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The Fifth Fedora: An Excerpt of "Lucky Charms" by Fred Williams

The Fifth Fedora: Weird Noir and Stranger Tales in Honor of Stephen T. Vessels is now published by Borda Books and Wilder Utopia, and is available on Amazon or in our bookstore. "Lucky Charms" is a wonderful part this collection of tales told in Stephen's honor. The following, for your enjoyment, is an excerpt of Fred Williams's story.

Brake lights flickered.

I hated traffic.

I love some 80s R&B on the radio, but not for the morning commute. I turned the volume down to avoid my eyes drooping. Signal lights ahead advised me to change to the left lane. My first attempt to get over was thwarted by a truck fresh off the dealer’s lot. No gap. Damn it! Let me in. Brake lights from the car ahead flashed in my face. Whew! Hard steer to the left and now I was in the passing lane. Slammed brakes whistled as I slowed to a halt. I heard a long angry beep after I cut off another truck behind me. The driver of the dual-axle behemoth gifted me two birds in protest. Sorry! What is the holdup? We crept along at a snail’s pace until I saw something that caused me to jump out of my car, into the roadway. I left the car running, door open.

The truck driver that saluted me earlier got out and ran behind me. Ahead of us, a once continuous guardrail was broken by the taillights of a car teetering over the edge.

“Is anyone inside?” The man behind me panted.

“Yes. We gotta get them out,” I yelled.

“We can chain the car—”

The car lifted slightly, ready to fall over the edge, killing his idea. Without a thought, we grabbed the bumper and pushed down, leverage resetting it. A third person joined us. Keep pressure on the bumper. Rapid breaths. 73 Cordoba. Classic car. Hissing engine. Screaming kid. Five, six years old. Mom pressed against the steering wheel, unconscious.

“They just keep driving past. No one gives a fuck around here.”

“We do. We have to get them,” I replied.

“Anyone call 9-1-1?” the new helper asked.

“I’m sure someone called the police.”

“By the time they get here, the accident scene is down there.” He pointed.

“Okay. I’ll get them,” I said. A fourth person hopped out of his car to a chorus of horns as commuters were now blocked in the slow lane.

“Hey, you gotta move your car! Emergency services will need to get through,” the driver who was behind me screamed at the man. I let go and walked carefully between the broken guard rail and the car. Pebbles bounced down onto the rusty iron rails of the tracks below. Their landing echoed back fear of how the wrecked car would sound as it hit—with two people trapped inside. Mom still passed out, and screaming kid in the back. Sirens.

“Keep the car down!” I yelled. “I’m opening the door.”

The group effort sank the rear as I grabbed the guardrail of the overpass with one hand and leaned out toward the chrome handle. Fingertips danced with the elusive chrome latch. Finally, with a good grip, I pulled. Hand snatched back as the door rocked open hard enough to slide the car again, followed by some oh shits chanted in unison. The jolt of the swinging door also caused the driver to awaken, face pressed against the steering wheel. A bloody mouth with runny tears slowly turned to me.

“My boy. Please.”

“Ma’am can you get him?”

“I think so.” She sat up and unfastened her seat belt. One arm, then two, wrestled out of my eyesight as the car wobbled. She dragged the frightened boy to her lap and kissed his forehead. I grabbed the frame of the b-pillar in the middle of the car to catch it sliding forward again. Metal painfully tunneled into the grooves of my bent fingers. I’m losing my grip. I leaned back to stop the slide and noticed a small crowd forming.

“Guys it’s sliding. Help me!”

“Look, I gotta help. I’ll call 9-1-1,” someone yelled.

That sounds like me. The car slid a few inches forward.

“Ma’am please, quickly! Give me your hand.”

“We were just talking about school,” she said out of the blue. “Big spelling test today. He’s my Captain Crunch and I’m his Frankenberry.”

Why is she telling me this?

She kissed his forehead again. A tingling sensation raced down my back and through my extended arm to her.

A quick glance over my shoulder revealed a man with a hat had joined the fracas.

“Ma’am, please.”

Frankenberry shook her head and reached over in one strong heave as the car gave way. The back end sloped high enough to lift a few of the rescuers off their feet, then it slid forward. In one motion, she raised him close enough for me to grab her son’s wrist with my free arm, stretching me like taffy over the edge. I let go of the car to grab her wrist as she fell out of the driver’s seat. The last tire bounced over the disfigured paved ledge, exposing rebar as I leaned over the rail, holding a crying boy in one arm and his shrieking mom in the other. The impact collapsed the hood into the front of the cabin as the car fell over on its roof. A piece of the damaged guard rail pierced me in the stomach. The kid screamed as his mom’s bloody hand slid in my sweaty grasp.

“Help me!” I yelled.

“Shit.” My adversary on the road dug his hand in a fistful of my shirt and pulled until I heard the fabric rip.

“Not me. Take the kid!”

He took a swipe for Captain Crunch’s free hand, purchasing a few pint-sized fingertips and a palm full of wind.

“I’m losing her. Hurry!” The sharp edge of the rail was burying deeper in my gut. The sting was unbearable, but I managed to swing the boy toward the man next to me.

A force overcame my grasp of the boy and swept him away.

“Got him!”

I reached to pull Frankenberry up, but it was too late. She slipped from my grasp.

She glanced above me, no eye contact. Her mouth moved before she descended quickly with her outstretched hand, mumbled utterings I couldn’t decipher. Her thin arms flailing, wind billowing through a blood-stained shirt, my eyes fixated on her. Just as I saw her fall, her released weight threw me back into the driver I was tempted to fight earlier, holding the terrified boy. Amidst a chorus of car horns and mortified onlookers, I screamed at the approaching cop. What took so long? What took so fucking long? Saliva from my shouting speckled the officer’s arm, who restrained me in a compassionate hug. Pointing to the edge with her blood on my hands, I strained to peer over, horrified by the trail of blood flowing from the back of her head....

***To read the rest of "Lucky Charms," consult The Fifth Fedora on Amazon or in our bookstore.***

Fred Williams brings readers a new storytelling experience guiding them down a twisted rabbit hole where moral ambiguity abounds. Williams was featured in the 2019 Santa Barbara Literary Journal, Stardust, and had one of his tales published in Max Talley’s Delirium Corridor. He also released his first novel, Scramble: The Perfect Recipe of Math, Murder, and Revenge in 2020 to critical acclaim.

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