Winter's Sting

"Damn, it's cold in here!"

Trevor shivers in his frigid car, rubbing his body through his light leather jacket, trying to get himself warm. Without his parka, the twenty-five year-old is getting cold fast without heat. The dashboard heater is whining, sputtering out precious warm air – barely. He curses himself for not getting it fixed when he could have, like yesterday, when there weren't several feet of snow on the ground, and his car wasn't stuck in a ditch out in the middle of the Nebraska countryside in a blizzard.

Thankfully, he had brought his cell phone, and used the last minutes of battery life to call the police about his predicament. They said they were very busy with other callers, but told him they would send someone as soon as possible. That someone is Officer Belinda Treston. The dark-blond 34-year-old is walking into the county sheriff's station, hoping she could just sign out and head home. She takes off her cap and unzips her coat in the warmth of the room. Belinda, Linda to her friends, has just been out to a domestic disturbance, called in by a neighbor who was concerned about yelling coming from a couples' house. It was just a petty argument between husband and wife concerning whether the dog could go out in the storm. Seeing as there was a blizzard roaring outside, Linda told them to keep the dog inside, and left them, hearing the woman say, "See? I told ya, we should keep him inside!" and the husband shouting back a counterargument.

"Linda, how are you doing?"

Mark, the receptionist at the station, has the phone to his ear, with the mouthpiece under his chin. He looks very comfortable behind the desk, in his uniform, almost relaxed – almost, if it isn't for the phone ringing off the hook every other minute. So far, since this blizzard had started early in the afternoon, they've had a constant stream of people needing help, some major problems, but mostly a lot of minor ones... like domestic disturbances.

Linda gives Mark a very unamused look and lets out a deep sigh. She looks down with great exhaustion at the scattered notes of call-ins, from people in various states of distress that are on the raised counter of Mark's desk.

"We got another call in, a stranded motorist out on Route 12. Jim, uh. . ."

Linda looks up, giving him an intense glare.

Mark swallows, blinks his eyes, and speaks again. "Jim wants you to go out there to help the guy..."

Linda's eyes roll and she turns around, exerting a grunt of frustration. She turns back to look at the startled officer.

"Why Me?! Where is Jim? Is he on the phone? Let me talk to him."

"Yes, this is him, but you can't talk to him right now."

"Why not?!"

"He's not there."

Linda gives him a confused and angry look.

"He's out with some farmer on County Road 59. He's helping to round up some pigs. I am waiting for him to tell me when he'll be done."

Linda's look became that of stifled laughter, but not amused at all.

"'...round some pigs up?!' What in the . . ." She throws her head back in disgust. "Look... I've been on duty since 7 a.m. 7 a.m. As in in the morning. I've had lunch. I was supposed to go home after that, but Jim thought I should stay around to make sure everything was batten down around town for the storm. So I stayed," Linda steps closer to the desk, giving Mark a real scare. "I haven't had a break since one, and now Jim wants me to go out to help some hick caught out in this weather, just because the guy is too stupid to realize he shouldn't have been out there?!"

Mark continues, with a look of fright on his face. "Y-you're the only one-um free. M-meg is out directing traffic on Main Street, Dave is out on a call to an accident near Glenwood Penitentiary, and Scott is reporting to various accidents on the freeway, along with most of the local state patrol."

At this point, Linda is pacing back in forth in front of the pleading officer, hands on hips, waiting for a real good reason to go out and help this guy. Usually, she would be happy to help people in trouble, but she's had a rough day already; almost totaled from exhaustion, and is sick of the cold. As soon as she can, she plans to move to a locale that doesn't involve shoveling any of that white stuff.

"Look, I know you're tired and mad, but this guy needs help," Mark continues, more determined, "He says he is freezing and his car's running out of gas. Plus, the engine's in bad shape and he can barely get any heat out of it. In another hour, he going to lose it and you know it would be suicide to try to walk to any shelter in this weather."

