by Tom Vowler

THE CAR LEAVES the road a mile before their exit, the mother tussling the steering wheel, fighting the kinetics, and when she applies the brakes most of the vehicle’s weight transfers to the front, initiating a skid. For now the son is gaming in the rear seat, closing in on his high score, the daughter dreamily replaying how a few hours ago the cute boy from Year Nine had waited at the school gates, shifting awkwardly, acting like he was there by chance.

For another second the son’s thumbs dance, three more kills will be enough, at which point he’ll screenshot it and post it in the group chat with a smug emoji. He will then text the father to remind him about the match, that he better not be late again.

But now the car is in an obstinate slide, tyres being asked to both maintain traction and change direction, which at sixty-seven miles-per-hour is impossible. Conceivably the loss of control can still be averted, but every event after tiny event must go their way now.

The driver of the SUV that clipped them a few seconds ago did not register the collision through the heavy metal spewing from his speakers and angry thoughts of the email he’s still reading. It was regrettable, his boss says, but considering the current climate, his going quietly is the best option all round, no fuss, his record unblemished. He reads it again, imagines taking others down with him. Yes, the girl was young; yes, he’d promised her things he shouldn’t have…  

Still the mother thinks if she can work with the torque and locate a gap between the line of beeches, they may be alright; there will be some damage as they negotiate the embankment, yes, but better than a tree. Yet turning the wheel one way seems only to make the car slalom the other.

The son, sensing the car has energy of its own, looks up from the game and issues a loud whoa, which in turn sees the daughter’s daydream dissipate like vapour, and had the mother not been laced with adrenaline, she would hear their beseeching and say a rapid prayer.

The SUV driver, meanwhile, closes the email, texts his wife to say he’ll be home for dinner. If he finds work soon, he won’t even need to tell her. He lights the half-joint, eases the volume up until the basslines reach his bones.

Despite the grass verge slowing the vehicle some, its force is roughly equal to the resistance of the tree the mother can’t avoid, which the car accordions into, its size halved in under a second. And although the sound created as car particles collide with tree particles is considerable, only a pair of tumbling ravens and a fallow deer acknowledge it.

Later, at the match, floodlights jaundicing the dusk, the father will check his phone so often he will miss two goals.


Tom Vowler is an award-winning novelist and short story writer living in south-west England. An Arvon tutor with a PhD in creative writing, his latest novel, Every Seventh Wave, is set on the north Cornish coast. More at