Synop: Savannah had a nice life for a twenty seven year old living in Central Florida. Then, one day, she is in an accident and tragically dies. Now, she is forced to stay with the ones she left behind and watch them live on without her...

.:A Wisp of Smoke:.

Prologue

No one was really all responsible for the accident, it was no ones fault and everyones fault all at once. I didn't blame anyone particular in any case.

Before and after the accident, I lived in a little Florida town next to the East Coast. It was small enough to be familiar, yet big enough to be private. It had palm trees, a calming smell of the sea, and the most beautiful coast sunrises. It also got the blunt end of the Florida hurricanes.

The day of the accident was a typical Hollywood-ish ideal for a horror story. It was half-dark outside, a rough wind had taken up, and it was whipping at everything. Leaves and scattered trash were swept across the old K-mart parking lot and the streamers of the local topless bar were ripped off and carried across town on the swift gusts.

It was the end of September, when the tourist population came to a steady trickle (not that it was anything to shake a stick at before) and day faded into evening around 8:30. The local ABC stores stopped bringing in as much business, as well as the tattoo shops and seaside hotels that ran no where near the rest of the town.

The night of the accident, I was driving towards my labratory in my hunter green Jeep around 9:30. I was on my way from home, headed toward the labratory I worked at. At the lab, I was a marine biologist working in a privately funded project on the estuary life of the local Indian River. I was only twenty six, with a masters degree, and had a bright future.

Before the accident, I had a great life. I lived by myself in an apartment within walking distance of a pristine, untouched beach. I wasn't completley unattached, but had no boyfriend, fiance, or husband. The rest of my family resided in more northern states due to my sudden exodus from the house after high school graduation. I lived with no one, except my large chocolate labrador, Milton, named after Milton Hershey.

Before the accident, I would wake early every day, take a run with Milton down to the beach and watch the sun rise in all it's glory. That was before the accident.

That night, while driving to the lab on roads that were so shadowed in the lush Florida foliage that it appeared midnight, I reached over to pull a shiny blue flashlight out of the floor on the passenger side. Not the greatest idea on my part, but I wasn't in my right mind.

Like I said, I don't blame anyone in particular for the accident, several factors added into a fatal equation. It was dark. I was speeding to get to the lab. I leaned over and took my eyes of the road. The man driving the red Dodge Ram pulling the hitched 17ft boat was drunk. I haven't yet figured out what clinched it yet, and probably never will.

I was in a very big rush. My friend, Leah, had called me from the lab, urging me to leave immediatly because the manatee that we were currently observing was giving birth. It amazes me still that I was hurrying for a process that could take hours. Still, I have no regrets in that area.

When I reached down for the flashlight that night, the one I would need to navigate from the main gate to the mantee tank, I missed a stop sign and crossed an four-way intersection without looking.

Unfortunatley, and I don't think it would have mattered anyway, the man in the large Dodge Ram missed his stop sign as well.

His truck hit my Jeep on , tiny compared to the load he was carrying, and pushed me for ten yards. After the metal crunching and sparks flying from the impact, my Jeep separated itself from and flew another ten yards to the line of trees that ran along the right side of the dark, lonely highway.

After my Jeep was separated from the truck, the driver had enough sense to brake. He slowed down enough to save his life when he hit a line of trees opposite me and his boat flipped off the trailer and into a ditch.

The drunk man survived. He had a few broken ribs, two broken arms, a broken collar bone, a slight concussion, a banged up truck, a ruined boat, and a blood-alcohol level three times Florida's legal limit. When his truck hit the trees, he stumbled out of his truck, walked three yards along the edge of the highway, threw up the several beers and the handful of bar peanuts he had on his stomach, then passed out in his own vomit.

I'm sure that you know the complete danger of driving a Jeep, either from previous experience, horror stories, or your mother refusing to allow you to have one 'just in case'. Well, this was the 'just in case' she was talking about. She was talking about being thrown out of your vehicle, thirty feet into the Floridian forests, sliding across the leaf littered forest floor and hitting the trunk of a large oak tree, the back of your head taking most of the impact. She was talking about making your Jeep a pile of metal that had ripped into two trees so far that it wasn't going to come out without taking the trees with it.

When someone finally discovered us, it was a fifty year old man driving home from his job at the only church of the town. He was the pastor there. When he saw the wreck, the first thing he did was call 911. Then he searched the wreckage and only found the man that owned the Dodge. He didn't look far enough for me. I guess he couldn't percieve the body of a young woman being thrown thirty feet from her vehicle into the woods.