Mark suddenly hears something on the line and begins listening. Linda continues to pace around the room. Linda could hear parts of Mark's conversation, and listens in occasionally, hoping that Jim would be done soon and he could take care of the motorist.

"So you've got most of the pigs inside, and the farmer says there should be more, okay... okay... going to go out to look with the tractor, yeah... yeah, she's here..." Mark looks up to Linda.

Linda's attention snaps to the desk, and she walks over to try to talk to Jim, to try to convince him to let her go home.

"She's none too happy, and she's really reluctant to go out there... yeah, yeah, I'll tell her." Mark brought the phone down again, covering the mouthpiece. "He says that you have to go out there, or the guy will die before morning. He asks if you want that to happen."

Linda slowly lowers her head down to her arm on the counter. Jim has always been able to convince her to do the right thing, ever since the first day they worked together. It is infuriating – and it works every time.

"Okay!" Linda says, muffled with her head down. "Okayyyyy!" she lifts her head up, resigning to her better judgment. "I hate it when he does that . . ." she mutters under her breath.

Mark smiles and tells Jim she'll go. After few more 'okays' and 'byes', he hangs the phone up, with relief that the call is over.

"Tell me what is so damn important about getting some pigs gathered up!? Does that really keep him out that long?" Linda asks as she zips up her coat and puts on her hat to get prepared for the weather outside.

"Linda you know that Farmer Milner heavily relies on swine for his business needs." Mark told her in a matter-of-fact way. "And his property being as big as it is, both Milner and Jim are kept far out on his land."

"Well, if I knew it is Milner, I wouldn't have asked," she says with a crooked smile as she turns away from the desk, but then she notices something. One of the notes on the desk hasn't any officer name on it. Linda knows Mark always puts the name of the person or person's who go out on calls on the notes, to sort out who is doing what. The note, separated from the rest, is a report about a missing person, Jamie Malley, who went out for a jog at noon, and hasn't returned.

"Hey, Mark, what's with this Malley missing person call? Why isn't anybody on that?"

"Well, we don't have anybody to spare to look for someone that only a roommate can report is missing. Jim decided she may just be stranded someplace safe, and hasn't called in."

"Sure, Jim – 'Great Sheriff Morifson' – can go rally up some pigs," Linda says as she heads toward the door,"but doesn't have time to find a girl that may or may not be missing.

Mark just gives her a shrug as she opens the door, and a great gust of wind blows in whole a lot of snow. "He probably wants me to find her too!" Linda shouts over the howling wind as she leaves, and the door slams shut.

Trevor holds himself tight to conserve his body heat, rubbing to get his muscles warm. It has been 30 minutes since he had called the police, and there hasn't been any sign of anyone. Along with the shivering, he is rocking back and forth in his seat to get his blood moving, swinging his legs a little to get them warm as well. They feel... odd, as if they were asleep. Trevor attempts to move his feet about his ankles, but they won't budge. A confused and worried look sweeps over the young man's face, and he lifts up his pant leg to inspect his limb. His leg feels cold to the touch, but also numb. Like there is no circulation. Shocked, he reaches over to his other leg and feels the same. Trevor is getting really worried now. Having grown up in Nebraska, he is familiar with the effects cold weather has on the body, but he's never has it this bad. One word enters into his mind, and it frightens him: frostbite. If he is right, and can't get his body warm soon, his legs would be in serious trouble.

All this for a lousy visit to a friend he hasn't seen in 5 years. When Eric called him last night out of the blue, he says he is eager to meet Trevor after not seeing him since high school. Eric has just moved back to Nebraska from Chicago from his tech job debugging computers. He thought about taking up the family business of farming, but would probably concentrate more on crops than the livestock that his father has spent his life on, like his father before him. Working with pigs and such isn't for Eric.

