The Storm - A Will Starr Short Story
It wasn’t that the Jeep couldn’t handle the increasingly deep snow so much as he could barely make out the road. But he wasn’t worried either, because he was equipped with his survival gear, even if the temperature dipped below zero, and the weather forecast had predicted five below zero before the night was over.
He was barely crawling because the headlights and off road lights combined only illuminated the road ahead for some twenty feet. Beyond that was a solid and unrelenting curtain of white. The same weather forecast had predicted at least two feet of snow, and drifts as high as six feet.
Tom Dawson was less than ten miles from his destination, but it might as well have a hundred miles, because he was obviously not going to make it tonight. He was just considering where he should stop, when an apparition suddenly appeared out of the gloom, and he slammed on the brakes. He slid to a stop with just feet to spare and just sat there for a minute, staring at the tiny young woman in his headlights.
She was clad only in a dress and a light coat. On her feet were high heels, and she had no head cover at all. He quickly came to his senses and scrambled out the door. Without saying a word, he scooped her up in his arms and walked back to the Jeep, placing her gently on the passenger seat. She was shivering uncontrollably.
He flipped the super efficient Jeep heater on high, and the cabin was soon uncomfortably hot, but he left it there anyway. Gradually, her shivering decreased, and at last it stopped. Then she turned and looked at him as if she just realized he was there. Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears and she began to weep quietly. After a few minutes she dried her eyes and glanced up at Tom.
“I was so scared! My car slid into the ditch just up the road and I couldn’t get it out. I was on my way to a friend’s house, and it was only a few miles, but then the snow started and the road became slick and I …”
“Where is your coat? Surely you didn’t start out without a heavy coat in a Wisconsin winter?”
She shook her head slowly.
“I was so excited that I simply forgot. I even looked for it after going in the ditch before I realized what I had done. How could I be so foolish?” Tears welled in her eyes again as she looked at him, silently pleading for understanding. Finally he patted her small shoulder.
“Well, no harm done, and you’re safe now.”
“I was also low on gas, but it was such a short trip that I didn’t bother. I ran out over an hour ago and that’s when I realized how much trouble I was in. Then I heard you and ran out on the road because I thought you might miss me otherwise.”
Tom nodded. “That was using your head because I almost certainly would have missed you otherwise. Of course I almost hit you, but that’s the risk I guess. Buckle up, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Any hopes of making it to town were dashed less than two miles later when they encountered a drift at least six feet deep. Sighing, Tom got out and looked for a spot to park overnight. He didn’t want a snowplow to slam into his Jeep, so he had to get off the road.
Luck was with him, because he found the entrance to a farm field that spanned the invisible ditch. After a few deft maneuvers, they were safely off the road, and he shut off the Jeep.
“I guess we should introduce ourselves. I’m Tom Dawson, and I was headed to Newton. It looks like we’re stuck here for the night, so we’ll have to make the best of it.”
She bit her lip and stared out the window at the opaqueness of the snow. “I’m Rose Duncan, and I was also headed for Newton.” She turned to him.
“I’m not at all comfortable about spending the night with a total stranger, but I guess I have no choice, do I?”
“No, you don’t, but you’re in no danger at all. My Dad raised me right. So too, for that matter, did my mother, but she passed on when I was twelve. Are you hungry?”
The sudden change in the conversation startled her, and she realized that she was indeed very hungry.
“Being chilled like you were and shivering so violently consumes a lot of energy, so I’m guessing you need some food.” He reached into back seat and pulled out a duffle bag. Poking through it, he found a can of Spam and a sealed plastic container of crackers. He handed them to Rose along with a bottle of water.
She was ravenous, and ate the entire can before she guiltily thought to ask Tom if he wanted any. He smiled and shook his head.
“No, I’m fine, and you needed all of it. Food keeps you warm. In any case, I need to make up a bed in the back so we can sleep.”
She paled. “Um, I think I’ll just sit here tonight. I can sleep sitting up.”
“That won’t work. Within an hour or so, it will be nearly zero in here, so you can’t sleep up here. But my sleeping bag is rated to forty below, so we’ll be fine.’
He glanced at her panicked face. “Don’t worry Rose. I’m a gentleman, and you’ll be fine. I promise. My sleeping bag also zips open into a large, down-filled cover, and we’ll sleep on my rolled up foam mattress. And of course, we’ll both be fully dressed.”
