VOICES - 'The Samaritan'

(Editor’s Note — 1120 Press is proud to publish this thought-provoking piece by Carl Korn, a twisted mix of satire and political division set in the Adirondack Park. Korn, based in Saratoga, is a former press spokesman as well as an award-winning veteran journalist, and avid outdoorsman. 'The Samaritan' is the 17th installment in our VOICES series and we hope you enjoy it!)


Jonas Huntley had been driving to the grocery store, a trip he made hundreds of times. He daydreamed and was lost in thought, lulled by the dull shoosh of snow under his

tires and the swish-swash of his wiper blades. No big deal to daydream, to not fully concentrate behind the wheel. It was a trip of only 20 miles, which sounds far until you learn that in the Keene Valley, that’s a reasonable distance to the grocery store. “It’s not far at all,” he remarked as he scooped his wallet off the counter.


Jonas’ late-night errand was for eggs and a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread so they could make French toast in the morning. Maybe a few other things if they’re on sale, his wife Brittany suggested on her way to bed. Jonas considered the shopping list crumpled in the left pocket of his jeans. Perhaps he would bring home a half gallon of ice cream. Butter Pecan. A treat for Brittany and their daughter, Rosie. He cradled his phone in the cupholder and sang joyfully, if off-key, to Classic Rock on satellite. FM radio did not slice through the jagged Adirondack peaks to reach that crooked stretch of Route 73, which swerved like a drunk between mountain ranges on the way to Lake Placid.


The gauge on the dashboard read 13 degrees and it was snowing hard. Much harder than 20 minutes earlier when Jonas unplugged his EV and left the house. Flakes darted wildly like tiny shooting stars onto his windshield, now streaked and partially frozen with crystallized balls of snow. Every two seconds, his wiper blades reached up in programmed intervals to frantically wipe away the accumulating snow. There was no one else on the road. No yellow and blue state DOT trucks pushing snow and dropping sand. It was nearly 10 p.m. and Jonas should have been paying closer attention.


As he drove, Jonas reviewed an article he planned to submit to Climate Today. He had just completed it that afternoon — in his cozy house warmed by a geothermal heat pump and electrified by solar panels. Jonas was very proud of the article, in which he predicted climate change would dramatically alter the Adirondack Park faster than even the most alarmist climate scientists believed. He used charts and graphs and all sorts of sophisticated measurements to conclude that other scientists had been too generous in their assessments. In just 30 years, Jonas predicted, climate change would accelerate and Adirondack winters would more closely resemble winters in places like Richmond or even North Carolina’s Outer Banks.


Rosie will be 35 then — the same age that I am now, Jonas thought. He included that cutesy anecdotal nugget in his scholarly article. Years from now, his daughter would appreciate that — how her brilliant, loving father thought to include her in an article predicting cataclysmic climate change would arrive decades earlier than previously thought possible. Rosie would be proud of her father, a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist and unapologetic liberal sprinkled among mountain towns teeming with Trump-cheering Republicans. Jonas thought, Rosie will have some ice cream, too. Tomorrow. It’s almost 10 p.m. She’s asleep now, adorably hugging her brown stuffed moose to her little kindergarten body. He smiled at the image.


Jonas drove on, trying to keep his Chevy Bolt inside the tire tracks of a car that passed that way before him. Because he had been self-absorbed and not paying close attention — or maybe because road conditions had worsened — Jonasdid not notice the slick patches of ice coating the asphalt. In the darkness, Jonas couldn’t see the double-yellow center line or the thin, delicate white line of the shoulder off his passenger side. The flakes rushing towards him in waves disorientated him further.


By now, Jonas’ Chevy Bolt, painted a color called Arctic White, silently glided past the cliffs looming over the Cascade lakes, their sheer rock faces draped with jagged icy tentacles. The EV whooshed down the hills of Route 73 like a sleigh, steered by Jonas inside the snow tracks of a car long past. Jonas zipped by the trailhead to the summit of Dix Mountain. He daydreamed about its breathtaking views and sped on, believing he was driving a safe speed despite his bad habit of rarely glancing down at the speedometer — which now actually read 64 miles per hour.


