“No, no, no!” Sixteen-year-old Josie Miller screamed at the winter air. She wished it could hear her and actually help her get out of this. With at least two and a half feet of snow, she hadn’t remembered the dip in the road, where Samson now flailed against the snow drift, at least four-feet high. She wished now she hadn’t tried to take the shortcut to town. Few people knew about it, just her family and the surrounding neighbors. It was a beautiful snow, but she knew it could turn deadly when night fell.
She had to get to town. She had to get to the doctor. Ma was sick again.
“Come on, let’s go! You can do it, Samson!” Josie tried to be calm, but she heard the panic rising in her own voice. She clicked her tongue. Samson flailed, and that said quite a lot. Named for his Bible predecessor, Samson was the strongest horse her family owned. A fearless, yet gentle horse with an occasional wild streak when frightened, Josie remembered Pa say he was a Morgan mixed with a bit of Mustang.
Usually Samson was a peaceful horse, but he seemed powerless to extricate himself from the snow, but not for trying. Josie got out of the wagon. What would she do now? She had to get to town. Since her illness last year robbed her strength, Ma needed Josie’s help more and more, especially with the young’uns. Ma had pneumonia a year ago. Now, it seemed to take Ma twice the energy just to get around than it did before.
When the blizzard struck last week, Ma’d been outside, trying to get the chickens into the chicken house. Josie, Ma, and the young ones worked to get the animals inside the barn. Pa was still away at the state capitol. He was a state senator, and very popular. The legislature was still in session now, until a couple days before Christmas, in about a week. Pa had sent a telegram that he planned to be home the night before. But now, with Ma sick again, Josie wondered whether there’d be Christmas at the Miller house at all.
With a sigh, she first grabbed the bridle, and pulled gently down on it, stroking Samson’s forehead and nose. His frustrated whinnies were beginning to escalate. She must calm him down, then she could think what to do. Samson strained forward, but was met by a solid wall of snow up to his shoulders. The snow came beyond Josie’s waist. It was difficult to move at all.
“Shh. It’s all right, Samson. We’ll get out of this. It’s all right.” She didn’t know how, but she would find a way.
She stroked Samson’s head, looking around, wondering if they could just back up, turn around, and go back home. Ma hadn’t wanted her to go in the first place, but Josie had insisted. Ma then told her to stick to the main roads, as they were more likely to have tracks and furrows in them. But in her haste, she didn’t listen. She wanted to get to town, fetch the doctor, and pick up the supplies, and return home quickly. She couldn’t do that taking the main road, so she took the little-used shortcut. It usually shaved off nearly an hour. But not today.
Samson quieted down, but still pawed at the ground. Josie clicked her tongue again and pushed the workhorse backwards. They seemed to make some progress.
“Good boy. Keep going, easy boy, not too fast.” They’d moved about ten feet backwards when Samson let out a loud neigh. He jumped his front feet up in the air. The reins jerked from Josie’s hands, causing her to fall backwards in the snow.
“Oof!” Josie gathered her feet up under her and pushed herself up, dusting off as much snow as she could. Even though the sun shone and made the snow glisten, she wished it was already melted. But then, she’d have to deal with mud. She didn’t like that either. Oh, why couldn’t she have listened to Pa about using the shortcut in winter? Why did she think she knew best? Because sometimes, she did, sometimes her ideas worked. Not this time.
Now the wagon was stuck. She tried to remember what Pa previously told her about when a wagon got stuck. “Pull the horse forward, then push backward, until you get to some treads where the wheels turn easily. Always try to keep in someone else’s tracks. That will help you not to be stuck. It should also help you get unstuck.”
But now, she was stuck – again. Stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with a panicky horse and a four-foot snow drift.
“Come on, Samson.” She pulled the reins to go forward. They went a few feet, but were restrained by snow again. She tried pushing the gelding backwards. The wagon moved a few feet, but skewed off into another drift.
Would she ever get out of this? What should she do now? What could she do? She tried to calm herself by petting Samson’s nose again, but a tear slipped from her eyes. He jerked his head up. She could tell his panic was rising. A thought came.
She fumbled with the harness buckles, her fingers not working well beneath her mittens. She’d have to take them off. She blew on her fingers to warm them.
It took a while, but she finally released the harness. Samson must have sensed he was free.
“Samson! Come back!” He lunged away from her, broke her grip on the reins and ran back the way they’d come. Without the wagon tying him down, Samson was free to lunge and jump his way to freedom.
“Samson, stop!” That did it. All Josie’s bravado left her. She slid to her knees and wept.
