“What??” Michael shuffles forward and peers into the snow.
“The car,” James says, frantically digging away the surrounding snow. It falls away in icy chunks. After a few moments he can see part of the bonnet. There’s a dent where it was hit by the shovel.
“The car,” James repeats, feeling weak with relief. “I knew it was here. I knew it!”
“Let me help,” Michael says, hobbling over. He tries to dig with his hands, but the snow is too tightly packed. “I’ll go see if there’s another shovel,” he says, turning to go back into the cabin. James keeps digging, barely even breathing.
I can do this.
I can save him.
The snow picks up, falling harder and faster. Michael returns empty-handed.
“I couldn’t find another shovel,” he says, raising his voice over the increasing wind. “But I can take over for a bit. Give you a chance to catch your breath.”
James starts to shake his head, but the movement makes him dizzy. “Go back inside,” he says loudly. “I don’t want Alexander to wake up alone again. Keep an eye on him. Keep him…”
Michael looks up at the sky. It's getting darker by the second. He turns back to James.
“I don’t know how much longer you can stay out here,” he yells across the now howling wind. “Looks like another blizzard.”
James tries to dig faster. He’s moved to the side of the car now, planning to dig his way into the driver’s seat and drive the car out of the remaining snow. “Go inside,” he yells back. “Alexander can’t come looking for us in this. I’ll get this done as quickly as possible.”
Michael hesitates like he wants to argue, but turns and goes back inside. James chips away at the snow surrounding the car. The wind stings his eyes, making them water.
Or maybe he’s crying.
He’s not sure.
“Come on,” he mumbles. “Come on.”
The snow is hard and unyielding. He stabs the shovel against it over and over again, but the already slow progress is made even slower by the snow falling from the sky, filling the holes he has created.
“Come ON!” he yells, becoming increasingly frantic. “Come ON! It’s right here! The fucking car is right here! Let me have it! Let me have it, goddammit!!”
He’s not even sure who he’s talking to.
There’s a rumble in the distance. The sky grows darker. The snow falls harder.
Michael appears around the corner.
“You gotta come back inside, J!” he yells. “Just until the storm passes!”
“James, you –”
“NO!!” James roars again, whacking the shovel against the snow hard enough to send shock waves down his spine. “IT’S RIGHT HERE, MICHAEL!! IT’S HERE!! I’M NOT LEAVING WITHOUT IT! I’M NOT STOPPING UNTIL I GET US OUT OF THIS SNOW!!”
There’s another rumble in the distance. James looks up at the sky, ignoring the pounding in his head.
“DO YOU HEAR THAT?!” he screams at the falling snow. At the sky. At God. “I WILL GET TO THIS FUCKING CAR OR I WILL DIE TRYING!! THROW WHATEVER YOU’VE GOT AT ME!! BURY ME ALIVE IN A FUCKING AVALANCHE! I DON’T CARE!! I WILL GET HIM OUT OF THIS! I WILL HELP HIM! I WILL SAVE HIM!!” He turns to Michael. “I don’t care what happens to me! I don’t care as long as he is safe! Keep him safe, Michael! Go inside and keep him safe!”
He is cut off by the sound of a crash inside the cabin. James drops the shovel and sprints to the door, shoving it open. Alexander is on the floor by the table. A chair lies on its side bedside him.
“Alexander!” James races over to him. He kicks the chair out of the way and drops to his knees. “Michael!” he screams as Alexander starts to convulse. “Michael!!”
Michael comes as fast as his damaged leg can take him. He stops in the doorway.
“Oh God,” he says, coming inside and closing the door. “Roll him on his side!”
James does. Alexander jerks violently for a few more moments and then stops. His eyes remain closed.
“Alexander?” James whispers fearfully. “Alexander? Can you hear me?”
He doesn’t move.
“Alexander,” James repeats, checking his pulse. “Alexander, can you hear me? Open your eyes. Open your eyes, buddy.”
“J?” Michael says, coming over to them. “Is he okay?? James?”
Alexander gasps and opens his eyes. He coughs and tries to sit up. James pulls him into his trembling arms, holding him against his chest.
Against his heart.
“Daddy?” Alexander whispers weakly. His breathing is laboured. “Are we going home now?”
