I aim my phone, recording chaos. My classmates can’t beat this, several hundred miles away. An ambulance, a snow-covered hill, a sea of Ponderosa pines, spectators and bright red and blue sleds.
Ambulance lights flicker in the deepening dusk, a whirling red rhythm. A stretcher emerges.
I imagine what transpired. Someone miscalculated their descent. Slammed into a rock, perhaps.
Time for some stitches.
Classmates call me freak. Loser. Talk about chaos and destruction, but never let me join in. They talk gleefully of train crash videos and car crashes on YouTube. Laugh like hyenas, something disturbing and weirdly wonderful. They dissect the most destructive moments, carnage, flipped buses, so much.
They can’t beat this.
If only I could get closer. I could get better footage, post this on YouTube, get likes. The stretcher moves toward an unseen face in the crowd.
But the noise seems muffled. Not a sob, a word, nothing.
I’m too far away, out in the parking lot.
To be frank, I can imagine classmates praising me for having balls, admitting they never saw this side of me. They’d give me a temporary coolness pass, albeit with some condescension.
Maybe the insults would deflate a little, if nothing else.
Maybe they’d post a couple likes. Dissect the darkest moments of the footage in the comments section. Praise my ability to capture chaos.
The stretcher stops. I can’t tell who’s being loaded onto it. Just the contours of the stretcher itself, long. Coffin-like, even.
Maybe this all was sheer accident.
Maybe someone dared him or her to go at supreme speed. Maybe this wasn’t the first time he or she got dared.
He. Somehow, I imagine it a boy. Perhaps someone younger than me. And I’m sixteen.
Maybe he couldn’t fight the weight of taunts, words burrowing day by day. Maybe playing chicken with nature offered possibility and he grabbed it without thought. Maybe he saw a friend, a new life, something at the bottom of that hill.
Freak and loser shrink a little in the ambulance’s flickering lights. At least you can’t go lower. You’re the guy who reads Tolstoy and still uses phrases like swell. You’re not the one trying to post inane YouTube videos. You wear yourself on your sleeve and don’t try to stuff it with things that never fit.
I lower the phone. Stare at the crowds, the bright-colored sleds, the jackets that conceal faces.
There’s a friend, a parent, someone in that crowd, waiting, waiting for good news, a word of comfort, some certainty. Waiting to hear that the injured will make a full recovery.
And I’m trying to capture the chaos. I’m waiting for something darker. Another ambulance? A sea of tears? Another freak accident, perhaps?
The stretcher begins to move. The crowds follow.
At least there’s only one ambulance. That’s hope. If it were worse, there’d be two or three. So I think.
I could go and offer to help. Offer to be a friend. Friend, what a lonely, lonely word.
But they’ve probably seen me, standing out on the periphery. Perhaps they’re calling me a freak too.
This time, I couldn’t argue.
I stare at the hill. How sharp it really seems in the sunset with the shadows. So many angles, really.
And I watch the spectators, all still hunched, following the stretcher. Sure, some are truly concerned. But now, I can only imagine how many are gathered to watch the chaos. Perhaps they’re capturing all this, not with their phones, but with their minds. They’re taking away pieces of the scene, the flickering lights, the tears, the anguish, and the stretchers. They’re taking away these pieces and they’ll recreate them over dinner tables and with friends. Every detail will be replayed for full effect, the words sliding with ease.
Meanwhile, an injured youth will lie in a hospital bed, waiting.
I slide the phone into my pocket, feel its weight. Stare again at the hill. What a steep incline.
It’s easy to go downhill. Very easy.