‘Which way now?’ Christopher asked at the T-junction.
‘How should I know,’ Angela snapped back.
‘Why are they never any signposts out in the country?’
‘Because people usually have a good idea of where they are going.’
He ignored the insult. He glanced at his watch, the second-hand on fourteen, fifteen, he turned right.
‘I hope this is the right way,’ Angela said.
Christopher remained silent and drove on.
What should have been a relaxing winter weekend getaway from the demands of their respective professions and their two young children, a time to rediscover each other, had gone wrong from the very start. The temperature had taken a sudden unexpected dip and they had argued as to whether to return home to collect heavier coats. Christopher had remained adamant that they press on while at the same time blaming Angela, who had been in charge of packing, for her lack of foresight. When Angela countered that the weather forecast had called for it to remain mild, Christopher, in that tone of voice that always made Angela see red, suggested that instead of always believing absolutely everything that was on TV that perhaps she should have looked outside the window.
The icy conditions and sleet showers made leaving the city even more difficult than usual and it was 7:30 before they reached the open countryside. Stopping to fill up at the petrol station Angela bought chocolate and coffee. It would be very late by the time they reached the hotel.
After exiting the motorway for the main road that would take them part way the GPS went on the blink. Christopher gave his usual sly deprecatory comments concerning modern technology even though he was, like everyone else, completely dependent on the computer chip. Angela had heard it too many times before to pay even the slightest bit of attention.
Somehow they must have missed a turning or gone over the wrong flyover because they soon found themselves completely lost. All radio stations had subsided into a constant hum of static.
They arrived at the T-junction and Christopher, seeing that the second-hand was pointing left, turned left.
The main road soon petered out into rural routes consisting of 4 or 5 digits which in turn led onto unnumbered poorly maintained narrow tracks barely wide enough for the bulky Land Rover. It had seemed like hours since they had seen any signs of human habitation or even a passing vehicle.
All the while the weather was deteriorating steadily. The sleet had turned to heavy snow storms and the freezing fog made visibility increasing difficult. Christopher drove slowly, concentrating intently.
Reaching yet another T-Junction they both breathed a sigh of relief. The road seemed like a major road at least, even if it was lacking signposts. As to which way to go they were both hesitated, willing to let the other take responsibility. Christopher looked at his watch; it was coming up onto 9:30. He turned left. At first he continued at the same cautious speed but soon accelerated on the seemingly better surface. A mistake because he hit a patch of black ice and slewed into the other lane and skidding further out of control. To Angela it seemed inevitable that they were to go though the crash barriers and yet Christopher somehow managed to hold it together. The steering wheel appeared to have little effect on the direction of the spinning car veering madly between the crash barriers on either side of the road, the Land Rover had completed two 360’s by the time it had backed up onto the verge and Angela told Christopher to put it into park.
‘Of course. Sorry about that Angela, you are O.K aren’t you?’
‘Yes I’m fine. And don’t be sorry, you were amazing to be honest. All these years of marriage and I never knew that you could drive like that.’
‘I didn’t either. It was pure instinct. I wasn’t thinking; my hands were on automatic. Several times though I was sure that we were going though the crash barriers. Couldn’t believe it we when just rolled back onto the verge like we meant to park there.’
‘Well for all you’re faults I’ve always said that you were a good man to have in a crisis.’
‘You’re not too bad yourself, you could have been screaming and shouting, but you stayed as cool as anything. My Ice Queen.’
He leant over and stroked her hair. They kissed. After separating they sat in a contented stillness.
‘I don’t know about you but I need a cigarette after all the excitement.’
‘I will join you for old time’s sake,’ Angela replied.
After putting the hazard lights on they stepped out of the car as smoking inside was forbidden because of the children. Christopher offered the pack to Angela and took one himself. He had about half a pack left. He leaned against the bonnet and with a sigh of pleasure drew heavily on the nicotine.
The cigarette was soon finished however and the reality of the situation hit them with renewed force. Angela had been trying to reach her Mother, who was minding the kids while they were away on the mobile but there was no service. They were completely disoriented in the middle of nowhere; had just under half a tank in a vehicle which had zero fuel efficiency, and the fact that disturbed them the most, the ominous Arctic chill in the crystallizing air.
As they continued to drive slowly though the night, the only sound the whirr of the windscreen wipers scraping away the snow and the ice, Angela, who nerves weren’t the greatest at the best of times, became increasingly paralysed by a sense of dread. The ice encased tree branches struck the car with a tangibly malevolent intention. In the corner of her eye she saw a field of blood saturated snow. The very road underneath was made of crushed bones being further compacted beneath the wheels of the Land Rover.
In an attempt to fight off these morbid imaginings she tried both mobiles again. Neither had any signal.
‘This is hopeless, we’re going to have to pull over for the night,’ Christopher said as he drove the vehicle off-road.
‘What time is it,’ asked Angela.
