Chapter 13 – The Accident
June 27th, 2011
Jules awoke with a jerk as a sunbeam hit him directly in the face. He fought with lucidity for a moment before realizing three important things: He was alone in Verne's SUV. The SUV was parked in front of a rest stop that contained a food court. His hunger demanded that he visit said food court immediately in search of nourishment.
He stumbled out of the car, struggling to stand up-right despite the crick in his back born of a long nap in the front seat. Stretching as best he could and squinting in the bright light of the morning sun, he staggered forward, no doubt unnerving the elderly woman sitting on a bench who clutched her purse protectively as he passed. After twirling several times in place trying to catch sight of either Marty or Verne, his bladder sharply reminded him that business needed to be attended to after his sleep, and he quickly made his way inside.
Jules untucked one end of his shirt and used it to push open the door to the men's restroom, yawned, and got to work in front of the urinal. He began to concentrate on a particularly vexing quadratic equation that he'd been toiling with over for the past eight weeks, when someone in a stall behind him called in a sing-song voice, "Don't turn around!"
"Wha - " Jules sputtered, startled by the noise.
"Jus' walk awaaay!" the voice cried again.
"Sir, I regret that such a thing is, at the very least, biologically uncomfortable at present - "
"I don't want to see you nake-kaaahaaad!"
"I have no intention - "
"Ah'm letting you gooo-hooo, but I won't let you knoooow - "
Jules scoffed. "Verne? Verne! Is that you?"
"What? What?" the familiar voice of Verne said in an irritated tone. "Jules?"
"What in the terrestrial orb are you doing? Are you singing?"
"I've got my iPod on," Verne explained. A moment later the toilet flushed and Verne emerged from the stall, sticking his iPod and earphones in his pocket. "Helps me wake up."
"I see." Jules finished and joined his brother at the row of sinks. "The lyric is not, 'I don't want to see you naked.'"
"Well I don't want to see you naked, either." Verne returned his brother's scowl with a playful grin. He laughed. "C'mon, lighten up. That's what it sounds like, so I've always sung it that way."
"Pleasing to see that in a universe of endless variables, your morning routine of caterwauling hasn't changed since the mid-90's," Jules commented. "Where is Martin?"
"Search me. Last I saw he was walking around the parking lot, looking like he had the world on his shoulders." Verne splashed some water on his face and then inhaled dramatically, thumping his chest a few times. "Ahhh! I feel like a new man!"
Verne ventured forth to the McDonalds in the food court to get breakfast for himself while Jules meandered around the large, bright rest stop and eventually wandered into a store that sold health-nut type food to go. While inspecting a rack of what could only be described as Slim-Jim shaped pieces of tofu wrapped in recycled plastic, Jules toyed with the notion of also obtaining a grease-laden breakfast but decided against it. He wasn't exactly a strict nutritionist in his eating habits, but his system was unaccustomed to the types of food Marty and Verne were comfortable eating on the road, and eventually settled on some sort of fresh seafood burrito, which he heated in the store's microwave before walking back out to the car.
By that time, Verne had snarfed down his three sausage McMuffins in the front seat of the car. Marty had jumped in the back seat and Verne greeted him with his mouth full. "Hey Marty! Did you get some breakfast?"
"I'm not too hungry just now," Marty said. Verne's eyes softened.
"Everything ok?" he asked. "You look a little...uh, down."
"Yeah, just...it was a long night," Marty replied. He grabbed a pillow from the back and began smooshing it into shape. He laid across the backseat trying to get comfortable. "Look, I think I'm going to take a nap. Wake me up when we get to the border of New Jersey, all right?"
"Absolutely," Verne promised.
Jules got in the passenger's seat a moment later, burrito still cupped in his hand. "Are we off, then?"
Five minutes later saw them cruising at sixty five miles an hour down the highway. Verne tugged at the collar of his shirt and squirmed. "Anybody else hot?" he asked in a weak voice.
"He's asleep, Verne."
Another few moments passed.
"Are you sure you're not hot?"
