* (And expect anyone to believe it)

by Gar Anthony Haywood

A true story:

This past Valentine’s Day, the wife and I were on our way to a restaurant to have a nice, romantic lunch together when her Honda CR-V broke down.  (Yeah, you read that right — it’s a Honda!)  No sooner had I pulled off the freeway than the damn thing died, dash panel aglow with seemingly every warning light in the manual.

I managed to re-start the car and pull it around a corner just to get it out of traffic, but that was it.  The beast was dead.  Time to call the tow truck.

Later that day, the service tech at our local Honda dealer called me with a question: What unlicensed hack had worked on the wife’s car before this?  Because whoever it was, they’d left the radiator so misaligned with its mounting bracket that the associated fan had, over time, sliced through a hose, draining the radiator of all its coolent.

Nobody, I said.  The only service that had ever been done on the car had been of the minor, regularly scheduled variety, and that had been done at the very same dealership from which the tech was calling.


Well, the tech said somewhat uncomfortably, that was rather hard to believe, considering the mangled mess of an automotive undercarriage he was looking at.  Did I want to come down to the dealership to see for myself?

And then I remembered . . .

Around six months earlier, the family and I had just piled into the CR-V on our way to a birthday party.  I was tooling up the hill on Glendale Boulevard when a flash of white ran directly across my path: a bulldog the size of a baby grand piano.  He’d run across the street to go after some poor guy getting into his parked car and chosen to sprint back just in time to acquaint himself with my moving vehicle.  I never even had a chance to hit the brakes.

We ran over the dog.


Oh, Jesus.

I pulled the car over to the curb and killed the engine.  My hands were frozen to the wheel.  My two kids were crying hysterically and the wife was white as a sheet.  “Oh, my God,” Tessa kept saying.  “Oh, my God . . .”

I got out of the car and started back toward the point of impact, wondering what the hell I was going to say to the animal’s owner when I presented him or her with the poor thing’s pulverized remains.  Remains that were, when I reached the spot in the middle of the street where they should have been waiting for me, nowhere to be found.


I looked over at the guy the dog had been chasing, who was safely inside his car now and was about to drive off as if nothing unusual had happened.  “Where’d he go?” I asked, openly bewildered.

He rolled his window down and pointed to a corner house across the street.  “He ran home,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“He ran home?”  How the hell did he run home?!

“He ran home,” the guy said again.

After he explained his non-existent relationship to the bulldog in question, I left him to go find the animal and apologize profusely to its heartbroken owner for having reduced a beloved pet to the wretched, broken creature I was certain it had to be.


When I peered through the gate surrounding the house to which the man in the car had directed me, I saw the dog sitting straight up on the porch, tongue out and wagging this way and that, a young Hispanic man in a wifebeater T-shirt stroking his ears affectionately.

I couldn’t believe it.

“Is he all right?” I called through the gate, incredulous.

The owner just stared at me, the way you might stare at me were I to punch your favorite grandmother in the face and then post video of the assault on YouTube.

I asked my question again and received the same response.  Deciding to quit while I was ahead, I went back to the CR-V and gave my still-hysterical family the good news: The dog was alive and well.  Daddy wasn’t a puppy-killer after all.

The CR-V?  Well, it looked okay, as near as I could tell.  Aside from a huge dent in the plastic belly shield beneath and behind the front bumper, the car had suffered no apparent damage.  We went on to our birthday party that day and have been driving all over creation in the wife’s Honda, without incident, ever since.

Or until six months — six months! — brought us to last Valentine’s Day, when the bulldog got his revenge.

But that’s not the kicker to this story.

The Honda dealership eventually decided a body shop was better suited to make the repairs to our car, so off to the body shop it went.  We got ourselves a nice little rental car and proceeded with our lives.  Two days later, I was driving the kids to school in the rental when the unbelievable happened.

I hit a dog.

A big, hairy lab mix had just crossed a busy intersection, happy and slow as you please, as I was passing through it.  And wouldn’t you know, the big hirsute galoot was being chased by a little dachshund-terrier hybrid running at full tilt — much like that bulldog had chased a stranger getting into his car six months earlier.

This time I had enough warning to brake, but it didn’t help.


Jesus!  Again?!

Two very small consolations immediately occurred to me: 1) I hadn’t completely run over the animal this time; and 2) the two kids in the car’s back seat weren’t mine.  They were members of our carpool for whom I was responsible that day, and unlike my own children, this pair didn’t view such accidents as cause for a catatonic seizure.  They were stunned, but not horrified.

I gingerly backed the car up to get it out of traffic and braced myself for the terrible sight I knew awaited us.

Sure enough, there the little dachshund-terrier mashup lay, on its side, its back turned to us.  A pedestrian who’d been crossing the street when the collision occurred crouched down to, I could only assume, deliver the Last Rites . . .