Jonas must have lost track of his speed, which was unsafe for the fast-deteriorating road conditions, the official police investigation determined. Way too fast for the curve, where the speed limit dropped to 45. Too fast for even the driest of summer days the State Police concluded while waiting for the wrecker to winch Jonas’ car from the ravine, back onto Route 73. His all-electric 2017 Chevy Bolt, which could travel an impressive 188 miles on a single charge, did not have a black box read-out, the trooper noted in his report. And next to that line, the trooper also typed: The engine compartment was destroyed upon impact.


The investigating trooper speculated — correctly — that Jonas’ Chevy Bolt had left the tire tracks made by the car that previously passed that way. Then, maybe because he was singing the Stones’ Satisfaction loud and off-key, or maybe because he put on his snow boots but did not tie them tightly, or maybe because he had been preoccupied thinking about his scholarly article, Jonas slammed the brakes a little too hard.


The Chevy Bolt left the tracks, skidded on the ice and fishtailed. Jonas oversteered and the back end of his EV sub-compact swung outward. Next, Jonas punched the gas when he should have tapped the brakes to gradually slow his vehicle. In actuality, he thought he could power his way out of the slide. An easy mistake to make, perhaps, for a driver who had ventured out in a raging snowstorm to purchase eggs and cinnamon swirl bread, and maybe Butter Pecan ice cream as a treat.


Jonas Huntley’s arctic white Bolt careened onto a bone-colored crush of snow and ice. The back end of the Chevy Bolt struck the guard rail next to bumper stickers proclaiming Black Lives Matter and May the Forest Be With You, a pun which struck Jonas as clever and funny. The fender’s point of impact was, actually, closest to a rainbow-hued Gay Pride sticker, which Jonas proudly affixed in recognition of his transgender niece. The Bolt’s fender made a bang when it struck the guard rail and it sounded louder than Jonas Huntley anticipated.


Holy Shit. What the hell …


A second later and still going 64, Jonas’ electric Chevy Bolt veered violently and struck the guard rail again. As luck would have it, the second point of impact was just before a large gap in the steel guard rail. Jonas felt the strange sensation of being airborne while looking through his snow-streaked windshield. He noted the waning moon illuminating a small patch of grey-black sky which contrasted with the all-white world outside and which Jonas also knew was an odd detail to notice while his Bolt rolled on its passenger side, smashing the window.


Jonas snapped from his daydream as shards of glass blew into the car on a rush of January wind. He screamed and threw up his hands to protect his face from the glass and the cold wind. The car rolled again. And again. Jonas guessed from the way he was being flung around that he was tumbling down an embankment. He re-gripped the steering wheel tightly, like he wished to strangle it for betraying him.


Shit, the repair bill … Brittany’s going to be really angry.


A strange, dissociative thought under the circumstance — one interrupted by another series of hellacious bangs.


Jonas Huntley’s arctic white Bolt bounced off one tree, a balsam, and into another one, a white pine about 40-feet tall, and it was then that he heard his lower leg make a sinister popping sound.


The car spun around and rolled again — he’d lost count how many rolls down the embankment on the side of Route 73. Jonas imagined himself on an amusement park ride that, instantaneously, had ceased to be fun. He wanted the ride to be over. He was nauseous. He wanted off.


The Chevy Bolt came to rest with a final creak and a sorrowful moan, almost like the car was offering an apology. Because Jonas drove an EV, there was no hiss of steam from a radiator or, thankfully, motor oil to leak into the snow and pollute the Boquet River nearby. The lithium battery did not catch fire — a miracle, the investigating trooper had noted— and Jonas Huntley may, or may not, have briefly lost consciousness.


The dashboard shifted during the banging and rolling and it was now pushed up claustrophobically around Jonas. The air bags had deployed and the crisp January air smelled faintly of chemical explosive. When it was all over, Jonas thought, naively, that he would unbuckle his seat belt, crawl through the broken passenger window from which he could see the moon and sky, and escape. He would walk out of the ravine to await the next car making tracks or a state DOT plow pushing snow and dropping sand.


