Wally Carson only had a split-second to wrench his steering wheel to the right. His peripheral vision detected motion, a dark-haired young woman running into the road directly in front of him. If he made the wrong choice, that person would face serious injury or death. He couldn’t live with that, so he swerved away. That decision had immediate consequences, as his blue 2010 Ford Ranger truck missed the woman by inches but sideswiped a parked commercial van. Ricocheting back to the left, the pickup’s momentum caused it to roll onto its side and skid to a halt. As the vehicle hit the pavement, Wally’s head smacked the driver’s side window.
Everything seemed to slow down and he was enveloped in conflicting sensations of warmth and pain. It was difficult to focus his concentration and his vision. He soon heard a thumping sound several times in a row. When he opened his eyes, he beheld a woman’s silhouette in front of him. She was banging her fist against the windshield.
“Hey! Can you hear me? Can you get out of the truck?” she shouted, her voice muffled by the glass.
Wally wanted to tell her that he could, but that would be a lie. He barely understood her words, which were half-garbled through his mental haze. He was hurting and couldn’t make his body do what he wanted yet. When he tried to speak, he coughed. Something smelled like smoke.
Aleta Jiménez felt her adrenaline spike and had to clamp down a growing sense of anxiety. She didn’t have time to comprehend how this had happened. She only knew that she was responsible for it. All of the businesses had shut down early because it was Christmas Eve. As a result, there were only a few cars on the street and no people out and about to assist her. It was getting dark and the street lights had just turned on automatically. She had been trying to get the driver’s attention but he was barely moving.
“He’s hurt! I don’t think he’s gonna get out on his own,” she told herself.
She turned her head to look at the hood of the truck. A small stream of smoke was escaping in odorous wisps. She didn’t know if it was from an actual fire or just a damaged electrical system. Either was dangerous to the injured driver. She was too short to reach the upturned passenger door, so she went to the back of the truck looking for anything to help free the man. Near the driver’s side of the tailgate, she espied a gray toolkit and a long tire iron. Without hesitation, she grabbed the very solid-looking tool and ran back to the windshield.
She wondered if such an extreme action was necessary. But she’d lost her cell phone on the way here, she couldn’t call for help. The truck’s hood was also becoming warm and the amount of smoke was increasing. She felt she had no choice.
“I’m sorry about this!” Aleta exclaimed as she swung the tire iron at the windshield.
It bounced off, only scratching the center of the glass. The second time, she put all her strength into the effort and shattered the windshield. It sprayed across the seat and the driver.
She reached inside the cab and unfastened his seatbelt. He was looking at her a bit more wide-eyed, his attention captured by the breaking of the glass. That was encouraging to Aleta but he still appeared groggy.
“I need to get you out of your truck,” she told him. “It’s not safe. Can you move?”
He nodded. “Y-yeah, I think so.”
Aleta wiped as much of the shards off the dashboard as she could. She took some cuts in the process but did her best to ignore them.
“Crawl through the opening I made,” she urged. “I’ll help you, okay?”
Without a word, the young man did as instructed, inching forward on all fours towards the hood. Aleta grabbed his hands and pulled him towards her. Putting an arm around him, she tried to guide him towards solid ground. Once on the pavement, she let him lean on her until they made it across the street. The wind was picking up, causing the nearby trees to sway and blowing off any remaining leaves. It was getting colder, too.
Aleta was grateful that this man was tall and slender. But she was concerned about his head wound, a jagged and bleeding cut above his left ear.
“I need to get you to a doctor,” she suggested. “Do you have a cell phone?”
“Truck...it’s in the truck,” he replied.
Aleta turned her head and saw flames starting to spit from underneath the hood with puffs of black smoke. Going back for his phone wasn’t an option. She knew it was only a matter of time before the truck might be engulfed in flames or possibly explode.
Aleta led the man to the next block as quickly as she could before they stopped and sat down on a bus bench. It was only then that she noticed she still had the tire iron in her other hand. She heard a car door slam nearby and let her hopes rise.
“Aleta! There you are! What are you doing? Who is this guy?”
Those hopes were immediately dashed and she felt a cold wave of dread descend over her. That voice belonged to Roman, her now-ex-boyfriend. Of course, he had tracked her down. He always did.
Roman was twenty-five compared to her nineteen years. She thought he was handsome enough, with his piercing brown eyes, angular face, shoulder-length scruffy black hair and long bangs. A few inches taller than her and muscular, he could be charming, tenderly praising her beauty and declaring his love. But he had a hair-trigger violent temper, made worse by drinking. Her self-esteem had taken almost as much damage as her body over the last year.
