Left Turn at Intersection
By: Adam Willis
Published for the 2023 Spring Magazine
At what point is someone truly safe?
At first glance, the answer to this question appears to be obvious. We are safe when we are outside of the perceived danger—a moment free from an immediate threat. We are safe when our body—our sensitive system of neurological impulses—drifts idly into a relaxed state, undoing the panic of vigilance, of the sympathetic. We are safe within our trusted structures—a promise of protection and containment. We are safe when unimpeded. We are safe when we follow the rules.
When these conditions are met, we are safe. This is the consensus: I am in my unbroken bubble; I am disconnected from the entropy of the moving system; I am unmarked by the chaotic force that wants to see me break; I am untouchable.
I believed in this certainty when I was walking to my car. It hung in my mind when I twisted the key in the ignition, my actions sparking metal, starting motion. It stood in my immovable thoughts—infinite weight, a concrete block—as headlights pierced the black wall before the road, carving a tunnel through the looming forest for my car and mine alone. And as I slowed at that unlit intersection—a barren road terminating into a two-lane highway—I allowed this sense of security to remain. The absence of a stop light was a failed deterrent. The lone stop sign guaranteed no safe turn, yet my confidence in crossing those wide lanes told me otherwise. I’ve driven this route dozens of times; there was no logic in fear.
I looked both ways.
I took the turn.
The following second: Two lights break the darkness. An invisible form—the amorphous metal thing blending into the unfathomable black—closes the gap between us. A distant horn grows closer and louder, closer and louder, before ending abruptly. The space fills with sounds of destruction. Glass shatters. Metal shrieks. Chunks of engine skid across asphalt. Wheels twist off axles. The steering wheel explodes into a white balloon. My skull slams hard against the headrest. I look up; I’m forty feet from where I remember. Silence returns. The smell of gasoline—static and smoke. Glass shards glisten like diamonds on the floor. I haven’t had a chance to blink.
A few seconds passed before I realized I was not dead. I screamed—a raw, hysterical scream. Visceral terror—throbbing veins, nerves firing, neck muscles tightening, heart slamming against bone. I jump from the car, fearing an explosion, and run across the unlit highway. I’m dressed in dark clothing—black jeans and a leather jacket. The night surrounds me, and I am invisible. A truck going eighty or over speeds past like a silver bullet three feet from my soft body. Its horn blares in my ear from a distance so close I could almost feel the impact—bones crushing under 7,000 pounds of steel, internal meat spread like bloody paste on the road. But the truck misses me, and I fall to my side, clutching my chest, my legs, my head, as if doing so undid the imagined dismemberment. I had somehow landed on the grassy divider—the gray-green patch of dying weeds that split the highway in two; a no-mans-land that no human ever touches, no deer ever roams. It’s from this position that I view the brunt of the wreckage: two
piles of amalgamated machinery, almost unrecognizable. My eyes fall on a puddle of gasoline. In its reflection, brake lights discharged their pulsating crimson. My mind plays tricks on me; it resembles blood.
The prior illusion has been shattered—a privilege no longer available. That sense of security I felt only moments before had snapped during the cascading violence, and from it, I had finally realized the true nature of vulnerability. The uniform red of the puddle is soon polluted by the flashing blue lights. Sirens echo, yet I’ve come out unscathed.
Death surrounds me, and I’m alive by random chance.