Alex had never struggled so hard to take steps in her life.
The snow was almost two feet deep as they made their way down the side of the road, Jessie walking behind Alex as the dark-haired girl led the way. She held one hand to her eyes, shielding them against the snow as it whipped around her face, making it almost impossible to see.
“Which way??” Jessie yelled over the wind.
Alex pointed straight ahead. “That way, I think!”
“You think, or you know?!”
“I’m pretty sure!”
Alex huffed and puffed as she trampled through the snow, making her way towards the street signs at the end of the road. It took a few minutes, but she finally got close enough to read them. “Which way did Steph say to go on King Street??”
“Right!” Jessie pointed. “Then a left on Alvin, and the second right onto Broadway!”
They turned, struggling through the weather as they eventually turned into a neighborhood. Alex appraised each house they passed, peering carefully through the snow as she checked the color and numbers.
Blue house, number twenty-six, blue house, number twenty-six…
“There it is!” She finally yelled, pointing.
“Finally! Let’s get inside!”
Alex led the way into the yard and up the stairs, the porch overhang finally giving them some shelter. She quickly brushed the snow from her jacket as Jessie rapid-fire knocked on the door. It unlocked after several seconds, a little girl with red hair peeking out from behind it.
“Hi!” Alex smiled as she racked her brain, trying to remember the names. “Are you Kelly, or Melissa?”
“Melissa,” the girl answered quietly. “Are you Alex?”
“I am.” Alex pointed beside her. “That’s Jessie. Can we come in?”
The girl nodded and opened the door, letting them both inside. Alex quickly shut the door behind her.
“Shit,” Jessie breathed, hugging her arms. “It’s almost as cold in here as it is outside.”
“That’s a bad word,” said a second identical girl from behind Melissa, who Alex assumed was Kelly, a thick Winnie the Pooh blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
“Sorry. Are you two okay?”
They both nodded.
“Did Ranger Lucan tell you guys that we were gonna take you someplace warm?”
They nodded again. “Is Ty gonna be okay?” Kelly asked.
“Your brother’s on his way to the doctor right now,” Alex assured them. “He’s gonna be just fine. Do you two have boots and jackets?”
“Why don’t you put them on. We’ve got a little bit of a hike.”
“Do you girls like hot chocolate?” Jessie asked. “With marshmallows?”
They both immediately perked up and nodded fiercely.
“We’ve got some where we’re going. So the sooner you guys get ready, the sooner we get there.”
With that incentive, the girls dressed quickly, throwing on identical pink puffy jackets, beanies, and snow boots. “One of you is gonna hold each of our hands,” Alex explained as she helped Kelly put on her gloves. “It’s a little hard to see out there, so make sure you don’t let go, okay?”
“Okay,” they both said simultaneously.
“All right.” Jessie stood up, holding onto Melissa. “We ready?”
Alex sighed. “As I’ll ever be.”
With that, she opened the door, letting Jessie go out first.
They’d only been in the house for a few minutes, but the trail they had made getting there was already hard to see. By the time they were halfway down the street, they had lost it completely.
Just keep going forward. Alex grit her teeth against the biting cold, keeping a firm grip on Kelly’s hand as she trudged through the snow behind Jessie. It’s not that far. Only a few blocks until we–
Kelly yelped, and she felt the girl’s hand get tugged out of her grasp. Alex whipped around just in time to see her slip and fall sideways into the drainage ditch on the side of the road, vanishing into the soft snow.
“Hey!” She jumped backwards, frantically digging through two feet of the fresh powder. “Kelly! Kelly, hang on!”
She finally hit something solid after a few seconds and got a good grip on it, pulling as hard as she could, finally dragging Kelly off the ground by the back of her jacket.
The girl was hyperventilating as Alex set her back down, brushing the snow off her. “Are you okay?!”
“I’m cold,” the girl whined, hugging herself. “And my foot hurts.”
Shit. She probably slipped on some ice.
“Come here.” Alex held her arms open. “Up you go, come on.”
Kelly grabbed her shoulders, and Alex lifted her up before turning back around.
Jessie was gone.
“JESSIE!!” Alex yelled, looking around wildly. She’d gotten so disoriented that she wasn’t sure which way she’d been going. “JESSIE!! WHERE ARE YOU?!”
Silence answered her.
“Bad word,” Kelly whimpered, as she hugged Alex tightly.
Ok, don’t panic. Her tracks, look for her tracks. Alex examined the ground closely, trying to get her bearings as she went to where they’d been before Kelly’s fall. It took her a few minutes, but she finally found it and set off in what she hoped was the way back to the Black Lantern.
“JESSIE!!” She yelled again, hefting Kelly as she carried the girl. “JESSIE, WHERE ARE YOU?!”
