Clint huddled against the stiff wind. The twig and branch blind provided some shelter against the blowing snow, but the wind cut through readily and it was getting colder. His feet were wet. He was starting to shiver. The burrow would provide a warm reprieve from the bone-chilling weather. Yet he continued to stare down at the roadway below.
It was barely discernible now, only a clear white stripe among the snow-laden trees. Not a single vehicle had been down it for probably a half and hour. Clint kept vigil. Sometimes things would fall from cars. Food, or clothing. He quietly hoped for blankets, knowing he needed them desperately. This was only the first big storm of winter. There would be worse storms. How would he survive?
The wind died down as the snow fell heavier. Clint could hear the snowflakes hitting the ground. He shut his eyes and listened. The sound was faint, but soothing. It reminded him of better days. That day he, Missy, and Taylor went sledding. Clint smiled. It was snowing so hard that day. It was the first time they’d ever taken Taylor sledding. The boy had loved it. Missy got sick on the way home. They found out the next day that she was pregnant with their second child. Clint’s smile faded. Missy was gone. Taylor was gone. Amanda and Beth, gone.
Clint sighed and peered through the twigs at the road below. No one was coming. No one would be coming. Not in this weather. Surely the road was closed. It was time to get back to the burrow. He took one last look at the road and turned away. He froze. The sound of a motor caught his attention. He looked back at the road. A lone car was coming. Just a little car. Clint squatted and watched it as it came closer. It disappeared for a moment behind some tall trees. Clint waited for it to appear from the other side. There was a dull thumping sound. The car did not appear when Clint expected it. He blinked and waited. And waited some more.
Maybe there wasn’t a car. Maybe he’d imagined it all. His feet were starting to ache. The cold was getting to him. The cold, and years of isolation. He was lonely. I grin formed on his face. “How many levels of mad am I, I wonder?” He shook his head and turned to go back to his burrow.
The path toward his burrow was all but invisible now. Clint made his way carefully through the knee-deep snow. A large boulder marked the spot where he needed to turn uphill toward the burrow. A woman’s faint cry carried through the snow to his ears. “Help me!”
Clint turned back toward the road. “What?” he whispered.
The silence of the snow enveloped him again. He strained to hear. Nothing. His mind. He was losing his mind. Clint turned back up the hill.
“Help!” came another cry. Clint heard the sound of sobbing. He spun back toward the road. The sound didn’t go away.
He was halfway down the slope to the road before he thought about what he was doing. A Clastad was calling for help. The Clastad had ruined his life. He was going the wrong way. He can’t help them. Let this Clastad suffer.
The sounds of sobbing echoed again, closer this time. The woman’s cries struck him hard. He gasped and sped up. His life had been about helping others. He couldn’t stand aside and let someone else suffer. Whoever this was, she hadn’t killed his family.
The vehicle was in a ditch on its side. Tracks in the snow showed how it has slid from the road. The driver had taken the corner too fast.
Sobbing eminated from inside. Clint walked around to see if there was an easy way in.
“Hello?” he said softly. “Are you hurt?”
The sobbing stopped. “Hello?” wavered a woman’s voice. “Is there someone there?”
Clint passed around the front of the vehicle. The front end was crushed and buried in snow and rock from the walls of the ditch.
“Hello?” he said again.
“Help me,” replied the woman.
There was no obvious way into the vehicle except for by the doors on the upturned side. Clint dropped the blanket that had been wrapped around his shoulders and began to climb up to get to the doors. “Are you injured?”
“No. No, I don’t think so.”
“Can you open these doors?”
A door lurched open in front of Clint’s face. He flinched, nearly falling off the vehicle.
“Yes. I can’t get out.” The door slammed shut again.
Clint gathered himself up again and gripped the door handle. He jerked it open and caught a fleeting glimpse of the woman inside. Definitely Clastad. The handle slipped from his fingers and the door slammed again.
The woman began to wail inside. “Oh Kennai, no!”
Clint slumped. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“I will,” Clint replied. He gripped the handle and jerked the door open once more. This time he braced himself and forced it fully open. It began to fall closed again and Clint threw is weight against it. He heard something break in the door hinge as he pushed it beyond its usual stop. He gave it another shove. His foot slipped and sent him off the side of the vehicle. The snow piled up by the vehicles slide broke his fall.
Quickly, Clint shook himself off and climbed up again. The door was open now. He peered at the woman cowering below. She sat on the opposite door with her knees drawn to her chest and her face buried in her arms. Dark, wavy hair sat upon her shoulders, blocking any view of her face. Bent over like she was, it wasn’t obvious that she was Clastad.
“Sorry to scare you,” he muttered, trying to smile.
She jumped and looked up. He could just make out the shape of her characteristic Clastad snout in the shadowed interior of the vehicle. The wet of tears on her cheeks reflected the grey skies above them both. She was holding back more tears.
“I can help you. Let me help you,” Clint said. “I’m sure you weren’t thinking of me when you called for help.” He knew he couldn’t look good. Three months after having escaped from a cruel master, he was surely very thin and dirty. His dusty blonde hair and beard were out of control, overlong and knotted uncomfortably. His clothes were tattered dirty as well, in many places stained with his own blood from past beatings. He wouldn’t want to be rescued by himself either.
“I’m scared,” the woman said.
“I know.” Clint surveyed the scene. “That must have been a wild ride.”
“What were you doing driving? This weather is terrible.”
The woman began to sob. “They’ll never look for me! The road was closed but I went around. I just wanted to get home!”
Clint held up a hand to slow her down. “Whoa-whoa-whoa. You’re fine.” Clint looked around again. “You say the road is closed? Any idea when it will open again?”
“How long this storm is going to last?”
“Days. That’s why I hurried.”
“Well, then you’re not getting home today. And I’m pretty sure we can’t get this vehicle out.”
The woman held her face in her hands. “Oh Keenai,” she wailed. “I just want to see my children!”
“I’m sorry,” Clint muttered helplessly. The woman sat and wept.
“My name is Clint,” he said after a moment.
The woman looked up. “What?”
“My name is Clint. And I know you’ve got no good reason to trust me.”
“Can you help me?”
“Yes. I can help you. At least I can get you somewhere warmer. But you’d have to trust me.”
The woman looked at him in silence. The wind blew snow into the vehicle. She shuddered.
Clint was shivering too. His feet were starting to feel like stones. Frostbite was next.
“Warmer?” she said.
“Well, less exposed. It’s a bit of a walk, but we’d be out of the snow. I have some blankets.”
She stared at Clint blankly.
“It’s only going to get colder. I’m soaked to the bone. Please,” said Clint.
“Why would you help me?”
“Because you asked for help and it’s the right thing to do.”
“You can get me out of here?”
“I’ll help you.” Clint reached his hand down into the vehicle. She gripped it and got onto her feet.
“I think I can just climb out,” she muttered.
She climbed up the seats until her head and shoulders were out of the door. She paused and looked at Clint. Their eyes locked. Hers were as dark as any eyes Clint had ever seen, a startling contrast to his own blue eyes. “You’re going to help me?”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank you,” she said. “My name is Enna.”
“Clint,” he said. “It’s nice to meet you.”