Wayne opened his eyes, but it was his other senses which had registered before sight. The temperature of the water lapping at his feet had brought him around from unconsciousness. Instinctively he attempted to lift his feet and at the same time looked out of the windscreen.
Intense pain shot up his left leg, although his foot was partially numbed by the water. The whole of his left arm and shoulder ached, and his neck hurt where the seat belt had ridden high.
Wayne’s brow furrowed, and his jaw dropped as he took in the sight of the brackish water around the car. It was when he turned to check the view that he caught the smell, like damp vegetation.
“Don’t worry mate.” He spoke aloud, but in a trembling voice. “People survive this.” As the words left his lips, he was compelling himself to believe them. He had to concentrate.
On the outside, the water was above window level all around, and inside, it was rising slowly. Wayne’s mind was racing. He turned in his seat and felt better that nobody else was in this predicament with him.
“I should be grateful it’s midsummer.” At twenty-four, Wayne was young, and in good physical condition, apart from his recent minor injuries. His age and fitness were two of the reasons he had survived the incident so far.
Wayne’s breathing was erratic, although he was working to keep it together mentally. Panic was right below the surface of his consciousness—he knew it. He must maintain hope.
“Okay. Open a window to let the water in.” He shivered as the water rose up, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that the more water inside the submerged car, the easier it would be to open the door. The water inside would relieve the pressure on the doors.
He reached down with his right hand to locate the window winder and moved his palm flat around the inner door panel. As his fingers searched, he peered up into the murky, green-tinged water. Several people were standing on the bank, only a few metres away. So near, yet so far. A figure in a black safety helmet and bright yellow leathers appeared beside the other onlookers.
“A motorbike.” Wayne recalled what had happened. The bike fell over and skidded into his path, and he swerved to avoid the oil patch and the rider. In his mind’s eye, he remembered a high banking on the right side of the road and the river to the left. Briefly, he recalled his decision to swerve left. He had a split-second to decide if he or the fallen rider was to be in peril. He recalled he almost chose the selfish route.
Somewhere deep in his subconscious, he was still glad he made the call. Wayne continued fumbling around for the winder and looked down.
“Shit!” There were no winders—he had borrowed his dad’s car, and it had electric windows. Wayne’s fingertips touched the armrest and sure enough rubbed along a small set of rocker switches. All the features of his old car were mechanical, but in this car, they were electrical.
The windows, sliding sunroof, wing mirrors, and a few other items were electrical; except when the car was under water. Wayne’s breathing speeded up. This was not to be the classic escape from a submerged car, and the panic button was pressed inside his skull.
“Don’t give up, man. Think.”
The water level had reached his thighs, and when he moved, it lapped around his waist. It was coming in from somewhere.
“Keep it together, Wayne.” As he said the words, he wondered if it was normal for people to talk to themselves in these circumstances. He had never been a religious person, but now, he was floating the idea in his subconscious. Should he start talking to the superior being which oversaw these earthly tribulations?
Wayne’s body was shivering violently as he continued to feel around the door, then his finger hooked into something. Of course, he thought—try opening the door. He pulled the handle and nudged with his right shoulder. Nothing happened.
It must be okay. The water level had risen up to the dashboard. He should be able to move the damn door. He pulled the lever and pushed his shoulder hard against the door, again. The door wouldn’t budge, and it confirmed he had bruising to his right shoulder.
Wayne looked up at the glass sunroof. Would it give way with sufficient force?
The water level rose until it was reaching up and slapping him across the chest. Each time he moved the water rose quickly and lapped under his chin.
“God, help me!” Wayne cried out and tried to stretch his neck. Religion had finally kicked in, but he felt it was now too late to ask favours of a God he had never addressed. Why was the water rising at an alarming rate? Wayne tried to reach his mouth up to the remaining air pocket close to the ceiling. Airbags may be an excellent device in an accident, but they cease to be appreciated when the driver is trapped in a submerged car.
The people on the bank were no longer waving. Had they called for help? Were they simply going to stand there and watch him die?
Wayne struggled to get his head up to breathe whatever air was left, and he realised that the seat belt, which had saved his life was now holding him firmly into the driver’s seat. He reached down and fumbled with the clasp. It opened, and he forced himself past the airbag. His left leg had been in pain, and the foot was numb, but now an excruciating pain shot up his entire leg. His left foot and ankle were injured.
He managed to get his head up to the ceiling. As he took great gasps of air, he focused out of the side window. A shopping trolley was jammed against the driver’s door. Was he going to die because somebody dumped a trolley?
