It was the end of the day, and as usual Will was running late for his bus. He sprinted through the halls of the school trying to get to his locker. He had been held up trying to finish a review problem with his physics teacher. Miss Smith seemed in no hurry to explain it, expecting him to wait patiently while she droned on about how object A when pushed affected object B and gave C result. He had enough trouble trying to grasp the concept, but when he had so little time until the bus left and he was stranded at school, he really hadn't given it his full attention.
He flew down a flight of stairs trying to get to the basement level of the school where, due to overcrowding, several banks of extra lockers had been set up. It was tucked away from the rest of the school beside the boiler room and the chemistry labs, due to its proximity away from the rest of the school, it was a favorite hang out for those kids looking to grab a smoke in the emergency exit well that led up to the student parking lot. A little bit of shelter from the wind.
Will didn't mind having his locker down there, it was out of the way and he could always chat to Brody who was often hanging about the exit with some of his buddies. But Brody was off that day, and everyone else had gone home as soon as school let out, so he was alone.
The ruined door to his locker soon soured his mood.
He stood and stared at the mess of his books turned out onto the floor, and his notes scattered about torn and disorganized. His heart sank as he dropped to pick them up, pushing them back into his locker in an effort to preserve them. He couldn't help but sigh dejectedly as he picked up the two half's of his English book, a faithful friend that had died valiantly. He tossed it into the locker after his notes and stood up, he didn't have time to report it that night, and he would have to wait until the morning...
He stopped when he saw his coat was missing. He swore loudly, who the hell stole a coat from someone in a snowstorm. It was so supremely cruel that it just fit some of the guys that went to Will's high school, Will reluctantly closed the door of his locker as best he could on only one hinge. Bending the twisted metal back into shape. He was screwed and he knew it.
He jogged back up to the main office of the school, but found it locked up; only a janitor left sweeping the floor. He caught sight of Will and shook his head.
"They all went home, the storm. You'd better go home as well. There is a big snowstorm coming and it is already pretty messy out there!"
Will nodded as he hurried through the halls to where the buses always waited day after day. Hoping he wasn't too late.
He burst out of the doors just as the last bus pulled out of the parking lot and headed out into the street. And Will felt hope evaporate as he stood there watching large flakes of snow falling down around him. It didn't truly hit him of how bad his situation was until he turned back to the doors to find they had locked behind him, he was trapped outside the school in the storm.
He realized only then that the storm was much stronger than he had first thought. What he had seen when he had burst out of the school was only the view from the lee side of the building. He didn't realize the full danger ahead of him.
He pulled his plaid shirt closer about him to ward off the cold as he struggled down the hill the school was built upon. Glad for once that he tried to keep up with the latest fashion and had worn a tee shirt under it, otherwise had he just been in his tee shirt...
He slipped a little on the icy sidewalk that had yet to be cleared, and managed to steady himself. His Aunt Majella lived about ten minutes from his school; if he could make it there he would be able to call his Dad for a lift home. He dreaded the prospect; his Father hated it when he missed a bus. He could just hear the lecture now about responsibility and how he should take better care of his property. As if he wanted to be struggling through a snowstorm in just a thin shirt with no gloves.
He buried his hands into his armpits, trying to stay warm was critical, it wasn't far he just had to keep telling himself that. It didn't matter that the snow came down harder, that his cap brim was now forming a ledge of snow. As if on cue, the wind snatched it from his head and sent it sailing into an embankment.
He stared after it mournfully, short of his climbing through a four foot high snow bank which he simply wasn't dressed for, there was no way to get it back. He swore again, it just wasn't his day. He struggled onwards, determined to get out of the cold.
He didn't even notice as the black mustang slid to a halt beside him.
"Are you nuts?" the driver called as he rolled down his window.
Will glanced over at the Captain of the Hockey team and shivered, "I missed the bus." He explained continuing to walk; if he stopped it meant he would be out in the cold longer.
Andrew let the car coast along beside the snow-covered sophomore, "What happened to your coat?" He asked as he turned down the radio.
