What Happens in a “Far Encounter”
I will soon release a book of short stories that I think you’ll love. Over the next ten weeks I’ll introduce the openings of each one. I’m curious to know what you think of them.
A mud puddle can do so much.
Sean McGregor sped his motorcycle down a narrow, rock-studded road through the Haitian countryside. Men stopped and stared, machetes hanging in their hands. Half-naked children lined up in front of mud huts and waved. Fruit-laden donkeys jittered at his engine’s roar and backed up, no matter what direction they faced. Endless bumps jarred Sean’s wrists and elbows, and to spare his back, he crouched bent-kneed off the motorcycle seat.
At noon he had left the Peace Corps dispensary in the North Central Plateau. Instead of taking the main road, he challenged himself with this torturous backcountry route he’d never traveled before. It was said that trucks rarely attempted it, and never cars. Perfect for two wheels—and all the more fun because he told no one he was going this way.
Port-au-Prince was at least four or five hours off. The road, along with the area’s lack of cell phone coverage, gave him precious solitude—away from his coworkers and from the Haitians he was supposed to serve.
Coming to this country was supposed to help him become a better person by serving humanity. Either the magic hadn’t happened yet, or he was a slow learner. At least the overall adventure beat video games and working at 7-Eleven. And it would look good on a résumé.
His thoughts again found their way to Celeste, who had promised to wait for him in the States. She was his heaven.
Here and now he’d settle for a bit of fun, but Haiti offered little of that.
On a whim he popped a wheelie as he crested a hill. Dashing down the other side, his tires coursed into a rut.
And the rut bottomed into a mud puddle.
He yanked the handlebars back, but the front tire lodged deep in the mud, as the seat surged upward, and he threw himself against the rising back end, but the rear fender kept coming, thrusting him higher, catapulting him, airborne, over a donkey, while below him the bike flipped and hit the donkey, as he kept flying, helpless, the road rushing at him, and he crashed hard on his right shoulder.
Massive shocks reverberated through him.
This didn’t happen.
His breath caught in his throat and wouldn’t move.
He lay still. The motorcycle lay still. The sound of the donkey’s hooves kicking in the dirt interspersed its horrified screeches.
An overhanging tree dulled to a gray blur. No air was coming in. His lungs screamed for air. Pain pierced his neck, back, and shoulder, then stabbed his whole body. Still no air. The gray blur turned black.
He lay motionless. How long, he didn’t know.
Then a trickle of air seeped in, slowly increasing until his lungs were bellowing, and blackness turned to blurry gray. His head throbbed and his body quivered under the slashing pain. Flipped. Where’s bike? I’m on bike. No. Mud puddle. Donkey.
“Blanc! Blanc! Blanc te frape bourik!”—A white hit a donkey! Voices climbed upon each other. Sean rolled from his side onto his back, recoiling in a spasm of pain. The voices ceased, then resumed. Another voice, maybe the donkey’s owner, spat like a machine gun. The donkey made no more sounds. The whole world writhed in a blur. . . .