Chapter 1 ~ Robin
“No, no, no!” I groaned out as my old heap of junk began to sputter and slow down. “Please, don’t fail me now.”
This was the last thing that I needed. My car made a final cha-chunk and died as I struggled to steer it to the side of the snow-packed road—or as far to the side of the road as I could get it with a three-foot snowplow bank piled along the fog line.
The thump, thump, thump of my windshield wipers was the only sound other than the wind whipping around my ten-year-old piece-of-crap car. Yes, it was a piece of crap. Normally, I babied the hell out of it, cooing like an idiot so it would keep going, but right now, it was letting me down—just like everyone else in my life.
I’m going to freeze to death out here and that sound is the last one I am ever going to hear. Great, just freaking great.
I sighed as I opened my tired eyes and studied my dash in the darkness. It looked like a deformed Christmas tree with all the lights in gold and red glaring back at me. Was there any indicator light that wasn’t lit up? I leaned closer, oh yeah, my seatbelt light wasn’t on. Hey, at least it knows I’m wearing my seatbelt.
What the hell was I going to do? I was four hours from my home thanks to rush-hour traffic out of the city, okay not my home anymore, but where I used to live, and I was eight hours from my intended destination. Well, eight hours if the roads hadn’t turned to shit.
Why hadn’t I checked the weather before I’d left? I’d had no idea that another storm was coming through. I rested my head on my steering wheel, trying not to burst into tears. I’d been in such a rush to get out of there that I hadn’t paid any attention to anything—not the warning light on my car’s dash and certainly not the weather. Gah!—and why hadn’t I taken the highway? The highway would have been so much better. At least there might have been other motorists on the road that could have stopped to help me—but no! I had to adjust my GPS so that I avoided the toll roads. What should have been a nice drive through northern Pennsylvania had now turned into my own personal road to hell.
I shivered. The temperature was already dropping inside my car, and I glanced in the back to see if I could find the blanket that I had packed. Somewhere under all that crap was a blanket. I could totally picture the beloved crocheted throw my grandmother had made for me when I’d moved away from home thirteen years ago. The memory of the deep colors and the yarn already warmed me until I remembered it was at the very bottom of the pile. Down there under three suitcases, two boxes, and another two trash bags full of junk was warmth.
There was no way I was going to be able to get it unless I got out of the car and pulled things out of the back seat. I looked out the windshield, the wind was whipping the snow so fast over the roadway that I could barely see ten feet in front of my car, and that was with the illumination of my dimming headlights.
“Suck it up, Robin. You got this.” I buttoned my short coat up the best that I could and tried to pull the collar up tightly around my neck. Why hadn’t I bought a warm durable winter coat instead of the fashion plate bargain that looked great but didn’t do anything but flatter my soon-to-be frozen figure? Vanity, that’s why, pure stupid vanity.
I had to use all my weight to push the door open against the force of the wind, and when I tried to stand, my feet slipped out from under me and my elbow struck the door while I went almost completely under the car. I gasped as the breath was knocked out of my lungs and winced as my head smacked the ice-covered pavement.
Oh, awesome, I thought as I sucked in a cold mouthful of air. Now I will die from a concussion while I’m freezing under my car. The cold air in my lungs almost burned, and I tucked my mouth into my collar.
I managed to pull myself back up to my feet, gently probing the back of my head and checking my fingers to make sure I wasn’t bleeding. Well, thankfully, I didn’t need stitches, but I could feel a lump forming already.
I stepped away from my car door when the wind grabbed it out of my hands and slammed it shut. A moment of pure fear tore through me as I stared through the glass and could barely make out the tip of the door lock.
“Shit! No! Oh, God, no!” I yanked on the doorknob, but it was no use, the door was locked. I must have hit the button when I fell under the car.
Tears stung my eyes and slipped out as I threw a hissy fit in the middle of the vacant street. “No! You have got to be kidding me! This can’t be happening! Why!”
I stared up at the sky, the wind whipping my long brown hair around my face, the moisture from my eyes instantly freezing on my cheeks. “Why is this happening to me?” I screamed into the air.
I turned quickly back to my car, slipping slightly as a realization came over me. As carefully as I could, I made my way around to the back passenger door. That lock didn’t work! Oh please, oh please, oh please, let it be unlocked. On that particular door, the auto locks did not work, and if I remembered correctly, I’d left it unlocked!
I grabbed the door handle and lifted it; the door popped open. “Yes!” I almost began to dance but thought better of it as my foot skated sideways a few inches, and I grasped onto the door with frozen fingers to keep myself upright.