Trevor had had some good times with Eric in high school. But now those times were in the past. Trevor works on his father's farm; he also has a job in town – he is saving up money to go to college. He isn't sure what he'll study. Maybe meteorology, so he knows when not to go out, like in the middle of a blizzard.

And this blizzard could cost him dearly. He knew he should have stayed home, but Eric is eager to see his old friend, and it is a short 2 mile drive to his father's farm. So Trevor decided to brave the developing storm and head out. The road has a layer of snow on it, but nothing Trevor thought he couldn't handle. But a thin coating of ice on a snow covered, wind-swept curve took the traction off the tires, and the car slipped from road. Trevor steered the wheel back and forth to get the automobile under control, but it was no use. The snow in the shoulder slowed him down a bit, but it isn't enough to keep him from going down into the ditch, at an angle, then skidding sideways to a halt. Trevor has kept his hands on the wheel to control the car the best he could going into the crash. The blizzard surrounded his car with snow in short time.

After realizing where he has ended up, he tried to get the car going, but it is too far into the snow to move. He figured he could get the car out if he just cleared the snow away from around the tires, as his father has taught him to do in case Trevor has to get the car out of the driveway at home after a snowstorm. But this is no driveway his car is in. Once Trevor has opened the door to his car, the stinging wind met him with a cold hard slap. He trudged through the snow, barely seeing where he is going, cleared away the tires with his feet, using his hands sparingly to keep them warm. He thought his shoes and pants could protect his lower extremities enough until he got back into the car, but it isn't that simple. The drifts of snow were uneven, with snow hard and compacted in some places, and soft to the ground in others. He fell more than once as he tried to get around the car to clear all the wheels.

The car moved slightly after the clearing, but not even close to get out. Trevor tried to clear the tires twice more – even used his floor mats for traction for the last attempt – but it was useless. The right side of the car was too deep into the snowdrift to even budge.

Since he had his leather jacket with him, that had his cell phone, he quickly deciding quickly who he should call. He figured the police would be the best bet, with his parents out of town, and unsure if anyone else, even Eric, would be close enough to the phone to pick up. Trevor talked quickly to the dispatcher, telling him his location as close as he could figure it, and that he is stuck. Of course this was before he discovered that his legs were frozen by the bitter cold of the blizzard. If someone, anyone, doesn't come soon, Trevor knew that he'd be in real trouble

"Hey, Mark, give me the guy's location again..." Linda talks into her car's in-dash mike to get the directions from the weary dispatcher.

"He says... " Mark's voice crackles on the radio, "about a mile east on Route 12 from the Brights' house." The voice ends abruptly, almost cutoff. The blizzard is wreaking havoc on the radio, and Mark's directions are garbled, with quite a bit of static. If the link is terminated, Linda is going to have a tough time finding this guy.

She is already having a terrible time driving. She is barely going 20 miles an hour. Visibility is down to a couple hundred feet, and the only other lights beside the police car's are from lights on the tall power poles on the left side of the road, spaced far apart along the ditch. Their light is limited to a few yards of the poles. Linda honestly doesn't think she could find this kid, not until the storm is over.

"I think I saw the Bright's house about a mile back, but it's mostly dark – I'm not even sure if it was them," Linda told Mark over the radio. "I'm up to three-quarters of a mile here. I'll keep going."

Linda wants to get the directions right, even though she had radioed Mark just after leaving the police station's parking lot. She doesn't know how long she'll be in communications range, and has been keeping a constant conversation going with the dispatcher since she left. Linda had made sure she had everything she needed for a rescue in the police car before she left, even an extra pair of clothes, just in case. She had a full tank of gas, two flashlights, a blanket, and some snacks and water, in the event that even her car would get stuck. All this stuff had been in the car since early this afternoon, when she had gotten ready for the blizzard.

"Look, I'm at one mile and I don't see him. Maybe I should go on farther..."

"Wait, wait a sec-" he is cutoff by the static, but comes back after a moment. "He, he says that his car had slipped – the road on a cur–"

"On a what?"