Jonas reached to unbuckle his seat belt. He realized, however, that would be pointless. The Chevy Bolt had come to rest on its drivers’ side, against a pine tree in the V of a ravine. From above, the Bolt looked like an arctic white clit in a snow-covered female genitalia. The Chevy Bolt had crushed around him, the way his fraternity brothers smashed beer cans back in the day, and Jonas’ bulky winter coat made it near impossible to move. He was trapped.


Jonas tried to breath evenly. To stay calm. Help would eventually come. Jonas did not know, of course, that his arctic white Chevy Bolt was quickly becoming buried in snow, 150 feet off the road in the gash of a snow-covered ravine, which resembled a female genitalia from above.


Jonas’ head hurt and he put his hand to his temple. He wore no gloves. Another mistake. Jonas’ bare hands, quickly growing numb, enabled him to feel a gash on his head and a thick clot of blood. Those first movements, too, told Jonas he had probably broken his shoulder or collar bone because he felt the bones shifting, making a grating sound when he moved.


More worrisome was Jonas’ leg. With considerable effort, Jonas reached down to his right leg to investigate an urgent ache. Jonas became nauseous when his cold, bare hand felt around his lower leg. It confirmed what he feared: It was broken.


Help will be here soon. I’ve got to stay calm. Just wait it out …


There is no telling how exactly long Jonas remained pinned injured but alive in the carcass of his arctic white Chevy Bolt. The worst of the storm eventually passed. After a while, only a few, random flakes fluttered through the night sky, like the last remnants of a battle.


It would be honorable and comforting, perhaps, to believe Jonas waited for rescue patiently, bravely, calmly. To be truthful, time passed for Jonas in a panic. In the hours he spent injured, bleeding and freezing while pinned in the arctic whiteness, his mind unleashed a spray of wildly disconnected thoughts.


Brittany will come out in the Prius to search for me, was his first thought. She wouldn’t want to bother the volunteer firefighters on such a miserable night by calling 911. She’s sweet that way, the way she always thinks of others.


Jonas could not know that, shortly after he left the house, Rosie cried out when her adorable stuffed moose fell out of her arms onto her bedroom floor. Brittany heard Rosie’s cry and left their warm marital bed, climbed in next to Rosie and fell asleep. Brittany slept peacefully, snuggled against Rosie, unaware her husband lay trapped, freezing cold and badly injured in the carcass of his little Chevy Bolt. She wasn’t worried. He had only gone to the grocery store. It wasn’t far at all.


Jonas also fretted over the time. He had no idea whether it was 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. He did not wear a watch and his cell phone was flung out of the cupholder in the crash. Jonas remembered, too, that cell phones were useless on that barren stretch of Route 73, in part because environmentalists like himself vehemently opposed plans to erect cell towers constructed to look like trees which would blend in with the surrounding forest. Jonas scolded himself. He shouldn’t have sent those angry letters. He shouldn’t have testified at those legislative hearing in Albany.


Jonasbegan to go into systemic shock. He felt confused, dizzy and sweaty despite the cold, and his heart raced even though he was immobile in the driver’s seat.


Hours after the crash — in the stillness before the animals woke — Jonas noticed a waving flash of light. Maybe because he was in shock, the sudden brightness startled him. At first, Jonas believed he died and the bright light was heaven-sent. No, that wasn’t it. Jonas really did see a beam of light, and it was no hallucination or cherubic angel welcoming him into God’s loving embrace.


In his next shallow breath, Jonas heard the heavy footsteps of a Samaritan crashing through the deep snow and he felt his spirits soar. The waving flashlight beam illuminated the crystalized petals of snow falling from the sky and revealed Jonas’ bloody and battered body trapped in the crushed can of his arctic white Chevy Bolt.


“Hey, anyone alive in there?” a man called out.


Jonas’ eyes adjusted and focused. He didn’t snap to alertness right away, but he could see the man was large. The man wore a beard like a shag carpet and a thick barn coat flecked with snow on the shoulders. As the man braced himself against a tree so he could look down into the battered vehicle, Jonas picked out the outline of a round tin of smokeless tobacco in the man’s pocket near his heart, and a red MAGA ball cap on his head.


