Beautiful Distraction(9)

By: J.C. Reed

“You’re right.” Mandy hits the accelerator, and the engine thunders in protest. “We’re almost there,” she says for the umpteenth time, casting another nervous glance at me.

I squint my eyes to make out the road, but it’s too late to make out the dark silhouette to our right.

“Tree!” I shout.

Instead of swinging left, to the other site of the road, Mandy turns the wheel sharply to the right, the unexpected impact of hitting unpaved, muddy earth pushing me against my seatbelt as we barely escape a collision with a tree.

Thunder echoes in the distance, once, twice, when I realize it’s not thunder but the spluttering sound of a dying engine.

The car cogs several times…and then stops abruptly.

“That was close.” Mandy leans over the steering wheel, panting.

“Yeah. You could say that.”

She turns the key in the ignition, but nothing happens. She tries again. Still nothing.

Double shit.

This isn’t good at all.

“Ava?” The panic in her voice is palpable.

“We’ll be fine,” I lie, even though I know better than to make false promises. More than likely, we’ll have to spend the night in the car, huddled together for warmth in the hope that the rain will stop at some point.

I make a mental note to be mad at her for the rest of our lives.

I peer out the passenger window into the dark. The sky has turned black, and the torrential rain makes it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

Except for a road sign consisting of a wood panel that appears to have cattle carved on it, I have no idea where we are.

“Great. Just great,” I whisper.

We’ll freeze to death.

The thought is so scary I shiver against the coarse fabric of my jacket and barely dare to look out the window into the pitch black.

Mandy shoots me another nervous look and tries to start the engine a few more times, without any success.

This is it.

Now we’re really stuck.

“It was worth a shot,” Mandy says, raising her chin defiantly.

I stare at her in disbelief. “Who the fuck tries to turn around on an unpaved road with apocalyptic rain pounding on us?”

“At least I’m not sitting on my ass doing nothing.”

Mandy can never shut up. If we continue like this, we’ll be at it all day and night. Someone has to take the high road—and as usual, that someone is me.

I bite my lip hard to keep back a snarky remark and decide to change the subject.

“Did you pack an umbrella?” I ask.

“Yes.” Mandy peers at me warily as she draws out the word. “Why?”

“There’s no point in us both sitting around and waiting for a car to drive past because that might never happen, so I’m going to find someone who can help us.” I draw a sharp breath and exhale it slowly as I ponder over my decision. It’s a risky one, but what other choice do we have? “I’ll go back to the road and take the first shift waiting. Let’s hope someone else decides to ‘take a shortcut.’” I don’t mean to infuse a hint of bitchiness in my voice, but I can’t help it. “We’re in deep shit. The sooner you realize this, the greater our chance to make it out before we freeze to death or a hurricane hits us.”

“Are you crazy?” Mandy asks. “You’ll get lost out there. We’ll wait out the storm.”

I raise my hand to stop her protest. “Where’s the umbrella?”

For a few seconds, she just stares at me in a silent battle of the wills. When her shoulders slump slightly and she looks away, I know I’ve won. She squeezes between the seats and rummages through the stuff scattered haphazardly on the back seat, then hands me a tiny umbrella—the kind that you usually carry around in your oversized handbag; the kind that couldn’t keep you dry from a drizzle, let alone the downpour outside. But the end is pointed and sharp. It’ll definitely do.

“You can’t use that thing out there,” she says. “The wind’s too strong.”

“I know. I’m taking it with me in case a wild animal attacks me and I need protection.”

“A wild animal in Montana? What are you scared of? A cow?” Mandy lets out a snort. I give her an evil glance that’s supposed to shut her up—but doesn’t. “Yeah, you’ll poke it to death with that thing.”

“Do you have a better idea?”

Now she’s silent.

A flashlight would be extremely helpful, but that’s something Mandy would never think of packing, so I’ll have to make do without one of those.

“I’ll be back in an hour. Wish me luck that I find someone,” I say and jump out of the car before she can protest.