They turned and walked down the hill. Toward the creek. They’d have water there and hopefully they’d find a place where they could get fire. They’d set up a camp and find out what was happening. Where they were in time. But that couldn’t be. She’d wake up soon and everything would be fine.
But as they walked, smoke rose from a cabin down the hill.
“Oh, I hope they have some food or something,” Judy said.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
They walked up to the open cabin door. Judy knocked on the doorframe and a shotgun barrel poked out at them.
“Who are you?” The woman brandishing the shotgun did not look happy about them being there.
“I’m Judy Reynolds and this is Steve Marlowe.”
“Marlowe? Is that right?” The woman glared at both of them with a suspicious narrowing of the eyes. A young baby cried from inside the cabin. She looked in the cabin, then said, “What do you want?”
“Our truck crashed and we need help,” Stud said.
“Our wagon broke down.”
“Up the hill.”
She looked up the hill from where they’d come. Their passing left a slight trail in the grass.
“How’d you get there?” she asked.
Judy was getting uncomfortable with how she was gesturing to the Stud with the shotgun. How could they face this?
“We’re from the future and we didn’t mean to come here,” Judy blurted. The shotgun brandishing woman’s eyes opened wide, then narrowed.
“I’m going to ask you to get off my property. I don’t care how, I just care that you do.”
“But we’re—” Judy began to say.
“Not right in the head. So shove off.”
“C’mon, Judy,” Stud said. He put a soft hand on her back, pulling her away from the cabin.
“Don’t come back. I see you on my property again, you don’t get another warning.”
Stud’s arm was around her waist then, pulling her away, to anywhere that could be safety. His arm around her waist was comforting. Like he’d be there for her, like he’d do anything to keep her safe and secure.
They walked away, down the hill. “We’ll go to Park City,” he said. “We’ll find a way to get by.”
She shivered. She had nothing. They had no resources, they had nothing but each other.
“Do you have any money?”
“Well, sure I have money. Do you have money?” An edge of defensiveness entered his voice.
“No, I know you have money. But do you have money you can spend here? I don’t have my purse. I don’t have anything.”
“Oh.” The realization hit him. She could see it. They had nothing here. They could die here. They could get scooped up for raving about the future and get thrown into a dreadful asylum. They could starve, they could freeze to death. A million terrible things could happen to them now. “What do we do?”
She shrugged. “We find a way to get by.”
She was hungry and cold and sore. The previous night, sleeping in the cave with Stud hadn’t been kind to her back or shoulders. Rolling in the truck had not been kind to her back either. And the day of walking was more than she could bear. Her legs hurt. Everything hurt and she was starving. But she wasn’t going to let this stop her. She was smart. She was capable. She’d survived Kyle. She’d survive this. She looked over to Stud, reeling in the discovery that they were resourceless. Well, she’d bring him through too.
They were on their way to Park City. How far out, she couldn’t say. But, they were walking. She felt like she had the strength to keep going for a while. But what they’d do when they got there? What could she do here? She wrote software. She wasn’t especially handy. She was smart, sure, but…
She’d never aspired to teach, but maybe she could do that? She had read enough papers in college to work in the math department. She could work in an investing firm. Get a job with a bank and do some of the work she did now longhand? She could work through that and do it. Plus, all the knowledge that she had of the future, she’d be able to get by. They’d make their way down to Salt Lake and she’d do it.
The silver barons here had enough money that needed investing. She could work for one of them or a bank. If she could cut through the inevitable, but you’re a woman.
She sighed. They’d figure it out. For now, it was just a matter of scaling this wall. The immediacy of starving and freezing to death. The simple terrors of running into a bear. Or wolves. There were still wolves around.
She started thinking about things to eat. It was early spring. It’s not like they could eat grass. There weren’t berries, there just wasn’t much of anything. They didn’t have fire. She’d need water soon and she didn’t want to drink from the creek. It was all just so much.
“You doing okay, Judy?” Stud asked.
“Sure. Just tired and sore and hungry. You? How’s your head?”
He stretched his neck and rolled his head. “It’s fine. I was a bit worried about a concussion last night, but I think I’m fine.”
She smiled. “I’m glad.”
