Thursday, December 07, 2006

 

In Which We Are Blind in the Storm...

It had been snowing steadily since I'd moved back home and now there was easily a foot of snow on the ground, most of it having fallen just that morning. After I brushed my car off and got it started, it occurred to me just how bad the storm was when I gunned the engine and the car resolutely refused to move from its spot. The wheels spun fruitlessly, my car a three-dimensional analogy for how I was feeling about my life just then. I let up on the gas and sat in the car for a few minutes, watching the snow blow sideways.

I did some mental calculations. In a straight line from this house to the shed on the other side of town, it wasn't even a mile's walk, and most of that was through the woods, where the trees actually protected the ground from accumulation. I'd probably have an easier time walking there than driving. How hard could it be?

And with those famous last words bouncing in my head, I went back to the house, got a hat, gloves and a flashlight, and started off into the woods.

Once I was in the forest, the wind died down considerably. I could see a good ways ahead of me. All around were great old pines and maples, forming the walls and ceiling of a stupendous arboreal cathedral that was dimly lit and eerily quiet. As I had hoped, the trees above had caught most of the snow that had been falling and while there was some accumulation, it was easy hiking. Good thing, since it was late afternoon and there was no sun out whatsoever.

I trudged on down the hill, walking more or less parallel to the access road that my parents and their neighbors used to get home. Through the woods, I could see the lights of the small cabin of our neighbors, a single mom and daughter and I wondered how many more houses I'd see as I walked in my straight line through the woods to the storage shed on the other side of town.

But I was interrupted in this reverie by a low growl that came out of the dusk, just off to my right. I froze, and then up over the drop of a fallen tree, a dark form leapt at me and I screamed so loudly I half expected to tear my face off.

Then I felt a pair of paws stuff themselves into my crotch and I heard a laughing pant and I realized it was Sasha, the German shepherd that lived with our neighbors. She was a lovely dog and very friendly, but kind of impish too. She had a real knack for crouching behind the stone fence in front of her cabin and leaping out at you as you walked or drove by. More than once she'd forced my brother off the road when she'd jumped out and startled him into swerving into the ditch.

Once I caught my breath and determined that I wouldn't need to go back to the house for a change of underwear, I gave Sasha a good scratch behind the ears and kept walking. She followed me all the way down the hill, and I have to say, I welcomed the company. I missed my old dog Pilgrim, who I had put to sleep just the day before and who was not even buried yet (indeed, wouldn't be buried still the spring thaw. My dad elected to put her in the deep freeze til then). And the woods had become increasingly dark and creepy as the blizzard intensified. Wind began to rip through the trees, causing an odd, keening whine to reverberate through the forest. As if that didn't make me edgy enough, the wind also began to dislodge great clumps of snow that were exploding all around me like bombs.

At the bottom of the hill, I came to an open lot that the township used to store compost and sand. I slogged across this space, trying to stay in the ruts made by the plows that had been coming and going all day, collecting truckloads of sand as they went. When I got to the other side of the lot and went back into the woods, I realized that Sasha was gone, no doubt having returned up the hill to her cozy cabin.

Maybe I should go back too, I thought.

But by my reckoning, I was over halfway there. All I needed to do was follow the forest that ran parallel to the lake and keep walking until I reached the pasture that marked the eastern border of the old property line of my family's farm. From there, I could cut across the pasture and be right at the foot of the hill my parents owned.

My directions were unerring, if I do say so myself. The only problem was that the snowstorm was so intense that by the time I reached the pasture, the wind was almost blowing me over. I was knee-deep in snow at that point and had almost no balance to speak of. So instead of being able to trot across the field in about five minutes, it took almost 20. The practical upshot of this is that it was full dark by the time I reached the hill and began the arduous climb up through chest-high drifts to the shed.

It took another half-hour, but I reached the far side of the shed, where a makeshift overhang protected the door from the elements. I thumbed the combination lock on the door and slid the bolt open, grateful to be in shelter at last.

The shed was one my dad's CRAP specialties. Every single piece of wood, every window, door and length of sheet metal roofing had been scavenged from the dump or one of the many job sites my dad had worked at. It was frigid as an ice box in there, but there was no wind. No light either. I fished out my flashlight and played it around, startling both myself and a huge-ass rat (which skittered off into the torn upholstery of an old sofa), then I picked my way through the boxes of antiques and tools and detritus, heading for the rickety stairs that led up to the second level.

