The Dog Who Ran the Sleigh
As I left the freeway, it began to snow, tiny glittering drops that landed on the windshield and promptly dissolved, like tears streaming down a glass surface.
How frustrating! According to the latest forecast, the snow was supposed to start after midnight, which would give me plenty of time for the drive home to Foxglove Corners after the play.
In an ideal world. My world lately was far from ideal.
Marston High School's Drama Club had chosen A Christmas Carol for their winter production. Principal Grimsley, in his never-ending obsession with making our school the best in the county, had decreed that every teacher must attend two student activities each semester. Ordinarily that wouldn't have presented a hardship unless a teacher lived a significant distance from Oakpoint.
As I did. The commute to and from Foxglove Corners, half on the freeway, half on dark country roads, was an hour in favorable conditions.
The snowflakes were larger now, the size of marbles. They didn't melt but clung to the window. I turned the windshield wipers to their highest speed, sending them flying back into the night air.
At least I knew the route, having driven this way twice a day for years. It shouldn't offer any surprises; and in less than a half hour, I would be turning into the driveway of the green Victorian farmhouse I shared with my husband Crane and our brood of eight collies.
You've driven alone at night and in snow before. This should be a piece of cake. So I told myself.
And watch out for leaping deer or any animal, for that matter, wild or domestic.
Unannounced, unexpected, a hulking barrier appeared through the falling snow. A large tree had fallen over the road, most likely downed by the high winds that frequently tore through Foxglove Corners. A gigantic trunk and a jumble of wood rose high above the surface. I couldn't possibly pass it.
Dear Lord! I might have run right into it.
Carefully I navigated a U-turn and drove back the way I'd come. About a mile to the west was another road I could take that would allow me to bypass the fallen tree and eventually lead back to this one. And I could only hope there wouldn't be any more obstacles ahead.
Something told me it was going to be a long drive home. I didn't listen; I had already realized it.
The snow lay heavily on the new road, untraveled and untrampled. I was puzzled. Why so thick a layer? The snow had started only a little while ago. It lay just as heavily on the woods that bordered the road, sticking to bare branches. Well, no mystery. Obviously the storm had started earlier in this section of the county.
I wasn't happy at the delay. In fact, I was growing more nervous by the minute, and I was hungry. I wanted dinner and the comforts of home. Crane, the gun he wore as deputy sheriff safely locked in its special cabinet, and the collies with their warm fur and playful antics. Home.
Soon now. I drove on, hoping to find the road or by-road that would take me in the right direction. Instead I found myself following a curve, then another one. Fate seemed determined to play havoc with my sense of direction.
I didn't dare increase my speed on the slippery road. On the right, the land sloped down to a low basin. From the car I could barely make out the tops of trees through swirling snow. It would be a long way to fall.
Best not to think about that, to concentrate on what lay ahead in the meager illumination cast by the Ford's bright lights.
A happy clanging sound insinuated itself into my thoughts. Sleigh bells? They rode the air like high, silvery entities, each one separate and distinct.
The next moment a sleigh materialized out of the snow and into clear view. It moved with the ringing of the bells and the laughter of the four riders.
I saw it all in a brief glimpse: evergreen roping wrapped around the honey-brown sides of the sleigh; the pair of dark prancing horses; the young riders, two men and two women. And the dog who ran ahead of the sleigh as if to guide it. The animal was a collie, a pretty Lassie lookalike, with a full white collar and white blaze.
I saw it all. All coming toward me!
The sleigh was going to crash into me! Didn't any of the people inside see the car in their path? Their collective gaze appeared to be fixed on the white expanse spread out behind me. I and my car might have been invisible.
Instinctively, I stepped hard on the brakes, lost the road, and slid down the incline as if airborne.
It was over in seconds, a dizzying downward flight, crushing through trees, crashing into a stand of evergreens. Jolting to a stop. Earthbound.
My head slammed into something. The steering wheel. Instant pain spread from my left temple down to my hip.
Pain meant the ability to feel; feeling meant that I was alive.
So high above me they might have come from the sky, I heard the sleigh bells ringing. They were still loud but growing fainter every second.
For an instant, white-hot anger overrode the pain. How could the people in the sleigh have continued on their merry way, leaving me dead, for all they knew? Whoever heard of a hit-and-run sleigh?
Don't worry about that now.
I forced myself to move and found that I could.
The car? My trusty Ford Focus?
Its air bags had protected me, but now I had to move around them.
The crash had crumpled its left side. The driver's side window had a long crack but thankfully hadn't shattered. I tried to coax the engine to life. It was no use.
That meant I'd have no heat--for as long as it would take me to extricate myself from the situation.
If that were possible.
I crawled over the front seat, every part of my body protesting the exertion, and exited awkwardly through the passenger's side. Standing knee deep in snow, I looked up into a wall of moving white that hid the road from my view. No matter. I could never climb back up.
The evergreens had broken my fall at the halfway point of the incline. I could have fallen farther yet. Could be dead.
I couldn't stop thinking about my narrow escape.
The air was thick with the rich scent of balsam, a spicy, evocative fragrance I'd always loved. But tonight the balsam smell was too intense. Nauseating even.
And I was so cold, shivering in the frigid temperature and in the aftermath of the shock.
I could be dead at the bottom of the incline. Feeling nothing.
Luckily, I had dressed warmly for the play, with a black wool boot skirt, the requisite high boots to go with it, and a turtleneck under my purple parka. I had leather gloves in the car and a blanket in the trunk for my work with the Collie Rescue League.
So I wouldn't freeze. Yet.
I brushed the stinging snow away from my face and remembered my cell phone. I knew it was in my purse because I had turned it off so it wouldn't ring during the play. Thank heaven for modern inventions and caring husbands. All I had to do was call Crane.
As for my car, I'd have to leave it where it had come to rest on the incline. Even if it had started, I could hardly drive uphill.
I'd be home soon. Not the way I'd envisioned it, but home, nonetheless. Safe with Crane and my collies, I'd leave this terrible night behind forever.