Before – 10pm Friday Night
The train looked like a film strip; boxes of warm light flickering through ghostly trees.
“Hey, Andy, bet you can’t beat it.” Russ sniggered in the back seat.
“Yeah, Andy’s too slow.” Mason’s speech was slurred and indistinct.
From the passenger seat, James poked me in the ribs, making me roar with laughter. “I reckon you can.” He took a long swig of beer.
There was so much alcohol in our systems that I swear a match would have blown us up.
“I can do it!” I mashed the accelerator to the floor and the car lurched forward, swaying as I tried to focus on the road. To my right, the train thundered along silvered tracks, screeching, and spewing light from headlamps. I felt adrenaline coursing through my system as a long blast sounded from its whistle.
“Yes!” shouted James. “We’re winning the race! Keep going, Andy!”
I gripped the steering wheel, urging the car forward. The ground was vibrating now and the whistle blared an insistent warning. In the back seat, Russ and Mason shouted obscenities at the roaring metal.
For a split second, I felt a sense of triumph as the wheels mounted the rails. Then the train smashed into the back of the car, dragging it down the tracks. It was a kaleidoscope of horror; metal crumpling, brakes howling, sparks flying, people screaming.
After – 2pm Wednesday Afternoon
Three coffins lay in the front of the church and nearly two thousand mourners packed the auditorium. I sat with my parents in a back corner, a circle of space around us. I was the untouchable one, the perpetrator of this terrible tragedy. Liquid shame seemed to flow through my veins, so great was my sorrow and humiliation.
“Are you alright, Andy?” Mom’s face was swollen, her eyes red. Next to her, Dad sat stoic and silent.
“I’m okay.” I lied. My broken shoulder ached, my leg suppurated where the flesh was scraped off and my heart felt dead. I should have been lying at the front with my friends. Fresh pain erupted as I thought of them. We’d been mates for years – had grown up in the church together – given our hearts to the Lord together – and strayed down the paths of alcohol together.
Regret overflowed. Why had we started drinking? Why had we thought we were mature? How had we lost sight of God? I had killed my friends, shattered their families and destroyed my hope of a meaningful life.
Thoughts of suicide circled like vultures, looking for a way to end my existence. I had hung on for today, to say goodbye and pay my last respects. Surely everyone would be relieved if I was gone. If I lived, my life would forever be divided into two sections: the carefree years before the accident and a bleak highway of shame after. What use could I be apart from a warning against the horrors of drinking and driving?
A voice broke into my thoughts.
“Andy.” Pastor Richard placed a warm hand on my knee. “Look at me, Andy.”
I lifted my eyes expecting to see more condemnation and disgust. Some people were so angry they’d thrown beer bottles at our house and sprayed the word, killer, on our garden fence.
“There’s a lot going on, Andy. I just want you to know that I’m here for you and your family.”
There was no judgement in his eyes, no hint of contempt.
“It’s not going to be easy, but God still loves you as much as He ever did. I’m going to come around this evening and we can talk through some stuff.”
He closed his eyes and began to pray, his words like drops of healing on a plain of grief. “Help Andy see this isn’t the end, Father. Give us strength to get through the pain and let your love work on broken hearts and broken relationships. You can bring life out of this chaos. You can turn Andy’s despair around.”
For the briefest of moments, a tiny splinter of hope needled my heart. It was enough to banish the vultures to the periphery of my thoughts.
“Thank you,” I whispered. “I’d like that.”
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