They walked side by side, down the hill, toward Park City. If someone passed by on a wagon, they’d see if they could just ride into town. Then if they could get to Salt Lake, they’d figure out a life there. Enough people were coming and going that she could find a place to live and be. They’d make it. It would be hard, they’d be legitimately homeless for a little while, but it couldn’t be harder than leaving Kyle and raising Celia on her own. She only had to survive now.
They walked side by side, along the track from the cabin to the creek bottom. They’d follow it out into Park City.
It would be rough, she was sure of it. It would be frightening. The whole thing was frightening, but she wasn’t going to be too frightened. She wasn’t going to just let it win. She’d never just let anything win before.
A warm wind picked up from the south.
“Oh, that’s nice,” she said. She relaxed her shoulders and neck and slowed her pace.
Stud grabbed her hand and started walking faster.
“What?” she said.
“That warm wind means a storm is coming. We can’t be out here if it snows.”
He was nearing a run, but she knew she just didn’t have the reserves to run anywhere.
“How long do we have?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes it comes by fast. Sometimes it’ll be here tomorrow. But we can’t wait, Judy.”
The worry in his eyes was real. They had to move. They had to get to safety.
“I can’t run,” she said. “After yesterday, I just can’t.”
He looked to the sky again, then looked in her face. “I’m not leaving you.”
She tightened her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. She gave it her all, walking as fast as she could.
The warmth in the sun gave her some comfort. But she knew it was just going to fade.
“Maybe we can find a barn to hole up in,” he said, looking over the land. But they couldn’t see anything, they couldn’t smell any smoke. There wasn’t anything that was going to be safety.
The first big flake came in on the wind.
“Judy, we have to run,” he said.
“If we don’t know where we’re going, running isn’t going to help.”
“We have to do something.”
They ran, holding hands. He was pulling her along the track, through the grass that was only shin high.
She gasped, trying to catch her breath, the stitch in her side already hurting.
“There’s a little overhang over there,” he said, pointing. “We’ll take a little rest in there.”
It was nothing more than the washed out edge of the creek. Tree roots stuck out from the top.
The cold wind licked at her neck. She shivered and fought it. She wanted to go home to her daughter. She wanted so many things and instead, she was shivering in the wilderness, holding a stranger’s hand.
They sat down and he put his arm around her. Her stomach ached, both with the stitch from running and from hunger.
“We can’t stay here,” he said. He looked at her, the worry and the fear that this is where they’d end up. “This storm could be a day or two. We might be stuck here for a while.” He looked out at the creek. “This has blocked the wind, but it’s not going to keep us warm.” He held her closer, wrapping his arms around her. He was scarcely dressed warmer than she was.
“We’ll rest a minute, then we’ll start again.”
She tried to take deep and measured breaths, but it was hard to focus through the panic. Once she felt like she had a grip on herself again, she stood up and held her hand out to him. He took her hand and said, “I’m not leaving you.”
She gave his hand a squeeze and they started running again.
At least the running kept her warm. But the wind was stronger and the flakes were thicker. The light dimmed to the angry grey of a blizzard and they wrapped their arms around each other.
“I’m sorry,” she said. It was almost quiet enough to get whipped away by the wind, but he tightened his arm around her.
“We’re together. We’ll make it if we can,” he said. Almost as quietly.
They kept going, their pace slowing as the snow began to accumulate. The ground slippery. Her Chuck Taylors were miserable for this, sliding and slipping, snow falling in the rivets.
As they slowed, the cold crept up on her. One arm was around Stud, the other arm held her cardigan closed. But she was soaked through now. She was cold and wet and they were only making things worse.
They wouldn’t have been able to see a cabin now. Or a barn. The best they could hope for would be to walk into one. But that was more than they could hope for.
Bitter tears rolled down her cheeks. This hell was a nightmare. At least her ears stopped hurting. That probably meant frostbite. She held Stud tighter. She’d die out here with this stranger.
At least she wasn’t alone, she guessed. It wasn’t much of a comfort but it was some.
He took a step forward and tumbled. She fell after him and slid to the bottom of a small ravine. The wind wasn’t blowing as hard, but it was still bitterly cold. Without a fire or something to get them warm, they were done for. The snow fell softly in their hidden spot.
“I can’t feel my ears,” she said.
“I can’t either.” He flexed his hands and said, “What do we do?”
Either answer seemed terrible.
“We could stay here and just give up. Or we could keep walking.”
“Anything you want to do, I will be at your side,” he said.