11 Apr White Out
“White Out”Written by Devin Langan Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by Otis Jiry
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 28 minutes
Outside the wind shrieked against the window pane, the news had said that there was a blizzard headed her way. Stacey had been rushing around the house since 5 pm trying to get her bags packed. She was hoping to hit the road by seven so that she could get to her mother’s before the storm hit hard.
The twins had been playing in their room quietly for most of the evening with their coloring books. Five years old and already they looked like they had a gift for art. They couldn’t keep the color in the lines but today that just meant they were “thinking outside the box.” She’s grateful they weren’t asking her a million questions for a change. She wanted to get them packed. She wanted to get them gone from here.
Stacey was not going to put up with another night of Tom’s abuse. She had married him seven years earlier and really loved him, but after the twins were born he had changed. The drinking first, then the drug use. At first she blamed the stress of his job, but then she blamed herself. She tried to pay more attention to him, to his needs, but nothing she did seemed to make him happy. Not the sexy night wear, and not the baby-sitters over the weekend so they could spend time alone together.
Two years ago the violence had started, at first it was just an odd smack when he was angry, but it escalated quickly. One night Stacey had come home from the restaurant to the sound of screams. Rushing into the house she found her husband holding little Chrissy, clutched tight in his hands, her feet dangling from the floor… but it was what she saw in his eyes that scared her the most. Tom’s eyes had no Tom in them. What she saw was completely alien. He was shouting that he wanted Chrissy to shut up or he would kill her, punctuating each word with aggressive shaking of her limp body.
Late that night he apologized. He blamed the stress at work and that he was going to see a doctor about his anger. Damn him!
Sara was next, almost two days later. Then another apology. The “I love you so much, I can’t forgive myself. I need you, I need the girls… You are my life…”
That was the way it went for the next two years. Stacey had not told anyone. She was afraid that if she did, her babies would be taken away from her, and she could not muster up the power to leave him. They had been high-school sweethearts and the kind of power couple everyone assumed would live happily ever after. Also, Tom was the main support of the family. He had been made partner at the firm where he worked shortly after they had been married, and he made excellent money. Stacey had been so proud of Tom, he was the youngest partner there. Without his money, she could not see herself providing well for her children and she felt trapped.
Last night had been the breaking point though. Tom had been good for over a month. She had relaxed a little and went out with her girlfriends. She came home over an hour late. Opening the door, she could hear Chrissy and Sara crying loudly. Tom was shouting incoherently at them. He was holding an egg beater over them and bringing it down again and again over Sara’s bare back. Stacey felt something break in her – she had jumped at Tom and he turned on her with that wild alien look in his eyes. For the first time the sight of her did not bring him back. She felt her face light up in pain. She had been hit with the egg beater. But she held her ground. Somehow, and she could not believe her luck, she had managed to kick that son of a bitch right in the groin.
It was not like the movies though. He did not fall to his knees screaming in pain. Tom’s eyes had rolled into the back of his head and he lurched towards her. Panic for her children emboldened her. She let him get close then grabbed something from behind her on the dresser. The snow globe she managed to grab exploded in a shower of water, glass, and flakes that blinded her. She hoped that those flakes also blinded Tom. But she did not have to worry, Tom was lying on the floor face down with a small trickle of blood on his temple. He lay there motionless. Stacey took the opportunity to lock herself in the master bedroom with her daughters where they huddled in fear all night waiting for Tom to come banging on the door.
The next morning, Stacey woke to the sound of the car pulling into the drive. During the night Tom had managed to wake up and get out of the house and away without disturbing her or the children. The twins had woken up to the sound of the door slamming shut downstairs.
“Is it Daddy?” Sara looked up with a swollen red face. Strangely there was no fear in her voice. A cold dark chill went down Stacey’s spine. The children think this is normal. Then the knock at the door. Tom’s voice came through the one-inch thick wood. He began apologizing, but she dismissed his voice. They think this is normal. The thought momentarily gripped her in a strangle hold forcing her to dry heave in shock. Tom continued his apologizing and she snapped out of her trance like state just in time to hear him say he would be home from work late and then they would talk about this.
This is how she came to find herself packing like a madwoman, trying for the first time to stand tall against her husband. All day she could not shake the fact that after what that man, the father of her little ones, had done, the children were acting like nothing had happened. She would not let them grow up like that. She would not let them become victims.
There was really no plan. She would head to her mother’s and tell her everything. She needed the space to think and to decide how to take control of her life again.
Outside the howl of the wind was joined by a light flurry of falling snow.
