Chapter Three

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The clouds were not rain clouds. It took a few white specks hitting the windshield before my incredulous brain caught up with the fact that it was snowing. Snowing, in mid-goddamn-April.

I was passing through Sawpit - a random jumble of houses that was claiming to be a town - when it started and it took a few beats before I (mostly) convinced myself I wasn't having a caffeine induced hallucination. Keeping a suspicious eye on the two eighteen-wheelers I was trailing, I quickly flipped the car stereo to over to a local AM station, hoping for a forecast; thinking the snow might be a fluke of the high elevation.

No forecast and two keening country ballads later, the sparse, quickly melting flakes had morphed into the start of what was undeniably a snowstorm. Wonderful. Somewhere along the way, without my noticing, a heavy cloud cover had also moved in and it was dark side of the moon levels of pitch outside. This had the added effect of turning the falling flakes into mini, retina searing streaks of light in my high-beams. If I hadn't been ever so slightly preoccupied with not driving off a mountain, I might have started humming the Star Wars theme.

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Thirty minutes past the turnoff for Telluride it was blizzard conditions and I was white knuckled, but determined. I wasn't after all, a rookie at winter driving. My job had guaranteed that; Seattle not being so unknown to snow as non-natives might suspect. I'd seen and navigated worse, in less equipped vehicles, so my current flop sweat inducing anxiety was strictly psychological and I knew it. It was the occasional driver's side stretches of cliff that were getting to me. One moment, me and my semi truck convoy would be inching our way through a valley with gently sloping hills and the next, one shoulder of the road would be gone, replaced with a vertigo inducing black void. It had happened enough times that I was developing an intentional case of tunnel vision, and I didn't appear to be the only one feeling the heat. If my time as a traffic cop had convinced me of anything, it was that the average trucker is suicidally, mentally impaired. They have no sense of speed limits, or weather conditions or self preservation and will barrel along heedless; competitors in their own mental Indy 500s. So the occasional flicker of brake lights and the reduced speeds from the rigs ahead of me were heartening. I was being a chickenshit, sure, but if even they were driving cautiously, I wasn't going to let myself feel too bad about it.

Safe then too, to speak for the group in saying that we were all more than a little relieved when the road started veering west, into a less yawning maw riddled patch of land. We'd reached a section of highway that (as best as I could tell in the darkness and snow) looked to have been cut into the hillside. To my right a wall of bedrock hugged the edge of the road. Opposite, the land sloped gently away; a trip I judged would result in only light maiming were I to go careening off the road.

All things considered, I counted that as a step in the right direction.

I took advantage of that relative safety to finally silence the radio. After an hour-long death grip on the steering wheel, my fingers felt like they were going to snap off when I unclenched them, but the pain would be worth the satisfaction of cutting off the current artist's love sonnet to camo.

The second it took to glance down at the controls was also long enough to miss rock's moment of impact with my windshield. I simultaneously jerked back in surprise at the resulting bang and stomped the brakes. An unfortunate reaction, as reflexes go. My skull slammed into the headrest, only to have the wind knocked out of me a split second later as I was thrown against seatbelt. The combination of head versus seat and the sudden lack of oxygen was enough to make the world go briefly black.

When I swam back into awareness a moment later, the Forester was at a standstill and all save a tiny corner of my windshield was spiderwebbed beyond functionality.

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