Christmas Eve in the Adirondacks, and the snow was coming down hard, big fat flakes that reflected the light from my headlights into a sparkling display. The flakes were swirling gently toward the ground, since the night was perfectly still, but the motion of my truck made them stream past the windshield in a mesmerizing rush, like that computer screensaver that was so popular a few years back.
This thought reminded me of my own computer and monitor, firmly belted into the back seats like a pair of precious children, and from there my thoughts turned once again to my thesis, and to the mountain of work that awaited me over the next two weeks.
It had all happened so suddenly: I was a typical lazy grad student, finishing up my Ph.D. research at a leisurely pace and just starting to think about writing it all up, and then, out of the blue, I get offered a great job. A dream job. Just one catch: they need me report to work in less than a month, Ph.D. certificate in hand. I had reluctantly decided that my only hope of writing a 200 page dissertation in such a short time was to seclude myself in my parent's cabin, away from the distractions of the holiday season.
The truck shimmied and started to slide off to the right as I hit a deeper snowdrift, and I reluctantly slowed down again. For the first time, I admitted to myself that I was getting nervous about the snow. I still had several miles to go, and the last stretch of road, a long private driveway, was going to be very hairy. I turned on the radio to search for a weather report, twisting the dial several times before finding anything but static.
"...power outages throughout the area have put police,
fire, and rescue services on full alert. Once again, the
National Weather Service predicts additional accumulations
of up to three feet by morning for most of the southern
Adirondack region. Police are cautioning people not to go
out onto the roads for any reason..."
That was just great. I turned the radio off in disgust, deciding to concentrate fully on driving. As long as I didn't slide off the road, I should be fine. My four-wheel-drive truck was designed for just these sort of conditions, if you could believe the commercials, and once I got to the cabin I would be set for days. Surrounded by a cocoon of snow, there would be nothing to distract me from pounding out my thesis.
Something caught my eye off the right, outside of the bright cone of my headlights. A yellowish glow, apparently coming from the ground near the treeline. I drove for another few seconds while my brain processed what I had seen, and then I swore out loud and carefully braked to a stop.
After grabbing the flashlight out of the glove compartment, I hurriedly got out of the truck, feeling like I was wasting precious time. It was well after sunset, and the combination of the snowstorm and the distance from any civilization created a suffocating blanket of darkness and silence that city dwellers never experience. I swung the flashlight back and forth as I jogged back along my own tire tracks, hearing my heart pound in my ears.
Then I saw it: a diffuse yellow glow coming from under a large, rounded drift of snow. The car had probably gone off the road within the last few hours, and it was already completely buried, only its headlights giving any clue as to its presence.
I scrambled down off the roadway and found myself wading through chest-high drifts as I approached the eerie patch of glowing snow. There was something sticking up a bit from the rest of the shape, and when I brushed the snow away I saw it was a tire. Wonderful: the car was upside down.
Working quickly, I dug down into the snow along the side of the car with my hands and feet, exposing a door and then a window of what appeared to be a late model sports-utility vehicle. I lay on my stomach, leaned down into the hole I had just cleared, and shone the flashlight into the window. An upside-down face, as white as a sheet, was inches away on the other side of the glass, and I was so startled that I let out a high-pitched shriek.
It took me another five minutes to clear enough snow away from the door to wedge it open. The person, whose age or gender I hadn't yet determined, was hanging upside down, firmly belted into the driver's seat. I wormed my way into the car, almost losing my flashlight at one point, and determined that there was only the one occupant.
"Are you all right?" I shouted, feeling like an idiot. No response. 'Are you alive' was more to the point. The face looked chalky and stiff, and the eyes were half open and staring straight ahead unresponsively - the close resemblance to a corpse couldn't be ignored. On the other hand, the car didn't appear to badly damaged so it seemed likely that the belted-in person hadn't been injured in the original accident.
I fumbled for the seatbelt release, and quickly discovered what the situation was. The woman (yes, I had decided the person was a young female) had fastened her belt with the release button facing inward instead of outward. No big deal, unless you get happen to get flipped upside down. The weight of her body against the belt had made it impossible for her to press the button, and so she had dangled here helplessly, like a side of beef slowly cooling inside a meat locker, as the snow buried her car.
