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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Nature · #1523139
Winter driving - hazardous when you least expect it.
Off Road

All he'd wanted to do was get to the cabin, put up his feet in front of a cozy fire, and watch one of his classic movies on videotape. A patch of black ice had changed all that; now, he just wanted to survive.

He'd taken the first step on the survival trail by fighting his way free of the wreckage of his Jeep, which had encountered the invisible hazard right at the sharpest bend in the road between the highway and the cabin. He had promptly lost all traction and left the road's surface. Incredibly, he had only rolled twice before a line of young trees had stopped the Jeep. Had the saplings not held, he was certain he wouldn't have survived the remaining two hundred feet down the steep slope. As it was, he'd banged his head and left knee pretty badly, although the frigid mountain air seemed to have stopped the minor bleeding from his head wound.

He clawed his way back up to the road, then began the trek toward the cabin. The cabins up here were widely scattered, and full-time residents few and far between. He had at least three miles to go and, since the area didn't generally see much tourist traffic between October and March, he was unlikely to encounter any help along the way.

It wasn't long before his movement could best be described as a slow, shuffling gait, and he made less and less progress between rest stops; his knee was killing him. An hour after the accident, his left knee felt like it was on fire, his head pounded in sync with his accelerated heartbeat, and he was all but exhausted. He stumbled off the road and curled up in the lee of an evergreen, hoping to gain some shelter from the rising wind, but still remain visible to any cars that might chance to pass by while he gathered his strength for the next stage of his journey. As he closed his eyes, he heard what sounded like gunshots followed by a small rockslide off in the distance, but he couldn't make any sense of it. Hunting season was over, and he hurt too much to concentrate anyway. Eventually, he relaxed into complete motionlessness.

* * *

"Easy now, Chet, Bill; don't drop the stretcher," directed the sheriff.  "Okay, let's get him loaded in and back to town."

"How'd you find him, Sheriff?" asked one of the reporters.

"Well, after we confirmed he wasn't in or around the Jeep, we looked for where he'd run off the road. After that, I just drove the road in both directions, hoping to find him. I almost didn't spot him under that tree, what with the snow and all. I was pretty lucky."

"Yeah," agreed a deputy, "and if his Jeep hadn't finally broken those little trees and rolled all the way down the hill to that farmhouse, it might not have been spotted for days. The echoes from those saplings finally snapping, not to mention a Jeep rolling into their yard, sure got that family's attention; they called it right in. Him being a single guy, he might not have been missed until Monday. That being the case, it would've been April, before we found whatever would have been left of him."

"Well," said the reporter, closing his notebook, "at least he'll get a decent burial."

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