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WHITEOUTThe Misadventures of Sarah Davies
By Ronnie Dauber
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Ronnie Dauber
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Setup
Winters in the little town of Cambridge, North Dakota, are much like they are in my modest hometown of Bearsfield in Idaho, only they're much colder. The short streets are lined with snow banks as friendly shoppers crunch the shovelled sidewalks to visit the many small shops and delis that are adorned with big bow windows. It's a serene atmosphere copied from a story book fairy tale, and one that totally contradicts the horrifying nightmare I had last night.
Meagan, Holly and I had been out shopping all morning in the most amazing clothing boutiques I'd ever seen.
"Holly, I can't believe I found the perfect dress to wear to Ryan's dinner party. I guess when you guys came to Bearsfield a few months ago you must have been disappointed in our selection of stores."
"Well, I have to admit that Cambridge has the best clothing stores anywhere, but I loved your town and I'm really happy that we met you guys."
I was glad that we met Holly and Ryan, as well, and now here we were Holly's guests for a week in her luxury home on the richer side of town. There was a definite resemblance between her and Brad, although her hair was sandy-blonde unlike his dark hair, but she had his compassion for people and his love for the great outdoors.
We'd agreed to meet the guys at one o'clock outside of the Chinese Pagoda on Heron Street, which was just down the road from where Holly parked her Land Rover. And sure enough, as we rounded the corner we could hear them talking and laughing.
When they saw us coming they began cheering and whistling, leaving clouds of breath hovering in the crisp air around them. Ryan was half a head taller than Brad and Ali with reddish-brown and he was as physically fit as they were. He stood with his hands in the pockets of his deep navy parka and kicked the snow bank with his heavy grey snow boots.
Meagan giggled as we approached them and she walked up to Ali and gave him a hug.
"I'd recognize this bright yellow coat anywhere."
Brad jumped forward and wrapped his open navy parka around me.
"You look cold in that little jacket. Come on, let's hurry up and get inside."
"I know, I'm freezing. I thought it was a good idea to wear this because it's easy to take off and on when I'm trying on clothes, but it's colder than it looks out here. Besides that, I'm starving."
Minutes later we were seated at a round table in a quiet, darkened corner of the friendly Pagoda restaurant that was decorated in Chinese memorabilia and surrounded in tall, green leafy plants. The young Oriental waitress was very friendly and soon covered the center of the table with large steaming platters of every kind of Chinese cuisine imaginable. For the next hour or so we dug into the delicious food as we chatted and laughed about everything, but mostly about what we were going to do for the next few days.
Holly had our vacation planned out almost to the minute and pulled a local map from her oversized black Prada bag.
"Okay, we're booked for some cross country skiing in the morning at the Ski Resort about an hour away from here. It's really beautiful and Ryan and I have been there a few times. It'll take about four hours to cross the trail on skis to get to Blind Point where there's another admin office that has a nice little restaurant run by a small family. My dad will drop us off at the first point and then he's going to pick us up some time in the afternoon at Blind Point, and then we can spend the rest of the day relaxing at home."
I was glancing over the resort brochure that Ryan had spread opened on the table, and I was in awe over it.
"Look at this picture-perfect winter scenery with the snow just glistening on the evergreen trees. It's so peaceful."
Meagan was as excited as I was and flipped through the pages.
"Wow, I hope this is the way it really is."
Holly giggled and looked up at Ryan.
"Yup, it's everything you see, and it's one of the best places to cross country ski. We were there a couple of weeks ago and it's just like the pictures, peaceful and pretty."
I couldn't wait to get out there. In Bearsfield we only have shallow hills to toboggan on and lots of ice to skate on, but no ski trails like this. Holly smiled as she pointed to the bushy brown rabbit in the brochure.
"My dad is going to visit an old friend about ten miles from there that recently had some knee surgery. He visits him and another one of his friends there quite often, so he doesn't mind picking us up afterwards."
Ryan looked up inquisitively at Holly.
"Is that Jake, the old guy that lives in that secluded little road on the other side of the Bartley's Forest?"
"Yeah. You guys would really like him. He's old but he's funny and loveable, and he and my dad are really close."
Ryan winked at Holly.
"Unlike your Uncle Stuart."
Brad grunted and rocked back in his chair as Holly rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Brad, you didn't warn them about Uncle Stuart? He's my dad's older brother and looks almost exactly like my dad except he's got a beard. He's an ornery kind of guy and really isn't a people person.
He and my dad don't get along that well because Grandpa made my dad CEO over the company instead of him."
Ryan put his hand over his mouth and coughed.
"Yeah, well that's because your uncle has some bad friends and no one trusts him."
"That's true. My dad had a beard for years but he shaved it off just so that no one would confuse him with Uncle Stuart."
Time past quickly and the waitress brought us some hot cloths to wash with and then placed a small round basket in the middle of the table. Meagan leaned forward to look at the dish and then smiled at Ali.
