Fictionalizing the News is a writing exercise I set myself where I search the local news for an interesting but relatively minor piece of news and use it as a basis for a short story. I do not in any way purport to tell the truth of what happened, this story and the characters in it are entirely fictional. The current installment of Fictionalizing is based on this article and I call it Trees
When the alarm rang that morning Aurora reached out, pushed the snooze button then turned around to face the wall, just like she did every morning. This time however, she was unable to go back to sleep; though she was still tired, the alarm had woken her enough that she couldn’t help but hear the incessant pitter patter of the raindrops pelting the window. She lay there for a minute, willing herself to sleep but it was in vain. Instead she crawled out from under the covers, stepped up to the window and peered out between the curtains. The world outside was bleak and gray, the rain pouring down, turning the gutters into streams and lashing the sides of the buildings. Down below the branches of the trees lining the street were whipping back and forth in the strong wind and up above dark clouds were scudding across the leaden sky. Seeing the state of things outside, her mood quickly darkened to match the sky, getting to work in this weather would be hell.
“No point in standing around moaning about it” she though and turned on her heal, not bothering to open the curtains, there was no sun to let in anyway, and headed to the bathroom. Having showered she got dressed, discarding the light clothes she had laid out the day before, selecting a pair of jeans, a long sleeve top and a thin cardigan instead. Normally she would go to the little cafe around the corner for breakfast but that wasn’t happening in this weather. Instead she headed to kitchen and started rummaging around in the pantry for something to eat. She had a piece of bread from last night’s dinner but she had gotten so used to going out for coffee she couldn’t find any powder, not even the instant crap she used to keep in store just for this kind of situation. Crestfallen she took a seat at the table and started munching on the rather stale bread, washing it down with tap water.
Having finished her breakfast she grabbed her bag and an umbrella then headed out to her car. It was a short walk, just half a block down the street, but with the rain coming in sideways due to the strong wind she was already wet when she reached the car. If she had felt bad after the sub-par breakfast it was nothing compared to what she was feeling now, as miserable as a wet cat. She started the car, turned on the heating fan hoping it would dry out her clothes by the time she reached work, and set off heading north towards the city center. After two blocks she left the quiet residential street she lived on and turned onto a larger road and there she immediately hit traffic. Of course, everyone who had a car would be driving on a day like this, but she couldn’t help but feel pissed at the never ending streak of bad luck.
It was a smallish traffic jam, only a couple of blocks long, and she wasn’t completely stuck, the cars ahead of her did move forward at a slow but regular pace. Despite that, she felt increasingly frustrated every time she was able to move forward just to be forced to stop a few meters later, and it was with a sigh of relief that she turned onto Via del Mare and was able to speed up a bit. The relief was short lived however because Via del Mare was much more open to the wind than the residential neighborhood had been, and she felt the car being buffeted from side to side by the violent wind.
Though she felt a bit nervous she was confident in her ability to handle the car and kept driving at her usual pace, staying just above the limit but slow enough that the cops wouldn’t catch her. Trying to make up for time she lost in the traffic jam she moved to the left to overtake a slow truck and just as she passed it, a blast of wind caught her car and pushed it towards the central barrier. Gripping the wheel tightly she managed to wrestle the car away from the barrier, rounded the truck then merged back to the right lane.
The near miss scared her so she slowed down to a speed she felt comfortable with and stuck closely to the right, leaving the inner lane to those braver than her. The rain kept lashing the side windows, and leaves, twigs and other small debris kept bombarding the car but she ignored it, concentrating hard in case a gust of wind would push her off course again. She was so focused on the road that she didn’t notice the danger awaiting her.
A few hundred meters ahead of her a tree, it’s a trunk as thick as a mans thigh, was waving wildly in the wind, the crown whipping back and forth, showering the asphalt with leaves and twigs. As her car approached the tree swung in over the roadway one last time, there was a loud crack and it started falling over, the trunk splitting lengthwise and ripping apart as it went down. The sound made her look up and when she saw what was happening she immediately stepped on the brake as hard as she could but it was too late; the trunk hit the front right fender of her car and the entire crown came crashing down on top of the passenger cabin. Her scream was a mixture pain and terror as one of the branches came crashing in through the windshield and hit her across the right side of her body. The branch was swiftly followed by another one which smacked her in the forehead, and with that everything went dark.
When she woke up she was lying in a bed with polished metal rails along the edge and mint green sheets. Looking around she saw that she was in a largish room with white ceiling and walls, a TV was suspended on a gantry in the ceiling and to either side of her were plastic mint green curtains; she realized she must be in a hospital. “Nurse” she called, “nurse!” “They won’t hear you” a grumpy voice from right answered, “you have to push the call button to get them to come here.” “The what?” she asked, feeling confused. “The red button with the white cable” the grumpy voice replied, “it should be somewhere by your side.” Mumbling a quick thank you, she searched around for the call button, found it hanging off the railing on her left and pressed it.
A minute later a woman in lavender colored scrubs came in. “Yes, what is it” she asked, sounding a bit annoyed. “What happened, why am I here? Aurora asked her. “You were in an accident, a tree fell on your car and you were knocked unconscious, the paramedics brought you here” the nurse replied, a little bit more warmth creeping into hr voice. “Your right arm is broken and you have a concussion” she continued unprompted. “How bad is it?” Aurora asked. “We have given you some pain relief to dull the symptoms but when that wears off you will likely get a headache and you might feel nauseateed if you try to stand up, but it’s just a mild concussion so you should be fine in a day or two” the nurse answered. “Your arm will be put in a cast of course and you will have to keep that on for about six weeks” she continued. “And how long do I have to stay here” Aurora wanted to know. “We will keep you for observation for at least 24 hours to make sure the concussion heals like it should, if all is well you can go home after that,” the nurse informed her. “Thank you” Aurora replied. “Was there anything else” the nurse asked, glancing at her watch. “Just one thing,” Aurora said, “could you turn on the TV?” Without a word the nurse took down the remote from a small shelf and handed it to her then walked out of the room.
She turned on the TV then started flipping channels. Since it was midday there wasn’t anything interesting to watch so she landed on the 24 hour news channel. The news anchor was talking about the severe storm that had hit Rome and the damage it was causing. There was talk of several trees falling over, roof tiles being blown down and the Prima Porta station was closed. And then, at the very end of the segment, there it was: her car, the tree lying across it and the smashed windshield; policemen in their high visibility vests blocking off traffic; two paramedics rolling a stretcher with a figure on it – she realized it was her – towards the back of an ambulance. Seeing it on TV brought her back to the moment of the impact, the tree branch crashing through her windshield and coming straight towards her face. As the memory flooded her brain she started to panic, frantically fumbling she found the off button and pressed it so hard she thought her thumb would go through the plastic shell. As soon as the TV screen turned black she felt the panic subside and she sank back into her pillow with a sigh of relief.