. . . and the little dog got up and ran away.  No limp, no whimper of pain, nothing.

Can you say, “Déjà vu?”

So let’s review, shall we?  I run over a dog in my car.  It gets up and runs away, seemingly unharmed.  Six months later, the damage caused by the collision kills my car.  I get a rental while the car’s in the shop.  I’m driving that rental when I hit another dog, which like the first, gets up and runs away, seemingly unharmed.

What’s wrong with this picture?  As fact, absolutely nothing.  But as fiction, NO READER IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD BUY IT FOR A SECOND!

Did it all happen exactly as I’ve described it?  Sure did.  Is this not a sterling example of how wildly improbable life can sometimes be?  Sure is.  But here, finally, is the writing-related point of this blog post today:

Just because something really happened doesn’t mean it will make a great story, because a great story has to be more than just fascinating.

It has to be somewhat credible, too.

Questions for the Class: Do you have any true-to-life stories that no one would believe if you tried to pass them off as fiction?

15 thoughts on “YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP *

  1. Phillip Thomas Duck

    Ah, that wonderful thing known as credibility. I love it with the same intensity as its cousin "character motivation". Wonderful stories, Gar. Amusing and creepy at the same time. Credible no, but there still might be a bestseller in the tales…I'm imagining Stephen King.

  2. Sarah W

    Most of my life is boring enough to be completely credible, but that doesn't make for good stories, either.

    My husband and I tried to think of something together. He came up with a few outrageous true stories, but most of them involve people (including us, once, inadvertently) being jerks . . . and we decided that readers would probably find that all too believable.

  3. Alaina

    I'm still in college. All doors to the dorms are locked for our safety. If a visitor wants to get in, however, it takes less than 10 mins. for someone to enter a building at any entrance, and most will hold open the door or let the people behind them in on the backswing.

    My parents visit occasionally, and have no cell phone. They say they'll be there at noon, I expect them at 11:45, and am by the door waiting. Except, four times now, I have /not/ been there waiting. And so, my mid-fifties bald bodybuilding father has found the only window without a screen and climbed in, in full view of ten or more people, some of them responsible for keeping order in the building.

    On the last two occasions, since it was winter, the windows were closed. So he opened them from the outside.

    ….and no one believes me…

  4. David Corbett

    I hope you don't plan to take up skiing. I shudder to think what will happen when some giant conifer suddenly bursts across your path, giving you no time to swerve away. (And what have you got against dogs?)

    When I was in a band we were playing in Kokomo, Indiana and mid-week I needed to go back to Columbus to pick up my van which was in the shop and scheduled for pickup. Donny, the guitarist, and I drove back in the keyboard player's stationwagon.

    Winter, slush, I-70. I'm dumb as only a 19-year-old can be. I'm doing 70 in the outer lane, the one lane that hasn't been cleared. I'm thinking, WAY too late, "You know, you oughta slow down." So I touch the brakes.

    Bad move.

    I instantly go into a spin. Fast. Total 360s. Helpless. Donny, with incredible sang froid, mutters, "Well, there goes this week's paycheck."

    We go off the road, down the embankment — where 5 minutes before, another car had spun off the highway in this exact same spot. Hundreds of miles of interstate, I get stupid right there, right then.

    The driver of the other car was climbing the hill when the stationwagon goes spinning like a 2-ton top straight at him. He dives out of the way but we keep careening down — and hit the other car IN THE DITCH. Woman inside is screaming like a banshee.

    Five minutes later, the plow appears, cleaning off the lane I'd been in.

    Highway patrol guy shows up, says, "You're off the highway and that's a violation, but I haven't got the heart to give you a ticket."

    The clincher? When I got to my mechanic's, the van wasn't ready.

    We drove back to Kokomo in Donny's VW bug, lurching back and forth in our seats with every hill to help us reach the top. (And if you've ever been on I-70 between Columbus and Indianapolis, you know the hills aren't exactly alpine.

    We made it to the gig by 9 PM, when the first set began. We started with the Stones: You Can't Always Get What You Want. (Okay, I made that part up.)

  5. Gordon Harries

    As the child of a police officer, I have about a million ‘uncles’ in the service.

    Back when I lived in Leeds, one of them –a fairly senior officer who had lots of high intensity experience—had a nervous breakdown, stopped going to work and, eventually, started dressing as a Manchester United player.

    This went unreported in the short term. You’d have to assume it wasn’t too long a time, as he was missing work.

    Anyway, came the day when he had a pre-work argument with the wife, sat around all day stewing about it and tried to reverse over her in his car as she came home. He was sectioned shortly thereafter.

    I’ve often thought, when reading socially realistic crime novels, that there’s just no room to credibly insert that kind of quirky anecdote.

  6. Richard Maguire

    A great post, Gar. I loved reading it, and how you told it. It gave me an emotional roller-coaster ride. And when I realised all dogs were safe, I laughed out loud.