He didn't percieve a tall, skinny, blonde woman with brown eyes crumpled against a tree in nothing but her white silk nightgown because she didn't even think to pick up a coat or slip on shoes on the way out the door. He didn't percieve a girl, soaked from head to toe in her own crimson blood, nothing but pictures of her chocolate lab and the future baby manatee running through her delirious mind.

When the EMS arrived, they saw the hunter green Jeep smashed into two trees, a red Dodge Ram and its boat flipped over in a ditch, and a slobbering drunk man passed out in his own vomit. All the people on the team, however, except for the newest, a rookie on his first run, knew one thing was missing. The young marine biologist famous in the town for pushing the punishments on beach littering and helping to repopulate the local estuary with manatee.

A passenger in the first police car to show up at the scene and one of the locals who hung out at the nearby police water hole, a Phillip Burke, quickly ran to my Jeep. He, of course, found it empty. Phillip ran into the woods searching for my body. I knew Phillip and loved him dearly, for I had dated him for a long time up until a couple years ago, and I remember silently hoping he wouldn't find me. I remember hoping someone else would, and then steer him away from the gut wrenching sight of my body lying crumpled on the forest floor, waiting for someone to rescue me.

But that didn't happen. It was hard to miss my body if you were looking for it that far out, even without a flashlight. My blood reflected the light of the full moon above, which filtered through the thick canopy.

He caught sight of me under the nearby police car headlights and quickly rushed to my side. He sat, pulled me up into his arms, and cradled my head, careful not to touch the smashed in portion of the back. A man walked up. He was Henry Valentia, the one of the cops on duty that night.

"Phillip. Put the girl down. Let the professionals handle this. You might do damage to her spine, or something."

That was the point I became consious. I remember staring up at Phillips face as he looked up at the cop and glared.

"With all due respect, sir, shove it up your ass." He spat venomously.

The cop, startled at the reaction of the usually quiet young man, left Phillip with me. Phillip, stared down at me with sad brown eyes and ran his hand through my blood-soaked hair. He was covered in my blood already. My vision blurred and went clear at random intervals.

Phillip began to talk quietly to me. "Savannah, can you hear me?"

I nodded slowly and made a low groaning noise. He smiled wide and sighed in relief. "You know, you still owe me money for that pizza you stole back freshman year. You remember that, you hear?"

I smiled weakly. What he was really saying was "Don't die on me."

I reached a hand up slowly to his cheek and patted it lightly. I didn't have much energy left.

"Money's....in...my sock...drawer." I breathed shallow. Blood was filling my lungs from internal bleeding. I was feeling light headed like I had stood up too quickly. Only the feeling didn't go away.

He laughed quietly. Tears came to his eyes and they overflowed over his cheekbones and onto mine. I wiped them away from his left eye and my hand dropped. I didn't have any more energy to hold it up.

From the direction that the cop had left and the direction of the weak low beams of my Jeep, came voices that seemed so far away I shouldn't have been able to hear them.

"What should we do?"

"Leave them be. She doesn't have much longer."

"Does he know her?"

"Obviously. Just let him alone with her. It won't take long."

"Savannah. I-" It was Phillips voice. "I'm sorry for everything I said last year. I- I-"

"Shhhh." I quieted him. He was referring to a fight we had last year that we hadn't spoken since from. "I'sokay. Love you...anway. Tell Lee...love her. Tell ma...love her. Ta...care Milt...an...Te' Sam tha-" My eyes became heavy suddenly.

He listened carefully, understanding every little syllable, then forcefully kissed my forehead as though it would give me strength to live. Tears still rolled down his cheeks, like a bathtub overflowing.

I took on last breath and, with a smile and Phillips tears rolling down my cheeks, closed my eyes forever.

But that isn't the end of the story. Not nearly. Ironic, isn't it?

Yes, I died. I had a severe loss of blood, the back of my head caved in, and the lower half of my spine broken. I surprised myself by being alive long enough to talk to Phillip. The EMS people said it was an absolute miracle that I could move at all. I agreed.

As for the drunk in the red Dodge Ram, he was sentanced two years in a minimum security prison for vehicular manslaughter under the influence of alcoholic substances. After which, he was allowed back home to live the rest of his life out with his wife, who was amazingly still married to him, and his two kids who had been too young at the time to know what had happened. I on the other hand, didn't get to leave this incident behind.

But, this a story I shall tell, and if you are now sufficiently interested, please, stay for the rest of my tale.