dark and stormy night

Dark Memories

This story has been waiting a long time to be written. Lurking, wanting it’s turn.

It’s a tragic and even macabre tale. Not one I like to readily recall. The memories have slowly started to fade, but certain smells will bringing them rushing back, vivid and raw.

Most horror stories start with “It was a dark and stormy night…”

But it wasn’t dark or stormy or night. Completely the opposite. It was a cool, crisp, early morning on March 10, 2006. The skies were clear, but it was cold enough you could see the exhaust coming from the vehicles.

A morning of pure ordinariness. Except, over three years later, I can tell you the jacket I was wearing that day. It was a black and white ski jacket. It was warm. I liked the pockets designed into it because it was handy for the equipment I needed to carry for my job. My job… supervisor at a diesel locomotive facility. That’s where I was headed that morning. It was early. Maybe 5 or 6am? I don’t remember the exact time. But it would have been very early.

I drove the back roads, a secondary highway, then made the turn to get onto the main highway that would take me all the way into the city, to work. The turn off to get onto the main highway was dangerous. You had to cross southbound traffic and then merge into the northbound lanes. There were no lights or anything to help with this. You just had to pay attention and time it right.

But that morning someone wasn’t paying attention. Or maybe he was. I don’t know. All I know is I pulled up to the turn to the sound of shredding metal, an explosion, fire. I crossed and parked on the meridian. A woman was standing on the side of the road, already on the phone with emergency services. I pulled her back as she almost stepped into oncoming traffic in her distress. She kept repeating “I saw it. I saw it happen. Why? Why didn’t he stop?”. I helped her into her truck and told her to stay there and wait until the police got there.

I saw them pulling someone out of the truck. There was fire. So much fire. The truck was engulfed in flames where it had collided with the semi trailer and both had gone into the ditch. From my work with diesel locomotives I knew I was smelling burning diesel fuel. And something else. Grass? Burning grass? I found out later the semi was filled with hay. And the sickly sweet smell of the burning hay was what I was smelling.

I ran to the man they had pulled out of the truck. Young. Early 20’s I guessed. The men had stopped, risked their own lives, to pull this man out of his burning vehicle. They were screaming for help. As I neared they turned to me with a plea “Do you know CPR? He’s not breathing?”

Years of first-aid training never prepares you for this moment. I felt like I had been punched. Then felt the rush of adrenaline. I knelt down beside him. I could smell his cologne. It was the same cologne my brother wore. Mingled with the smell of singed hair and flesh. And blood. Lots of blood. I checked for vitals. Not breathing. No heartbeat. I tasked one of the men crouched around me with starting chest compressions. As I counted for him I watched another group of men frantically working to free the driver of the semi.

“One and two and three and four and one”

“…..He’s alive and awake….his legs are pinned…. “

“and one and two and three and four and two”

“….crowbar… someone get a fire extingiusher… “

“and one and two and three and four and fifteen”

I leaned down to to breathe. Dammit. Gurgling meant it had gone into the stomach. Readjusted his head and tried again. I felt the resistance as I forced air into his lungs.

“One and two and three and four and one”

“…goddammit where are the fucking police….”

“One and two and three and four and two”

“….fuck, run! Run! It’s going to blow….”

“One and two and three…”

and explosion as I watched in horror as the cab of the semi exploded in flames. The men who had been trying to free the trapped driver stood silent and shocked hands on their heads, covering their faces. The tears making tracks on their soot stained faces.

I swallowed and swallowed again willing myself not to be sick, blocking the smell of burning, pushing the scene out of my mind and turned back to the man laying in front of me.

“We have to move him. We’re too close to that truck. If the whole thing goes up, we’re going to be right in the path”

The men worked together to pick up and move the truck driver further down the ditch.

I positioned his head. Breathed. Gurgling. Repositioned. Breathed. More gurgling. Fuck! Fought back tears and panic. Repositioned again. Breathed. Sweet resistance. More counting. More breathing. More counting. Sirens. More sirens. Ambulance. Police. Fire.

A paramedic came over. She told us to stop. Checked for a pulse. Told us there was nothing more we could do. His internal injuries would be to great. Someone covered him with a yellow tarp. The took us into the ambulance to decompress and warm up.
I looked down at my hands. I was covered in blood. Smears of it on my jacket. More on my face where I had given him CPR.I would later go home and wash the jacket over and over and over.  Even though there were no more blood stains on it after the first wash, I could never bring myself to wear it again and threw it out.

The paramedic lectured me about doing CPR without a barrier. Yes. I knew the risks. Yes. I did it anyways. We were told next time not to bother. When it’s an accident like that, nothing can be done. They don’t even bother trying. But I knew that I couldn’t have stood by and done nothing.

Years earlier my brother, the one who wore the same cologne as the man who was now laying covered by a yellow tarp, had been in a horrible accident. He was mangled and not breathing. Someone gave him CPR. Someone ignored the blood covering his face and did what they felt needed to be done. Because they took that risk, my brother is still here.

It’s been three and a half years. I could still draw you a picture of the man who died in front of me. A whiff of cologne from a passing stranger will flash his face with startling clarity to the front of my mind, as if I was looking at a photo of that day.

This is not my story, though. This is about two men, who’s names I don’t know, who died in a ditch on a cold March morning. It’s about their families.  Their loss.  If that was my brother, son, father, I would want to know that, even though they died, someone at least tried to help them, instead of standing by and saying ‘not my problem’.   I would want to know that people put aside their self absorbed worlds for 5 minutes and tried to make a difference.  Because, really,  the thought of someone dying, alone, while people stood by and watched, is the worst horror story I can imagine.


I’ve tried looking for the names of the men or a news write up of the crash. I haven’t been able to. Perhaps it was because it was a turn that was the site of many fatalities. Perhaps too much time has passed. All I could find is a small note on an article about the overpass that was built a year later at the site of the accident.

March 10, 2006
A pickup truck travelling east from Highway 7 to Highway 547 crosses into the path of a semi-trailer in the northbound lanes of Highway 2, just north of Aldersyde. Both drivers are killed in the fiery crash.

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