I don’t know if you’ve met my friend Melba. As in toast. If you have, you’ll know why this is funny.
She came to pick me up and we were going to…a spa, I think. Possibly some kind of hot springs resort. The spa was nestled in the mountains, and the snow had been falling, heavy and wet, for two days. The wind, blowing across the highway, froze the wet surface to glare ice, and Melba was driving way too fast. I kept asking her to slow down, but she’d say “it’s okay; I drive this road every day!”
I kept saying “I understand that, and it’d really make me feel a lot more comfortable if you’d just kinda” [flinch] [flinch] “slow the eff down.”
I saw the spa off to our right, in a valley that nestled between two peaks of the same mountain. “Oh!” She cried, giggling. “I missed the turn!”
I feared she’d haul the car to starboard, there on the narrow mountain highway, with a 200m drop off one side and a sheer cliff face on the other, with oncoming traffic just as insistent as she was that there was no better time or place to be going fast. I said, “uh…”
But contrary to what I *thought* she was going to do, she kept on the straightaway. “This is going to be pretty fun,” she said, glancing through the driving snow to some point in the distance I couldn’t make out.
“Yeah, if we ever get there. Alive.”
She laughed. “You’re so *silly*!”
Then, ahead of us, the highway split in two lanes. In the middle, a cavernous opening. A sign above it claimed it was a ‘breakaway lane’. The cavern was full of black, icy water.
If you’ve driven the Coquihalla or the Crowsnest Pass, you’ll know that the ‘breakaway lanes’ are usually uphill lanes next to the road on a downhill slope that end in deep gravel. The purpose for these lanes are to provide an emergency exit if a vehicle (usually a logging truck) get going too fast or if the brakes fail…the theory is that you drive into the breakaway lanes and your vehicle, if it doesn’t slow down by going uphill, it will slow down quite drastically when you hit either the pit of deep gravel at the end or the ramp of deep gravel at the end.
So this was not what one would expect to see, were one to see a breakaway lane. They are, for reasons you can well imagine, *never* in the centre of a divided highway. They are also never caves filled with water. Owing to the fact that when a fast thing hits wet stuff, the fast thing tends to a) lose traction immediately; and b) break apart (the surface tension of haitch-two-oh being what it is). Melba appeared to be heading directly for the ‘breakaway lane’, which to me looked an awful lot like an open mine entrance full of rancid stagnant putrescence.
“What the hell?” I hollered.
“Just watch!” She screamed back.
We hit the opening going far too fast, and I saw it sloped quickly downward. A Bad Sign. The car plunged into the water, and didn’t break apart, which surprised me. It did begin to sink, which also surprised me. I undid my seat belt and clambered back over the seat and began rolling down the window.
“What are you doing?” Melba asked me, water filling the footwells of the car.
“Uh,” I said, making sure I had enough of the window rolled down to get out when the water filled the rest of the cabin. I didn’t even want to think about how cold that water was. In fact, I didn’t need to think about it; it was already reaching past Melba’s thighs and lapping at my toes. It wicked any body heat away faster than I would have imagined anyway, my boots and socks providing no protection at all. It was what I would imagine the Arctic Ocean would feel like, an icy squall breaking all around and lumps of ice floating by. As soon as it touched me, I immediately felt only a flash of searing pain, then numbness.
As the brackish, oily water rose up over my legs, I glanced down at Melba, who was still strapped in to her driver’s seat. Unbelievably, she sat calmly in her seat. The water level was beginning to recede. The car was moving backward, up a ramp, pulled by a chain drive under the wheels. As the vehicle was returned to the highway, the water sluiced out, presumably the same way it had come in. Melba was giggling.
“That was pretty cool, hey?”
It was not cool. I didn’t like it at all. Not even a little. In fact, I disliked it so much, I retrieved my sopping purse and overnight bag from the back seat, and walked across the highway and down the approach toward the spa. Once there, I phoned for someone to pick me up at the spa, in three hours, after I’d had time to ‘take the waters’.
Most of all, I didn’t like what that black water said to me. It wanted to pull me deep inside it; to hold me under and pull my breath from me, and fill my lungs with its own glacial ichor. It wanted me with it in its arctic depths, and its very touch had left me with a growing darkness, reaching upwards to envelop me.