Monday, December 25, 2017
By Daniel Skye
Ray hadn’t seen an entrance or exit ramp for fifteen miles. No road signs, no landmarks, no buildings or storefronts.
Twenty minutes had passed since Ray lost the main road, opting for a more scenic route. It was his decision to abandon the highway for a road he never traveled before, a decision he now lived to regret. But he’d never admit defeat and give Sophie the satisfaction of saying, “I told you so.” It was one of her choice phrases.
If it was the scenic route Ray had desired, that’s exactly what he got. The road was virtually deserted, with the sporadic exception of a passing semi-truck traveling in the opposite direction. They were from Nassau County and Ray wasn’t used to how eerily quiet it was in certain areas of Suffolk. No traffic, no commotion, no pedestrians, no crazy drivers blowing through red lights or suffering bouts of road rage.
He rolled his window and breathed in the fresh, untainted air; no pollutants. At home, their backyard was so close to the Wantagh Parkway that Ray practically choked on exhaust fumes every time he went outside. His lungs had never breathed air so clean and healthy. His air sacs felt like they were on vacation.
“Roll up your window,” Sophie said. Then she added, “Please.”
“Oh, come on, hon. Enjoy the fresh air. It’s better than inhaling people’s exhaust fumes on the highway.”
“It’s December and it’s freezing out.”
“Fine,” he sighed and rolled his window up. Sophie cranked up the heat and fished through her purse for her Samsung.
“I should call Zachary and see how he’s doing,” Sophie said.
“We never should have left him with Elliot.”
“He was the only person available on such short notice. And what’s wrong with Elliot?”
“I just don’t like the idea of a gay babysitter looking after our son. What if he…you know, touches Zach or something.”
“He’s gay, Ray. He’s not a pedophile.”
“If he likes men, he could like little boys, too.”
“By that logic, all straight men could easily like little girls.”
Ray thought about her argument for a moment, stymied, unable to retort. “All right, you got me there,” he admitted. “At least Elliot’s not transgender.”
“I believe they prefer to be called transsexuals now.”
“Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?”
“You really need to join the 21st century, Ray. In this day and age, gender isn’t relevant. It isn’t even binary.”
She made a quick call to the house, checked in on Zach, and spoke briefly with Elliot. “They’re making a gingerbread house,” Sophie said when she got off the phone.
Ray felt guilty about leaving Zach with a babysitter on Christmas Eve. But Ray always went to visit his dad on Christmas Eve. Shane Collyer’s condition was rapidly declining, and he didn’t want Zach seeing his grandfather in that state.
“I hope he isn’t mad at us,” Ray said.
“We’re only going for a few hours. We’ll be home in time for Santa to put the presents under the tree.”
“You mean I’ll put the presents under the tree. I’m tired of that Santa guy getting all the credit.”
“We need to find a spot to eat. I’m famished.”
“Famished,” he repeated.
“Yes, it’s a word.”
“Nobody says famished.”
“I say famished.”
“I’ll find us a place to eat.”
“Yeah, as soon as you get off this Godforsaken road. I haven’t seen anything for miles. What made you get off the highway in the first place?”
“I was bored,” he shrugged. “I wanted to take the scenic route.”
“Well, you definitely got your wish.”
Ray turned up the radio to give himself a much needed reprieve from the conversation, and to drown out the rattling of a bad catalytic convertor. He went through every station until he found one that wasn’t playing Christmas music.
Ray and Sophie’s road had been a rocky one. In fact, their relationship had been a road paved with landmines. But they had evaded every bomb in their path and managed to keep their relationship intact. Ray Collyer knew all too well what divorce does to a child. He’d been through it before and he wasn’t about to put Zach through the same. And Sophie seemed to concur. It was the only thing keeping their frayed marriage from completely falling apart.
“That’s it, I’m using the GPS on my phone,” Sophie said, fed up.
The catalytic converter rattled and pinged.
“Don’t bother,” Ray said as he saw a sign welcoming them to the town of Hither Hills.
The first thing he saw was an unoccupied rest stop. He pulled in, turned off the car, and got out.
