By Catherine Mohs
A friend of mine and I did Young Writers Program in November and enjoyed it so much that we decided to continue doing it. We came up with prompts for each other and in January decided to do song prompts. I wrote this “short” story for the Pentatonix song, “Coldest Winter.” For those of you who remember our Ranger’s Apprentice fan fiction, this is sort of a spinoff of that. It was my friend’s idea to put it in a modern setting as the Rangers Corps as a kind of elite police force. I hope you enjoy it!
Rea wakes to the insistent rapping on her door. Groaning, she rolls over to look at her phone. “Four o’clock! Alix, what are you doing? No sane person should be awake at this time!” Alix calls back through the door. “I never said that the people we’re going after is sane. Crime doesn’t stop during the night, Rea.” Rea moans as she climbs out of the warm bed and dresses hurriedly. As she steps out of the room, strapping on her bulletproof vest, she glances out the window. Snow was falling down fast and outside there was over a foot of snow. She meets Alix in the kitchen and hurries down the apartment stairs down to the cruiser. Rea helps Alix push the snow off the top of the car and then, with wheels spinning in the snow, they take off for the west side of the city.
As the car warms up, Rea yawns and turns to Alix. “So what exactly are we doing?” she queries. Alix replies, “Well, Gilan gave me a call, saying that they might have picked up a clue to the drug gang. Whoever tipped them off told Gil that they are supposed to meet tonight somewhere in the riverside blocks on the west side of town. The houses are run down there and there’s plenty of good rendezvous places there and we’ve known for some time now that something has been going on there. Exactly what, we didn’t know until tonight.”
As Alix pulls into the bad section of the town, she slows down and pulls over. “We’re getting close. I’ll park here and we’ll go on foot the rest of the way. Don’t want to scare them off with the sight of the car.” Together, they make their way down the quiet street. The snow lay thick on the unplowed roads and there were few footprints on the sidewalk. In the run-down buildings, a few lights in the windows still glowed, though most of the houses’ window were dark and foreboding, if not shattered and smashed. Behind them came the sound of a garbage can tipping over and a meowing and hissing as two cats fought over some scraps. On a regular day, the noise would have seemed commonplace, but tonight, it made the back of Rea’s neck prickle with fear and suspense.
As the rounded the corner, they suddenly came upon two men talking in low whispers at the corner of the block. One of the men handed a small sack to the other, who in return counted and passed him some money. Alix steps forward, pulling out her handgun, but keeping it behind her. “If you’ll excuse me for interrupting, but let me see what you have in that bag there.” The men look at each other, then one of them says with a chuckle, “Nothing suspicious, ma’am. Just met my friend here and he gave me the rocks I asked him to get me. You see I’m a geologist and…” Alix nods, stepping closer. “I see,” she says flatly. But why in the middle of the night, in the bad section of town, next to an abandoned house, and at the exact place where we were supposed to find some drug-dealing thugs? If it’s nothing suspicious, you wouldn’t mind me looking in that bag, would you now?” “Are you calling us druggies?!” the other man says, raising his voice. “No one calls me that and lives to tell the story! I’m a law-abiding, innocent…” “You may be all that,” Alix says, waving the gun at them. “But I still want to have a look at that bag and…” She lunges at them suddenly, catching them unawares and knocking the bag from his grip. The bag flies in the air and hits the street hard, breaking open and spilling the contents across the road. Pills, lots and lots of pills. “I… I… can explain this,” stutters the man who spoke first. “You see…” “Shut up, Derek. You’ll only get us in more trouble. Run!” The men turn and, before Alix can shoot at them, they turn the corner and jump into a waiting car which promptly speeds off.
Alix takes one look at the fleeing car and runs back to the cruiser. “Rea! Stay here and collect the pills. We’ll need them as evidence!” she yells as she jumps in the car and revs the engine. “I’ll come back to pick you up as soon as I catch these hoodlums!” Rea stares at the speeding cars, roaring through the snow. However, in a moment, all is dead silent again and the trainee sighs, turning to collect the spilled capsules. Finishing collecting them, she straightens and looks around. For the first time, she realizes how utterly alone she is. Or so she thought.