“Get out of here, Roman!” she yelled.
“Hey, it took me forever to find you! I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” he replied sounding irritated. His eyes were laser-focused on her and his arms and hands were open in a questioning manner. “You jumped out of the car while it was moving. That wasn’t safe!”
“And why did I do that, huh??” she bellowed, pointing at her swollen and reddened right eyelid. The area beneath her eye was already turning dark brown, blue and purple. “I’m not gonna let you beat me anymore!”
He stepped forward undeterred. “I’m sorry about that. Just come with me and I’ll make it up to you.”
Aleta brandished the tire iron in her hand like a sword, holding it close to her chest. She projected the pent-up frustration she’d been harboring for months at Roman.
“No more making up! No more lies. You have a problem that I can’t fix. Find someone else! I’m done,” Aleta declared. She looked at the blond-haired man, who met her gaze with confusion, and back at Roman. “This guy was in an accident, so I’m helping him.”
Roman took a few more steps towards her. She noted the stench of alcohol from where she was; this was not going to go well. She stood up and let the blond-haired man slump onto the back of the bench. When she took a step towards Roman, she held the tire iron in both hands like a baseball bat. She vanquished her fear and let herself channel rage.
“Last chance, Roman!” she shouted. “I just smashed a windshield. I have no problem knocking the stupid out of you!”
“You don’t know how to fight,” he replied dismissively.
She tightened her hands around the tire iron and smiled menacingly. “Do you wanna find out how wrong you are? You’ve backed me into a corner. I have to fight now!”
They exchanged a long, unblinking stare for almost thirty seconds. Then she saw a hint of what looked like fear in his eyes. His lips twisted into an ugly frown and his pride reasserted itself through his facial expression. He looked offended, nearly petulant.
“You know what? Have it your way,” he answered with a sigh. “We’re done.”
She was tempted to say something incendiary but figured that was a bad idea.
“By the way, it’s a couple of miles to the hospital from here and I have your phone. Good luck finding someone to help you,” he taunted as he walked across the street to his red Chevy Camaro and got inside. He started the engine and looked at her a final time. “Merry Christmas.”
Wally’s head still hurt and was damp. He touched near the cut. The sting made him recoil his hand and his fingertips were now dripped in blood. The pain had dispelled his grogginess, at least temporarily, and returned his attention to his surroundings. He heard two people shouting at each other. One was a man and the other was a woman.
His vision was slightly blurred but he could make out a few details. He knew he was in the warehouse district of town. About twenty feet away, he saw a black-haired man of average height with a muscular build. Facing him was a woman with wavy dark brown hair. She was short, chubby and threatening the black-haired man with what looked like a lug wrench.
From what he’d heard, they had been in a relationship but she didn’t want that anymore. And she sounded desperate to make the other man leave, which he eventually did. After the other man drove out of sight, the woman let the lug wrench fall to the ground. She looked emotionally spent.
Wally didn’t know who she was but he was almost certain she had saved his life. He made himself stand up, even though his balance was wobbly.
“Hey, are you okay?” Wally asked innocently.
“Oh! I didn’t know you were up,” she replied. “I’m okay. I’ve just been through a lot with that guy.”
He noticed her injured eye and immediately sympathized. He thought she was attractive, even with the blemish. And the thought of anyone hurting her upset him. “I’m Wally. You got me out of the truck, right? Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I’m Aleta. Are you gonna be okay? You hit your head pretty hard.”
“I’ll probably need some stitches. But that guy was right about the hospital being far.”
Aleta looked at the sky for a moment. Wally followed where she was gazing and noticed the clouds and feel of the air. She looked down at what she was wearing -- a black jacket, dark purple sweater, bluejeans and tennis shoes. And then she gazed at Wally, who had on a gray jacket, red t-shirt, jeans and brown boots. She did not look encouraged.
“It’s getting colder and I think we’re in for sleet or snow soon,” Aleta said. “We better start now. Can you keep walking on your own or do you need to lean on me some more?”
“I’ll be okay for awhile,” he answered.
Wally only made it about a block and a half before he felt dizzy and stumbled. Aleta quickly caught him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I feel lightheaded, it’s throwing off my balance,” Wally replied. “And I feel sleepy.”
That alarmed Aleta. She was no doctor but she had enough sense to see the problem.
“You need to stay awake. We won’t -- you can’t sleep right now, okay? Talk to me, Wally, tell me about yourself. Do you live here or were you just passing through?”
“Here” was Fopax, Texas. It’s a town with a population of just over three thousand, located about eighty miles east of El Paso. Its main tourist attractions consisted of Fopax Hollow, a series of excavated caves dating back tens of thousands of years; the restored sets of Bandit’s Gulch, an iconic Western television show from the 1970s; and the Robert Matthew Van Winkle (“Vanilla Ice”) Cultural Museum.
