Sulfur Sunday: A Short Story

The twisted piece of metal hung precariously in the air, rotating ever so slightly in suspended animation. It teased gravity with a coyness often reserved for schoolgirls. Yet, there it hung, in midair, a place twisted pieces of metal rarely occupy, and scarcely for this long. The rest of the wreck smoked and burned, naturally, a few yards ahead. It wouldn’t take long for the dry wheat field to come alight. For now, however, there was peace. Peace, even if it’s fleeting, is good and true. This is well known, yet rarely understood.

A small crowd had now formed. While the sound of the crash and violent wreckage at the side of the road would’ve been enough to cause at least a few heads to turn, the floating piece of metal was what had stolen everyone’s undivided attention.

The townsfolk gawked at the metal, almost gazing upon it with reverence as if something holy had manifested on earth. 

By the time the metal succumbed to the Earth’s gravity, its momentum had grown exponentially. Thus, the speed and angle at which it fell were violent and even more astonishing. The onlookers, at least those who’d been bold enough to approach the piece of metal as it hung in the air, survived but all those who had gathered behind were mowed down in the blink of an eye. Their demise, let’s hope, was a swift, painless one.

Now that the metal had finally arrived at its preordained destination, the rest of the world caught up. The ones who were gathered, the survivors, suddenly rushed to the rolled-over car, which had flames licking the undercarriage. The windows were shattered and blood pooled at the windshield, red drops dripping down onto the dry dirt. A hand, the size of a matchbox, rested on the closed passenger window, then it slid down, lifeless.

“Somebody call for an ambulance!” A voice rang out. “Take off your coats and help me put this fire out.”

A group of six or seven men, ranging in age from 13 to 78, rushed over to the overturned vehicle. Together, the men succeeded in stifling the flames.

“Let’s turn’r over,” said one of the men.

The men gathered at the left side of the vehicle and, on three, they pushed with all their communal might. To their surprise, the car actually turned over onto its natural position. There was a sickening lurch, followed closely by the sound of bodies moving violently within the wrecked vehicle.

Then came the sounds.

Someone banged against the side of the car, from the inside. The bangs were weak, yet they continued until the men were able to hear. They attempted opening each door, to no avail. One of the men peered into the least damaged window and saw a woman with an open head wound, cradling the lifeless body of an infant.

“She’s still alive, but she’s bleedin’” a third man said. “We’ll need to break in one of the windows to try to get the door open that way.”

A fourth man peered into the car, frantically searching for the woman and her child. Upon finding them, he proceeded to smash a large rock through the back window, shattering it. He then reached his arm into the wrecked car and attempted to open the door from the inside. It wouldn’t budge.

“We don’t have time for this,” one of the men said. “She’ll die if we don’t get her out.”

With that, the smallest of the men (although he was a boy of 13, he’d become a man after this ordeal) crawled in through the broken window and kicked at the door from the inside. After a few hard kicks, the door finally burst open. With a fervent velocity, the group pulled the woman and her child out from the wreckage. She was breathing, ever so faintly. The baby wasn’t as lucky, yet the woman wouldn’t loosen her grip on the poor infant’s corpse. Even in her weakened, battered state, the woman clung tightly to the child.

The men set the woman carefully on a soft mound of dirt as they went to help the rest of the injured. The elderly man stayed behind, however. He leaned against the car, which smoked lethargically and looked down at the body of the woman. The pair of jeans and white t-shirt she wore were bloodied and ripped. She was also barefoot, an odd sight during this time of year.

The elderly man stared at the woman with a strange look in his eye. It wasn’t one of pity or sadness, but more one of disappointment, of sorrow.

“It could’ve worked out, Gertrude,” the elderly man said as he shifted his gaze upwards, towards the bright blue sky and the big, blazing sun. “But you had to go and get cocky. And now what? Michael won’t live through this. You already know that. You knew it the moment the metal hit the asphalt. Yet here you are, clinging tightly to the boy’s dead body.”

The elderly man punctuated the end of his sentence by spitting on the ground. The spot where his spit landed sizzled ever so quietly.

By the time the group of men returned to check on the woman and child, they both had perished. The elderly man was nowhere to be found. The 13-year-old noticed something shiny in the child’s clenched hand. As he approached the corpses, he noticed a thin chain emanating from the boy’s fist. The 13-year-old knelt next to the bodies and unclenched the baby’s fist. Within it, he saw a small silver amulet with the outline of a queer figure stamped onto it. Before the rest of the men noticed, the 13-year-old withdrew the amulet and hid it in his coat pocket.

“They’re dead,” the 13-year-old said, to no one in particular. “They’re both dead.” As he stood up and turned around, he realized he wasn’t standing in the field in the outskirts of town anymore. Now he was somewhere dark and unfamiliar, somewhere where heat rose from the ground and ceiling and walls. It was a red heat, a blazing, unstoppable, never-ending heat and it burned deep within his soul.

Then, the world returned to what it was before. The sun blazed up above; the smell of burning rubber and blood filled the air, and finally, the sound of ambulance sirens cut through the frantic shouts of the injured. Every time he blinked, however, he was back in that dark, hot place so he kept his eyes open, forcing himself to see the pain and suffering that befell this field. The smoke from the wreckage caused his eyes to burn and water but it was nothing compared to the hell he had to endure if he closed his eyes.

He shoved his hands into his coat pockets and lazily fingered the amulet. He closed his eyes, returning to that molten, fiery place, as the sounds of twisting metal and cries for help permeated the air.