"ON A CURVE!" Mark yells over the radio, as if it's immune to static.

Linda looks ahead. At the very limit of her visibility, she sees the road curving to the left. She slows the car down to a crawl to survey the scene. Nothing. No sign of any car.

"I'm at the curve, but I still don't see him." The radio crackles in response, as Linda considers her options. It'd be best to get out and make a quick examination of the scene. Perhaps she'd see something that she wouldn't from the car.

"I'm going to get out and look around. Hopefully, I'll be able to see the guy's car."

"Alrigh-. Be car—ul."

Linda opens the door and braces herself for the powerful wind. There isn't much of any force on it, but as soon as she sticks her head out, the wind beat at her face like a thousand needles pelting her skin. This winter's sting is harsh, but not constant, as the officer scans out on the road, then the ditch. She held her hand up as if to block a glare from the sun, but this is against the snow.

As Linda looks for any evidence of a vehicle, she begins to lose hope as she goes over the same view over and over again. But then she realizes she noticed something unnatural at the very right edge of her field of view. It is just inside of her headlight's illumination. She caught a glare that caused a vertical line, one that she had mistook for a snow pile previously.

Linda activates the searchlight to confirm what she has spotted. What she sees is greatly gratifying. There is the car angled into the snow and rising up on the left. She gets out from behind the door and makes her way to the shoulder. The snow is thick on the road, deepening into a mounting pile, which plunges down into the ditch, then levels off. But evidence of the car's entry is still there, as Linda walks along a crude path.

Since she is walking into the wind, Linda is barely able to see, but still can make out that the driver's side is not nearly covered, as the snow doesn't have a chance to pile on the leeward side. But as she trudges into the ditch, the snow is still deep enough to make walking a chore. This is a situation snowshoes are made for. It is dark in the car as she gets closer, and she can't see anything resembling a person.

Trevor is shivering more and more. At least his upper body is. His legs are frightingly stiff and cold. His hope is almost gone, as it has been over half-an-hour since he has called, and he feels too alone to be anything more than very scared of his situation.

He bends his head down, thinking that taking a nap would relieve his difficulties. Maybe when he awoke, he would find himself in a nice warm hospital... surrounded by a doctor and nurse... who could help him with his — knocking...

'Wait, what the hell does that mean?' Trevor thinks to himself as his shakes his head out of his half-doze. Reality strikes him that the 'knocking' isn't in him, but next to him. The door! Someone is out there!

"Hello! Is anyone in there?" a muffled voice says from the other side. Trevor's face lights up in shear delight. He fumbles with the door handle in his excitement and opens the door. The person on the other side helps get it all the way open.

"Oh, I-I-I doesn't think anybody is coming! Oh, thank you-thank you!" He is so happy he forgets that he can't actually move his legs, and when he tries to get out, he falls onto his rescuer.

'Oh, great, now I have someone who is so out-of-it that he not only drives in a blizzard, he also can't walk!' Of course, Linda figures it is something more physical than mental.

"Are you okay? You hurt?" Linda asks, annoyed as she has to help the young man back into his seat.

"I think I have frostbite, or something, on my legs . . ." Trevor says as he waves his hand at those limbs, with a grave look washing over him.

Linda rolls her eyes. 'Great, another problem that I have to deal with.' She keys at the microphone on her lapel, "Mark, come in... Mark, I found him – Mark, can you hear me?" There is nothing but static.

"Great, probably because of the storm..." She says under her breath. Linda considers her options, avoiding eye contact with her charge.

"Is, uh, Mark, your partner . . . back in the car?" Trevor asks, hoping this isn't all there is to his rescue. He doesn't think that just the two of them could get out of here.

"No, no he isn't!" Linda replies, very annoyed at the young man bothering her while she thinks. Realizing that she is there to help him, not harm him, Linda corrects herself. With a gentler tone, she explains that Mark is back at the station, and she needs to think of how she is going to get him back to her patrol car.

