Hector heaved a very big sigh and squirmed a little. Well, he had asked for it. He had wanted to go to this conference and now he understood why there hadn’t been much opposition. Three days in close proximity to 200 people who only wanted to talk about their product, their complaints, their . . . He had thought that these things were to exchange ideas and commiserate with individuals who had been through the same obstacles, the same hurdles that he had. Instead, it was just a long weekend to bitch, drink too much, eat too much and complain about everything.
Well, it was over, over and done with. It would definitely be the last time Hector Alonso Salvatan ever volunteered for that kind of duty. He had heard that conferences were fun, informative. Of course, he had heard that from colleagues who were mysteriously unable to attend this particular conference.
He smiled. It had been a learning experience and now he was safely ensconced in his car and headed home. Home to Maria, Emily and the little name-sake, the heir apparent: Hector junior. Hector senior smiled. He was proud of his little family. His little angel of 6 going on 26. She was so caught up in fashion it was creepy. What on earth could be fashionable about being 6 years old?
Hmmmm. Comfortable, that’s what I am, thought Hector, comfortable. So very comfortable. He smiled again and slowly his comfort eased his eyelids closer and closer together, until only a small slit remained to tell his weary body how to drive.
Whoa! Shit! Okay, okay! I’m okay! Damn! With a jolt Hector roused himself from the stupor that had threatened to careen his weary body into the ditch. That was not good, that was really stupid. Okay, how would that have looked? Christ! Salesman of the Year Falls Asleep At The Wheel. Great headline. Sleeping on the job. Okay that is not going to happen again.
When his heart rate returned to a more reasonable rhythm, Hector tried to rationalize what had just happened. He knew he shouldn’t have tried to drive home tonight. It was past midnight and he had not had much sleep in the last three nights. First, he had worried about his presentation at the conference and then there was just too much noise to actually sleep. He wanted to go home. Sheesh thought Hector, I sound like a child.
With the return of calmness also came the return of complacency. Once again, the comfortable car seat and the hypnotic thrump, thrump, thrump of the tires on the road worked their magic. His eyelids became heavier, and heavier, his chin slowly arched towards his chest and his breathing became evenly spaced and quiet. This time differed from the first in the distance the car was able to travel in a straight line. The road didn’t curve for several hundred yards and as a result Hector’s car gave no outward sign that anything was wrong, at least not for several seconds.
When he awoke Hector was confused. It was dark; his headlights didn’t seem to be working. He was also uncomfortable, he felt like he was sitting on an angle and he was wet. Why was he sitting in the water on an angle? He couldn’t remember, he couldn’t think. His world was closing in on him and his mind desperately wanted to panic.
Hector squeezed his hands together forcing his fingernails into the palms of his hands and began to recite Santa’s reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, . . . . Prancer, damn it . . . ,Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Bashful and Sneezy. With that he started to chuckle. An almost hysterical laughter threatened to erupt, but he forced it back down. “I will NOT PANIC . . . I will NOT panic . . . I WILL not panic. . . I will not panic. As he said the words out loud Hector began to regain his composure.
As his mind cleared, he started to understand with horrific clarity just what had happened. He had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car and as a result he had driven off the road. It was a secondary road and not well traveled. He had believed that it would take at least an hour off his six-hour drive home. Now it looked as if that decision was going to cost him a whole lot more than an hour.
He needed to take stock of the situation. He didn’t know how long he had been unconscious but the darkness was becoming a little less intense. He could almost make out shapes. It appeared that his car was covered with shrubbery, small trees perhaps that had broken off as he plunged down an embankment?
Once again Hector paused and tried to understand what was happening. He was alive, that was important. He didn’t appear to be too badly injured, that was equally important. His body did ache in unusual places but that was to be expected in a car crash. The car . . . it did seem to be in one piece, but Hector now discovered that he couldn’t swivel around to see out the back window. In fact, his body didn’t seem to want to do anything he asked of it. His arms worked, a little, and there was no pain. Actually, there was little feeling, at all.
Just beneath the surface of this otherwise intelligent man bubbled feelings and emotions that threatened to overcome him. He knew that panic killed more people than actual injuries did, he would not be one of those statistics. He would not. Maria, he would concentrate on her face, and Emily and Little Hector. He wanted to see them graduate and get married and . . . . Hector gave his head a shake. Think positively and you will get out of this situation. You always do.
With a jolt our hero realized that he had been asleep, again. His eyes felt gritty and there was a nasty taste in his mouth. He tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes and only succeeded in slapping his nose. Confused Hector looked down. The light was filtering into the car and he could now make out more images and understand what he was seeing. He was wet. Now he understood why and why he felt little pain. Just about where Hector thought his pelvic bone resided there was a tree branch sticking out, or maybe it was an actual tree. It had leaves and rough bark. He could even see a few ants furiously traipsing back and forth. He idly wondered why he did not itch and then smiled. Little Hector would think this was so cool.
In the sporadic light he could also make out a pool of water that seemed to cover most of the front seats and the floor. With growing horror Hector realized that while it was indeed wet it was not water, it was blood. Just at that moment the demons that lurk deep inside every one of us broke loose of their bonds and overwhelmed this mild-mannered salesman. If any person had been nearby, they would have been terrified to hear the blood curdling screams that seemed to split the air. Birds took to the sky in panicked flocks, and deer quickly left to seek other feeding grounds. Hector was alone, truly alone.
For each of us time passes in the details of our lives. We get out of bed; we go to work. We have tasks that we perform each day, some personal and intimate, others dictated by the requests of another. But the one thing we all have in common is that we do things.
Hector did nothing. He slept, he cried, he ranted, he screamed and he thought. He thought about himself, his family, his co-workers and he talked. He talked to himself and he talked to God. He didn’t try to blame anyone else for his predicament, it was his fault alone, he knew that. He wondered how he would be remembered. Would it be as the idiot that got himself killed or the unlucky man with the misfortune to die alone. He didn’t want to be forgotten. That’s what he wanted out of this life: to be remembered. If it had to end this way then he wanted someone to benefit from this lesson that he had learned too late.
The sun slowly succumbed to the growing darkness. As the moon rose in its gentle arc the creatures of the night ventured forth to feed and to investigate the strange metal beast that had intruded into their world. Some were able to touch the beast and taste its hard, cold flesh only to be frightened away by the strange noises from within. Over time the noises became weaker until the cold beast no longer spoke. And over time the creatures from the night and those who walk by day, no longer cared about the stranger. They had their own lives to live and to die as time inexorably lumbered on.
“Hey Hector, wake up man, you gonna let them get away with that!”
Slowly Hector once again struggled towards a conscious state and was startled by what he found there: he was in a chair in the lobby of the hotel and a rather drunk, dishevelled behemoth was excitedly spewing spittle in his face.
It was a dream! He was alive! He hadn’t left for home as planned. He laughed out loud and threatened to kiss the surprised behemoth. “I’m ALIVE.” He didn’t stop to explain his actions as he bolted for his room and a phone. He was going to call Maria and tell her how much he loved her and the kids and then he was going to get at least 8 hours sleep before he drove home on the very busy main roads.
“A Boy Scout troupe today found the body of Edward Hayes, 54, who had been missing for 5 months. The search for Mr. Hayes had been concentrated on the main roads it was believed he would have travelled between his home and a conference he had been attending. Unfortunately, it now appears that Mr. Hayes had been travelling a little used secondary highway. It is believed he fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road into a deep ravine. No foul play is suspected. Due to the steep embankment and the abundant underbrush the car was virtually invisible from the road.”
“In other news . . . .”