Blood started to pound against Stacey’s ears and she could feel cold beads of sweat forming on her brow, every minute closer to seven made her more nervous, she wanted to be long gone before he came home. She was afraid that she would lose her nerve if he came home and caught her, worse, what would he do? How would he retaliate? Sweaty hands snatched clothes from the dressers and darting eyes scanned the rooms to make sure that she had missed nothing of importance. The children’s clothes and a few favorite toys all ended up askew in a large black garbage bag. The suitcases were bloated with more clothes and a few more of the kids more precious toys.
“Mommy!” The sudden shout snapped Stacy out of the rhythm she’d established, Sara was standing in the doorway with a big smile on her face.
“Can we play?” Sara held out her crayon and grinned. Sparkling blue eyes shone with mirth and just the sweetest dash of mischievousness. They think this is normal.
“Not right now honey, can you play with your sister?”
Sara started to pout, but only for a second.
“Chrissy! Mom says you have to play with me!” The sound of something being dragged along the wall and then another pair of bright blue eyes peered from behind the door frame.
“Play with us Mommy!” Chrissy smiled up at her mother, with a green streak of crayon across her face. Her White teeth always prominent in her big happy smile.
“Mommy wants to play babies, but mommy is really busy right now. But guess what?” The two children looked at each other, “We are going for a car ride.”
“Yeah!” The children cried gleefully “For French fries?!”
“That’s right honeys. You like the car but now you have to play till Mommy is ready to go. Can you play nice for Mommy?” The children nodded quickly and with one look over their shoulders they disappeared down the hall, bouncing away in unison. From the kid’s room Stacey could hear their excited chatter. She cast a quick glance outside the window, beyond the frosted, foggy glass the world had started to turn a deep white.
The town’s oldest and most remote truck diner was almost empty. Steve, the owner was washing the counters and dreaming of getting home. Tonight there was going to be something special on TV that he didn’t want to miss, and it was getting cold, he hated these storms and he just plain detested the cold.
Shivering he looks up as the small chime rings above his door and a familiar face appears in a gust of wet cold wind. The sheriff glances about the diner before entering. Brushing snow off his jacket he orders the usual coffee he takes with him on his rounds. Afterwards Steve goes to pick up the change left on the table in its usual place as the cheap bastard makes his way back towards the exit. Sighing he rolls his eyes. Short a buck twenty-five, the guy had stiffed him and he was supposed to be the law in town.
“Eh, Steve, I asked for the coffee whitener, not this artificial sweetener garbage. You know it gives you cancer, right?”
“Sorry John, none left. I thought ya wouldn’t mind.”
“You know what’s worse than cancer though? This stuff gives me gas and I’m stuck in a truck in this cold all night. You know what that means? It means the windows are rolled up. Why don’t you ever have the coffee whitener?”
“Well I would have to say it’s cause the new help my useless brother hired keeps forgetting he buys the groceries when he’s in a rush to plow yer ‘ol lady.”’
“You’re a real funny guy, Steve. Good thing I don’t lock people up for being so, so funny.”
“Well pardon me, sheriff, I’m just saying it ain’t the roads being the only thing plowed round here tonight, is all.”
“Careful, eh Steve. You’re not just takin the joke too far you’re absolutely murderin’ it. And murder is something I can lock you up for.” The sheriff grins and turns as if to exit the diner.
“Aw, just take your brew and get outta here. Get home before the storm really hits hard.”
“Yup, I hear you. It’s gonna be a real bad one. Best get myself home to the woman, you know how she worries about every little thing.” With that the sheriff tips his hat and offers one more glance at his old friend Steve, “I nearly forgot, best you get the road closed sign turned on pretty quick. It looks like we’re in for a helluva night. I don’t want any cars out there on that road, not tonight. No sense in me goin’ to get them in this weather…”
“I hear ya. I’ll turn the thing on in two minutes.”
“Don’t be messin’ around. Get that sign on.”
“Just get home, I’ll take care of it.”
Two minutes later, Steve, the owner of the last diner on the way out of town saunters into the back room and flips the switch on his outdoor sign, the sign that would have warned vehicles that that road out of town would be closed till further notice. Outside the sign sizzled and crackled to life before shorting out and going dead almost immediately. Steve might have been the world’s best line cook and a great manager of the smallest diner in town but what he was not and never claimed to be was much of a handy man. Being handy was also part of the job description of the dumbass his brother hired.
Outside the dead sign disappeared in a wet coat of sleet and snow.
Six-thirty, and finally the car was packed and ready to go. Extra blankets and clothes were in the back, packed tightly into the small trunk. The girls were strapped into their seats tightly and Stacey took one final look around the house. God forbid she forget something important. Tom was going to be home very soon. Screw it, she thought. On her way out the door she picks up a rock by the outside stairs and with just the briefest moment of hesitation she sends it flying through the large picture window, shattering it into its own storm of glass shards. She allows herself a quick feeling of satisfaction then briskly heads for the car. Maybe Tom would freeze tonight. She could only hope.
