Jack sat in the cab of his semi holding his breath. Out his windscreen he could see the whitewater of the river that lay five hundred feet below. The truck’s hitch groaned between the stress of the overhanging cab and the trailer still on the bridge. Jack closed his eyes and prayed God would hold his truck long enough to get free. I never saw the ice. Twenty years of trucking, I should know better. There was no use to scold himself now.
From somewhere outside an emergency worker hollered. “Hey, Jack! It’s Jim, again. We have the crane in the wrong spot. She’ll turn over if we try to hook up the cab to it. We got a tow truck connected to the trailer, so that should stop you from slipping any further down. How are you hanging in there?”
Interesting choice of words. “I’m okay!” Jack felt the truck cab vibrate beneath him. Stay still Jack.
“Try and stay still in there, Jack. Once we relocate the crane we’ll hook up the cab so we can get some rescue workers to you and get you back on solid ground. I’ll let you know when we’re ready.”
Jack thought how beautiful the view would be if there wasn’t a chance he was going to pancake into the valley below. He noticed a pair of hikers midway down the gorge. They were sitting on an outcropping of granite looking up at his truck. Jack wondered if they were pulling for his rescue or demise. His cell phone began to ring from its cradle on the dash. Jack’s home popped up on caller-id. Should he answer it? What would he say to his wife? The phone quit ringing.
Outside his window Jack heard the crane’s engine crank up and several people yelling directions to its driver. This is not how I thought my day was going to go. The thought frightened him. Who wakes up the day of their death and knows they will die that day? Everything had been so normal. He woke up at the truck stop at 4:30 am. By 5 am he was on the road with his thermos full of go-go juice. Five minutes before he reached the bridge he was an hour ahead of schedule.
He noticed the standing water from the rain the day before. He knew the temperatures had dipped below freezing during the night, but the asphalt looked dry for miles. When he saw the large wet spot under the overhanging trees he had assumed the road had warmed even though the sun had only been up for about an hour.
Jack had been in a wreck before. The world slowing around him was not a surprise, but he was sure his demise was at hand when he felt the cab breaking through the bridge’s barrier. All he saw was air in front of him, and the truck’s momentum wedged him against the remains of the guard rail.
His cab shook. Jack instinctively grabbed the steering wheel and pushed the clutch and brakes. Short breaths shot from between his lips.
Jim’s voice emanated from the bridge. “Sorry about that, Jack! We should have warned you. We hooked up the rear of the cab. We can’t pull her back though; the bridge and truck are jammed. We’re going to extend out the crane and try to strap her up and give it a little lift. The guys are lowering next to you now. You’re gonna hear some rattling. Don’t worry, it’s normal.”
Normal!? How is any of this normal? True to Jim’s word Jack could hear the men hooking up something to the frame of the truck. He was unable to tell where they were until one appeared below his door.
“Hang in there, Jack. We will have you out of there soon.”
Jack slowly turned his head and spoke. “I’m here all day. Please, take you time. I don’t want anything breaking loose.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re going buy us breakfast when we’re done.”
The man looked up the strap. “All set, pull me up!” A similar message came from the other side of the truck.
Jim’s voice quickly followed suit. “Jack! This may be a little exciting from where you are sitting. We are going to lift the cab a bit to relieve the pressure between the truck and the bridge. Once it’s stable we’ll get the fire department boys to you with a ladder. I hope you aren’t afraid of heights. If you are, just don’t look down.”
Jack chuckled. Look down, what did Jim think he was doing now? An engine began to roar on the bridge behind him. The truck’s cab began to groan and shudder. Jack closed his eyes and prayed the nightmare would end soon. He could feel the front of the truck lift slightly, and the rear screeched and scraped against the reinforced concrete. A loud pop and a jerk caused Jack to pop his eyes open. The cab’s rear started to dip and he could feel the truck slowly move down. Several men yelled above the din of the crane engines.
Everything went silent. Jack wasn’t sure what was happening. It felt like he was back where he started, but the rear sat lower than before.
“Hey Jack! It’s Jim. We hit a slight problem. The trailer hitch snapped, and the truck’s rear slid down. Now, don’t worry, we have you in a good spot. You aren’t going anywhere, but to be safe we want to reduce anymore weight. That means you get to go on a carnival ride.”
“What kind of ride are we talking about? I’m not too keen on bungee cords.”
Jim laughed. “No, but you may find this a little exciting. We’re going to extend a fire truck ladder to you. The guys are going to throw you a harness. We want you to put that on just like they tell you. Then you’re going to step out of the cab.”
“You mean out of my cab and on to the ladder?”
“Well, here’s the exciting part. You are actually just stepping out of your cab. We don’t want to risk you falling off the ladder. So, you’re gonna get to hang there while the firemen retract the ladder. You’ll be on firm ground in no time.”
“Is there a second choice?”
“I’m afraid not, Jack. These guys know their job. Just follow their instructions.”
Jack could hear a diesel engine crank up and then the whine of a smaller motor. In a couple of minutes, a fireman was at his window. “Hey, Jack. You can call me Bart. I’m here to relocate you to better accommodations.”
Jack did not want small talk. He would do plenty of that after he escaped his bad dream. He followed Bart’s instructions to the letter. The harness was very constricting, but that reassured Jim.
Bart wrapped his arm around the ladder. “Okay, Jack. This is the easy part. You are going to put your seatbelt back on and open the door. I’ll hook you up and we will both get back to the solid bridge behind me. Jack followed Bart’s instruction to the letter. At Bart’s direction he unbuckled.
“Okay, Jack. It’s time to say goodbye to your bird nest. Step off on three. One, two, three.”
Jack stepped off and he felt the harness catch him. Then a sickening loud pop of the hook breaking away filled Jack’s ears. The earth rushed quickly up. Just before Jack hit the shallow river he sat up and sucked in a big gulp of air.
His breaths were long and labored, and he looked around. Jack was in the bed of his truck. He looked out the window and saw the familiar lights of the truck stop. It really was a nightmare. Jack wiped the sweat from his brow. He stretched and checked the time. His watch showed 4:30 am. With any luck he might be able to beat his schedule by an hour. He pulled on some clothes, and headed over to grab some coffee before he hit the road.