“James,” Michael says, reaching out his hand. The cabin shudders against the storm outside. “Come on. Get him back to bed. It’s freezing out here.”
James doesn’t move. He can feel Alexander’s heart beating rapidly against his.
“Just hold on,” he whispers into Alexander’s neck. His body trembles. “I’ll get us out of here. I will. Just hold on. I need you. I can’t lose you. I can’t.”
“James,” Michael says again. “Come on.”
James adjusts his hold on Alexander and allows Michael to help him up. He carries Alexander back to bed as steadily as he can.
“We’ll be going home really soon,” James whispers, putting Alexander down in the bed. “I promise we’ll be home soon.”
“A James soon?”
James tries to laugh. He sobs instead.
“He wet himself,” Michael says quietly, looking down at Alexander’s pants. “I’ll hang his pants up by the radiator to dry.”
James numbly removes Alexander’s wet pants and gives them to Michael. He pulls the blankets up around Alexander’s chin and stands up.
“Don’t leave me,” Alexander mumbles. “Stay with me.”
“I have to go,” James whispers, brushing the hair off his forehead. “I have to go, but I’ll be back before you know it and then we can go home. I’ll find us a way home.”
Alexander nods and closes his eyes. He falls asleep within a few seconds.
James straightens up and walks over to the door.
“What are you doing??” Michael asks, sounding alarmed.
“The car,” James says. “I’m going to get the car.”
“You can’t go out in this!” Michael’s voice is full of panic. As if to prove his point, the cabin shudders.
“I have to,” James says, opening the door. A huge gust of snow blows into the cabin, hitting James in the face. “He needs me.”
“Yes he does need you!” Michael says, crossing the floor as quickly as he can and pushing the door shut. “He needs you here! He needs you safe! You can’t go out in that!”
“He needs me,” James repeats. His voice is hollow. “He needs me to get him out of here. To save him. He needs me.”
“James!” Michael grabs him by the shoulders. “Snap out of it! Going out there right now would be suicide! You won’t last ten minutes!”
“Get your hands off me.”
“Go and sit down,” Michael says, looking at the gauze-covered lump on James’ head. “I think you’re concussed. You’re not thinking clearly.”
James blinks. “Let me go.”
“Let me go, Michael.”
“I’m not letting you out there. Not right now. Not like this.”
“I said let me GO!” James shoves Michael off him, sending him sprawling into the table. Michael cries out in pain as his leg smashes against the edge of the table, but James doesn’t stop to see if he’s okay. He rips open the door and runs blindly into the blizzard, returning to the car.
Or where the car was.
It is completely covered in snow once more.
“No,” James says, picking up the shovel and starting to dig. “No. No. NO! NO! NO!!”
The wind hurls snow at him, making it impossible to see straight. Still he digs, plunging the shovel into the snow over and over again, desperately waiting to hear the metallic thud as the shovel hits the car. The wind steals every ounce of warmth from his body, stiffening his joints and biting its way under his clothes, but he doesn’t stop. He can’t stop. He won’t stop.
“JAMES!” Michael appears in the snow, gripping the side of the cabin. “YOU CAN’T STAY OUT HERE! YOU WILL DIE IN THIS STORM! IT’S TOO COLD!!”
James ignores him. He is shivering too much to hold the shovel steady, but still he digs. Still he digs.
I can do this.
I have to do this.
“JAMES!” Michael yells, “YOU –”
“I’M NOT GOING TO SIT IN THERE AND WATCH HIM DIE!” Saying the words out loud knocks the air from his lungs, but he fights against the desire to collapse. “HE’S HAVING SEIZURES, MICHAEL!! WE DON’T HAVE TIME TO WAIT! HE DOESN’T HAVE TIME!! I CAN DO THIS, MICHAEL! LET ME DO THIS!!”
A loud crack rips through the air. Both James and Michael look up in time to see several pine trees snap as a wave of snow cascades down the slope. Heading right for them.
“RUN!” Michael screams, reaching out for James. “JAMES, TAKE MY HAND! WE HAVE TO GET INSIDE!!”
James has no choice. He drops the shovel and takes Michael’s hand. The two of them race against the snow, just barely making it inside as the avalanche hits the side of the cabin. James dives over to the bed and gathers Alexander into his arms, shielding him with his body and expecting the worst.
