By Sparrow Black
“This is the last time, Mike. After this, you’ll have to tell your mother that we’re divorced.” Celeste pushed a long lock of emerald green hair, mixed with a few stripes of Santa Red for good measure, away from her face and stared out of the partially frozen window of her ex-husband’s SUV. She exhaled slowly, through pursed lips, her blue eyes dark with worry and irritation.
If he’d just tell his mother and get it over with, she wouldn’t have to pretend to still be his wife. She wouldn’t be in this car, in the middle of a snowstorm unlike any she’d ever seen before. She wouldn’t be so close to him that she could smell his cologne blended with his own scent that still did things to her. Things she refused to acknowledge.
“I know, Cel, I’m really sorry.” Mike flashed her a worried glance with green eyes so light they once made her heart race, before he immediately turned back to gaze out on the road. “Look, can we talk about this later? I need to concentrate.”
“Yeah, sure, Mike.” She wanted to say more but she knew him now and knew that the polite tone of his question meant his nerves were ready to snap, just as much as hers were. The blizzard that raged outside turned the world into a wall of white that left both passengers feeling cold, isolated and just a little bit…afraid.
Celeste’s eyelids, decorated with the perfect blend of dark eyeshadow to create a smoky effect, narrowed and she absently gnawed at her bottom lip, a habit that left her lips chapped in this kind of weather. She took out a tube of lip balm and slathered on a layer as Mike whispered about his overbearing mother and her awful demands.
One particularly colorful burst of swear words caused her lips to twitch into a smile, a smile that turned her pretty but common face, into a breathtaking composition that Mike still drew into his comic book characters. Even if he’d never admit it to anyone. She’d noticed it, but he wouldn’t know that she had. She’d never tell him that she still bought his comics, in secret, at a store an hour away so nobody would know it was her. Just like he’d never admit he still thought of her as his muse.
“One of us probably should have looked at the weather forecast for this part of Virginia before we headed out,” she said absently, the need to fill the quiet overcoming his request for silence.
“I did look at it, Celeste. The front wasn’t supposed to come this far east, but it did, didn’t it?” Mike glared out of the windshield now, his eyebrows drawn towards his perfect nose as his irritation increased. That always made her want to laugh, even if anyone else would run from the fierceness displayed. It just made him look so darned cute.
She could see from the muscles that formed knots at the side of his face that his jaw was clenched, and he was fighting with himself to not shout at her. That deepened her amusement. It served him right for making her come on this stupid trip with him.
She and Mike were divorced six months ago, long enough for the ink to dry and for both of them to move on with their lives. A week ago, that had changed. He’d asked to meet her with a text message and, curious, she’d agreed. That’s when he’d dropped the bomb about his mom not knowing about the divorce.
During the divorce it had been obvious she was the only one that wanted to leave her marriage behind. She’d grown bored with him, the long hours he’d spent at the office, the days he’d spend away doing conventions and shows, the weeks he’d disappear to California to work on the movie that was being made from his bestselling series all left her lonely. She’d be at home, alone, with only her job as a dental assistant to keep her busy during the day. At night, she was alone too because all her friends were at home, with their children.
They’d been married for ten years, since they were both 22, but both had wanted to wait to have kids until they were financially stable. That had finally happened earlier this year, but Mike insisted he wanted to wait, to be sure. That had been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
There’d been a growing anger in her heart for a long time, with each new success came more time apart. The fact that ‘let’s have a baby now’ were words he never spoke made that anger grow, until it was a swollen agony that never went away, it only grew. On that final day that she lived with him as his wife, on that day when he said he wanted to wait a little while longer, the anger flooded from her heart and out of her mouth.
It was odd to now sit beside him, not as his wife, but as a stranger. She’d done some growing in her time away from him. She’d tried to date, but found she compared each man that came along to him. It was unfortunate that each man couldn’t measure up to him, and she’d been celibate since she’d left him.
Her plan had been to find another man quickly, get pregnant, whether she really wanted to be with the man or not, and ease the nagging of her biological clock before it became too late. That glowing, throbbing sign that she wasn’t really a woman because it was “too late” to have a kid. But not one of the men she’d come across were anywhere near the man that Mike was. It was a new frustration for her.