The old car finally pulls out of the driveway at exactly six forty-five. The snow beneath her tires makes that satisfying crunching noise and sparkles like powdered glass in the headlights. Already it’s almost too dark to see. What she was doing was right, wasn’t it? It was nearly a six hour drive to her mother’s house. Six hours in the summer, if you obeyed the speed limit. It was going to be a long night. Stacey – mother of two, waitress at the local Burger Heaven, and recently empowered woman pressed down on the gas and escapes with her daughters into the blustery winter night.
“French fries! Mommy, French fries!! We want French fries!” Sara was pulling against her seat belt and Chrissy was fidgeting back and forth in excitement. Stacey in a hurry had forgotten her promise to them.
“Okay babies, we can have some French fries.” The drive-through window at McGreggory’s should still be open at this hour. The weather should still be okay downtown, they wouldn’t be closed quite yet. Best of all she wouldn’t have to stop at the old diner just on the outskirts of town. She didn’t like that place because it was greasy and cheap and they never seemed to have any coffee whitener.
The interior of the car smells of French fries, savory and salty. Reaching down onto the seat beside her she grabs a few of her own and pops them in her mouth. She didn’t realize how hungry she was and now finally away from the house and safe with her little ones she’s able to relax a little. She made it.
The children munched happily on their less than nutritious dinner without a care in the world in the back and Stacey helps herself to a couple more from the bag beside her. With the food in her stomach she was feeling better. The anxious trembling had subsided and she was feeling a lot more confident now in her decision. She takes in the soft misty glow of the streetlights in the falling snow. It had already gotten thicker since the time she had pulled away from the drive through window only moments ago, but she didn’t mind. She had been driving a long time and was used to a little snow. Within 10 minutes she reaches the edge of town and the road out, she glances to her right and smiles. The truck stop was still open and she could see the owner inside through the big windows. There are no other cars in the lot but his. Looking back to the road she focuses her vision ahead. In her review mirror the lights of town slowly dim and finally disappear, lost to the darkness of the evening and falling snow.
Steve looks up from moping the floor. The now empty diner was quiet except for the Coke machine humming in the back. He had seen something outside, just barely though. A vehicle had just passed his place. That can’t be right he thought. Leaning the mop against the counter he heads towards the window. Beyond the lights of the diner there is only an empty darkness. Something didn’t feel right, then it clicks. The sign wasn’t on. There was no light from the sign. Grabbing his coat he rushes out into the parking lot. The snow pelts against his face and sticks to his unkempt beard. He runs with an uncoordinated gait towards the road and slips on a patch of ice.
“Damn it!” Standing back up gingerly, he manages to get his soaked and shivering body out to the road. “Aww God damn it.” he mutters. Down at his feet was a set of tire tracks already being buried in fresh snow. Letting his eyes move up to the dark sign he shakes his head. Stiffed a buck twenty-five and now this. All he wanted to do was go home and watch “Tokyo Night Nurses” in its original uncensored version.
“Could my luck get any worse…?” he mutters. Then, the very cold (how he hates being cold) and pissed off Steve starts his way back into the diner.
In a cozy home on the other side of town a couple were enjoying a little time together when the phone rang. Phil (but he likes to call himself ‘the’ Phillip) jumps up with a start. He looks like a child caught with his fingers (deep) in the cookie jar. Lisa gasped one last time and then reached out for the phone.
“Yea, it’s Steve. Yer husband round?”
“Uh, no. He shouldn’t be back for another hour. He’s still making rounds.”
“God damn it, again,”
“What’s this all about? You sound even more pissed off than usual.”
“Is Phil there?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Cut the crap. I turned on the sign like yer husband asked. But Phil didn’t do his God damn job cause it ain’t lit and I ain’t taking blame for it. If he’s there tell him to get his ass over here as in pronto.”
“Um, yea. I’ll call him and make sure he gets the message.”
“Steve, you can get hold of my husband if you call the station. They’ll relay the message over the radio if it’s important.”
“Right, I didn’t even think of that. Thanks.”
“And do me a favor, can you unwrap yer-self from Phil’s dick long enough to tell him that if this sign isn’t fixed within the next hour he’s gonna be looking for new work and a new squeeze toy.” Before Lisa can answer, the dial tone of the now flat lined phone silences her.
“What’s up?” Phil mops away his sweat soaked hair from his eyes.
“Some sign, it’s not working or something.”
