The snow had fallen steadily that afternoon and was now drifting lightly on a landscape of white, the evergreens looking like lumps of green frosting on an iced cake. Danielle wondered when the snowplow man would come to clear her long driveway. She had been out already, brushing snow off her red Cherokee. It had been snowing since yesterday and the road crews had been by several times, keeping the country roads clear for travel. Back in the house, she had taken off her green parka and tall boots. Looking in the mirror, she saw that her cheeks were red from the cold, giving life to her white skin and short dark hair.
She heard a meshing of gears and scraping sound and looking out the window, saw the welcome sight of a truck with snowplow fighting its way towards her house.
She dialed the phone.
"Jackie, it looks like I'll be able to come by to pick up the puppy today. The guy is just clearing my driveway now."
The phone squawked a response and she put it down, watching the snowplow shoving the piles of snow to the side. She hoped her elderly friend, Agnes, had got home OK yesterday. She had left when the snow was just starting. Danielle had tried to call her but there had been no response. Perhaps she had taken her hearing aid out or her son had come and taken her somewhere. When she got back she'd try to reach her son, Rob Stratton, a local businessman.
The driveway was now cleared and she went out and started her Jeep. She had a crate in the back for the puppy that Jackie had found wandering on her property.
Jackie had told her it was not unusual for animals to be dropped off there. "Just because we have a farm, those dopes think they can discard their unwanted animals here. I'm sick of it, but I don't want to blame the animals for something they can't help."
They both belonged to an animal rescue group which tried to make up for the ignorance and cruelty of others by finding homes for strays. Danielle would take the puppy to a vet who volunteered his time to examine, treat and neuter the animals they rescued.
As Danielle started down the driveway, her cell phone rang. She answered, "Hi, Rob. How's your mom doing? I tried to call her this morning."
"Danielle, I don't know, she's not at home."
"She left here at 11 AM yesterday and I thought she was going home."
"That's where I'm calling from now. She's not here. I've tried her friends and nobody seems to have seen her." His voice had risen at the end of the sentence, and she could hear the concern in it.
"She can't have broken down somewhere, could she? You'd have heard about it. I'm going out now, Rob. I'll keep an eye out for her car in case it did break down somewhere and somebody took her in."
He said, "Thanks, Danielle. I'm going to call the police next. I'll let you know.
Danielle drove along the snow covered road, watching out for any cars that might have been stranded. There was one car by the side of the road and she stopped to look into it but there was nobody there. As far as she could see, no footprints led away from it unless the person had walked along the road, in which case, the driver must have been picked up by someone. She realized it was not Agnes's car, anyway. In this part of
, they sometimes got several feet of snow during a winter storm. The road crews came out as soon as the snow stopped or even sooner and did a good job keeping the roads clear because people had to get to work and the school buses would need to run as soon as possible. However, some of the back roads in this rural community would be plowed last. There were not many houses on her road. New Jersey
She was approaching the farm now where Jackie lived. The driveway was near a bend in the road and there was the entrance to a long driveway beside it to an abandoned farm. The farm driveway was drifted with snow. Danielle wondered what it had been like living on that farm in days gone by. She knew that farm kids had gone by horse drawn sleigh to school as recently as one hundred years ago. She made the sharp turn into Jackie's driveway and drove along towards the farm house. The drive had been plowed and she had no trouble on it. As she negotiated the narrow lane, the sun came out suddenly and blindingly. She blinked away from it, over the fields towards the old farm. The sun caused the shadows of the trees to be blue, ending in a more intense blue far along the farm driveway. The effects of the snow were beautiful in the country.
She stamped snow off her boots on the mat before entering Jackie's kitchen. A hound puppy snoozed on a mat in front of the wood stove. He looked as though he might grow up to be a good sized dog with, she thought, a mix of
Labrador and possibly even bloodhound or some kind of hound in the longish ears She took off her coat and accepted a cup of tea. Jackie, a tall blonde in her thirties, like Danielle, was taking a break from her computer. She worked at home several days a week. After they’d had tea and a few homemade molasses cookies that Jackie was experimenting with, Danielle asked Jackie if she'd seen Mrs. Stratton lately. Jackie said that she hadn't run into her at the supermarket or any of the local spots. They agreed that it was unlike Agnes not to have communicated with her son or someone. She had just turned 80, but still liked her independence and to drive herself everywhere. Since she lived alone, Jackie and Danielle liked to keep an eye on her as they would have done for their own mothers.