One that had made her wonder quite a few times lately if she’d made the right decision.
“Why haven’t you told her, Mike?” She asked the question just to get her mind off that line of thought. She’d asked him the same question before, but he’d hedged around it, saying his mother was too ill, too frail for news like that. “Your mom never liked me anyway, I’d think she’d rejoice at the news we’ve divorced.”
“She does like you, Celeste, she’s just…temperamental.” He swore as the snow became impossibly heavier and was about to reply when the car suddenly lurched forward and spun off to the right.
The world span around them for a few seconds, the slush of snow and ice under the tires a loud roar that almost drowned out Celeste’s scream. A scream that was cut off as they hit a guardrail head on. Both airbags deployed and the world went eerily…quiet.
Celeste was too stunned to say anything as the airbag started to deflate. She was too terrified that the world would go off-kilter again, for no apparent reason, to do anything but wait silently. She breathed in and out, keenly aware of the sound of Mike doing the same exact thing. He must be alright, she decided, his breaths were even and steady. The sensation of cold air pushing out the warmth inside of the SUV made her move at last.
“Why is it cold in here?” She asked as she turned to face him. The stunned look on his face made a little wiggle of fear shiver up her spine, but she ignored it for the moment.
“What?” He turned to her his dark brows knitted together in confusion.
“Why is it so cold? Did you turn the car off?” She could see now that there were no lights on the dashboard or the center console.
“No, the safety systems must have turned the engine off when the airbags deployed. I read about that in the manual when I bought this thing.” He reached out to run his right hand around the black leather steering wheel. “I’ll try to start it back up, and then see if I can find out what hit us, see if anyone needs help or anything.”
“Oh! Maybe I should get out…,” her head turned to the right to look out of her window, but all Celeste could see was that eerie wall of white.
“No, stay in the car. There may be other drivers on the road, it will be too dangerous if we’re both out there.” Mike turned the key in the ignition but the only thing that happened was a click. That was it. The car wouldn’t start. “Oh no.”
He muttered the words under his breath and tried again. He pumped the gas pedal a couple of times, but it still didn’t start. His palm slapped against the outer circle of the steering wheel as he swore again. “Damn it all.”
“Mike?” Celeste asked softly, her eyebrows pulled close together as her mouth twisted into a tight knot.
“It won’t start, Celeste. Just stay here, call 911, and let me go check out what’s going on outside.” He grabbed his coat from the floor in the back and opened his door. Celeste inhaled in shock at the blast of cold, a breath that nearly froze her lungs.
“Sure, Mike. Sure.” Celeste nodded her head in agreement, worry a tightness that spread from her jaw, then down the back of her neck, through her chest, and down to her stomach. What if the car didn’t start? They needed heat, even if an ambulance or tow truck came. It was below zero out there, the car would cool off quickly.
Celeste thumbed her phone on and winced when she saw there was no signal. “Great. We can’t call for help.”
Celeste looked around the car, trying to spot her ex-husband. Mike shouldn’t really be out in that, shouldn’t be out there where nobody would see him and might plow right over him. Her hand went to the door, grasping for the handle, but his door opened, and he plopped back into his seat, bringing a blast of cold air with him.
“Did you see anything? She asked, her voice full of worry. What if another car came along and couldn’t see them?
“Nothing. It’s quiet out there. I doubt there are any cars moving now, anybody with sense would have stayed home.” Like we should have, she could almost hear him say the words, even if he didn’t speak them.
“Well, we’re stuck then, I guess,” she looked down at her phone and pushed the button on the side. “There’s no signal on my phone, I can’t call 911. What about yours?”
The still had the same carrier, so she wasn’t surprised when he shook his head. “No, I checked it while I was outside. You should hear it out there, Cel, it’s almost painful, how quiet it is.”
“Painful?” She asked, but she knew what he meant. She’d felt it in the car, without stepping out. There was something wrong, something about the freakishly cold air and the sudden downpour of snow.
“Yes, it almost hurts it’s so loudly quiet.” Mike did have a way with words, he always had.
“I guess I know what you mean,” Celeste smiled, then reached in the backseat for her coat and gloves. “Have we got anything to keep us warm in here?”
