Authors: Stacey Espino
The prairie backdrop of
’s endless fields was the only thing of beauty around the parking lot of The Bucking Bronco Motel. He had been the only tenant for days. The motel relied on season traffic heading to local rodeos and the Calgary Stampede in the next province over.
was home, not just the epicenter of the Canadian rodeo circuit.
Wyatt opened the driver’s side door which gave a groan of aging metal and pulled out his heavily padded plaid jacket. The weather report warned of a severe storm system close to home. Being a cattle farmer living in the
had to be the place they sent men when hell was full. But he was a Canadian cowboy, not quick to complain or bow out from the hard labor needed to keep things running on a working ranch. It was time to head home.
* * * *
Samantha had been driving for way too many hours. She had a new respect for full-time truckers. Her eyes felt as heavy as lead, burning when she tried to hold them open for more than a few seconds. She barely noticed the sign welcoming her into
. Only one more province until she reached the far west and the world-renowned
. The weather warnings had been valid. The farther she drove, the more intense the storm system became. The whiteouts were literally blinding traveling through prairie country. She drove at a snail’s pace, in fear of hitting another vehicle that could have been a foot in front of her. Although she hadn’t noted any other cars for over an hour, her nerves were still on edge.
She’d need to hit a gas station soon. The red warning light on her control panel captured her attention every time she shifted her eyes from the white canvas beyond the windshield.
she muttered. “What was I thinking?” Samantha wished she had of taken the advice from the waitress at her pit stop yesterday. Everything she’d warned about had come to pass.
Samantha needed to sleep, needed gas, and needed a saving grace in the worst way. She finally decided her best bet would be to pull over to the side of the road and wait out the worst of it. The severity of the storm couldn’t continue like this all night. It would have to die down sooner or later, hopefully sooner. Her tires sank into the thick snow of the soft shoulder as she steered the car to the right. She flicked on her hazard lights and prayed to God that a passing car wouldn’t rear-end her.
Minutes turned into hours. The storm didn’t cease, but continued to grow in strength and severity. She was sure the snow was high enough to block her from opening the car doors if she dared to try. Half an hour earlier, she had run out of gas and had no source of heat. Being used to city life, she wasn’t even sure if cops patrolled these highways. Would anyone even spot her?
Exhaustion began to pull at her, tempting her to fall asleep and forget her worries. She imagined this was God’s mercy, allowing her to die in her sleep rather than in a state of panic. Samantha didn’t fight the urge to close her eyes and drift into unconsciousness.
* * * *
!” Wyatt nearly fishtailed off the highway. The plows wouldn’t dare venture out in a storm like this, so he had to rely on his four-wheel drive. Everything was white. He was completely snow blind.
The storm pelted his truck, and the thick snow grabbed at his tires. Good thing he was on his way home to help Val and Cord. Tending the animals in this shit weather was at least a three-man job. They’d have to hook the snowplow up to one of the pickup trucks and clear a way just to get to the fucking barn. Winter usually showed signs of receding this late in March, not this kind of strength. Farmers should be prepping their fields, not holed up in their ranches. He’d blame the old adage,
in like a lamb, out like a lion
, but winter in
always came in strong and fought when it was time to leave.
He’d be home in less than an hour, maybe longer if he continued to navigate at a snail’s pace. Wyatt’s mind wandered. He should have called home. He’d been gone for nearly a year with no word and no way to contact him. If anything bad had happened to either of his little brothers, it would just be another slash on his cold heart. Not so cold that guilt didn’t eat him up every day for not being there when his father had needed him. Then his mother. He supposed he was destined to let down everyone he loved in his life.
It was too late to make amends now. He needed to stop running from the past, man up, and deal with the here and now. It was all too easy to let his feelings of guilt eat away at him. He knew he had to stop blaming his lifestyle and actions on events of the past. All he could do was hope his brothers were in good health and the family business was thriving. And hope to God they hadn’t disowned him. Without them, he had nothing in the world of importance. Drifting, traveling the rodeo circuit was for young men. Not thirty-five-year-old washouts. Wyatt’s body had begun to protest the physical demands he subjected it to in the ring, and his heart was no longer satisfied with fast women and long nights with his buddies. He needed more—but what?
It must have been by some miracle that he glanced out the passenger side window when he did, or he’d never have noticed the stalled vehicle. He wouldn't have guessed the large snow-covered hill to be a car, but these roads were imprinted on his brain, and there wasn’t a hint of a slope in the topography on this long stretch of prairie.
The hazard lights were faintly noticeable under the thick snow cover. Wyatt couldn’t imagine anyone being stranded in this weather. The vehicle was probably abandoned, but to ease his conscience, he had to check to be sure. He pulled his truck alongside the car, zipped up his jacket, pulled on a tuque, and took a breath before braving the unforgiving wind and sleet. With his flashlight in hand, he plodded through the storm.
As expected, the air was sharp and merciless against his exposed flesh, beating at his cheeks like a thousand pinpricks. He rounded the front of his pickup, cutting across the headlights towards the driver’s side door of the abandoned car. Wyatt had to brush away the snow just to find the metal and glass beneath. When he had a section clear, he aimed the flashlight into the interior. He hoped to find it vacant so he could be on his way and out of the elements. He could already envision a warm fire and hot chocolate like his momma used to make. But instead of an empty seat, he saw a bundle under a blanket. All he could spy were some brown curls peeking out from a thick black hat.
The person didn’t move, and it terrified him that he may be looking at a dead body. No way could a human survive that long in a stalled car. Could he have made a difference if he left The Bucking Bronco an hour earlier? Familiar guilt welled up inside him as he planned his next move. The door was snowed in, and when he tried the handle it was locked. Knocking on the glass with the flashlight didn’t awaken the lone occupant, which only confirmed his suspicion that this wouldn’t be a rescue.