Alix speeds around the corner, throwing up a spray of snow that temporarily blocks her view. As her windshield clears, her eyes widen and she slams on the breaks. Before her, the bridge had been washed out by the floor before the freeze over and the road ended in a sheer cliff, dropping down into the frozen river. Skidding to a halt, Alix jumps out and peers over the edge. The wrecked car of the thugs lay upside down on the ice in the river, its wheels spinning aimlessly. Grabbing a pair of handcuffs from the car, Alix carefully makes her way down the slippery bank. Stepping out on the ice, she grins and mutters to herself, “This shouldn’t be too hard. They’ve gotta be knocked out cold.”
Rea looks around, taking in her surroundings. She yawns, then shakes her head vehemently. “Wouldn’t do any good for Alix to come back here and find me frozen to death,” she says, philosophically. She is about to get up from where she is sitting on the sidewalk when she hears a rustling noise above her. “That’s strange,” she murmurs. “Alix said that this building was abandoned…” She glances up and sees a masked man leaning out of the fifth storey window with a huge cinder block in his hands. The terrified trainee watches in horrified expectation as he hurls it directly down at her.
As she approaches the car, Alix realizes that the ice was getting thinner as she moved further out. When she reaches the car, she sees that the ice was cracked all around it and crackled ominously as she approached. She reaches the car and looks in. The two men are laying on the crushed ceiling of the car, while the driver is suspended in the air by his seatbelt. Alix cautiously tries to open the door, but finds it locked. Stepping back, she kicks in the window. As she does so, the ice cracks a little more and the car sags deeper. Panicking, she grabs the frame of the car to tries to pull it out, but she slips on the slick ice and falls heavily against the car which sinks a little deeper. Hearing the water lapping against the edges of the windows, she desperately tries to pull the car out. It seems to give a little, but then with a ear-splitting crack, the front end of the car slips under the water. Alix stands back looking horrified as the rest of the car slowly slips under, taking down all three men with it.
At the last moment, Rea breaks out of her paralyzed fear and rolls to one side. However, she slips on the snow and doesn’t roll as far as she had hoped. The block crashes down on her right leg, just below the knee. Doubling over in pain, the girl’s screams echo down the empty streets. Above her, the head disappears from the window, but soon reappears on the fire escape stairs. Rea tries to move the block, still resting on her crushed leg, but the pain is too great. However, upon seeing the masked man hurrying down the stairs, the girl grits her teeth and shoves the block away.
With a jolt, Alix realizes that the ice around her is cracking. She turns and begins to run, as fast as the slippery ice would permit her back to shore. However, she turns too fast and falls heavily onto the slippery, cracking ice. The piece beneath her gives way and she finds her feet and legs in the icy-cold, fast-flowing river. She clings on… barely. There is nothing to grab on the ice, nothing to pull herself up on. She looks around, hoping someone would pass by. But no one was on the cold snowy roads at 4:30 am in the bad side of town. The chunk of ice that Alix is clinging to breaks off, leaving her clinging to a island of ice in an “island” of water in the middle of the frozen river.
As the man reaches the bottom of the stairs and move toward her, Rea slowly backs up. She glances at her shattered leg and realizes that it is a compound fracture, a small bit of bone protruding from her bleeding shin. There was no way she could run away now and the man was getting closer every second. Glancing around, she realizes that she has nothing with which to defend herself. Silently, she curses the regulation that did not allow trainees to carry handguns until their third year. Without a word, the man stops in front of her, pulling out a blackjack. He swings it at her head and she ducks, but the constant pain distracts her and the club glances off the side of her head, rendering her unconscious. The man picks up her limp body and swings her over his shoulder. Kicking fresh snow to cover the blood on the snow, he turns and ascends the fire escape stair once again. In a section where kidnappings, murders, and violence were commonplace, no one paid any attention to the man with the unconscious girl.
