A Cold Choice
February 22, 2019
Our prompt this week for Flash Fiction Friday was all about testing your character - in a blizzard, specifically. It seemed appropriate, given the sudden winter storms that have been descending on us this year. As a writer, we can throw things like blizzards and broken limbs and winning lottery tickets at our developing characters, to see what they make of the challenge. This story came out pretty fast for me, and was fun. Just under 1000 words.
A Cold Choice
Tyler slammed the front door hard enough to rattle the porch light.
"Starve, see if I care."
He grabbed his duffel bag and headed down the steps. Enough with all his mother's rules, he was heading for the city. See how she enjoyed trying to live without his wages from the gas station.
By the time he’d walked out to the bypass, it was snowing. Big fat gentle flakes, but once the wind picked up, he pulled a sweater over his hoodie. He got a ride almost right away, from some local old lady. He’d enjoyed watching her last week as she tried to figure out how to run the self-serve pumps. Obviously too old to drive, and didn't even recognize him through her thick glasses. Unfortunately, she was turning off at Tenth Line road, so now it was too far to walk back to town.
"I'm not going back," he said. "I'm done with this hick town." He stuffed his hands into the hoodie's pockets, turned his back to the wind, and stomped his cold feet. Traffic was light today, and nobody even slowed as he stuck his thumb out. Eventually he decided to walk through the deepening snow, just to keep warm.
He almost didn't see the old pickup as it slowed ahead of him and then stopped. The man driving was maybe his mom's age, and wearing faded coveralls and a tattered sweater.
"Where you heading for, son?"
"Well, hop in before you freeze. They're calling for a blizzard. Don't you own a proper coat?"
Tyler opened the door, threw his duffle on the seat, and climbed in after it. It was toasty warm inside, so much so that he shivered.
"Here son, this will warm you up."
Tyler took a couple of sips from the thermos then handed it back. It was hot, but had a weird taste to it.
"Don't like my tea? It's a special blend, great for warding off winter chills."
Tyler just shrugged then leaned against the door frame. All this heat was making him sleepy.
"Why don't you grab a nap, son. I'm Adam by the way - and your name?"
Tyler just closed his eyes and tried to ignore Adam as he droned on. He lived in the city with his partner, used to be a teacher, they had two dogs, Tyler reminded him of a favourite student, and so on and so on.
"If you're stuck, you're welcome to stay with us. We won't mind." Adam reached over and patted him on the knee.
That woke Tyler up. "Whoa, back off dude."
He pulled his leg back and shoved his duffel against the driver. Adam swerved left, then right, then left, then they were sliding sideways. Right off the road, through the snowbank, and into a deep ravine. Halfway down they slammed into a tree, and Tyler slammed into the windshield.
When he regained consciousness, he was shivering. He peeked at his phone. Maybe an hour had passed. He touched his head carefully.
"Shit, that hurts." No blood though.
He peered across the cab to Adam. Snow was swirling in through the broken side window, covering his back, as he slumped over the wheel, blood dripping from his head. He was breathing, but the creep didn't move when Tyler poked him with a foot.
Tyler managed to shove his door open and squirm out into the snow, along with his duffel bag. He could barely see through the snowy dusk, but he knew the highway was up, so headed back up the slope through the deep snow. By the time he got to the highway he was warmer, but exhausted. He was considering whether to just sit down and rest when the flashing lights of a police car approached though the snow. Damn cops. They'll probably find something to charge him with.
"Hey kid, you okay?" It was a female cop.
"I guess so," he said. "My head really hurts though. And I feel sleepy."
Once she got him into the back of her car, she cranked up the heat, and gave him some water.
"Looks like your head took a whack. Try to stay awake until the ambulance arrives. What's your name? Are those your car tracks?"
"Tyler. Yeah, I went off the road and into the ravine." He wasn't sure he'd mention Adam. He'd looked like he was gone already. And the old guy had been a creep.
She touched his arm. "Good thing you made it up. I saw the tracks, but I wouldn't make it down there to check, anyway. I'm too close to retirement. But you're safe now, Tyler, we’ll get you get fixed up."
Once the ambulance arrived, they wanted to take him back for observation. Tyler just wanted to hitch a ride to the next town.
"Are you sure?" said the cop. "Okay, you’re eighteen, so your choice, A heck of a night to be out, though. You're lucky I was even on patrol." She reminded him of his mother before the fighting had started. She glanced at his duffle bag and wet sneakers. "Here, maybe twenty bucks will help buy a hot meal. And just to double check - you were on your own, right?"
Tyler paused. Maybe Adam had just been trying to be nice. And he did have dogs. "You know, I guess I really must have whacked my head. Didn't I say? It wasn't my car. Some guy gave me a lift, and he's still down there."
Within seconds. it seemed, the paramedics had followed Tyler’s tracks down the slope, found Adam, and hollered back he was alive, and relatively stable.
"Good thing you remembered," said the cop. "Which way are you heading? I'm done my patrol so can drop you off."
"Back to town," said Tyler. "And thanks for the cash, but my mom and I are doing okay." He handed back the twenty. "Pass it on to someone that really needs it."
I really like this one. It's amazing how far a little kindness will go. Tyler needed to leave to realize home wasn't the nightmare he had imagined it to be. Fighting Adam off inside the truck while it was moving probably wasn't the wisest idea though. It would have been necessary if Adam had refused to stop and let him out, but Tyler's quick reaction created a dangerous situation for them both. The best thing for him would be to go back home and grow up a bit more so he can go on his own the right way. I liked that he returned the money to the cop. He knew he was fortunate this time, and tried to pay it forward.
Posted by: Joyce Juzwik | February 22, 2019 at 07:28 PM
Tyler's initial reaction to the knee pat seemed like an overreaction to me. Older people often were not taught the strict consent rules that they teach in schools now and some of them have a background where casual touch seems normal. I don't get to decide what's an overreaction for someone else, of course. I could see someone reacting that way but the touch itself might not have been intended in a sinister way.
I really like how the kindness from another stranger made him rethink a bit, both about getting Adam help and going back home. Sometimes all it takes is some empathy and someone to listen to calm us down and let us see more clearly.
Posted by: Ginger | February 25, 2019 at 07:29 PM
Ginger - thanks. I meant for his response to be believable as an over-reaction, just because of that. Maybe I'll add him not being a hugger, and his mom and other 'old' folks always were. He did learn to show empathy. And Adam was okay.
Posted by: Ravens | March 05, 2019 at 12:36 PM
Joyce - thanks. I was trying to show some character development in Tyler, and glad it worked.
Posted by: Ravens | March 05, 2019 at 12:37 PM