New Winslow S4E40
Noah had been in the woods for an hour or so by now. Or at least that was what he thought. His phone was dead from the cold, so for all he knew it had been twenty agonizing minutes. His fingers stung as he pushed branches aside and his voice was hoarse from yelling. Occasionally he could hear calls from another group of searchers somewhere in the distance, but not anyone close enough to join up with.
Maybe he should have gone out with a partner. But he’d been in these woods since he was born, so everything was familiar, even in the dark. And he’d been able to buy them some extra searching time by heading out immediately so it was worth the fact that he was out here alone. At the very least however, Noah wished he’d thought to bring another pair of gloves with him.
Another shout was greeted with silence. He scanned the area with his flickering flashlight. Nothing but pine trees and darkness, but he could hear water running somewhere nearby. So he was just beyond the town border then. Alright, Noah had his bearings, he was fine.
He headed toward the water apprehensively. If she’d been out here wet and cold for a couple hours now in this temperature, that was bad. Now that it was fully dark and the wind was picking up, Noah was already feeling a little uneasy about his own health. But he was young and healthy, it’d be fine for him. He just needed to find her.
“Mrs. Rodriguez!” he called again into the darkness.
He was about to keep walking, but then he heard it. A faint voice calling from the direction of the water.
Noah spun around, squinting into the darkness. That had been real. He couldn’t see anything, but he was certain he’d heard it. “I’m coming!” he yelled, and tore in the direction of the voice.
Noah shoved branches aside, ignoring the way they scratched at his exposed face. The sound of the river got louder, and he yelled again. The faint confirmation he heard back helped him reorient and turn in the right direction. Then his foot slipped and Noah found himself on his back, sliding down the riverbank. He pressed his hands hard into the frozen mud to stop himself, landing hard on the ground, but it didn’t help as he slid into the shallow river, shattering the thin layer of ice on top as his body crashed through it.
The shock of the water soaking through the back of his pants and jacket nearly made Noah lose his breath. But as he stood up, he shined his flashlight around the river.
He immediately spotted Cleo’s mother. She was crouched and trembling on the side of the riverbank maybe ten feet away, dressed in light pajamas with her long silver hair plastered to the sides of her face. He couldn’t tell if she’d gotten wet or not, but she looked scared and like she was in pain.
“Mrs. Rodriguez,” Noah said, scrambling up the riverbank and toward her. “It’s okay. I’m Noah, I’m Cleo’s friend. We’ve been looking for you.”
“I don’t know how I got here,” she said, her voice nearly a whisper.
She was trembling so hard that it was almost a spasm. Noah immediately shrugged off his leather jacket and put it over her, squeezing her as tightly as he dared to. It was too dark to see if she was injured, but there was no way out except to walk back to his truck. So they had no choice but to leave here on foot.
“It’s okay,” he said as he pulled her to her feet, trying to ignore the fact that his jeans were now frozen and he was only in a long-sleeved t-shirt. He was fine. She was not.
“Can you walk?” he asked.
She nodded, and he helped her stand up. She was wearing flimsy shoes, but at least they were something. If they hadn’t been soaked, Noah would have taken off his own boots to give to her. But it wouldn’t help matters.
“Okay,” he said, holding her hand carefully. “We’re not that deep into the woods, it’s fine. Just follow me back to my truck. Cleo’s waiting for you at your house.”
“She’s worried sick. Everyone is. But it’s okay. It’ll be okay.”
He knew he was talking to her like he’d talk to Mia and worried it might be patronizing. But if anything, she seemed to find it comforting right now. As they slowly walked in the direction of his truck, Mrs. Rodriguez seemed coherent and he was grateful for it.
“I was at home,” she whispered as he carefully brushed aside branches and helped her through. “And then I was here. And I tried to get home, but I didn’t remember how.”
“It’s okay,” he repeated.
“Cleo said to get help. She said I needed help and I didn’t listen.”
“It’ll be alright,” he said, trying to keep his own trembling under control.
Shit, hypothermia was already setting in for him. She was probably well into it. But they were almost there. Even in the dark, he recognized where he was. Lots of late nights out in the woods messing around with friends had given him a strong familiarity with the area. Not something he’d ever thought would come in useful again, but apparently Noah learned something new every day.
They walked in silence for a while. Every so often she would trip and he’d take a moment to get her steady again. As they were approaching the edge of the woods, Noah’s heart sank as he realized he was beginning to do the same, his feet catching on rocks and roots he’d otherwise have no problem avoiding. His movements were getting clumsy as he steered Mrs. Rodriguez toward safety and he knew that if he collapsed, there was a very real chance they’d both freeze out here.
The truck would be warm. He could warm them both up enough to get to the doctor from here. It’d be fine.
Finally he spotted the road and his truck. By this point, Mrs. Rodriguez was staggering as she pushed forward and he held her tightly, maybe too tightly. Noah couldn’t feel his own feet, but they seemed to hit the ground correctly with each step.
They stepped out of the trees and Noah ushered her toward the truck. He could barely feel his hands as he practically lifted her into the passenger seat. Then he stumbled toward the driver’s side. He climbed in and, after a few tries, managed to turn the key in the ignition. The truck rumbled to life and the heater started putting out lukewarm air. He was still wet, jeans completely frozen against his body at this point and feet completely numb. But as he glanced over at Cleo’s mother, curled into his jacket in the passenger seat, all he could feel was gratitude.
After a moment on the charger, his phone came back to life. He called Cleo’s number and gave it a moment to ring. Then she picked up.
“Cleo, I found her. She’s okay,” he said.
There was silence for a second, then Cleo’s tearful voice came back on. “Dr. Degas is at the house with Olivia. Meet us there.”
“Can I talk to her?”
He held out his phone to Mrs. Rodriguez, who looked at him blearily. “It’s Cleo,” he said.
She took the phone in her shaking hand and brought it to her ear. “Cleo?”
He couldn’t make out what Cleo was saying as he pulled onto the road and began driving, but a small smile spread over her mother’s face.