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Til Death Undo Us ...

That lightning and thunder blasts rocked the earth below in no way deterred the small late model econo-box as it raced over rain-glazed back roads, sliding precariously across dashed yellow lines, and swerving out of the way of skittish jack rabbits as they popped out of the darkness and threw themselves across the highway, their furry little heads cracking one by one as the automobile flew by. A true air of rashness pervaded the moist surroundings, a need to get somewhere quickly without a concern for what else might find itself inhabiting the same highway as the blue two-door, and this hurried pace lent itself to a disregard for life, at the very time when life itself was the essence of the night.

The night, when headlights shining into the torrential mist ahead barely cut through the darkness, and only chance made the glowing eyes of nocturnal animals visible on the side of the road; that was the time of the living and breathing night, a time of overpowering life and decay. The buzzards did not circle, for the rotting sun was their messiah, but rather death herself, in all her gothic glory, waited on street corners and country roads, wherever the careless were to be found. Hers was a kingdom of bloody rivers flowing away into a vale of tears, the place where life aspired to the highest peaks, only to plummet to the dionysian depths below. Unlike her cousins, agony and defeat, she was merciful and forgiving---as long as one did not scorn her, for nothing was so vengeful as death denied.

Death took a back seat as the automobile driver carved a path out of the night, his car scuttling down the slick twisted highway. Highly tuned instincts rather that rational thought directed his movements. Behind him he heard occasional moans and periodic cries of pain as his sister floated in a bleak sea of agony between consciousness and utter darkness. Hers was a world of severe torment, and her only release was flight to that which promised an end to her pain.

``Chris, she's still bleedin'!'' came the cry from the back seat.

``Don't worry, we'll make it in time,'' replied the driver without even a glance to his sister's limp form. ``We'll make it, Josh. You know I'll do my best---I would give my life for her ....'' His voice faded off as his attention returned to the snaking road. The goal was to reach the hospital in time, but as he drove on the surroundings became more foreign and much more removed from civilization.

Somewhere ahead the road had to open up to a large valley, leaving the wilderness behind; Chris had driven the route many times before, but never in the past had it seemed so long and without direction. If only he could spread the rain-drenched mountains wide apart and simply drive Mary to salvation, but such miracles happened only in fairy tales and myths.

If only the accident had never occurred in the first place---it seemed as if fate were collaborating with death to take Mary away. They had only had camp set up for a few minutes before he and Josh heard the deafening blast of the hand gun; the same gun their parents had sent along for safety in the wilderness. Mary had reached into a bag looking for something now utterly unimportant, but she had unwittingly grabbed the gun the wrong way---the safety wasn't even set---and before she knew what had happened, a hole had been torn through the bag, and blood began to stain the midsection of her T-shirt. There had been no pain, no sound except that of the gun shot, and somehow she managed to walk across camp to her two brothers, explain what happened, and then collapse to the ground.

They had quickly packed into the car and sped off in search of help, the nearest town being miles away. Now they seemed no closer to that help than they had at the onset, and not only had complete darkness surrounded them, but the headlights no longer pierced the mist. With visibility down to nearly nothing Chris drove on at a dangerously rapid pace, his intuition providing the insight to avoid all obstacles and steer clear of certain death as they swerved around tight curves.

A sudden burst of lightening shattered the black sky, illuminated a car in front of them, and struck a mammoth tree, sending it flying across the road, forcing the car ahead of them to swerve off the road into the embankment and come to a complete halt. Looking out the passenger window as he drove by the car, seeing the driver of the other vehicle slumped over the steering wheel, a dilemma entered Chris's mind, and with Mary's safety firmly lurking in his consciousness, pressing him on to the hospital, he pulled over to the side of the road and backed up.

``What are you doing?'' cried Josh from the back seat, ``We don't have time to stop!'' He looked frantically at his injured sister and then up at Chris.

Staring at the other car Chris responded coolly, ``There are two seriously hurt people here, and as long as I have the chance to help both, I'm going to.'' Reason reentered his mind as he stepped out of his car and ran to the other vehicle. Wiping water off the rain-drenched window of the black sedan, he tried to look inside, but couldn't. Without the illumination of his headlights it was too dark. He pulled at the door handle, which finally gave way, revealing a sharp-dressed man in a business suit hunched over the steering wheel, his neck at an odd angle and his lifeless eyes staring accusingly up at Chris; the man's deathly grimace brought Chris chills as he turned away and raced back to his own car, a sense of haste and dire need entering his body as the instinct for flight took hold.