The cabin shakes.
“It’s over,” Michael says after a moment. “It’s…It’s over. We’re okay. It’s over. It’s okay.”
James looks down at Alexander and tries not to be afraid by the fact that he hasn’t even woken up. He puts him back down on the bed and stands up, going over to the door.
“You can’t be serious!” Michael says, trying to stop him. “You can’t seriously be going out there after that!”
James ignores him and opens the door. A wave of snow rolls in, falling from the pile blocking the doorway.
Blocking the doorway.
“No,” James says, staring at it in disbelief. “No. NO! NO!!”
He starts hitting the snow, grabbing handfuls of it and flinging it into the cabin, desperate to make a hole, desperate to see the sky.
Desperate to escape.
“NO! THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!! NO!!”
“James!” Michael cries. “Stop! You’re going to hurt yourself!”
“NO!” James screams, punching the snow. “THIS CAN’T BE FUCKING HAPPENING!! THE CAR WAS RIGHT THERE!! IT WAS RIGHT FUCKING THERE!!” He punches the snow so many times that it begins to turn pink, tinged by the blood from his knuckles that is soaking through his gloves. Michael grabs him from behind, dragging him away.
“James! JAMES! STOP!”
“LET ME GO!!” James screams, wildly thrashing to get away. “LET ME GO!!”
Alexander’s voice makes him stop. All the fight drains out of him. Michael lets him go.
“I’m here, buddy. I’m here.”
“Are you angry?” His voice is small. Weak.
James’ knees buckle, but he manages to drag himself over to the bed. His head spins. He feels drained of every ounce of strength he had left.
“I’m not angry, buddy.” He takes off his gloves and wipes the blood off his hands. He puts his hand on Alexander’s forehead, feeling his temperature. It has skyrocketed. Alexander struggles to keep his eyes open.
“Are you scared?”
James chokes back a sob. “Yes, buddy. I’m scared.”
“Don’t be scared,” Alexander says faintly. “It’s not scary when we’re together. It’s not…It’s not…” His eyes flutter and close.
“Alexander? Are you asleep?”
Alexander mumbles something inaudible.
“What?” James leans forward, putting his ear close to Alexander’s lips. His ragged breathing echoes in James’ ear.
“Aunt Jenna,” Alexander murmurs. “I missed you.”
“What? Alexander? Alexander! Open your eyes, buddy. Open your eyes. Look at me. Open your eyes.”
Alexander’s head lolls to the side.
His ragged breathing stops.
“Oh my God,” Michael says, covering his mouth. “Oh God, no.”
James tries to feel for a pulse, but his hands are shaking too much. There’s another loud rumble above them. The cabin shakes. The ceiling starts to crumble.
“If I die,” he says, tying a strand of James’ hair into a knot, “Do I get to stay with you? With my spirit? Or do I have to go with my soul to Heaven?”
“Alexander,” James repeats, vaguely registering the shuddering noises above him. The loud banging. The way the cabin trembles. “Alexander…Alexander…”
A loud ringing fills his ears.
If it was a choice between me and Alexander…I’d choose me every time.
I wouldn’t live through that.
Take me. Give me that small mercy the way you gave it to Meredith. Save him.
There’s another loud bang.
“ALEXANDER OPEN YOUR EYES! YOU OPEN YOUR EYES RIGHT NOW, DO YOU HEAR ME?? I NEED YOU! GET UP! I NEED YOU!!”
A piece of timber falls from the ceiling, smashing onto the table. Michael screams something, but James can’t hear it. He can’t hear anything over the ringing in his ears.
“ALEXANDER!! LOOK AT ME!! WAKE UP, BUDDY! ALEXANDER! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!!”
I love you, James.
“I NEED YOU!! GET UP!! I NEED YOU! I CAN’T LOSE YOU! GET UP! ALEXANDER! BUDDY! OPEN YOUR EYES!”
You’re the best daddy ever.
James puts his ear near Alexander’s lips again, straining to listen, to hear the sound of him breathing.
The ringing in his ears intensifies.
He leans in further, hoping to feel Alexander’s breath even if he can’t hear it.
But he can’t.
There’s nothing to feel.
Alexander is not breathing.