My fingers quickly grew numb as I tried unsuccessfully to reach the button, and a wave of panic and claustrophobia started building inside me. Finally I stopped, took a few deep breaths, and realized what I had to do. I put my hand on her stomach and pushed upward, taking enough of the load off the belt so that finally, with a feeling of triumph, I was able to pop open the release. The body then fell on top of me, flattening me against the roof of the car and knocking the wind out of me.
Under much different circumstances it might have been funny: my moment of success immediately followed by an easily foreseeable pratfall. I wasn't laughing, though. I rolled the body off me and inched my way back out the partly-open door, dragging the victim along feet-first behind me.
By the time I staggered back to my own truck with the woman awkwardly slung over my shoulder there was six inches of snow on it. Using the surge of strength that desperation conveniently provides, I opened the passenger door and positioned the woman inside. Then I ran around to the driver's side, started the engine, and turned the heater on full blast.
Driving slowly, I made it to the turnoff leading up to my parent's cabin without incident.
"Here goes nothing," I said out loud. I aimed the truck at the narrow opening and gunned the engine to plow through the large drift left by an earlier snowplow. Once I made it onto the winding driveway, I found the traction better than I had expected. Concentrating fiercely, I swung the truck along the path, anticipating each turn as much as possible so as not to lose valuable momentum. If I had to stop, it was unlikely I would be able to start up again.
Just when I was starting to feel optimistic, I felt the truck sink into a patch of softer snow. My speed dropped, until I was just crawling along, and then there was the sickening whine of tires spinning with no traction.
"Fuck!" I pounded the steering wheel in frustration. The inside of the car was sweltering now, and I felt a bead of sweat run down the side of my face.
"N-N-N-ow what?" Despite the chattering teeth, the voice was calm, with a hint of humor in it. Normally I would have been intrigued.
"Jesus! That's twice you've startled me. How long have you been awake?"
"I-I-I'm n-not sure. A few minutes, I g-guess. Y-You seemed so int...intent on d-driving, I d-didn't want to bother you."
I took a closer look at my passenger: a small white face, with pink spots of color just appearing on her cheeks. Short brown hair, brown eyes. Probably very pretty, when she was above room temperature.
"Well, this is the end of the line," I said. "We won't get out of this drift without a shovel and some daylight to see what we're doing."
"W-Where are we? A-Are we going to die?"
"Die? No, I don't think so." I took a closer look out the window, and realized we were closer to the cabin than I had thought. "It's only about a quarter of a mile farther. I think I can carry you from here."
"M-m-my hero." Her smile was sweet, and unexpectedly wide, like Julia Roberts. Then her eyes closed, and her small body seemed to slump down into the seat. I summoned to mind what I knew about hypothermia, and realized she wasn't out of the woods. Literally or figuratively.
The cabin was originally built by my great-grandfather in the 1920s, and it has been a work in progress ever since. What started as a rustic two-room shack has been expanded and updated by each succeeding generation, and the current version is a comfortable four-room structure with indoor plumbing and electricity. I carried the unconscious woman (who's name I hadn't yet gleaned) up to the porch and managed to unlock and open the door, causing a huge drift of snow collapse into the kitchen. To my relief, the electricity was working.
After laying the cold, limp body on the couch, I quickly built a fire in the Franklin stove, filling it up with prime, dry oak. I waited until it was roaring and crackling cheerfully, and then I adjusted the flues to let the stove heat up and went into the bathroom to find a thermometer.
Before I even finished taking her temperature, the bluish tinge to her lips told me all I needed to know. Ninety-one degrees, about eight degrees below normal, and well into the range for hypothermia. When the human body temperature falls below a certain level, natural responses like an increased heart rate and shivering no longer work, and piling on blankets is ineffective. More aggressive measures are needed, or the person could die. Yes, I was a Boy Scout.