“Anyone alive in there,” the man repeated. He coughed. A dry January cough.


Jonas willed his mouth to work. He hadn’t understood until then how hypothermic he had become in the hours since his car tumbled into the ravine.


“Yes. Thank God,” Jonas said weakly. “My leg’s broken. I’m hurt bad. I need help.”


The man looked around. He adjusted his red MAGA hat. With his boots, he kicked at the snow by the crumpled wreck of the Chevy Bolt. He took note of the Gay Pride sticker Jonas had placed in tribute to his transgender niece. He squinted at the Black Lives Matters bumper sticker and the green-and-white sticker declaring May the Forest Be With You.


“Fuck Biden,” the man spit.


Before Jonas could respond, the man turned back and peered into the broken passenger side window. Jonas detected the odor of alcohol on the man’s breath.


“Man, you must have been flying. You’re a good 150 feet off the road. If I hadn’t had to take a piss so bad, I never would have seen you. White car against the white snow. Shit, you’re practically invisible.”


“Please, get help. I’m stuck. I can’t get out. I’m bleeding, can’t you see,” Jonas pleaded. “My leg’s broken. Badly. I can’t walk. My shoulder, too. I’m not breathing right and I’m really, really cold. I can’t feel my fingers.”


Jonas wanted to cry, but he didn’t want to be a sissy-pants in front of his rescuer.


“If you had a decent truck, you never would have skidded. I got a F-250. Stick it in four-wheel drive and you’re good,” the man said. “Instead, you’re driving this Korean piece of shit.”


“It’s American. It’s a Chevy. All electric. Better for the environment. It’s not too late to reverse climate change,” Jonas sputtered.


“I didn’t know Chevy made little pieces of shit. Anyway, it’s all bullshit … all that climate change talk. People like you are just stirring up trouble. The earth will be fine, for millions of years after we’re all gone.”


“That’s not true,” Jonas said. He felt a rush of adrenaline and, with it, suddenly more clear-headed. His passion for the environment momentarily canceled the throbbing in his leg and numbness from the cold. “I’ve done the research. I’m publishing a scholarly paper about it. There’s irrefutable evidence that climate change isn’t just coming, it’s already here.”


The man shook his head, like he knew better—like he had heard Hannity dismiss it all as a hoax, like COVID.


“Seriously, man, the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil have created a greenhouse effect. There’s more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its trapping heat. We already have evidence of it. Temperatures are rising. We have more heat waves and they’re more intense. Glaciers are melting. The seas are rising…”


“Bullshit. You science nerds have your heads up your asses,” the man interrupted.


Jonas did not know why he felt compelled to be correct. To prove he was smart and well-educated. Jonas’s head ached. His leg burned with pain. Jonas was wasting precious energy trying to act superior. He should have just agreed with the bearded man in the MAGA hat with the round tin of smokeless tobacco in his jacket pocket next to his heart. Jonas should have shut up, then urged him to get help so he could be extricated and rushed to the hospital.


“Global warming threatens the Adirondack Park,” Jonas lectured instead, riding another wave of adrenaline. “The boreal forest, which makes the Adirondacks so biodiverse, is shifting north — toward Canada. As the region continues to warm, the plants and animals will be at risk. Migration patterns are going to change. We’re going to get less snow and the lack of snowfall is going to hurt the ski industry. Hell, we won’t have a snowmobile season anymore. Think of what that’ll do to the economy.”


The man stopped listening. He was drunk. Jonas heard him stumble in a snow drift. The man took a few more steps, unzipped his pants and began peeing on a slender white pine, behind the wrecked Chevy Bolt in the V of the ravine that resembled a female genitalia from above.


“What’s with that rainbow shit on your bumper?” the man called out to Jonas as he vigorously shook himself dry.


“I support marriage equality. Love is love,” Jonas said weakly. He wasn’t about to start explaining his transgender niece.


“You think a guy tongue-kissing another guy is love? Doing other shit with ‘em, too. No way. It’s not normal.”


Jonas did not respond. What was the point? He was shivering. He was in shock. He wanted to hurry the man along, so he would climb back up the embankment to the road and get help. He needed to get to the hospital.