“Oh yeah, yup, I was supposed to fix that. But I never got around to it for…” Phil says with a boyish grin, “…obvious reasons.”
“Well… Steve wants you to fix it tonight.”
“Do we have time for one more?” Phil starts towards Lisa. He tries to pull the covers off her naked body.
“Don’t be stupid. Steve’s pissed. Just go make him happy. There’ll be other times.” Phil looks like he’s about to actually pout like a child but only for a second then he does as she says. Heading down stairs he finishes doing up his shirt and then leaves the house of the town sheriff.
High beams try to slice through the darkness. Nearly blinding light is reflected back at Stacey. The snow has really started to fall now, no…that’s wrong, the snow isn’t falling, it’s being dumped by the bucket full. She can feel the wheel jerk against her grip, she fights the car, forcing it to go where she wants it to. Beneath the car’s tires the road has turned to a thick soup of densely thick wet snow and ice threatening to wrench control of the wheel right out of Stacey’s hands.
Hunched over she stares intently out into the night trying to detect even the faintest glimmer of a yellow line on the road but it’s not possible. This how it’s been for the last forty minutes. Twenty minutes ago she stopped singing “A hundred bottles of chocolate milk on the wall” with the twins. Children are highly sensitive to their parent’s mood. They are sitting quietly in the back. Stacey knows they aren’t asleep though. She can hear them passing toys back and forth and quietly giggling. But then the silence is broken.
“Where is Daddy?”
“Yeah, Mommy, where is Daddy? Are we going to see him at Nana’s?” The kids are bored, they finally notice that something is not quite right.
“Daddy has to work. He can’t visit Grandma with us tonight.” She hopes that will be the end of it, she doesn’t want to even think of Tom.
“Can Daddy come tomorrow?” Sara asks.
“Can he visit Grandma, too?” Chrissy follows up.
“I miss Daddy.” One of the twins exclaims. Stacey isn’t exactly sure which one as she’s trying to keep their vehicle firmly on the road.
“Yeah, I miss Daddy and… and I want some cake, Mommy.” That’s Sara, Stacey fed her a Twinkie once when she was three and now she’ll crawl over a mountain of any other kind of junk food for a piece of that ‘cake.’
“Kids, I need you to play the quiet game for a while okay? Can you do that for mommy? Mommy really needs to have quiet to drive okay?”
“If I win, can I have some cake?”
“Yes, Sara, if you win. But you have to be quieter than your sister. And for longer. Can you do that?” There is no answer. The kids know this game really well. Just the promise of cake can keep them in line for an awful long time. Chrissy usually can outlast Sara, but not if there is a Twinkie on the line. Sarah has gone up to forty minutes while Stacey did her housework. Stacey breaths a little sigh of relief. There will be quiet for a little while at least.
Stacey never even has a chance to slow down.
The events unfold for her again and again. A nightmare scene stuck on some angry replaying loop. The French fry meant for Sara had been thrown off target and hit Stacey in the corner of the eye. She had been startled so badly that she lost concentration, but only for a moment. She turns around reflexively to scold Chrissy and that’s enough time for disaster. As she glanced back she caught the animal’s eyes reflecting in her headlights. But they were too close. She doesn’t even slam on the breaks. There’s the sickening sound of the thud of the deer’s body slamming and breaking against the hood of the tiny car and the even worse sound of glass smashing inward towards Stacey’s face as the deer’s head is crushed against her windshield. There’s blood everywhere. The deer’s body is carried up and over the top of the bruised vehicle.
The heavy deer combined with the unforgiving road is too much for the car to remain in control. The wheel pulls out of Stacey’s panicked grip as she instinctively slams down hard on the brakes fighting to regain herself and control of the doomed vehicle.
Within seconds that somehow last a lifetime the car leaves the road, it crashes down the steep embankment on the left side only stopping when it mercilessly smashes into the thick trunk of a tree causing a cascade of dead snow and evergreen branches to splash through the broken windshield and into the front interior of the wreck. When it’s all finally over the entire front end of the tiny car is buried beneath a freezing swamp of thick wet snow, pine needles and splintered wood at the base of a tall evergreen. The tree and its army of brothers all jut towards the sky like frost bitten stalactites cursing at the storm now howling in a rage around them.
There’s crying, somewhere in the distance, there’s something warm in her eyes. Tom? Where was Tom? Where was she? What happened? Something, someone shaking her. Blinking, Stacey’s eyes open fully. She had managed to come to. Chrissy had climbed into the front beside her and was shaking her and crying loudly. Stacey’s head hurt. Reaching up to her forehead she can feel a large gash bleeding profusely. Mixed with her blood is a slew of sharp pine needles stuck to her forehead.
