Short stories on International Women's Day

Snowbound

Last night I dreamt about snow. The odd-looking flakes were very clear and shiny, flying away from me.

When I got up, the satnav I found on the verge yesterday was fully re-charged. Nearby a tree had been smashed to the ground. At the side of the road there was some car-related plastic debris and a pile of glass square fragments from a broken windscreen. Because there were no people or cars in sight, I didn’t worry about picking it up.

It was late when I got home. I found the right cable and the satnav turned itself on, so I left it charging overnight. That’s when I dreamed of snow. It was hard to sleep on such a hot night. Maybe the dream of snow was my body’s way of trying to cool down?

I woke with a start. What was that noise? I listened but heard nothing. I tried to remember the sound but it was like an echo, distorted by the passage of time. I closed my eyes and dozed: the dream of glittering snowflakes returned.

After a breakfast of coffee – the heat affecting my appetite too – I turned on the fully charged satnav. It was a good one: maybe I could sell it online or at a boot sale. Would that be so wrong? I don’t have any money, and it just came into my hands like a gift. But maybe the owner had been in the car that hit the tree. Should I try to find them?

The lit-up screen asked me ‘Where to?’ That made me wonder: would the owner’s address be in it? I knew that ‘Home’ would be one of the choices. Where would that be? I hesitated, wondering about clearing its memory before doing anything else, but I’d need the manual.

I couldn’t decide what to do so I turned it off and went for a walk. Unlike yesterday when I found myself on hot tarmac, I headed for the cool woods. I avoided the path where beams of sunlight streamed down like white-hot knives. Instead, I made my way to the centre of the wood where a huge pit was the subject of many local stories. Had farmers dug it for lime to spread on their fields? Or had a stray German bomber needed to get rid of its deadly cargo before returning home? I’d heard about a man who came here to end his life: his body had been found hanging from a sturdy beech tree overhanging the pit…

I’d always felt serene sitting here before but today the place felt sinister, unwelcoming. I heard a sound above me and looked up – a huge branch was starting to fall, tearing away from the trunk and descending, almost in slow motion, towards me. I stepped back, feeling the rush of air as the leaf-laden twigs passed inches from my face.

Shaken, I listened as the great weight of the bough settled on the ground. Twigs snapped with the burden and it took several moments for the sound to completely die away. Afterwards, I felt like I’d woken in the night: there was no sound and no echo, but there was a disturbing memory of a sound. I decided to go home.

The satnav was sitting on the table so I turned it on and the ‘Where to?’ screen appeared. I pressed the icon and the word ‘Home’ was one of the options. I pressed it and the screen said ‘Acquiring satellites…’ Of course – it needed to ‘see the sky’. Out onto the balcony I put it on the ledge, placing it carefully so it didn’t drop into the garden below. The screen showed a map with a flashing question mark and a voice with an American accent spoke. ‘Calculating’ it said, twice, then ‘Arriving at home, on right.’ The satnav’s owner must live nearby. I really should try to find them. Maybe I’d get a reward for taking it back, although I’d get more if I sold it… How could I find out where ‘Home’ was? I took it back indoors and pressed the ‘Back’ arrow. There was another icon saying ‘Settings’ – maybe that was where you defined ‘Home’. I pressed it and worked through the screens until I found the owner’s postcode. It was familiar, because it only applied to this block of six flats.

One of my neighbours must have had a crash. I went through the possibilities. The Grants on the ground floor don’t have a car, and Wendy – I’d seen her car when I set off walking and it looked fine. Derek and Jean on my floor are on holiday in France and took their car when they left a week ago: I would have heard if they had been in an accident. Above me lived Jim: he was a keen cyclist and ‘disliked motor vehicles’ as he put it. That left Amelia and Sean: I looked out of the window but I couldn’t see their car in their allocated parking space. Was it them? I ran upstairs but nobody answered their door: they both worked full time so…

I looked at the car park again. Hey – where’s mine? I’d left it in my corner space as usual, but there was no sign of it there. Had it been stolen? I looked for my mobile to ring the police but couldn’t find it and I’d had the house phone disconnected to save money when I got the mobile. I ran downstairs and looked around: maybe I had left it somewhere else yesterday? When I tried to picture parking the car I couldn’t remember getting home. I was a bit surprised – I know it’s a routine thing to do, but I thought I’d remember.

Back in the flat I went into the satnav’s ‘Home’ settings more deeply. And found my address. That’s when I understood the dream about sharply glittering snow that flew past me: it was windscreen glass shattering. And the falling branch made the sound that woke me and it was connected to the flattened tree. As the realisation sank in, the satnav dropped through my disappearing hands.

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