Mike often drove long distances on his own so he’d always kept the car well-stocked with supplies. Just in case. There was a whole box of stuff back there, but would any of it keep them warm, she wondered?
“Yeah, I hope. I put a quilt in the back, there’s thermal blankets in the box, and some hand warmers. Let me try the car again before we break into that stuff, though,” Mike said and turned the key once more. Nothing happened, the car didn’t even click. Just…nothing. “Dangitall.”
Really bad words started to filter through Celeste’s mind, but she didn’t say any of them out loud. It would only annoy Mike if he knew she was annoyed. Well, she worried more than she was annoyed. What if they were stuck out here?
Dark scenarios filled her head with images, but she squashed them. “I’ll crawl back and get the quilt, that should do us for now.”
“Maybe we should, I don’t know, go to the backseat?” Mike suggested tentatively, his concern obvious.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” She agreed, the cold already making her shiver. She slid her coat on and the pink knit gloves in her pocket. “Share body warmth and all that, right?”
“Yeah…,” Mike looked back at the seat, then back at her. Was it a good idea for them to be that close?
She could see the question he didn’t dare ask. “It’ll be fine, Mike, really. It’s for survival, right?”
“Yep,” he said, shortly, as if saying anything else would be a bad idea.
“Here we go,” Celeste pushed herself up and twisted to face the backseat. She groaned, feeling the cold as an ache in her joints, when she lifted her leg to climb into the back. “How can it be this cold already?”
“It’s freezing outside and the heat’s off now. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get colder. Do you have a scarf or a hat you can put on?” Mike asked, turning in the driver’s seat to look at her.
“Yes, in my bag in the back. I’ll get it.” Celeste turned and felt around until she found the bag she’d packed to take to Mike’s mother’s house. “I have more sweaters in here too, that poncho thing she got me for my birthday in January, and a thick scarf.”
“Maybe the poncho will help you stay warm. It’s wool, isn’t it?” Mike climbed to the backseat with her and settled down.
“Yes, let me find that quilt you mentioned.” Celeste dug around until she found the box and was glad Mike put the quilt on top of the box before he packed his own bag. “Oh, I forgot, I packed a few sandwiches, since I know you hate to stop, and brought a couple of bottles of water as well.”
“Oh, yeah, food would be nice. I had a banana for breakfast this morning.” He reached for the quilt, then the sandwiches as she handed them to him. She brought the bottles of water and sat down while Mike spread the quilt over them.
“If nothing changes soon, I think we’ll have to get those thermal blanket things out,” Mike said after he swallowed his last bite of ham sandwich. She’d slathered them with Ranch dressing, which she knew he hated, but he hadn’t complained. “Thanks for the sandwich, that was good thinking.”
“Always plan ahead, right?” She smiled over at him and took the last bite of her own sandwich. It was something Mike had always said, throughout their time together. It was part of the reason he’d wanted to wait to have children, he’d said. He wanted the plan to support them in place, a means and guarantee that he wouldn’t leave her and the child penniless if something happened to him, as it had to his father.
“Never a bad thing,” he agreed with her and turned in the seat to dig in the box. “Here’s the hand warmer packs, I bought several boxes of them, and they last up to 8 hours, so that should help. Put some in with your gloves, and maybe in your shoes too.”
He really did plan for the worst.
She opened a pack and shook them around before she slid a warmer into each glove before she took off her snow boots and slid a warmer into each one. She was glad she’d worn the snow boots now, a plan to combat the cold at Mike’s mother’s house. The woman never did like to warm the house up too much, Celeste knew, because it would eat away at the small pension she’d earned from the school district in her town.
Celeste had even seen the older woman walking around in two sets of jogging pants with her coat and scarf on in the house. She wouldn’t accept money from her son, who had offered to cover her heating costs on more than one occasion. Too proud, in Celeste’s opinion. Too proud to the point of stupidity, that was for sure. But that was something she’d never say out loud.
“I know!” Celeste cried, relief flooding through her as she realized something. “Your mother will know we’re on our way and she’ll send the police out looking for us when we don’t arrive.”