“Where the heck are you going?”
“Um, to the bathroom. I thought that was obvious. Just wait in the car. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Just wait in the car? Sophie thought. Who the hell does he think he is?
Sophie Collyer was never one to take orders and they had been driving for two hours, so she got out of the car to stretch her legs. She tied her shoulder-length blonde hair into a ponytail with a scrunchie she always kept around her left wrist. Then she adjusted the cashmere scarf around her neck. An early Christmas present from Ray. The man was stubborn, childish, irritable. But Sophie couldn’t deny that he had great taste, and he certainly wasn’t afraid to be generous.
Rest stops were the bane of Ray’s existence. Public restrooms were germ factories. And this one was no different with its sticky floors, wet surfaces, and that acrid stench of stale urine wafting through the air.
Ray observed the crude graffiti above the urinal as he unzipped his fly to relieve himself. Typical stuff. So-and-so was here. Or, for a good time call 555-3255. These vandals were no Banksy. More like petty teenagers looking for a quick laugh.
When he returned from the restroom, he was gripped by a sudden fear. Sophie was gone, and the thought terrified him. Despite their marital difficulties, despite all the trials and tribulations, Ray still had a tremendous love in his heart for her.
“Sophie!” Ray screamed. “Sophie!”
“Ray! Come here! You’ve got to see this!”
“Where are you?”
“Back here! Come and see!”
Ray ran along the side of the rest stop and found Sophie around the back, frozen in place. She stared in disbelief at something that shouldn’t have been there, something that couldn’t have been there.
A snowman, about five feet tall, with a black top hat, black coals for eyes, and a gaping mouth. Some had scooped out a large chunk of snow to create the mouth and then carved around it with a chisel or an ice pick to give the impression of jagged, monstrous teeth.
“How is this even possible?” Sophie wondered. “There’s not an inch of snow on the ground. It hasn’t snowed at all this year.”
“We live in Nassau County. This is Suffolk. Sometimes it snows out here and we don’t get it.”
“Then where’s the snow?” Sophie asked. “If it snowed in the past few days, then it all melted away. So why hasn’t this thing melted too? Look at it. It’s like a block of ice.”
“I have no clue, but I’m famished,” Ray said, busting her chops. “You want to stand here talking about the weather, or you want to get something to eat?”
He walked back to the car and Sophie followed after she was able to break herself away from the icy glare of this cryptic snowman.
Ray turned the key in the ignition, but the car refused to start. “Piece of junk,” he muttered. “It must be the converter.” He tried again. No luck.
Sophie took out her phone to call for a tow truck. “Hmmm, that’s strange…” Sophie said and trailed off. She had no service, no reception. No 4G, no LTE. No internet access. No GPS. “What are we going to do?”
“I hope there’s a gas station nearby,” Ray said. “Looks like I’m walking. It’s cold out there. Stay here. It doesn’t make sense for both of us to freeze.”
“How considerate of you.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
When Ray was gone, Sophie had that itch again to ignore Ray’s wishes. But he was right for once. It made no sense for both of them to go. So she sat alone with no heat, no radio, nobody to keep her company, nothing but the thoughts in her head. And with Ray gone, her mind inevitably drifted back to the snowman and how it came to be.
Ray returned more than two hours later with a tow truck. It had been a long, exhausting walk. Hither Hills was a desolate town and it was five miles to the nearest gas station. The driver hooked the car up to the tow truck, but Ray told him to hang on a second.
“Sophie!” Ray called out. “Where’d you wander off to now?”
He checked the bathrooms, but the rest stop was vacant. “Just a second,” Ray told the tow truck driver. He walked around back and expected to see Sophie the second he turned the corner. But Sophie was nowhere in sight. Only the snowman remained.
And it had a new addition to its black top hat–A cashmere scarf.
The corners of its gaping, cavernous mouth were smeared red. And something about the mouth had changed. Before, it appeared to be smiling. Now its mouth was stretched out into a wide grin. A malevolent grin. A grin that said, “You’ll never see Sophie again.”