"Fortune cookies. This is my favourite part of the meal. Shall we pick our fortunes?"
Ali reached over and grabbed the basket and let Meagan pick first, then he took his and passed the basket around. Meagan was anxious to read hers and so she tore the plastic off and then read it to herself quietly.
"Okay, who's going to go first?"
The guys all broke into their cookies and pulled their fortunes out right away, and then began to read them out loud as they pretended to be serious. Each of their fortunes was typically about finding wealth and love, and Brad chuckled as he compared his with Ali's and Ryan's.
"Well, I guess us three guys are going to do okay. It says I'm going to be rich and find romance. This trip is sounding really good already."
He looked over at me and winked and my insides tickled as my face flushed red. We had only been dating for a few months and I still got giddy inside whenever he smiled at me. Meagan was a bit bolder than I was, though, and she just snuggled right up to Ali as she put her arm through his and giggled. Holly showed Ryan hers and he coughed jokingly as he read it out loud.
"Holly's says she'll find love after a good meal, so I guess she's going to have to prepare me another one of her delicious dishes. Meg, what does yours say?"
Now it was Meagan's turn to blush.
"Mine says, "Romance will come after the lights go out."
And of course, all the guys did their usual, "ooooooohs and ahhhhhhhhs", and Meagan tried to get out of her embarrassment but looking at me.
"What does your say, Sarah?"
My cookie had two fortunes, as it often happens with fortune cookies, so assuming they were both the same, I opened the one and stuffed the other one in my blue jean pocket. I read my fortune and I know my face blushed really red this time.
"It says, 'An outdoor romance will find its way into your heart.'"
Brad smiled at me and my heart fluttered. A few seconds later Holly glanced at her watch and tapped Ryan's hand.
"Oh, geez, look at the time. I can't believe we've been here this long. Are you guys ready to go?"
It had been a long day and as fun as it was being out with friends and especially Brad, I was beat and ready to just crash. We had arrived by bus at around eight that morning and we'd been on the go ever since. We left the Pagoda and were back at Holly's home around four o'clock, and when we drove through the wide opened iron gates it reminded me of something we'd see in Hollywood.
The driveway was a huge u-shaped drive that became very wide in front of the distinguished angel-stone manor before it led back out on the other side. It was lined with small shrubs and had a water fountain in the center garden, which was now covered in snow and ice. A huge parking lot was cleared of snow on the far side of the driveway where a background of sporadic fir trees and hills made her yard look more like a luxury ski resort than a home.
Their housekeeper, Hanna, was a thin elderly lady with salt and pepper hair and a smile that covered her face. She greeted us as we stepped onto the white ceramic floor in the large foyer, and then pointed to the thick rubber mat where we dropped our boots. She took our coats and hung them in the nearby mahogany closet while Meagan and I grabbed our shopping bags and followed Holly up the wide, spiral staircase to the bedroom she had given us that morning.
It was bigger than our family room back home. We had our own private bathroom with red ceramic tiles on the walls and floor, and a shower as well as a Jacuzzi. There were two double beds at one end of the room and a sitting area at the other by the picture window that overlooked snow-capped trees.
Holly left after reminding us that we had to be in the dining room at six o'clock because her parents were sticklers for eating meals on time. I fell back onto one of the beds and stared at the ceiling.
"Holly's so rich but she's just like us, Meg. She doesn't act rich and she's not flaunting or anything. And I owe her everything for inviting us here so I get to dress up for Brad on Wednesday night—for the first time ever."
I rolled off the bed and pulled my blue chiffon dress out of the plastic dress bag and hung it on the heavy engraved brass wall hook that was just inside the walk-in closet. This was actually the first time that either of us had a chance to wear something besides blue jeans for the guys, and Meagan was counting the minutes.
"I know, four more days. I can't wait, either. Amazing, isn't it? Brad and Holly are so similar in their personalities and life values, yet live totally different lifestyles. Has Brad ever said why he and his mom live in Bearsfield instead of here with their family?"
"Yeah, a bit. His mom was born here and lived in this very house until she met Brad's dad, and then when they were married she came to Bearsfield because he was running their family business there. But when he died a few years ago in that car accident, Holly's dad, who is her brother, wanted her to return to Cambridge but she felt ostracized by some other family members who blamed her for her husband's untimely death since she was driving the car at the time. I'm guessing now that that was Uncle Stuart? Anyway, she decided to stay in Bearsfield."
And I was glad that they did because they lived so close to Meagan and I, who grew up together in Bearsfield beside each other in average-sized, two storey brick homes. Ali lived several streets away in a large wartime house with his parents and two sisters. Over the last few months the four of us have become an inseparable team, even though studying and homework has kept us away from a real date—until now.
We both fell asleep on our beds and woke to the sound of Holly tapping on our door.
"Hey, you sleepy heads, dinner's going to be served in few minutes."
