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Juggernaut

Spooktacular Story 3

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The stormy weather finally came back. It opened up a vein that was wide and heavy and never stopped, the first rainfall since June. Everything was thick with water and greyness.

Simon would have ensured there was no dust on the Accord to be spotted by rain, thought Maryam. Simon would have tinkered with everything under the hood in anticipation of winter. He would have carved pumpkins, taken hot drinks with her, talked to her, tucked the kids in.

Maybe not. Maryam knew she needed to bank more reality checks.

She was driving south on the Sea to Sky Highway with the children; the rising wind was laced with rain that bound itself to the droughty ground. She was dropping the kids off at Simon's new condo in Yaletown. It was the home he now shared with Anne, Anne who came out of nowhere but had apparently been everywhere.

Michael would miss nursery school for one day. He and 20-month-old Shula were having their first overnight visit with their father since the Shattering. Maryam was trying to embrace the new normal; she knew she was certainly better off without a liar and a cheat. Simon hadn't seen the children for weeks; he would bring them back. And then what?  

Maryam wasn't managing everything yet. The tension and grief was like a medicine ball sitting in her solar plexus. She vomited at work, and Clive, the ginger-dreadlocked Londoner who managed deliveries, saw her slam the bathroom door shut and heard the retching.

"Are you all right?" he asked her afterwards. Maryam liked the kid, as she saw the friendly 20-year-old. She briefly explained the pending visit to Simon's as they walked to his truck in the lot. She was cut short by something new that was stuck on the truck's grill.

"Pooh Bear!" she said with horror.

Clive had tied a toddler-sized Winnie-the-Pooh, Disney version, on the grill of his cab. It looked grotesque. It was bigger than Shula. He grinned, Pooh Bear grinned wider. It wore a red t-shirt that said Pooh. Maryam thought the t-shirt clashed with Clive's hair.

 "Bagged him in the charity shop. I thought it would be wicked to put him on the juggernaut," he said

"Juggernaut" was Clive's name for his delivery truck. He told Maryam that juggernaut was what the British called large lorries, and "lorry" was another word they used for truck.

In this case, Clive used "juggernaut" ironically because it was neither a very large lorry nor a very big truck. Clive could never get everything in it that needed moving. Some days it was ridiculously, and dangerously crammed. The owner promised more investment, a bigger juggernaut, but so far there was no tangible commitment.

"Just make sure my son never sees that stuffie on the grill or I'll kick you in the juggernauts," Maryam told Clive.

He laughed and told her she was "all right" and Maryam believed he meant it. She absorbed the first feelings of old normal she had felt in a while.

"Don't worry, I'm very protective of little kids," he said.  He went off on his rounds. His warmth cocooned Maryam for an hour or two.

But by the time she drove south to Vancouver early the next day, Maryam was exhausted and stressed once more. The adrenalin pumping through her had no healthy outlet and pooled as prickles on the backs of her hands, on the tops of her feet, across her shoulders, her neck, her gut.

And they were late; dropping-off time for the children in Yaletown had already passed as they were winging through Squamish. The cellphone rang and was ignored.

Michael and Shula were fractious and loud, frustrated with themselves and their distracted mother. It couldn't have been a worse start to the new normal. Conditions were vile; Maryam got the car through a terrifying moment of near-hydroplaning at the Cheakamus Canyon and had slowed down, elsewhere construction work had left lanes closed for the weekend. By Murrin Park, south of Squamish, Maryam's speedometer matched her heart rate and she was back to 20 above the speed limit.

There were no other cars. Flying past the park and the bottleneck, Maryam realized she had not seen another vehicle for a while. She pressed on, in dim morning light under clouds that flowed into each other like congealed plastic shopping bags.

Approaching Britannia Beach after almost an hour on the road, both kids were screaming. Aaaah-Aaaaah-Aaaaaah! They were at sea level and Maryam put her foot down, zooming through the yellow traffic lights. She could see Howe Sound, white-capped and churning, in peripheral glances to her right. It could easily stand in for the crossing into hell, especially with the two little hellhounds baying behind her. 