Will shrugged; "Someone trashed my locker..." he slipped again on a patch of ice and again managed to stay upright.
Andrew shook his head; "I can give you a lift, beats walking in this without a coat."
Will looked over at the classic Mustang. Andrew's car was the envy of all the students at the school; it was a beautifully restored 1969 Coupe that seemed to epitomize Andrew. He embodied the kind of person that the car had been designed for, young and full of energy. He nodded as he crossed to the coupe and slid into the passenger seat, immediately glad of the car's heater, even though he was still soaked to the skin from the melting snow.
Andrew looked over at him and undid his seatbelt, shrugging out of his varsity jacket he handed it over to Will. "Here, put this on your soaked."
Will accepted the treasured jacket; it was as much a part of Andrew's identity as the car was. He held it for a moment, feeling the soft leather in his hands, before he put it on. It was already warm from Andrew's body heat, and the combination of Andrew's sweat, cologne and worn leather assailed his nose. He relaxed wrapped in the warm coat and sank into the seat, glad just to be warm.
"So where am I taking you?" Andrew asked as he drove the car down the hill and onto the street.
"My Aunts should be good, I can call my Dad and get a lift home..."
Andrew rolled his shoulders in a shrug, "Might as well take you straight home, rather than let this storm get worse," He gunned the engine and was satisfied that the tires had a firm grip on the snow covered road surface. The ploughs hadn't been past yet so driving was treacherous so he kept it slow.
"You don't have to do that." Will assured, "I mean you've already done so much..."
"Its no problem at all," Andrew said in reply, flashing a charming smile, "I was going to head to practice after school but with the storm probably best if I went home anyway. So where do you live?"
"Just outside of town, you know the access road?" Will replied as he returned the smile, "It's the other side of Merrickville."
Andrew grinned, "Not that far from me then, cool."
As they drove to the road, Will found the snow was blowing so heavily that he could not see anything through the windshield. He could catch a glimpse the road between snow gusts and he knew there was no traffic on the road in that area, especially during the storm. But Andrew seemed determined to go ahead. And Will felt a bit reassured when he took a look at the gasoline gauge. The car had almost a full tank.
On the westbound road Andrew drove the car onwards, pushing onward through the northern wind, into the darkness, where they could see nothing besides horizontally flying snow. The only thing Andrew could do to keep the car on the road was to look out driver's-side window to keep an eye on the left edge of the road - taking advantage of his car to shield his view.
They could not drive more than five miles per hour. For the entire five miles before the first stop sign, the car stayed in first gear.
Will had survived a few snow storms, one growing up in England, and one the year before when he had first arrived in Canada through vast curtains of falling snow, as his family had driven across the country from Halifax to Ottawa along the Trans Canada highway; but this time it was so different: hundreds of tons of snow was flying in a fierce wind, so that he could not tell where the sky ended and the earth began, and there was almost no chance for them to take a breath or find any reference in the gusty wind. What is more, darkness was setting in.
Will started to become nervous, since Andrew could barely see five feet away, and he could slide the car off the road at any moment. Will thought of urging him to go back into town, but it would be very difficult to make a three-point turn without running a wheel off the road. It was easier to keep going forward, in the meantime getting farther into the wildness.
Even so, Andrew had to come to a complete stop four times; the blowing snow was so dense. If it were not for the flying snow, they could have caught glimpses of the fields they were passing. The endless fields, lined up in rows and columns that stretch over 20 miles. Their emptiness in the night often gave Will the feeling of an evil presence. It was good that he couldn't see them at all then. It was as if the storm had enveloped the whole world!
As the car drifted through the snow Will felt as if he were on a boat in a rough sea, or a leaf floating in the sky.
As they came to a stop sign and made a right hand turn (north), two miles further there was an S-curve where the road had a yield for a train stop for CN trains bound for Toronto. Since they was travelling north against the gusty wind, Andrew lost the advantage of having his car be a "vision shield" to let him see whether he was still on the road. The wind was blowing towards them; the snow would have been flying into their eyes if there had not been a windshield.
