Friday, February 8th, 2019
The road blurred as Heidi wiped at her eyes, the wheel held steady by her knee.
At least it was warm enough for rain this week, she thought.
Three feet of snow would have been a nightmare.
She’d left the last vestiges of civilization behind, crying nonstop for nearly an hour. Wanting to avoid the traffic, she'd taken the long way from Utica, bypassing Syracuse and heading to the lake.
Heidi loved her parents' cabin but she had never taken advantage of its remote location. Not like this.
The fact that Peter still hadn't made the trek west made it even better.
Once the road straightened out of a curve, Heidi threw her tissue away and pumped a little hand sanitizer into her palm, keeping her knee on the wheel. She cursed the fact that she was crying and driving. It made everything messy.
In a few short hours, her world had fallen apart. Instead of spending one last night in her apartment, Heidi was running away to the cabin on Lake Ontario.
Heidi shivered. The heat in her junker of a car went out an hour ago and the plummeting temperatures had her wondered where her gloves were.
At 3 a.m., Heidi had been awake for twenty-one hours and she was exhausted. She'd put in a full day at the office and then gone to the dinner theater for rehearsal, where afterwards she'd been laid off. She’d loved that job. Performing for the tourists in small shows had been her creative outlet. And now it was gone.
Taking her exit, Heidi headed deeper into the woods and relaxed into the last leg of her journey. With about twenty minutes left in her drive she'd be home soon, as close to home as she was going to get.
It couldn't come fast enough.
If only they’d laid her off before she’d put in three hours of singing and stage direction.
However, none of them could have known about the disaster that had awaited her at Peter’s place.
Glancing over her shoulder at the boxes in the back seat, Heidi tried not to think about the fact that the cabin might be her only home for some time.
The hired company would be moving the bulk of her furniture to Peter's condo tomorrow. She had three more days to get her things out of her apartment before her lease was up and the pressure was on.
She'd need to call to cancel the movers first thing in the morning and figure out some other place to live. Or, she needed to talk her God-awful landlord into extending her lease for another month or two. She still had her day job to worry about and moving in with Peter was no longer an option.
She saw it again – them. Legs entwined on the bed, sheets fallen to the floor. Luckily, her ears were already ringing too loudly for her to hear breathing or, God forbid, a moan when she’d walked into the bedroom.
Heidi blinked her eyes, trying to clear away the memory from a few short hours ago. There was no chance she'd be moving in with Peter. Not when he’d been sleeping with another woman on the night before they took the next step in their relationship.
Heidi glanced down at the ring on her left hand, glinting in the light of passing street lamp. They would have been married in the summer.
The car slipped and she glanced back at the road in the rearview, trying to correct for ice.
But, she overcorrected and the world spun. A loud crunch echoed as everything went black.
Her ears were ringing again, but it was different this time.
Heidi pushed the obstruction away from her face, recognizing it as the airbag once her eyes adjusted. She wasn't sure how long she'd been unconscious, but the clock read 3:23, so it couldn't have been long.
She whimpered at the sight of the tree in the hood of her car, the metal crumpled like an accordion.
Eyeing the dash that now in sat in the passenger seat, Heidi knew she could have died.
She took a breath, her hands shaking, and unbuckled her seat, struggling to hit the release. Her pink puffy coat tangled with the belt as she moved it out of the way.
Her neck twinged as she glanced up at the highway some twenty feet above where she was. The ditch would keep her car hidden from view, and no passing driver would see her struggling up the ravine.
She reached for her phone, hoping she had reception on her piece-of-crap cell. One press of the button failed to power on the screen.
The third time, Heidi cursed: the screen was shattered.
Throwing it in her purse, Heidi squeezed her way out of the door and immediately collapsed onto the frozen ground, crying out in pain.
She wasn't going to get anywhere unless someone drove by and happened to see her. Either she’d broken her leg, or she’d dislocated her knee again.
Grinding her teeth, Heidi snagged her purse strap and gripped the car door using it to support her weight. As carefully as possible she pulled herself up off the dead leaves and branches.
With another grimace, she eyed the road with defeat, there was no chance she'd manage to crawl her way up that slope.
Wind cut through the clearing and Heidi shuddered.
She knew there was a driveway and a house down the road, somewhere.
Heidi zipped her jacket, the cold piercing through her thin cotton shirt.
If she could make it to the cabin, maybe someone would be able to help her. She'd passed the driveway leading into the woods a hundred times.
Hobbling carefully toward the back of the car, Heidi did her best to put as little pressure on her leg as possible. It wasn't the first time she'd dislocated her knee, if that’s what had happened; but this time she wasn't on a soccer field with a medical team nearby. Her soccer career over before it even began.
She wasn't even sure where the closest hospital was.
