ESCAPE FROM QUICK CREEK
by Jim Banister
It had stopped raining, but thunder still rumbled threateningly overhead. Chad Roberts stepped out of the car and immediately sank to his ankles in the slime. He could see a barricade laying flat where the pavement turned into a quagmire. The yellow warning flasher blinked feebly, like some giant, dying firefly. No wonder he hadn’t seen it until it was too late to stop.
The car was hopelessly mired five feet from the edge of the pavement. How could he have done such a stupid thing? His dad had said not to take the short cut because they were still working on Quick Creek Road. He usually listened to his father, but a flat tire had put them behind schedule, and he didn’t want to be late for the game. He was the basketball team’s leading scorer and they were counting on him.
This trouble soon made him forget about basketball. During the frequent flashes of lightning, he could see the ominous, flood-swollen waters of Quick Creek lapping at the edge of the roadway.
“I think we got big trouble, Chad.” The voice from the car reminded him that he wasn’t alone. “Ain’t no way we’re gonna get this car out of this muck. What now, buddy?”
Chad smiled in spite of himself as his cousin, Jarrod Findley, stuck a round, puppy-dog face through the window. He was munching on a chocolate bar. Jarrod ate when he didn’t know what else to do.
Jarrod, at seventeen and a half, was four months older than Chad, but looked younger. He was five feet six and pudgy. Chad was over six feet tall, a powerfully built 185 pounder, with the graceful stride of a natural athlete. At Wileyville High the cousins were called “Long and Short.”
“What was that?” Jarrod whispered into the thunder-punctuated silence.
“I don’t know. Hand me the flashlight.”
The beam stabbed the darkness in the direction of the noise. Fifty feet ahead, the road had slid into the black waters of Quick Creek.
“Just the water splashing.” Chad kept his voice calm, not wanting to scare Jarrod, but his stomach churned with fear.
The nearest help was Brown’s Grain Elevator, four miles away. Mr. Brown had a big tractor that would be able to pull them out.
Chad could make the trip much faster but he wouldn’t ask Jarrod to stay with the car. He had gotten them into this mess, so it was his responsibility to get them out.
“Jarrod, take the flashlight and go ask Mr. Brown if he’ll bring his tractor to pull us out.”
“Why don’t we both go?” Jarrod’s voice had an uneasy edge to it. He was afraid of the dark.
“One of us has to stay with the car, in case someone comes along. If you’d rather do that.”
“No, that’s ok. I’ll go.”
Jarrod was barely out of sight when it started to rain again. Chad slid into the front seat of the car. He switched on the dome light to see what he had sat on.
“Oh, no,” he said aloud, “Jarrod forgot to take his umbrella. He’ll catch pneumonia.”
As he spoke, the front end of the car dropped without warning.
Chad’s head smashed into the windshield. Blinding lights went off in his head. Then he fell back, unconscious. His last awareness was of a cold wetness creeping up his legs.
From far away, Chad could hear the trickling of the fountain, as the stream flowed into the goldfish pond. Why was he back home? Then he felt cold water pressing against him. He opened his eyes to stark reality. The trickling sound was coming from a hole in the rear window the size of a tennis ball. It had been made by a dislodged rock as the car had slipped into the murky creek. The car was pointed nose down, and tilted toward the right side, which was buried in the soft creek mud. The back window was about three feet below the surface, and pressure pushed water through the hole in a three-inch stream. The water was up to his chest, and rising.
“Don’t panic.” he told himself, “Think!” He pulled down on the handle and pushed at the door. It wouldn’t budge. Part of the roadbed was laying on top of it. With the passenger side buried in the mud, the car had become a water-filled tomb.
The water was now at his shoulders and rising. He had to plug that hole. But how? Then he remembered the umbrella. He took a deep breath and plunged into the water, searching the front floor with his hand. Nothing! A long two minutes later, he surfaced and breathed deeply. Now the water was up to his chin. He dived again. More than a minute went by, and no umbrella. His lungs were bursting.
Just as he was about to surface again, he felt the pointed end of the umbrella, wedged under the dash. It took several seconds to dislodge it. This time there was just enough room for him to keep his mouth above the water by tilting his head back. He jammed the pointed end of the folded umbrella into the hole and pushed until the fabric wedged tightly. Good! Only a slight trickle of water oozed around the edges.
He was numb from the cold water, and exhausted. As he rested a moment, uncertain what his next move would be, he felt something warm and sticky on his forehead. Probing, he felt a four-inch gash along his hair line, a souvenir of his collision with the windshield.
Suddenly, the car lurched and settled down another foot into the creek mud. Chad’s heart sunk with it. He realized that he had only a few minutes of safety at best. He had to find a way to escape.
The gash on his forehead was throbbing with pain now.
“I must really have hit the windshield hard.” he thought to himself.
The windshield! If he had hit it hard enough to split his head open, it may have cracked. He remembered from physics class that because the car filled with water, the pressure at the bottom of the car would be equal inside and out. Kicking out the windshield may be his only chance. His air supply was nearly gone now.
Inhaling all the air he could hold, he plunged into the cold, muddy water. He grabbed the back of the front seat and pulled himself forward. He felt the windshield with his foot. Drawing his leg up against his stomach, he drove it down hard. The water stopped the momentum before his foot reached the glass.
“Got to take shorter blows, Chad.” he coached himself.
This time, he drew his foot up about six inches and slammed it down. He felt the safety glass bulge slightly. After several more blows, his foot crashed through the glass. Finally, he was able to work his shoulders, and then the rest of him through. His lungs were burning. He felt dizzy. Fighting the temptation to suck in mouthfuls of water, he pushed himself upward off the hood of the submerged car. Fifteen seconds later, his head penetrated the surface of Quick Creek. Opening his mouth wide, he gulped in huge quantities of wonderful, delicious air! Wearily, he struck out toward the creek bank. After an eternity, he felt himself bumping against the muddy bottom. He instinctively reached out and his hand found a tree root. With great effort, he dragged himself out of the water. Then he sank into the ooze, and faded into oblivion.
Chad could hear a distant, muffled voice. He tried to open his eyes, but they resisted. He was conscious of being wonderfully warm and secure. Gradually, the voice got louder, and he recognized it as Jarrod’s. This time he was successful in opening his eyes. He was lying in a bed, surrounded by his mom and dad, Jarrod, Mr. Brown and a nurse.
“Hi, buddy.” Jarrod was smiling broadly. “How ya feelin’?”
He smiled back weakly. “Okay, I guess. My head hurts like sin, but it sure is nice to be warm and dry.”” His mom leaned forward and embraced him tightly. Warm tears of joy wet his cheek as she kissed him. “Chad, . . . oh, Chad.” was all she could say.”