The northbound road was worse, since the snow was thicker. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic; otherwise they would have instantly collided with each other. The car finally managed to reach the S-curve. And Will became more nervous as they approached the curve, because it was there that he had ran into the ditch on his first driving lesson, turning himself completely about on a still, sunny morning; It was the same place that his Father had once ran into a deer shortly after dusk. It was just a bad curve.
Will prayed not to run into a deer and not to skid on ice. And Andrew finally managed to get through the curve while keeping the car on the road. It still took them about half an hour to cover the half-mile distance.
By going north for another mile they would come to the second stop sign at a T-junction, where they would turn left (west). Although Andrew was only driving in first gear, he almost overshot the road into the ditch. Will barely saw the stop sign on his right, as the mustang travelled another 15 feet on the slippery road before coming to a full stop. Andrew blew out a sigh of relief as the car made the turn. Luckily there were no cars that came from either direction.
Now Andrew could again take advantage of his car as a "vision shield" so he could find the edge of the road through his left hand window and stay on the road. Even so, several times they went very close to the left edge and almost drove off the road.
The gusting was stronger. It was as if the whole world was being wiped away. Away.
Will knew they would pass by a farmhouse on their right, he was almost halfway home.
Still, he completely missed the farmhouse, although the house had its driveway lights on and was only 20 feet from the road. He didn't realize this until he saw a dim light on his left hand side. They were passing a substation, and it was the gate's lithium light he saw. It used to hurt his eyes from miles away. he felt a kind of warmth, because he was finally seeing something familiar.
There were some wild trees on the roadside after the gate. He could barely see their silhouettes in the blowing snow. And he knew they would come to two more turns, and soon they would be on local highway 6.
He realized the reason he could see the outlines of the trees was that they cut the wind a little bit. He should have also realized that the nearby trees could also cause snowdrifts on the road, which could block any kind of traffic.
Very soon they realized they were running into trouble. Snowdrifts extended across the whole area and piled up high, so that neither of them could see where the road was. This realization was so sudden that neither of them had time to think, but could only keep driving onward. Will knew that if they stopped, the car would also turn into a snowdrift, with them buried in the blowing snow.
There was no squeal of brakes, no blaring horn, only the sudden smashing impact and the impossibly loud cries of screeching metal. The car lurched to the left, the back end swinging around on the wet, slushy pavement. The impact threw Will against his seat belt so hard it cut off his breath. The car spun like a child's top, whipping almost a full 360 degrees as the back end flew into the ditch. Will's head snapped back when the car crunched to a halt. As suddenly as it started, it ended, leaving complete silence except for the rapid clicking of ruined motors cooling in the night's grip.
November 28th, 1994
At the moment they hit, Will sensed they were going to die he sensed they were in desperate trouble, he sensed that what he had heard of happening to other people was happening to then, he sensed that he might be dead and that his family were going to miss him, he sensed ... So many thoughts went through his head at once, just like a brilliant lightning flashing in the dark, illuminating the whole landscape, before everything returned to total darkness.
Trembling he glanced over at Andrew, who sat with his hands clenched on the steering wheel breathing hard as he stared out of the cracked windscreen. He turned his head and caught Will's eyes.
"Whoa..." was all he could manage.
Will shook his head to clear the shock as he looked at the clock on the dashboard. It was 5:40 p.m. he realized that it had taken them two hours to cover 10 miles. There were still 10 more miles to any kind of town.
Andrew restarted the engine, which sputtered to life but it sounded ragged, like it would die at any moment. A quick check of the gasoline gauge showed that the tank was 90% full. He looked over at the shattered passenger side window. As the engine idled Andrew quickly patted himself down as he checked his clothes, before he stopped and looked over at Will's, but he didn't have to check: Will was still soaked, huddled in the leather varsity jacket and he shook his head.
"I just cleaned my car out this morning, I didn't think to put anything back into it. Though I might have a small blanket under your seat..." he looked over at Will for a moment weighing the options, eventually he just scrubbed his face, "What are we going to do?"
