It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
From “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
~ 3 ~
Waiting is the Hardest Part
Kevin sat with his eyes closed trying to will the pain away as he thought about the events that brought him to the here and now. He felt completely helpless just sitting there and doing nothing but wait for help.
When he climbed out of that van and saw the damage, he was overcome with emotion and anger. This was his fault. If only he had never made them rent the stupid van and take this little road trip, none of this would have happened.
“Maybe if we climb back in and pull them out this way.” Howie suggested, poking his head into the window they had both used to escape.
Once Howie moved, it was Kevin’s turn to poke his head in there.
“AJ, can you hear me?”
He wished he was able to see his friend but all he saw was metal and perhaps what might have been a little bit of Brian’s hair.
“Can you get out of your seatbelt?”
“I’m afraid I’ll fall on Brian if I try.”
“How is he? Can you tell?”
“He is moving. I think he’s starting to wake up.”
“What about Nick?”
“I can’t see or hear him. He was behind us.”
“NICK!” Kevin found himself shouting. “Can you hear me? It’s Kevin!”
Kevin started to feel light headed from bending down into the window for too long so he moved up to a sitting position.
“Are you okay, Kevin?” Howie asked as he placed his hand on his older friend’s shoulder.
“I’ll be fine, just a little dizzy…” He took a few deep breaths before continuing, “D, we have to get them out of there. What if there’s a fire or something.”
“I’ve been trying to call 911 but I can’t get a signal.”
“Maybe if you get closer to the main road, you’ll get one?” He suggested, looking at the top of the long hill they managed to roll down.
Howie looked up in that same direction, “Wow, we’re lucky to be alive.” He whispered and he was right. Just seeing that incline and the broken fence they crashed through was enough to send chills down both men’s spines.
That gave him the added strength he needed to turn around and talk to AJ again as Howie gingerly made his way off the top of the van.
“AJ, Is there anything you can hold on to so this way you can prevent yourself from falling on Brian? What about the headrest?”
“I could try…”
“Do it, just be careful.”
Kevin tried to figure out a way he could get in there to help but before he could, a frantic cry from Howie pulled him back out of the van.
He glanced at his friend who was waving his hands by a boulder towards the back of the van.
At first he was confused until he realized it wasn’t a boulder Howie was standing by, but the youngest member of the group.
“What happened?” AJ asked but Kevin didn’t have time to answer. He flung himself off the side of the van despite the pain he was feeling and headed towards the back as every single step he took spelled complete agony for him.
Howie had placed Nick’s head on his lap and was caressing his face. “He must have crawled out of the van.” He pointed at the shattered and badly bent, back window.
Kevin just stood there silent, wondering how he would ever forgive himself for killing Nick but thankfully that thought didn’t last long when the blond stirred and slowly opened his eyes. Quickly Kevin knelt beside him and grabbed his hand, “Nick, are you okay?”
He looked shaken and disoriented. “Where am I?”
“We were in an accident.”
“I knew I should have driven.”
Kevin shook his head and pretended to laugh as he felt a tear stream down his face. “Always have to be a smart ass, huh?”
“You know me.” Nick started to sit up and winced but Kevin pushed him back down. “Easy, just lay there for a few minutes, okay?”
He didn’t argue and closed his eyes. “Where are Brian and AJ?”
“They’re still in the van.”
He opened his eyes again, “Are they okay?”
“AJ is. We’re still not sure about Brian.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s not answering us.”
Howie carefully moved Nick’s head off of his lap, “I’m going to go try the phone, and I’ll be right back.” He smiled at Nick but gave Kevin a serious look. This situation was urgent. Once Howie walked away, Kevin turned his attention back to his friend who wasn’t looking very good.
“Everything will be okay, Nick.”
“You should go check on AJ and Brian.”
Nick nodded, “Yes.”
He hated to leave his baby brother, but he was right, so he slowly got up and made his way back to the van, unsure of how exactly he was supposed to climb back up to the top. He was in excruciating pain. His ankle was hurt, probably even broken but now that the adrenaline was wearing off, he found it harder to put any weight on it at all. That’s when he had the idea to try the back window. If Nick was able to get out of there then why wouldn’t Kevin be able to get in that same way?
He turned himself around and started to walk back towards the spot Nick was laying when the pain suddenly overtook him and he dropped to the ground in a heap. He closed his eyes and put himself into a fetal position. After a few minutes, he felt a hand on his back, “Kev, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Nick, why are you up? You should be resting.”
“Are you in pain? What hurts?” Nick’s voice was shaky and sounded as if he was about to cry.
“I think I broke my ankle.” Kevin bit on his bottom lip as he forced himself to sit up.
“Hello? Is anyone out there? Can someone tell us what the hell is going on?”
Kevin looked over at Nick.
”AJ.” He whispered, as he once again winced in pain.
Nick nodded and glanced up at the top of the van, “AJ!”
Kevin watched as Nick placed his hands as close to the top of the van as he could and using one of the tires, attempted to hoist himself up. “Be careful,” He urged when Nick’s first attempt failed. Howie was coming down from the hill just as Nick managed to get on top of the van.
