The air was dry and frigid, the kind of cold that seemed like it could press the life out of a person who dared breathe it too deeply. Outside the world was monochromatic, seeped of all color and, seemingly, all life. Snow had accumulated quickly around the car, mounds pressing into the sides and collecting on the roof. Soon, judging by the gunmetal sky, the whole car would be buried. The woman could only hope that another car drove by before that happened. But as the snow fell harder and the light leached from the sky, the twisting mountain road remained unlit by headlights. She tapped the screen of her phone and stared at the upper right-hand corner, the bars still grayed out, willing the universe for just one bar, just a few minutes of reception. But no matter how hard she stared, there was no change. No reception. Soon doubt and despair gnawed at her stomach, and she felt herself slipping dangerously close to full-blown panic.
The woman cursed herself for not bringing gloves or warmer socks. Her jeans were thin, and the only weather-appropriate clothing she had was her parka, which wasn’t doing enough to retain warmth. Her backpack sat in the passenger seat, and she pulled it onto her lap, unzipping it with fingers that felt swollen by the cold. She took inventory, mainly to distract her frantic mind, concentrating on what she had instead of lamenting what she didn’t. One by one, she pulled things from inside, setting aside what was valuable. Soon, a little army assembled on the dashboard, her tools for survival. It wasn’t much: three NutriGrain granola bars, two bottles of water, a keychain flashlight, a Zippo lighter, and a tiny bottle of Fireball whiskey she had nicked from the plane. Looking at her lackluster haul, she cracked open the bottle, the smell of cinnamon permeating the air, and took a small sip.
Another gust of wind howled around the car, shaking it side to side. Shadows stretched outside, transforming the mounds of snow into sinister creatures, snarling wolves with knife-sharp teeth, lumbering bears with claws longer than her fingers. She swore the shapes were moving, coming closer. Fear got the better of her, and she twisted the key in the ignition, the engine roaring to life. She flicked on the headlights, and the wolves and bears vanished, transforming back into snow drifts. The woman felt foolish as her heart slowed to its regular pace. She was letting her imagination get the better of her. All she had to do was wait a while. Soon car or a plow would come past, rescue her. Or, when the worst of the storm had passed, her phone might regain reception, and she could call 911. At the very least, by mid-morning the next day, her father would notice her delay and send someone out to look for her. She was stuck, but only temporarily.
There was really no reason to panic, she assured herself. And no reason to start rationing her food supplies; by tomorrow afternoon, she would be at her grandma’s dining room table, mounds of mashed potatoes smothered in gravy and juicy turkey in front of her. The little bottle of whiskey sat in the cupholder, and she picked it up, considering its remnants. She figured the alcohol, what little was left, might steady her nerves, help her relax, and keep her head.
“Cheers,” she toasted the empty car, her voice sounding foreign and strange to her ears.
She tossed back the rest of the whiskey, less than what a bartender would serve up in a shot glass. The alcohol ignited a warm trail from her throat to her stomach, and she felt the muscles in her shoulders loosen. The car’s engine dulled the ferocity of the wind, and stale, toasty air puffed from the vents. It had been a long day, and the woman was tired and she soon found herself dozing, lulled by the warmth and encroaching darkness. She supposed it wouldn’t hurt to rest a little, just a tiny cat nap. With stiff fingers, she unlocked her phone and set an alarm for twenty minutes. She would sleep for twenty minutes and then turn off the car to save the battery. She nestled down in her seat, pulling her neck into her parka, and closed her eyes. A quick nap, she told herself as she drifted off, that’s all I need.
When she awoke, she was in complete darkness. For a minute, she didn’t know where she was, and she wondered why her bedroom was so dark, no light spilling around the curtains. But then she remembered the blizzard outside, and she bolted upright, slamming her knee painfully into the steering column. She tapped her phone screen frantically, but nothing happened. It had died. That was when she heard the screeching wind, louder than before, and she noticed her toes were freezing. Sleep muddled her mind, and she reached out a hand in confusion, laying it on the defrosting vents on the dash. The plastic was cold under her fingers. The engine was off, and she reached back in her mind, trying to remember if she had killed the ignition before dropping off into sleep.
But the keys were where she left them, and with a sinking feeling in her stomach, she realized the car battery had died, too. She cursed herself and fumbled her numb hand around the dashboard, groping in the darkness. Her fingers brushed against something metallic and cylindrical. The flashlight. She clicked it on, the LED light glowing blue. The woman was already cold, but as she aimed the beam around the car’s interior, her blood turned to ice in her veins. The storm had continued while she slept. The snow had been blown against the car, piling it so that she was completely encased. She snapped off the light, plunging herself back into darkness. Her breath puffed in misty clouds as she began to hyperventilate, her reality sinking in. She was trapped, totally snowed in, and feared this car would become her coffin.
The woman knew she needed to act, but her mind was sluggish and confused. Her eyes stared into the darkness, seeing nothing but her slow death. The woman wanted more than anything just to curl up in her seat and accept her fate, but a small voice in the back of her head refused, insisting she had to try something. She wouldn’t let herself just sit there and die; the image of her decomposing corpse rotting away in this shitty Sedan forced her to fight.