Will sat quietly trying to think as Andrew tried to rock the car back and forth to see if he would have any luck getting it out. He failed. He knew the more he tried that, the more trouble they might get into. Many ideas and options spun through his mind, but none of them seemed possible. In frustration Andrew shut the engine off to preserve gas.
"We could use the horn," Will offered, shivered as he looked out of his shattered window as the snow that blew past him, feeling the heat rushing out of the car. "Some one might hear us and come to the rescue." He recalled that in many stories, people used various ways to send out "SOS" signals, "Try tapping out a Morse code... long and short signals?" It was a lame suggestion he knew, but all he could think of.
"SOS?" Andrew asked as he tried "long-short-long," "short-long-short," with both horn and headlights. But it was to no effect. Finally he stopped and couldn't help laughing at himself. Will chuckled as well, in such a roaring stormy night, miles from anywhere, who would hear the horn? Who would see their lights? It was the same as his not being able to hear anything but the blasting wind; he could not see anything but blowing snow. Even if anyone could see or hear them, it would have been all but impossible for them to get through in such a bad weather.
Will suddenly felt very insignificant as he reached under the seat to pull out Andrew's blanket, one of the small thermal kind that was really just a square of fleece cloth. He held it as he shivered again, looking over at the man that had come to his rescue only to fall victim to the storm as well. He felt guilty suddenly, as if it was his fault they were stranded.
Andrew, as if reading his mind, shook his head and offered him a half smile. "We'll be okay." He said reassuringly, he looked out of the window at the driving snow, "There'll be a plough along soon, or a car, or something, and we'll just flag them down and get them to help us."
To break the dull sound of blowing snow through the broken window, he turned on the radio. Lively music instantly filled the car and he brightened, "Look at least we still get the Bear."
Will smiled in return; at least they weren't totally isolated from civilization.
"Environment Canada has issued an severe winter storm warning for Ottawa-Hull, Montreal, and regions of Eastern Ontario and Quebec. 45-60 cm of snow are expected to fall in the region by morning. Temperatures are expected to remain around the freezing for the next few hours then fall rapidly to minus 20. Sustained winds North by Northwest of 30 km/h gusting to 55 km/h, there is an extreme wind-chill warning in effect with the wind-chill factor approaching -45 degrees later this evening....
Sub-zero temperatures! Forty below! Will shuddered at the thought, shivering again as he stared out at the snow again. He always hated the cold, and it would be a cruel fate for him to die that way.
"Residents are being advised not to leave their homes except in cases of extreme emergency. The following road closures are in effect..."
The rest of the broadcast was a series of road and school closing announcements for the next day. At least Lisa's hopes of a snow day were confirmed.
With the trembling voice of the broadcaster, Will started to feel a trembling too. He recalled the last time when there had been severe weather. The advisory was, "Don't go out unless necessary." Apparently this time it was a very bad and rare weather situation.
Andrew saw him tremble and a look of concern crossed his face, he smiled "Well, they don't have to come out, but we have to stay here," it was a feeble attempt at humour, but it still made his passenger smile.
"I'm sorry Andrew..." Will began, realizing his teeth were beginning to chatter, "I should have just gone to my Aunts..."
Andrew shrugged, "And then I would be here alone. I take this road home every day so I'd be stuck here anyway." He stopped noticing Will's lack of attention and shivering. And he tried to restart the car.
His look of concern became one of worry as he heard an unusual sound from the engine - like someone had used a blanket to choke the engine. A low and continuous engine blowing sound persisted.
"I just got this car fixed!" He exclaimed.
He rubbed the window and stared out at the snow drifting up beside the car and realized that the snow had covered the exhaust pipe so the engine could not breathe. Will glanced up and noticed that the snowdrift had already piled up so high on the left hand side that the side window was covered. Half of the car was completely under snow.
