Friday, September 26, 2008

The Cross (a short story)

A memorial cross stands by the side of the road, next to a large dark tree. Its roses are a livid red, but it’s tucked away in a clearing near some bushes. So it’s hard to see, unless you’re right next to it. In fact, you don’t catch a glimpse until you drive through the road’s sharp turn, right where the bank becomes steep and treacherous. In that one moment, no matter how careful you are, you almost lose control. Suddenly the steep bank, the dark tree, and the bright red cross flash in front of you, you feel the car lurch… and you know the whole story. Probably you see the last things the victim saw. Probably everything except that cross.

No one knows where the cross came from, or when. No one knows who put it there, or the accident it marks. It stands in its hidden clearing, next to its hidden tree, for how long? Months? Years? But the cross never blows over, nothing catches in the wires to spoil its shape… and its roses are always a fresh red.

One night, a storm comes. The wind picks up, drives the cold rain slantwise, and the road is slick under the dull gray clouds scudding across a dark sky. Just before midnight, a quarter of a mile away a dead branch comes loose, and crashes into a power line. The street lights go out.

Right after, a car comes by fast, the tires making hard zipping sounds over the wet concrete. The man at the wheel says to the woman next to him, “Want to play a game?”

“You’d better not!” she says. He flips the lights out. She squeals and reaches over him to fight for the switch, and he grins, and she laughs again, and they don’t see the turn, or the cross, or the tree.

When the ambulance reaches them, the man’s already dead, his body crushed. The woman dies soon after, on the way to the hospital. A truck pulls their car away. The police mark off the road for half a mile. The rain sizzles and pops as it hits the last signal flare, guttering out near the turn just as the last squad car pulls away. In the morning there are nothing but shadows of the accident: a place on the tree stripped of bark, a spray of crushed glass and chips of metal sparkling in the dirt just off the bank, two dark tire marks like long fingers stretching back down the road to just barely touch the exact point the driver pounded down on the brakes and tried to save his life… And of course, what’s left of the cross is here too. The wire frame is gnarled and buried in dirt, and bright red petals are scattered all over the site.

The next night is cool and clear. The wind picks up. The petals – dozens of them – lift into the air and float away. Some travel hundreds of miles. They land in ditches, alongside trees, by railroad crossings and bridges. They find sharp turns, narrow shoulders, places where the streetlights don’t shine. By morning, almost a hundred bright red crosses have bloomed all over the state.

They wait.

© Paul Bibeau

1 comment:

  1. When I was a kid in New Mexico, there were plenty of crosses marking deaths by wreck (probably because there were plenty of hairpin turns on mountain roads)-- some were elaborate & floral, others spare, white wood with shaky black names & dates. It never occurred to me that they might be sentient, creeping acrooss the landscape, sirens pulling stoned teenagers to their doom. Creepy indeed-- I dig it!

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