A Perfect Storm


A Perfect Storm by David Macfie

The car crash destroyed my life. I came to in hospital with a policeman sitting at my bedside.

“Son,” he said, with a grim expression, “I need you to tell me what happened.”

“It was my fault,” I admitted. “I wasn’t concentrating properly, and my attention strayed to something at the side of the road. When I looked back, my car had wandered to the right and the truck was right on top of me. I remember the frightful crash and the car being thrown into the air, then nothing until now.” He looked at me with serious concern.

“Then, I’m afraid I have some terrible news to tell you. Your car spun in the air and then landed on its roof on the verge. The roof was crushed inwards, and your wife and kids were all killed on impact. The car is a right-off. Fortunately, the truck was only superficially damaged, and its driver was unhurt, so we will not bring charges against you. It sounds like a moment of inattention rather than reckless driving. I’m truly sorry for your loss. Is there anything I can do for you?”

I was so stunned I couldn’t speak. I shook my head. My brain was completely numb. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I was so shocked I was barely functional. The policeman left and must have spoken to a doctor, because a few seconds later a nurse came in and gave me an injection. I fell asleep in minutes.

I woke up with a doctor reading my chart and a nurse changing my drip.

“Did the policeman tell me the truth?” I whispered, with fear rushing all through my body. “Were all my family killed?”

“Yes, he did, I’m sorry to say.”

“Then why am I not dead too? It was my fault. I should have been the first to die.”

“I’m told the car came down on its roof but not squarely. It was tipped a bit to the passenger side so that side was crushed much more than the driver’s side. The child chairs couldn’t take the stress and dislodged. The kids were thrown from side-to-side and killed by the final impact. Your wife was held up by her belt and took the full force. You were lucky and aren’t badly hurt. You have a mild concussion and a dislocated shoulder, but no broken bones. You’ll be able to go home in a few days.”

“Home to what?” I screamed in anguish. “I just killed my entire family. There is no home left.”

He instantly gave me an injection and I went to sleep again.

Over the next three months, despite much counseling, I slowly disintegrated. First, I took to drink. That led to dismissal from my job. I was too dysfunctional to come over well in interviews, so I ended up waiting tables and tending bar. That didn’t last long. My drinking killed it in just over a month. Then I lived on my savings, which depleted quickly. I sold my house and blew the proceeds on alcohol. I pawned everything of value and sold my furniture and household appliances but that was squandered also.

Quicker than a flash I started living on the streets and begging at intersections. Someone once explained to me the expression ‘A Perfect Storm” as meaning the worst possible situation. My life is now my own personal perfect storm. Nothing’s too degrading. I sleep under flyovers with newspapers and cardboard as blankets. I scrounge in dustbins. I shoplift in markets. I beg.

It’s rock-bottom in chunks.

I have nothing but I want nothing. My emotions are so damped down that I feel nothing. I take little notice of the world around me and shuffle through life like a mindless animal.

I expect today to be the same, a meaningless drag through a world with no color and no hope. I follow my usual route. I have no interest in exploration. I come to my usual intersection and straighten out my cardboard notice. It says ‘No money, no hope, no life. Please help.’ I wander between the cars, as usual. I get small change from time to time and the day stretches endlessly into inertia and boredom and lethargy.

Suddenly my attention is drawn to a vehicle that is stopped at the red light. It looks just like my car. I hurry to get closer. I’m acting instinctively and expect to see my wife and children again. As I close in, I see two guys one on the left and one on the right. They’ve got guns and they’re heading for my car. My mind focuses like a laser. I must save my family. I break into a run and my military and martial arts training comes back in a flash. Everything else disappears. There is only me and the two guys.

I see the guy on my side smash the window and shout something. By then I’m almost on top of him. He hasn’t heard me coming but his friend sees me and shouts a warning. The guy swivels towards me and lets off a panic shot. The bullet hits my shoulder, but I feel only the impact, nothing else. I reach him and grab his gun hand, twisting and forcing the gun out of his hand into mine. I jam the gun into his chest and pull the trigger then I line up the other guy who is taking aim at me over the bonnet of the car. He is too slow. I fire and he drops like a stone. I quickly check them both. There are no vital signs. I go to the driver’s window and find a woman in tears of shock. There are two small children in the back.

“Are you OK?” I ask. “The danger’s over. Please call the police.”

She stares at me like I’m from outer space, but she gets a hold of herself and uses her cell.

“The police are on the way. They said they’ll be here in five. Who are you and where did you come from?”

“I’m just a homeless guy. I was begging in the line of cars and saw the trouble coming. My mind played tricks on me. I thought you were my wife and kids. I only thought of saving you,” I almost babbled. My body was suffering the aftermath of high adrenalin and sudden violence. I was shaking like a leaf and bleeding like a stuck pig.

The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground with a paramedic doing something to my shoulder that hurt like hell. The woman from the car was hovering behind, flanked by two cops.

“You collapsed,” she said. “I didn’t realize you were wounded until you fell down. I’m sorry, I was shocked and then relieved and not really being observant. These policemen want a statement when you feel up to it. I’ve told them all I can.”

The paramedic finished what he was doing.

You’ll have to come to the hospital,” he grunted. “I’ve stopped the bleeding, but the bullet is still in there. It hit your shoulder joint and stuck. You’re bloody lucky it wasn’t a bigger bullet. One of those would have taken your arm off.”

“Thanks,” I said trying to get up. The first cop helped.

“Will you answer a few questions?” he asked, jumping right in.

“Sure, fire away.”

“What’s your name?”

“John Radcliffe.”

“Address?”

“No fixed abode.”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry. I’m a homeless person. I live on the streets.”

“Show me your ID or driver’s license.”

“Can’t. I threw them away when I sold my house. I only kept essentials.”

“What happened here?”

“I was begging in the line and saw the two guys approach the car. I was confused. I thought it was my car and rushed to save my wife and kids. As I approached one guy broke the car window and I reached him just as his partner shouted that I was coming. He shot me. Then I took his gun away from him and shot him in the chest. The other guy was about to shoot me, but he was too slow, and I fired first. That’s about it.”

“Pretty slick work for a homeless guy. You sure this wasn’t a hit?”

“It was exactly as I told you. But I served in the military for three years and studied martial arts for six more. I’m also an expert in small firearms. The situation was clear, and I knew how to counter it.”

“If I said you used undue force, what would you reply?”

“The first guy shot me, and I had no time to play with, because the second guy was about to. I’d say I used exactly the right amount of force. My only objective was to prevent harm to the lady and her children.”

“You said you’re homeless, but you mentioned your wife and children. Where do they live?”

“They don’t. They were killed in a car accident two years ago. It was my fault. The car was the same make and model as the lady’s vehicle.”

I heard a gasp and looked up. The woman was still there, and she had her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes.

“Will you be all right?” she asked, with real concern in her eyes.

“I think so,” I replied.  “I made a mistake and killed my family. I’ve been dead inside ever since. But today, I saved you. It doesn’t fully compensate, but I feel alive again. I’ll be fine.” I turned back to the cops.

“Are you done with me? Can I go?”

“One more thing,” said the cop who’d done all the talking. “Where will we find you, if we need to ask more questions?”

“Most days, I’ll be begging in this line. But I think it’s time for me to get my life back so don’t take too long.”

“Come on, buddy,” said the paramedic. Let’s get you to hospital.”

The next day, much to my surprise, the lady visited me in hospital. Her name is Norma Ballantyne. She’s a widow and she’s very nice. We get on famously and she’s promised to help me to get back on my feet.