Andrew looked over at Will who was watching him silently in concern trying to wrap himself into the blanket to stay warm as the heat was quickly pulled from the body of the car no longer able to heat itself. He reached into the glove box of the car and fished out a small book and began to flip through it.
Will continued to watch him as he did so trying desperately to say something, but his words kept coming out as incoherent phrases between the stammering and the chattering of his teeth. In the end he just gestured at the book.
Andrew glanced up and offered a tight smile, "Hypothermia..." he began to read as he showed Will the cover of the small scouts survival booklet, "The treatment for hypothermia requires that the body core temperature be raised to a normal level, aided by outside sources of heat. Some recommended suggestions include: stripping the victim, who is then placed into a sleeping bag along with one or two likewise attired companions... in such a situation there's no room for modesty..."
Will blinked, was Andrew serious...
"Get `em off now!" Andrew directed already reaching out to begin to unbutton Will's shirt.
Will could do nothing but sit there, leaning forward when told to do so, so that Andrew could take his shirt off. He shivered a moment pulling the blanket around him as Andrew worked his trousers off. He tried to focus, but all he wanted to do was fall asleep. He yawned loudly.
"Don't even think about it Will." Andrew threatened as he peeled off his own shirt, "Stay with me and don't fall asleep."
He yawned again, and he had vague recollections of consciousness, of feeling warmth wrapped about him, of the strong smell of perspiration and cologne, of someone talking...
He opened his eyes again and blinked at the pair of blue eyes staring into his own, he focused and glanced about him. "What..?"
"You're back then." Andrew said, his voice husky with emotion, "I was worried..."
Will shifted and realized Andrew was holding him gently keeping him warm with his own body heat. He immediately reddened at the intimacy of the moment. "W..what time is it?" he stammered.
"Close to nine thirty." Andrew replied, his breath frosting in the cold air of the rest of the car, he had somehow wrestled Will into the back seat where they were now huddled for survival.
They had been stranded out in the cold for hours. Some one had to be missing them, to report that they were still out in the storm. If not Will's parents then Andrew's mother.
The snow was still blowing constantly and Will suddenly felt privileged to be watching the blizzard from so close. Will appreciated the fact that he was still alive to witness it and he shifted ever so slightly to make Andrew more comfortable. His cheek brushed Andrews, feeling the sandpapery texture of a five o'clock shadow and the soft smell of his skin. He swallowed as he stared up at the snow.
The snow was flying horizontally past his eyes. The whole world was flying horizontally.
He felt sleepy and tired sitting there. So he lay there staring upwards. He saw that Andrew had been inventive; the broken window had been patched with the floor mats. Only then did he realize that the ceiling of the car was much smaller in size than he had thought, in relation to the car, since he was able to see out the windows on all four sides, and the square ceiling was only a small barrier between them and the sky.
He felt insignificant in the mighty storm. Like he was just a tiny powerless creature trying to survive in the anger of Mother Nature. He started to laugh at himself for the naive attempt earlier to send out signals for help. It was no use at all! Even a village, a town, or a city, could be wiped out, or simply engulfed, if the storm got really ferocious.
In front of the mighty storm, all political struggles in human society seemed meaningless, not to mention personal fights. What were they for? Everything could just be erased! In the face of such a true power human conflict was so childish. Mankind had so many dangerous enemies already in the world around him that he didn't need to fight his own kind as well.
Through the side window, the twinkle of a star reached his eyes in between the snow gusts. "Hey! I am able to see the sky!" he managed and he felt Andrew shift to see for himself, it was a small sliver of hope that the storm might diminish in strength.
"I told you we would be okay," Andrew said with a smile, "we're warm at least..." he suddenly chuckled as if he found something funny.
"What?" Will asked feeling self-conscious all of a sudden.
Andrew bit his lip as he looked down at the pair of them curled up in just their underwear beneath a pitifully small blanket, "Its just... I didn't expect the first time I would be doing this in the back seat of a car would be with a guy."
Will chuckled, "Ditto." He stopped and looked into Andrew's eyes, "You mean you've never...I mean its okay, its just that you have a reputation..."