Still nothing. Though a street sign came into view after a few minutes, and Alex stopped to check it, but the letters were totally covered in snow. Shit. Was this King Street? Which way did we come from?
She continued following the tracks, which turned left. “JESSIE!!” she yelled into the wind.
“ALEX!!” a soft voice carried back.
“JESSIE!! I’M OVER HERE!!”
A dark shape finally appeared through the blizzard, quickly materializing into Jessie’s red jacket as the blonde dragged Melissa behind her. “What happened?!” she yelled over the snow as she got closer. “Where’d you go?!”
“Kelly fell in a ditch! You were gone when I turned around! Didn’t you hear me yell?!”
“No! We didn’t realize you weren’t behind us until a couple of minutes ago!”
Alex let out a shaky breath, tightening her grip on Kelly. “Let’s keep going! It’s cold out here!”
“I think I went the wrong way!” Jessie looked around. “Is this Alvin Street??”
“I don’t know! Was it the second left or second right coming back??”
“I’m not sure!”
Oh, shit. Alex looked around, not seeing any landmarks she recognized. Everything looked the same in the storm, and she could barely see more than ten feet in front of them. As she tried to get her sense of direction, she listened to the wind pick up, blasting her face with snowflakes and cutting right through her jacket.
“Let’s go back!” she yelled. “Maybe we can retrace our steps!”
“What, all the way back to the house?!”
“You got a better idea?!”
Jessie looked behind her. “What if we went that way instead?? We’ll see a street sign eventually!”
“That could be the wrong way too!”
“Well, we can’t stay here!”
She was right. Alex could feel Kelly start to shiver in her arms. Shit, she might’ve gotten wet when she fell into the ditch like Steph did. We gotta get her back to the Black Lantern.
“Okay!!” She nodded. “Come on, we need to-”
“Shit! Look out!”
Alex jerked her head around to see a truck appear out of nowhere, the oversized tires throwing snow everywhere as it drove down the street beside them. Her and Jessie both spun, placing themselves between the truck and the kids as it kicked a mound of snow over them.
“Ahh!!” she gasped as the powder covered her, quickly wiping her head with her free hand. “Fuck!”
The brakes on the truck squealed as it ground to a stop. Then slowly reversed until it stopped beside them. Alex was still wiping her eyes as the window rolled down. “Sorry!” the driver called. “I didn’t see- wait, Alex?!”
She looked up. “Mac?!”
“What the hell are you doing out here?!” The bearded mechanic glanced between them. “And why do you guys have Lindsey Clark’s twins?!”
“She had to go to the hospital with her son!” Alex stepped closer to the truck window. “We’re trying to get back to the Black Lantern, but we got turned around!”
“Yea, you did! It’s that way!” he pointed behind them. “Are you walking back in this?”
“We were trying to!”
He hit a button, and she heard the doors unlock. “Get in, I’ll give you guys a ride!”
Neither of them argued as Jessie opened the back door, lifting Melissa and shoving her inside before clambering in after her. Alex repeated the process, squeezing in tightly as she shut the door behind her.
“You’re a lifesaver,” Jessie breathed as she blew into her mittens.
“Seriously,” Alex agreed as she hugged Kelly, trying to warm the girl as she sat shivering. “I owe you a beer for this.”
“Don’t mention it.” Mac shifted the truck, pulling away from the curb. “This weather is way too bad to be out here.”
“Then why are you driving in it?”
“Pike swung by my place and asked me to help out, since I put the all-terrains on last week and I’ve got four-wheel drive.” He slowed the truck, navigating around a turn. “I was on my way to Duckie’s.”
Alex scoffed. “I think he’s the last person in town who needs anyone’s help right now.”
“I was told to ask for HIS help. Pike wants him to take his truck and check the camping grounds, make sure nobody’s frozen in a tent somewhere.” He shrugged. “After that, I’m going to Rick McMichael’s place, so I can bring him to the grocery store and open it up.”
“For food?” Jessie asked.
“Yea, and firewood. Are you guys doing okay at the Black Lantern?”
Alex nodded. “Duckie told me to stock up last week. Never been more glad I took his advice.”
“He told me the same thing. Hence the all-terrains.” Mac smirked. “That guy must be psychic.”
“I certainly won’t rule it out.”
Mac took one more turn, and Alex started recognizing buildings. A minute later, they were back at the Black Lantern. “Here you guys are.”
“Thank you,” Jessie said sincerely as she opened the door.
Alex nodded at him as she got out. “And seriously, man, come by later. I definitely owe you a drink.”
“Like I said, don’t mention it.” Mac nodded back. “Stay warm.”
