August 2017

Thrilling Drive-By Stories

Short stories written while driving.

Born Lucky

Humanity — by and large — was born lucky. According to scientists studying mitochondrial DNA, 70,000 years ago the population of humans on the planet had declined to no more than a small tribe struggling to stay alive. What scientists don't know is the exact reason for the genetic bottleneck, with some blame being placed at the foot of the catastrophic Toba eruption.

Not quite. It turns out that Larry Niven had the right idea. It wasn't Puppeteers breeding for luck so much as the predatory alien species K'nobbs hunting humans to near extinction. The selection pressures inadvertently bred for luck. Case in point: the solar flare that disabled the K'nobbs's interspace regulator, causing it to crash into the Toba volcano and thus triggering the before mentioned catastrophic eruption. Only the luckiest humans survived.

Take Harold Dick (yes, his parents were that mean) as a modern example.

On March 5th, 1994, under a bright and sunny day, Harold Dick rode his bike down the 4th Ave hill into Olympia. At the time he was 22 years old, newly graduated from the Evergreen State College and on the path of Destiny. Literally. Destiny Collins squinted against the sunlight as she prepared to pull out of the Bayview Thriftway parking lot. Destiny's plan — make a left turn, go up to Simmons Street, turn right and then left onto 5th and from there out to her boyfriend's apartment. Squinting, Destiny saw Harold's bike bearing down alongside traffic and her brain classified bicyclists as slow, not realizing that Harold was currently moving at a good 28mph and keeping with the flow of traffic. Her brain was seeking cars that it registered as fast, looking for oncoming traffic on her left and seeing none, Destiny hit the gas and smashed directly into Harold. For his part, Harold didn't remember that moment of searing pain, the flying across lanes of traffic while Destiny's brakes squealed or for that matter the next week after the accident.

Having sworn off cars when his parents were killed in an accident with a drunk driver six years earlier — while he was staying home instead of going out shopping with them — Harold was not receptive to friends saying that he was lucky to be alive. Not knowing, of course, that the statement was exactly true.

Not in the way his friends meant, that the accident could well have killed him, and he was lucky to be alive. If Destiny had waited just a few seconds longer for Harold to pass, he would have reached the intersection with Simmons Street just in time for the garbage truck to turn directly into his path and the accident with the garbage truck would've been far, far more fatal.

Once recovered from his accident Harold walked with a limp. The surgeries restored 90 percent mobility. However, his muscle loss wasn't easily corrected.

In his first year of graduate school, Harold met Joan. Joan had the body of an angel, a face that Harold could gaze at endlessly, curly dark hair, a sweet disposition, a sharp analytical mind, and a smile that always looked ready to laugh. She was quite easily his ideal woman. They had gone on one date, hitting it off well, ending with a kiss that Harold dreamed about for years to come. And then Joan's ex-boyfriend stormed into the cupcake shop where she worked the next day and shot her with a shotgun before turning it on himself and failing to blow his own brains out.

It was the first love that Harold never entirely recovered from, and yet friends still said that he was lucky to have met her, or that he was lucky that the boyfriend hadn't come after him as well. Harold thought both of the sentiments were bullshit.

Of course, he was wrong on both counts. If it hadn't been for the fact that they had gotten messages crossed they would've been at the restaurant earlier in the evening when Joan's boyfriend came looking for her and her date. In which case he would've shot them both instead of being forced to find her at the cupcake shop the next day.

Harold fell in love again later. He had other similar close brushes as his life went on —some without ever being aware of them, like the time he stopped to tie his shoes and so didn't get caught in a three-way with a four-point buck and a logging truck. A call from a former boss led to a job interview in Seattle, which in turn resulted in an offer that landed his first professional job as a graphic designer for a tech startup. He never knew that he was the second person the former boss called, or that the first was stuck on the toilet and didn't get to his phone in time. By getting the job, Harold avoided being stuck in a low-paying position for three years before depression got the best of him.

By his mid-forties depression reared its head anyway, filling Harold with daydreams about methods of dying, or simply not waking up in the morning. He hated the thought of Anne — his wife — having to find his body. Browsing on his phone one tedious afternoon, Harold came across Felicia Day's autobiography and downloaded the audiobook from the library. He just thought she was the hot, funny girl online that created the Guild, but it turned out that reading about her own struggles with depression gave him the courage to talk to Ann about his own depression. Weeks of Zoloft and therapy intervened, and he avoided suicide once again.

Harold's luck ran out at the ripe old age of 83. It happened while walking Simon —Harold's chubby fawn-colored pug, along the creekside trail. A boulder loosened by fall rains finally broke free of its muddy tethers and tumbled down the hillside before Harold, with his limp, could move out of the way. It killed him instantly and sent him on to meet his beloved Anne who had preceded him in death. Simon escaped unharmed and Harold's daughter Raven, now in her 30s, adopted him.

Family and surviving friends said how unlucky it was for Harold to go that way, but at least it was quick, and he had, after all, lived a rich and full life. Another sentiment that Harold would've thought was bullshit. If Simon hadn't stopped to poop, and the bag hadn't gotten caught in the dispenser, they would've been past the spot when the boulder broke free.

Humanity is lucky. Death is luckier — and sooner or later Death always wins.

Creative Commons License
This story is licensed by Ryan M. Williams under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.