Inch by inch, foot by foot, little by little, that is how the traffic was flowing. I could see cars way up ahead when we rounded the curves. All were going slow and cautiously over the icy thorough fare. At least we weren’t in this frozen world alone but I was getting close to a panic attack. Not being alone didn’t mean we’d all come out of this alive! My sweet naïve daughter, Cindy was sitting next to me doing her thing, listening to her I-pod and scratching our terrier’s, Scruffy’s, ear. I wish they would join me in worrying. Misery loves company. Sleet was falling and forming an arc on my windshield out of reach of the windshield wipers, taunting them! The side and back windows were covered in layers of crystals that were waging war with my heater. I wish I had listened to my instinct and left for my parent’s house yesterday. Oh, in Texas the weather man is never right! Sure this is the one time he had to be accurate.
Every so often Cindy would ask, “Are we there yet?” just to try my fortitude.
My muscles were tensing as I tried to stay on the two clear paths of asphalt made by all the cars in the procession. It’s best to stay on the straight an narrow, as someone up ahead just discovered. I don’t know what she was planning but I’m sure it back fired because her vehicle spun around, turned sideways and completely blocked the slender road. There was no way we could pass her or back up and turn about. We were in a freezing pickle. The cars ahead of her continued on their journey.
“Hey, mom, that lady must be related to you!” Cindy, always looking for an opportunity to remind me of how “careful” a driver I am, spouted off. Scruffy looked up expecting a fight and prepared to make peace with his soulful eyes.
We weren’t going fast enough to come to a screeching halt, thank heavens, but the cars behind me all stopped. Car doors opened, people disembarked, and soon the wretched driver up ahead was assaulted with a discontented crowd. They encircled her. Was there going to be a riot?
I joined the lynching mob and suavely suggested that assisting the damsel in distress be energy better spent before the trail ahead vanished. As men, and some rugged looking women that could pass as men, got together to work on the project some one groused of being hungry and some one else whined of thirst. With in minutes a banquet was served up in a couple of mini vans. We all merged our supplies, candy bars, half eaten sandwiches, chips, fritos, bean dips, donuts, mints, sodas, thermoses of hot cocoa, coffee and tea, you know, traveling snacks. We ended up one happy family on a sugar and caffeine high before the car ahead was realigned with the road and primed for travel again. Now, as I drove I shook from bad nutrition instead of tense muscles.
It took 2 hours longer than usual to reach my cut off and as I steered off the well traveled road cars behind me tooted their fare wells. With good reason, no signs of live appeared before me. I was on un-traveled topography now. No tire trails to trace. Not a clue where patches of ice would pop up. No one to rally round if I got into trouble. Scruffy looked over his shoulders into the back seat and barked. I glanced in the rear view mirror and frowned. That dog was a curious thing. I wish I had his eyes.
Night descended like a shroud jangling my nerves. Normally this was a familiar trip. A safe haven. Home land. In the dark, with sleet and snow blowing about at 35 miles an hour the once identifiable area seemed peculiarly deadly. What’s worse, my gas gauge was reading low nor was my cell phone getting any reception in this weather.
I pulled over to recoup a plan. It might be better to stay here and wait for morning. We had blankets, flashlights, a first aide kit, water, emergency clothes, and flares in the trunk. Survival planning. We could huddle together for warmth, if only I could convince my emancipated teenager that was the best thing to do, as it was hard to get even a good night kiss from her anymore. Scruffy wouldn’t be a problem, he loved togetherness. Right now he was trying to get my attention.
“What!” I barked at him as he attacked my face again with his wet nose and tongue and pointed to the view in front of us. I looked out what little window was clear to see where the wind had blown a clear path in front of me. All the falling precipitation was abnormally pushed to the side so I could catch a glimpse of ….what is that? A building? There isn’t anything like that around here. Then the draft altered and falling snow and sleet blocked my view again.
“Cindy, I’m going to see what’s out there, wait here.” I explained, climbing out with my flashlight.
The useless light just bounced back at me off the white curtain of sleet blinding me.
I trudged through mush, pulling my coat collar tight against my neck as the blizzard that pelted my face found it’s way down my neckline. I was barely keeping my balance on the precarious surface when my flashlight hit red eyes gawking out at me from the dark. Wolves! Several wolves! Several hungry looking wolves! I stepped back once, twice…..Something flew past me. Scruffy! Oh my gosh. The wolves exposed their fangs and charged. Scruffy! Two of the beasts lunged into the air and fell backwards, forcefully. It was like someone snatched their tails in mid flight. Scruffy pranced around them, yapping, doing a victory dance. A third wolf attempted a leap, looked at Scruffy,(or past him?) and bolted away, trailed by his two whimpering friends.
