If on a Winter's Night Two Travellers...
1440 words long
Adventures start when you're busy being stupid. And if it wasn't for Harry, I probably wouldn't have been so stupid.
Notes from the author:
Writing prompts that are simply random words--one, two, or ten of them--sometimes feel insufficient. They don't offer nearly enough guidance. "Pragmatic." What am I supposed to do with that? There's no potential story there, nothing for me to hang a connection on.
But then you have the "News from Poughkeepsie" prompts which Mur Lafferty includes in her monthly message to her supporters on Patreon. Those sometimes feel too specific. "Your protagonist gets stuck in a snowstorm in a car with a person he dislikes. What transpires?" I don't really care what transpires. I am not interested in writing that story. I refuse! I rebel! I... would rather write it about a "she," anyway, and her traveling companion is that coworker who always had some damn know-it-all contradiction for anything I said, and the only reason they're in my car is...
Point is, there is no perfect prompt. Almost all prompts evoke resistance. You just gotta go with it anyway and see what happens.
Funny thing: Now that I've written this, I almost feel sorry for that coworker. Not by much, though.
Sure, it was stupid of me, but come on. I was stuck with Harry, of all people. Being snowbound on the side of a mountain road in a car with two blown-out tires would have been one hundred and fifty percent more enjoyable if I'd been with anyone else. And if I'd been alone, just me, myself, and I? Bliss. But no, it had to be Harry. Harry inviting himself along for what should have been a two-hour ride. Harry, sitting here and droning away at me nonstop from the passenger seat.
Well, I suppose Harry was good for one thing. He was helping produce heat, residing as he did in a living body like most people do. That was the only thing--literally the only thing--that made him preferable to a zombie. Zombies don't produce body heat. They're too dead. Zombies also eat your brains, so I hear, but I'd take that over Harry any day. With a zombie, it would over quickly. It would involve less suffering than having my brain killed off cell by cell. And at least a zombie might get some nourishment out of my gray matter. Harry was simply destroying it to no purpose.
"Oh, and my brother," he was saying. "He was once stuck in a snowstorm, too. Sat in his car four, five hours before a tow-truck had time to come get him. It was such a bad storm that it kept the entire town fleet busy all night long. But at least he was able to call for help when he got stuck. He had the On Star satellite system in his car. That was a very wise investment, subscribing to On Star."
"Really," I said, staring at the flare I'd set out the regulatory 15 feet ahead of the vehicle. We had not been able to call for help. There was no cell phone signal to be had for miles in either direction, and I was not an On Star subscriber. Which was why I was hearing about all the people he knew who'd been smarter than me in that respect.
At least I wasn't hearing about his cousin Willy who wouldn't have been driving so fast at the time, or his Aunt Rita who would have just run the beast over instead of swerving all over a mountain road. Either there was a limit to Harry's sanctimoniousness, or Harry just didn't have a cousin Willy or an Aunt Rita. In any case, it could have been worse.
It's possible that I did what I did later purely to convince myself that it actually could be worse.
"Uh-huh. That's why he only had to wait a few hours. We could be here all night. I hope you thought to pack emergency hand warmers and blankets. We're going to need those. Food, too. It's irresponsible to drive into the mountains without emergency supplies like hand warmers and extra blankets and food and water--"
"Here." I tossed him a Luna Bar from out my jacket pocket. "Water's in the trunk."
"Oh, but this isn't for men," he said. "This is very specifically a nutrition bar for women. Women need more iron and B vitamins than men do, that's why there's different multivitamin pills for men and women. My sister once got scared she might be pregnant, she thought she was having morning sickness, but it was just her multivitamin pill making her nauseated, she was taking the men's One-a-Day instead of the women's--"
I interrupted him before I had to hear more about his sister's medical history. "Fine. Don't eat it."
