The first warning of a ripple on our carefree afternoon was a disturbance in the air, a sudden wind that came out of nowhere and whipped the tall grasses along the roadside into wild motion.
“What on earth?”
Annica let the map of Michigan fall into her lap and slid forward on the seat. “Where did that come from?”
Before I could reply, lightning crackled across the sky which had grown perceptibly darker in the last few minutes.
“It wasn’t supposed to storm,” she said.
“Where are we, Jennet?”
“The middle of nowhere.”
In other words, about two hours out of Foxglove Corners, heading north to pick up a rescue collie and transport her to Sue Appleton, the president of our rescue league. Female, sable and white, one year old. Her name was Echo.
I had volunteered for this mission, and Annica, freed for the day from her waitressing job at Clovers and her class at Oakland University, had begged to join me.
“It’ll be like a holiday,” she’d said. “The last one of summer.”
I was grateful for her company. In truth, I wouldn’t have undertaken the day-long trip alone, even with the company of a dog on the way home.
The rain began with a splattering on the windshield and a crash of thunder directly overhead. I held onto the steering wheel while the wind threatened to send the Focus careening into the woods. With lights on and windshield wipers swishing back and forth, I drove until heavy sheets of rain pummeled the window, creating an instant white-out. If that was the correct term. I only knew that all I could see was water.
“There should be a town… out there somewhere.” Annica picked up the map and the flashlight I kept in the glove compartment. “But I don’t see one. If only we could find a nice restaurant or even a gas station, we could wait out the storm out in comfort.”
Alarmed, I glanced at the gas gauge. With over a half tank of gas, we should be all right.
“Maybe we’ll be lucky,” I said.
We had been traveling through a never-ending wilderness. Tall fir trees encroached on the narrow road. When had we passed the last house, that imposing white Victorian on the hill top? It was a magnificent structure but a solitary one. All right, when had we passed the last town?
We’d left the freeway miles back to avoid detours caused by the interminable roadwork. I was happy to be driving on a country road as here, in Nowhere, we wouldn’t be likely to collide with another vehicle.
Still, this was no place to be driving in a storm.
“This reminds me of a Nancy Drew book,” Annica said. “Nancy and her chums are caught in a storm and they end up having tea in a mysterious inn.”
“The Sign of the Twisted Candles?” I said. “I have it in my collection. Well, this is life, not a girls’ mystery. Jennet and Annica are caught in a thunderstorm, and Jennet decides to pull off by the side of the road.”
Once we were safely parked and enclosed in our own little world, Annica reached over to the backseat into a box packed with sandwiches and treats from Clovers, along with bottled water.
“Have an oatmeal cookie?” she asked. “Or an apple?”
“A cookie,” I said.
She brought out a bottle of water for each of us.
It felt good to let my shoulders and hands relax and to listen to the rain beating against the windws, good to bite into the crisp raisin-studded cookie. “Tell me again,” Annica said. “Why is this collie so special?”
“Sue’s younger sister, Serena, found her in a high-kill shelter. She took her out of there, but she can’t keep her. Serena already has a female, and the two dogs don’t get along. Echo is supposed to be gorgeous, and Sue thinks she can easily place her in Foxglove Corners.”
“If she’s so gorgeous, why couldn’t Serena find her a home up north?” Annica asked.
“That’s a mystery,” I said.
I had wondered why Serena hadn’t tried to find the dog a new owner in the area, perhaps someone who owned acreage. Surely a collie would be a boon to any farmer.
“Anyway, I’m going to be extra careful with Echo,” I said. “The last time I drove a collie across
the state, I lost her at the end of the trip.”
Annica gasped. “How did you do that?” “I had the idea to stop at Rosalyn Everett’s kennel, River Rose, just to look around. Leonora was with me that time. She left the car door opened and the dog escaped. That story had a happy ending, though. Eventually we found Icy, and Sue adopted him.”
“She must have been really stressed out, poor baby.” Annica moved listlessly in her seat. “I wish I could see something. The rain isn’t letting up a bit.”
“It will,” I said.
If we were delayed, however, we might not be able to drive home with the dog today. We’d have to find a motel, a dog friendly one. Maybe I should have stayed on the freeway.
Don’t look for trouble, I told myself. No rain lasts forever.
~ * ~
When the storm dwindled down to a halfhearted patter and it was possible to see clearly again, I steered out to the road. The surface was slippery, but the wind had diminished. As I drove through the wild stretch, the countryside looked the same: woods washed clean with rain under a gradually lightening sky. But I sensed that something was different.
“We’re on the same road, aren’t we?” I asked. “I didn’t make a turn?”
“Only when the road twisted,” Annica said, adding after a moment, “We aren’t lost?” It sounded like a question.
“I don’t see how we can be. Would you check the map, Annica? Where can we get back to the freeway?”
She aimed the flashlight on the map. “Not for a while. It would help if we knew where we are.”
“The last town where we gassed up was called something Branch. Green Branch? Gray Branch?”
“I don’t see it,” she said. “I need a magnifying glass.”
“What I don’t see is the name of this road. It seems to go on forever.” “It’s like that up north.”
Comforting words, but at that moment I would have given anything to be on the freeway, speeding up north to our destination. Or to have a GPS. Oh, for a sight of Lake Huron’s waters!
As the miles and the minutes flew by, I began to worry. No ‘I-75 North’ sign pointed the way to a freeway entrance. The scenery underwent a subtle change. The woods thinned, and blue-green water sparkled behind the trees.
It wasn’t a glimpse of Lake Huron.
By then an hour had gone by, and my anxiety increased with every added mile.
“Serena’s phone number is in the glove compartment, Annica,” I said. “We’d better let her know we’ll be later than we thought.”
Annica nodded and pulled her cell phone out of her purse. “Uh-oh,” she said. “No signal. So much for our call.”
That meant I couldn’t talk to Crane either, not from this road. My husband would worry when I didn’t call him at the designated time as I’d promised. He would be certain I’d met with a mishap on the way north. Well, I could still place that call as soon as I had a signal.
I wondered if we were on the same road we’d traveled before the storm. Although I didn’t remember making a turn, I could have done so when it first began raining, thinking I was following a curve.
That sense of something different grew stronger.
Annica dropped the phone back into her purse.
“Is anything else going to go wrong?”
In answer, thunder rolled over the sky. The storm had skipped ahead of us, waiting in our path to throw one more delay our way.