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No Blood Relative

by Terry Carroll


Stephanie Basiuk was about to die. If she’d been told this, she wouldn't have believed it. For one thing, she was young and the young believe they are immortal. For another, she'd been drinking. She knew about drinking. There was a lot of drinking in her family.
She was in a car with a guy who liked to get drunk and go cruising. Her kind of guy. Stephanie’s fingers were rubbing the inseam of the guy's jeans, where guys like it, between his knee and wherever.
Her fingers crept toward wherever. The guy grinned a thank you at her and, with his free hand, mashed her shoulder against his chest.
He revved the engine, vroom-vroom, one cowboy boot on the brake, the other tapping the gas. He had a name but what was it? She couldn’t remember.
Stephanie was a little drunk, but so what? So was he. Everybody was drunk. If everybody hadn't been a little drunk, there wouldn’t have been the problem with Joe. Everybody wouldn’t have gotten so mad.
That was more or less how she had ended up in this car, after the guy got mad and started a fight. He was kind of cute, she thought, and he smelled nice.
"You like me?" she asked, her hand now on the wherever, fingers roaming around down there.
"You’re a fox," he said, saying it like one of those stand-up comics, his mouth coming slant-wise down in the corner, exaggerating the "fox."
Then he said, "I like you, baby. I like you a lot." This time it was the "lot" which he drew out and extended and rolled around in his mouth before he let it go. "You and me..."
He revved the engine some more. Maybe he was afraid; his cowboy boot seemed nervous on the gas pedal. "What?" she asked, nestling her head against him.
"Gonna do it up right," he said. "Mr. Wiggly wants to say hello. Yeah, what have we here?"
He took his foot off the brake, hit the gas pedal, and the car snapped her head back, it was that fast. Stephanie liked cars, the faster the better. She liked her cars and her boys the same, now that she thought about it, a little smile on her face.
Gravel plunked the underside and the view through the windshield swayed.
The headlights were far away, coming at them. She laughed at the speed: it made her giggle, almost pee her pants.
Stephanie stopped laughing. Feeling the car slip out of control, she mouthed a single, "No" silently. The word “No” was intended to bring the situation back under control. As if it ever could.
Those weren't headlights in the distance. It was one headlight, single, too close. She remembered now—somebody had punched out the pick-up trucks other light during the fight. But which side of the truck had the good light?
"No-o-o," she screamed.
Stephanie grabbed the steering wheel. He straight-elbowed her in the face. She let the wheel go and brought her hands up to protect herself.
The car lurched left, and then she saw, in the semi-darkness of the late June night, which side the headlight was on. It was on the left, she thought of it that way, on the left, on the driver's side.
She seemed to have a lot of time to think about the headlight and the front grill coming at her in slow motion, aware that she had no seatbelt. Where was it? Too late. The digital clock said 11:03.
The vehicles hit solidly and the headlight went out.

Stephanie was a long time coming around.
Pulling herself out of the depths, she felt cold, very cold, for this time of year. Her head hurt and she went back under for a while, where it was warm and moist and dark.
She wanted to stay under, but she couldn't, so she surfaced again. It seemed dark everywhere. She couldn't tell where she was, or which end was earth and which stars.
Her mother had a reliable test for accidents: If you can move it, it's not broken. This test was reassuring for little girls who fall off their bikes or run into fences. But she wasn’t a little girl and thinking about her mother didn’t help now. They had never gotten along so why bother?
Stephanie tried her head. It moved a little on her neck when she asked it to. But it seemed heavy on one side. One leg moved slightly, she thought, and one arm.
Movements were almost too much for her, and they didn't add up to much—not enough to get her out of the car.
She seemed to be alone, and that frightened her, although nothing in particular told her she was alone. It was the absences that made her come to this conclusion: no breathing, no movement, no warmth. A small moaning.
Which meant that...
She wasn't sure what this might mean.
Down below, there was a sensation of warmth and wetness. She was afraid her bladder had failed her. That would be so embarrassing, if anybody saw her.
It seemed odd to be hurt, so badly hurt she could barely move and could still feel no pain below her head, at least no pain in any one area. No specific pain. There was moaning again. Stephanie realized she was the moaner. Maybe it was the pain. She felt detached from the moaning and the pain.
She was weak.
There was light.
She moved her head a fraction in response. The cracked Trans Am windshield glowed with light.
A car door slammed, then another. Male voices murmured. A man swore. "Jesus Christ," he said. Then again, "Je-e-e-esus," drawing it out, "Christ. Shit. Piss." Metal clanked. A man's kick, maybe.
She shivered and tried to turn to these male voices, wanting very much to talk to them. But all she could do was change her moans. Now they came out louder as "A-a-a-a-gh."
Fingers came through the open passenger window.
"She's still breathing," a man's voice said. "Christ, it stinks in here." She was embarrassed then, would have done anything to end the stink. But everything she tried to say came out as a moan.
The fingers withdrew and the man's voice said, "Get the sweater."
"The sweater?" asked another male voice, unsure of itself.
The pain, the general pain with no specific location, was beginning to settle down, locate itself.
The man sounded irritated. "The sweater. The christly sweater from the back seat."
"I’m getting it," said the second man, sounding frustrated about something himself.
Boots crunched gravel. A car door opened and closed.
Stephanie smelled cigarette smoke. She moved, or tried to, wanting in her pain to assist her rescuers.
Something blocked the glow from the headlights. She tried to raise her head, desperately wanting to help him put the sweater on. It fell suddenly, with force, and blocked her face. She couldn't breathe. The crucial passages, her nostrils and her mouth, were plugged.
Stephanie tried to raise an arm, but it wouldn't move. Must be broken, she decided.
Her body heaved, Her lungs gasping for air. The twin sister she loved came to her as a thought. But no help came for her. No air.
For the second time that night, the lights went out.

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