“She can try but I don’t think there will be many vehicles on this road for a while. There’s already three inches of snow over the last tracks that were made, and we haven’t been here long.” His head was pressed to the window, almost completely obscured by snow and frost now that the car wasn’t moving. “I think we’ll have to face facts; we may be here for a while. I’d suggest walking to somewhere off the highway but we’re between exits and the nearest one is 10 miles away.”
Even on the highway, out here in the wilds of western Virginia, exits could be few and far between. “What happens if we’re still stuck here tomorrow?”
“I don’t know, Cel. The blizzard wasn’t supposed to be here, and it was supposed to last a few days. But hopefully the emergency services vehicles will come through.” He slid his gloved hand into hers under the quilt and tugged her close. “It’ll be okay, we’ll stay warm somehow.”
“I hope so, Mike.” She leaned into him, trying not to let panic take over. There were a couple more sandwiches, a bag of chips, and a packet of cookies too. They wouldn’t survive long if the food ran out, but hopefully, they’d be rescued by then.
“There’s a gallon of water back there, in the box, a few boxes of those peanut butter crackers you like, the ones with the toxic looking orange crackers, and well, I guess we’re okay, for now.” Mike’s words trailed off and he inhaled deeply, his face a blank mask.
Celeste knew he was worried but wouldn’t admit it. She was just as worried, even if her ex-husband had prepared for just such an event.
“I wish we could turn the radio on, anything to drown out that awful noise,” Mike said, making Celeste frown.
“What noise?” She prompted him, turning her head as if to get a better signal on the sound. She didn’t hear anything now, only the sound of their breathing and the occasional pellet of ice hitting the glass of the windows.
“That weird silence, Cel. It’s so…creepy.”
“No, I don’t hear it now,” she shrugged, turning her head, but she couldn’t catch that sensation of quiet that had creeped her out so much earlier.
“It just feels so menacing,” Mike said, but then laughed at himself. “Wow, that sounded like something out of a bad horror movie.”
“You do have a way with words,” Celeste agreed and smiled, despite how cold she felt.
Even with the quilt, the scarf and hat, and the warmers in her gloves and shoes, the cold still seemed to invade every nook and cranny of her clothing that it could. She began to shiver, and Mike pulled her closer, wrapping his right arm around her.
“Should I get the thermal blankets out?” He asked, but she couldn’t speak her jaw was chattering so much. Instead, she nodded and looked at him with pleading eyes.
She waited while he dug around in the box before he turned back to her with a triumphant grunt.
“Here we are, this should help.” Mike opened the first blanket, the noise of it almost too loud in the quiet car. He handed the blanket to her, and she worked to push it under the quilt without actually moving the heavy cover away from her body. By the time she’d finished Mike had done the same and had brought her back under his arm, close to his body.
“I wonder if you unplug the battery and plug it back in, if that would reset the car?” She thought out loud but was pleased when she saw Mike nod in agreement.
“That might do it. I don’t know if it will, but it’s not like it’ll hurt anything to try. The airbags have deflated, but there may be some kind of reset button I don’t know about that will keep the car from restarting. Let me get out and see.” Mike opened the door, shut it, moved up to open the driver’s door, and felt around until he found the button to release the hood of the car.
Celeste didn’t complain about the two separate blasts of cold air, not when Mike was out in it trying to get them warm. She heard him banging around at the front of the SUV before he went to the back, dug around in a box she knew he kept tools in, and then closed the back hatch.
Celeste waited, her eyes on the center console where the clock would come back on if power was restored to the car. There was no sudden burst of life from the radio or any other instrument in the vehicle, but maybe it would happen when Mike turned the key in the ignition. She waited while he closed the hood, saw how he looked around, but couldn’t make out his expression. Snow was already piling up on the windshield and she could barely see him.
When he opened the driver’s door, he got in, and tried to start the car again.
Mike muttered a bunch of swear words that all blended into one.
Celeste turned her face away, trying not to smile at the typical behavior.
They were in a lot of trouble, it was no time to smile, or laugh, but still…it was one of the reasons she’d agreed to help him by paying his mother a visit on Christmas day. He always made her smile.
“Why did you want me to come to see your mother, Mike? Really, no evading the question this time.” Celeste asked, noting how Mike went stiff in the driver’s seat.
