The Cold Zone

By Lori D’Angelo

The car was stuck in the snow, but the sun in the distance kept us from succumbing to the cold, before the sun set, and it would set. Temperatures during the day were chilly but bearable, but temperatures at night were a different story. 

At each checkpoint, there were pictures of the dead so those who remained could find out if their loved ones were among them. Sometimes wondering about the worst possibilities is worse than knowing them. They tried to remove the bodies. But they could only clean up so much, and those who died after dark were left to freeze. It sounds cruel, but the ice was slow to melt. 

I didn’t know if we could make it to the next checkpoint especially not with Tara’s bum leg, but the alternative was unthinkable. If we stopped, we wouldn’t survive the night. It was not just the cold but the creatures of the cold that came out at night, the only vile things that could survive those temperatures. 

Before, we thought that no living thing could brave such cold, but then we found out just how mistaken we had been. I wasn’t sure if those things were really alive in the way that you and I are alive. There was something wrong about them, maybe even something evil. We thought at least that only evil could subsist in the cold, that those temperatures were not for the living. But we weren’t sure if they were living. Sometimes we weren’t sure if we were. 

We’re not sure how global warming became global cooling. It was like the balance of the world became upset, and nature wanted us to pay. Maybe those things were nature itself lashing out at us demanding recompense. What had we done? We had done everything wrong. We had destroyed the earth. 

We deserved this fate, but yet we rebelled against it. The will to survive was strong. Stronger than we had realized. The hardest thing was seeing people dying and leaving them. If you stayed with them once they no longer had a chance, the creatures would get you too. 

Now it was just me and Tara. Once we had been a party of five, as if we had been waiting for a seat at a fancy restaurant. As if fancy restaurants still existed. Now they were the stuff of dreams and memory. 

Tim gave up hope. He asked me: Do you think there’s a heaven? Do you think they have pie there? Do you think that death is any worse than this? 

It was a question that was answerless as long as we were living. Was anything worse than this? 

Out of fear of rebellion, the government had to do something. So they established the safe zones, the checkpoints. If you could make it to the next one, you could survive. But you couldn’t stay, you had to keep going. If you could make it to the last one, you could make it out. Only we didn’t know if anyone ever made it out. There were rumors, of course, but some rumors are nothing more than repeated lies. 

The used to tell us when the temperatures were going to drop below zero. Now they didn’t even bother. The emergency radios only reported when something was truly different or new. Below zero was nothing new. 

Tim’s death though, that was something new. They said he was a hero. He had died killing a monster. There were many others still. But, in death, he had saved the rest of us. If I was honest, I wasn’t sure if I was willing to make that kind of sacrifice. Even for the promise of eternity. Even for the promise of pie. 

Tara asked me the question that was on both our minds: “What if we don’t get the car out?” 

I wanted to tell her the truth. “If we didn’t get the car out, then we are dead.” 

But instead I said: “If we don’t get the car out, then we walk.” 

Tara was shoveling frantically around the left wheel, while I manned the right. 

“Tim,” she said. “This might be enough. Get in the car and try to drive through. If it’s not, I’ll shovel some more.” 

I looked at my watch: 16:15. Sunset was fast approaching. 

What was it about death that so many people linked it to darkness? 

I got in the car and pressed the gas pedal, but there was nothing but spinning wheels. 

Tara was sweating in the cold. I saw the droplets run down her face. 

I thought about suggesting that we just stay here, huddle up in the car and take our chances. But that look of determination. 

“You shovel, I drive,” she said.  

We traded places, and I pushed against death. 

Finally, we broke through, and I got back into the car. She pressed the pedal to the floor so we could race to the checkpoint where we would find gas and food and temporary light. We might die, and it might be soon. But life held out her hand to us once again, and we grabbed on as hard as we could. We weren’t ready for death, at least not yet. 


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Lori D’Angelo’s work has appeared in various literary journals including including Drunken Boat, Gargoyle, Gravel, Hawaii Pacific Review, Literary Mama, the Potomac Review, and Word Riot. She is a fellow at Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She lives in Virginia with her dogs, cats, kids, and husband.

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