The snow crashed into me, pushing me forward at the same time as the knee-high blanket of it covering the ground hampered my steps. I strained to see through the blizzard to find my bearings. I couldn’t see my hand stretched out in front, let alone see the road or buildings around.
My face stung from the snow that could not be held away from it. At least it was a feeling. I tried to hold on to it, to help me remember that there was danger in the snow. How long I had been in the snow, I no longer knew.
Where am I going? I asked myself, but no answer came.
The cold buffeted me angrily, punishing me for something I could no longer recall. I tried to wrestle a clear thought as I pushed on.
Remember the danger. The warning echoed around my mind, searching for a corner that would heed it.
What danger? What danger? My confusion called out.
What is help and where is it found?
Fear pooled in my belly, but the urgency it needed was almost numb. With a herculean effort, I lifted one leg out and forward, for it to sink down again, followed by the other foot.
Boots. Wish I had them. The thought swirled around loosely, not quite as sharp as it should have been.
On and forward, forward and on, I kept trudging. At least, I hoped it was forward. I had no way of knowing. I could be going back, or even in circles.
Don't stop, must find help.
All I could do was pull one heavy leg up and forward, and then the other. Time had no meaning, yet it was of the utmost importance. I couldn’t stay where I was, that would be the end of me.
Must move. Find safety, find help.
The snow is soft…rest. My thoughts did not always agree, from moment to moment. I could not listen to the treacherous part of me that wanted to give up and wait for death to find me in this blizzard that was trying its best to suffocate me.
Mom. Did we speak this morning? Yesterday? Maybe, feels a lifetime. Mom, you would have told me to wear boots, wouldn’t you?
Something flickered in my memory, but it floated away, lost in the storm as I was. Then it was dark, with the taste of snow in my mouth and icy pains shooting through my face.
I lifted my head up, desperate to escape the darkness, to breath. The white returned. I had fallen. My hands felt something beside me through my thin gloves that was hidden from view. I grabbed it and used it to heave myself back to standing. Pain burned through me.
I thought about the pain, used it to lever me forward. My pain and the fading urgency I felt danced around each other.
Pain. I’m hurt. Have to hurry. Need help. Pain. Someone hurt me. Did someone hurt me? Danger, behind me, all around me. Still there, can’t see it. Still there. Hurry. Pain.
I forced my legs forward, trusting that my feet were still there, though I could not feel them. Each step was harder than the last. Each breath shorter, sharper. Tears fell uselessly as I cried in fear, in frustration for the futility of my slow escape. I couldn’t remember why I thought this was the best way to go.
Can’t go back. Keep going. Help. Need help.
A shocking impact sent me sprawling backwards. I lay dazed, a moment, maybe a few moment. Rest for my weary body, a chance to catch my heaving breath.
“I can’t.” I moaned softly.
Rest. There is no one after you. Fear, hunger, pain have made you mad. You’ve made it up. Rest.
No, must get up. Find help.
I wanted to scream at myself, but no good would come of it. The one voice that cannot be escaped is my minds voice.
I ambled up slowly, awkwardly as the blizzard tried to push me back down. In front of me was something solid hidden in the whiteout. I felt along the length of it with the tips of my gloved fingertips, up and up and up as I stood as tall as I could go. It was taller than me. I moved to the side, it was still there. I moved more, still there. I splayed my palms and felt the flatness that offered hope.
Wall, building, people, help. Help. Help.
I giggled as I moved sideways, unwilling to lose contact with the only hope I had. And then it wasn’t there. Fear spike through me to my stomach, where it clenched painfully. I pushed my hand forward, finding the wall had bent around. With thoughts that spiraled out of control, more colors and images than words, the bend confused me, but still I followed it.
It took several steps before I realized that it was different. I didn’t have to step so high out of the snow. I could see. I could see the wall now, and the cover over head.
Inside, with the snow? No, not right. Still outside.
The wall gave way to sprawling windows that let me see the barely lit space inside. Store. Grocery store.
My pain reminded me that I still wasn’t safe. I tried to run to the door, to find someone to help, I tried to, but my feet wouldn’t do what they were told. I fell, hard this time without as much to cushion. My knees slammed into the pavement, followed by arms, and then my shoulder when I toppled over. Pain screamed through me, and out for the world to hear had it not been met by the impenetrable blizzard. I crawled to the door, leaving a small trail of blood smeared behind me, stark against the blinding white. I used the rails outside the door to pull myself up, peering inside.