Wyatt navigated the thick snow to the rear of his truck, where he dug in his utility trunk for his compact shovel. He was always well prepared. He had to be when he was on the road as much as he was. His truck always had a full tank of gas, with extra in canisters, along with everything he’d need in an emergency. He began to shovel the area outside the driver’s side door, going as fast as he could with the punishing sleet whipping his face and stealing his breath.
Once the way was clear, he still couldn’t get inside due to the locked door. He pounded his fist on the window in a futile attempt to wake the driver. There was no other choice. He had to break the window. Glass would land on the person, but their face was covered in case they were still breathing, which he doubted. He fished out his monkey wrench from his tool box, turned his head, and used his full strength against the glass. It shattered on contact, breaking into thick bits. He pulled the broken safety glass that remained out of the way and leaned into the car. The first thing he noted was the absence of a foul smell. He expected the stench of death to overpower his senses, but it didn’t.
Wyatt cautiously plucked the woolen cap off the driver’s head, releasing an array of wild curls. The driver was a woman, her eyes closed and face the most angelic thing he’d ever seen. Her skin wasn’t ashen, so he patted her cheeks with his palm. Although she was cold, she was soft and had some lingering body heat. She didn’t awaken, but he noticed her lip twitch, which was the final bit of proof that the stranger was indeed alive. He released the tense breath he held, staring at her for a few moments longer while his fears filtered out of his body. After unlocking and opening the door, he scooped up her petite body, blankets and all, and carried her close to his chest. He kicked her car door shut and managed to open the passenger side of his truck while holding her. She groaned, a faint sound, but never opened her eyes. He settled her on her side and then returned to his driver’s seat a minute later.
“It’s okay, darlin’. You’re in good hands now.” He knew she couldn’t hear him, but he felt the need to reassure the poor little thing. His brothers would know what to do, and home wasn’t far now. Val and Cord volunteered for the community fire department, so they had all sorts of medical training. Wyatt hoped all the girl needed was warmth and rest and didn’t have any lasting damage from the cold. His entire world shifted in a heartbeat—all that mattered was the girl.
* * * *
Val checked the phone lines again, but they were still down. No phone, no satellite, no electricity. Not much fun when he was holed up with his brother for God knew how long. At least they were prepared, so they wouldn’t suffer. They agreed not to use their gas-powered generators until absolutely necessary. With heat from the woodstove and fireplace, they couldn’t complain. Val couldn’t help but worry how his neighbors were faring, but it would be suicide to head out in this monstrous storm to check on them. Everyone just had to hold tight and wait it out. Val and Cord would deal with the aftermath both on their own ranch and around town when the skies cleared.
The large room was eerily quiet with only the howl of the wind against the boarded windows. “What do you think the purpose of life is?” Val asked. He couldn’t sit still, pacing the room, feeling antsier than usual. He’d spent too long trapped in the house when he was used to working and keeping busy. Quiet reflection would eat him alive if the storm didn’t die down soon.
“Where the fuck did that come from?” Cord was lying on the sofa, taking a break from polishing every bit of tack they had in the mud room. They were both bored to tears.
“It’s a straightforward question.”
“The purpose of life? The hell if I know. You work, get old, and then you die.” His brother peeked open an eye and lifted his head slightly. “You’re not getting all emotional on me, are you? I’d rather face the storm, in that case.”
Val groaned and dropped into his chair, resting his feet on the wooden coffee table. “We’re past our prime, brother. Don’t you think of things like family and children?”
They rarely talked about settling down. The mere idea of splitting up, getting married, and moving on—away from each other—was not something either of them wanted to contemplate. But as the years passed by, Val thought more and more about life and the future. Farming wasn’t as fulfilling as it had been. He wanted something to live for.
“You’re just pent-up. The storm will pass soon enough.” Cord returned to his feigned sleep, draping a forearm across his eyes.
Val couldn’t sit still. He bolted back up and looked around the darkened room, lit by firelight. “This place is a fucking shrine. Look at it!” He ran a finger over the thick dust on the mantle. Nothing had changed over the years. They dared not touch a thing, so afraid of erasing memories of the past. But life was passing them by. “We can’t keep living in the past.”
Now Cord sat up with a scowl marring his features. “Cabin fever’s setting in, bro. Go take a shower or something.”
His emotions—anger, fear, anxiety, depression—welled up inside him. He tried to rein back the floodgates, but they wanted out. “There’s nothing wrong with me, Cord. Don’t you see? We’re going nowhere. In five years, ten years, we’ll still be here. Alone. Sitting together and looking around this room that never changes.”
“So you want to redecorate?”
Val ran his hands through his hair, ready to pull it out by the roots.
* * * *
Cord knew what his brother was talking about, but he wasn’t in the mood to hash it out. He thought too much like his twin not to understand the emotions threatening to undo him. Their life was fucked up. On the outside, they were respectable ranchers working a successful cattle operation. They volunteered in the community, lent a helping hand to neighbors, and had a good reputation in town. But when the day was done, they came home to an empty house.
Fuck, he knew what he needed. Cord wanted to eat some pussy.
More than that.
He wanted a real woman, one who would love him, give him a reason to get up in the morning. Most of their neighbors were married with children. He loved playing with the kids and envied the other farmers who had kin to pass down their knowledge and memories to. There would be no need of a shrine in their house if the present outshined the past. But they’d both avoided serious relationships. Cord couldn’t explain the connection between him and Val, but it was strong, unlike anything he’d ever shared with another person. It was probably something to do with being an identical twin, but knowing why didn’t change the fact they couldn’t stand the thought of moving in different directions. With Wyatt off running the circuit, they only had each other. Even his brother wasn't enough to fill the void these days. What he needed was something intangible.