This story is by Robert Stephen and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Nicole pulled into one of the narrow parking slots of the small inn minutes before daylight surrendered to darkness. She was intentionally early. It had been too many years since she had seen the fall foliage and today’s mountain drive was perfect. The trees were on fire with shades of red and gold. She lowered the back windows enough to allow cold air to creep into the car’s cabin, neutralized with warm air from the heater.
Her thoughts were in hyper-drive, she was thinking about tonight with Devin. Would they make love or talk? She didn’t want to talk. Richard, her husband, would find the note when he came home. His plane was due in at 10 pm; he’d be home by 11.
Over and over she recited the ice cold note in her head, “Richard, there is no easy way to say this. I’ve been unhappy for a long time and decided to leave. You can have the house and everything I just have to go. I’ll pick up my clothes on Monday. Nicole.”
Then there was the text from Devin, “Late start, will be there at 8. Sorry!”
“I wonder if he left a note for Amy or told her and walked out,” thought Nicole.
“Afternoon,” said the white-haired man sitting behind the counter, “can I help you?”
“Reservation for two, the name is Tanner.”
“Let me see,” he said, sorting through only two cards, “yes, here we are Mrs. Tanner.”
Nicole didn’t correct him, soon enough she would be.
“You two made it just in time, storm’s coming in and it’s going to be big. Your room has a fireplace, extra cozy. I don’t see Mr. Tanner.”
“He’s running a couple of hours late, isn’t that like a man.”
“Doesn’t sound like he’s the sharpest,” said the innkeeper, eyeing the pretty young woman.
“You’re room is up the stairs at the end of the hall, enjoy your stay Mrs. Tanner.”
When she entered the room, the sun was a minute or two from disappearing behind the mountains. She could see the massive wall of black clouds moving into the area. She turned on the lamp next to the bed and inspected the room. It was perfect. King size bed, overstuffed goose feather comforter, two leather Wingback chairs facing the fire place. French doors opening to a covered balcony.
Nicole deliberated how she should greet Devin. In the Victoria Secret outfit she bought for tonight or should she be naked. “Hell, he’s going to be late, maybe I’ll just keep my clothes on, make him work for it,” she said, a lustful smile dancing on her lips at the thought.
It had been years since Devin had been up at the small mountain inn. He and Amy were here a few years after college. They spent most of that week making love both indoors and outdoors. They were deeply in love back then.
Tonight though, life was playing an ugly trick on Devin. Ten years later he was returning to the inn. In love with another woman, but he had to tell Nicole he was not leaving Amy. Earlier today he discovered he was going to be a father.
Lost in thoughts of his predicament, Devin ignored the thick layer of wet leaves blanketing the ground as he sped around the oncoming curve and spun out of control. His SUV swirled around in circles twice before coming to a halt on the uneven embankment. Devin’s heart pounded, his hands clutching the steering wheel like a vice, it took him a moment to recognize he was safe, that the car was motionless. He exhaled.
He peered out the passenger’s window into empty darkness. There were no lights, and he had no idea where he was. The car had stalled out. Placing the gearshift in park, he started the engine and shifted into drive. Stepping on the accelerator, the car drifted sideways as the rear wheels spun in the thick mud, but before Devin could react the car tumbled over the side into a ravine, two hundred feet below.
Thumbing through a magazine, Nicole nestled comfortably by the warm fire in one of the heavily upholstered leather chairs. She was irritated, 8:30 and no Devin. She called and texted but he didn’t respond. For the first time she noticed she was a nervous tapper as her fingers rhythmically danced on the chair’s arm.
Cold water seeped into the car. It had rolled down the hill into a stream bed and was lying on its side. But it was no longer a stream, it had become a river. Devin’s pinned legs felt the rising water first, shocking him into consciousness. His eyes opened to darkness, unaware of his setting. He screamed as he attempted to move, lightning bolts of pain shot through his broken legs up to his chest. His heart pounding, Devin could feel the pulsing in his teeth. He needed his blood pressure medicine. Gasping, Devin needed to lower the window for air. He reached for the ignition it was empty the keys were gone.
“Help, anybody, help me, please.”
Angrily Nicole threw her cell phone across the room hitting a pillow and tumbling to the floor.
“Where the hell are you Devin,” she said. Had he changed his mind, were these last two years nothing more than a game? What was I, just an easy piece of ass for this bastard? The ugly thoughts clogged her mind. “You’ve got twenty minutes then I’m leaving,” she said shoveling her personal items into her Gucci overnight bag.
As Nicole came downstairs the white-haired man was talking to a deputy sheriff.
“Good evening Mrs. Tanner, have you heard from your husband?”
“Why, is anything wrong?”
“The deputy and me were discussing the weather. Heavy rain is due in less than an hour and the beaver dam a mile upstream is going to break. We won’t be affected, but further down the mountain there’s going to be problems.”
“What kind of problems?”
“We’re telling everybody in Chester, the small town at the bottom of the mountain, to be ready for a flash flood. It’ll close the road for a while.”
“Probably til mid next week, there’s a lot of water backed up,” said the deputy.
“I recommend you get your husband on the phone and tell him to turn around and not come up here. You probably should leave too,” said the innkeeper.
Nicole stepped off to the side and dialed Devin, still no answer. Staring out the window the rain was coming down in sheets. She had resisted thinking about the note until now. She had no choice. If she left right away, there was a chance she could retrieve it before Richard got home.
“Help,” cried Devin, the water up to his chest. Devin feared the relentless pounding rain would shatter the car’s windows. “I can’t die this way, please God no.” He didn’t see the beam of light wash over the car.
Nicole’s eyes were flooded with tears as she carefully maneuvered her car down the mountain’s slippery road. She was driving away from dreams of a new life. As she drove around the curve her car’s headlights exposed the white guard rail. Terror flashed in her eyes and her chest constricted, the barrier was broken in half.
She stepped out into the rain as the deputy’s car rolled to a stop behind her.
“Mrs. Tanner, what are you doing, get back in your car,” he said.
She ignored him running across the road into the dark. With flashlight in hand he chased after her.
“Wait, don’t move any further,” he said clutching her arm.
Standing next to her he had to raise his voice above the deluge of water. “What are you doing Mrs. Tanner?”
“Something’s wrong, please shine your light”
The beam passed over Devin’s flooded car.
Inside the car, the water level had reached the lower part of Devin’s head.
“I’m here, help, help,” he screamed, his hands clawing against the window.
“That’s Devin’s car, look he’s inside, do you see? That’s him I’ve got to get to him.”
The deputy grabbed Nicole before she slipped down the embankment.
“It’s too steep and dangerous, you can’t go down there.”
The strong deputy held Nicole as she tried to break away.
“We’ve got to get to him.”
Underfoot, the surrounding ground shook followed by a deep rumbling down inside the canyon. Heavy branches snapped like twigs and boulders tumbled. Shining his light the deputy and Nicole saw a large fast moving wave of water and debris. Chester Stream, once placid was now a violent river.
The current lifted Devin’s car as though it were a small toy and crushed it against the rocks. Nicole screamed, “No.” Her knees buckled at the sight of the car tumbling over a waterfall, disappearing into the black.
“It’s Nicole, leave a message,” he listened to her greeting, “Nicole, its Richard. I got home early and found your note.”