By Pebbles Lacasse
Through my office window, I’ve been watching sheets of fat snowflakes descend from the dark-grey sky for several hours. The town’s two plows have been rushing down the roads, hoping to keep it under control, but they’re losing the battle. I should pack up work I can do at home and leave. I don’t want to be stuck in town overnight, or longer if the plows break down, which has happened.
Kim, my co-worker, would gladly host me for the night, but it could be days before my less-travelled road is driveable. If the phone lines break, I won’t be able to call my neighbour to feed my cat, and she’ll starve.
My boss is very considerate of his employees who live outside of our small town. When bad weather is pending, he leaves it up to us to stay at the office or go home. He understands how driving along the wilderness mountain, even in the best conditions, is dangerous. During a snowstorm, it’s downright suicide.
There are only pockets where a cell tower grants a signal, and those are few and far between. People who crashed have died trapped in their cars waiting to be found. I care not to be a victim of these vicious mountainous storms.
The roads are slippery even though I’ve been following a plow. They rarely salt when it’s snowing this heavily because it’s only helpful on ice, not snow. When I turn onto the less-travelled road, my Jeep trudges through the nearly two-foot-deep fresh powder with little difficulty.
“Okay. This isn’t so bad.” My fingers brush the dash. “Come on, girl. Get us home.”
I round the turn and see flashing red and blue lights through the falling snow. Officer Lenard is just about to close the only road that’ll take me home. I’m just a few miles out and don’t want to turn back now.
He’s right to block the road. Piles of snow blanket the slopes of the mountain and loom above the lonely, dark road. Emerald pine needles poke free from where the snow was too heavy and fell from the branches. The tall trees barren of their leaves stretch over the road, threatening to break from the snow’s weight and crush me beneath their thick greyish arms.
Tire ruts from cars passing before me would be a helpful guide, but only untouched powder greyed from the darkening sky shimmers before me. It’s a guessing game where the road should be.
An avalanche could bury a car in a matter of seconds if it doesn’t shove it over a cliff first. But riding out the storm safely in the comfort of my home has me willing to risk it.
I stop before the flashing orange lights on the metal blockade fence and lower my window. A gust of bitterly cold wind bites at my cheeks and nose.
The white rabbit fur hat with its fluffy flaps covering the man’s ears is a sure sign it’s Officer Richard Blate trudging through the snow toward my car. As he nears, he flashes a gleaming, wide smile. “Hello, Ms. Jobin. How are you tonight?”
When I first try to speak, the air is so bitterly cold it’s like swallowing razors. “I’ve told you before to call me Eldora.” My smile widens and icy air chills my teeth. “I’m doing okay. The snow’s not too heavy, so my tires are still digging in. Any idea when it’s going to ease up?”
He tugs the wrist of his leather glove and then shoves his hands in his pockets, hoping to warm them. “They’re saying it’s going to snow for at least five days; it’s going to turn to wetter, heavier snow through the night and then freeze.” He jerks his head toward the heavy metal barricades and shrugs. “Sorry, but I can’t let you pass. You know, avalanches.”
“Uh-huh.” My lip tucks between my teeth as I consider turning back. “If I don’t get home, my cat, Tigger, won’t survive. My Jeep’s handling well, so will you let me through? Please. I promise to drive carefully.” My leather-gloved hand presses to my chest and my brows rise beneath my knitted cap.
Richard looks down the road to visually assess it and then shakes his head. “I don’t know, Eldora. It’s getting pretty hairy down there.”
“I have no doubt.” My hands press together to beg. “But my cat… Please.”
His full breath floats through the air in a white cloud and his head tips. “You could get wiped off the mountain, buried in the snow, and not be found until spring. You know that, right?”
“I’ll take my chances. If it wipes me out, it’s on me.” My wide hazel eyes plead as my nose begins to hurt from the cold. “What if I promise to call the station as soon as I get home? Will that ease your concern?”
“All right.” He reluctantly turns while shaking his head and lifts his legs high to shuffle through the deep snow toward the flashing blockade. As I pass, he adds, “You’d better call. I’ll be waiting. I’d hate to have to come out in this shit to search for an Eldora popsicle.”
I laugh. He doesn’t.
I say, “I won’t crash, and I won’t get wiped off the mountain. I promise.”
He mumbles, “Famous last words.”
The lights slowly disappear as I round one of the S-turns on the darkening road. Between the tall trees and thick falling flakes, the late afternoon sun is shrouded. My trust is in my instincts to guide me as I creep along.
There aren’t many people living out this far. On uninhabited parts of the mountain, hermits who keep to themselves have set up camp. I’ve only ever run into one of them at the hardware store. The man didn’t smell bad, as I had expected him to, but he was unkempt with a wild beard, crazy hair, and clothing dotted with years of stains. He kept his head down and said nothing to anyone as he quickly made his purchases and left the store.