She didn’t know how long she knelt there. At some point, she realized her hands were freezing, and awkwardly put her mittens back on. But even though her hands were covered now, they hurt with cold. Her coat was wet from the snow she couldn’t brush off, and made her feel heavy. She’d worn all her dresses on top of each other, then put on her coat. At least most of her wasn’t freezing, not yet. But she was concerned about her dresses weighing her down and her feet getting too cold.
What now? Should she stay with the wagon and hope someone found her? What would happen after night fell? She hated to abandon the wagon. Not only was she going to fetch the doctor for Ma, she was also charged with getting the weekly supplies her family needed. It seemed like everything went wrong after Pa got elected to the Senate. He was in his first year of office, but he was gone a lot. Her fourteen year-old twin brothers Clay and Cody, did most of the heavier chores around the farm, while she and ten year-old Sarah did most of the women’s work, now that Ma was sick in bed again.
Still, it seemed as though Josie was carrying more than her fair share of the load. It should have been Clay and Cody making this run into town. She wished they had. But part of the barn roof had collasped under the heavy snow last night. The twins had their hands full with the animals and repairs. Twelve-year-old Sarah was tending to Ma and their younger siblings. Eight-year old Sam, six-year old Clarice and three-year-old Ira were a handful even when Ma felt good. For a young girl, she knew Sarah had to feel overwhelmed.
She remembered the conversation with Sarah earlier that day.
“Sarah, I need to talk to you.” After the last lunch dish was dried, she sat Sarah down at the table.
“I have to go fetch the doctor. Ma’s worse today. I don’t like that the fever won’t go down.” Josie looked into Sarah’s eyes and saw them widen.
“Do you have to? I thought Ma was feeling better yesterday.” Josie saw Sarah’s adam’s apple bobble up and down from across the table.
Josie let out a deep breath. “I’m afraid so. You know the twins are working on the barn today. I’m putting you in charge of the house. You know how to cook and clean now. You’ll make a great wife and mother someday.”
Sarah’s bottom lip quivered and a tear escaped. She blinked and looked down a moment, before tear-filled eyes rose to meet Josie’s gaze.
“Will Ma die if you don’t go?” Her mouth widened in proportion to her eyes.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to take that chance. Now, I’ve already talked to the twins. They said they’ll help you in any way you need. But I’ve got to go for the doctor. He’s got remedies we don’t know anything about. He helped Ma last year, you know.”
Sarah swallowed again. More tears escaped. “I’m scared Josie. I wish Pa were home.”
Josie reached out a hand. Sarah grasped it from across the table. “I wish he were, too. It will be all right Sarah. You’ll be fine. You can do everything same as me. And you’ll have help from Clay and Cody.”
Sarah came around the table and Josie gave her a hug, then charged her sister. “Take good care of Ma and the little ‘uns until I get back.”
Sarah’s head bobbed up and down. “I will.”
Looking around at the snow banks all around her, Josie’s mind re-entered the present. She let out a deep breath and watched her smoky breath dissipate. It always fascinated her to see her breath when it was cold enough.
She looked up at the sky and figured sunset was about two hours away. If she walked back to the farm now, it would probably take her an hour. That is, if she didn’t get caught herself in too deep a drift to get out. Then, she’d really be stuck.
She bowed her head. Tears ran down her cheeks. “God, please help me get home. Please let Ma be all right” She whispered to the cold, crisp air, hoping God heard her prayer.
Try as she might to keep in the tracks already made from both the wagon and Samson’s retreating steps, she found it difficult sometimes to keep her balance. Her mind wandered. She tried to focus. Her limbs ached and she felt cold all over now. One foot in front of the other, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you’ll get home.
“Oomf!” Josie’s breath seemed to be knocked out of her when she fell yet again. In trying to get up, she fell sideways again and landed in snow nearly up to her chin. Where was she? She pushed hard to try to wade through the heavy morass of shimmering snow. What had happened? She looked around. Her feet must have wandered when her mind did. She’d fallen right into a drift-filled ditch. The snow was so keep, she could hardly move. She leaned forward and tried to push her way up. It didn’t work.
She was jammed in the snow as if someone had hammered her in like a nail. She was really trapped now. Panic rose. She was going to die here. She was beginning to feel the dampness seeping through her outer layers. How she wished she’d never left the farm. What about Samson? Did he make it back? If he did, it was possible her brothers would come after her. But what if Samson got caught in a deep snow drift? He’d die too.
Was there no way out?