"I hope I can explain this to you later," I said. I sat her up and took off her sweater, and then her shoes. She was wearing jeans and a loose white t-shirt underneath. Feeling like a criminal, I unbuttoned her jeans and slid them down, making sure to leave her panties in place. She opened her eyes and stared at me dully, but didn't say anything.
I quickly took off my own clothes, leaving just my underwear, and then I lifted off her t-shirt. She wasn't wearing a bra, and I felt a jolt of guilty pleasure when I saw her small, round breasts.
"I'm going to share my body heat with you now," I said brightly. "Got to get your temperature up!" I sounded like a nurse cajoling a balky Alzheimer's patent.
I lay down next to her on the couch and pulled her up against me, face-to-face.
It was like hugging a block of ice. On the plus side, I no longer felt quite so guilty - this was going to be an ordeal after all. Gritting my teeth, I pulled a thick blanket over us and maximized our flesh-on-flesh contact.
Well, it was an ordeal for the first hour or so. Then, as our body temperatures equilibrated and the living room warmed up, I finally fell asleep, lulled by the crackling fire and tired from the tense drive.
I found myself looking into a big brown pair of female eyes just a few inches away from my own. My patient appeared to have pulled through. I had my left arm encircled around her slim body, and I could feel her breasts pressed against my chest, skin on skin. Pretty cozy for a couple of strangers.
"Oh, you're awake," I said. Nice opener.
"Yeah, finally." She smiled at me, and my heart did a little flip-flop. She had a great smile. "Thanks for rescuing me, Alan."
"You're very welcome. How're you feeling?"
"I was shivering like crazy for over an hour - I'm surprised that didn't wake you up. But I feel fine now."
"You certainly feel a lot warmer than before." As I came fully awake I realized that not only were our torsos in contact, but our legs were intertwined as well, and that I had an erection. Embarrassed, I tried to subtly shift my hips to keep from poking her.
"You saved my life, Alan. Thank you." She kissed me on the cheek.
I realized what had been nagging at me. "I don't remember telling you my name..."
"It is Alan, isn't it?"
"Yep. But when did I tell you?"
"I guess you didn't." She paused for a second, and then said "I'm psychic. Just so we're even, my name is Dee."
She didn't seem to be kidding.
"Um, psychic? Really? You read my mind to get my name?"
"You don't believe me." She didn't seem offended.
"Well...I'm a scientist. We don't believe in that sort of thing," I said carefully.
"Uh-huh, I guess you would. So tell me, Dee, what else have you figured out about me?"
She looked at me seriously. "Well, let's see. You're very nice and very intelligent. But lately you've been under a lot of pressure, and you haven't quite been yourself. You feel like you're at a crossroads in your life - and you have a very important decision to make."
Not bad, actually. "That's true as far as it goes," I said. "But that's pretty vague. Could just be good guesses based on observation."
She wrinkled her nose playfully. "You science types are the toughest to convince." She put her hand on the side of my face and closed her eyes. "Let's see..."
The movement caused the blanket to fall away from her shoulder, and I could see her right breast, firm and round like a young girl's, a tan areola and a small brown nipple. I gave up on controlling my erection.
After a few seconds she gave me a funny look and said "I'm not really getting anything else right now."
"Well, let me know if you come up with anything."
"I will. Oh wait...now I'm getting something..." Her other hand closed around my cock through the thin cotton of my underwear, and I gasped and froze, taken completely by surprise.
"You're attracted to me!" She giggled like a little girl, her whole face contorted with mischievous delight. Her smile was so infectious that I was smiling back at her without even realizing it.
"Brilliant deduction, Ms. Holmes."
"Thank you." Her hand left my cock, and I felt a flash of disappointment, but it was only to slip it under the waistband and touch me directly.
"This is moving rather quickly, isn't it?" I regretted it as soon as I said it. One of my many faults is a tendency to be overcautious and analytical. Why couldn't I just react like a man and let nature take its course?