"Do you think you can walk, if I support your weight?" Linda asks, looking Trevor in the eyes this time. "If I can get you out of here that is?" she says, looking at the seat and door frame of the car.

"I-I can try."

"Good enough for me. Come on," she says with a small, brief smile.

Linda helps Trevor get his legs out, with a minimal of difficulty and pain. They both brace themselves as Linda pulls Trevor up and out of the car to an uneasy standing position, very close together. The two of them shift to be side by side, and then make their way back through the path of the accident, slowly and steadily. It is easier this way - even with Trevor hanging onto her - since she has her footprints to walk in, and no blinding snow in her face - getting them out of the ditch. The young man does what he can, stepping as best as his legs allow. Unfortunately, they are almost totally unresponsive, and he is mostly dragged over and through the snow until they reach the road. Linda can't reach the door handle, but Trevor anticipates the need to open it, and gets his hand on it just as they reach the patrol car.

Linda has just seated the young fellow, thinking that this hasn't turned out as badly as she thought it would, when a wind gust strikes her from behind, hitting her back with such ferocity that she is almost struck against the car. The wind rolls over her body, but as soon as it reaches her neck, it works its way against the collar of her coat, and with startling force, sheds her woolen hat from her head. Her skin exposed, she winces as the wind dies down to its former glory.

"Damn!" Linda cries out into the wind, as she realizes what has happened. She spots her cap as it bounds across the road into the ditch, ending up near the base of one of the light poles. "Dammit!"

Trevor is trying to get himself comfortable in the passenger seat. With his legs inoperable, it is difficult. He doesn't realize what happened to his rescuer, as the blizzard's brief uproar muted any sound that could be heard, and he is trying shield himself against the wind and snow coming into the car by way of the open door.

Linda closes the door, making sure her passenger is safely inside. She makes her way around the car and gets in.

"Hey, where does your hat go?"

She looks at the kid with disgust, but he doesn't notice. Picking up the mike, Linda starts reporting her situation, the good and the bad.

"Mark, can you hear me? Mark, I found the kid, he's—"

Linda turns to her charge and asks, "What's your name, kid?"

"Trevor, my-my name is Trevor," the young man says as he rubs his legs, trying to get some feeling back into his appendages. Linda notices his discomfort, and reaches into the back seat and grabs a blanket. She offers it Trevor and tells him of the other clothing she has.

"There's an extra pair of pants, a shirt, coat, and other... attire back there..."

Trevor looks shocked at the idea of changing in front of a woman. "'I-I don't think I need to—uh, change here. I'm fine."

Linda rolls her eyes. She thinks it is ridiculous that he is being so embarrassed at the thought of simply changing pants. It is a serious situation, and he needs to get himself out of danger and into a warm pair of jeans to help his legs. But the officer knows she has to stay calm for his sake.

"Look, I won't be watching you, ki– Trevor." She thinks of an excuse to get out of the car to give him some privacy. "I-I am going to go get my hat, so you can be alone to change." Linda points out the window to her cap.

Trevor begins looking more comfortable with the idea, and then the radio crackles and a voice comes through: "Linda, Lind-, -re -ou ther-? -ou say you -ound -im, uh, Trev- Brights? Is he -ay? Over"

"Yeah, I found him, but he's not exactly great..." She glances over to him, eyeing his legs – noticing the awkward position they are in. Linda figures he can't tell where they are. "He can't feel his legs, it's probably, um, frostbite... and, well," her voice gets much quieter, "...I lost my cap."

"You los- -our what? Over."

"I LOST MY CAP!" She yells out her frustration. Linda doesn't want to admit she screwed up, least of all to Mark. Calmly she restates her problem, "I lost my cap. I need to go out and get it." She says, stifling her anger. "When I do, we'll be heading back to the station... over."

