This is an original short story written by Edward Fagan.
The accident happens
The accident occurs as Ryan hears a loud sound which makes him very alert. He thus is suddenly aware once again that he is driving. He is unable to give an account of his driving for the last couple of minutes. Ryan did not lose consciousness during this time due to any illness.
Ryan thinks he fell asleep while driving and struck an object. He struck this object, whatever it is, very hard given the loudness of sound heard. Ryan wants to know what object he struck.
It is 02: 15 a.m. and outside is chilly and dark. Ryan is traveling on a long stretch of winding road that runs through a large, forested and ecologically diverse area. The forest contains wildlife, and there is a lake and a river in the area. This forested area is located in a remote country region.
The accident and its background
Ryan was driving toward home while he was under the influence of alcohol. He had spent several hours drinking at a pub in a nearby county prior to the start of this journey.
Ryan stopped drinking at pubs and bars in his home county just over a year ago. He stopped because his drinking and behaviour had given him a bad reputation there.
His drinking and behaviour were also affecting his relationship with his family and his work. Ryan’s wife threatened him with divorce, and his boss warned him about the prospect of dismissal from his job.
He even once injured one of his neighbour’s sons while driving under alcoholic influence. He, however, made an out of court settlement with the boy’s family over that accident.
Ryan promised his family and his boss that he would not repeat that mistake. He also promised to control his drinking and change his behaviour. Ryan, therefore, can not afford to become involved in an accident where he is driving under alcoholic influence. He even more so, can not afford to become involved in an accident that causes injury or death to someone.
The accident, Ryan conducts an investigation
Ryan is very apprehensive about the accident. He slows to a stop, takes his flashlight from the cubby and leaves the twin cab pickup truck. The object he struck, is what Ryan is trying to find out.
He slowly walks around the truck, looking carefully on the ground. He expects to discover any fixed or moveable object struck by him while he was driving. Ryan also looks underneath the truck.
He does not see any object, animate or inanimate, that he might have struck while driving. Ryan then decides to check the truck for any sign of damage caused by collision with an object. He now carefully focusses the flashlight’s beam on the pickup truck itself, slowly and meticulously.
Before completing a full circle around the truck during its inspection, Ryan sees damage. He sees two dents that he’s sure weren’t there before. One dent is located in the area of the upper to lower part of the front bumper. It is equidistant from both bumper ends. The other dent is located in the area of the upper to middle part of the grill. This dent is just above the dent in the bumper.
Ryan continues to inspect the truck and completes a full circle of movement around it. He sees no other damage. He struck a movable object, no doubt, but what and where is it?
The accident and Ryan’s further investigation
Ryan parked on the right hand side of the road. He struck the object, whatever it is, on this side of the road. The middle of the front of the vehicle is the part that struck the object. This is so based on the location of the dents on the vehicle.
“I don’t have any clues concerning where to start looking for the object I struck. Perhaps I should start looking in the wooded area to my right.”, Ryan thinks. “Standing close to this area, maybe I could start here.”, Ryan reasons. Ryan starts to walk away from the pickup truck in the direction in which he was driving. He thus walks along the right hand side of the road.
Using his flashlight as he slowly walks along, Ryan looks attentively into the wooded area to his right. He looks as far as the flashlight beam would allow him to see. Walking steadily, he only stops occasionally to pay closer attention to some area that looks darker.
Sometimes he sees a fallen tree limb, other times he sees a small clearing. Hikers and campers do make these clearings at times. He even sees the decaying, partial remains of a deer.
Ryan continues walking slowly and steadily, carefully checking and stopping for a while every now and then. Still, he sees nothing unusual. He does not even see an insect or small animal of any kind.
Then, he sees something that looks unusual; and he starts to worry. Ryan sees a freshly made, narrow foot path. “Who made this foot path and why did they make it?”, Ryan wonders. “Where does it lead?”, he asks.
The accident scene and Ryan’s discovery
Ryan decides to walk off the road and through the tract to its ending. “I hope this isn’t the worst that it can be.”, he says to himself. He worries more and more about a painful outcome from this walk. He worries as he goes deeper into the woods and toward the end of the tract.
Ryan continues using his flashlight as he did earlier. Suddenly, in the faintly lit distance, he sees something that looks unusual. He wishes it offers the prospect of hope rather than that of despair.
Ryan walks ahead and sees what looks like the end of the tract leading to a small clearing. In this clearing, Ryan sees a motionless human-like object. He continues walking toward the clearing and the human-like object. Ryan sees something that extremely shocks him when he finally gets to the clearing, and he faints.
