PROLOGUE: THE ANGEL AND THE MAMMOTH
THE ANGEL AND THE MAMMOTH
Dom was unprepared for the mammoth in the road. He was heading south on 26 out of Errol, doing sixty-five miles an hour, heading for the lumber mill in Bethel. The thirty-nine tons of log and trailer were doing sixty-five behind him. The mammoth was doing zero.
Dom left the logging camp north of Rangeley, Maine, shortly after daybreak. It was now close to 11 A.M. and he would easily make the mill by noon. October sun broke through low clouds, setting the maple hills aflame. The road twisted and turned but Dom had driven it a hundred times and knew it like the back of his hand. He was going fast, nothing the other truckers didn’t do. It was a long haul with no traffic. He’d just reached the spruce barrens below Upton, a desolate stretch of woods and water heading into Grafton Notch State Park. He had the road all to himself.
Until the mammoth.
Dom came around the bend. The radio was blasting ’Wet Tickle.’ He had one hand on the steering wheel, the other hoisting his [email protected] coffee mug to his lips. A big brown something was standing on the solid yellow line not more than a football field in front of him. It was huge! A boulder the size of a cabin where there shouldn’t be a cabin. Not a boulder, not a cabin! Not a moose! An elephant! A goddam elephant in the middle of the road and— and a little person sitting on its back! A kid riding an elephant! There was no time to think. Dom’s Timberlands hit the brakes. The truck kept going, the Timberlands kept going, Dom kept going, and the elephant in the road grew huger fast. Dom jammed down the pedal. The brake pads smoked. The cab began to buck. Thirty-nine tons of log and trailer kept plowing forward. They had momentum and weren’t willing to brake. Maybe he should just hit the thing head on and pray for the best. It was an elephant, for God’s sake, with a kid on its back, and no way there could be a kid riding an elephant in the middle of Route 26 south at 11 A.M. on an October Wednesday morning. It was the sunlight blocked by trees. It was a shadow thrown by frost heaves doing funny things. But there were no frost heaves big as cabins, and it was an elephant, and Dom was moving too fast to pray. The coffee mug went airborne. He turned the wheel a little too violently. ‘Wet Tickle’ was drowned out by the screech of tires. So was his scream. The kid spread his wings. The elephant swept sideways in the windshield. Dom felt the trailer jack-knife behind. The cab turned one-hundred-eighty degrees. Forty-five speeding pine logs strained against the braces. The topmost broke loose and flew. The trailer’s tires skated on the pavement. Then the cab’s on the passenger side. Dom’s world turned over in a vague, slow motion blur. A row of trees came at him. Logs flew overhead like matchsticks. His head hit the cab roof. Everything kept moving, trees, truck, logs, Dom. Then, after a while, everything stopped moving. Dom closed his eyes.
Sometime later he opened them because an angel was yanking at the cab door. The angel was pounding at the window. The angel had no shirt on. His wings spread wide behind him and he flapped and tugged and shouted. The wings were brown, which was strange for an angel. He was hardly bigger than a small boy, wearing nothing but red gym shorts. He rose in the air, hollering, then came back down and stamped his bare feet on the door. Dom shouted, “No! No! Go away!” He wasn’t ready to die. He closed his eyes again.
Later there were sirens and moving bodies and shouting.
Later still there was white and light and moving bodies and hushed voices.
Dom’s eyes kept opening, squinting, closing.
Someone said, “He’s waking up.”
Another someone, male: “Miracle he’s still alive.”
Female: “Tell the cops he’s coming to.”
He was on his back. White curtains around him. A vague floral print tinted green. Above, white faces in masks. White masks. Two. White ceiling above and white, fluorescent light. Hospital. He was alive and he was in a hospital.
“Don’t try to move. We’ve got you stabilized.”
“There— there was an elephant.”
“Yes. You’re good. You’re alive and you’re good. Can you tell me your name?”
“Dom. Dominic DiLorenzo.”
“What day of the week is it?”
“Uh… I dunno. Wednesday?”
“Where am I?”
“There really was an elephant.”
“Try to rest. We’re taking you to X-ray shortly.”
“An elephant on 26.”
“You saw it?”
“No. There are pictures. A woolly mammoth, someone said.”
The bright light hurt too much. He closed his eyes. He ached all over. He said, “A woolly mammoth. Huh. That’s creepy. And an angel. He was wearing red gym shorts.”
Male voice: “The angel or the mammoth?
Female, softly: “Near death experience.”
The male: “Humor him.”