Andrew hesitated as if considering what to say, or how much he trusted this virtual stranger that he was now entwined with, he nodded after a moment, "Nope never have. No reason really...I just didn't." He grinned, "Though Charlene keeps trying to corner me."
Will laughed; Charlene was a cheerleader with an appetite for men that had earned her a reputation for being easy. "Yeah she got Jared from what I hear..."
"What about you?" Andrew asked turning the conversation back on Will, "Aren't you and that Jenny girl...?"
Will shook his head, "No, she's... I just..." he trailed off.
Andrew squeezed Will's arm in understanding, "No I get it. I think that's why I've been single. I am going to University next year, getting the hell away from here..."
Will leaned on Andrew's other arm, "Oh? Where are you going?"
"I got a scholarship to go to UNB, I want to go on to Law school..." Andrew seemed mildly embarrassed by it.
"That's great," Will said, "I've got my sights set on Dalhousie University in Halifax."
"Good school," Andrew replied, he moved his arm so that it now rested along Will's side, "Any ideas what you want to do?"
Will shook his head, "None. I just know I want to get as far away from here as I can."
Andrew studied him a moment, "You really hate it here?"
Will shrugged as he tried to express how he felt in words, "I don't fit here. And My Dad can't wait to just get on with his new life..."
Will let out a heavy breath again, not exactly sure why he was opening up to someone he barely knew, telling him the personal things about himself, but as it stood there was a strong chance they wouldn't survive the night stranded without heat in the car. He looked at the eyes, really the only thing he could see in the gloom of the backseat and decided to just keep talking.
"My Dad remarried, it was the reason we moved here. He wanted to start a new family." He sighed, "I just don't fit into that very well, I remind him of everything he tried to leave behind when he came here."
"He takes it out on you?" Andrew asked, his fingers brushing Will's shoulder lightly, absently.
Will nodded, "He resents me for it, but I only have a year to go then I can leave and he gets what he wants, his new life."
"What about your mom?" Andrew asked.
Will looked down for a moment and sighed, "No idea, she took off and left a long time ago. So its just me."
"My Dad died last year," Andrew confessed, "Just my mom and I now, and she's pretty cut up about me leaving Merrickville to go to UNB in Fredricton... But I just have to go somewhere else for a bit. I am thinking of doing Law school here though." He stared up at the snow covered rear window "I like it here."
"Its your home." Will finished for him, "I just haven't found mine yet."
"Its just a matter of finding yourself first." Andrew returned, "My Dad always said that to me, I don't know who I am yet..."
"You're the Andrew Highmore." Will said with a wry grin, "Your athlete of the year, set to be valedictorian as well. Half the school worships you."
He felt Andrew chuckle and adjust himself to press warmly against Will's stomach, "True, but you're the William Carter, every one knows you're a wiz at writing papers."
"Really?" Will asked, "Doesn't that make me a geek or something?"
Andrew laughed again, "Nah, too many people jealous of it. I watched you working in the library this afternoon with that Lisa girl that dates that shop Jock..."
"Brody?" Will supplied.
"Yeah, Brody. Anyway I watched you write a paper in like half an hour. How'd you do it so fast?" he shook his head in wonder "You're going to do well at University where papers and stuff are more important than exams."
Will nodded, "Yeah try telling my Dad that. He keeps yelling at me over my Math scores."
"He's just an asshole." Andrew said and froze, "I didn't mean...I'm sorry I..."
Will laughed at Andrew's sudden awkwardness, "No, its okay the Major is an asshole. I know that, as I said one more year."
"Why do you do that?" Andrew asked suddenly.
"What?" Will asked.
"Call your Dad the Major?"
Will nodded, "He is one, British Army, he's stationed here as a liaison officer. Growing up every one just called him the major, I guess I did too..."
"You don't call him Dad?" Andrew seemed fascinated by something Will just took for granted.
Will nodded, "I do, but it doesn't seem to fit him, I always just thought of him as the Major."
"You're strange.' Andrew said with a smile.