STORM by David R Graham
‘Jack. It’s nearly five mile. You’ll not get a mile, in that lot,’ Ben Cole said pointing at the white blizzard that battered the cottage’s kitchen windows with manic intensity. ‘You’ll be lucky to make it to the road. Even if you do. That stretch through Bentley Hollow will be under six feet of snow by now.’
Jack avoided his brother’s eyes. ‘I’m not taking the road,’ he said zipping his jacket high under his chin, ‘I’m going through the fields. The tracks are good; all the way to the Pines. From there I can get onto the Quarry road. Then it’s less than a mile to mine.’
‘Through the fields,’ Bob said. ‘You’ll have less chance than you would on the road. Stay here. Jack.’
‘I can’t Bob. I have to get back. Pat and the girls are on their own. In that lot.’ Jack said and nodded at the window.
‘I’ll come with you,’ Bob said turning away.
‘No. Stay here Bob. You may be needed. The Rover’s got all-wheel drive and new tyres. I’ll make it,’ Jack added. He adjusted the hood of his jacket. Took the Rover’s key fob from his pocket and moving to the kitchen door.
Bob turned back slowly, ‘Alright,’ he said resignedly. ‘But make sure you keep your phone on. I’ll call you in thirty minutes. If you don’t answer. I’m coming after you.’
‘OK,’ Jack said and stepped out into the howling white maelstrom. He barely heard the muffled sound of the door bang shut behind him. For a fleeting moment he wanted to turn back. Instead, he turned his left shoulder to the wind and aimed the key at where he knew his Range Rover was parked. He sensed rather than heard the click clunk of the central locking. He did see the flash of the orange indicators. Their bright light boosted his confidence.
Despite the flashing indicators to guide him, Jack still had to hold his hands out in front of him to avoid walking into the vehicle. By the time he reached it, his clothes were drenched and his hands were cold. He wrenched the driver’s door open and, propelled by a blast of driven snow, he clambered quickly behind the wheel and slammed the door.
Once behind the wheel, Jack quickly started the engine and turned on all of the heating. The glowing dashboard and increasing temperature were a further boost to his confidence. For a moment, he watched the snow dissolving on his clothes. Then he quickly put the vehicle into reverse. Backed away from the cottage, swung the vehicle to the left, flipped the headlights to full beam; flipped the windshield wipers to a fast sweep and moved the vehicle forward cautiously.
The yard gates were still open, Jack knew. He caught a fleeting glimpse of the stout timber gatepost on his left and steered clear of it.
Beyond the gateway, Fireway Lane was little more than a wide white bar between snow-coated hedgerows that disappeared into the darkness to left and right. Left would take Jack down to the Folding Road. Where he could go left to the town centre. Or right, to Bentley Hollow. The first of five hamlets that led to his destination at Lammer’s Cavelly.
The Rover’s powerful headlights revealed a wide gate directly opposite the yard entrance. It was closed.
Reluctantly, Jack left the warmth of the vehicle. Keeping close to the Rover’s vibrating bonnet, to avoid the culvert that he knew was concealed to his right, he quickly opened the gate. Then he hurried back to the vehicle. Drove slowly onto the field beyond, clambered out, quickly closed the gate, practically jumped back into the Rover and moved it off at a slow sweep to his left.
One down, Jack thought. Eight more to go. It would be slow going he knew. But it would cut the road route by nearly four mile.
By the time he had passed through the fourth of the field gates however, Jack realised that repeatedly getting out of the Rover’s hot interior into the freezing night air was making him wetter and colder by the minute. So, in order to reduce the time he spent in the open. He decided to leave each of the remaining gates open. He would come back first thing in the morning and close them all.
‘Hello Ben! Yes! I’m fine. No! I’m doing fine! I’ll be home soon! Yes! Don’t worry! I’ll call you when I get there! Yes! I will! OK! Thanks Ben!’
