend inside. squelch.”

    I read that some have suggested that you give more interior thoughts just after the crash before you exit the car. For me, there is a danger that pacing becomes off. As it is, you are reflecting the fast movements that are needed in such an emergency, as proven by how quickly the car is sucked into the marsh.

    I loved all your descriptions of the sounds of the marsh, the sucking of mud, the fireflies, the smell of it all. Rings true. Thanks for a great piece!

  9. David O'Connor

    Losing the Birkenstocks, having to sit in the back of the truck because of the mud, so many funny moments but a car accident is deathly serious, I really like how the narrator flickers back and forth between the seriousness of death and the lighter moments. Also, the connection to nature adds a good balance. Having been in more than a few accidents, I think you captured the moment–absurd and deathly real–with excellence! Thanks for sharing!

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