While warming his car, he called his wife, Starling, who no doubt waited for him to call and say he was coming home.
“How bad is it?” he asked and turned on the wiper blades.
“It’s okay, Penn Dot just went by. But it’s still coming down pretty good,” she said.
“Well I’m leaving now.”
“I don’t know what the mountain is like, but the highway is supposed to be passable. Are you sure you want to come home now? Maybe you could wait?”
“Where Starling? Everything is closed. Anyway I should be fine. I’ll make it.”
“Drive safe, love you,” she said.
He hung up the phone and plugged it into the charger. Slipping his used Subaru into drive he started into the parking lot toward the main road. He just bought the car this past summer, for a bargain. The salesman said everything worked, but it had not snowed heavy since he bought it. This would be the first actual snow storm. Neal thought about his first Subaru, a little hatchback that plowed through snow easily. He smiled a little at the memory and turned left onto the main road, which was snow-covered and tire tracks were already fading into new snow.
Neal made his way on the way and got behind a plow truck. The road was mostly empty except for plow trucks, a few SUV’s and a single car. The snow pummeled the windshield from the pinkish sky. And the lights on the plow truck only a car’s distance away looked like snow covered Christmas lights. He took a deep breath, the car held steady and continued on driving twenty miles an hour.
Primrose Mountain was not a large mountain, it reached about a third of a mile above sea level. The road over the mountain was the main artery that connected the once glorious coal and logging towns to the more developed town in the valley. It was also one of the few dead zones on the east coast, no cell service until he reached Meridian. Thousands of people traveled over Primrose everyday for work. But tonight, there was no one else on the mountain. As soon as Neal left the safety of the plow truck, he was alone on the black curves of the mountain. The trees were covered in snow and looked hand drawn as if a child just decided to put trees in their snow picture. The roads were white and untouched. His four ways blinked casting an orange glow over the snow. Just ten more miles and then he would be in the outskirts of Meridian. Ten more miles and he would almost be home.
The snow swirled and pelted the car. He dropped his speed to fifteen. The car started to slide a bit. He slowly corrected it, but it kept slipping the further he traveled up the mountain. Gripping the steering wheel tighter, he felt the car slip even more. Then from the blinding snow, a deer stood in the rood. He was already going slow and let his foot off the gas.
“Come on! Go!” He said to himself. But the deer stood there.
As he turned the wheel to go around the animal, he lost his traction in the snow and he began to veer to the right. Neal tried to correct by drifting a full stop, and turning the wheel the other way. He misjudged the road. He had no idea he was already traveling in the center of the road. The car edged over the side mountain. It rolled over. Glass broke and splattered all over him. The air bags deployed as it turned over again. Then it stopped on its roof. His chest hurt. His nose gushed blood.
His body began to numb. His face. His fingers. His brain thudded and pounded. He thought about Starling and when they first met all those years ago in a snow storm. Their wedding day. The birth of their child. The Christmases where they were poor and could not spend more than ten dollars. To their lives got better over the years, enjoying vacations and traveling to new places. She always said she would be the one to go first. How wrong she was. What was she going to do? How will she handle his death? He should have got the larger life insurance policy. His thoughts of Starling slipped away as he sunk into blackness.
It has been hour since he called. Starling paced the living room, constantly checking the time and the driveway. She would go out and stand in the snow looking toward the road, only to see nothing, no head lights or even the plow truck. There was silence all around her even the owls decided it best to stay snug. He should have called off, but the storm wasn’t supposed to start until after midnight. In fact up till almost four they were calling for midnight. Then at five, the clouds just opened up and spewed snow. He had the Subaru. He should be here by now. She checked the time, she turned up the heat and went back outside until her feet were numb. Nothing.
Is he okay? What if he wasn’t? When should she call the cops? Would they care? Where was he? What if he died? What then? How would she tell their daughter? How could she possibly go on? She would have to though. What he did he say about his funeral; did he want one? She couldn’t remember. Maybe their life together wasn’t always the greatest but she would never change it.
Neal started to come back from the darkness. His eyes were blurry, his face and chest still hurt. Someone had undone his seat belt and tried to pull him from the car. Neal winced at the tugging. It was a man. A large man with a white beard. Of course it was white, it was snowing out. Neal couldn’t keep his eyes open and went to close them again.
“I wouldn’t do that, try to stay with me,” the man said and Neal opened his eyes again.
It must be a firefighter. But where was the flashing lights? The forest around was dark and snowy and the only lights came from the headlights. Some where he heard jingle bells. The fire trucks had to be on the road. Maybe Penn Dot saw the tire tracks and called the fire department.
The man took him and placed him laying down on the back of something hard, something wooden. Neal blinked and let his eyes adjust to the faint light. The man wore a long red parka and was old, much older than Neal. He was in a sleigh and pulling the sleigh were two horses.
The man wrapped Neal in various blankets, warmth started to flood Neal’s fingers and toes. The man took of his gloves and gathered snow from beside the sleigh. He made a ball and seemed to stare at it as if he were looking at something. Then without speaking, he tossed the snow ball over to the side and placed his cold hands on Neal’s body. Neal felt his blood start to move and flow. The pain in his nose seemed to vanish and his chest began to move up and down without pain. It was if this man were vacuuming all the pain away.
“Just rest now. I will get you home,” he said and went to the front of the sleigh. He put his gloves back on and slapped the reins against the horse’s backside. The slap resounded through the forest.
They moved swiftly through the woods. The runners swooshed over the fresh snow. It almost felt like they were gliding across the snow. Or maybe even flying. The snow fell around them but it never seemed to stay inside the sleigh. The air was arctic and brisk but fresh and invigorating at the same time. He didn’t think about the accident or the deer in the road. He thought of nothing.
Two hours after Neal called, a bright light flashed outside and the power went out across the neighborhood. Starling’s heart sunk and she wrapped up in a sweater and rushed outside. Through the whipping snow, some neighbors started lighting candles as she could see the faint glow coming from their dark windows. Then in the distance, she heard jingle bells. Jingle bells? The bells came closer. She turned on her flashlight, which only cut a narrow beam in the snow and saw the glint of the horse’s eyes in the light down the road.
Then the sleigh stopped in front of their small house. A large man with a white beard and red parka got out of the sleigh. He unwrapped Neal from the blankets. Neal sat up and looked around.
“Starling?!” He said and almost fell out of the sleigh. The man in the red parka caught him and helped him. Neal ran to Starling and squeezed her. Her wet tears touched his face.
“What happened, are you okay?”
“I don’t really know. There was a deer in the middle of the road and I went over the side,” he said in between kisses.
The man in the red parka got back into his sleigh. Starling went over and hugged, “how could I thank you? You saved him.”
“Anyone would have done the same,” he said.
“No they wouldn’t. Not in this weather,” she said. “Please come by tomorrow and have dinner with us.”
“Thank you, but I can’t. You take care of each other,” the man in red parka and said.
Starling went back to Neal as the man in the red parka slapped the reins against the horses and they pulled away. Within moments, the jingle bells fell silent and the only sound was the sound of snowflakes smacking into each other. Once the jingle bells faded, the power came back on and snow-covered Christmas lights flooded the dark street once again.
“Am I dead?” Neal asked still not believing what just happened since he left work.
“If your dead than so am I because this is real.”
Starling and Neal shared another a kiss and looked to the sky as a spot in the sky flashed like a camera.
“That guy looked like...” Starling started.