Leaving the gates open, meant that Jack made better time. But it still took him nearly an hour to reach the last of the gate: directly across from the Pines. By which time he was soaked through to the bone and his eyes ached from squinting against the fiercely driven snow.
The Lammers Cavelly Road was on the other side of the gate. Once on the road, Jack reasoned, he would make better time. With that thought in mind. He got out of the Rover; narrowed his eyes and moved quickly to the gate.
Jack heard the sound the moment he pulled the gate.
A chill, colder than the night air, rushed through his body.
He had recognised the sound. But he could not get his thoughts to focus on it. He cocked his head to focus his hearing.
The wind howled about him defying his effort.
Despite the wind, Jack heard the sound again. Lower this time and longer. Drawn out, lingering. Fading to a silence that defied the wind.
Jack recognised the sound.
‘Where are you!’ Jack shouted.
He was answered by a pitiful whimper. The sound guided his frozen hands.
He touched sodden fur.
His touch produced a prolonged anguished, wail.
‘Alright!’ Jack shouted against the wind. ‘I’ve got you!’ He moved his hands along the dog’s body.
The dog yelped afresh, when Jack tried to pick it up. Something was restraining it.
Jack let the dog go and traced his hands to the dog’s neck. He found a collar and a lead. He ran his hand up the lead and found the end hooked over the gatepost. He stood up and unhooked it. It was not a lead, he realised. It was a length of nylon cord.
Had someone abandoned you, eh?’
‘Come on then! Let’s get out of this lot!’ He shouted and picked up the dog.
Ten minutes later, by the dashboard clock, Jack, guided only by the vaguely illuminated tree trunks, either side of the swirling white mass, steered the Rover down the centre of the Lammer’s Cavelly road.
‘Sorry about the wet jacket,’ he said risking a darting glance at the dog laid on the passenger seat. ‘It’s the best I can do for now. I’m going to cut through the quarry, though. So we’ll be home soon. Then we’ll get ourselves dried off and warmed up.’
‘Here we are,’ Jack said squinting uncertainly pass the thrashing windscreen wipers when he made out the quarry road. ‘We just have to get through here and…’ He risked a second glance at the dog. Its mouth was open and it did not appear to be…
It’s gone, Jack thought, letting his attention linger too long on the still animal.
In that fleeting moment, the Rover tilted to the left and began to slide.
Jack jerked his eyes to the windscreen and stared fearfully at the swirling black and white world beyond.
The Rover’s lateral momentum increased.
Jack stamped on the footbrake and wrenched on the handbrake. To his alarm, both actions served to increase the heavy vehicles slide.
Jack panicked and swung the steering wheel against the slide.
In the blink of a eye, he realised his mistake.
The Rover began to tip over to the left.
In desperation, Jack swung the wheel back to the left. But it was too late.
The Rover tilted beyond the point of no return.
Jack let go of the wheel and grabbed up the dog.
The Rover crashed onto its left side.
The windows shattered.
Jack’s head collided forcibly with the leather-padded doorframe and he blacked out.
‘He’s coming round.’
Jack recognised the voice. He opened his eyes in response. His head hurt abominably.
‘Ben! What happened? Where am I?’
‘In reverse order, Jack. You’re in hospital; recovering from exposure and mild concussion. The Rover turned over in the quarry and slid down an embankment. Fortunately, it stopped before it reached the water. Another couple of metres and it might have ended up six feet under.’
‘How did you find me?’
‘You can thank Charles for that, Jack. He insisted he could see a light flickering in the quarry. The rest of us couldn’t see a bloody thing. I said you would not have been daft enough to have gone through there, anyway. But Charles was his usual persistently insistent self. So we followed him and, sure enough, there you were.’
‘The dog! Ben, I found a dog! Is it al..?!’
‘Take it easy, Jack. The dog’s fine. Billie’s taken charge of it.’
‘Has she. Good. I’m sure that child’s destined to be a vet.’
‘I’m sure you’re right, Jack. They’re inseparable. She’s already named it.’
‘Has she. What’s she calling it, ‘Rover’?’