The first sound that breeched the silence was Aimee’s hyperventilating. She tore at her seatbelt despite being upside down, determined to get out of the car if it was the last thing she ever did. Jack dangled from the driver’s seat, suspended in the air like an astronaut. He imagined not being able to move his legs, wondered if it hurt to break your back or sever you spinal cord or die in a car accident just like this one. But he could hear Aimee thrashing. He could hear her crying. He couldn’t possibly be dead.
And then, a final assurance that he was still alive: Abigail began to scream.
Fumbling with his own seatbelt, that scream motivated Jack to tear himself free, to shove open his door and tumble onto the street like a clown rolling out of a circus car. Aimee was kicking at her door, screaming along with Abby, sure her eldest daughter was mortally wounded.
Jack got to Abby first. He pulled the back door open and caught her around her waist before pulling her from the car. Checking her over, Abby stopped screaming the moment she saw her mother. She started to bawl instead.
“What happened?” Aimee yelled, her face twisted with panic. “Jack?” She looked away from Abigail and to her husband when she didn’t get a reply. “What the hell happened?” She was trying to keep calm, but every word that crawled out of her throat was a shriek.
Jack didn’t reply. He was busy dashing around the other side of the car, his heart stuck in his throat, threatening to choke him. Like a newborn baby fresh to the world, Abby had screamed and assured her parents that she was alive, but Charlie hadn’t made a sound. Not a whine, not a whimper. Stillborn. Dead.
Jack’s every nerve stood on end, buzzing with dread as he wrenched open the backdoor and stuck his head inside. To his relief, hovering over him like an overturned angel, Charlie dangled from her car seat, her hair hanging in her face.
“Hi, daddy,” she said softly.
Jack’s heart swelled in his chest.
“Hi baby,” he whispered back, fumbling with the seat’s latch, freeing her from the wreckage.
“Did we flip?” she asked. “Like in the movies?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied, only now remembering that reflective pair of eyes, the ones that had made him jerk the wheel in the first place. He hadn’t bothered to toss a glance down the road to see if anything was lying dead in the road. Part of him hoped that whatever had caused this had been flattened by the Saturn’s front bumper. If the road was clear, he had half a mind to storm into the woods and find something to kill, if only to satiate his sudden need for retribution.
Jack pulled Charlie from the car and set her down on her sneakered feet. Abby and Aimee wept into each other’s arms while Jack and Charlie stood silently, both of them transfixed by the mangled car. They should have been dead. All of them.
“Cool,” Charlie said under her breath, her eyes sparkling with mischief. That single word of childlike wonderment jolted Jack back to reality, and for a moment he was sure he would burst into a fit of laughter. That urge was cut short when Aimee shrieked again.
“Call the police,” she cried. “What are you waiting for? Call the police!”
It hadn’t occurred to him to call for help, though they’d certainly have to get the car out of the road. Patting down his pockets, he realized his cell was missing. It must have fallen out during the tumble. Jack ducked back inside the wreckage, searching the bent roof of the car for his phone, finding it close to the backseat. He half-expected there to be no service, half-anticipated a psychopath bursting from behind the trees with an axe held over his head. But reality was never as exciting as Hollywood. He dialed 911, reported the accident and their approximate location. Crouching beside a shaken Abigail, Jack wiped his eldest daughter’s tears from her cheeks as he gave the dispatcher details of the incident. Nobody was hurt, but they’d send an ambulance anyway. A fire engine would also arrive, as well as a handful of police cruisers and eventually a tow truck that would take the Saturn away for good. The thing was totaled, twisted like a tin can. Under different circumstances, he would have set its mangled husk on fire and danced around it like a devil around a bonfire. Instead of whooping with joy, he stared at the thing, waiting for it to come alive, waiting for it to lift up off the ground like a hovercraft and mow them down like King’s Christine.
“What happened?” Aimee asked again, trying to compose herself.
Jack stood to his full height and shook his head, bewildered.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I thought I saw something. An animal.”
He looked back the way they came, squinted in the darkness, tried to spot a carcass in the road.
“It’s like the headlights just went out,” he said.
“They went out?”
“I think so…”
“You think? Jack, we could have been killed,” Aimee snapped, roughly shoving the back of her hand against her damp cheek. “What were you thinking?”
“It was a reflex,” Jack insisted.
“What, jerking the wheel instead of slamming on the brakes? Have you lost your goddamn mind?”
Seeing something shift from the corner of his eye, Jack shot a look down the road again.
“Where’s Charlotte?” Aimee’s voice took on a sudden urgency. “Jack?”
Looking back to the car, Charlie wasn’t where Jack had left her. His eyes fluttered around the wreckage. He fell into motion, surveying the road around the accident.
“Charlotte?” Aimee called out, her voice shrill with panic.
“Charlie!” Jack yelled, his heart crawling back into his throat for a second time.
“Oh my god, where is she?” Aimee whispered to herself. “This isn’t happening,” she choked. “This can’t possibly be happening.”
Jack jogged a few yards down the road, his pulse hammering in his ears. Aimee’s whimpers grew more and more faint until it sounded like she was underwater—muffled and indiscernible. The air had grown thick and heavy, impenetrable by sound.
That’s when he spotted her—Charlie stood on the soft shoulder a few yards from the car. She was facing the trees along the side of the road.
“Thank Christ,” Jack murmured as he ran toward her. “Charlie, what are you doing? Your mother is losing her mind over you.”
Charlie looked at her father, then looked back to the trees with a furrowed brow.
“Something ran into the trees,” she said. “Over there.” She lifted a hand and pointed a small finger.
Jack looked to where she pointed, his own eyebrows knitting together as he tried to spot movement in the darkness.
“Probably just an animal,” Jack assured, taking Charlie’s hand into his own. “Come on, let’s get you back to your mom.”
Charlie reluctantly gave up her position, craning her neck while Jack led her toward the overturned car.
“It wasn’t an animal,” Charlie finally resolved. “It walked on two legs, just like us.”
Jack slowed his steps at Charlie’s description.
“I saw it, daddy,” Charlie assured him, lowering her voice so her mother and sister wouldn’t hear. “I saw it before the lights went out. I saw it just like you.”
Want to read more? Check out Sample #2 and keep an eye out for Seed this June!