Alix jerks awake as her face hits the cold, rushing water. With a feeling of horror, she realizes that she had fallen asleep and nearly had lost her grip on her fragile chunk of ice. She readjusts her grip and realizes with a feeling of dread that she could no longer feel her arms and legs. “Someone better find me quick,” she murmurs sleepily. She makes a feeble attempt to pull herself to more solid ice, but if she couldn’t do it before, she certainly couldn't do it now, being half-frozen. As the minutes pass, her head droops forward again and she feels her grip slipping. “Rea…” she murmurs, as her head slips under the frigid, turbulent surface of the river.
When Rea come to, she finds herself tied firmly to a chair in a completely dark room. It didn’t matter if she opened or closed her eyes; the darkness was all the same. Rea leans her head back and groans. Whoever had tied her up hadn’t worried about her fractured shin and the rough cords that bound her rubbed against the torn skin and bone. From behind her somewhere in the darkness, a rasping voice said, “Ah, you’re finally awake, my dear. It hurts doesn’t it.” Rea says nothing, clenching her teeth as the waves of pain wash over her. “But we can make it stop. Yes, we can. You just have to answer a few questions for us and we’ll take you to a hospital.” “I… won’t… tell… you… anything…” Rea gasps, her head throbbing as she speaks. “Oh, but yes you will. If you don’t, we’ll kill you,” the rasping voice now coming from her left hissed. “You wouldn’t dare do that,” Rea replies. “Oh, yes, we would! If you won’t give up the information, we don’t need you. We can find someone else who’s willing to talk.” “What do you want to know?” “That’s more like it, my dear. All you have to tell us is the master password for the computer system for the police department. I know you know it. Everyone who’s part of the team knows it. All you have to do it give me the eight figures that comprise the password.” “Never.”
Just as Alix’s head slips underwater, she feels a hand grab the back of her collar and haul her up from under the frigid surface. Sputtering, Alix shivers violently in the even colder wind. She opens her eyes. “Gilan? What are you doing here?” Gilan shakes his head, backing away from the edge of the ice. “No talking until we get inside my cruiser. You’re nearly frozen to death.”
“Never? Never?! Well, girl, you’re going to regret that!” Rea hears a door open behind her and the rasping voice calls out. “Shorty! Get in here! She won’t talk.” She hears a shuffling of footsteps entering the room and the door closes, leaving the room in complete darkness again. “You know what to do, Shorty,” the rasping voice says. “Make her talk.” For a moment, everything is silent. Then, she hears a slight noise from her left and WHAM a wooden cracks down on the right side of her head. Before Rea can recover from the pain and surprise, another blow hits her across the back. Again and again, blows appear at random out of the darkness, hitting her in every which way. After about fifteen minutes, the bruised girl is slumped in her chair, only the ropes keeping her from collapsing. “Now will you talk?” “Never.” Another fifteen minutes. “Now?” “Never.” Another beating. “Only eight letters.” “Never.”
Inside the running car, Alix slowly warms up. “Why did you come looking for me?” she queries. Gilan shrugs. “I tried calling you several times, a few times to your car radio and two times to your cell. I even tried calling Rea, but nothing worked. I started to get worried and decided to check things out. I mean you two have been gone for two hours already. It’s almost six.” Alix stares at the car clock in disbelief. “But that means… Rea! I told her I’d pick her up once I caught the bandits. She’s been waiting out in the cold all this time!” Gilan turns to stare at his former trainee. “You what?” Alix shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I thought it only would be a couple of minute before I caught them. I got so wrapped up in trying to bring those thugs to justice that I forgot that Rea would have to wait out in the cold. And on that street too! Gil, we’ve got to go get her right away!” Gilan is already turning the car around and making his way down the road. “Hurry, Gil!” Alix murmurs as the snow flies around them. “I’m going, I’m going,” he replies, driving as fast as he dared go.
