This short story is in response to Chronicle Books’ challenge to write a scene that takes place in extreme cold.
The wind howled outside, hurtling snow and sleet aggressively past the windshield. At least Cate thought it was both snow and sleet. Everything was white, visibility zero. The car had long since died, a random transmission failure according to the now darkened light on the dash. She looked over at Richard who seemed deep in thought, staring out the window.
“I should have stopped back in that last -“
“Richard, quit it. None of the forecasts predicted the weather would be this bad. There’s no way we could have known if they didn’t.” Richard had become progressively moodier as the weather worsened, taking blame for their current situation as the driver.
Their current situation was stuck in a dead car on the side of I-96, the nearest town 20 miles behind them, in the middle of the biggest freak blizzard Cate had ever experienced. When the car began to die, Richard had pulled to the side of the road – at least, to the best of his ability considering everything was pure white outside. They’d been sitting in the worsening storm for over an hour according to Richard’s watch. During that time, nobody had passed them and the only sound was the whipping wind.
“At least we have Maddie’s blanket,” Cate added. She wrapped the thick wool tighter around her legs, otherwise only covered by her knee-length skirt and black tights, and leaned across the center console toward Richard. When he didn’t respond she looked up at his brooding face. “And each other.”
The worry lines faded a bit as Richard smiled softly down at Cate. He wrapped his arm around Cate, shivering as it left the warmth of the blanket, and pulled her as close as possible considering the barrier of the console.
Despite putting on a smile for Cate, Richard was very anxious about the entire situation. The temperature was well below freezing and the thin blanket they’d purchased for the dog wasn’t going to help much in the long run. He could set out on foot and try to find a nearby house but visibility was nil and there was a good possibility of freezing to death. Plus leaving Cate on her own isn’t a great option.
Lost in his thoughts, Richard doesn’t first notice being able to see their breath inside the car. When he notices, it starts a wave of panic and he sits up abruptly. “Cate – we have to get out of here,” he states, turning to look at her with wild eyes. The hot air from his breath slowly reaches Cate’s face. Looking beyond her, he finally sees the frost that has been building up on the car windows. Checking his watch, he sees that another 45 minutes have passed.
“Richard, I’m too tired – someone will be along soon, I’m sure,” she says reassuringly. She rests her head on his shoulder. Cate has always had a calming effect on Richard; for better or worse, he believes her. They relax in a trance-like state for what seems like ages but is really only 20 minutes. The blanket has long since become ineffective at warding off the chill; their bodies no longer bother to try shivering for warmth.
All of a sudden Cate bolts upright, smiling at Richard. “Do you feel that?” she asks excitedly, holding her hands in front of the heating vents. At first Richard wants to tell her she’s crazy but then he does feel it. Somehow the car has miraculously come back to life and the heater is roaring! Richard places his frozen hands in front of the vents, mimicking Cate, and stretches his legs out below the floor vents. The heat is delicious and he can feel his limbs coming back to life.
“I don’t know how that’s even possible – Christmas miracle?” he joked.
“I don’t know and I don’t care, I’ll take it!” Cate countered. “The only problem now is that the heater seems to be stuck on the highest temperature. Beats the alternative, but I think we can get rid of this blanket,” she said, relegating said blanket to the back seat once again.
“Yeah, I don’t need my coat either,” Richard responded. Soon the two had shed so many layers they appeared to be heading for a summer picnic instead of stranded in the middle of a blizzard.
“Cate, do you see those lights?” Richard asked. Cate looked around excitedly but couldn’t find what Richard was talking about. He pointed out the front windshield and slowly the lights of a vehicle at a distance came into her view. She looked over to him with glee and leaned in to kiss him.
“Help is almost here!” she practically yelled. “They’ll find us soon. Let’s just relax until they get here.” Leaning into Richard’s strong shoulder, she closed her eyes and sighed contentedly. Richard kissed her forehead and then leaned his head on hers. Grabbing her hand, he shut his eyes to wait for the rescuers.
The next afternoon after the roads are cleared, police find a nearly snowed-over car on the side of I-96. Removing the snow and frost from the driver’s window reveals a couple in the front seat of the car.
Despite a blanket in the back seat and numerous coats and sweaters, the couple seemed to be dressed for warm weather. The woman wore only a sleeveless blouse and skirt – it appeared that she was in the process of discarding her tights and may have given up midway as they’re bunched up mid-calf. The man had unbuttoned his short-sleeved shirt and rolled up his pant legs nearly to the knees.
The couple sat, hands entwined, blue-tinged faces resting together. They were smiling.