Linda swears she can hear laughter over the radio, although the mike button has to be pressed to hear that. She figures that Mark is holding it down, just to bug her. She glances over to Trevor, seeing he is also in a fit of giggles. At least it is distracting him from his legs, Linda thinks.

She heaves the door open again, but the wind still isn't strong. Pulling her collar up to brace herself against the elements, Linda peers over to where she last saw her cap. She makes her way through the blinding snow, reaching the edge of the road. Seeing a patch of color in the light of the pole, Linda trudges her way through the nearly knee deep snow, then crawls to where she can grab it. Giving a sigh of relief, she pulls the hat over her head, securing it into place. Turning around, Linda thinks that this venture out into the storm hasn't actually been so bad after all, when she spots another patch of color. The female officer stretches out her hand to uncover what she figures is just a piece of trash sticking out of the snow. What she finds is long and slender, much like a tree branch, but smoother. Linda is mystified at the color of, what looks to be blue, of a... pant leg.

Linda pulls back in horror, and then reaches back quickly, looking closer, as the blizzard makes it almost impossible to see, even in the light. She wipes away frantically at the snow, discovering another 'smooth tree branch.' The rest of a body reveals itself quickly. It is facing down in the snow; a young lady, not more than mid-twenties. It looks like she was executed and left where she fell. Linda is not used to seeing dead bodies. Her reaction of panicky retreat is fast, but then she stops. She begins to think about what has happened here, as she remembers back to her argument with Mark back at the station. She looks around cautiously, before realizing whoever could have done this wouldn't be visible in the dark of the storm, even if he is still here.

Scrambling out of the ditch, she makes her way back to the car. Once inside, she considers her options. Linda notices Trevor has changed his pants and covered his legs with the blanket. He looks at Linda with concern. Trevor notices she has the residual look of panic on her face.

"What, what is it? What's the problem?"

She ignores his questions, and quickly gets on the mike, but she doesn't want to reveal anything in front of him. She opens the door, and stands outside with it open so she can mask her voice.

"Mark, can you read me? Mark, I've got another problem here, I need to talk to you..."

"Yea-, - hear -ou Lin-a"

"I think I found Jamie Malley."

A sudden movement from her left gives her little warning as a body comes at her, grabbing her around the waist. He hurls her in a tight circle, but the force of the attack prevents the man from keeping a hold on her. Linda's mind races as she is blinded by the snow, and disorientated by the struggle. Figuring that this is the same person who is responsible for the body of Jamie in the ditch, she knows she has to get him away from Trevor, who could easily be his next victim. She runs away from the car, but due to her disorientation from the spinning grab, the officer actually runs into the ditch, towards where she found her cap. Linda realizes where she is going when she reaches the light pole again. As her foe catches up with her, he tackles her with great force. They roll down into the steep grade of the ditch past the pole; spinning together in a tight grapple, and thud at the bottom; Linda nearly gets the wind knocked out of her. The man is silent in his assault, concentrating on choking her. She begins to feel the effect of the asphyxiation, so she does what she can to get free. With her legs free, she has a quick option. A swift and decisive knee to his groin causes an immediate reaction. Releasing his grip right away, Linda scrambles away quickly. As she crawls up out of the ditch, she feels something missing from her hip. She can't stop, and runs to the car after she is out. Sliding in, Linda encounters a bewildered Trevor, and quickly gets the car under way. The door won't close, so she yanks and slams it shut. Linda sees that the cord of the mike is stretched towards the door, and figures she just cut it off at the microphone. She holds in a silent epithet.

"What the hell was that?! Who was that?!" Trevor cries out in horror at the sight he has just witnessed – the little he could see.

Linda disregards his questions with a hand wave. There isn't time to think of his inquiries, let alone answer them. She quickly decides against turning the car around, as meeting that man on the return trip would not be smart. Running on adrenaline and panic, Linda cannot think but of the threat of that maniac; dreadful thoughts ran in her head. Thoughts like he could come after them – or he's following them now. She's driving faster – she can't let herself slow down.