Her parents' cabin was a remote retreat, with civilization far off. There had to be emergency services somewhere, but with her cell busted, she needed a landline.
Opening the door to the backseat, Heidi grabbed her overnight bag and put it on the roof then slid into the back to reach for her version of a bug out bag, trying not to bang her knee on anything. Instead of survival supplies, she kept all-purpose cleaner, rubber gloves, and mild abrasive cleaners inside. It was her way to ensure that the surfaces could be disinfected, wherever she might end up. Though her parents kept their cabin clean, Heidi couldn’t trust that it would be up to her standards after weeks or months of being closed up.
If the owners of this house were not home, there was no way she would be breaking in without bleaching the door handles first.
Heidi swallowed, a sharp stab of pain arching through her leg. She had to get to the house down the road; her car was busted and she would need medical help soon.
Spying her scarf, the tassels tangled around the headrest, Heidi yanked it free and wrapped it around her neck.
She dropped the bag to the ground and searched for something to use as a crutch, her blinkers flashing in the darkness. It took a few moments to spot a fallen branch that would be able to hold her weight. Judging by the look of it, her new cane appeared to have fallen off the tree that her car had crashed in to.
It took longer than she'd hoped to get herself ready. With the messenger bag on her shoulder, the overnight bag on her good arm and her purse slung across her back, Heidi knew she’d look ridiculous.
It was a shame she’d packed her beanie with the poof at the top. That would certainly have completed the look.
Heidi glanced up the ravine. Not a single car had passed since she’d gained consciousness and she needed to get to a phone before the cold set in.
With the flashlight in her right hand, Heidi walked away from the road the promise of a call for help the only thing keeping her moving.
The sky was beginning to lighten two hours later when Heidi acknowledged the truth. She had no idea where she was.
Her fitness watch flashed the time as being past five. The throb in her leg had gone from awful to screaming and she'd yet to find the cursed house. She had some naproxen in her purse; but Heidi was afraid to go searching for it. Even taking a minute to fumble and find it, swallow it dry, and get everything back on was valuable time wasted.
She'd come upon a dirt road around 4:30 and had been following it with no luck.
Needing a break, Heidi dropped the bag on a nearby rock and leaned against a tree trunk in the burgeoning light. She stared dumbly at a rock, her only friend in this barren, chilly place.
"How far away is this cabin, rock?"
Running her hand through her hair, Heidi remembered that her butterfly clip had fallen out in pieces an hour ago. She yawned in defeat and looked around. The trees were beginning to thin out, pulling away from the lane, branching out, and allowing the dawning light to spill across the dirt.
Horses whinnied in the distance and she frowned in the direction of the noise.
Wouldn't horses still be sleeping at this hour? At least it meant people were nearby, she thought as she picked up her bags again. That hope spurred her on, figuring she’d been walking in circles.
Heidi balanced on her good leg and grabbed her walking stick, limping down the dirt road the promise of stables lightening her heart.
By the time the sky was pink and purple with sunrise, a light dusting of snow glittering on the road, Heidi was near tears. Her leg throbbed with pain, the extent of which she’d never felt before. It was probable that she’d done irreparable damage to her leg. Even putting as little weight on it as possible was sure to keep her from going to work on Monday and racking up medical bills.
Heidi groaned at the sky. At least she'd typed out a quick text to her boss when she'd been in the store in Utica, calling in sick for the next few days. She needed to get away from the city after the hell she'd been through and with the new year resetting paid-time off, she had plenty of sick days to use.
Soon she came across a house, sitting on the side of the road, rather than at the end of it. Ancient bricks patched with plaster caught her eye and she frowned. She’d expected a 1950s ranch; but the house appeared to be one of those historic colonial buildings. Complete with a thatched roof.
Heidi stared at the roof, dumbfounded.
Was it even legal to have a thatched roof in New York?
She stepped up to the front door and pulled on the handle. Inside the house old-fashioned bells chimed.
"They must be going for authentic." She chuckled under her breath, her leg pulsing.
When no one answered the door, Heidi rested against the plastered wall. She was going to have to break in.
Dropping her bags, Heidi eyed the doorway, hoping to find a hidden key or something that would aid in her breaking and entering.
There was a deep snorting bellow and Heidi whipped her head around, a large horse suddenly on top of her.
"May I be of service, Miss?"
White-hot pain seared through her leg and she collapsed onto the front step, catching sight of the horse’s rider as he dismounted.
The man was at her side in an instant and Heidi, the pain blinding, didn't even pull away from his touch as he rolled her onto her side.
"Are you well?"
She looked up at him. There was something strange about the man, his jacket unlike anything she’d seen but Heidi couldn't focus.
"I need a doctor. Please." Tears spilled unbidden from her eyes.
The man nodded before her world went black. Again.