Anyone? No. No one. Only you, and the danger behind you.
I pushed on the door. It didn’t budge. I banged my fist against it. No one came. Tears burned my eyes. I slumped against it, resting my forehead against glass. The intense cold against my burning skin shocked me lucid. The first real moment of clarity after ages of brain numbing fog. I knew I needed water and food. There’d be a phone inside. I had to hurry while my thoughts were clear.
The grocery store was my salvation, I wasn’t wrong in that, no matter how confused I had been. A hospital is what I needed, but I couldn’t make it to one. My breaths were alarmingly short, having pushed myself past any natural limits. My heart raced painfully. My skin burned in some places, stung in others, throbbed all over. The rational part of me knew the worst were the bits I couldn’t feel at all. The hospital wasn’t more than a few kilometres away, but it might as well have been the other side of the country. I knew with certainty that venturing back into the cold would be my death.
I needed to get in the store, but the door was locked, and there was no one to help me. I looked around, feeling hope escape.
This is not the end. I have to get in.
A garbage can was nearby. Will it work? Has to, its all I got.
I stepped carefully. Pain lanced through my heel; my legs barely held my weight. Another step. The pain extended up my leg and pooled in my belly.
“Pain is good. Pain is good. Pain is good.” I chanted this to myself through clenched teeth with each step. I picked the garbage can up by a handle, forcing my frozen fingers to curl around it. I dragged it awkwardly back to the glass window.
“I can do this”. I took comfort in the sound of my own voice. “Lift it up, and swing.” A deep breath in, and I swung as hard as I could. The sound rang shrill in my ears. A crack, and a chip.
“I can do this!” I yelled louder this time, filling my muscles with my grit and determination. I smashed it so hard that my back twisted painfully, causing a sharp intake of the breath I had just let out. Again, I hurled it against the glass. More cracks. The chip was almost a hole through. Then there was a hole through. It grew with each time, until the hole was big enough for me to get through. I stepped through, then contorted my body to get the rest of the way, ending up on the ground on the other side. There I laid panting as pain racked by body.
I faded out, and back again, still lying where the cold wind below painfully against my icy wet clothes. I crawled out of my clothes, away from the hole, deseperate for the warm air to cradle me in its embrace.
It felt like I moved through jelly, or maybe thick cream. Cream would be nice. My stomach reminded me I hadn’t eaten in ages. No food, not yet. Need to phone for help. Need water. So thirsty.
Now that I thought about water, it was hard to think of anything else. My heavy limbs slid slowly across the floor, searching for water and help both. I felt the short-lived clarity slipping away. Leaving me with imagines and words that swirled around in my head.
Help. I remembered I need that. even if I couldn’t quite remember what help was. I needed it, but it was a vague idea that I clung to.
Water will help. Need water. So thirsty. I crawled until I no longer knew where I was. The tills near me rose menacingly, judging me, threatening me with what hid in their shadows.
Water. Help. I panted. Pain. I stopped until the pain rolled away, then crawled more, unsure where to go. I flopped down, too weary to move any more, too weary to care, the sense of urgency hidden behind the fog.
Lights blinded my eyes. I turned my neck away, sending the lights dancing around in circles. Whatever way I turned, the lights were there, raining down on me, as the snow had. I closed my eyes against them.
Snow. Cold. Fragments of images came to me, of me smashing the window, crawling through, fading away. But I wasn’t near a window now. Where am I?
I laid there with my eyes closed, feeling my breathes enter and leave, feeling my chest rise and fall. It was nice. Nicer than I had known in too long. I felt a lightness of body and spirit that I needed.
Then the cold floor registered against my bare legs. As soon as I felt the cold, my body revolted. Tremors rocked my body. Why is the floor cold? I hate cold floors; the floor needs a blanket. I giggled imagining laying out a nice fuzzy blanket to warm the floor.
I sat up, needles of pain shocking me. My head whipped around, searching for the wielder of the needles, expecting to find someone at my side. Instead, I found my black and blistered toes, cartoon-like in their grotesqueness. My heartbeat spiked.
Danger, pain. Is someone here with me? Was I followed?
A sinister presence lurked in every shadow, around every corner, hid amongst the ceiling beams, behind the boxes on the shelves. He was everywhere. He would always be everywhere.
I’m not safe. I have to keep running. I have to leave.