"I am comfortable." Jules took another bite of his breakfast and threw a quick glance to his brother, and then did a double take. "Brother, are those - are those hives on your neck?"
"What?" Verne felt his neck and sure enough, small bumps had appeared. Instantly, he began to scratch them ferociously.
"Verne, are you experiencing medical distress?" Jules asked, his voice steadily rising to an alarmed tone.
"I'm - I'm fine - " he wheezed, alternately scratching his neck and pulling at his collar. He turned the A/C up as high as it would go and adjusted the vents to blow directly on his face. "Just - Just so hot."
"Perhaps you should pull over - "
"It's - I'm fine, I just - " Verne finally stole a glance at his brother and caught sight of the burrito gripped in his hand. "Jules, what're you eating?"
"I am uncertain as to its exact origin," Jules noted as he studied the burrito's contents skeptically. "Some sort of sea life, I imagine."
"Oh God!" Verne cried. In his panic, he jerked the wheel slightly, causing them to careen momentarily into the other lane. The jolt caused Marty's head to slam against the door and he sat up, clutching the side of his face.
"What the hell's going on up there?" he demanded.
"It's shellfish! It's shellfish in that burrito!"
"It is possible," Jules agreed. "Is there a problem?"
"I'm terribly allergic to shellfish!" Verne blurted, his voice wavering. Jules' eyes became wide.
"I knew you had a slight allergy when you were younger, Verne, but I had no idea that the very smell caused a reaction!"
"The allergy got worse as I got older! Much, much worse!" Verne's vision began to blur. "Oh God! Oh God oh God oh God!"
"Pull over!" Marty shouted.
Jules had opened the window to throw the offending article out when all of a sudden it seemed as though the ground was rising up to meet him. The next thing he knew, he was being thrown out of his seat and onto the ceiling of the car. The tumble seemed endless and was punctuated by the sound of crunching metal and breaking glass; he fumbled blindly for Verne but a sudden, last whomp tossed him violently into the backseat, hitting his head hard on the headrest.
Everything was dim and quiet for a moment. He fought to regain his senses and forced his eyes open.
"Verne?" he was already calling in a feeble voice even before his eyes had adjusted. A jolt of fear tore through him as he spied the profile of his brother's face covered in blood in the front seat. A shout ripped from him, seemingly without his permission, and he clamored into the front seat, Marty's fate temporarily forgotten.
Please, not my brother too, Jules silently prayed to whatever omniscient power existed in the universe. Verne's face was already swollen and blood seeped from several abrasions; Jules felt tears come to his eyes for the first time in years as he helplessly shook his younger brother, who remained unconscious. "No. Please, please no," Jules whispered desperately, now reduced to gently patting Verne's blood-streaked face.
"Jules? Verne?" Marty's voice called sluggishly from the back. "What happened? You ok?"
Jules didn't answer; all of his attention remained focused on Verne. "Please Verne," he repeated quietly, as if Verne could hear him. "We lost Mother to a car accident; I can't lose you too. Please, for the love of God, wake up!"
"Verne? Oh God, Verney!" Marty cried, catching his first glimpse of Verne. He kicked the car door as hard as he could several times until it gave, then rushed out and threw open the driver's side door. Marty's breath caught in his throat.
A tear finally escaped the hold of Jules' eye and cascaded down his cheek as Jules held steadfastly to his brother's torn shirt. He shut his eyes tightly; he wasn't a religious man, but nonetheless, he sent a silent prayer to the heavens: Please, Father, wherever you are - please help!
As if on cue, Verne's eyes fluttered slowly and eventually opened, unfocused but very much alive. "J-Jules? What happened?" he rasped.
Jules swallowed a sob and hugged his brother to him tightly. Marty collapsed on the ground from relief, burying his face in his hands.
"Hey, you guys need an ambulance!" a voice shouted from above them. Marty turned to see a man looking down on them from where their ruined car lay at the bottom of a ditch. The man struggled down the hill, a cell phone in his hand. "You guys all right?"
"Yeah," Marty stammered. He threw another glance inside the car, where Jules still wore a terrified expression and had a death grip on his brother. "We need some help here."
