Sobering

Loretta stares out into the midnight fog, taking in the passing fields, vacant and eerily quiet. With her right hand cradling her round belly, she thinks about the names she and Mick had settled on just earlier in the week: Lillian and Michael Jr.  Nearly seven months along and neither she nor Mick have yet to learn the gender of their soon-to-be firstborn. They had made a pact to keep any future pregnancies a surprise until the time of delivery, after suffering a cruel six-month miscarriage a couple years ago.

The brutal late January chill is sobering, which explains why Mick insists on keeping the windows cracked open. Loretta feels goosebumps rising and wishes she had brought along her wool poncho. Mick reaches across to her, clasping his hand over her left thigh, a loving check-in he routinely does during car trips. She delights in his touch, closing her tired eyes, and starts to dream about everything Spring: Tulips, warm weather, and her due date.

“What the Hell?!!” screams out Mick, as he swerves the Camry from right to left, across the double yellow lines, then back to right, before finally regaining control of the vehicle. He stops the car on the grassy shoulder. His right arm firmly locked against his wife’s belly, all of Mick’s protective instincts had properly activated. “Holy Shit!” Mick lets out, fixing his eyes into the rearview mirror. “What the hell was that?!” Mick questions aloud. Loretta, cradling her belly with both hands now, glares at Mick and yells teary-eyed, “You HIT something! OR SOMEONE!”  Mick, frozen in his seat, feels offended by the blame in her tone, although he knows she’s right. Shaking, he puts the car in reverse and carefully lifts his foot off the brake, allowing the car to drift backward.

They live just four miles from Bruce and Ann’s, so the ride home would have been just mere minutes. They’d driven this road countless times, during daylight, late evenings, through thunderstorms, heavy snow, thick fog, and the occasional beer buzz. Both Mick and Loretta know this backroad intimately, with its twists and turns, its minimal traffic signs and sparse street lighting. His ingrained knowledge of this road, however, didn’t make Loretta feel any better after Mick had downed six Heinekens earlier. She’d asked him to pace himself after the third, but he was having too much fun celebrating Bruce’s 50th.

“I knew you were too drunk to drive!” Loretta scolds. Mick is defenseless, and scared out of his mind. The thunderous blast is still radiating through them both. They are terrified and know that they must retrace the Camry’s path. As they continue drifting back, they observe the area looking through all the windows in the vehicle. Loretta, crying in disbelief, rubs her belly anxiously.

The fog appears to thicken, and within seconds, neither can see anything at all. Mick reaches for his phone to dial 9-1-1. Loretta, quick-thinking and completely sober, warns against calling the police. “You’ve been drinking, remember?!” Loretta reprimands sharply.  Mick concedes, shamefully, and steps out of the car briefly for a better look around. Cautiously, he walks past the front hood, bending down to note any damage to the vehicle. He is fully cognizant of a potentially gruesome discovery as he carefully assesses the entire front of the car. After a couple minutes, he straightens his torso, and exhales. No blood.

Mick checks on Loretta through the passenger windshield. He nods, giving her a thumbs-up sign. Loretta appears nervous. He wants to get back to her right away and just drive home.  But, he can’t.  Mick looks around the perimeter of where he stands, unable to see beyond the scope of his immediate location. The fog is denser now, whiter. He doesn’t give up, though. He doesn’t care that the Camry has not one scratch or dent or trace of blood. He hit something in the road and won’t abandon his efforts now, though he starts to reason that whatever was hit, must have been catapulted a far distance from the point of impact.

Several minutes pass as Mick continues to look for any evidence along the barren road. He is only about fifty feet from the car, but Loretta no longer sees him.  She grows concerned. Looking through the windshield, desperately trying to find Mick or anything else for that matter, Loretta sees an unusual image forming in the fog. She goes stone cold.  She stares, entranced, as the image shapes itself into a silhouette, a giant dark figure moving toward her, with a wingspan that stretches out just beyond the width of the Camry. Loretta is motionless, her mouth agape. “Mick! Mick!” she fails in her attempts to scream out Mick’s name. Instead, only a soft whisper is pushed out. Loretta rationalizes that she is dreaming. “This is not happening. None of this real,” she mutters under her breath.

Loretta shuts her eyes tightly, disregarding the image. Perhaps, she will awaken to find Mick snoring beside her in bed, his body warm and inviting, draped in cotton flannel.  But, her racing pulse jolts her back to the inside of the Camry. Her eyes open, reluctantly, and widen. The formidable figure quickly envelops the car. Mick, finally defeated by the oppressive elements of darkness, chill and fog, returns to find Loretta convulsing in fear. In that moment, the fog lifts, and the giant image suddenly dissipates.

Loretta folds and lets out a guttural cry, prompting Mick to rush in panic to her side. She clutches onto him, meeting his worried eyes with her own bloodshot eyes.  Her hoarse voice whispers to him that she has lost the baby.  Reactively, Mick asks, “What baby?”

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