“I was hoping it would remind you why you married me, actually.” He spoke so softly she barely heard him.
“I see,” Celeste responded, but she didn’t, not really.
He hadn’t protested or drug his feet when she asked him for a divorce, though he hadn’t exactly seemed enthusiastic about it either. He hadn’t tried to convince her to stay or get back together with him, he’d just…let her go.
“No, I don’t think you do, Celeste. I should have probably made an effort before we got divorced, made some grand gesture to change your mind, but I thought it was what you wanted, what would make you happy. You don’t seem to have gained much from the divorce, though,” his words trailed off and he paused.
She tried to think of something to fill the silence, but nothing came to mind. She could deny her current unhappiness, but what was the point? She could agree but remind him it would take time to adjust to the single life, but that didn’t really feel true either. The truth was, she was miserable without him. She just didn’t feel ready to admit that yet.
“I guess it’s actually a reminder of why you divorced me, now that we’re stuck in this situation, more than anything.” He sighed, took off his gloves, and ran his fingers through his hair. “I never could do what you needed me to do. That’s why you felt you had to leave me.”
“No, it wasn’t that Mike,” Celeste protested, feeling that overwhelming sadness oppress her again, the feeling of doom she’d felt earlier but had disappeared. She could even feel how awful the silence outside was and wished for any kind of noise. Even that awful Christmas song about what one singer wanted for Christmas that she hated so much would be welcome at this point.
“Then what was it, Celeste?” He asked, bringing her back to reality. The doom was still there, that unwelcome sensation of dread still felt as if it was about to smother her, but his voice loosened the grip a little.
“It was me. I wasn’t happy with me.” She responded without thinking, admitting the truth. “I wanted a baby, but I didn’t want it for the right reasons. I got tangled up in the idea that you were trying to deny me a child, and it began to consume me. I’m getting older, I want to be able to enjoy my children, and well, I went a little crazy, I guess.”
“I didn’t want to make you wait forever, Celeste. You know how I grew up, in second-hand clothes, with Mom always working, even during the Christmas holidays she’d grade essays and wouldn’t have time for me. I wanted better for our children than that. I wanted them to have a good life, a happy life.” He protested, the same old protest, but for once, she actually listened to him.
“I can understand that, now. Before I thought you were just being too overcautious, silly even.” She admitted, wincing at her own selfishness. It was then that she realized the dread was gone, she felt almost normal again. She smiled at him, but Mike was staring out of the completely covered windshield and didn’t see her smile. “It all makes sense, now.”
“Well, it’s all done with now. We’re divorced and that’s not going to change,” he took a deep breath and got out of the car.
For a moment, Celeste was afraid he’d walk off into the snow, leaving her there alone and without the comfort of his presence. Dread began to weigh on her again and she knew, she simply knew, Mike was not going to get back into the car. He would walk off into the white blankness and die, leaving her alone with her thoughts, with her loneliness. With her love for him.
Her right hand moved, reaching for the door handle, to stop him, to call him back into the car, to beg him to come back into her life, but the door opened on his side, and he slid onto the bench seat with her. “It’s freezing cold out there.”
“Sorry. Here, have some warmers,” she took two packs of the little warmers out of the box at her feet and handed them to him. “I should have given you some earlier.”
“No worries, I was waiting until I couldn’t stand it anymore, anyway.” He smiled as he took the packets from her. “I think I’ve reached that point.”
Celeste nodded but something outside caught her attention before she could say anything. There was no movement out there, other than the constant fall of snow, but something had changed. She started to feel as though time was running out, as though she was late for something, but she couldn’t say what. The world seemed…darker. “What time is it?”
Mike moved his hand and pulled up his coat sleeve. “A little after 1 pm, why?”
“Is it going dark already?” Her eyes moved around the car, narrowing as she took in the fading white light as it turned into a gloomy gray. “I think it’s going dark already.”
“It shouldn’t be, not at this time.” Mike’s head moved, though, and he must have seen how gray everything was, surely? “You’re right, it is going dark.”
“Why?” Celeste questioned, more confused by his agreement than reassured that he was seeing it too. Something wasn’t right. She could feel it, knew it down deep in her bones, but she couldn’t say what was wrong, other than they were trapped in Mike’s SUV, in a blizzard, and it was going dark. “Is it the weather?”