Without a word to Josh he sat down in the driver's seat and put the car in gear. At a more hurried and even more careless pace than before they jetted down the narrow highway. A highway to hell, thought Chris solemnly. The road ahead was serpentine and deadly; curves appeared out of nowhere, and only a thin steel railing separated the blue compact from a tumble into bleak nothingness. They rounded corner after corner, taking up space in each lane, oblivious to any other vehicles possibly on the road; it mattered little---there were none. Silence pervaded the inside of the car as Mary's breathing became more shallow and less frequent. ``Hurry, Chris! Hurry...'' pleaded Josh faintly as he stroked his sister's once vibrant locks of hair. Shadows obscured her face; the dashboard lights didn't penetrate into the back seat. ``I'm doing my best,'' whispered Chris, a tone of desperation in his voice, a tone that Josh had never heard before.

The pale green light of the dashboard bathed Chris's face in pasty whiteness. His hair was tangled, and he held onto the steering wheel as if his life depended on his making it to the hospital in time. Mary's form contracted and a great tension, a horrible pain, came over her whole body; spasms wracked her from head to foot, as if she were fighting violently with some subconscious force. She became limp, and she breathed even more shallowly.

Rounding the next curve, the twinkle of city lights appeared in the distance, but a sense of relief passed through no one's body, for they still had miles to go. They pressed on with greater urgency, knowing that Mary had little time left, and that every mile-per-hour mattered.

They entered a straight stretch and Chris pushed down on the accelerator, as if he were putting his whole strength into the movement of the car, but instead of forging ahead with new vigor, the engine whined to a stop, all the gauges reading a lack of fuel. Chris didn't pound his fist into the dash, or even give out a cry of despair. The agony of defeat had not yet set in. Staring into the rear-view mirror he said to Josh, ``Get out of the car.'' Josh obeyed.

Out in the rain Chris took Mary from Josh's arms and began walking towards the city so far ahead of them. He could feel her heartbeat as he took each stride. The city ahead was his guiding light, and he knew the path he had to follow. But fate would not deny death her due. The clouds overhead came together in a suffocating mass and the rain changed from a cool sheet to a warm and blanketing shower that left one searching for air. The clouds covered the city lights and Chris's only beacon fizzled out of the night sky. Mary's heart beat slower now, and Chris's strides came at longer intervals. He turned a corner that was so sharp that he was no longer facing west towards the city, but east---back towards the wilderness. The railing ahead of him was broken, and it reminded him of his first car accident, and his only brush with death.

It had been a cold winter afternoon. Snow coated the roads, and sheets of ice made stretches of highway nearly impassable. Chris had recklessly driven on, hurrying to get Mary to a basketball game at a neighboring high school. He had taken one corner too quickly and had slid into the railing at the side of the road. Mary, uninjured, had managed to pull his unconscious body from the car before the engine caught fire. That road had been much like this one, and the railing was the same.

He stood there now, at the edge of a deep ravine, his sister in his arms, his spirit broken. He had cheated death once, and now only his sister stood between him and that fateful black void. Her heart strengthened for a moment, and he could feel how vigorously it tried to beat against the oncoming darkness, but Mary failed. Chris knew she had not given in willingly. Perhaps she knew that there was no way to get to the hospital, and that her brother, no matter what he did, lacked the power to save her like she had rescued him. Death stood triumphantly over them both, stealing their will to live, and it was Mary who first lost the battle.

Chris gently knelt to the ground, placing Mary's now lifeless body at the foot of a willow tree. He look up into the sky and gave out a final cry of agony. Words could not describe the defeat that loomed over his soul; how he longed to be free of his pain and struggle. A chasm of despair opened up before him and he gladly welcomed it; death opened her arms wide in a loving embrace.


Josh looked on silently as Chris laid Mary down to her final rest, and then disappeared over the edge of the ravine himself. Above, the clouds parted enough for moonlight to shine through and touch softly upon Mary's pale and empty form. He got back into the car, not knowing what to do. Shutting the door, he curled up in a tight ball, waiting for the nightmare to end, not realizing that death was always hungry.

Notes: I wrote this ``story'' during my first year of college. The story itself was an over-the-top reflection on Nietzsche and Thomas Mann, two authors we had read during a German course my first semester. The first paragraph was inspired by two things: the text ``Three stood and one sat'' (earlier in this volume), and my father and brother's drive home from California through the Nevada desert, during which they hit or ran over a great number of jackrabbits. And while this first paragraph does not fit well with the rest of the story, I have nevertheless kept it simply because I have some sort of stubborn fondness for it.