I don’t know what I was thinking, agreeing to meet Boomer and Pandora at 5:30 in the morning. Not only was it much too early to be out of my nice warm bed but it was much too cold to be wandering around on the summit. Summer in the mountains is not like summer in the valley, where the nighttime temperatures rival the daytime ones.
Most summer days see a forty-degree swing between the high temperature and the low. If I had to guess, I’d say the current temperature was hovering around forty degrees. I snuggled into my sweatshirt and stifled a yawn. I really should have thought to bring a thermos of coffee with me rather than just a travel mug. The last twenty-four hours had been really hectic. Not only had Zak arrived with Scooter yesterday afternoon, creating quite a bit of chaos, but I’d had my big double date with Ellie as well. I took a long sip of my coffee and waited for Pandora to arrive.
It was 5:35 and she’d yet to make an appearance. “Looks like we’re all dressed up for a party, but the guest of honor is a no-show,” Levi commented as he walked up behind me, sipping from his own travel mug filled with liquid adrenaline. “I’m sure she’ll be here.” Actually, I wasn’t, but I didn’t want to admit quite yet that I’d dragged Levi out so early for nothing. “If she isn’t here in five minutes, she forfeits and we win,” a large man with a deep voice who I recognized as Boomer’s friend Masher declared.
I was preparing to call it a forfeit when Pandora’s street car, which was the exact same light pink shade as her derby car, rolled up. Talk about making an entrance. Pandora hadn’t even gotten out of the car. She’d come prepared to race dressed in her signature pink racing suit and pink helmet and pulled right up to the starting line. Boomer pulled on his helmet and jumped into his tricked-out Mustang. Jugs, Boomer, Zelda, and I were instructed to make our way down to the finish line, while the other representatives from both the men’s and women’s groups stayed at the starting line with Levi to ensure a fair start. I have to admit that my pulse was racing with anticipation at the race that would be concluded within seconds. There was something about the smell of exhaust and the roar of the engines that sent my nerve endings into hyperdrive.
The whole exciting, terrifying, tragic event took less time than it would take me to retell the story. The cars shot from the starting point, bumper to bumper until Pandora pulled away at the last second. The crowd roared with cheers of victory until the moment we realized that Pandora hadn’t stopped after crossing the finish line but had continued on toward the sharp curve and the rocky cliff that plummeted a quarter mile to the valley below. I held my breath as Pandora skidded into the curve, appearing to make the adjustment needed to make the turn at the last minute. As she slid around the bend, it looked like she had all but stopped.
I had just released my breath when I heard the sound of an explosion after the car plunged over the side and burst into flames upon impact with the valley floor. “Oh my God,” I screamed as I ran toward the place where the car had knocked out the barrier. I can’t say I remember exactly what happened after that. Flames shot into the air as everyone screamed and cried while Levi, Boomer, and a couple of his guys, tried to make their way down the steep embankment. I vaguely remember calling 911. The sound of sirens and the image of flashing lights as rescue workers arrived at the scene still resides in a corner of my mind. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smell of fuel as the fire department showed up to try to contain the blaze.
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