‘We should have been at the hotel hours ago.’
‘I know but there is no way we are going to get there in this weather tonight. We will have to start again in the morning.’
‘I’m starving. We should have stopped off at one of the services earlier.’
‘Well we weren’t to know that this would happen; were we?’
‘No I suppose not, I’m still hungry however.’
‘Do we have anything in the car to eat?’ Christopher asked.
‘Just those chocolate bars I bought earlier.’
‘How many did you buy?’
‘Just the two, one for you and one for me.’
‘Let’s share one then.’
‘O.K,’ Angela replied as she found the chocolate bar in her crowded handbag and split it down the middle.
‘Anything to wash it down with,’ Christopher said while chewing the chocolate quickly.
‘Hmm, I think there is a bottle of water somewhere,’ Angela rummaged around the back for a while before exclaiming triumphantly that she had found it.
‘How old is it?’ asked Christopher.
‘Not that old, honestly.’
After they had finished Christopher looked at Angela expectantly.
‘I feel even hungrier now, don’t you Ang?’
‘Yes but we had better save the other one for breakfast tomorrow.’
‘I suppose you are right. It’s going to be hard to go to sleep on an empty stomach.’
‘And when you shivering with the cold.’
‘Let’s go get the clothes from the boot and wrap ourselves up warm then.’
After getting the clothes and layering themselves thoroughly they attempted to get some sleep on the reclined seats. It was so bitterly cold that Christopher had to switch on the heating several times even though he was concerned that it might drain the battery.
When Angela did manage to drift off she dreamed that she was trapped within a circle of creeping trees that gradually crushed her until her body shattered into a thousand pieces.
By morning it had stopped snowing but a thick pall of fog reached down to the ground. Trying to ignore the hunger pangs that had begun in earnest to consume every waking thought Christopher attempted to get his bearings and come up with a workable plan of action.
His first idea was to back track, but the snow would have obliterated their tyre marks and he couldn’t possibly remember all the twists and turns of the route they had taken.
While peering though the dense gloom to get a lie of the land Christopher became fully aware of a fact that he had subconsciously registered last night.
‘Come over here please.’
‘Why, what’s wrong’
‘Just come over here.’
‘O.K, I’ m coming,’ she said as she came next to Christopher who was looking out over the fields to the distant snow blanketed hills.
‘Have you noticed what’s wrong with…’ he gestured vaguely at the desolate landscape, ‘with this picture.’
‘Apart from the fact that it is covered in about two feet of snow?’
‘Yes, apart from that.’
Angela stared and listened. There was definitely something odd, but what exactly she couldn’t quite pinpoint.
‘Doesn’t it strike you as being awfully quiet, unnaturally quiet, too quiet? Not only have we not seen a car or a house or another human being since yesterday, but we haven’t seen an animal or even a bird. We are surrounded by trees and yet there is not even a crow. Nothing is moving. Why?’
‘I don’t know, because it’s the countryside in winter maybe. What are you trying to suggest anyway Chris?’
‘I don’t know. Nothing maybe. I just get the feeling that something isn’t right. Come on, let’s get out of here.’
They got back in the car. Just over a quarter of a tank left.
‘Shall we carry on straight, Ang?’
‘I haven’t a clue. Sure if you think it get us there.’
‘Well the road has to lead somewhere, doesn’t it surely? Isn’t that the whole point of roads that they go from one place to another?’
‘Of course, but where will it lead us, that’s what I am worried about.’
Christopher didn’t answer, because she was right. Where exactly would they end up? That was a question he didn’t want to think about right now.
Their progress was torturous. Several times the Land Rover wobbled and almost toppled over.
Just before noon it started snowing again. Christopher had no choice but to pull over.
‘Shit, what are we going to do,’ he said with his head buried into the steering column. Angela put her hand on his shoulder, hoping to console him.
‘We will come to a village soon enough, don’t worry,’ she said even though she thought it highly unlikely that anyone lived out in this bleak place.
‘We have to find someplace soon; otherwise we will be stranded out here in the freezing cold without food. Any luck with the phones?’
No, there was no luck.
They decided that they had no choice but to temporarily abandon the Land Rover and set out on foot. If they couldn’t find a town before nightfall they could always return to it and sleep there.
Walking though the snow was an exhausting business however they soon lost sight of the car.
Twilight was approaching and they were about to head back when Angela saw the signpost. At this first sign of civilisation in ages their aching legs were filled with a renewed vigour and they excitedly ran over to the sign that read, in a decrepit gothic script, ZZXYZ Rd.
‘What a strange name,’ Christopher said.
‘I know, bizarre. What on earth could it mean?’
‘No idea but it must mean that we are on the right track at last. Come on let’s go.’
And when they saw a distant light at the top of the path it did indeed seem that they would soon be back among the living.
Only later did it dawn upon them that every step towards the light was a step away from the Land Rover.