  7. Gar Haywood

    Phillip: Stephen King probably could make something readable out of my story. And I'd love to read it.

    Alaina: Your father sounds like a good guy to have around when you've locked yourself out of the house, no?

    David: Man, you put the "lucky" in the expression "lucky to be alive."

    Gordon: Actually, that story's funny enough that it just might have worked in a novel.

    Richard: My story's only amusing because all dogs involved survived. I wouldn't have told it, otherwise. (In accordance with the long-standing rule in crime writing that says "Never kill the dog or cat.")

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Classic, Gar!

    My whole life has been a series of synchronicities that wouldn't play on the page. But I went to Berkeley and I can't swear that my DNA hasn't been altered in some essential way. Or that could be life. Or, you know, whatever.

    But it's why writing straight realism is never going to work for me.

  9. Pari

    I'm with Alex here. My life is just way too strange for it to play in anything close to reality.

    At least I'm getting quite a store of good stories. If I weren't taking just a tiny break from work, I'd share <g>.

  10. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Great story, great blog topic!
    I've had the same dog experience, and of course the entire family was in the car at the time. Screaming as we hit the dog…then another two hours of me looking for the dog after it ran off, seemingly fine. Never found it.
    Incidentally, I once tried to save a tarantula on a highway and my efforts caused it to scuttle into an oncoming SUV and then POP! The kids saw that one, too.
    As far as true stories that would seem improbable if written in a story…I've had loads of them, although of course, nothing comes to mind at the moment.

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Nice post, Gar. All I can say is, they don't make cars like they used to. A while back I knew a guy who hit a Labrador in a little Peugeot 205. It cost him a front bumper, grille, slam panel and radiator, which burst at the scene thus disabling the car. The Labrador got up and walked away.

    Note to self, never have ANY kind of a serious accident in a Peugeot.

    In fact, never have a Peugeot.

    And another one. We always brake/swerve to avoid rabbits who run out into the road, even when they seem hell bent on vehicular suicide. We met a guy who owned a Porsche 911 who decided not to take avoiding action. As its last act, this particular Roger Rabbit leapt up and headbutted his headlight, smashing it to smithereens. Cost the guy a fortune.

    Probably serves him right.

  12. PD Martin

    Good story and I'm so glad the dogs survived 🙂

    I've got a good Aussie one. My mother-in-law was out here for the first time back in 2000 and we took her down the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles. She was desperate to see a kangaroo and hadn't seen one all day (mind you, they are nocturnal). Of course, she got to see her kangaroo up close and personal when it jumped in front of my mum's car at dusk. My mother-in-law was travelling with my mum and we were right behind with other Irish visitors in our car. Of course, we wondered why on earth my mum suddenly hit the brakes and for a second I thought I was going to rear end her. Luckily I didn't. We found out later on that mum actually hit the kangaroo but it was a gentle 'tap'. Kangaroo did fall down, but got up straight away and bounced off. My mother-in-law's first encounter with a kangaroo!

    I've also been hauled up in a ladies bathroom with a kangaroo. Kid you not…same trip we were in the bush (actually on a place called Kangaroo Island) and I went to one of the few public toilet blocks on the island that was part of a camping ground. I walked in and froze, because in the ladies was a huge kangaroo. It was taller than me! I backed out slowly and waited and soon after it bolted. Sometimes the truth IS stranger than fiction 🙂


  13. KDJames

    Geez, I had that happen to me, way back when I was maybe 20 years old. Dog ran out from behind a hedge and straight under the car I was driving. What a horrible sound. I was SURE I'd killed it and pulled over and was sobbing and trembling and looking under the car. A woman who lived on the other side of the hedge came out to talk to me because she saw it happen. Hedge notwithstanding. But she claimed she saw the dog run away and recognized it and so she called the owner. She told me the owner said the dog had returned home and was JUST FINE. All these years, I suspected the woman lied to me so I'd stop crying and not feel bad about killing the poor thing.

    So thanks, Gar, for the compelling evidence that dogs are immune to death-by-car and erasing that stain from my conscience. Isn't it funny how tiny little squirrels and great hulking deer are so horribly vulnerable by comparison? One too small and one too big, but dogs are just right, sort of like a twisted Goldilocks story. Or maybe proof that size really does matter. 🙂

    And Stephen, only you, big soft-hearted hero that you are, would try to save a fucking tarantula. [shudder] Now I'm going to have nightmares, remembering the time I smashed a HUGE spider and turned out it was huge because it was full of tiny baby spiders that exploded outward in a 360 degree arc, with me standing there on the cold cement basement floor with one shoe on and the other foot bare (because you always remove your shoe to smack a spider), hopping around on one foot like an ungainly stork, trying to avoid the attack of a barrage of baby spiders intent on vengeance.

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