“I grew up here,” Wally answered. “My mom moved here when she was pregnant with me. It was to get a fresh start.”
Aleta nodded. “How far does she live from where we are now?”
Wally’s heart sank.
“She died two months ago from cancer,” he revealed.
Aleta’s jaw dropped. “I am so sorry!”
Wally pointed a shaky finger to their left.
“I live in an apartment on the west end,” he said. “On Third Street. Been there about two years.”
Aleta’s eyes flashed with recognition and she smiled.
“I used to live over there, when I was growing up,” she added.
“Small world, huh?” he replied with his own smile.
They both looked at each other and then straight ahead as they started walking again.
“Small town,” they both said in amusement.
They managed to limp along another couple of blocks before he had to stop again. This time, they both sat down on a curb and leaned against each other for warmth. They could see their breathing as puffs of condensation in the freezing air.
“You holding up?” Aleta asked.
“Somehow,” Wally acknowledged. “I think the cold is helping me not feel as much pain.”
“That’s good. At least some good is coming of it.”
“Tell me about you, Aleta.”
She tried to keep from frowning but she didn’t like talking about herself.
“What’s to tell? You know I grew up here, too. I left home and became Roman’s girlfriend...till tonight.”
“Can I ask why you left home?”
Aleta hugged her knees and looked away.
“If you don’t wanna talk about it, it’s okay,” he added.
“My dad was like Roman. He hit me and my mom. I got tired of it and left.”
She turned her head to see Wally’s reaction, expecting him to be disappointed in her. But he wasn’t. He was teary-eyed, almost openly crying.
“What?” she asked, bewildered.
“I -- I can’t imagine ever hitting a woman,” he answered, his eyes filled with conviction. “A man who does that isn’t a man.”
“What is he then?” she half-joked.
“An animal,” Wally said in disgust. “If I had a girlfriend or a daughter, I’d show her how much I love her. Not just with whatever gifts I could make or buy, but in the way I talk to her and behave around her. She’d know she was special. There wouldn’t be any question.”
Aleta was very touched. She could see and feel that he was being sincere. He was cute, too, in a boyish way. All of that made her feel worse, though.
“You are probably the only gentleman in this whole town...and I nearly got you killed,” she said as she looked at the pavement.
“Hey, I almost ran over you," he interjected. "So I think we’re even.”
Aleta noticed a few flurries drifting down onto the ground. She looked up and saw more of them, the light of the streetlamps illuminating them all along that road. She couldn’t help but notice how pretty they looked.
“It’s Christmas Eve, Wally. I think we’re gonna need a miracle tonight.”
Wally chuckled, even knowing how dire their circumstances were. “Yeah, I believe you’re right. I don’t think I can go any further, the way I’m feeling. Why don’t you go for help? I’ll be okay.”
Her eyes widened. “No! It’ll take too long for me to get to the hospital! And the weather’s getting worse. I won’t leave you.”
They looked at each other for a moment. The snow flurries were beginning to accumulate in their hair and on their jackets.
“If you stay here, you could freeze to death...just like me,” Wally stated.
Aleta nodded. “That’s alright. I won’t leave you.”
He put his arm around Aleta and pulled her closer to generate what little heat they could. The temperature was still dropping and they were both feeling its effects.
“Y-you know, if we survive this,” Wally said. “I may just ask you out.”
Despite her shivering, Aleta laughed. “Someone’s an optimist!”
She rubbed her hands together and then sank them into her coat pockets. All kinds of thoughts ran through her head but one kept repeating and she didn’t know why. Finally, she had to say it, no matter how it sounded.
“Look, mister, if we survive this, I’ll marry you!”
Wally stared at her for several seconds in amazement.
“Was -- was that a proposal, Aleta? You promise?”
She wondered if he was right. Had she just offered to spend her life with someone she’d just met? Then she thought about everything that had occurred this evening. In a surreal way, it made a kind of sense.
After a moment, Aleta shrugged. “Why not? We’re probably going to die, so let’s be honest. I already know you would treat me better than Roman. I’m willing to give it a shot.”
Wally smiled and forced his quivering hands together. He held them below his chin and closed his eyes.
“What are you d-doing?” Aleta asked.
“Praying,” he replied.
“Because I’ve got something to live for now,” he exclaimed. “I want a miracle!”
She smiled and closed her eyes. “If you think it’s a good idea, I guess I’ll try, too.”