Since I moved to my house six years ago, two wanted men were discovered squatting within two miles of my home. They were arrested on outstanding warrants. I overheard the local waitress gossip that both were murderers. Needless to say, I hope not to run into any strangers when I’m out on one of my wilderness treks.
The weather is growing more treacherous. The denseness of the falling snow has darkened the evening sky to an eerie grey, making it even more difficult to see. My wipers are at full speed, and I still can’t see anything. My headlights don’t cut through the swells of snow, leaving only a car length visible in front of me. It’s anyone’s guess how many times I’ve left the road and almost hit trees, and it was a near miss on one of the cement barriers. I strain to hear if my tires are still on the road and not the gravelled shoulder, but with the thickness of snow beneath them, that’s proving difficult.
No lights line this long stretch of single-lane highway nicknamed Gayle’s Pass by the locals. Four years ago, Jillian Gayle and her three children disappeared during a severe thunderstorm. Their van went off the road and rolled six times before coming to rest against the trunk of a tree. Everyone died. Despite the endless searches, two months passed before their vehicle was found. That goes to show how dense some sections of the wilderness are. It can easily swallow a car.
“Christ, I can’t see a damn thing.” My words cut through the silence haunting my car.
Talking to myself usually helps ease my nerves, but not at this tense moment. Should I have been so daring? There’s no place to turn around if it becomes impossible to continue.
“Whose stupid idea was this? Oh, right—mine. Tigger would’ve been fine by herself overnight as long as the power doesn’t cut out.” I blink several times and lean closer to the windshield, as if that’s going to help me see better. “Dammit! Please don’t avalanche.”
I creep along the road, thankful to bump into the odd barrier strategically placed to keep cars from falling over cliffs. On nights like tonight, they act as a sort of braille.
The rails were lined in old tires to add a little protection to fenders, so I’m not worried about receiving too much damage if I bump into one. Besides, my Jeep is old; another ding here or there will go unnoticed.
I feel it in the steering wheel before I hear it. Everything’s vibrating, including me. An upsurging rumble has a million thoughts racing through my mind in an instant.
“Oh, shit! No, no, no!” There’s a loud thud, and I’m weightless as the car spins, shoving me against the driver’s door. “Shit!”
My breath is forced from my lungs. I grip the wheel tighter and close my eyes to prepare for the vicious punch in the face from the airbag, but it never comes.
The deafening scream of my car’s destruction sounds more like I’m in the mouth of a beast and he’s chewing the glass and metal. The monster’s roar stabs at my ears. Despite my seatbelt, I’m jarred left to right, up and down, forward and back in slow motion.
Will it ever end?
Will my death be painful?
If it’s my time, let me die quickly. If my fate is to freeze to death trapped in my crushed car, hopefully, I’ll be unconscious the entire time.
I’m warm, lying in my bed petting Tigger while I read to her, but there’s no sound to my voice… no sound other than an annoying, deafening ring.
Cold. So cold. Pain.
Following a gasp, my eyes burst open. How long was I unconscious, and why am I still being bashed around? How far down the mountain is this avalanche taking me? Why hasn’t a tree stopped me?
The seatbelt fails and I’m strewn onto the passenger seat chest down. I hang on for my life.
Oh, God! Make it stop!
Crushing metal, a screaming engine, and snapping trees break through the loud ringing in my ears. There are flashes of snow erupting through the broken windows and packing between my body and the roof that used to be high above my head but now threatens to pin me, or worse, crush me. Another hard thud to my chest and my breath rushes from my body. I’m jerked to the left, the right, and back left. I gasp in a painful, shallow breath but the next thud forces it from me.
Slam. Pain! Snow in my face.
My mind slips into darkness, and I welcome my death.
The fireplace is ablaze, and I’m toasty warm. Tigger’s resting on the pillow she claimed as hers. I glance down at the book in my hands, but there are no words on the pages. What’s ringing so loudly? Where’s the draft coming from? My eyelids are so heavy.
I’m not dead, but something tugs my arm. Perhaps it’s a bear or a wolf. There’s horrible pain but I can’t pinpoint its origin. Why can’t I scream?
In barely a slit, my left eye opens. A luminous glow surrounds the form of someone hovering over my face. Who is that? An angel? I’ve heard of angels coming to the rescue. Perhaps that’s what’s happening. They look more like a snowman than an angel.
My arms and legs don’t feel like my own. When I try to move, pain threatens to steal my sanity. Death can’t possibly hurt this much.
“Am I dead?”
The snowman’s deep voice cuts through the stillness. “You’re alive.”
I’m lifted and physical agony curses me, stealing my vision and my consciousness.