Twenty minutes later, Verne groggily watched the ceiling of the emergency room speed past him as he was wheeled inside. Jules and Marty were able to stagger in under their own power, but just barely. Within an hour, they'd all been patched up by the ER doctors. Jules had escaped the accident with the least injuries - a few large, smarting bruises and lacerations to his face and chest, while Marty had a slight concussion and cuts on his hands and face. Verne hadn't fared quite so well, and sat up in a hospital bed with his wrist in a cast, bandages covering much of his face, and stitches on his lower lip.
But they were all alive.
Jules limped into Verne's room with Marty close behind them. He clapped a hand on Verne's shoulder, a rare gesture of affection, and did his best at a smile. "I thought I might have lost you," he whispered to him.
"Brown? Brown?" a voice echoed through the hallway.
Verne shifted slightly and hollered, "In here! Two Browns!"
An officer, bearing a pair of handcuffs, entered the room slowly. His gaze roved over Verne for a moment, taking in his injuries. "Verne Brown?"
Jules arched an eyebrow. "We have just spoken to an officer about the car accident, sir. Is there something else we can do for you?"
"You can keep quiet," the officer returned in a flat voice, giving Jules a steely look. His attention turned back to Verne. "I understand you were the driver in today's accident."
"That's right." Verne gave the officer a quizzical look. "I was having an allergic reaction, but I'm all right now. They gave me a shot of antihistamine - "
"That isn't what I'm here about." The officer sat down on one of the chairs and flipped open a file on the bed, looking at it critically. "Were you also having an allergic reaction when you flipped that car seven years ago?"
Verne's face fell; he didn't like where this was going. "Uh, no. No, officer, I wasn't. The road was wet and I hydroplaned."
"I see." The officer closed the file in front of him. "Look, I've seen all types of accidents in my time, and this one had all the hallmarks of a drunk driving accident."
Verne's jaw dropped. "Drunk? You think I'm drunk?"
"I found this on the floor of the driver's seat." With this, the officer plunked a corked, unlabeled vial on the bed in front of them. "It's corked, but it has been opened. I don't need to tell you that having an open container of alcohol in a moving vehicle is a violation under Pennsylvania law, and this vial's got an alcohol content high enough to make a pretty good case that you - or all of you - were drinking."
"I've never seen that before!" Verne cried frantically. "I don't even know what the hell that is!"
"It's a homemade sedative, officer, nothing more," Jules piped up from behind. All eyes turned to him; he seemed to cower slightly in their gaze. "You see, I'm a chemist and often concoct my own household pharmaceuticals. It does have an alcohol content, like many liquid sleep aids on the market, but the majority of the ingredients are herbal in nature."
The officer looked at Jules steadily for a moment and then burst into peels of laughter. "A homemade sedative! I thought I'd heard 'em all, but that's a new one!"
"But it is!" Jules protested, balling his fists at his sides. "We had a long car journey ahead of us, and as I am occasionally afflicted with insomnia when sleeping in a new place, I thought it pertinent to bring along a sedative to aid my sleep should I need it!"
"Well, that's for the guys in the lab to decide," the officer said, still laughing slightly. He dropped the vial into his pocket and stood. "As for now, Verne Brown, I'll need you to stay put. We'll undoubtedly have some more questions for you. You other two - come on with me."
Verne threw Jules a look that could kill, but nevertheless Jules and Marty followed the officer out. He left them at the emergency room doors and disappeared off down the hallway. Jules and Marty exited the doors, both wanting to clear their heads in the fresh air. Marty stuck his hands in his pockets.
"Jules, why the hell didn't you tell us?" Marty implored.
"I'm sorry, Martin," Jules said, a confused look crossing his face. "It did not occur to me that my formula would be legally construed as an open container of alcohol."
Marty sighed and began to pace. "God knows how long this is going to take. We're running out of time."
"I am cognizant of that fact."
"If we don't get to Doc in time...I don't even want to think about it..."
"Nor do I."
