Saturday, November 30, 2013

Road Angel

Chapter One


“‘Let It Snow’ on this...” the radio DJ hummed through the radio. Before long I was humming along with the classic Christmas song that more than described the frightful weather.
The snow truly fit snow-packed Interstate 94 which I travel westbound weekly. With less than a week until Christmas, I dropped the load in Gary, Indiana. Then with a mere eight miles to go before hitting Chicago, I can head back home to Wisconsin and my little girl. Damn if I’ll let her spend it with strangers again. I promised and mean every word.
The northwest wind whips across Lake Michigan, causing the blinding lake-effect snow I hate—the trucker’s nightmare I’ve learned to ignore. I’m on a mission, damn it, and no stupid storm will stop me.
Still, I have to admit visibility is slim, like driving through a kaleidoscope of white. The effect plays tricks on my eyes, but I squint, refusing to pull over. I’ve never allowed the weather to interfere with my job, and I’m not about to start now —especially this close to spending Christmas with my family for the first time since my baby daughter was born three years before. She was my Christmas miracle, Isabella Mae Thomas—perfect in every way. Crystal-blue eyes sparkle even when full of sad little baby tears. Light, curly, strawberry-blonde hair falls above her shoulders, framing her round little face and chubby cheeks, giving her a cherub look. Sandi named her Bella, and I was fine with that, as long as a glittering vampire didn’t show up at our front door with a large wolf at its side.
I chuckle. “I have a feeling Sandi would have been thrilled to have a Twilight family of her own.” I chuckle again at the thought of chasing both off while Sandi asks them to come in for dinner. I take my gaze off the road for an instant, the picture flitting through my mind even as the sadness of losing her resonates through me.
Flexing my hand, I remember how Sandi nearly crushed it during delivery. “I can feel your presence Sandi.”
Her grip had felt like being caught in a vise, every bone about to be shattered, leaving me wondering when she’d acquired super-human strength. My soft-spoken wife became a rowdy-mouthed sailor spurting things totally incomprehensible as she pushed our baby into the world, and then it was over. Her body relaxed, her breathing returned to normal, and our lives forever changed with the wail of a new life.
The words “it’s a girl” swelled my heart with pride, but it was seeing Sandi nuzzling the pink bundle in her arms that poured great love into me. I’d never felt anything as amazing as that day. I couldn’t wait for the next time we’d welcome a baby into the world.
A moment later, my life came crashing down around me when Sandi closed her eyes for the last time as Bella snuggled contently in her arms.
“I wish they could have saved both of them, but the aneurism…”
The tires of the truck catch a patch of ice and jolt me back to the reality of the snow-covered highway. “Damn. Keep your mind on driving, you fool!” I push the past away and return to concentrating on getting through the December snowstorm. If I were to lose my focus now, I could end up jackknifed in the road, causing a mass of destruction in the aftermath and cost Bella her one remaining parent.
The strange, otherworldly view through the windshield is like looking into a snow globe after the first shake, only this snow isn’t stopping; it’s getting heavier as I creep farther down the highway. The faster my wipers move, the less visible the tire tracks in the snow-covered highway are. At this point, it doesn’t matter what speed they cleared the glass; the wind blows the snow immediately back into place.
The crackling of the company cell phone slices through the whistling of the wind. Irritated, I tap the button on my wireless earpiece. “It’s snowing like hell; what ya want DJ?”
“You pulled over yet?” The dispatcher’s voice comes through full of static, sounding like an old scratched 78 record. “Get that damn truck off the road as soon as possible. Interstate 94 west of Gary is closing within an hour. You’ve got to bed down for the night.”
No way am I going to break my promise to my daughter. Besides, pulling over is a moot point when I can’t see the edges of the road. “Right,” I snort. “Like that’s gonna happen. I can’t even see the shoulder, let alone find a place to pull over.”
“I don’t care how or where you do it, just do it. Too damn dangerous for you to be pushing through, and you know it,” DJ snaps.
“Gotta make it home for Christmas.” I glance down at the speedometer and then settle back in my seat. Forty miles-per-hour isn’t going to get me home as early as I’d like, but it will get me there sooner than bedding down for the night. “Can’t afford to be stranded in some truck stop. I promised this year I’d be there… not here.”
“You aren’t going to be any good to your little girl in a pine box! Boss wants all the trucks pulled over within the hour. It’ll give you time to update those logs of yours while waiting out the storm, eleven hours or not!” DJ says and then hangs up.
* * * *
Rubbing my face, I yawn big and deep, pulling in as much oxygen as I can, trying to focus. It’s no use; my eyes are fuzzy. Finally feeling the effects of driving in a blizzard, I reluctantly admit I need to find a place to get off the road and bed down for the duration.
“A little cat nap, and then I’ll be good to go.” The eight-mile length of road between Gary and Chicago isn’t getting any better. The question is: where’s a good place to stop? I can’t see the shoulder. Hell, I can’t see the road. Driving in these conditions is like trying to find my way out of a box full of shipping popcorn— nearly impossible.
Glancing down at the speedometer, I wonder when I slowed to thirty miles an hour. At this rate, I’ll find myself stuck with no place to go. “I hate to admit it, but DJ was right.” I have to get off and find a place to wait out the storm. The sooner the better.
I’m not even sure where I am at the moment. All the road signs are obscured by snow, and I can’t make out any city lights. For all I know, there’s a power outage in the area. Even the CB has been quiet for a while. Everyone in their right mind is off the road and asleep in their bunks. Everyone except me.
Licking my dry lips, I reach for the water bottle just as a shadow bursts through the snow. “Whoa!” Grabbing the wheel with both hands, I brace for impact.
Shaking when none comes, I suck in a breath as the tail end of a deer disappears into the shadowy storm. “Stupid, fricking deer! Holy crap! If I wasn’t awake before, I sure as hell am now.”
As the snow swirls in the glow of the headlights, I figure several inches have fallen on top of what may have been tire marks in the road. I don’t even want to think when it was plowed last. At this rate, I probably won’t see one until tomorrow.
The wind howls continuously around the cab of the tractor and bangs against the doors. With each new gust, the trailer slides slightly, giving in to the force. The blowing wind sings a wolf melody, the howling tune mournful—a beautiful yet deadly blizzard accompanied by the music of the wind—Mother Nature’s way of easing the cruelty she sometimes gives so freely.
Snow like this can play tricks on a man’s vision. Even knowing this, when I see a figure in the middle of the road, reaction takes over reasoning. White and flowing, it moves toward me, and then silver-blue eyes bore into my soul, making me yearn for sweet oblivion. In that swift moment, I swerve, my mind screaming out the name of the woman who left my world three years before.