"Well, I just hope you brought something else, because--"
"For Christ's sake! My emergency bag was packed for me, OK? It was not packed with you in mind. You were a last-minute addition to this itinerary. You want to talk about irresponsibility, let's look at the guy who didn't bother trying to set up transportation until the day before the company retreat, OK? The guy who apparently decided emergency supplies were solely the concern of the driver? Look, you don't want the damn Luna Bar, you can look in your own damn suitcase for, I don't know, whatever energy bar is manly enough for you. Jesus."
I don't think he was expecting that. Honestly, neither was I. I'm used to biting my tongue whenever I'm around him. Which I try to be as little as possible. If I could have gotten away with it, I'd have kept my mouth shut when he started begging around the office yesterday for a ride. A Harry-free drive? A Harry-free company retreat? Sign me up! Unfortunately, he asked me. Specifically. To my face. And loudly, in front of the whole office. For my own sanity, I should have said "no" anyway. But in this economy, who needs a reputation for being a stuck-up, selfish jerk who doesn't work well with others?
I came this close to inventing a death in the family so that I could just stay home. But that kind of lie was guaranteed to bite me in the ass sooner or later.
After almost a full minute of silence, Harry finally mumbled, "I wish you wouldn't blaspheme."
"Ain't my religion, ain't my commandment," I retorted. "Ain't my problem."
He was quiet for a while after that, and I relished it. I almost popped a CD in, just to make things perfect, but that probably would have provoked commentary on how we shouldn't use up available resources on anything frivolous, and how my taste in music was regrettable, and how my vocal skills--I sing when there's music on, it's almost involuntary--lacked refinement. So I just enjoyed the silence for as long as it lasted.
It lasted for a whole five minutes. Turns out the pressure inside Harry builds up to intolerable levels fairly quickly. Unless he lets off steam now and again by blurting out some important piece of information, he explodes. Which would be regrettable in my car. I only budget for detailing once a year.
Anyway, when he finally started talking again, it came out like a sneeze. "Oh, I hope we don't have to wait all night. I was looking forward to dinner at Finn's. I always eat at Finn's when I get into town. It's not a proper weekend on the slopes if it doesn't start with a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Although, you know, corned beef and cabbage isn't the traditional Irish dish everyone thinks it is. You had to be really rich to afford to slaughter your cows in the old days, and--"
"Jesus!" I couldn't take it anymore. "I'm going for a walk," I said, and slammed my way out of the car and into the cold.
I instantly regretted this. It felt about ten degrees below freezing. Despite my having raided the trunk for all the extra layers I keep in the car for precisely these occasions (See? See? I'm responsible, damn it!), I could already feel the icicles stabbing up my nose. But I couldn't just go back, not after that exit. Besides, Harry would probably lecture me about how opening the door wasted the heat. So I stomped on up the road and around the bend until I couldn't even see the flares anymore.
Which was stupid. I admit it. Anything could have happened to me. A car coming down the mountain could have run me over, or gotten into a wreck trying to avoid running me over. I could have fallen, broken my ankle, fatally buried myself in a snowbank. I could have gotten frostbite.
Or I could have gotten attacked by that unidentified critter I'd swerved around in the first place. That was a possibility, seeing as how it was still hanging around.
It didn't attack me. It just stood there on its six shaggy legs, looking at me with its three glowing blue eyes. These details, you kind of fixate on them at moments like this.
Then it turned and walked away, disappearing through a hole in the snow-covered, ice-glazed rock. I knew for a fact that the hole hadn't been there a moment before. One moment there was nothing but a white backdrop; next, there was a hole. And there were flickering shadows inside that hole, like maybe someone was enjoying a roaring fire in there.
Of course I followed the critter in. I wanted to enjoy a roaring fire too. I wanted to know what the hell was going on.
And it was better than enduring another minute in Harry's company.
This was the Friday Fictionette for February 13, 2015. It has been released as the "Fictionette Freebie" for the month of February. It is now free to download as a PDF from Patreon.
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