Stacey feels dizzy but awake and more alert by the second. Now she can hear Sara in the back crying in terror. Forgetting about her pain she reaches out for Chrissy and manages to mumble to Sara to come up front. When both children are in the passenger seat she looks them over. Neither seem to be bleeding, but there are already bruises on Sara’s face. Stacey wondered how long she had been out. Thank God for safety belts.
“Mommmmmmy!” Sara’s panicked voice pleading with her.
“Shhh, honey. It’s okay now. We’re okay now.” She pulls Sara’s warm trembling body against her own where she shivers in fear against her chest.
“Mommy, what happened? What happened, mommy?” Chrissy’s confused voice reaches out over Sara’s crying.
“Were okay sweetie, Mommy just had an accident. But we’re okay now. You’re not scared are you?” she tried to use her most confident and relaxed voice. But it cracked. They were in trouble. The engine was dead and the interior lights on the dashboard were dim. She’s afraid that the battery might be dying too. The windshield has a large break in it and there’s water dripping down inside onto the steering wheel and then dripping down onto the mat.
They had made it. They were all alive and with only minor injuries. Now it was up to Stacey to figure out a way to get them out of this.
“Okay kids, let’s get into the back, there’s more room.” The children have stopped crying. Mommy’s in charge and they are only too willing to obey. Quickly, they scramble over the seat and try to get comfortable in back. Stacey tries to move. Sitting up brings a rush of pain to her forehead and sweeping nausea through her body. The wound in her head opens and starts to bleed over the clots it had been trying to form. Opening the glove box she grabs the remainder of the napkins from dinner and presses them against her injury. A moment later the throbbing and nausea subside enough to allow her to take stock of her situation. She’s ready. Climbing gingerly over the seat, she sits down between the kids. They’ll have to share her body heat.
“Yes, Chris, baby?”
“I wanna go home now. I don’t wanna see grandma anymore. I wanna go home.”
“Yea mommy, I wanna go home and see daddy.” The children have stopped sniffling and their tears dry on their distressed little faces.
“We can’t right now honeys. We have to stay here for a little while okay? Then we will go home. I promise.” She’s got to take their minds off the situation. She can’t think properly if she has to deal with scared children.
“Hey, I know! Why don’t you tell me, what do you want to be when you are a big person, Chrissy?”
“Chrissy wants to be a fireman, mommy.” Chrissy shoots Sara a glance then sticks out her tongue at her sister.
“Firewoman! And Sara wants to fly to the moon in a spaceship!” Now Chrissy laughs a little. “Daddy says she wants to be an ass-true-nut!”
“I am not a nut!” Now both the children laugh. Not loud or with enthusiasm, but a timid laugh is a start. Stacey smiles a little. Good. Keep them occupied.
“Okay, Chrissy, why do you want to be a firewoman?”
“Sometimes there are kitties who don’t know how to climb and they get stuck in a tree. That’s why! Sometimes kitties see some bird in a nest and then they climb the tree but then they’re too scared to come down… Oh, Mommy, can we have a kitty when we go home?” Sara pulls tight against her mother. She moves her mouth to Stacey’s ear her hot breath tickling her cheek as she speaks.
“Chrissy really wants a kitty for birthday,” she whispers.
“Well, we’ll have to see. Depends on how brave you are and you have to be really, really good right now. Can you do that for mommy?” Chrissy squeals in delight and balls her little hands into fists. Her eyes glaze over as she fantasizes about her own cat to play with.
“How about you? What do you want for your birthday Sara?” Sara looks down for a moment. She has to think about it. But when she looks up, she smiles and her blue eyes light up.
“I wanna Daddy to take us to the zoo again!” Stacey grits her teeth but smiles as she brushes her daughter’s hair from her face. She then turns to look out the window at a world slowly disappearing from view while forcing the smile to remain in place. She tries not to notice how cold it’s become.
John was angry. Very angry. The miserable weather had nearly caused his vehicle to slide into three telephone poles while on his rounds and now…. now he had to go try to track down some crazy person who was headed out of town in this miserable weather. When he got a hold of whoever it was stupid enough to go out on a night like this, well… he was going to do some serious neck ringing. Phil too, he couldn’t wait to get a firm grip on that guy. There would be a new position opening up for a local handyman slash delivery boy. Shit, had to happen on this night too. Of all nights. Lisa had said she wanted to talk to him about something important tonight when he got home. He was pretty darn sure she was caving and going to let him go on that fishing trip with his buddies this spring as long as he was willing to talk babies again. God damn, John had a few words for whoever was out on that road tonight. He was sure he would find them parked somewhere on the side of the road. They couldn’t have gotten far in this weather. But he could do them no good with his cruiser. He had stopped at the station and upgraded to a larger vehicle. Now with his trusty thermos full of re heated, day old coffee and the emergency radio switched on, he steered the large four by four into the full fury of the storm.
