He hadn’t seen the accident actually happen. He had only been there for the aftermath. He’d been driving home from another day at work and had seen the tires marks that veered off the road and down the hill. This was a bad turn if you didn’t know the road and the rain and sleet had made the asphalt slippery. Darkness had just started to fall and the wind had an icy edge to it.
He slowed down and pulled over onto the shoulder. Leaving his engine running and his lights on, he grabbed his mitts and quickly got out of the car. Treading carefully across the wet pavement, he crossed the road and leaned over the edge to see down the hill. At first he couldn’t see anything. Slowly his eyes adjusted to the gloom and he saw a van precariously balanced on the side of the hill. A stout oak had stopped the vehicle from rolling any further down the slope, by the van was still sliding and looked like it would at any minute get around the tree and continue its descent.
He carefully picked his way down the hillside, going as quickly as he could under the circumstances. The sides of the vehicle were crushed in, as well as the roof. It was resting on its wheels for the moment and he could see two people inside. One was the driver, a woman and the other was her son in the backseat. The mother was unconscious by the looks of it and the little boy was crying.
He made it to the driver’s door and reached out and grasped the handle. There was a loud groaning noise and the van shifted slightly further past the oak. He had to be careful. As gently as possible he tried to open the door. It stuck; it looked as though the metal frame had been wrenched in the crash. He would have to break the window. He took off his coat and wrapped it around his hand. This was going to hurt.
He pulled back his arm and slammed his protected fist into the glass; it cracked but did not break. The van shifted yet further and he could hear the rasp of the tree’s bark against the metal. He waited, praying that it would stop. It did and he pulled back his arm again. The second time the glass broke and he just barely managed not to hit the woman inside.
He reached past the broken shards and after a bit of fumbling he managed to undo her seatbelt. She moaned softly and her head rolled back against the seat. Thankfully she was a thin woman and he knew that he would be able to lift her out. He freed his hand from the coat to see that it was badly bruised. He knew it was broken.
Moving slowly, he managed to wrap his arms around the woman’s waist and taking his time, he managed to maneuver her upper body out the van’s window. The boy in the backseat had stopped crying; he couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. He watched silently as though in fascination as his mother was lifted out the window. At last, she was free and gently he set her down on the cold ground.
The van hadn’t moved since that first punch and feeling as though he might have more time he checked to see if the mother had any visible wounds. She had moaned only the one time, but it had at least reassured him that she was alive. Apart from a few cuts on her face and arms, she appeared to be ok.
He turned back to the van and tried to think of a way to get to the boy. He knew that crawling in the driver’s window was a bad idea; his weight might very well tip the van that last little bit past the oak and plunge it down the slope with both him and the boy still inside. Perhaps he could break the side window and get in that way. He grabbed his coat and once more wrapped it around his now shattered hand. The bones would heal though and he had to get that boy out.
This time he aimed to break the glass in one blow and he put everything he had into it. The glass snapped and then spilt into several pieces. He barely managed to keep from screaming at the pain in his hand. The little boy whimpered in fear. Pushing through the jagged slivers he reached for the boy’s seat belt.
Suddenly the dirt shifted out from under his feet and he hit the ground hard. The van shuddered and started sliding once more. This time it didn’t stop. He had one last look at the boy’s terrified face before the van rolled over and tumbled down the rest of the slope.
The mother was hospitalized overnight, but it turned out that she only had a minor concussion and a few scraps and bruises. The police had found the van in a ravine at the bottom of the hill; the boy had not survived.
He was awarded a medal from the police for a civilian act of bravery. They gave it to him at a ceremony. He was called up onto the stage and the chief of police shook his hand. As he looked out at the crowd, he saw the woman he had rescued sitting with her husband at a table in the back. His gaze locked with hers and in those eyes was nothing but blame.
He knew in that moment that she hated him for saving her instead of saving her son.
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