Jenny screamed. Christopher screamed. Mark screamed. After taking a moment to wake up, Winter screamed too. The little Peugeot careened across the road, despite Mark's frantic efforts to correct the wheel. Branches battered the windows and the brakes squealed in protest, adding their voices to the chaos.
Mark felt his entire body tense up, expecting at any moment to be flung violently into the dash. His stomach seemed to be trying to crawl up into his lungs, and for a moment he was reminded of the vertical drop rollercoaster they'd ridden on earlier that day in the way... but this wasn't a ride. This was very, very real.
Something--probably a fence post, Mark realised in a detached kind of way--crunched beneath the bumper, and the car slewed to a halt. As one, the four slumped back into their seats. There was silence, but for the ticking of the stalled engine, and everybody's laboured breathing.
"Right," said Mark, after a very long moment. "Well. Um. Is everyone..."
"I'm fine," said Jenny. "But let's not do that again, okay? Chris?"
"Both fine back here," said Chris in an unusually high-pitched voice. "Just a little shaken." Beside him, clutching his arm, Winter seemed to be hyperventilating. Mark couldn't help but feel sorry for her; to go from a peaceful dream to a screaming car crash couldn't be a lot of fun.
"What happened?" asked Jenny.
"I don't know. I think... Well, we must have hit something." Mark replayed the incident in his mind. The popping noise, the swerve, the loose, floaty feeling as they left the road. "I think we hit something. I heard a tyre go." He opened his door and tried to get out, forgetting for a moment to undo his seatbelt. With shaking fingers he clicked himself free and went to survey the damage. One by one, the others followed.
"Doesn't look too bad," said Christopher. Then he picked his way through the bushes to Mark's side, and said, "Oh."
A series of long scratches ran down the side of the vehicle, and there was a sizeable and ugly dent in the driver's side wing. Both of the front tyres were completely flat.
"Damn," said Mark dully. It was his first accident, and what was more he really liked his car. Seeing it dented and scratched and helpless in the bushes like this was not a pretty sight. Jenny came around and hugged him.
"Aw, babe," she said, full of sympathy. He hugged her back, and then got down to business.
"Right," he said. "I suppose we should call for roadside assistance. There's a card in the glove box."
"Can't we just put the spare wheel on," said Winter, her voice still sounding a little shaky.
Mark shook his head. "There's only the one spare," he said. "We must have hit something in the road. Pain in the bloody neck, really."
"No kidding," said Christopher. "You want to know the really bad news?"
Christopher held up his mobile phone, the screen glowing brightly in the darkness. "No signal."