Marty bit his lip and gazed off into the distance, his mind racing. Jules sank down onto a bench, his knees weak and his heart heavy. He felt as though he were a blade of grass that had been crushed underfoot, and no more important than that, either. "I am so sorry, Marty," he repeated softly, putting his face in his hands. "I have systematically failed at everything I have tried to do, and I had no right bringing you and Verne into it."
"You haven't failed at everything, Jules," Marty said impatiently.
"Yes, I have." Jules spoke with unwaveringly certainty. "I fail to invent anything other than components to be used in consumer items that have no real purpose. I failed to make a time machine of my own. I failed to finish my PhD, failed to make friends, failed to keep my brother out of the trouble that I caused. The only reason we're on this insane journey is because I failed to correctly contain chemicals I was obviously unfit to handle. The only reason we're risking interrupting the timeline is due to my own negligence. The only reason we cannot take a plane is because of me, the only reason my only brother is sitting in a hospital swathed in bandages and being treated like a criminal is because - " Jules stopped here, unable to go on. A lump rose in his throat and unwanted tears brimmed in his eyes; he wiped these away hastily, but Marty had already caught sight of them. Jules sniffed, willing with everything he had in him to keep the tears from coming, but a lifetime of failures beckoned at the forefront of his consciousness. "Worst of all," he uttered huskily, "Worst of all, I have put you and my brother in very real danger because of my own stupidity. The crowning failure of my life, Marty, is that I am not, nor will I ever be, half the scientist my father was, and the tragedy is that it's all I've ever wanted."
Marty's gaze softened somewhat and he sat down next to Jules, patting him on the back. He looked thoughtful for a moment before speaking. "You know the happiest I ever saw Doc?" He didn't wait for an answer and continued, "It wasn't when the DeLorean made its first successful run. Wasn't when he managed to see me off in 1885 when I headed back to 1985 in that old DeLorean...wasn't even the time Verne managed not to fail algebra one semester. The happiest I ever saw the Doc was when he was standing on that time train in 1985, right after I'd come back, and introduced me to you and Verne. That was the happiest I ever saw Clara, too. They were the happiest when they were with you guys. He was so proud of you, Jules, he - " Marty stopped and took a breath. "Look, so you're not Doc Brown. Nobody could be Doc Brown except Doc Brown, just as no one could be Jules Brown except Jules Brown. Doc wouldn't have wanted you to live your life trying to be anybody except who you already are. And if it's good enough for Doc, it's got to be good enough for you too, right?"
Jules ran his hands over his face; he wished he could believe it.
It was nearly two o'clock by the time Verne emerged from the hospital, looking wan and exhausted as he approached Jules and Marty, who had sat more or less silently since their conversation.
"Can you leave?" Marty asked hopefully, rising to his feet.
"Yeah. I'm clear to go. No charges being brought against me or anything, seeing as how I passed a breathalyzer test with flying colors," Verne answered pointedly, staring daggers at his brother. "But because I no longer possess a car, I'm a little lost on how to proceed."
Jules also rose to his feet nervously. "We do still have quite a ways to go. Perhaps we can convince a taxi to take us the rest of the way - seeing as how the accident, and subsequent investigation, was more or less entirely my fault, I will gladly pay - "
"More or less?" Verne mimicked in a low, dangerous voice, walking a few paces until he was face to face with his brother. "More or less? Jules, for Christ's sake, it was all your fault! Your stupid breakfast gave me an allergic reaction, despite you knowing about my allergy - "
"I was not aware that fumes alone - "
" - and then because of that reaction, I lost control and totaled my car, broke my wrist, and had nineteen stitches put in my lip. You hid alcohol in the car for the police to find, which meant I had to be interviewed by practically the entire goddamn police force of this town who all fervently believed I was some sort of drunk. If I'd been charged with drunk driving, I would have lost my license, my job and my kids because of it. And now, unless we find a way to get to all the way to New Jersey by sundown, your stupid contraption will destroy Hill Valley! It's all your fault, Jules!" he roared. "My entire life is falling down around me, and I can't even count on you to do things a sane human being would do, let alone a brother!" He exhaled sharply, his entire body shaking in rage, and then pointed a finger at Jules. "Jules, I swear that if we get out of this, I'm leaving Hill Valley immediately and I'm never coming back. I don't want a goddamn thing to do with your inventions or your life ever again, understand?"