“There you guys go.” Steph smiled as she stepped in front of the couch, handing a mug of hot chocolate to each one of the twins. “It’s really hot, so be careful.”
“Thank you,” Melissa said in a soft voice, cradling the mug gently. Kelly accepted her mug silently as she huddled under the blanket. Her wet jacket and sweatshirt were both hanging beside the fire, but Alex had pulled her out of the snow fast enough to keep everything else dry. In addition to the blanket, Kelly was also wearing one of Steph’s oversized Seattle Seahawks hoodies.
“You’re welcome. When you’re done, we’ll see if we have a game or something you guys can play, okay?”
She stepped back over to the kitchen table, where Alex and Jessie were wrapped in their own blankets, drinking from their mugs. “How are you two feeling?”
“Frozen.” Jessie shivered again. “I don’t know how you did that for two miles. I about felt like a popsicle after two blocks.”
“For real.” Alex sipped from her mug greedily. “I’m glad Mac drove by, or else they would’ve found us frozen on that street tomorrow morning.”
Steph nodded. “Good on him. Fuck knows anyone willing to go out and help in this weather deserves a medal.”
The radio between them burped again. “Steph? Are they back yet?”
“Oops.” Steph took the radio, hitting the transmit button. “Yes. Sorry, Ryan, I was helping get the twins settled. Everyone’s back safely.”
“Good.” They heard him breathe a sigh of relief. “Any problems?”
“Kelly fell into a drainage ditch, and they got turned around. But they said Mac found them and gave them a ride.”
“Is Kelly okay?”
“She’s fine. Sitting on our couch and drinking hot chocolate.” Steph paused. “How’s their brother?”
“He’ll be fine. I was talking to Doctor Wyneman a few minutes ago. They want to keep him overnight for observation, but they said he should be okay. And Lindsey wanted me to thank you guys for getting the girls.”
“No problem. How long are we watching them for?”
“I’m not sure. The only buildings with power right now are the Urgent Care and the fire station. We’re setting up shelter for people who don’t have heat, but they’re already getting full, and we’re still working the logistics of food. If you had to, would you be able to keep them overnight?”
Steph looked at Alex, who shrugged. “So long as we’re okay with them sleeping on the floor.”
“Between that and freezing in their house, I don’t think their mother is going to complain.” Steph keyed the radio. “Yea, Ryan, we can do that.”
“Awesome. If you guys are low on food or firewood, I can have Mac or Ted run you some.”
Alex frowned. “Ted’s helping out?”
“I’m not surprised.” Jessie smirked. “He’s got a heavy-duty truck too. I watched him tow a three-ton generator with it last week.”
“Oh. Cool.” Alex glanced to the side. “Maybe ask for some firewood, especially if we’re going to be burning it all night.”
They were impressed with the response time. Ted was knocking in the door to the bar within a couple of hours.
“Six bags of firewood, and eight cans of Chef-Boyardee,” he announced as Alex let him inside. The miner was wearing a thick Carhartt jacket and beanie as he easily carried the bags in both hands. “Courtesy of your local SubTerra division.”
Alex smirked as she closed the door behind him, shivering as she stuck her hands back in her pockets. “All about that community service, are we?”
“I was told to never miss an opportunity.” Ted set the bags down on the nearby table for her. “Always gotta work on that reputation. Can never be good enough, that’s what corporate tells me.”
“Can I repay you with a drink?”
He hummed as he looked at the bar behind her. “I still have places to drive to after this.”
“I think Pike has bigger problems than setting up a DUI checkpoint.”
“That’s true. I suppose I can drive on one Jack and Coke.”
She chuckled as she stepped around the bar, fixing it for him quickly. “How is it out there?”
“Still pretty bad. Actually worse outside of town, where there’s no buildings to slow down the snow. My guys are telling me that it’s rough out by the highway.” He accepted the drink, taking a sip. “Mm. Thanks.”
Alex cocked her head. “Your guys are outside of town?”
“A few of them went to where the trees fell with some chainsaws, to get them out of the way. Or they tried, rather, but the roads are too bad, and they were forced to turn around.” He shrugged. “They’re on their way up to the mine instead, to grab some more gas for the generator at the Urgent Care.”
“I bet they’ll appreciate that.”
“Hey, we live here now too. May as well help out in an emergency. Not like this is putting much of a dent in our public outreach fund.”
“You guys have a public outreach fund?”
“Of course we do. Like I said, always need to work on that reputation.” He nodded. “Actually, I need to talk to Ryan and the rest of the city council when this is all over. We’re sponsoring the Holiday Festival next month, and we need to work out some details.”
Boots clomped down the stairs, and Jessie rounded the corner. “Hey, Ted.”
“What’s up, Jessie. You doing okay?”
“Better in an apartment with a working fireplace. Is that for us?”