Cindy came running up. “Mom, I’m sorry. The door opened some how and he got out!”
I should scold her but somehow I felt alive. Something I took for granted a moment ago. Scruffy yelped at us. “Don’t just stand there, follow me!” At least that’s what it sounded like and I was I no mood to argue with him, no telling what he’d do to me if he could tackle vicious wolves. We traipsed after him as he led us to a wood building beside a mountain. Where did this come from? I grew up here so this must be real new. I pounded on the door, but I don’t’ know why; there were no lights. One thing was sure, I wasn’t going backtracking past the wolf pack. I turned the door knob. What a fool. Like I thought it was going to be….unlocked? The door opened.
Inside was a one room cabin with three comfy looking beds against one wall, a table with three chairs against a wall formed by the mountain behind it, a cabinet with three plates against a third wall and a fireplace against the last wall. I backed up and looked over the door way, expecting to see a sign, “ Home of the Three Bears!” Oh heck, this was obviously the cabin of a week end hunter.
“Mom, don’t get weird on me now!” Cindy pleaded, teeth chattering against each other. “Make a fire! Quick!” She pointed to the stack of wood nearby; a book of matches rested conveniently on top.
After a nice blaze got going we located some can goods and dined on spam and beans heated over a open fire. My beans got too hot and burned my tongue. Cindy didn’t get her beans warm enough and reheated them. Scruffy was satisfied with anything fit to be eaten. We topped our buffet off with pop tarts, I checked the expiration date, they were just right, but I would have eaten them anyway. Next, Cindy and I tried out the beds. One was too soft for me, the other to hard for her, we switched. Scruffy, couldn’t care less. He would transfer himself between us through out the night, crawling under the downy coverlets to our feet. Before I fell dead to the world I went to the entry and jammed it with one of the chairs. I wasn’t taking any chances that daddy, mommy, and baby bear be standing over us at dawn, licking their jowls.
The next morning we stirred to a different world. The storm had passed and the earth was gone. Just mounds of white fluff mixed with sleet layered the known globe. It was hard to reconcile the peacefulness with the gale from the previous evening.
Cindy and I stretched, bundled up and returned to the car to find a unforeseen audience. People were milling about our car, amazed and concerned. Rescue teams, a tow truck and ambulance, had assembled. I had veered off the road and parked on the lake! Cracks were spreading out from the wheels and water was seeping up to the surface. I watched in horror as my Chrysler started to sink downwards. The tow truck, parked on rock-hard land, moved outwards with chains attached to my car slowly and cautiously pulling my auto to solid ground. A cheer went up as rescuers raced to save the entombed occupants, who, unknown to them, were walking up behind them! If we had stayed overnight in the car our weight would have submerged it sooner, especially if I had kept the heater running awhile to thaw the ice below us! We would have been TV dinners for fish, provided they had a microwave to heat our frozen torsos up!
“Mom, this is far out, even for you!” Cindy casually informed me, then realization dawned! “You left me in a car parked on thin ice!”
“You’re a teenager. You live on thin ice!” I retorted.
My parents, who had requested the search effort when we hadn’t arrived last night, were the first to detect us on the outskirts of the little get-together. Of course, my mom wasn’t noiseless in her expression of relief and surprise. Everyone turned to stare at us, then paramedics descended on us for inspection, checking us for signs of over exposure, frost bite, shock, ect. We were perfectly hale and hearty.
I kept reassuring them we spent the night safely in a little shack up the mountainside. Seasoned hunters to the area basically called us liars. “There’s nothing in them hills but bear caves!” That’s were the wild life hibernated through winter. No one, absolutely no one, knew of any shack up there. Before I could open my mouth to refute their claims, Cindy elbowed me. It was best to just keep our mouths shut. Sometimes my daughter is smarter than me.
Way up above, our guardian angles watched, amused.
“Dude, you read to many fairy tales! The three bears! Come on!”
“Listen you old blow hard, I like a little intrigue. The bear thing makes their story more colorful when we file our report.
“Lucky for those girls I am a blow hard, you couldn’t blow hard enough to clear a path for a mouse to find cheese!”
Scruffy looked up and barked his thanks to his friends for stopping the wolves in their tracks as the two winged heroes waved back and headed home. Scruffy knew he’d be treated with more respect now that his masters had witnessed him single handedly (er.. single pawed) thwarting the bad intentions of three not so now ferocious wolves.