Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Write in the ADVENTURE genre (05/24/07)
TITLE: I Saw the Light
By Beth Muehlhausen
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A few dry snowflakes dusted my windshield with a delicate sugar-sprinkling of pristine winter, then whooshed aside as I sped down the interstate highway. My fingers tapped rhythmically on the steering wheel, accompanying a favorite symphony on CD. I hummed along, tight-lipped, my mouth full of star-shaped Christmas cookies my mother had baked to accompany me on my trip.
The flakes began to fall more rapidly, pummeling the car with unleashed fury. I turned on my headlights, eased up on the accelerator, and watched the numbers on the speedometer retreat. It seemed I was a lone female on the highway – probably because others had already traveled to their holiday destination points, I reasoned.
I chuckled as I thought of words to describe myself: daring, independent, autonomous, tireless, fearless, unstoppable. The challenge of driving alone in less-than-desirable conditions might turn out to be fun!
With that thought, snowy zig-zags began to swirl across a pavement seemingly alive with wind-swept, snake-like slithers. Then all at once a white wall of frozen needles slashed my windshield, forcing me to pull over and stop.
I tried to locate a local radio station for information about the storm, but found only static. My cell phone battery was dead.
Even though the thermometer on my dash said the outside temperature had dropped to six degrees, I had plenty of gas. I would simply idle the engine to keep warm and sit out the storm. With a loaf of my mother’s blueberry bread handy I could afford to miss a meal, I thought.
Lulled by the drone of the engine and warm air blasting from the heater, I dozed off …
I woke with a start, my heart pounding, and immediately noticed the gas gauge had dropped dramatically. Snow was piled high in drifts on all sides, literally encasing my vehicle. Something like a huge ball of lead filled my throat - a lump of sheer panic.
What if the engine couldn’t emit exhaust properly, and carbon monoxide sneaked inside? I cracked the window slightly knowing the frigid air would quickly cool the car’s interior.
A charge of adrenaline ripped through my body. My ski clothes – my parka, leggings, and boots – were packed in the trunk. I might not be able to push the car door open against the drifted snow, but even if I did, would I be able to open the trunk? It seemed too risky a venture since I’d only lose precious heat in the process.
Perhaps I should turn off the engine and preserve gas? I flicked the key and before long was huddled in a fetal position on the front seat. Just hours before I’d been a know-it-all sold out to “woman power" – but now found myself transformed into a blob of shivering terror. “Tireless, fearless, and unstoppable” no longer fit. I crammed big chunks of my mother’s blueberry bread into my mouth, more out of fear than hunger.
Warm, moist clouds of breath created frosty patterns on the interior of the windows. My toes and fingers stung, then ached, and then grew numb – while my nervous stomach full of cookies and blueberry bread cramped into a knot. I started the engine every fifteen minutes or so, fearing hypothermia.
The outside temperature read zero.
When darkness fell, I’d been held captive in the car for hours. I told myself it was time to say good-bye - good-bye to dreams, to whatever I believed about myself, to life itself. Should I pray? Would God hear? What could He do for me in this situation, anyway?
“God – I don’t know if You are out there – but if You are, I need help …”
Oddly, as I said the word “help,” claustrophobia consumed me. I was tired, afraid, and trapped – perhaps frozen? I screamed with the voice of a frightened child: “Oh God, do You hear me …?”
Almost instantaneously a dim, gray light shone through the darkness … no, TWO lights! I groped stiffly to turn on my car’s headlights, then blinked them frantically until the driver of the emergency snowplow headed my way.
No longer daring, independent and autonomous, my chin shook as my tear-stained face stared into the lights of the approaching rescue vehicle. But in that moment, surrounded by darkness and frozen in fear, I saw more than headlights. I saw myself: my frailty, my fallible ego, my misplaced need for control.
I saw… The Light.
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