“I couldn’t get a signal up there either.” Howie said as he stared up at Nick before turning his eyes back to Kevin. “It seems like he’s okay.”
Kevin nodded, “I hope so. It might just be adrenaline.” He said this last part as he gradually moved his pant leg up, trying to get a look at his ankle.
“Are you okay?” Howie squatted next to his friend.
“I’m pretty sure my ankle is broken, D.”
“That’s not good.”
Kevin had to actually laugh. “Is any of this good?”
“Brian is awake!” Both Kevin and Howie glanced up at Nick. “He said he’s okay. They both are.”
Kevin let out a huge sigh of relief. At least none of them were dead, yet anyway.
Nick jumped down from the van and did some wincing of his own, “AJ said his seatbelt is stuck. He can’t unbuckle it and Brian said his arm is pinned against the wall of the van and his seat. What should I do?”
“The back window, the one you crawled out of. Can you get back in?”
Nick was about to try but was stopped by Howie, “I’ll do it. You sit and rest!”
“I want to help!”
Kevin grabbed at Nick’s leg and motioned for him to sit. He tried to get a really good look at his friend to assess how he was feeling but Nick was doing the exact same thing to Kevin. “What can I do to help you, Kevin?”
“My shoe…can you take it off?” Kevin pointed to his left leg.
Nick nodded and slowly pulled at the sneaker. Kevin cried out in pain but then bit his lip to stop himself. “I’m sorry; I don’t mean to hurt you.”
Unable to talk because of the pain, Kevin just nodded as Nick tugged the sneaker completely off. “Wow that is really swollen badly! You need help Kev!”
“Were you able to get through?” Kevin glanced over at Howie as he made his way back towards his friends.
Howie shook his head and knelt down, “There’s too much damage, and I couldn’t get my body all the way in. I have no idea how you managed to get out. The good news is both of them seem to be okay. I was able to talk to Brian. He said from now one he’s going to buy a bushel of bananas and keep them on his bus so something like this will never happen again.”
“Nice to see everyone can still manage to joke.” Kevin halfheartedly said but he did smile, just knowing that at least his cousin had not only escaped major injury but was also able to keep his spirits up. It seemed like besides being trapped, AJ was fine too. Howie seemed to only have a few cuts and bruises as well as Nick. If the worst thing to come of this was a broken ankle he would gladly take one for the team.
He opened his eyes to the sound of his cousin. “Yeah, Brian?”
“They aren’t back yet?”
“They’ve been gone for a pretty long time.”
“I’m sure it won’t be much longer now.”
After Howie and Nick left to get help, Kevin decided to sit by that back window so he could at least talk to the guys without having to climb on top of the van. Something he knew he would be unable to do with his ankle as swollen as it was.
“How’s AJ holding up?”
“That’s a sucky pun, Kevin.”
Right, AJ was literally up, up.
The only bad thing was Kevin could barely hear AJ from the back. So Brian had to act as the messenger.
“He said he’s okay but he wants to get down and out of the van. We both do!”
“I wish I could get you guys out, but I can’t.”
He didn’t want to let them know he was hurt. What was the use? It’s not like that information would do anything positive for their situation just like he didn’t want them to know he was really beginning to worry about Nick and Howie. They had been gone way too long. He thought about trying to make it up the hill to flag a car down but the pain was so bad that he couldn’t even stand. He had heard a few cars pass up the road but since it was dark, no one bothered to notice the broken fence he supposed. He kept trying his cell phone hoping he would get a signal but it was no use. There were just stuck there waiting.
He closed his eyes once more.
“I’m going to go get some help.” Howie had said as Kevin continued to rub at his very swollen ankle.
“You can’t go alone, I’ll go with you.” Nick started to stand up but quickly fell back down to the ground.
“No way, Nicky. I can go by myself. I’m sure I’ll run into someone.”
“D, we encountered no other signs of life for about a good thirty minutes before ending up here.”
“Even still, we need to get help. We can’t just wait around. Kevin’s ankle is probably broken and we have no idea what kind of condition Brian and AJ are really in and you…”
“I’m fine and I’m coming with you.”
Both Howie and Nick looked at Kevin for the final say but in all honesty he wasn’t sure what that should be. There was no way Howie should venture out there alone especially because soon it would be dark but Nick seemed weak, but he also seemed determined.
“Howie, take Nick with you. I’ll stay with these guys.”
He saw Howie look over at Nick with a questioning gaze, “Are you sure you’re okay? Now’s not the time to act like a hero.”
Nick stood up, “I’m good man. Let’s go get help!”
Right before they left, it was Nick who squatted beside Kevin and said the words that he needed to hear more than anything. “You know, none of this is your fault.”
He almost wanted to cry as he grabbed his baby brother into a hug, “Thanks. Please be safe and hurry back.”
The last time he saw them, they had waved from the road. That had to be hours ago. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed but he knew that soon he wouldn’t be able to see anything because of the darkness and it was getting cold. The other thing he found unsettling was the howling he heard off in the distance.
“Please hurry!” He whispered as he protectively wrapped his arms around himself for warmth.