The man called Shorty stops for a breather, leaning on his stick. “What do you think, boss? Is that enough?” The man with the rasping voice grunts. “Yeah, that’s enough. But don’t leave yet.” He stands and moves to Rea. “I’m giving you one more chance, girl. Will you tell me the password?” Rea doesn’t reply. “Fine. Shorty, take care of her.” Rea vaguely hears him move away and the door open and shut again. She hears Shorty’s shuffling steps and he approaches her. “I bet you hurt all over, don’t you?” he seers. “Well, I’ll put you out of your pain. With an overdose of aspirin.” He grabs her by her hair, forcing her head back. She struggles as he pulls out the bottle of pills, but she was no match for him. It was over in a few minutes. Shorty laughs and throws the empty bottle into a corner and leaves. Outside, the thin man with the rasping voice is waiting. “It is over?” he asks as Shorty appears. The man laughs and nods. “She’ll be dead within an hour. Now let’s clear out of here. We probably want to lay low for a while.” The man nods and led the way down the steps and out the back door to a waiting car.
As Alix and Gilan round the corner, they see a few people milling about on the dirty street between the buildings. No sign of Alix’s trainee. Gilan looks at Alix. “Are you sure this is the right road?” Alix nods. “Positive.” “Maybe Rea got tired of waiting and left?” Alix shook her head. “I told her to stay here.” “But that was two hours ago.” “True.” “Well, let’s go back to your place and check. Maybe she’s nice and warm, back in bed,” Gilan replies, trying to sound cheerful.
As Gilan steps on the gas again and the car moves down the mostly deserted street, Alix, who is looking mournfully out the window, shouts. “Gilan, stop! Pull over!” Gilan slams on the brakes and pulls over. “What is it?” he shouts as Alix jumps out of the car. She drops to one knee in the snow brushing off the snow. “I knew I saw something!” she said triumphantly pulling out a wet brown bag half-filled with the drug capsules. But her exuberant attitude changes quickly. “It’s not like Rea to be so careless to have dropped it. And… Gilan! There’s blood in the snow here. Looks like someone kicked fresh snow over it to cover their tracks.” Gilan, right behind her, looks around worriedly. “I have a feeling that someone is trying to cover up something here. Rea’s not safe. Let’s take a look around and see if we can find her.”
Gilan and Alix spend the next half hour searching up and down pathways, looking for clues, and questioning people to Rea’s whereabouts. The neighbors are tight-lipped thought. They had to be; in a neighborhood where revenge came swift and deadly, most people found it safer to mind their own business and close their eyes to everything else. Alix dejectedly leans against Gilan’s cruiser and sighs, looking like she was nearly in tears. “Gil, this is all my fault. I shouldn’t have left her alone. She hadn’t anything to defend herself with.” Gilan puts a hand on Alix shoulder and turns her to face him. “Alix, listen. No matter what we find out, it’s not your fault. Yes, you did make a bad decision, leaving her behind in a bad section of the city, but you were doing you duty going after the thugs. You have to remember, as her trainer, you’re responsible for her, her guardian. But I know that Rea would forgive you and no matter what happens, she isn’t going to blame you.” Alix nods, looking away. “I need to keep looking, Gil. You can go home, but I can’t stop. I have my car. I can get home.” Gilan pauses, then nods. “I’ll go back to headquarters and get the canine teams. Maybe they can help. Call me on your car radio if you need anything.” Alix nods and Gil gets in his car and drives off. Turning, Alix stares at the empty building behind her. “Well, I might as try,” she says shrugging and heading to the rickety door.
Alix pushes open the door and looks in, flicking on her flashlight and running the powerful beam over the dusty room. Nothing. She grits her teeth and walks deeper into the dilapidated building, passing through room after room. She ascends the creaking staircase and looks on the second, third, fourth, then fifth floor. She is about to leave a room when something catches her eye. In the corner sat a huge cinder block, surrounded by a puddle of water. Moving closer to inspect it, she realizes that the water was from snow on the block that was falling off and melting. Alix frowns. “Something tells me that this has something to do with Rea,” she muses. “It definitely proves that this building isn’t as deserted as it seems.” As she turns the block over, she is surprised to see a speckling of blood on the bottom side. Alix get to her feet quickly. “Something is going on here and I'm determined to get to the bottom of it!"
