The crunch of the underbrush gave way to my hurried pace. I could not tell if he was still on my trail because the hammering of my heart and heavy exhales were all I could hear. I was afraid to stop; for all I knew he was just a few yards away on the other side of the hill I had just bounded down.
How could a simple accident turn into something so life-threatening? The curve in the road and the mist that overwhelmed the morning air was to blame. That I knew. We were both hugging the center lane, and by the time I had noticed what was inevitably going to happen, it was already too late. The eruption of steel upon steel was unmistakable, as both vehicles came to a sudden and violent stop.
With a quickness I was unaware I possessed, I slid from my car and headed towards the other vehicle. As I neared the driver’s side door, I could see a man limp against the steering wheel — his long brown hair disheveled and covering his face. Attempting to open the door, I found that it jammed, closed from the impact. Banging my hand on the windshield to get the man’s attention, he suddenly bolted upright and awkwardly looked around, finally setting his eyes on mine.
Without hesitation, he raised his pistol and took a shot. Blasting through the glass and whooshing past my shoulder, I instantly dropped to the ground a crawled to the hopeful safety behind my car. Once concealed I glanced in his direction and saw the man struggling to get his door open, at that very moment we locked eyes yet again, and another shot rang out in the stillness. With no reason other than pure horror, I bolted into the woods and took one last look back just in time to see him exiting his vehicle and coming my way.
Heading over a few more ridges, I decided to stop behind a large tree to catch my breath and listen. I could hear his footfalls getting louder as he shortened the distance between us. Looking around for what to do next, I picked up a short, thick branch, and the rugged bark pressed into my sweaty palms as my grip constricted. The man was close now, and then there was silence; he had stopped.
“I know you’re here,” he said.
My muscles clenched. His slowed steps told me he was about to pass right next to me. Relying on luck, I swung hard and made solid contact with his chest. He fell back, and the gun fell from his hand. Without thinking, I reached for it, and its coldness relaxed me a little. Now I have the upper hand. No sooner had the thought passed through my mind; he was up and barreling down on me.
I did not realize the gun had fired until I saw the man spin to the side and slump to the ground. Terrified by the scene that had just played out, I let the gun slip from my hand. My instincts were screaming at me to run, run fast, and run now. With reality flooding back I took off in the direction I had come from. Not knowing exactly which way that was I simply hoped I would guess correctly. After about fifteen minutes, I could make out my car in the distance, still fused to the other vehicle. My pace slowed, and as I exited the woods, a police car was pulling up, lights flashing. Thank God. Dragging my tired legs, I met the officer halfway between the wreck and his patrol car.
“I think I just killed a man,” I said.
“I’m sure you did, Sherman. Who was he this time?”
“I’m just glad I caught up to you before you made it into town,” he said.
“I’m serious. The accident was nobody’s fault. The mist, the curve in the road, we were both hugging the center and it…it…it happened so quickly. Then before I knew what was going on, I was checking to see if he was all right; he started shooting, so I ran. I did not mean to shoot him; maybe he is still alive. Should we go check?”
“What wreck Sherman? You didn’t actually hurt someone did you?”
“The car that I hit coming around the curve,” I said, turning to point out the obvious damage. However, there, my car was, sitting in the middle of the road with the door open and completely unharmed by the other vehicle that was not there.
“Alright, let’s go,” he said placing my arms behind my back placing the handcuffs around my wrists. “They’re going to have to do something about their security over there at the institution. This is your second escape in as many months. God forbid you to hurt someone while you’re out here.”
He placed me in the back of the patrol car, and I stared at the cage that separated the back seat from the front. He then climbed into my car and parked it on the side of the road. He then returned to the patrol car, turned it around, and started down the mist-covered road.
“The doc is going to be happy to get you back,” he said.
The chill of the window against my cheek and my head moving to the rhythm of the moving car, all I could think about was the potential dead man lying out there in the woods, and my eyes welled up in shame.
It was an accident. Surely, I was not capable of murder. Was I?