My eyes open but see nothing. Fabric covers my face, and my ears ache from a blaring engine. My body jolts and everything falls black around me.
I’m warm by the fireplace, again.
It’s unclear if it’s the scent or the crack from burning wood that stirs me from the peacefulness of sleep. Perhaps it’s the pain. My entire body hurts—skin, joints, and muscles.
I attempt to roll onto my side but freeze when the collage of scents is unfamiliar: cooked onions, unfamiliar meat, the muskiness of a damp forest, and burning embers blended with powder-fresh fabric softener. I only use lavender-scented fabric softener.
My eyes open wide but need to blink several times before a darkened log ceiling comes into focus.
This is not my house!
I jolt upright onto my elbow, which rewards me with a rush of pain that threatens to awaken a scream. My jaw clamps shut to restrain it. Until I figure out where I am and who holds me prisoner, I must remain silent.
Logs line the walls and ceiling. The room is small, allowing for only a double bed, a tiny wooden table beside the bed, and a tall, thin dresser. There are no pictures or trinkets, and the window is absent of drapes. It’s dark beyond the window—nighttime.
No door allows for privacy. Aside from the flickering orange hue dancing about the fireplace in the other room, it’s dark.
How long have I been here? And where is here?
As quietly as possible, despite my aches, I sit up. My hand clutches to my chest, and panic washes over me. I’m dressed in someone else’s clothes. An oversized grey sweatsuit hangs on my body, and I’m naked beneath the thick fabric. Whoever this belongs to is much bigger than me, and they’ve stripped and redressed me. What else did they do to me when I was powerless to stop them?
Oh, God. No! My fingers slip between my labia to feel for semen, but nothing seems out of the ordinary.
My bladder stabs at me. I need a bathroom.
Where the hell am I?
Aches have me moving at a snail’s pace as I ease off the thin mattress. My feet don thick grey socks that hang off my toes. This room is dark, but I can see well enough to know I’m alone. As quickly as my painful muscles will allow, I sneak toward the door, noting the steady ache in my right foot and calf. I peek around the doorframe to search for an immediate threat before moving through the doorway.
It’s warmer in this room than in the bedroom. The dancing shadows cast by the fireplace worsen the dizziness still plaguing my brain, which doesn’t make it any easier to get my bearings.
I’m in a log cabin, that’s obvious. But where? How far did this person carry me? To my knowledge, there are no log homes within a five-mile radius of where I believe I crashed.
A movement by the fireplace startles me. With my arms crossed over my chest, I make my way around the room, keeping a safe distance from the person. What looks to be an enormous figure nestled on a sofa chair comes into view. As quietly as possible, I lift the fire poker from the heavy metal stand and hold it out in front of me. This is a suitable weapon should I need to wield it.
My heart pounds quicker when a steely, deep voice breaks through the silence. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
I jolt back with the poker held at arm’s length toward the figure. The wood cracks in the fireplace, startling me, and I yip like a scared puppy. My socked feet carry me around the other sofa chair so I can get a better look at the man who has yet to move.
A mountain lounges on the sofa chair with his socked feet aimed toward the crackling fireplace. Plaid-covered thick forearms are crossed over his chest which cast a shadow over his face. An orange hue dances across his forehead, topped with messy locks of dark hair.
Is he the snowman that rescued me?
“I’ll sit up if you promise not to swing that thing at me.” His words are spoken more gently than seem natural for someone his size.
Why would I assume his voice would sound creepy? Oh, right; the mysterious cabin in the woods.
“Who are you? How did I get here? Where are my clothes?” My voice rises and my body quivers from the adrenaline spike when he lowers his feet from the log they were perched on. “Did you undress me? What else did you do to me?”
“Take a breath, woman. I saved your damn life. You should thank me, not threaten me with the poker.”
He leans forward, dropping one elbow to his knee as he slips his feet into black boots. A thick, scruffy beard hides his face below his cheekbones. But his eyes look dark and narrow as they aim at me.
The poker has grown heavy and my arm shakes, but I don’t lower it. “Thank you.”
He chuckles. “If I hadn’t heard your car crash and felt obligated to help, you’d have frozen to death, or been eaten alive by the wildlife. But, in this weather, you’d likely have died before they picked up your scent. That’s not to say they wouldn’t still eat you. A meal is a meal.”
The full truth of his enormous size hits me like a bug on a motorcycle helmet as he slowly stands. His heavy boots scuff the floor as he makes his way to the stack of wood beside the fireplace, chooses a piece, and strategically places it among the burning logs. Orange sparks float up the stone chimney but quickly fizzle out as smoke rushes past.
“I’m surprised you’re standing.” He looks over his shoulder at me as if assessing me, and then asks, “Clothes are warm enough?”