Linda begins to focus again on her surroundings. She realizes what is missing from her hip from the fight. Feeling for it along her belt, it's gone: her gun. The dread comes back. The man could attack from a distance. Even in this blizzard a car can be a target. Linda has to find a place with people, fast – but she doesn't know where she is in this storm. She knows how to find out though.

"Where were you going out here? Do you know someone near here?"

"I-I was going to a friend's place. He's down the road here about a mile, I'm sure..." Trevor gestures ahead of them.

Linda continues driving, faster than she should. Then she spots a light a quarter mile ahead. Her relief is great, but as she gets closer, she realizes she is still going too fast. Linda tries the brakes, but as she feared, the car only skids. She can't afford to pass the driveway. Linda barely sees the light, which is on a garage at the end of a driveway leading off the road. She starts to slow down the best she can: applying the brakes steadily and no acceleration.

The car responds by skidding and sliding back and forth, eventually settling into an angled course. Linda could feel the car decelerating. Unfortunately, they were heading at an angle off the road, toward the driveway. It takes all of Linda's focus to control the car as best she can.

"Hey, you're going off... your skidding off the road...!" Trevor yells. The car is bearing right, into the ditch, near a mailbox with a shovel leaning on it.

The landing into the hole is hard. The car tilts severely downward. The impact slams the occupants forward. Linda braces herself, but she had neglected her seat belt when getting in. Her head bangs against the steering wheel, bringing about unconsciousness slowly. Linda passes out as she hears the car horn blare with her head pressing against the wheel. Trevor feels the impact against his own seat belt, causing him to slam forward also, but the impact snaps his head back with a rebound, and he bangs it on the pillar of the car. This blow causes immediately unconsciousness as well.

Several minutes later pain brings Linda around; she gathers herself quickly, knowing they have to climb out and trudge to the house. She shakes Trevor awake, and he rouses slowly.

"Come on...come on, Trevor... We've got to get out," she says slowly and wearily.

The young man opens his eyes, blinking a few times. "Wha-why, did you do that? Running us into the ditch!" He laughs in a fit of anger, rubbing his sore head. "I've had enough of that tonight!"

"I am sorry." She apologizes sincerely, but quickly. "I controlled the car the best I could; then I lost steering and traction. Now we have to go, so let me help you out."

The two are able to get out through the driver's side, as the passenger door is jammed against the ditch. Linda gently pulls him out, and then they walk feebly out and onto the driveway. Trevor wraps his arm around her shoulder as she supports him around his chest and by his hand.

The going is slow, but steady, as Trevor is gaining feeling in his left leg, while his right can just about support his weight. The roar of the blizzard is still harsh, but infrequent. Trevor is starting to think they will be safe. As he thinks it, he hears an awful loud bang immediately behind them. There is a sudden stop to Linda's steady rhythm of walking with Trevor. She lurches silently, and he feels her start to collapse. His legs bend as hers do and she falls limply into the snow, face first. Trevor stays on his knees, then supports himself on his arm to check her. She is unconscious. Trevor hears something behind him, and turns, with some pain, to see what it is.

He sees a man emerge from the blinding snow, with a resolute look on his face, and a gun in his hand. Trevor could see smoke rising from the weapon, and fears that it was just used on Linda.

The man stands over Trevor, looking him over, in quiet examination. "I am thinking you are a victim of frostbite?" He speaks in a slow, dark monotone, deliberately detached in his observation.

Trevor stares in horror at the man; he has black hair, piercing gray eyes, no hat, but in a dark green parka with the label of Glenwood Penitentiary. In his panic, Trevor heaves himself up on his legs, and hobbles a few yards on right leg before losing his balance and collapsing from exhaustion.

The prisoner slowly follows him – purposely slow.

"I actually do not wish to hurt you, but since you have seen me, I do not consider it safe for me if you are alive. All I want... is my freedom – even though, I suppose, I do not and cannot deserve that luxury.

