This is the “missing chapter” from Book 9 of The Long Fall that was inadvertently omitted during original publishing. A corrected version has been sent to Amazon, but if you are one of the readers who received a copy of book 9 with Chapter 7 being a duplicate of Chapter 6, read on for the “real” Chapter 7…
Michelle knew what Bob was thinking, and she shook her head profusely at the very idea.
“It could work,” Bob said. “It could. It would be shelter from this. We might make it.”
The frost was gaining on them. Each moment was colder, and their breath was visible even right next to the fire. The little bit of heat, too, was flickering, threatening to go out at any given moment.
“Shelter,” Bob emphasized, and Michelle shook her head again, backing away from him, an irrational fear of small spaces taking hold.
“A coffin you mean!” Her panic was everything to do with the slight claustrophobia she’d been gifted with since she was a child. “The thought of going into that underground box is worse…way worse than anything the frost could do to me, Bob. I won’t do it. I won’t!”
Bob followed her step for step as she backed away. “If I have to knock you out and drag you, Michelle. I’ll do it. It’s the only way.”
Michelle held her hands up. “You wouldn’t dare!” she demanded. “I can’t do it. I can’t be inside of that little underground shelter. You said its air tight! How will we breathe?”
“There has to be a vent. Of course, there is. It’s for people to hide in so they would have taken measures. It’s exactly for times like this!”
“It’s not for this,” she hissed. “Nothing was ever prepared for this. Not in the south. It’s like a panic room, it must be.”
Bob was quickly losing his patience with her, she knew. “Um. No. They have tornadoes this far south. Could be for that. It’s for protection from the elements. It’s for weather.” Bob cast around for words. “This is weather!”
Michelle chopped a hand through the air to land in the palm of her other one. “I am not going to bury myself in that death trap. And you can’t make me.”
Bob and Michelle turned to stare at the fire. A stalemate solidly in place for the moment. They watched as it slowly died, and her stubbornness crumbled bit by bit as the frost filled the room. Little crystals hung in the air, and the roof crackled with ice above. Frost climbed like vines across the windows, and Bob stood waiting, patient, knowing he couldn’t force her to go inside the underground shelter, but Michelle also knew she’d have to cave. She was acting insane but every time she thought about shutting up in that underground room, she felt even crazier than she was when facing the frost.
It was like stand-off. They watched each other and finally, as the cold swept into the room from the chimney and Michelle shivered, she caved, saying through teeth that chattered together, “Fine. Let’s pile on more clothes and blankets. We need food and we need to see if we can find flashlights.”
Racing through the house searching, they put on more layers until they could hardly move. They pulled blankets off beds and they packed up a small bag of food and water before making their way to the garage.
Michelle hovered around the entrance, dancing the dance of dread and fear. The cold was burning now, warning her that if she made the wrong choice, she’d die. Escaping the frost for a second time would take a miracle as it was, but doubly so if she refused the obvious gift of this shelter.
It was barely a hole in the ground of the garage, caged in cement with a heavy door that would lock them in. “What if it gets stuck? What if it breaks or snow piles into the garage and we can’t get out?”
Bob stood waist deep in the hole, and he merely gave her an exasperated glare.
“You can do this,” Bob said, taking her hand and leading her down.
With every step she felt like she was entering her own grave. It was small, just large enough for two people to sit in. For certain it wasn’t made for long term, just a night of tornadoes or whatever else the owners of the house had planned to escape.
“Bob,” Michelle groaned, feeling like she was going to pass out.
“Just don’t think about it,” he said slowly closing the door above them, before turning the wheel that made it airtight.
Bob then turned to her. “Breathe. Just breathe. You got this.”
She counted breaths, fighting the tremendous panic that threatened to make her scream in terror and claw her way from the death room.
As Bob turned on a light they had brought, she sucked in breath through her nose and out of her mouth. It went more slowly each time as she relaxed.
They both leaned against opposite walls dropping down to sit. The only sound in the room was their echoed breathing. It was freezing, but Bob had said he hoped their body heat would start to warm up the space. They moved the blankets under and over them, wrapping up like giant padded cocoons. The concrete on all sides was cold but slowly, it started to warm up.
“Thank God,” she said trying to work the feeling back into her hands and feet.
“Yeah,” Bob sighed out with pleasure. “I can feel my face for the first time since it struck.”
