Noah checked the gas gauge and knew that they would not have enough gas to run the car’s heater for much longer. He had already realized that no one knew where they were. Probably about now they would be missed though.
They were almost out of food. He looked at Sharlee and Sky. He needed to do something. He couldn’t just keep sitting there until they froze to death or starved. Although Sharlee was breastfeeding Sky, how much longer would she be able to do that without having the proper food herself! They did have some milk for Sky that Sharlee had expressed at home and brought with them, but that wouldn’t last long either. Sky wasn’t smiling as much, and Noah knew that it was because she sensed that something was wrong. Noah came to a decision.
“Babe, no one knows where we are. They would be here by now if they did. This area seems to be very isolated. I think that we’ve gone a long way off the main highway. I’m going to explore and see what’s around us.”
He leaned over and kissed her and then Sky. “I love you both.”
“We love you too Noah. Be careful!”
“You too, Sharlee. Keep the doors locked just in case.” He put on his jacket and gloves. Then he left the car.
“Honey, I’m sure that Noah is keeping them safe! You know he won’t let anything happen to Skylar or Sharlee! I know they’ll find them. They have to find them!”
Alissa didn’t say anything else. She knew that Dale had only said that to comfort her. She thought to herself about the fact that Noah was a city boy. He didn’t know how to survive outdoors in cold weather like that. Although Sharlee had gone camping ever since she was girl, she’d never done it in that type of weather! Alissa didn’t want to give up hope, but it was becoming less and less likely that her children would be found alive. The searchers really didn’t even know where to look for them!
Noah had been gone for a long time. Skylar fell asleep and Sharlee had to use the bathroom badly! She made sure that Skylar was secure, and then she put on her hat and gloves. She walked a short distance from the car.
“I found a cave! We can have a fire and stay warm in there. We’re almost out of gas, and we can’t stay here.”
As he talked, Noah was getting some of their things together to take with him. “You and Sky wait here. I’ll come back for you. I want to get the fire started and make sure it’s warm before we take Sky.”
He took the things that he’d gathered and headed back to the cave. After he was inside, he put a tire from the SUV on the ground. He got a fire started inside the center of the tire. It worked just as he’d hoped! The metal barrier in the center of the wheel kept the fire burning hotly and kept the fire from reaching the rubber part of the tire. Then he made a comfortable spot for his family on the other side of the cave. He thoroughly checked the rest of the cave to make sure that there wasn’t another entrance behind them.
He used the SUV jack to move some rocks and stones to block the entrance and keep the heat inside the cave. It would also discourage animals from getting inside. He needed to make sure that Sharlee and Sky would be as safe as possible. After he had done the best that he could, Noah headed back to the SUV.
“Okay, Sharlee. Let’s go to the cave. You carry Sky, and I’ll bring some more of our things.”
Sharlee made sure that she and Skylar were bundled up warmly and put Sky into her harness. Then she got out of the car. Her bad ankle buckled when she put weight on it, and she fell back against the car. Noah grabbed her and steadied her. Sharlee started to cry. She felt angry with herself, frustrated and sad all at once!
“I’m so sorry, Noah! I always used to be irritated in those old movies when the woman would fall or hurt her ankle after the monster or the bad guy was after them. Then everyone would almost die because of trying to help her! Now it’s happened to me! I fell when I went to use the bathroom and I hurt my ankle. I can’t go with you. You take Sky with you to the cave. You can make her some bottles with the milk in the cooler. Someone should find you soon. I’ll just stay here and try to conserve the rest of the gas for as long as possible.”
Noah didn’t say anything. He closed the back door of the SUV. Then he scooped her up into his arms as she was holding onto Sky. There wasn’t need of any discussion as far as he was concerned. Leaving Sharlee behind was not an option.
After they were settled inside, Sky started smiling. Sharlee was relieved that she seemed to be okay. She put Sky on the blanket so that Sky could stretch out to move around and play. Noah checked their food. There was only enough for one more day.
“Babe, I have to take your boot off and look at your foot. It’s gonna hurt.”
Sharlee laughed too. They were surrounded by snow and ice! He grabbed the first aid kit and found an icepack. He placed it around her ankle.
“That feels like such a relief! It seems funny to say that with all of this snow and ice around us.”
Noah left it on her ankle for about fifteen minutes. After he removed it, he bound her ankle with a bandage. Then he put her boots back onto her feet.
“Thank you, Honey.”
“Sharlee, I’ve got to go and find help. You and Sky stay here in the cave. Don’t let the fire go out.”
“I can’t just sit here and watch you and Sky die! We’re almost out of food. No one knows where we are. I have an idea. I’m going back to the SUV and use a long stick to poke into the snow until I find the road. Then I’m going to try to follow it back the way we came to the main highway.”
“The snow is so deep! Noah it’s too dangerous! Please don’t go!”
Noah reached across and caressed her cheek. He told her, “You remember before Sky was born, when we agreed that she comes first?”
“She still comes first. I have to do this, Babe. I’m her father and I have to do everything I can. I love you too Sharlee, and I’m not going to watch you waste away to nothing without trying to prevent it! We’re almost out of food. What we had wasn’t really much anyway. I have to do this.”
“I’m sorry, Noah. If it weren’t for me being so selfish, we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“No, it’s not your fault. I wanted to make this trip with you too! Besides, I’m the one who wrecked us.”
He’d already found a long tree branch and torn away the leaves. It was long enough to stick through the snow. He carefully poked around the area close to the SUV until he hit what had to be pavement. He tied strips from a torn up piece of clothing on tree branches periodically to mark the way back to the cave and to keep track of his path. He slowly and tediously made his way along what he hoped would lead to the main road.