"I want to give you a reward," she said. Under the blanket her touch was feathery and just slightly cool, making my cock twitch and strain. Although I had engaged in my share of casual sex over the years, I had never slept with what could fairly be described as a complete stranger. But something about Dee made it seem natural and right. Maybe it was the utter lack of self- consciousness on her part - her uncomplicated delight in the prospect of sharing physical pleasure. Or maybe it was the crackling firelight and the blanket of snow that insulated us from the rest of the world. And on some level I probably felt that I did deserve a reward, according to a sort of caveman code of ethics that predated the age of chivalry by thousands of years.
I brushed my hand across her breasts, playing with the nipples that I had been feeling against my chest, making them grow and harden. She wriggled out of her panties, and helped me out of my underwear, and then she lay on top me, her body seeming to conform itself against mine. My cock was an anxious pole between her thighs, and she slowly slid herself back against it, aligning herself by feel, until I felt the head pressing against her warm sex.
When I was fully inside her she sat up, and we squirmed against each other, my cock never sliding very far out of her tight, warm embrace, until, sensing my impending climax, she reached around and massaged by balls as they emptied themselves inside her.
"Now that we have that out of the way," she said a little while later, as we were eating peanut butter sandwiches and drinking hot cider, "I have a little confession to make."
"Before, when I said I wasn't getting a reading from you...that wasn't true. I actually sensed something troubling you deeply. But I wanted to give you your reward before I mentioned it."
"Well I can certainly forgive you for that," I said, meaning every word. "I'm not surprised you got some negative vibes - I've got to really put my nose to the grindstone to get my dissertation finished." I explained to her about my graduate research, and about the recent job offer with an expiration date shorter than ground beef.
She daintily licked a smudge of peanut butter off her finger and took a sip of cider. "Maybe it's none of my business, but I sensed something else besides your worry about finishing your thesis. Something darker...more sinister."
"Sinister?" I tried to keep my voice light, but I couldn't seem to look her in the eye. I kept having to remind myself that I didn't believe in psychic abilities. How the hell had she known my name, anyway?
"I sensed a deep moral ambiguity about something to do with your research. And when a scientist has a deep moral ambiguity, that to me is sinister. Tell me about your research - what exactly are you doing?"
"I study the replication of viruses. My research is aimed at developing ways to synthesize large amounts of a virus in a laboratory. It should help in the search for vaccinations, cures for deadly viral infections - any research involving viruses."
"Sounds like messing with Mother Nature to me."
I shrugged. "In a way, that's true. Messing with Mother Nature has given us modern medicine."
"And the atomic bomb."
I decided to change the subject. "Your turn to tell me something about yourself. All I know about you is that you're generous and warmhearted, but a lousy driver. Oh yes, and psychic."
"Not so fast...we're not finished with you yet." She rubbed her bare foot along the inside of my leg. "I still want to know what's troubling you. Tell me about this job you're going to take."
I sighed, not really wanting to get into it. "It's a prestigious research lab outside Washington. They've developed hundreds of patents and made several major breakthroughs in genetic research. They get hundreds of applications from scientists to work there; I was lucky to get an offer."
"What do they do with viruses?"
I didn't answer for a few seconds. What, indeed, did GenTech want with a viral researcher? "To learn how to design new types of viruses," I said. Had I ever really thought this through?
"Why would anyone want to do that? What benefit would new viruses have?"
"It's not that simple...viruses are the most basic form of life, and we need to understand how to manipulate them, to lay the groundwork for future advances in genetics."
"But couldn't someone use this research to design deadly viruses that could be used against people?"
"Theoretically, that would be possible, I guess. But that's not what it will be used for, believe me."
"I wish I could believe you," she said softly, looking very sad. "But you don't believe it yourself. This is what's creating all the negative psychic energy that I'm sensing."
I marshalled my thoughts, preparing to defend myself with rational arguments, but she let out a huge yawn and leaned her head on my shoulder, and I realized she was completely exhausted.
"Let's go to sleep," I said, kissing the top of her head. "We can talk about it more in the morning."
We climbed into the big oak bed and she fell asleep instantly. It wasn't quite so easy for me, and when I did finally fall asleep I was plagued by strange dreams.