They decided to sleep. “I’ll set the timer on my watch for two hours at a time at first to make sure we move if we get too cold,” Bob said.
They spent the night waking every two hours, but eventually they warmed up enough that they finally turned off the alarm and figured they should rest the night.
Michelle was the first one up the next day. “Bob,” she said quietly. “You awake?”
He stirred. “Yeah.”
“I… um. I have to use the bathroom. Now.”
Neither of them had thought about that.
“So do I.” Bob blinked when she turned on the light, covering his face.
“Last time we went out the next day. You remember?”
Bob nodded, still shielding his eyes. “You ready to try?”
“What time is it?”
“It’s ten am. Want me to open this thing?”
Michelle stood. “Yes. We have to try.”
Bob cranked on the wheel and the airtight seal popped. Cold immediately rushed in making Michelle hate her bladder. Still, even with the fear of freezing to death, she felt like she couldn’t take another minute inside of the panic room. She climbed out and rushed into the house for the bathroom.
They met in the living room and were stamping their feet and rubbing their arms as Bob and Michelle tried to start a fire. After several attempts they got it done, but it was small and not providing much heat at first. They fed it everything they could find then finally the books from the shelf, too, though with reluctance.
They heated more of the soup they’d made. It was a frozen block of juice and veggies that still sat on the kitchen table. Melting it down, they ate it cold once again, too hungry to wait for it to get hot.
Michelle emptied the pot where they’d dumped in their frozen hot chocolates as well. “I found a thermos. I thought we should let this get hot and fill it before we leave.”
“How did you know I wanted to leave?”
“I know you. And I don’t want to stay either.”
Once the cocoa was hot, they packed up and left. With a lot of prayer, the Jeep started, and they drove by the couple’s house without even glancing in that direction. They guessed that anyone who had not hidden in an especially enclosed area had frozen during the latest part of the night. “Maybe it wasn’t as bad this time,” Michelle said, but the words died in her throat as she and Bob pulled up to the lake.
They both got out of the Jeep, silently walking towards the water—Or what had been water before.
Now it was ice. Frozen solid.
“Well,” Michelle said. “I guess we found our way across.”
“I guess so.”
Michelle felt like they could just walk across, but Bob told her that perhaps trying to walk the width of a state was probably not a good idea. “There won’t be any food or shelter across. Bad idea.”
So instead they searched the town until they found some four wheelers, the only thing that they trusted on the ice that wasn’t heavy enough to fall through. It’s not like they’d find snow mobile in Mississippi.
“What if these are too heavy as well?” she asked.
“They might be.”
Michelle frowned. “And if they fall through?”
“Then I guess we go with them.”
Michelle loved his optimism. “How far is it?”
“To Texas? Easily two hundred miles.”
Michelle gasped. “And you want us to ride these things? How long will that take?”
“A lot shorter than walking. I expect with some chains on the wheels, we could get them to ride decent enough. Maybe thirty to forty miles per hour if we get lucky and it looks flat the whole way. That makes the trip half of the daylight if we stop arguing and get to work.”
Michelle sighed and started to help Bob find everything that he needed. She had a million what-ifs stocked up by the time they got the four-wheeler and gasoline to the waterfront. Or rather, ice front. Bob had found some thin chains that he secured around each tire. She was going to request her own four-wheeler at first, but then they’d have to carry more gas that way. So, she was going to ride on the back and pray that their added weight didn’t break the ice.
Bob seemed to be less worried about that, as he walked right onto the ice, testing it by jumping up and down. Next, he drove the four-wheeler onto the ice while Michelle bit her nails and looked on. He tested the area close to the shore, then farther, making a few serpentines before coming back. “Get on,” he said.
His eyes were invisible behind thick ski goggles and Michelle put hers in place. Both of them had not one inch of skin uncovered by their snow gear. They had upgraded once more in the sports section of the store they found with the four-wheeler.
Michelle got on behind Bob after carefully stepping out onto the ice. Her heart was in her throat. She put a hand around Bob’s waist and closed her eyes as he started to drive. Below her was blue and white, some light some dark, and when she looked, she imagined identifying thinner parts to the ice. The thought terrified her. The two of them sinking to the bottom, seeing the remnants of civilization floating all around before crushing blackness and then finally death, kept running through her mind.
She decided to close her eyes instead. To bury her head in Bob’s back and hold on for dear life.