Cat’s hands tighten, nails digging into palms as the van’s wheels slip sideways. She can see the edge of the road as they careen toward it, and the border of compacted snow like a concrete wall. Her hands unclench, shoulders loosen as the vehicle’s trajectory shifts away from the wall. When she realizes they’re now lurching toward the icy river on the other side, her fingers squeeze shut again. The tires finally regain their grip on the road and Cat breathes. Clearing her throat in disapproval, she glares at the driver. Steve pays no attention to her or the patch of ice.
Cat tosses a glance at the other college students sprawled asleep in the back before speaking in a voice low and falsely pleasant. “Why don’t you let me drive a while?”
Steve turns toward her, his stubbled jaw hanging slack, a hint of drool moistening the corner of his open mouth. His blue-black eyes are puffy and sunken at the same time. Cat wonders if he’s really sober yet. He stares thickly, not speaking or moving, and in that moment of dead silence gravity is interrupted again.
Her stomach floats up and down, back and forth, like the bubble in a spirit level trying to find its balance. The vehicle makes a deceptively graceful arc as it spins counter-clockwise. Cat’s eyes blink against the glare of headlights reflecting off solid snow. Images from her past flash across the frozen wall.
Leaving for college, her mother helps pack her suitcase, cramming in as much advice as clothes. She triple folds Cat’s shirts and stacks them in delicate layers. Her voice is a knowing sing-song. Honesty is always the best policy.
Cat claws for a hold on the dashboard as the van spins past the black void of the cliff to illuminate the snowy wall again. Another scene from her life is displayed with each rotation.
Sitting in cool grass under the warm Autumn sun, Cat catches a glimpse of narrow green eyes in a tanned face. She smiles at that first slow drawl of Steve’s voice and the brush of brown fingers against hers. Men only want one thing.
A dark hall leads to a cramped room where her back presses into a bed under the weight of strong arms and legs. Cat flies with the soaring freedom of being wholly possessed by another. Nice girls don’t put out.
A piercing screech, like an ice scraper across a frozen windshield, forces the air from Cat’s lungs. The van jerks as it grazes the barrier of snow, then bounces back into the road and continues to spiral.
Cat faces Steve but sees only the past three days. The sweet, salty odor of beer and sweat, the moist heat of young bodies filling a ski cabin. She tosses restlessly in a bed that seems too cold, while the trace of a high-pitched giggle and Steve’s drawl trickle down the hallway. Never trust a man who says ‘trust me’.
The encounter with the wall has slowed the van. Cat opens her eyes as the final rotation winds down. Bright lights blind her once more, accompanied by the squeal of brakes and the smell of burning rubber. The impact carries the force of a truck.
When her eyes open, Cat is lying in the road. A monster of contorted metal sighs steam into the frozen air. Groans, wails, and muffled voices float from the darkness. In the slanted beam of an unbroken headlight, Cat watches Steve pull himself to his knees.
He looks directly at her, then turns and crawls to the inanimate body of her best friend Gail. In their reverberations, his sobs echo off the icy wall and become her mother’s voice.
Beware of black ice; it's what you can't see that's most dangerous.