Trevor takes a breath kneeling in the snow, starts again, to then wobble and skip to the garage, away from the man who appears to hold his fate. The stricken young man is frightened out his wits; he has never imagined he could feel so helpless and alone like this, being stalked by a man who could take him at any moment. He stumbles and lands in the snow.

"That lonely lady jogger, I believe, was my first victim in seven years." The man states the fact with quiet morose, eyeing the ground between them carefully as he approaches. "She gave me little choice, coming upon me quickly – I panicked... then she was dead." He stops, closes his eyes, then walks on. "That officer did fight me more. I attacked her at the most opportune time. After she found that body, I knew she had to be disposed of." Trevor sees on his face a look that pleads forgiveness.

The raven-haired prisoner looks down, stops, then calmly, if reluctantly, continues. He is not content with death, but it is the only solution he knows.

Trevor makes another dash to away the man, ending again in the snow. He can feel his legs improving, as he is hobbling farther for each attempt. They are far from the road now, and Trevor can see the light on the garage clearer.

"I...I am very...truly sorry I have to do this." The armed man lifts the gun up slowly. The two are almost to the garage – the potential safety of a lighted structure.

The prisoner stalks closer to the young man as Trevor stops again, exhausted by his efforts, laying down on the snow; too tired and scared to look up at him again. Drawing close to aim precisely, the gun leveling at the teenager, the man suddenly stops; he hears something. He perks up, his focus moving from Trevor. Turning around carefully, he looks behind him, searching. Trevor looks up after long moments of silence. He witnesses a sudden twist of the man's body, as if he is struck by something. He plunges to the ground, landing feet from Trevor. Staring in disbelief at the prisoner, he looks up to see his rescuer. Out of darkness of the blizzard appears a shovel – the one that was leaning on the mailbox. Holding the weapon is Linda, battered, but still alive. She blows some stray blonde hair out of her face, as she announces to the unconscious man, "Nobody hits me with my gun!"

The look of joy on Trevor's face is tremendous, and he addresses his heroine, "Oh, my... I-I thought you'd been kill-died, that he-he... shot you!"

Linda knelt down by Trevor, dropping the shovel in the snow. "No, he just gave me a whack on the back of the head. And sheesh! It hurts!" She rubs the back of her skull as Trevor relaxes in the snow.

The ambulance loads Trevor's stretcher on board, the paramedics making sure his legs are well protected and secured, and given first aid. It drives away, and Linda watches from her crashed vehicle, sitting on the rear bumper. Her arms are crossed, an unused ice pack lying on the bumper, next to a precariously balancing cup of hot chocolate. She doesn't need any more ice on her.

The storm had tapered off quite a bit, but the activity around the driveway has increased. The farmer hadn't needed to call for the police or the ambulance, as Sheriff Morifson was already at the residence. He approaches her from the police car that holds the now awake prisoner, heading back to the jail.

"See, I knew that you should have come out here!" The well-built, brown haired man gives her a small smile as he joins her leaning on the back of the car.

"Did he thank you for saving him?" he asks, referencing the young man she had rescued.

"Yes, quite profusely, I might add." He chuckles at her embarrassment of it, as she wraps herself tight under the blanket given to her.

"You know, you could have been of some help, since you were out here!" She says indignantly.

"I'm sorry about that, but Milner's pigs had roamed way past his fences, and I was far out there, chasing and rounding them up with him," he apologizes, his older, mustachioed face showing his worry for his officer. He quietly says, "Meg and Scott found Malley's body right where you say she was; they called it in a few minutes ago. I'm... sure glad you made it out of this, almost unscathed."

Linda nods her agreement.

Adjusting his position so he leans against the trunk with one arm outstretched, Jim asks in his usual playful manner, "So... who's going to pay for the damage to your vehicle?" He asks in mock seriousness.

She just gives him a glare.