She pressed on, the rain doing the opposite of washing her clean. It was cold but Maryam felt feverish. She overthought the situation all the way down the highway. Simon's and Anne's kisses and worse, Michael and Shula's shrieks, no toilet bowl to bend over, interminable years.

Just as she was trying to cheer herself up by picturing herself as an anime freak-out in one of Michael's Pokémon cartoons, she saw flashing headlights coming up the straight, long hill at Furry Creek and re-engaged with the road. They were being warned.

A single vehicle was straining north up the hill; it moved rapidly with the lights blazing on and off in a rapid rat-tat-tat and Maryam braked to control her descent. Closer and closer. The truck, it was a truck, took the incline at speed. So quickly the juggernaut was upon them, it was the juggernaut, and before its full image had sunk in, it was in the review mirror and gone.  Small world.

Maryam saw the soddened bear as the juggernaut whipped past. Pooh was a sorry, droopy sight in the rain but he was still smiling, she thought she caught that. It's not like he could be doing anything else but he was still grotesque, a hunting trophy, the smiling corpse of a familiar beloved friend.

She was sure she saw the hint of red dreadlocked hair before the juggernaut was gone, and she shivered. She realized the children had fallen silent, too. Clive was very early for a Saturday; his deliveries to the city were usually later. But it was a comfort to know his hands made the flashing lights because she trusted him. Something was up ahead. She couldn't see any problems from her vantage point, apart from another vehicle in the distance that she hadn't noticed before heading south.

"Don't worry, I'm very protective of little kids," Clive had told her.

Maryam slowed down further. He would do this for anyone on the road, he couldn't know it was her Accord, everyone has an Accord. Maryam felt the warmth again, gratitude for a general kindness in a time of need and she buried her tears for later.

On the approach to Porteau Bluffs, the most unstable rock face along the entire route, four lanes turn quickly to two; around the blind bend a little further ahead the rail track was squeezed in tight between the ocean, the rock and the highway. It had once been suggested to build a tunnel there but the government said it was too expensive. A geologist friend told Maryam that he always pushed his gas pedal to the floor to get him through the bluffs that much quicker, but on the approach this time Maryam was much slower, heeding the juggernaut.

Grooves cut into the double yellow median lines in the road had over filled with rainwater and reflected Maryam's world, a clipped vision that ran like an old film, frame-by-frame, hypnotic. Trees and rock and feathered clouds and sky. It was moody and beautiful, she thought, forgetting Simon and his misappropriated kisses at last. It was in those watery frames that she first saw the flash as she rounded the corner into the bluffs and she hit her brakes even before she knew she must.

With no traffic behind her and plenty of space, she could slow and stop and see the fire in plenty of time. The end of a southbound freight train had... had somehow derailed onto the highway, crushing a vehicle and hitting the wall.

It had just happened, moments before. No one else was there yet. Maryam immediately remembered the vehicle she'd seen ahead of her in the distance, pulled off the road as best she could, put on her flashers and got out. A small explosion from the wreck made her flinch. She heard her cellphone ring as she closed the car door. She ignored it and tried to get as close as she could.

There was fire and rock and rain and chaos. Whoever was driving the engine, if they weren't injured, would have a mile to run back to see what had just happened.

The vehicle was mangled within the final car of the train. The two had merged into misshapen, monstrous shrapnel. There were pieces of both everywhere.

And then Maryam saw the driver of what was once a juggernaut. The red dreadlocks were dulled, wet. With rain, with...

Before she could even form her questions, there was a little voice beside her forming his. Michael had climbed out of his seat and followed her from their car.

"Who tied Winnie-the-Pooh on that truck? The fire is hurting him!" Michael shouted. He began to cry.

Maryam grabbed her son and pulled him to her so he couldn't see, but her own eyes and screams pointed firmly in the juggernaut's direction.