You know what you think about when a car hits you? Your first thought, I mean. I would’ve guessed that it would be about the pain, probably, or maybe the panic. One of those “life flashing in front of your eyes” scenarios, or a time-slowing-down thing.
And I guess maybe that is what other people think about. Me, though? I think, “Why am I in the air?”
It’s not quite as coherent as that, really. It’s more of a jumble of images and sounds, confusion at why the world is spinning and why a car is so close, mixed with the idea that things are different in an unidentifiable but important way. It’s all pre-verbal, but if I had been able to vocalize anything based on my thought process, it would have been that question, or maybe just “What’s happening?”
Instead, what I say is “Ooaaufgh!” or something similar, as my legs are violently swept out from under me. My shoulders hit the hood of the car at just about the same time as my head crashes down into the windshield, viciously starring it. The car screeches to a halt and I am hurled off of the hood and onto the sidewalk in front of it, a lesson in ragdoll physics.
Car accident. I’ve been in a car accident, go my thoughts, catching up to the situation. The pain hits on the heels of that, my whole body clamoring for attention at once. My legs, neck and head are all making strong arguments for immediate attention, but I can also sense a long line of cuts and abrasions waiting patiently to state their own claims.
Behind me, I hear the window of the car roll down. “Hey, Part-Time! You dead?”
I groan and roll my head toward the speaker, only to be blinded by a car headlight. I jerk my head backwards, knocking it against the ground. Stars explode in my vision and my stomach lurches; I swallow painfully and groan again.
“Guess not,” the speaker continues. He sounds unconcerned, even a bit jovial. “Honestly, I’d be surprised if you were. I didn’t hit you that hard.”
“You hit me…with your car,” I say thickly. A bit obvious, perhaps, but I’m still playing catch-up.
“I wanted to talk!” says the man, and now he definitely sounds like he has a grin on his face.
There’s blood running into my left eye. I move my hand to wipe it away, but it’s flowing pretty heavily, and all I do is smear it around. I have the idea that if I were standing up, the blood would be running down past my eye instead of into it, so I roll over onto my stomach and start to painfully push myself off of the ground.
The car engine revs threateningly. “Stay down, Part-Time. I’ll tell you when it’s time to get up.” The car rolls forward several inches, and I hastily put my head back down on the ground.
“What — what do you talk,” I say, more or less coherently.
“You ticked me off pretty badly tonight, Part-Time,” he says. There’s no smile in his voice now. “I had a plan, a simple plan. And you went and screwed it up for me.”
“I, um,” I say into the cement. “I worked all night.”
“Yeah, Part-Time. I remember you. That’s kinda the whole point.”
Finally it dawns on me that this is one of the would-be robbers, and not some random crime. For once, I’ll forgive myself for being slow on the uptake; being hit by a car is a definite extenuating circumstance. Only — why does he blame me? It’s my fault, true, but he’s got no way of knowing that. I stopped them with my mind, with my power, and I never moved a muscle that they could see.
“Don’t blame me for your bad luck,” I tell him. “You could’ve had the money for all I care. Wasn’t mine.”
“I saw you, we all saw you!” he hisses, furious. “I don’t know what you did, but you did something! Rigged the mop bucket to blow somehow, targeted us, tricked us maybe, maybe hypnosis. One said he heard you whispering something; for all I know, you’re a wizard. All I know is that everything was going just like before and no one was going to get hurt, and then you did something and screwed it all up!”
I puzzle over “just like before” for a minute until I realize that these guys must have been the same ones that the news was talking about, who’d robbed a couple of other small stores. The ones who’d put the cashier into the hospital.
“No one hurt, like the gas station guy?” I say.
He sneers. “He was gonna be a hero, just like you. Soon as we’d turned our backs, he’da gone for a gun or an alarm or something, messed things up. One hit ‘im over the head as a favor, before he could do anything stupid and get shot.”
I’m not sure what it is about this speech — the self-righteous tone, possibly, or just the simmering hatred in it — but something about it makes me absolutely certain that when this guy is done talking, he intends to run me over. This is no warning message, no threat just to show me that he could kill me if he wanted to. If I don’t get myself out of this, I’m not leaving this street alive tonight.
I look at my options, which are not great. I can try to keep him talking and hope that another car comes by, but it’s past midnight and this is not a busy road. I can slowly turn myself so my feet are facing the car, then hope its undercarriage isn’t low enough to hit me when it passes over. Or I can try to subtly ready myself to spring out of the way when I see the car start to move.
All of these plans are terrible, but only the third one doesn’t rely on copious amounts of good luck. It still counts on me being able to use two damaged legs to leap out of the way of a car, but I figure I can probably count on adrenaline to give me a boost in there. I’ll pay for it later, but it’s still a sight better than letting the car bumper bounce my head off of the sidewalk.
I slowly maneuver my legs into more of a tucked position while I talk. “So, you knew what the guy at the gas-mart was going to do, you know that somehow I screwed up your plans. You know a lot. Are you a mind-reader? A fortune-teller?” I jibe at him.
“Yeah, I’ve got a fortune for you. It says that you’re about to tell me how you did all that at the restaurant tonight.”
“Yeah? And why am I going to do that?”
“Because I’m interested to know, Part-Time. And me being interested in this conversation is the only thing keeping you alive right now.”
“Fine,” I tell him. “I can set fires with my mind.”
“Wrong answer, moron.”
The car surges forward, its engine snarling, but I’m already scrabbling at the pavement and leaping for freedom. My adrenaline spikes and my legs howl in pain as I give it everything I’ve got, throwing myself headlong into the street to escape the car.
All of that focus and all of that intensity has a result that I really should have expected: the area around me explodes into a fireball as everything that can combust, does. The sidewalk gives off a flash of steam that singes my ankles, the asphalt slides and melts under me, and the air is suddenly filled with noxious fumes choking me.
Body throbbing, lungs burning, I roll quickly to the side to escape the burning asphalt beneath me. From behind me, there’s a shriek, and I look back in horror to see the car engulfed in flames. Every piece of it is burning at once, and through the window a human figure is visible, screaming violently as the fire consumes his flesh. Beneath the bitter tang of metals and tar, I smell the sweet odor of seared meat, and my stomach lurches again.
I heave a couple of times, throwing up onto the road, but the gasping breaths I take in between just cause me to suck in more toxic smoke and burnt flesh, worsening the problem. On all fours, I scramble blindly for the far side of the road. Once there, out of range of the poisonous smoke and deadly fire, I collapse and suck in as much fresh air as I can.
The screaming from the car has already stopped, and I can’t even make out a shape in the driver’s seat through the flames. Slowly, using the wall for balance, I drag myself to my feet. I start to take out my phone to call the police, then stop. What on earth would I tell them?
I can’t save the robber; he’s clearly already dead. I can’t tell the police anything that will actually be helpful. All I can do is draw attention to myself for no real purpose.
Reluctantly, I slide my phone back into my pocket and, feeling guilty, limp away from the crackling inferno, wincing with every step. There’s nothing I could do, I tell myself. Nothing about this situation is good. Getting out is the right thing to do.
My lungs still ache, my body’s in pain and I’m bleeding and burned in two dozen places, but I know that even when those fade, the sick feeling in my conscience is going to stick with me.