We rolled off the beds and ran into the bathroom to freshen up. Within minutes we had put on clean sweaters and were on our way down the spiral stairs towards the dining room. As we came to the dining hall, my curiosity got the best of me and I had to stop and peek inside.
"Holly, do you use this hall often? I mean it's so big. Back at home Meg and I only have small dining rooms and they don't have two elaborate crystal chandeliers like this or a massive wall portrait over a mahogany fireplace. Meg, look at her mahogany table. It must hold fifty people. And that wall! I've never seen a dish cabinet that big before. Oh my gosh, it's filled with Royal Albert dishes and there must be place settings for a hundred people in it. My mom would love this."
Holly laughed as she stared in the hall mirror and smoothed her lipstick with her pinkie finger.
"Well, you have to remember that my grandparents own a huge financial corporation in the city and even though they're retired, Grandma and Gramps still enjoy the social life, and they still entertain a lot. In fact, most of the business social events like the Christmas parties are here. It's easier on my grandparents than going into town. And Ryan and I get invited to most of them so it's kind of fun for us, too. So, are we ready?"
We sauntered into the dining room and sat at the large table opposite the guys. Hanna brought out the platter of roast beef with the mashed potatoes and all the trimmings and then we all dug in and enjoyed a delicious meal with great company. Afterwards, Holly led us into their basement, which was built with the same prestigious decor as the main floor, and into a recreation room that had a big screen TV at one end.
"Hey, we've got a computer game for the TV that you guys will like. It's hundred-pin bowling and it's lots of fun."
And it was a lot of fun and we spent the next few hours laughing and challenging each other. Around 10 o'clock there were voices in the hallway and Holly's dad came in with another man who could have been his twin if it wasn't for his beard.
"Stu, these are Holly's and Brad's friends, Sarah and Meagan and Ali. This is my brother, Stuart. He dropped by for a glass of wine and wanted to meet you all."
He greeted us one at a time but when he shook my hand, cold shivers shot up my back. He was just like Holly's dad, tall, athletic body with thick and short salt and pepper hair, but he had beady eyes and I felt uneasy standing beside him. I smiled and trembled as I struggled to remain calm, and then he spoke in a raspy monotone voice.
"I hear you kids are going cross country skiing tomorrow morning."
"Yes, we're are."
At this point the others had gone back to the bowling game and I was the only one talking to him, so I smiled and then slithered back to join them. I shoved my hands in my blue jean pockets and when I felt the paper fortune that I'd stuffed in it earlier, I pulled it out and read it quietly. And as I did, the hair on my neck stood up and my breath caught in my chest.
"Romance will come only if you survive the whiteout that will overcome you."
The dream, Uncle Stuart's eerie vibes and now this? I'd experienced premonitions before and I knew that this was a warning of some kind. Something awful was waiting for us up ahead and my insides churned with fear.
Chapter TwoAlone at Blind Point
I woke up several times in the night because the worry of something going wrong haunted my thoughts. Meagan woke up early because she was excited about the day, and so the two of us sat inside the deep red, satin sheets of our separate beds and chatted quietly. We were keyed up about the ski trip planned for the day but our formal date with the guys is what thrilled us the most.
"Sarah, I can't wait to dress up for Ali, and I don't want to rush through the other days but this is going to be great."
"I know, Meg, I feel the same way."
Meagan whipped the covers off and sat on the edge of her bed and leaned in towards me.
"Then why the far-away look on your face? Come on, what's bugging you?"
I knew that if anyone understood me it was Meagan.
"Meg, remember yesterday at the Pagoda when we pulled the fortunes from the cookies?"
"Well, I got two, and thinking they were the same I shoved one in my pocket. But when we got home I took it out and it wasn't the same."
I reached over to the table beside my bed and grabbed the little piece of paper and handed it to her. She read it slowly and then shrugged.
"I like the other one better."
"Meg, that's not the point."
"Sarah, it doesn't mean anything. It's just a piece of paper and there's probably dozens more just like this one."
"Well, I also dreamed that we were caught in a horrible storm and that we got lost and I was buried alive and there was a bright light around me. I couldn't find you and there was no one there to rescue us."
Meagan brushed her hair and reached for the large black clip to pin it up, and then sighed as she shook her head.
"Sarah, there are more storms here than we're used to and whiteouts will happen in those storms, but the weather is calling for sunny skies, not storms, so we're going to be okay. Besides that, Holly and Ryan have skied here lots of times and they're not worried."
She handed me the brush and I sat on my bed facing her as I gently stroked it through my hair.
"Well, not only that, but last night I was talking to Brad's Uncle Stuart and I got this really eerie feeling and it sent shivers up my back. I don't know why but there's something about him that's creepy."
"Meg, these are never coincidences. This is a warning of some kind and I'm scared that something terrible is going to happen out there today, the weather's going to change and we're going to be caught or worse—lost—in a snowstorm."
Excerpted from WHITEOUT by Ronnie Dauber Copyright © 2012 by Ronnie Dauber. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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