She twisted herself around in the seat, pressing her back against the driver’s side door and bracing her legs against the plastic center console that separated the two front seats. Years of running had made her legs strong, and she hoped now her ropey muscles could save her. She gripped the door handle with her left hand and gave it a mighty yank. Her numb fingers slipped at first, and the handle snapped back into place. The woman let out a frustrated groan and blew on her fingertips, trying to warm them a few degrees. She tried again. This time her grip held, and she pushed as hard as possible, trying to open the door. It groaned, and the woman felt cold air on her back. She twisted her head and saw a gap, only an inch or two, where the door had opened. A surge of adrenaline coursed through her, electrifying her blood, and she pressed her feet harder into the center console. She gritted her teeth against the pain in her back, where the door’s plastic bit into her and strained her muscles. The door didn’t budge, still stuck just those few inches open. The woman spun herself around until she had inverted her position, her feet now on the door. She continued to push, gritting her teeth so hard she feared the pressure would squeeze them to dust. But the door remained stuck.
She stopped, allowing her body a moment to rest. Her chest heaved as she tried to slow her breathing, but the longer she sat, trapped, with the freezing air leaking into the car, the more frustrated she got. She felt stupid, useless, and sure that she had significantly decreased her chances of survival. The door was open, not far enough for her to crawl out of, but far enough to let in loose snow that now held the door firmly in place. Even if she tried, she was sure she wouldn’t be able to get it closed again. Rage simmered inside her, and she thumped her right foot against the window. She repeated the motion a few more times, the anger inside her building into a curdled mess of white-hot rage.
“Stupid. Fucking. Car.” She punctuated each word with a hard kick.
Soon she was attacking the glass madly, throwing her body side to side in the car, an animal scream ripping from her throat, losing herself in her fury. The wind crescendoed, blending with her wails until it was impossible to separate the storm outside from the one that raged inside the woman. She was so wrapped up in her tantrum that she didn’t even hear the splintering crack of breaking glass. A final, mighty kick sent her foot through the window and into the snow.
She stared, dumbfounded, as shards of glass glittered on her jeans like teardrops. Her leg looked like it ended at the knee, as the rest of it was lost in the snow. She could feel the moisture seeping into her jeans, the biting cold snapping her out of her fit. She wiggled her toes and was surprised that the action didn’t cause pain. Carefully, she pulled her leg back inside the car. She rolled up her pant leg and was stunned to see her flesh was fully intact. Not even a scratch. Maybe her luck was finally turning. She knelt on the seat, still shocked at the turn of events, and pressed her hands into the snow, testing it. There was a thin layer of ice that she had to punch through, but the snow was fluffy and soft underneath. The woman let out a laugh, a mixture of delight and surprise. She pulled her coat sleeve over her hand, a makeshift glove, and carefully pounded away the remaining glass. There was a muted tinkling sound as the glass broke free and fell around her. After a few moments work the glass was gone and now the woman knew the real work would begin.
She prepared herself for her escape and stuffed her provisions into her backpack, leaving out the Zippo lighter, which she slipped into the pocket of her jeans. She shrugged the pack on, turned to the window, and started digging. Her hands were numb and clumsy, but she pawed at the snow as best she could, once again wishing for gloves. Soon, she had created a small tunnel big enough for her body. She pulled herself out the window, snow seeping under her coat and soaking her pants almost immediately. She was colder than she’d ever been in her life, but she didn’t let the discomfort slow her. As she dug, snow fell around her, filling every crevice with its icy touch. It wriggled down the back of her coat and clung possessively to her skin. A coppery smell touched her nostrils as the thin skin on her hands broke open, warm blood running down her wrists.
When the pain in her hands became intolerable, she wrestled the lighter out of her pocket. She awkwardly lit it, the small flame illuminating the dark tunnel. The snow in front of her was streaked pink from her raw hands. The heat melted the snow, rivulets of pink making it look like the snowbank itself was bleeding. The woman liked the image, the idea that she was creating as much pain as she was enduring. She put the lighter away, reentering the darkness, and continued digging. After a few more handfuls of snow, she reached through and felt empty frigid air. Frantically, she shoved herself towards the opening and soon found herself spilled out, down a small snowbank, free.
She lay on her back, her body convulsing in a spastic dance, a cushion of snow beneath her. The night sky was clear, an inky black tablecloth with stars sprinkled across like salt. As she lay in an exhausted heap, she noticed a rosy cast on the horizon, a slash of pink like an open wound. Dawn was approaching. Time had meant nothing in the car, stretching and constricting like a snake working a mouse down into its belly. Minutes and hours had passed at a warped speed, but the lightening sky solidified things. She had been trapped in that car for almost twelve hours.
After a few moments, the woman heard a noise that made her ears perk up, like a rabbit sensing danger. There was a low rumbling sound like an invisible giant clearing its throat. Two golden orbs appeared on the road above becoming broader and brighter, and a dark, hulking shape lay in shadows behind it. The woman felt her heart leap as if it were trying to escape her chest so it could flag down the plow driver for her. She got to her feet as quickly as she could and waded through the thigh-deep snow, falling in places as she climbed up the small ravine towards the road. She waved her arms madly, her throat too raw to cry out.
The vehicle slowed, and the woman looked back, wanting one last look at the prison she escaped. Her car was lost in the snow, shadows making all the drifts look the same. The only testimony to her miraculous escape was the ruby red stain her bleeding hands had left behind.
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