Freezing cold. Their bodies are shivering uncontrollably now. The twins had fallen silent about a half hour ago. They were pressed as tightly against her as possible. Their little hands were buried in her clothes pressing against her flesh. Chrissy’s hands were clammy against her skin. But she had to keep them warm. It was so cold. The coats and boots and gloves were doing little against the onslaught of the snow. The car was now completely covered. The inside was one big refrigerator. Stacey was so thirsty. Her throat was dry. She’s fairly certain that she’s lost a lot of blood from her forehead and she’s wondering if she might be going into shock now that her adrenaline rush was over. Twice she had thought of drinking from the pool of collected ice water on the car seat. Two things held her back though. First she was sure she remembered that you don’t let a person going into shock drink. Second she worried that the cold water would suck more energy from her body if she drank it. She needed to conserve energy. Her children needed her heat. But this could not go on for long.
Idiot! She remembered the blankets and extra clothing in the trunk. Why didn’t she think of it earlier, what the Hell was wrong with her (besides maybe being about to pass out)? Feelings of guilt flood her. Of course, there was a first aid kit in the trunk. It had chocolate bars, wrappings and bandages. But most important were the blankets and clothing. They were going to make it. They could outlast the storm and tomorrow, Stacey would head to the road and wave down the snow plow. They would be saved, she just had to get to those blankets.
It was going to be rough though, she would have to fight the storm. The car was buried under snow covered pine branches and she did not know how deep it was on the ground. One wrong step in deep snow could be disaster if she broke her ankle in the twisted pine.
She glanced down at her babies. They were turning pale. Both were too cold now even to complain about being cold. Leaning forward she reached out and grabbed the keys from the ignition. It had to be this way. She lifted Sara over her body and laid her against her sister. They wrapped their arms tightly around one another, but they did not have her heat. She paused and thought a moment, they needed more. Unzipping her coat she pulled it off her body. It wasn’t a big deal, she was actually starting to feel warm again. Maybe she was amped up for the work she was about to do. She wrapped the coat tightly around the two sleeping twins, they did not protest or even open their eyes. Sara whispered something in her sleep. Chrissy shifted even closer to her sister.
Opening the car door had been more of a fight than Stacey had anticipated. She had pressed her full weight against the side. Just when she thought it was not going to budge it gave a little. Then shifting around she was able to press her feet against its side and push with all her remaining strength. The door opened enough for Stacey to just barely squeeze out. She stepped into thigh high snow. Quickly, she closed the door behind her. Immediately she was assaulted by the angry wind. It bit at her face and attacked her exposed hands and fingers. The wind also moved like an overzealous lover up and under her sweater making the cold she suffered feel all the more encompassing.
She would have to move fast before she went numb and could not move at all. Slowly she plowed her way to the back of the car. All that remained exposed was one corner of the trunk. The rest was covered in at least five inches of snow. Reaching out for purchase she slipped, the ground was uneven and she was swallowed up by the snow. The bitter grip of cold threatened to suck away what little energy she had left. The freezing blanket chewed at her senses. Her skin screamed in agony. Pulling herself up, she felt terribly weak. This was bad. There was blood on the surface of the snow. The wound in her head still open was spilling her life essence out into the white world that threatened to become her tomb. A wave of nausea swam through her body and she heaved.
She vomited onto the snow covered trunk. Her whole body felt dizzy right down into the bone. She was certain she was going to fall over again but she thought of her children in the back seat. She knew if she gave in, she would probably not get up. Bracing her legs against the sturdiness of the cars bumper she gathered her wits. The dizzy spell passed and she was back in control.
First thing she had to do was push all the snow off the trunk so that she could open it. Wrapping her sweater around her left hand she pushed the snow off. It was hard work, her soaked sweater was offering her very little protection. But she managed to wipe enough of the snow away that she would be able to open the trunk. Reaching into her pocket she grabbed the keys. Stacey’s hands were shaking uncontrollably, and it didn’t help that the wind whipped snowflakes were biting at her eyes. She could barely see the keyhole. Shielding her eyes with her left hand she brought the key down. But her hand would not stop shaking. The key would not find its target. It poked at either side of the hole and scratched against the paint. But it would not go in. Stacey started to cry. Frustration overcame her very being. She smashed her left arm down onto the top of the truck.
