photo of man standing in foreground of a car wreck scene

No Man’s Land by James Carter

I swerve outside the lines and laugh. It would be so beautiful if the whole world was candy striped with skid marks, swaddled in burnt rubber’s angry bondage.

It’s late. A time when everything seems like it’s made of streetlights and that lurking just beyond is the dumb sucking of space. Just me and one other, far behind, hurtling together through no man’s land. Living between the world’s resets, those small hours before all the whistling metal teeth churn to life.

His headlights wobble at the edges of my rearview, prowling like disembodied eyes, mouth unseen and filled with a darkened roar. They remind me of the roving bloodshot pearls of my pug Benny, long gone, whining blindly at all the imagined horrors that take hold just before the end. I take my foot off the gas and let his eyes grow into a pair of hungry moons.  I’m in control. I have to do this. I have to.

I don’t usually drive in the dark, but tonight’s special. Tonight my home is a place of prayer for people tired of having their shadows probed by sunlight.  A hallowed confessional full of deaf ears where nobody wants to hear what you have to say, but we all talk anyway.

“I don’t necessarily want to hit him…but it would be convenient.”  Out loud is comforting, it makes everything more real.

My father once told me after a good three fingers of Bombay, “accidents should come in pairs, one to break the rules — a true manifestation of chaos — and the other to set the world’s bones so they grow back stronger.”  His buzzed wisdom usually left something to be desired but as I grew so did his little nugget and I’ve since become a firm believer in chaos. Without the unseen and the infinitesimal, life gets stale. But in a world where the scales play favorites, we have to make our own fairness. My life’s not broken, not yet; right now it’s just bent, like a useless spoon.  I don’t have a choice; I have to straighten it out. Everyone’s got to eat, right?

Hiding one wreck by causing another is as good a way to do that as any. A fake smile, a burner phone, and I’ll be home free with all that insurance money. People are so easily paralyzed by politeness. Okay, I have a plan, so what?

It has to look like an accident, though.

I snort and loose most of my mucus. Goddamnit.

If he’s confused enough it won’t even be his word against mine. I’ll talk the words right out of him, make it seem like everyone’s fault. I’ve always been good at stealing other people’s words, saying so much, so fast, that they can’t keep up.  And sometimes — if I’m lucky — making my words seem born from their own mouths. It’ll be easier now when the world’s skin is thinner, more malleable. This time of night is filled with altered states: drunk, tired, angry. Everyone in no man’s land has something to hide.

It’ll just be a little nudge, a friendly acknowledgment of our mutual existence.  We’ll swerve, dancing like overzealous lovers and settle into an embrace of slight crumples and webbed windows.

I change lanes, make it look like he’s going way too fast for my taste. After all, curvy mountain roads are dangerous in the dark. Once he’s lulled into a false sense of security, I play peekaboo with his blind spot just as he’s trying to pass me.

The moment we collide all I can see is an army of perfect spoons lined up like dominoes, a bent one at the front. It falls into the one behind, twisting its brother like a cheap magician, brother crashes into its neighbor, who does a drunken spin and tumbles down, on and on, until all that’s left are useless metal elbows snaking into the distance.

I have no illusions about goodness.

The smoking heap melting into the mountainside speaks only of necessity in the soft metallic whispers of an engine spinning down.

Spinning sounds like words: holy, holy, holy. I cough and leave my hands full of blood. Everything seems so funny late at night, I can’t stop laughing.

James Carter dreams in all the smallest spaces – a naked bed, a sink full of dirty dishwater, all places where the right names for things don’t matter so much anymore. His words appeared in The Palindrome: Reflections on the Everyday, and now they shall be cud for a herd of brilliant cows and their appeasers. Thanks for chewing. If you have ideas for stories or just want to talk, you can reach him at

Lead image“Aftermath” (via Flickr user Joel Bedford)