Jules did his best to hide a heartbroken expression by immediately looking away. "Y-Yes. Yes, I understand," he stammered weakly. "As you wish, Verne. We shall part company when this is behind us."
During this altercation, Marty had hung back and watched with a growing despondency. His mind desperately tried to think of something - anything - that Doc or Clara might have said to either of their boys in such a situation, but he was drawing a blank. As Verne stalked off into the parking lot, already speaking to a taxi company on his cell phone (or, screaming into the phone was more like it), he put a hand on Jules' shoulder. "Jules, I..." He broke off here, unable to find anything to say.
"It's fine, Martin," Jules murmured as he sat back down on the bench. "There isn't anything you can say to change the situation anyway."
A half hour later, a yellow van pulled into the parking lot with the words "Long Distance Shuttle" written on the side in pink ink, with a cartoon mouse carrying a suitcase etched on the side whose speech bubble read, We Go the Distance! Marty, Jules and Verne all climbed inside, with Marty and Verne in the second row and Jules alone in the back, where he sat silent and unmoving after he strapped himself in.
"West Orange, right?" the driver said, lighting a cigarette.
"Right. And can we go as quick as we can? We're running late already."
"Sure, sure," the driver said amiably as they pulled out onto the highway. "Get you there fast as I can."
No one dared speak a word the entire ride, the tension heavy enough to slice through with a knife. Marty tried in vain to sleep despite his body still screaming with exhaustion after the accident, but Verne was soon fast asleep in his seat, emitting little snorts and snores intermittently. Only Jules was wide awake for the entire ride, gazing out of the windows blankly, his mind far away from the drab confines of the cab.
The sun had already set by the time they rolled into West Orange. Marty, struggling to remember any shred of information about he and Doc's excursion in 1998 (why was it getting harder and harder to remember the more he thought about it?), instructed the cabbie to keep driving until he reached a large forest north of town. This he did, and before long they were stopped at the side of the road at the campground entrance to the forest. Marty and Verne jumped out while Jules dutifully paid the driver along with a large tip. The three men stretched and suddenly, as if the implications of their trip hit them all at once, they stood looking at one another, unsure how to proceed further.
"All right, some ground rules," Marty declared finally, feeling that he should take charge. "Remember, these are the 1998 versions of me and Doc, and they might not be any too happy to see us. Doc was a real stickler for keeping future selves and past selves away from one another, so he might take some convincing. Jules, Verne - not a word about the fact that Doc and Clara aren't around in 2011, all right? And as much as possible, keep away from any personal anecdotes about your lives that hadn't already happened in 1998." He heaved a sigh. "We're almost there, guys. Ready?"
Jules and Verne nodded, somewhat apprehensively.
They began their trek by straying off the trails, as Marty knew he and Doc wouldn't have parked the time train anywhere that was easily detectable by hikers and campers. He tried to force his mind into imparting memories of that experience that might help him find their way, but no matter how hard he concentrated, no concrete memories came back to him. Is it the concussion? Marty wondered idly to himself. But you'd think I'd remember something – especially considering that a 2011 counterpart is about to walk smack dab into his own 1998 counterpart – but why does it feel as though there's just a huge gap in my memory where this stuff should be?
He saw a few lights ahead in what looked like a clearing. His heart jumped and he started for it, fighting his way through brush and branches. The outline of the time train that he hadn't seen in years began to come into focus. Jules, sensing that they were close, moved to the front of the pack.
"We'll find a way." Marty startled as he heard a faint iteration of his younger voice coming from the clearing. "There's always a way."
They all heard it. Jules seemed to dive headlong into the clearing without any grace, and upon seeing the much-missed and familiar face of his father, the only thing that came out of his mouth was a strangled cry of, "Father!"