Later that night, Sharlee was stretched out beside Skylar. Skylar was sleeping, but Sharlee wasn’t asleep. Her stomach felt like it was in knots from worrying about Noah. When she first heard the sound, she thought that her nerves were causing her imagination to play tricks on her. Then it was unmistakable. Something was trying to get inside the cave!
Sharlee rose from beside Sky and limped over to the fire. She grabbed a piece of wood and lit it like a torch. Then she went to the other side of the fire and stood between Sky and the entrance. From there she could hear even more clearly. Something was digging under the rocks blocking the entrance!
Sharlee screamed, “Get away from here and leave us alone!”
Skylar was startled awake and began to cry! The digging stopped. Sharlee spoke soothingly to Skylar but remained where she was for almost an hour. After she was sure that whatever it was had gone away, she rejoined Sky. Her ankle felt on fire with pain! Standing on it had increased the inflammation.
Noah didn’t know how he’d made it through the night, but the sun had finally risen again. He continued to trudge along throughout the day. Close to sunset, he was disturbed to find that he had somehow gone off course! He could no longer feel the pavement beneath the stick.
He searched among the trees and found the last piece of ribbon that he’d tied on a branch. Then he tried to retrace his steps to find the pavement again. It was no use! He couldn’t find it.
Noah sat down on a log. He didn’t know what to do next. He pulled out his cellphone. To his pleased surprise, there was a signal! Just as he tried to dial 911, he lost the signal again!
Sharlee still hadn’t really slept since the night before Noah had left the cave. She’d dosed off and on, but she was hyper alert to any sound. Throughout the day, Sky had been asking for Noah. Sharlee had tried to distract her and tell her that Daddy would be back soon. Sharlee hoped it was true! It was nightfall again, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep this night either. She could hear wolves howling and wondered if it had been a wolf trying to get inside the cave the previous night. It made her even more afraid for Noah.
“Noah Honey, you’ve got to get up!”
Noah’s eyes shot open! He knew he’d been dreaming, but Sky and Sharlee’s voices had sounded so real! His body wanted to go back to sleep, but he knew if he did, he would probably not ever wake up again. Dream or not, the voices had come to him at the right time! He forced himself to get up and start moving again. However, he still didn’t know which way he should go in order to find the main road. He wondered if he should head back to the cave. He wasn’t helping his family by staying out here either! Maybe he could find something that they could eat.
The noises started again that night at the entrance to the cave. Whatever it was, it seemed even more determined tonight to get inside. This time Skylar was still awake. “Skylar, I love you so much, and I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Please don’t be scared, Baby!” Sharlee knew that Sky didn’t understand, but she wanted to tell her anyway. She moved Skylar further away from the entrance.
Then Sharlee stood up as the sounds increased. She lit a torch and positioned herself on the other side of the fire between Sky and whatever was coming into the cave. Adrenaline was pumping through her body, and she didn’t even feel the pain in her ankle nor the deep weariness that she’d had for the past few days.
Sharlee decided to make the first move. She shouted at it! “Get out of here!” It growled and snarled at her, baring its teeth! Skylar started crying. Somehow Sharlee sensed that it was about to lunge and try to get past her to Skylar. As it moved, so did Sharlee!
Sharlee watched until it stopped breathing. She hated that she’d had to kill it, but it had been a choice between the wolf, Sky or herself. The wolf had really forced her to kill it. After she was sure that it was dead, she dragged it closer to the entrance of the cave. She wasn’t strong enough to move the stones and take it outside.
Now that the wolf was dead and the immediate danger was gone, Sharlee’s ankle made itself felt with a vengeance. She washed up as best she could and then went to comfort Sky. After making sure that Sky was alright, she tried to take her boot off so that she could ice her ankle, but it was so badly swollen that she wasn’t able to take it off without help. So she was forced to leave it alone and bear the pain.
She screamed, “Get away from here and leave us alone!”
The sounds paused and then began again. Sharlee lit another torch and took the same position on the other side of the fire.
Noah shouted, “I’m over here!”
Noah answered. “I can lead you to them. They’re in a cave. I tied fabric strips to the trees so that I can find my way back to them.”
One of the searchers started shining his searchlight on the trees until they were able to locate one of Noah’s fabric strips.
“Aaron, radio base and notify them that we’ve located Mr. Hall and the copter can come and get him. There’s a large enough clearance close by. Tell them that we’ll continue our search for the others at sunrise.”
Noah headed toward the treeline, and one of the searchers stopped him. “Alright, Mr. Hall! Wait just a minute while we confer with base.”
Aaron radioed back to headquarters and they told him that there was another blizzard expected to hit later that night. The three searchers conferred and decided that it would be better to try to find the cave and then hunker down there for the night. There were still a few hours before the storm was expected to hit.
They shined their lights on the trees and began to follow Noah’s trail back to the cave. They told Noah that the few moments when he’d been able to get a signal on his phone had been long enough for the nearest cell tower to pick up a ping. From there they had been able to get a better idea of where he was located.
There was a massive coordinated search underway for Noah and his family. The fact that they were missing had been been broadcast all over the news networks. It had become a huge story! However, the search area had been massive, and they had almost given up hope of finding them alive. Word of finding Noah was transmitted to their families.
When they reached the cave, Noah was shocked to see that the entrance of the cave was no longer blocked by the rocks and stones that he’d placed there. They all rushed inside and saw the corpse of the wolf. Sky and Sharlee were gone!