One bright Saturday we drove over to All Saints Cemetery on the edge of town. Jill was excited to start snapping pictures and when we arrived she jumped out of the car, energized and ready to grab the perfect shot. The cemetery was very old – well over a century – and many of the crumbling tombstones showed ever-more vanishing death dates in the 1800’s.
The entrance to the graveyard was framed by an enormous archway which curved grandly over the gravel drive. Etched into the stone arch were fairy angels and small birds and a long vine with grape leaves that stretched from one end to the other. The detail of the design was close to breathtaking, but even so, the arch always felt heavy and forbidding to me. Whenever I drove past the cemetery and the metal gates under those arches were closed tight, I was glad. It made me feel better to see that the over-sized jail cell door, heavy and locked under the stone archway, was keeping the dead in.
Jill clicked away, repositioning her camera a few inches after each shot, attempting different angles, different outcomes. I watched her for a while but got bored and without much to do, I began aimlessly kicking some stones scattered on the drive. In the distance I could hear a loud truck barreling our way. There were a lot of pickup trucks and haulers around town, and I could tell by the sound of this one that it was a fairly large truck. I kicked a few more stones down the drive and turned to face the road.
The Prairie Sugar truck lumbered up to the cemetery quickly and sped by over-packed with freshly harvested sugar beets. The sugar beet factory still thrived in Bay City due, in no small part, to the fact that no other town would endure the fumes that were created when the beets were processed. It was an odor you could only compare to burning cow manure with a little rotten meat sprinkled on top.
I watched the truck drive past as Jill continued snapping photos and I followed its movement with my eyes. The truck seemed to be heading much too quickly into the curve ahead, and I watched with fascination to see how the driver was going to maneuver the turn. Suddenly the brakes began to squeal and the tires started to skid. I have to give it to Jill – not once did she take the camera from her eye. She just turned and wheeled toward the sound, clicking furiously away.
And what a sight it was.
The truck continued to skid around the curve until the entire right side of it actually lifted off the ground. The driver had completely lost control but was, nonetheless, still trying to steer even while fully in the midst of some kind of sideways wheelie. It was almost comical – for a few seconds it reminded me of a cartoon – and I stared in disbelief.
It’s weird. When strange things happen right in front of you, time truly seems to slow down. I could see hundreds of sugar beets suspended in mid-air, waiting to fall like huge, ugly brown snowballs. I could see the right tires twirling furiously off the ground, grasping fruitlessly for traction in the air. I could even see the look of shock and then horror on the driver’s face as he contemplated what he had done: ‘Shit I’m gonna get fired, SHIT! I’m gonna to get killed!’
Click, thud, thud, click, thud… Distinctively I heard the click of the camera shutter snap, then the sound of beets hitting the ground, then the camera again, then the beets. And then – CRASH! The truck landed on its side and careened into the cemetery smashing several tombstones in its path. It was shockingly quiet when the hauler finally came to rest on Emmanuel Smither’s grave; the squeaking of the truck’s rotating wheels the only sound that broke the silence. All the sugar beets lay dead on the road or scattered into the cemetery. Jill and I looked at each other.
“Do you think he’s dead?” I asked Jill shakily.
(end of excerpt)