After I got my footing back, I yanked the door, pulling it open about a foot before it bounced off the icy snowdrift on the side of the road and almost crushed my head. Why had I pulled so far to the side of the road? It wasn’t like someone was going to crash into my car; there was no one else around. I squeezed my eyes shut to keep from crying and opened the door more slowly so I could attempt to squeeze through.
Once I got my head and shoulder inside, I pulled the trash bag off the top of the pile, tearing it slightly as it caught on the door, but I didn’t care and set it down on the two inches of snow now covering my ice-cold feet. A small suitcase was next, and I just barely squeezed it through the opening. I was pulling on a larger suitcase, trying to shift it around so I could get under it when I heard a tearing noise.
The suitcase was old, and as the vinyl handle pulled away from the dry-rotted fabric of the suitcase, I jerked backwards, hitting the side of my head on the door and landing on the hard-packed snowdrift, knocking the air out of my lungs once again.
I groaned as I tried to stand up, my hand going to my lower back where it had taken most of the impact; my other hand checking my temple for any blood.
“You’re snow! You’re supposed to be soft, not rock hard!” I kicked at the offending pile that the plows had pushed away and winced. Note to self: Do not kick ice with leather flats on! Another note to self: Wear boots in the winter. Man, did I have a lot of notes to write to myself!
I felt something warm on my face and checked my temple again to find blood slowly dripping from my hairline. You have got to be kidding me! I went back to trying to shift the suitcase around so I could get to the blanket, and finally moved it enough, holding it up with my shoulder as I tugged at the afghan and got it loose.
My face fell into the soft worn yarn and I commanded myself to not ball like a baby. I wasn’t a crier, but tonight I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and just let it all out—well, after I drank a bottle of wine, put an ice pack on my head, and downed a couple of acetaminophen.
I glanced around and tried to find a good place for the blanket, finally settling it on the headrest of the passenger seat. Then I tried to get the suitcase back in place, but it was wedged against something else. My fingers were now frozen, barely moving when I told them to, and I could no longer feel my feet.
I screamed every profanity that I knew, and created a few more as I wrestled with the bag and finally got it back in place. After fighting to get the small suitcase back inside and then the trash bag, I locked the door and closed it.
“Oh my God!” I screamed at the closed door. I had completely forgotten to unlock the front door. “No! No, no, no!” I jumped up and down on the side of the road, throwing another hissy fit until tiny pin pricks began to spread through my feet. Were my toes really completely frozen and was I now busting them into small pieces?
I began to pace back and forth behind my car, rubbing my frozen hands up and down my arms to try and warm myself, but that made no difference, so I shoved them into the pockets of my jacket and looked down the road, then the other way.
There was nothing behind me for miles, but what was up ahead? Could I find a house or a business that was open this late?
I was going to freeze to death, there was no doubt of that in my mind, and panic began to claw its way through my chest. I’d always hated to be cold. I knew that if someone ever wanted to torture me to death, all they had to do was put me someplace with frigid temperatures.
Normally, I wasn’t the type of person to give up, but right now I was tempted to lie down and let go. I stared at my car accusingly. Why did you have to break down here, in the middle of nowhere?
A memory of my grandmother whispered into my head. She always told me that God never gave anyone more than they could handle, and that there was always a reason for why he gave us the trials that he did. I slowly turned three hundred and sixty degrees, looking out over the frozen landscape. So what was the purpose of this particular lesson? To learn how to freeze to death with grace?
If I walked away from the car, there was a chance that I could get lost in a snow drift, but if I stayed here, I was risking exposure immediately. My face ached from the cold wind, and I could no longer feel my ears. I huddled next to my front driver’s side wheel. The engine block was still warm and gave off a tiny bit of heat. I shoved my fingers as far into the wheel well as I could.
My head ached, both in the front and on the side, and my body grew stiff. It wasn’t long before I felt my eyes drooping and knew this was it. I was going to drift off to sleep and freeze to death. For some reason, I was no longer afraid. I was just kind of resigned to the fact that it was going to happen.
Somewhere off in the distance, I thought I heard a car, but I also recognized that I was pretty out of it and probably hallucinating. The crunching noise I heard made no sense and neither did the young male voice in my ear.
It felt like I was moving, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t really feel anything in particular, not on the outside of my body. My brain was picking up subtle changes, and I kind of felt like it wanted to totally shut down, too. I yelled with everything I had inside my body for my mind to hold on, and a moment later, it was rewarded with warm air entering my lungs.
I wanted to speak, to thank someone—I wasn’t sure whom—but the only sound I heard was my own groan and then some soft-spoken words, “Just hold on.”
Inside I sobbed as I realized that I had been saved, but on the outside, I was too cold to move as I inhaled another deep breath of warm air and let myself drift off.