Santiago woke up behind the wheel of his old-as-dirt Chevy. His eyes were burning even in the stark darkness of night. He looked around and didn’t see much, not even the faintest glow of light. With a deep inhale, he grabbed for the keys and realized they weren’t in the ignition.
“What the fuuuuuck…?”
Blackouts were not uncommon for him, but he couldn’t even remember where he was earlier. Jimmy’s? Donovan’s Pub? The nights all rolled into one. He rattled his brain, but no use.
He patted his pockets, felt around on the floor of the car, squinting over at the passenger side. Nothing.
He caught the glimpse of a light in the distance. He turned to check the backseat and there they were. Sitting smack in the middle, tucked between the cushion and the baby’s carseat.
“How in the hell…”
As he reached back to grab the keys, he suddenly felt a pull at his leg.
His left leg was handcuffed to the bar under the seat, the one that adjusted it back and forth.
His heart sank into the pit of his stomach. This was no blackout of his doing. He saw the light again up ahead. This time, it was larger or… closer. It was headlights. He looked around and could now make out more of his surroundings.
He was on the highway. Center of a three-lane stretch. In the dead of night. With no lights on, facing oncoming traffic.
“Shit shit shit shit shit…”
He yanked on the lever for the seatback and thrust himself downward, using all his wingspan to reach for the keys. Arms and fingers extended to their limits, he looped his right index around the keyring and pulled them up from where they were wedged.
In one fell swoop, he gripped the keys, grabbed the lever, pulled himself back up and jammed them into the ignition. The lights were almost upon him. Two sets of them, encasing a grille that read: M A C K . He cranked the keys and pumped on the gas. But nothing.
The truck horn blared. The sound of brakes halting tires. It was too late.
The 18-wheeler slammed into Santiago’s car almost full force. His head crashed into the windshield, shattering glass and skull alike. He might have been flung from the car but the handcuffs cracked his anklebone instead and jammed his body into the steering column. The wheel crushed his ribcage as the car careened down the highway.
The last thing he saw was a chain that hung around his neck. On the end was the secondhand ring he gave to his girlfriend some nine years ago, when he promised to make her his wife, a mother and forever happy.
Santiago made good on only one of those.