“Might be,” he agreed, but his face said he knew something was wrong too. “Do you feel, I don’t know, like time is running out?”
He turned his head to look at her, and Celeste felt her breath catch in her throat. He felt it too.
She nodded, her eyes caught in his. “But on what?”
“Maybe it’s a kind of shared panic?” Mike mused, always logical, except for when he was drawing his comics. He became quite fanciful when he was creating those, when he was building a story to the images he created. “We’re trapped in a snowstorm so maybe we’re feeling that as a sense of doom?”
“No, I don’t think it’s that.” Celeste shook her head, her eyes still on his. “It’s something else. Something to do with that sound, the sound of nothing.”
He reached out beneath the quilt, searching until he found the edge of her thermal blanket and then her hand. “Do you think time is running out for us?”
“For us?” She asked softly, her eyes darting away from his. She wanted him to be her husband, her man, again, but felt too ashamed of her own behavior to ask him to step back into her life. Even if he had admitted he hadn’t wanted the divorce, had wanted to remind her of why she’d married him.
It grew darker outside as she thought that, as she denied her own feelings. That started the idea that time was running out for them, that their lives would soon be over if she didn’t…admit the truth. Her eyes went wide, taking in more of the expanding darkness, until she turned her head back to him to blot out the black world that now engulfed them.
“For us, Celeste. Maybe for the whole world.” He answered softly, worry a clear note in his voice.
“Surely not the whole world, Mike? We’re only two people. How could we matter so much to the world?” She protested, but the world went impossibly blacker at the words. She couldn’t even see him now. She only knew he was still there from the way his warm hand held hers through her glove.
“I don’t know, Celeste, but…,” his words trailed off, became quieter, until they stopped altogether.
Or had they?
She leaned closer to him, into him, her face right in front of his now. “Mike?”
“Yes, Celeste?” He asked, but she barely heard him, even though her lips were so close to his she could kiss him if she puckered her lips a little.
“Kiss me?” She asked and moved to brush her lips against his. Relief flooded through her as she felt the warmth of his skin against hers, and she sighed. The dread slipped away, taking all sensation of doom with it.
When Mike pressed back, when his lips moved against hers, she could suddenly hear noise again. The suffocating quiet went away, and a noise blasted through the car that startled them both.
Celeste looked at Mike as the sound of Christmas music, that song she absolutely detested after a stint at a grocery store as a teenager during the Christmas season, blasted through the speakers.
“Is that all you want, Celeste?” Mike asked uncertainly, his eyes imploring her to say yes.
She nearly hesitated, she nearly listened to that voice in her head that told her to deny everything, to protect her heart, to never admit that she was wrong. But she’d been wrong, very wrong, and the world was only going to get darker if she didn’t tell the truth. She didn’t know how she knew that, or if it was true, but she was convinced of it. She had to tell him the truth, finally.
“Just you, Mike. That’s all.” She smiled at him, realizing then that the darkness was receding outside, not just inside when the instrument panel lit up the interior.
A tap at the driver’s side window brought their attention around to a face peering in at them. “You folks alright in there?”
A policeman stood at the window, wrapped in a thick coat, a wool cap, with gloves on his hands. Mike hurriedly opened the window and shook the policeman’s hand.
“I think we are,” Mike said with a grin. “But we could use some help.”
“Glad to assist you, sir. This storm came out of nowhere. Hell of a way to spend Christmas, stuck in a car. Let’s get you two out of this cold and into the warm, shall we?”
Mike quickly got out of the car, but Celeste hesitated, looking around the car. Something had just happened, something that could have ended very badly. But for once, she’d listened to her heart, and not her head. Maybe it would turn out to be the best Christmas ever, after all.
Celeste slid across the bench seat and stepped out of the car. Mike took her hand in his and they walked to the policeman’s car together. A couple walking out of the darkness that remained behind them, still engulfing countless cars and lives, but Celeste and Mike didn’t notice. They were too busy looking ahead, and at each other, to notice.
Sparrow Black is a writer that frequently types away at romance and horror, when she isn’t crocheting one project or another. You can find her on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Sparrowwrites