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Vermont was a wasteland.
Trees stripped of leaves, their branches curved upwards to the sky as if pleading for salvation. But there was none to be found in the dark night sky. White, crystallized snow covered pastures, meadows, and hills. The stark nakedness of the state showed all its flaws, none of its beauty.
Welcome to hell.
Aubry Riley tightened his hands around the steering wheel. The car wound through the roads in the direction of the highway. According to the GPS system, it was seconds away. He could barely contain his excitement. The bad weather forced his private plane to land at a smaller airport, a couple hours away from Burlington. He was supposed to be at the lake house by dinner, but he’d be lucky if he got there by midnight.
Normally, he wouldn’t care how late he arrived except he told his daughter he’d be there. And at six years old, Roxie was too young to be disillusioned. With a father like him and a dead mother, the cards were already heavily stacked against her. It made him even more determined to grin and bear it for the next month.
He turned right onto the directed highway, and the road smoothed out to a straighter path. His stomach still hadn’t settled. Not once in the past fourteen years had he gotten used to traveling and had always needed to take something for his motion sickness. Since coming out of rehab almost six years ago, Aubry hadn’t touched one single drug or a sip of alcohol. He didn’t even use caffeine.
But, he’d forgotten how bad his motion sickness got . . . his throat was dry and his stomach empty. Aubry grabbed a bottle of lukewarm water and hoped it would ease his nausea. Taking the sip, he tasted the bitter tang of a lemon. It didn’t help. All he wanted to do was to crawl in a warm bed and fall asleep.
He opened the window a crack. The freezing wind whipped across his flesh. It was a welcome relief, and he inhaled clean air and fresh pine. There were pine trees of varying sizes lined along the highway like an army waiting to open fire.
Shoot me, he thought. Shoot me and put me out of my misery.
As if someone upstairs-’or if someone downstairs had heard his thoughts-’little pellets of round hail pinged against the windshield and through the open window. A couple shards of ice struck the side of his face. Closing the window, he brushed it off. Already, in the heated cavern of his car, the balls of hail melted on his fingertips.
The snow started to fall sideways, so he increased the windshield wipers’ speed. It was as if he was in a snow globe, and someone had tipped it upside down and shook all the loose flakes around. The snow was falling all around, making it hard to see beyond the white. That’s all there was-’white and more white.
Then, he saw red. A bright spot of red off to the right some ways ahead of him. From here, it could be anything. Fire. (He could only hope). A stoplight. (Unlikely). When he drove closer, he could finally make out what it was: a car.
A very beaten up car with the backseat on the driver’s side concaved inwards. Smoke blew upward from the propped open hood.
He was late. Tired. Not feeling well.
And he didn’t want to stop.
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