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The roads were gradually returning to the familiar again. It had been a long time since he had seen his family. His parents and younger sister were still where he had left them two years ago; out on the country farm, milkings at six in the morning and again after supper. School was right for him, lots of good times, ideas, and late nights with friends talking life over coffee, but still, it was nice to be coming back to the rustic familiarity of home. He missed it, sometimes.

He turned the old Camry onto the first of a winding trail of gravel roads. His own private way home. The school bus had always had to detour north to pick up his younger neighbors: the loud ones on the bus, rubber boots and red backpacks never ceasing to make a scene. He grinned at the thought, remembering a little wistfully how different things had seemed back then. Now it was their turn to be the ones beginning to shape their future; to be coming up on graduation, excited to get out and see the world--leave their slow little town behind.

The gravel slid by, kicking up dust; every so often a loose rock taking a noisy shot at his wheel-well. Enjoying the moment, he leaned forward to turn off the local alternative rock station. The brown station wagon struck just in front of his rear right wheel like an impact hammer. Time kicked in and things flew into motion so fast they hardly registered, but that first gut reaction was frozen in a tableau of fear and realization. One moment driving, the next moment a sickening lurch ripping control into screeching noise. His hands wrenched the wheel, but the car's left back tire caught the loose shoulder and the world spun. The car flipped once and slammed into the far side of the ditch. His body tore against the seatbelt as the window exploded and the windshield starred, burying itself in the dirt. Then silence, except for the still-spinning wheels and his spastic breathing.

Mind dull with shock, he pried himself out from under the steering wheel. Gingerly, he extracted himself from the crushed wreck, pausing only to grab his cell phone from the still functioning glove box. Then scrapes and bruises were forgotten as he spied the other car. It looked broken, meek, like it had crawled across the intersection only to have its front-end kicked by a giant foot. He tried to dial 911 with shaking fingers as he ran around the compacted car to the driver's side. Fighting the door open he saw the woman driver groping for her seatbelt, horrified eyes fixed on the girl in the front seat. He told her, "quick, I have to get you out of here", as he undid her seatbelt and pulled her out of the car. "my girl, my baby" she said as he once again entered the car. The girl in the front seat was maybe nine. Her forehead had struck the crumpled frame of the door. She was dead.

After a long moment, he turned slowly and emerged back into the world. The driver was sobbing hysterically, crying "do something, do something", but he walked by her into the grass beside the road. His legs lurched and he collapsed onto hands and knees. The cell phone was saying something to him, and the wind touched his hair, but he did not answer.

He only knelt, saying nothing, as death passed him by.

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