He returns to his normal self but remains in a state of acute fear. He looks at a fully dressed human, a male, who appears to be in his 40’s. This man is lying on his back and motionless. Ryan draws closer and examines him but does not see any external wounds, bleeding or other evidence of physical injury.
Bending over, Ryan checks his pulse and body temperature, and examines his eyes. Ryan thinks he’s dead. “I just killed a man in a vehicular accident”, Ryan whispers in a sad tone.
The accident and Ryan’s response to his discovery
Ryan glances at his watch and notes that it is 03: 30 a.m. Ryan worries that he has now killed a man while driving under the influence of alcohol. He knows that he has a much higher level of alcohol in his blood than the legal maximum level. Ryan fears that the sheriff’s office will notice his state of intoxication if he goes and reports the accident.
“What should I do? Should I report this accident to the sheriff ‘s office? Should I dump the body in the nearby river and continue on my journey?”, Ryan asks in silence. Ryan makes a decision “I’m going to report this accident to the nearest sheriff’s office immediately.”
The accident and Ryan’s action after his discovery?
Ryan returns to the vehicle and drives toward the sheriff ‘s office. He drives in the direction in which he was traveling at the time of the accident. He notices a bear lying motionless on his side of the road and it seems to have died recently. It is about 35 yards from where the accident occurred.
Ryan gives a truthful account of the accident after arriving at the sheriff’s office. He is glad that he complies with the law in doing this. Ryan is accompanied by two sheriff’s deputies back to the location of the accident. They are to conduct an investigation there. Ryan is still sad, and fearful of the consequences of this accident.
On their way to the location, both deputies take note of the bear lying at the side of the road. They note that it seems to have died recently. Ryan and the two deputies arrive at the location of the accident.
Ryan is fearful of the consequences of this accident. He thinks he is guilty of the motor manslaughter of the man whose body he discovered in the woods. He thinks that some of the evidence that will lead to his prosecution, will come out of this investigation. Ryan thinks that the rest of the evidence will come from the autopsy that will follow it.
The accident and Ryan’s relief
He takes the deputies to the clearing in the wooded area where he saw the body of a man. He believed the man was dead. The body Ryan saw is no longer there. Some one removed the body without a trace. Ryan is surprised and confused.
” There was the body of a man right here in this spot.”, Ryan says to the deputies. He is pointing to the exact spot where he saw the body. Both deputies believe that Ryan saw the body of a man in the spot as he claims.
The two deputies quietly carry out their investigation and take photos; after which they ask Ryan to return with them to the sheriff ‘s office. At the sheriff’s office, the deputies tell Ryan that there will be further investigation of the accident. There will also be further investigation of the claim of discovery and disappearance of the body of a man.
Ryan is praised for reporting the accident early, and telling the truth about the accident. He is praised for telling the truth about his drinking prior to his last home-bound journey. He is also praised for reporting his discovery of a man’s body.
The deputies warn Ryan, however, about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol. They also remind him that the practice is illegal. The deputies promise that they will not prosecute him for driving under alcoholic influence on this occasion. Ryan thanks the deputies for pardoning him for driving under alcoholic influence.
The sheriff’s office also refuses to charge him with any other traffic offence. There is no evidence that he is guilty of any such offence; and he thanks the deputies.
The accident and what follows
Ryan tells the deputies that he continues to have fears about the accident. He worries that he might be responsible for the death of the man whose body he saw in the woods. One of the two deputies who visited the location of the accident spoke with Ryan. He reminds Ryan that he could have struck the recently killed bear seen close to where the accident occurred. He, instead, could have struck the man whose body he discovered in the woods.
Ryan agrees with the deputy and finds some hope in the thought of his having struck the bear. He prefers to have struck the bear rather than the man.
The sheriff ‘s office promises to contact Ryan if necessary, concerning the continuing investigation into the accident. The sheriff’s office also promises to contact him if necessary concerning the claimed discovery and disappearance of a man’s body.
The sheriff’s office does not charge Ryan with any traffic or other offences. He continues to experience a sense of sadness, but now, is beginning to also experience a sense of joy.
The accident and Ryan’s final thoughts about it
Ryan wonders about a few things as he drives toward home. He wonders if he caused the accident by not being sober and falling asleep while driving. He also wonders how the accident would have gone had he been sober and awake when it happened.
“Did the vehicle collide with the man or the bear, and if it did, whose fault was it?”, Ryan asks.
Ryan thinks this accident leaves a few questions unanswered. Some of these questions pertain to the discovery and disappearance of a man’s body. Some of these questions, likewise, pertain to the presence of a recently killed bear near the location of the accident.
Ryan is wondering if this accident and its implications might just be the final wakeup call. Is this a warning for him to stop driving under alcoholic influence before something much more serious than this happens?
By Edward Fagan