BLOOD DRIPPED DOWN CLARK'S CHEEK, pooling just above his jaw line before gravity forced it to fall on his chest. He couldn’t quite recall how long he’d been staggering down the abandoned dirt road, but the stream of red slicking the front of his t-shirt was evidence enough of some sort of passage of time. The acrid stench of burning oil mixed with plastic and metal still filled the air around him, so he knew he hadn’t gone too far from the scene of the accident.
Accident? He wondered. The actual crash was a blur of dust and adrenaline, the front wheels of his jeep seemingly folding in on themselves like the front legs of a galloping horse going to ground. He wondered how far he would’ve been thrown if he hadn’t been wearing his seat belt, if his steering wheel airbag had failed to inflate.
Clark shivered against the thought, his mortality so tenuously reliant on the inventions of man. He forced himself to turn his perspective outward, into the endless see of trees that stretched in either direction from the dirt road. He struggled to recall what he’d been doing, where he’d been going. He tried to clear his head but only found the numbness of trauma still blanketing his mind.
Brief snippets of memory tugged at him, begging for consideration and Clark recalled an angry man, his face flushed red with venom, his fists clenched at his sides. J. J. Worth. The name was like a God ray cutting through the clouds to touch the cold earth below.
J. J. Worth was a name that’d come up numerous times in Clark’s investigation. What investigation? He tried to recall the details of his day, his week, his identity. He forced himself to extract little bits of it all like a surgeon pulling buckshot from a shotgun wound. One metal ball at a time, endlessly, painfully.
With the wreck of his jeep smoking in the woods a few miles behind him, the unmistakable white box of a payphone booth was a beacon of hope.
It was barely visible in the clutch of trees that threatened to swallow it. Clark’s pace picked up, his unsteady legs trembling like a newborn fawn. He pitched forward, his foot finding the nothingness of a shallow hole in the dirt road where it’d expected solid ground.
Clark was floating, but only for a moment. He tried to make sense of it as the ground raced towards him. He slammed into the red dirt, the air of his lungs forced out of him, the cloud of dust that marked his impact spreading out from around him, into his eyes, his nose.
But his salvation was near. The payphone. Did he have change? Or was it strewn about the woods around the wreckage of his Jeep? J. J. Worth couldn’t get away with it. Clark had to tell someone, tip them off.
His investigation flooded back to him in that moment of clarity and pain. A man had been killed on the edge of town, no suspects, but the footprints around the body… Clark had seen them. He’d just seen them. J. J.’s fancy boots, one of a kind he’d claimed. Clark had to tell someone before… before.
His eyes rose to the payphone, and he forced himself to crawl towards it, his blood dripping from his chin in a steady stream. He crawled because he couldn’t stand. Arms stretched out before him, clawing at the loose Earth as his legs kicked out behind him, and finally he could touch the payphones foundation.
His hands gripped at the metal lip of the payphone booth, and all his strength was expended getting himself to his knees. Salvation, he thought, but his eyes stared deep into the dark pit of despair. The phone had been cut free from its mount, the entirety of it removed, leaving nothing but a former shell where it’d once stood, so necessary before the invention of cellphones. Still necessary in the remote forest Clark found himself, a place void of cellphone towers.
Clark collapsed, tears of frustration mingling with the blood that just wouldn’t stop, and the world folded in on him. He wasn’t sure if he’d closed his eyes as darkness surrounded him, the struggled rhythm of his breathe rattling in a rib-cage made weak by his impact with reality. He can’t get away with it, his last thought as thought suddenly ceased.
Photo taken by J. Warren Weaver at Acadia National Park.