Alix continues her search on the fifth floor more meticulously than she had done on the previous floor. Room after room proved nothing when she hears a soft moaning sound coming from the next room. Rushing forward, she finds the door locked from the inside. Throwing her weight against the door, she breaks it in and jumps back holding her handgun cocked and ready. As the light from the flashlight illuminates the room, the figure tied to the chair looks up. “Alix?” Rea whispers. Her eyes are glazed and her breathing was rapid and shallow. Sweat poured down her face and she suddenly doubles over, vomiting violently. In a moment, Alix is by her side, loosening her bonds. “Alix… they wanted to know… master password… I,” Rea stutters, but gets no further. Her eyes roll back and she collapses into Alix’s arms. Alix grabs the unconscious girl and runs down the rickety stairs, taking them two at a time.
Once inside the cruiser, Alix straps Rea in and turns on the sirens. Streaking down the roads as fast as she dared, Alix dials first the hospital to let them know they were coming and then Gilan. “Gil, no need to get the dogs out. I found her,” she says into the receiver, her voice tight and strained. “Alix…” “Not now, Gil. I’ll meet you at the hospital.” “Alix, wait! You…” Alix hangs up and ignores the ringing car radio. “Not now, Gil. Not now,” she says through gritted teeth as she spins around the corner, the hospital just up ahead.
Three hours later, Gilan arrives to see Alix hunched over on a chair in front of a closed door. She doesn’t look up as he approaches. Her eyes are red-rimmed and Gilan wonders for a brief moment if she had been crying. “Hey,” he says gently, taking a seat next to her. “I tried calling you on your cell, but you didn’t answer.” “My cell phone is at the bottom of the river,” Alix replies, still staring at the floor. Gilan frowns. “Ah, I see.” He pauses, watching Alix closely. Finally, he speaks up again. “How is she?” Alix shook her head. “Not well, I’m afraid. She was so pale, so… this is all my fault!” Gilan grabs Alix shoulders. “Alix, we’ve talked about this…” he says, warningly. “No, Gilan!” she says, breaking away from him. As he looks into her eyes, he sees the fear and trepidation there, the deep guilt that she almost left her trainee there to die. Gilan knows that a guilt like that would pull her down fast and he knew it had to be stopped. He grabs her and shakes her. “Alix! Alix! You’ve got to listen to me! People die doing the work we do! There’s nothing we can do about it! Things like this happen. You can’t go around like this, moping about and feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve got to get over it! She’s going to be alright!” Alix stares at Gilan for a moment then, collapses, sobbing in his arms, the strain of the morning’s adventures nearly too much to bear.
A uniformed nurse steps out of the room and quietly clears her throat to get the pair’s attention. Both whirl towards her, Alix wiping her tears, embarrassed. The nurse pauses then smiles. “She’s going to be alright. You can come see her now. She’s awake.” Gilan squeezes Alix’s arm and she nods her thanks to the nurse before hurrying past her into the room.
Rea is lying on her back in the bed, her leg suspended in a hanging sling. She manages a weak smile as the two walk in. Alix hurries over to her side and clasps her hand tightly. “Did you get them?” the girl asks quietly. Alix frowns, “Who?” Rea manages a low chuckle. “The thugs, silly.” Alix laughs, realizing that she had forgotten all about them and their mission. “They went over the bank and drowned in the river,” she replies. “So you ran them off the road?” Rea asks, raises her eyebrows. Alix grins, “If you want to put it that way, yes.” Rea pauses, then grins. “The doctor says that I won’t be able to walk properly for a good month or so,” she says, motioning to her leg. “That means I’m out of training till spring. No more getting at unearthly hours… no more cold patrols… no more…” Alix rolls her eyes and waves her hand dismissively. “Right, right, right. But you’re not getting out of everything. I have a stack of paperwork, two feet high that I’m just too busy to sit down and do. Since all you’ll be doing is sitting around the house all day, I might as well put you to work.” Rea groans. “You know what,” she says, doing her best to keep a straight face, “I think the aspirin overdose affected my vision too.”
As the trio laugh, the newscaster on the television outside drones on. “This has been the coldest winter we’ve had for twenty years now. The river has frozen over and in some place there are more than three feet of snow on the ground. Wind chill is up to…”