“Give me your wallet,” the man said.


“What?”


“Your wallet. Nothing’s free in this country. You want me to save your ass, you’re going to pay me for my time. C’mon, hand it over. Don’t worry. I’ll give you back your ID and shit.”


Slowly, because it hurt to move, Jonas clenched his teeth and tilted on his left cheek. He willed his fingers to bend and to reach into his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet and extended it upward towards the broken passenger window and the cold January wind.


“Here. Take what you want for your inconvenience. Then get help. I need to get to the hospital. Please.”


The man reached in and took the wallet from Jonas. He looked inside and shoved it into his pants pocket. He surveyed the pureness of the just-fallen snow, smooth as a bedsheet, which coated the slumbering wilderness. He studied the bumper stickers on the destroyed car once more, scratching his beard as he digested their mélange of political statements. The man paused a second or two more, like he was trying to decide something. Finally, he turned around to face the road and shouted up the embankment. Jonas heard him address someone.


“I don’t think anyone’s in here. Must have walked out on his own.”


Jonas next heard a woman’s voice, and the footfalls of a second person stumbling down the V-shaped ravine towards his wrecked Chevy Bolt.


“Are you sure? I thought I heard someone,” a woman said.


Because the Bolt had come to rest on its side, Jonas had to crane his neck to see beyond the smashed passenger window. A woman in a hoodie appeared, higher up in the ravine, behind the man’s left shoulder. From what Jonas could observe, the woman was on the heavy side and had a very round face. Jonas could also make out the shape of a book. She held a paperback book in her hand and had hooked a plump finger inside as a bookmark.


“Get back in the truck, Darlene,” the man said.


“Wait, don’t go,” Jonas pleaded again, suddenly very scared.


Darlene dutifully obeyed the man. She struggled through the snow, breathing heavily, back uphill towards Route 73 and the warmth and safety of the man’s truck. The man leaned jauntily into the car window. The man’s expression suggested they — meaning the man and Jonas — were now friends. Or, if not friends, at least buddies.


“She’s always reading them romance novels. Fantasy shit. You know what I call ‘em?”


“No, what?”

“Cliterature. Get it? Cliterature.” The man laughed heartily at his own joke, revealing a lifetime of dental neglect.


Jonas laughed, too. Mostly, he laughed to ingratiate himself with the man — which he knew was something of a prayer. Jonas had come to realize that the man was not a good Samaritan. The man had never read Luke 10:33. He had no compassion and no intention of rescuing Jonas. Still, Jonas had to admit, it was a pretty clever line from a man in a red MAGA hat who had just robbed him and was about to leave him to die.


Jonas began begging when the man wiped his nose, pulled his hat tight on his head and turned away. With Jonas’ wallet stuffed in his pants’ pocket, the man followed Darlene in trudging up the embankment out of the V-shaped ravine back to Route 73, where his big, gas-guzzling pickup truck idled on the side of the road, spewing greenhouse gases into the pristine Adirondack night.


Around dusk two days later, a State Police trooper near the end of his shift stood in the road by a flare shooting white sparks like it was the Fourth of July. In writing his report, he failed to take notice of the thick tire tracks left by a F-250 pick-up just off the shoulder of Route 73, maybe 20 yards beyond where the Chevy Bolt rolled down the embankment. Nor did the trooper find it curious that two men — or, rather, a man and his wife — had post-holed dozens of footprints in the snow all around the Chevy Bolt. He didn’t think to investigate the source of the fresh footprints, which couldn’t have been made by Jonas, or question the yellow piss stains atop the snow next to a slender white pine.


Instead, the trooper and a Search and Rescue volunteer in a safety vest waited in silence, hands stuffed in their pockets for warmth, as the tow truck operator and medical examiner completed their work. The backwoods silence was interrupted only by the occasional, static crackle of the trooper’s radio. The two of them stared vacantly, solemnly, at the litter bearing Jonas Huntley’s broken and frozen body and they reflected in silence: The poor bastard must have driven that stretch of Route 73 to the grocery store hundreds of times. It wasn’t that far at all.