Today, for my Wesleyan University course in Setting & Description via Coursera.org, I was asked to produce a sub-700 word slow-motion scene. I was instructed not to include any internal monologue (which makes this a particularly good assignment for me) and not to contextualize the few seconds I’m describing.
This is a true story of a wreck in October 2012, recalled and recorded in December of 2020. (518 words, written and revised in 25 minutes)
He rode in the far left-hand lane, the one marked for high-occupancy vehicles and motorcycles. The traffic ahead came to a sudden stop. He saw it just in time to do something. The something he did was a terrible conjunction of two movements. He pulled with his fingers, smashing on the brakes. He steered toward the breakdown lane at his left. There was just room enough for one car at a time to fit over there, right up against the concrete divider and abutting the white line at the edge of the travel lane.
As he’d recognized by instinct what was happening and responded this way to the sudden change, his features froze as all energy diverted to avoiding the inevitable. He fixed his gaze on the car in front of him, space and time both shrinking in proportion to one another, both disappearing in hundredths of seconds, both racing in tandem toward zero.
He hadn’t the muscle memory to do anything but what he did. When he locked his brakes and steered away from the stopped car in front of him, the tire on the motorcycle lost all friction with the road. As this happened, he felt the bike begin to teeter. For an instant, he and the bike still moved together in a forward trajectory at 65mph (105 km/h). When the teetering threatened to topple him, he let off the break to steer toward the breakdown lane as he should have in the first place. The tire caught the road, grabbing firmly to pavement, and forward momentum threw the bike upward and onto its side.
The rider lifted out of his seat, catching his foot on the handlebars, turning him as he began to soar. Motorcycle and rider continued forward at 55mph (89 km/h). The bike slowed more quickly than did the airborne rider, its whole side dragging and slowing its pace, stealing energy from its inertial force. The rider, meanwhile, continued turning as he flew forward.
A few more hundredths of a second later, the rider slammed into concrete with his left side, leg and arm making contact as he slid like a baseball player stealing home. At this point, he was still moving at around 50 mph (80 km/h), but the physics of body dragging on pavement did its magic in no time. His rate of speed decreased quickly. Some of the force was transferred into his body, causing instant contusions, but most transformed into heat as the armor and double-layered canvas riding pants he wore shredded into threads. He came to a stop, somehow still in his own lane of stopped traffic, a mere 30 inches from the bumper of the car in front of him and a few feet from the right-hand lane that still featured fast-moving cars in a deadly second hint at the rider’s brush with death.
The rider stood up, wobbled a bit as he looked himself over head-to-toe, checked his parts, and staggered to the side of the road. The shock set in immediately as his body stopped its chemical and physical struggle for survival.