A short time later, a man leaned over and shook both Wally and Aleta’s shoulders to wake them up. Aleta opened her eyes first. She had never seen this man before. He looked to be maybe in his thirties and tan-skinned, wearing light-colored clothing. He had dark hair, a trim beard and kind face. He put something in her hands. It was a cell phone.
“Miss, use this to call 9-1-1. Stay on the line with them until they arrive,” he told her in a reassuring tenor voice. “You two will be alright. I have to go.”
“Wait! How?!” Aleta blurted. “Who are you?”
As the man walked away, she sat up and dialed emergency services. When she looked around to locate her and Wally’s benefactor, she couldn’t see anyone in a one-block radius. It was as if he’d completely vanished. She noticed that the snow had lightly coated the street and the tops of the commercial vehicles, trees and light posts. It had gotten even colder and the breeze had picked up some.
Despite how frigid she felt, Aleta did as the stranger had instructed. After the operator answered, she kept talking to him until the ambulance arrived. When she ended the call, she took a close look at the phone.
It was hers.
At the hospital emergency room, Aleta was treated for her hypothermia and contusions while Wally was given ten stitches and treated for hypothermia and a mild concussion. Both of them were kept overnight to verify their conditions.
Aleta couldn’t help talking about what she kept calling the “miracle” that had happened to them. Word of it spread from the ER personnel to the hospital staff. Someone called it into the local television news station KFOP and they sent a reporter and cameraperson to the hospital to interview Aleta and Wally. The female reporter called the story “The Good Samaritan of Christmas Eve.” She gave an accurate depiction of the accident, Aleta’s rescue efforts and the duo’s survival as the result of a mysterious stranger who somehow returned Aleta’s missing phone to her. As an aside, the reporter also conveyed that Roman had been pulled over and arrested for DUI the same night.
Both Aleta and Wally were released from the hospital around noon on Christmas Day. They sat in side-by-side chairs in the hospital lobby. A few people were there to see relatives who had been admitted or waiting on those having surgical procedures. The hospital had a skeleton crew.
“You doing okay now, Wally?”
He turned his head to look at her. “Yeah. I think the worst is over.”
He really did look a lot better to Aleta. Color had returned to his face and his green eyes had a lot more sparkle to them. She was very glad, but now she felt embarrassed, too.
“I really said some things last night, didn’t I?” she chuckled.
He smiled in response. “Yeah, but I’m not going to hold you to --”
“No,” she interrupted. “Hold me to them. All of them.”
He sat back in his chair, looking straight ahead and somewhat stunned.
“Why did you risk your life for me last night?” he asked. “You did it several times.”
“I caused last night to happen,” she declared. “I wasn’t watching where I was running and you had to swerve to avoid me, so you crashed. You got hurt because of me...you could have died because of me. And I -- I didn’t want you to die. Something in me wanted to save you, even if it cost my life.”
She looked down for a moment, collecting her thoughts. And then she turned back to Wally.
“The same part of me knows that you’re a good man, Wally. You’re someone who will do everything he can for the ones he loves,” she continued. “I don’t think I deserve someone like that but I’m selfish.”
Wally turned towards Aleta and took her hands in his. His expression was soft and tender.
“I think you’ve been through a lot. And I don’t think wanting a better life is selfish,” he replied. “I think it’s normal. I don’t know if I can offer you everything you expect, but if you’re still willing to give it a shot, like you said last night-?”
“We’ve already done the ‘till death' part, haven’t we?” she considered aloud.
He laughed. “Yeah, I think we have!”
Now it was her turn to get teary-eyed. But she looked happy.
“I don’t know who that was that saved both of us,” she said. “But we both prayed for our survival...and we’re here. I’m not a religious girl but maybe that was an angel?”
“Maybe. I haven’t been to church in a long time, but maybe we should find one, let them know what happened to us.”
She nodded, considering his words. And she contemplated something else.
“With everything that happened, do you think -- maybe we were brought together? As a couple?”
His eyes glimmered with an idea. “Let’s find out!”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Let’s go see if anyone will marry us today!”
“Today? On Christmas?”
“If God, Jesus or an angel went to so much trouble just for us to meet and keep us alive, don’t you think He can make a way for us to get married on Christmas?”
Aleta grinned from ear-to-ear at that. What he was saying was so inspiring, it helped her let go of any doubts or reservations. And it felt right.
“When you put it like that, how can I say no?” she replied. “Let’s go do this!”
- THE END
About the author
Allen Steadham is a nondenominational Christian, happily interracially married since 1995. Father of two sons and a daughter. He and his wife have been in the same Christian band since 1997. He plays electric bass, she plays strings, they both sing. It's all good.
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