She sobbed. She hated feeling helpless, and yet, right now, she’d tried everything she knew to do. Nothing worked and nothing helped. She’d prayed. She only hoped that God heard her prayer and would answer. She’d felt confined at home all year since Pa was gone a lot, and she was the oldest. With Ma being weak, it was up to Josie to help not only Ma, but also help the boys out with Pa’s chores. She never seemed to have any time to herself. Well, she was getting it today – but this she wasn’t the way she wanted to spend her time by herself.
She felt like a little baby. “I should be able to handle this. I should be able to work something out.” Knowing no one was listening, with the hopeful expectation that God was, she poured her heart out. “God, I’ve tried. If only I hadn’t left home. If only I’d been able to calm Samson down, I could have at least ridden him home – even if riding on top of a harness is very uncomfortable.” Not that she’d ever done that, but it looked bumpy.
She knew she should stop crying, but she couldn’t. She felt her energy draining from her. She was tired. Tired of fighting a losing battle. Yet, she had to try to survive this.
She didn’t know how long she stayed there, crying. Finally, she looked up. The sun was about one hour from setting, and it would soon be very cold and dark. She tried again to make large, sweeping arm movements to dig herself out, but it wasn’t enough. She wasn’t going anywhere.
As if someone could hear, she cried “Help! Help! Somebody help me! Somebody please help me! God, help me! Please help me!” She was desperate. She was at her wits end.
She tried to think positive thoughts. Maybe Samson had gotten home and the boys were out looking for her. Maybe a miracle would happen and she’d be able to dig herself out. Maybe God would send an angel to help her.
That was an awful lot of maybes.
She tried shouting again. If God brought a miracle rescuer, they’d hear her if she cried out. “Help me!” She screamed again. The quiet landscape made no answer.
Minutes ticked by. She looked up at the sky again. The sun was beginning its quick descent. It would soon be dark.
“Help! Someone help me! Please!” She shrieked again. Silence for a moment. Then, she thought she heard something. She shook her head and strained to hear.
“Helllloooo! Is anyone there?” She cried out. She thought she heard a voice from a distance. Maybe she was imagining things.
“Yes, I’m here. Where are you?” It wasn’t a fancy. There was someone there. A strong male voice that sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Relief flooded her. She was found!
“I’m over here!” She struggled again to free herself, to no avail. She was at least able to get her arms up over her head. She hoped that would help whoever had come to rescue her.
“Keep shouting, talking. I’m following the sound of your voice. Tell me about yourself.” The voice reminded her of someone. Who was it? She searched her memory. The last time she remembered hearing that voice, it wasn’t quite that deep. Whoever it was, he was someone from her past, someone she’d known, but hadn’t in a long time.
“I’m over here. My name is Josie Miller. I live on a farm near here, but I’m stuck in the snow. My horse ran away. My wagon is around here somewhere. My Ma is sick and I was on my way to town for a doctor, but this shortcut had more snow drifts than I expected. I fell in a big drift in a ditch.”
“Josie? Is that you?” The voice from mere feet to her left and a bit above her told her whomever he was, he was very close. But he was still about five feet about her.
Josie looked up. The sun was behind him, but his silhouetted form seemed familiar. She put her hand up to her eyes to shield them from the sun, but still couldn’t make out his features.
“Thank God you’re here. Who are you? How did you find me?”
A hearty male laugh replied. “You don’t remember me? It hasn’t been that long!”
She squinted. He came close and grabbed her hand. She looked into his eyes. Recognition hit her.
“Joshua – Joshua Schmidt! It’s been years. How did you get here? How did you find me?”
She noticed the rope around his waist. She followed it back to his horse. Tethered to his mount was Samson. She sobbed. Samson was found. She wondered if she would ever see that gelding again.
She hadn’t ever expected to see Joshua again. He’d left Kansas after school, saying he was going to make his fortune and was never coming back. She was a heartbroken twelve-year-old. He was her first crush.
“Samson! You found him.”
He made a clicking noise and as his steed drew backwards, he pulled on her, gripping her tight. She felt his strength and the power of the mount as they pulled her out of the ditch into the area around the wagon.
His eyes sparkled. He seemed genuinely glad to see her. “How are you, Miss Josie? I’ll be happy to answer all your questions, but first, let’s get you home.” His smile was as wide as the snow-covered plains around them.
As he lifted her up onto his horse, Josie released a breath and a stifled sob. Then, her leg hit something tied to his saddle horn. She moved her skirt and looked down to read the gold lettering on the black bag. Joshua Schmidt, M.D.
Home. She’d be all right. Everything would be all right. The day started out as an adventure, but nearly ended in disaster. She couldn’t wait to get warm and dry and learn how her beloved Joshua’s life had changed so much to make him become a doctor. And how in the world he knew where she would be.
© Donna L.H. Smith 2014