To Dad and in memory of my grandfather, with love.
“It’s snowing harder, Peter.”
Peter glanced nervously at Rob. “Think we ought to go back?” he asked, convincingly indifferent.
Robert guffawed and glared out the window. The debate had gotten old long ago.
Glancing at him again, Peter rubbed his scant beard. He scowled and let the jeep chug to a stop, cranked the wheel hard to the right, and put the vehicle in reverse.
“What now, Skipper?”
“Going back,” Peter responded grudgingly.
Five minutes passed in silence. Peter could just see the edge of Rob’s face, enough to tell that the young man’s mouth was working hard, but before the expected tongue-lashing could happen, Rob exclaimed sharply, and the jeep jerked to a stop, skidding a bit on the icy logging road as Peter slammed the brakes. “What is it?” he cried.
“Well, it’s gone now!” Rob sounded as if Peter was to blame for this as well. “It was a light or something, outside the window. Hey, it’s there again.”
Reluctantly, Peter peered into the blind darkness. There was a light, about the size of a tennis ball and hovering two yards or so away. Peter contemplated at it doubtfully and turned his worried eyes on the road ahead.
“It’s been keeping up with the jeep since last time we stopped,” Rob said fifteen minutes later.
“Just a reflection on the window,” Peter said distrustfully.
“From what?” Rob shot back. “See”, he assured, rolling down the window. “It can’t be.”
“Oh, just shut the window.”
“And…it’s still there.” Rob mused.
At Peter’s indulgent invitation to climb out and investigate, Rob looked stonily at Peter. “Your family goes to church, don’t they?”
“Why do you care?”
“Why don’t you ever go?” Rob countered.
“I’m not into that sort of…being religious and drinking the wine…” He shrugged let out a deep breath. “I just figured that any God who lets the world get into as much of a mess as it’s in now isn’t worth my time.” He glanced over at Rob to gage his response. “Take…oh, wars, or sickness. If He can’t keep that from happening, or doesn’t have interest in keeping that from happening, than I don’t have time for Him.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never cared for that sort of thing myself, but sometimes it seems so…easy.”
“Right, you just have to believe the stuff, and that’s easy,” Peter scoffed. “You’ve never talked like this before,” he said critically. “Why now?”
Rob looked thoughtful, but said nothing.
They drove for twenty minutes more and never came to the main road, Rob in a brown study over the light outside the window and Peter growing steadily more uneasy.
“We must have just gotten off the road somehow. Could we follow the tracks back?”
Peter was surprised that Rob had said “we” and not “you”. But the tracks behind them were already blown over. The men stared at the vanished trail and one of them even ventured a prayer under his breath. Peter didn’t notice Rob’s whispered words, and started driving in the direction from which he assumed they had come, his knuckles white. Rob pointed out—to Peter’s frustration and alarm—that the light was now on Peter’s side of the jeep. “It’s not a reflection,” Rob added.
“Then what is it?” Peter snapped.
“A snow angel,” Rob said, then laughed.
“Rob, just stop!” Peter demanded, nearly distracted.
Without warning and for no apparent reason, the jeep died. Nothing was said for what seemed a long time, but the first word spoken sparked an argument that lasted for a quarter of an hour. It ended abruptly with Rob’s observation that the light was now gone. Exasperated and disgusted, Peter snatched his flashlight from the back seat, fought the door open, and stumbled out into the blizzard.
“What are you doing, Crazy?” Rob shouted.
“Do you care?” Peter spat back, his voice sped away in the howling wind.
“Heck, I’m not staying here,” Rob said heatedly.
In vicious silence, the boys wandered aimlessly, the small beam from the flashlight pounded out by the wind.
Unexpectedly Rob stopped. They were on the lee side of a small cliff and the snow was gentler, sifting through a thick covering of trees and trickling eerily down the face of the rock. “We’re being stupid, Peter,” he said earnestly.
Peter’s anger flared, but disappeared when he saw Rob’s foot slip on the icy road. Peter tried to cry a warning but he wasn’t quick enough. His gloved hand only brushed Rob’s sleeve as Rob tumbled headlong into a crevice of rock. Recovering his self possession, Peter sprang after him, coming to the bottom next to his friend, who lay senseless in the snow. “Rob!” Peter cried, “Rob!” From the faint beam of light Peter could see a stream of blood running down Rob’s forehead. A feeling of dread settled in his stomach and he shook the young man roughly to rouse him, but when he got no response, he mustered his strength and lifted him bodily.
He was never sure how he managed to get back to the jeep, for Rob was a big man, at least as big as Peter was, and the cold was almost disabling.
Once inside, Peter tried turning the inside lights on. He bit back a curse but at the fifth or sixth attempt, they flickered on. He nearly breathed a prayer out of true gratefulness but even then he muttered, “Foolishness.”
The gash on Rob’s forehead wasn’t as deep as Peter had feared, but when half an hour later he still hadn’t come to, Peter tucked as many blankets as they had around Rob and ventured into the cold once more.
He wandered for thirty minutes, trying to find a fence line to follow. When he stopped to get his bearings, he realized with shock that he had no idea where he—or the jeep—was. Then the unthinkable happened. The batteries in his flashlight gave out.
Appalled beyond belief, Peter hurled his flashlight from him with a choked cry, fell to his knees, and with another shout he pounded his fist onto the frozen ground. The pain brought him back to reality, and he sat there panting, his brain revolting at the conviction of what his fate could be.
Desperately he began walking, stumbling, falling and tripping and getting up again, determined to survive. He was not going to die. Over and over, he mumbled that to himself, slowly realizing that it had become not a statement but a prayer. Three hours he wandered, simply trying to keep warm, quite convinced that he couldn’t survive until morning, but determined that cold was never the way he’d go. The snow stung his face and he felt ice on his eyelashes. The muffler covering his mouth was stiff with frost and his feet felt like lead.
Weary and exhausted and on the verge of despair, he saw twin lights in the distance, moving slowly in circles. He knew immediately what it was: the jeep was working again and Rob was driving it, hoping Peter could see to get back! But when he topped the ridge, the jeep was there just as he’d left it.
Peter staggered to the jeep and tumbled inside. Rob still was unconscious. Peter shook him gently, and he moaned, looking blearily at Peter. “Where were you?” he murmured. “I woke up and you were gone…Passed out again…” He swallowed with a little difficulty. “My head hurts…” His voice trailed off.
The next morning, the sun came up warm and golden. Peter clambered out of the jeep and checked the engine, his fingers clumsy and slow. There was nothing wrong with it that he could see.
Hopelessly, he got back in the jeep. At the first attempt, the engine turned over and engaged.
Other than faint tracks in sheltered places, their trail was blown over, and before they reached the main road they came upon something that shook them both considerably.
Faint tracks could be seen where a mere two feet of ground was all that guarded the east side of the road from a drop off of at least thirty feet. “I drove over this last night?” Peter’s mouth was agape with a sort of horror.
“Do you believe in angels?” Rob said slowly.
“Why?” Peter demanded.
“Well,” Rob began, “You didn’t know what that light was, but maybe I do. I remember if following us right about here, actually.”
Author’s note: My late grandfather passed on a story of his younger days, and a blizzard he drove through years ago with some friends of his. Hovering outside their window at an unknown distance was a light. They decided it wasn’t a reflection, and since it followed them for miles they knew it couldn’t be a farm light. They rolled down their window, and did probably everything short of getting out to investigate. My grandfather, who was a WWII veteran, a rancher, and a small-town veterinarian, was the last person on earth who would have made up a story like that—He was honest and forthright, and he went to his grave not knowing what that light outside his window had been.