“Can’t we just start the Jeep now and then and warm it up? Or are you low on gas too?”
“We have plenty of gas, but the danger in doing that is carbon monoxide because the snow will probably pile up and prevent the exhaust from escaping. We wouldn’t know we were dying in time to save ourselves.”
He could see that she was still very uncomfortable with the idea, so he changed his mind.
“Tell you what. I have this heavy coat on, and I also have a spare blanket, so you can sleep in the back, and I’ll make out up here.”
Tom folded down the back seats and rolled out the foam pad. Then he took the big sleeping bag out of another duffle, unzipped it and spread it out on the floor.
“There you go, Rose. Sweet dreams.”
She looked at him for a long moment. Then she bit her lip and seemed to make up her mind about something.
“We’ll both sleep back there, Tom. You can’t sleep up here any more than I can in this terrible cold. And you’ve already promised me that you are a gentleman. I believe and trust you.”
Somewhere in the night, Tom woke up for a moment as Rose snuggled up to him in her sleep, her head nestled softly on his shoulder. Her faint perfume wafted over him gently, as he drifted back to sleep. Outside, the snow fell silently, and the temperature dropped to six below zero.
The pounding on the roof woke Tom, and he saw the bearded face staring at him through the cleared side window.
“You folks OK in there?”
The snowplow driver puffed on his cigar as Tom and Rose told of their ordeal.
“Smart to have a survival pack on board. Folks have died without one.” He peered through the clouds of aromatic cigar smoke at Rose. “Your car a white Ford?” When she nodded, he strolled over to the big, idling snowplow and talked to someone on the radio.
“Whitey Willard just loaded it up on his tow truck. He’ll be here in a few minutes and you can drive on in behind me.”
Rose’s face reddened. “I’m afraid I can’t. I ran it out of gas trying to stay warm. It was already low when I left.”
“Whitey always carries ten gallons of gas with him. You can still follow me.” He smiled down at Rose and his eyes crinkled with an inner kindness. “Don’t worry yourself about it. We all make mistakes, Ma’am. You’ll know better next time.”
Tom Dawson rolled into Newton with time to spare. He dressed for the wedding and then entered the church where he met with the groom, who was his old high school buddy. Then he took his place and watched as the wedding party walked down the aisle one by one and took their places. At last, the organist began playing Wagner’s Bridal Chorus, and the church came to their feet as the bride and her father came down the aisle and halted. Then Tom stood and walked to the pulpit.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”
The reception was held at a local lodge hall, and Tom Dawson was seated with the wedding party when the bride broke away and came over to him.
“I want to thank you for all you’ve done, Tom and I want to know if you can do me one more favor?”
Tom rose and smiled down at her. “Of course.”
“Would you mind dancing with, Julia, my maid of honor? The best man twisted his ankle on the way over here, and he currently has his foot in a bucket of ice.”
“I’d be honored.”
Julia was a good dancer, as was Tom, so they remained on the floor as the band prepared to play a slow dance.
“Julia, huh? I could have sworn that your name was Rose.”
“And you never told me that you were a minister, Tommy Dawson. If you had, I might have used my real name.”
“Well, since we’ve already slept together once, I wonder if you’d consider going out with me? Even we ministers fall in love if we aren’t careful.”
Julia laughed and jabbed him gently with her elbow. “The answer is yes, as long as you don’t go around blabbing that story about our sleeping together. We’ll save that one for our children.” She blushed at her own boldness.
Tom Dawson smiled down on tiny Julia Winters, and pulled her just a little closer. Her faint perfume wafted over him as the band began playing their first slow dance together and the beginning of forever.
This story was in response to Jackie Lynnley's Winter Story HubPage Challenge. While the story was purely fiction, it was based on one of the author's most foolish youthful adventures in which an almost balmy Iowa winter day turned into a blizzard so fast that the author slid off the icy road into a ditch and walked nearly a mile dressed only in street clothes to the lights of a farmhouse barely visible through the blinding snow. The farmer and his wife treated me for frostbite with generous amounts of bourbon and gobs of Vicks Vaporub. By the time my Dad arrived, I was truly "stinking drunk".