By flashlight, it took almost an hour to find my boxes of stuff and longer still to fish through every inconsequential piece of paper I had saved from school. But eventually, I found a familiar oversize envelope with the GRE logo on it and saw my test results inside. I carefully folded the paper and stuffed it in an inside pocket. Then, with slightly numbed fingers, I pulled my gloves back on and got ready to leave.

By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I knew I should have waited for the storm to let up. I don't know if you've ever been out in a blizzard before, but I'm here to tell you that if you're walking about in blowing snow, with a raging wind that drowns out all sound, and it's pitch-dark to boot, it is very easy to get disoriented. Suddenly I remembered every horror story, every cautionary tale my parents and uncles had ever told me about friends and neighbors who had been imprudent enough to wander off into a blizzard and were never seen alive again. I knew the town like the back of my hand, but I was still anxious. It wasn't just the idea of being disoriented. The temperature had been dropping steadily and with the wind chill, it had to be well below zero. It was not hard to imagine suffering frostbite or perishing from exposure.

So when I got to the bottom of the hill, I immediately set out for the road that wound its way past the family farm--what we always called the Homestead. This was an old country road that should have been maintained by the town, but wherever the plows had been going after loading up with sand over at the town lot, they sure hadn't used it here. If anything, the snow drifts were worse on the road than in the woods, and the wind was positively punishing. Plus, what would I do when the plow DID come through? Why I would die, of course. Be crushed beneath the wheels of the great churning truck, every tender organ in me squirting out my assorted orifices like toothpaste from a mashed tube, all because I was too slow and sodden to waddle off the road onto the relative safety of the shoulder.

So, after a few nervous minutes of trudging down the road and looking back and forth for any signs of impending, plow-driven, organ-squirting doom, I saw a dark bulk up ahead and realized it was the Homestead. We weren't much on speaking terms with this side of the family, but there was no way my uncle would leave me out in the snow. I waded up to the door of the darkened house and pounded. Of course, no one was home (I later found out that my uncle and his family were in Florida on vacation). I briefly considered sneaking in through the side window, which had a broken lock that had never been fixed (as long-time readers will remember from this story), so that I could at least call home and get my dad or brother--who I hoped would have been home from work by then--to fire up the Jimmy and come get me. But then I remembered that my uncle had no telephone. He was a notorious delinquent when it came to paying bills and my dad had only just told me how the phone company had refused to turn the service back on until my uncle paid some two hundred dollars in arrears to them.

I stood there, shivering, for a thoughtful moment. The only other neighbor on the road was old Mrs. Warner, whose house was just across the upper field and faced the Homestead, but I couldn't see any lights on in that direction and it occurred to me that she wintered in Arizona now. I finally decided that I could waste time and body heat trudging around looking for neighbors who might or might not be home, or I could just suck it up and head back the way I came.

I was young and stupid, so there should be no question about what I did next...


Comments:
I am so glad to see the cliff-hanger has returned. Being on the cusp of that very same season myself, my I just say I hope yours is happy and bright. Changes are good, even when they seem very much to the contrary.
 
I remember being in a similar situation once...fortunately, I wasn't in a blizzard, and I was able to eventually find my way back to my hotel. Enjoying the cliffhangers also, MM.
 
I'm glad you didn't die.
 
Wow, MM. I just read part one, came back to make a comment (I print them out for reading, just in case you're a geek like me who checks site stats every once in a while and you were wondering why someone - like - me, for instance - is only here for, say, 27 seconds a visit) and Part Two is already up. Excellent!

My own FBC "season" usually manifests itself as full-blown mental instability; could possibly be classified as "certifiably insane". So, I have to be very wary. It's only happened three times that I can recall, but after every episode I knew that I could very well have ended my life by misadventure and only by God's good graces did I survive.

Don't supppose Part Three is up by now? No. I'll be back!
 
I'm glad it was just a dog! I probably would've been covered in falling snow clumps trying to climb the nearest tree if that'd happened to me.
 
Clearly, the Lord has some great and lofty purpose for you. No one could have survived your life otherwise. ;)
 
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