Danielle petted the puppy who seemed friendly and in fairly good condition, although Jackie said he had been hungry when she found him. Danielle put on the collar she had brought and attached the leash. The puppy bounced up and down.
She got ready to go again and Jackie came with her to help load the puppy into the crate in the van. As they left the house, Danielle's cell phone rang again. Rob Stratton now sounded panicky.
"Danielle, my mom seems to be missing. You were the last person to see her, apparently. Which way did she go?"
Danielle thought and said, "The way she always does. She drove down the road towards the highway. It had just started to snow. I thought the roads weren't bad but the visibility was not that great. I looked for stranded cars on the way to Jackie's but I didn't see Agnes anywhere."
Rob said, "The police are looking for her now. "
Danielle said, "I'm sorry, Rob. I hope they find her."
As she clicked off her cell phone, the leash dropped from her gloved fingers and the puppy bounded free into the snow. As puppies do, he thought the snow was the most wonderful invention for puppies ever created. He bit it, threw it up and ran around in circles like a mad thing. Jackie and Danielle ran after him, laughing.
Suddenly, he took off, running and leaping through the snow.
Danielle shouted at him, "Bad dog! Come back here!"
But the puppy was gloriously free again and he wanted to run.
He ran and ran through the snow, through the trees, over the field and presently he found a trail where the snow was not as deep. He followed his nose after the scent of a rabbit and then there was the smell of something he recognized. He explored it, running around. Then he opened his mouth and called loudly in his ringing voice. There was something here he did not understand, something of despair. It made the puppy sad.
Danielle and Jackie were following the dog's tracks through the snow, floundering into drifts until they reached the old driveway, where the ground was harder underfoot. The dog’s tracks ran along it. They heard him in the distance, calling a hound call. Danielle looked around at the evergreens whose branches swept the ground with their heavy load of snow. It was cold and wet but so beautiful. A hound dog would love to track on this old farm.
As Danielle came around a bend in the driveway, she saw the puppy sitting beside what appeared to be an old car covered by snow. But as she got closer, she recognized the blue car that Agnes Stratton drove. She approached it with a thrill of fear. What was it doing here all the way down a long abandoned driveway? It was under the branches of a very large spruce so anyone flying over would not have seen it. She looked in the driver's window and saw Agnes with her eyes closed, still in the driver's seat. Was she dead? She opened the door and suddenly Agnes' eyes opened. She said, weakly, "I ran out of gas and then it got cold. I couldn't get any farther down the road."
Danielle used her cell phone to call 911 and then Rob Stratton. Soon the “whupping” sound of the blades of a police helicopter let them know help had come and Agnes was picked up and loaded on a stretcher. The stretcher was put aboard the helicopter. Agnes opened her eyes and gave them a weak smile and they knew she would fight for her life. The helicopter rose into the blue sky, turning the snow into a storm of white crystals, and the deafening sound gradually got less and less. Danielle and Jackie caught the puppy and trudged back across the fields.
Rob called Danielle later to tell her that Agnes would be staying in the hospital to regain her strength but they expected that she would recover. He explained that she had said she had mistaken the old farm driveway for the road. At the bend, she went straight ahead, blinded by the snow falling and confused by her own poor eyesight, and just kept on along the driveway until she could go no farther. The country roads were just slightly wider than a driveway, anyway. When the snow deepened and she got stuck, she kept the engine running for heat as long as she could, believing someone would come along soon. She had thought she was still on the road, not in a driveway. But it might have been months before anyone would have driven down that old farm road.
“If you hadn't found her when you did, she couldn't have held out much longer. Thanks for saving her, Danielle."
Danielle said, "I'm glad we found her, Rob, but a lot of the credit has to go to a little puppy that somebody abandoned like trash. How would you like to adopt a dog?"