“GODDAMMIT! YOU BITCH! GET THE HELL IN THERE!” she screamed in desperation. Then, like her orders had been obeyed the key slid into the lock. Triumphantly she turned the key. It would not give. She had been holding the wrong key. In her weakened state she’d mistook one brass colored key for another.
Her stomach heaved again. But this time all that came out of her mouth was a wail of anguish. She pulled the keys out and began to jangle them in front of her swollen eyes. Not that one, not that one, that one! She grabbed the appropriate key. This time. One more try. Let’s get this right. Her fingers were now numb and unresponsive. She moved her hand down to the keyhole again and shielded her eyes with her left arm. Reaching out for the keyhole she tried to steady her hand. The keys slipped from her numb fingers and into the snow.
Horror crossed her face. This was not right. They key was supposed to go into the lock, the lock was supposed to open. Stacey was supposed to get the blankets. Then she was supposed to wrap her children in them and wait till the storm died out. That was what was supposed to happen. Not this.
Stacey was too numb to fight it. She could only muster the energy to reach into the snow and probe around for the keys. But they were nowhere to be found. She dropped to her knees. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and freezing to her skin. Her nose dripped and she started to bawl loudly. Thrashing around in the snow she desperately searched for any sign of the keys. The snow had swallowed them up like tiny delicious morsels. There was just no use. She had failed. She failed herself and she had failed her babies. She just wanted to faint right there. She wanted the snow to cover her up and let her die. Beyond her ears the wind laughed at her.
The girls. Stacey’s left hand reached out and grabbed the top of the trunk. Then her right hand found hold. Snow had already covered the metal again and threatened to make her loose her grip. Stacey was not going to let it. She pulled herself up. She slowly brought herself to her feet again. “Fuck you. It’s not going to be that easy.” She lifted up her right hand and extended her middle finger. She waved it around in the snow. “That’s right! FUCK YOU!” Stacey screamed into the dark void. She was not going to quit now; she had her babies to think about.
It was easier to get back into the car. Stacey had to use her body to pack the snow away from the door. She was beyond feeling, the task was nothing to her now. She couldn’t feel the cold. In only minutes enough snow had been moved to allow her to pull the door open with both hands. She managed to climb back inside and pull the door closed behind her. It shut with a dull creaking sound. The noise startled Chrissy awake. She opened her eyes and looked at her mother.
“Are you a snowman?” she asked in a hoarse whisper.
Stacey looked down at herself. She was covered in snow. Her clothing was soaked and plastered in it. This was not good. She pushed into the driver’s seat and stripped down to her underwear. Her clothing no longer bothered her. But it would mean death to her little ones. She brushed the snow out of her hair with her left hand. That was when she noticed the strange angle her finger pointed. It was dislocated. Probably when she smashed her hand down on the trunk. She couldn’t feel it. Her body was too exhausted to register pain now.
“How you feelin’ honey?”
“Sleepy, mommy. Sleepy and cold.” Chrissy reached out for her mother. Sara’s eyes remained closed. She was in a deep sleep. Probably for the best, though. Stacey moved into the back again. She was still a little wet but didn’t notice. It just wasn’t cold for her anymore, she felt nothing now. She wrapped herself around the children keeping her wet body separate from theirs with her coat. Chrissy ran her tiny fingers through her mother’s hair.
“I wish daddy was here mommy.” Stacey’s limbs felt so heavy.
“I know honey, I’m sorry, baby.” She was so tired, but she tried to grip her children as tightly against her as she could.
“When can we see daddy?”
Stacey never answered, she wouldn’t be answering anymore.
Outside the car, the snow had stopped falling.
John had been driving for two hours. He had been making good time in the large truck. The chained tires ripped at the snow on the road and the engine growled angrily, pissed off to be working so hard in this kind of weather. He had just started to think that the crazy fools weren’t out here when he felt the front tires slam against something hard. The interior contents of the truck went flying everywhere. John’s coffee spilled all over his pants. “God damn” he muttered. Bringing the truck to a stop he paused long enough to decide it was best to go investigate. He climbed out of the truck and stepped down into the road. The snow came up past his boots. It was like glue to him. Wet and thick. He could feel his feet getting colder by the second. Going around back he checked out what caused the thump. Half exposed underneath the carriage of the truck was the mangled remains of a large deer. He gripped the front legs in his gloved hands and pulled. It was smashed but more important it was frozen. John’s vehicle had not done this. Somebody else had hit this deer.
The snow had stopped falling so he was able to have a good look around. Pulling out his flashlight he scanned into the distance. Then, as if to offer sympathetic aid, the full moon came out from behind the curtain of storm clouds. It was over. The storm had passed. The night was fully illuminated. The scent of pine trees wafted through the air as their creaking snow covered branches gently allowed light dusts of snow to fall from them. It was the quietest and most peaceful scene he had ever witnessed. Good enough for a Christmas card, he thought.