The air was running out, and Wayne was losing his faculties. He took in water with some gulps of air, and his heart was racing. His body was out of the driver’s seat, and he tried to reach the passenger’s door, grabbing at everything, anything, trying to find a way out. The passenger door was jammed.
Almost every time he took a gulp of air he had to spit to rid himself of the revolting water. River water was slipping down his throat, and his stinging eyes were closing involuntarily. Wayne took a gulp of air, and after the effort of holding his head close to the roof, he allowed his body to relax again.
The young man started hallucinating. He thought of a James Bond movie. A young woman in her skimpy, purple underwear sinking straight down into deep water. Her fair hair floating in the current as she descended. The girl pressed her hands against the windscreen and then her face. She was looking at Wayne. Was she welcoming him into her watery world?
He assessed the space to the windscreen and considered the pressure of the water. If he had two strong legs, he might manage to kick the screen out, but one foot would be futile.
Wayne wondered what his dad would say when he discovered he’d borrowed his car and crashed it like this. Mum was in bed when he left. Why hadn’t he popped in and told her he was going out? He wished he could talk to them both one more time.
He absently wished his dad had a four-door car. Wayne fought like a demon until he couldn’t breathe. The physical and mental pressures of his imminent drowning were taking over, but he wouldn’t give up the fight for life.
He turned his face up against the sunroof, taking what he felt was his last breath of air when he looked at the glass. He pulled back the thin plastic grille, and the brightness of the day filtered through the river and the glass sunroof. The glass area was small, and the pressure wouldn’t be as great as the windscreen. Wayne turned his body to place his back across the handbrake, which dug into him, but it was discomfort he’d have to endure.
He brought his right leg down into a squatting position and kicked up hard. He couldn’t lift his left leg. He kicked with his right foot again. There wasn’t enough power, and the handbrake dug into his back and winded him. He had to continue trying. Wayne was in a desperate situation, peering through the water inside the car. He used every ounce of energy and kicked, which caused him to inhale.
The glass panel popped out like a cork from a bottle. As Wayne turned to squeeze himself out through the sunroof, he had visions of the Bond girl sinking in the water, staring at him. He felt an intense and splitting headache, combined with nausea as his lungs took in the vile water. The pressure was rapid and unbearable. Choking, retching, in panic and in extreme pain, Wayne’s world went black.
* * *
It felt like somebody was inside his skull trying to get out using a sledgehammer. Wayne’s mouth tasted as if he had been drinking from a sewer. He couldn’t hear anything, but his taste and smell were working, which was a mixed blessing.
If he was already dead, how could he feel that heavy pounding on his chest?
Where was he?
Had he been in water, inside a car?
Yes, he had been trapped, in a submerged car, drowning. That was it, he had drowned, but he had asked God for help, so this must be what happens on the other side.
If he was dead, why was he feeling so much pain all over his body?
He had never talked to God till he needed him. Was this the result?
The puzzle was still playing on his mind as the first wave of water and other waste raced up from his lungs and stomach. Overwhelming nausea and sickness would have been bad enough, but everything was fighting to be first out of his gagging, foul tasting mouth, and nose.
Wayne tried to open his eyes, and after several attempts, they opened and stung. His eyes opened at the same time as the contents of his lungs and stomach arrived at the back of his throat. The freshly opened eyes bulged, then closed.
It felt as if the disgusting contents of his body were using every orifice to escape. Wayne retched, and felt a force push him over onto his side. He coughed, retched, and coughed again, and again. His head and body were not in a good place.
Wayne opened his eyes again and focused. Green stalks. A forest of small, thin green stalks. There was an area of pink, and a dark line rising up the centre. Wayne focused through tear-filled, stinging eyes. It resembled a pair of thighs, wet and more red than pink. As Wayne’s blurred vision cleared, he stared up at the scantily clad and dripping wet girl kneeling beside him. She was wearing purple underwear which clung to her, like the shoulder-length fair hair which was soaked, and sticking to her friendly smiling face.
“Welcome back my friend,” she said.
Wayne tried to return the smile but didn’t know if it was working. While he shivered, he looked beyond the dripping wet girl and saw a pile of bright yellow leathers, black riding boots and a black safety helmet, loosely stacked beside a motorbike.
Cheering started, from a group of people, he couldn’t see.
Wayne’s eyes filled, but from within. “Thank you,” he gasped. “If you hadn’t—”
“You know what they say. One good turn deserves another.” The girl winked.