Something registered, a noise that didn’t belong in the abandoned aisles of the store. A noise that swelled high, then ended on a squeak, repeated rhythmically. I sat there a moment, paralyzed by that sound, but memorized also. It was beauty, and it was pain.
What is that, and why must I answer its call?
You know that sound. Go see for yourself.
My vision swam across the square tiles, until they weren’t squares anymore; instead, the tiles were shapes that teased me, getting closer and farther seemingly at random. I reached out to grab a line, but it moved through my hand. I lifted my hand, and it was still where it had been.
In a small recess of my mind, I knew I was losing it. I was going mad, gone mad perhaps. I didn’t care. I had to reach the noise that squawked for me, beckoned me. The sound was important, even as I was reluctant to get close.
Is it a trap? I wasn’t sure I cared anymore.
I rounded the corner to chaos that assaulted my eyes. Boxes, plastic, scissors lay scattered down the aisle. Blood, liquid, things I didn’t understand coated the ground, a terrible stench rose from it. My stomach tried to heave, but had nothing to bring up. The sound was there, right there in the middle of it, wailing away, calling to me.
Go back, a part of me silently screamed.
Go see, another whispered gently.
The closer I got, the faster my heart beat. I crawled alongside this beautiful creature. The cries reached through to me, swept aside some of confusion. Enough. Enough so that I remembered what help was. Help was in the phone, help would bring people, doctors. I needed a doctor. So did this sticky, wrinkly, purple baby, crying its lungs out.
Where is his Mom? Can’t she hear him cry? I wanted to call out, to see if she was near. Fear stilled my tongue.
I picked up this baby and cradled him against my naked skin. A slimy cord dangled from his belly, loosely tied off. I shuffled along the floor now, as I searched for the help in the phone. Or the baby’s Mom. Both were needed.
“We’ll find your Mommy”, I cooed softly to the baby. “I hope Mommy didn’t go out there, in the cold. You need her, don’t you sweety? I’ll help you. There’s help in the phone. We’ll find a phone.”
Protectiveness for this poor abandoned baby filled me with determination. I shuffled along quickly, whispering sweet nothings to the babe cradled lovingly in my arms.
I found a phone, pushed numbers until I got someone. Lot of questions, questions I couldn’t understand, let alone answer. I stuck with quietly repeating what I knew. “It was cold. I hid in the store. The phone will bring help. Please help. That baby needs his Mom. I hid in the store. Please help. Do you know the baby’s Mom? He’s tiny and cold. It was cold, I hid in the store. Bring help.”
I stayed hidden behind the counter, whispering into the phone until help came. Then there were people. Lots of them. They wrapped us both in blankets. I handed the baby over. “I don’t know where his Mom his. He’s crying because he needs his Mom.” I was engulfed in a calmness that came from knowing the baby was safe. Lucidity, or rather what was left of it, disappeared in the absence of anything needed of me.
Snippets of conversations floated by, out of reach of my understanding.
“…missing for two days...”
“…she’ll lose those toes…”
“…gave birth all alone…”
The words had no meaning to me as I drifted away into warmth and comfort. People had come to help. They’d protect me, keep me safe. Not for the first time that night, I faded out.
Outside of my ambulance, two officers were talking. “I called her husband. Poor guy, he was distraught with her lost in the storm and a baby on the way. Roads aren’t safe yet, but he’ll be up at the hospital as soon as the weather lets up. Can’t imagine what he’s gone through.”
Behind them I laid on a gurney, the rapid beeping of my heart monitor worrying the paramedics trying to stabilize me.
Several kilometres away, he relaxed with a finger of whisky by his cozy fireplace. The officer had called him, excited to share that his wife had been found, and that she and his son were being taking to the hospital.
She had been rash, rushing out after a ridiculous argument. She overreacted. As always. Blew things way out of proportion and could have gotten herself killed. He had worried after her for days.
He stared into the fire imagining what she had gone through, all alone in the storm, delivering their son with no help, no support. She must have been so scared.
She was delirious, the officer had said. His worry had lightened at that. Doesn’t matter what she says. They’ll never believe her; anything could be written off to delirium.
A sneer stole over his face thinking about what she’d feel when he came to visit. Exactly what she deserves.
He’d bring his son home, and she’d have to come back. She’d never try to leave him again so long as he had their son. He savored the warmth of the whisky as it burned through him. She had been found. Everything was good again.