Only a moment later John found something that ruined that sense of peace. He had flashed his light down a steep embankment where he saw something that caused him to shiver. Buried deeply in the snow except for the back end was what looked like a small car. Damn fools. Why tonight? He wanted to slide down there and check for survivors but he knew what to do first.
Sheriff John Buick made his way back to the truck and radioed in for help. He was going to need a plow and tow truck. Also he was going to need help getting himself and anyone else back up the embankment. He couldn’t wait. He grabbed the radio from its case and attached it to his belt. From the back he grabbed two emergency blankets and his thermos of hot coffee. If he got trapped down there till help came it would be fine. But he needed to get to whoever was in that car.
Sliding down the embankment on his now soaked ass, didn’t improve his disposition. The car seemed too quiet. He looked at it. There was something odd. The snow at the back had been disturbed. There it was at the side too. Maybe an animal? He was not too sure. But the snow was definitely not dispersed the same. Then something caught his eye in the light. On the bumper half exposed something was glittering. He reached out and brushed the snow away. There caught on a sharp corner was a set of car keys. Now what the hell are those doing there? John’s radio clicked to life startling him. He nearly dropped the keys. Instead he pressed the button on his radio.
“John here, what’s up? Got that help coming?”
“Yea boss. What you find out there?”
“How is everyone?”
“Lemme check. Out.” John pushed his way through the deep snow. It was cold. He could feel the warmth slowly being leached from his body. Grabbing the door handle he pulled hard. With a slow painful groan that echoed deep into the surrounding woods, the door opened. Hopeful, John slowly bent over and glanced inside.
Jesus, Mary mother of God. It was Stacey and the kids. John knew them, they were Tom’s family. He and Tom had worked some cases in court together. John had been to their house for dinner, good family. Stacey was looking at him, her eyes unblinking. Frozen red tears from the wound in her head stained her face and her naked skin. She was cradling her two children in her arms. The twins, what were their names again? Christen and Sara? That’s right. The children looked like they had been wrapped in their mother’s coat. He glanced around the inside of the car. On the front seat driver’s side was a set of frozen clothes. Stacey’s. The passenger seat had French fries all over it. The glove compartment was open. The back seat had the family. On the floor more French fries and napkins. He reached down and picked something up. It was this thing that made his lower lip heavy then tremble. In his big gloved hand was a tiny green Crayola crayon.
John paused for a moment to collect himself then slowly reaching out to Stacey he tenderly brushed her eyes shut. The twins’ thank God were already closed. He’d seen scenes like this before… but this was the first time with young children.
“Hey, boss, you there? Everyone okay?” John heard the radio but he did not answer.
“Boss? You there, boss?” John opened his eyes and wiped his nose on the back of his hand, then grabs his radio.
“Bill, no survivors. Come and get me quick.” He moved out of the back of the car. He still had Stacey’s keys in his hand. Why had she left the car? He pushed his way back to the trunk. Sweeping it clean with his arm he tried the different keys and finally found the right one. The trunk popped open. There inside was a suitcase, a couple of packed garbage bags and an assortment of blankets. These things could have saved them.
“Daddy?” John looked up startled.
“Daddy?” He had heard it. The faintest whisper, but it was there. Pushing his way back to the car door he swung it open. One of the twins’ eyes were open. She was moving, but just barely. Her voice was low. Just a whisper. If the night had not been so quiet he would never have heard her.
“Hey there, honey,” he whispered. She slowly turns her head to look at him. Her skin is so pale. She is nearly gone. Quickly he climbs into the car and pulls the door closed behind him.
“You’re not daddy…”
“No… no, but I’m his good friend. Do you remember me? I’m Uncle Johnny.” He grips her body close to his and reaches out for the other little one, hope starting to build… but within seconds it’s dashed.
“I want my daddy…”
“I know. Don’t you worry though, we’re going to take good care of you and get you back home to him, okay?” The child blinks her eyes slowly and nods her head in approval. She turns to look at her sister while John clicks on the radio.
“Get here now, we’ve got a survivor.”
“Really… that’s…” John doesn’t pay attention to the rest, the little one has turned back to him and is speaking again in her soft, exhausted but matter of fact voice.
“I change my mind… I wanna be a firewoman, too. Me and Chrissy, we can help kitties together.” Sara sighs softly and rests her head against John’s chest. He nods and tells her she can be anything she wants as he gently strokes her hair trying to comfort her and maybe himself.
Outside, snow begins to softly, ever so softly, fall.
Devin Langan Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by Otis Jiry