“Yep.” He gestured at the supplies he’d brought in. “Great work getting those kids, by the way. Pike was telling me about it.”
Jessie shrugged. “It was either that or we let them freeze.”
“Still. How are they doing?”
“Great.” The engineer smirked as she picked up the groceries in one hand and a bag of firewood in the other. “Kicking our asses in Monopoly. Steph landed on Kelly’s hotel, and I think she’s about to flip the board over.”
Alex raised an eyebrow. “She landed on Illinois AGAIN?”
“Yea. She’s trying to bribe her way out of paying with marshmallows.”
“Alright, let’s go referee.” Alex glanced at Ted. “Good luck out there.”
“Thanks.” He swallowed the rest of his drink. “You guys have fun.”
“Sounds like it’s finally dying down.”
Alex nodded as she looked out the dark window later that night, placing one hand on the cold glass. Her and Jessie couldn’t see what Haven Springs looked like, but the wind had gotten noticeably quieter, though thermometer still showed temperatures in the single digits. “Hope they can get the power back on tomorrow,” she commented. “Or at least get some cell service up and running.”
“The tower needs electricity to work. Probably get service once the electric company fixes those power lines.” Jessie rubbed her face. “Thanks again for letting me crash on your couch, by the way.”
“What, you think we’re gonna send you back to an icebox of an apartment?”
“I wouldn’t be the only one. I’m sure lots of people are cold tonight.”
“Your boyfriend’s been moving everyone he can to the fire station and the Urgent Care. Plus, your boss has been delivering firewood like he’s a UPS driver.” Alex nodded out the window. “I think people will be fine.”
“I hope so.”
Alex turned back to the others. The heat from the fireplace had spread through the apartment, so they had moved the furniture back. Kelly and Melissa were sitting on the floor, listening with rapt attention as Steph told a story, complete with sound effects. The brunette was making roaring noise as she mimicked holding a fireball, showing the girls how the character in her story threw it at a monster. “At least they’re having fun.”
Jessie smirked. “Your girlfriend’s got an active imagination.”
“I know. One of the things I love about her.”
“Is she making this stuff up off the top of her head?”
“I actually think it’s one of her Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.”
“Ah ha.” Jessie nodded. “So… who, exactly, is Elamon?”
“I have no idea. But I think it’s time to wrap this up.”
With that, she started walking closer, as Steph resumed her story. “The spell sank right into the sea serpent’s scales, burning a hole straight through its gills, and the monster collapsed right into the floor,” she recounted in a dramatic voice, moving her hands as she spoke. “So Elamon entered the laboratory, finally able to recover the Sabre of Light.”
She threw both hands out. “But! The second his hand touched the hilt, the entire room was plunged into darkness.”
Both girls leaned closer, their eyes boring into Steph’s as they listened.
“He turned about, trying to see through the darkness, but nothing was there. All he could hear was a voice, echoing through the chambers behind him.” Steph grinned. “A woman’s voice. And she said to Elamon…” She adopted a high-pitched tone. “You will NEVER leave this place alive!!”
Kelly and Melissa both gasped as Alex walked up behind them, catching Steph’s eyes, and making a ‘cut it out’ motion with the tips of her fingers across her neck.
“And then…” Steph paused dramatically. “It was time for bed.”
“Noooo!!” Kelly yelled desperately as Melissa groaned. “Who was it?!”
“You’ll have to find out later.” Steph got off the couch. “Come on, get under the blankets. It’s time to go to sleep.”
Dad: Sweets, I’m watching the news about a blizzard going through your area. Are you okay?
Dad: Stephanie, please answer. I’m getting worried.
Steph: NEVER Stephanie.
Dad: There you are! What happened?!
Steph: Jeez, Dad, relax. We lost power and cell service. They just got them turned back on.
Steph: Why do I have thirty missed calls from you?
Dad: Because CNN said the worst blizzard to hit northern Colorado in ten years just blew through Haven Springs, and you weren’t answering my texts!
Steph: … and you didn’t consider that the blizzard may have been the reason for that?
Dad: I’m not stupid, Sweets. I was still worried. People froze to death in Denver and Boulder.
Steph: Okay, that really sucks. But it didn’t happen here. Alex’s apartment has a fireplace, and we actually wound up taking in a few people.
Dad: Wow. That was great of you guys.
Steph: Small town. Gotta look after each other and whatnot.
Dad: So you and Alex are okay? You weren’t in any danger?
Steph: Of course not!
Steph: Yes I was. My dumb ass walked two miles in the snow and almost caught hypothnlka;fm
Dad: You what?!
Steph: Ignore that. Alex tried to steal my phone. She exaggerates a lot.
Dad: Uh huh.