Part 3: Chapter 1
A WYNTER OF LOSS
After a span of five years, Bitter Wynter had earned a super group status, much as Hard Axe had done years previously. Each of their albums sold millions. Their tours had never been less than a sell-out. Bitter Wynter’s fifth year of success also became a sort of turning point for all. Fate had decided to be unkind.
Bitter Wynter, like many other bands, chose to tour in their own personal coaches, and have their equipment transferred by tractor-trailer. The band toured around mid-January in an area famous for winter storms. Against the advice of the state police, the band’s coach and crew hit the road anyway.
It was dark, right before dawn, when they started their trip. The coaches had been on the road for about two hours when it began to sleet. The girls did not notice. Randi and Syndi were asleep in their bunks. Debi was in the process of knitting a baby blanket for her sister, and Perion sat reading a Stephen King novel. She had read the same page a dozen times. There was a lot on her mind. Perion looked up and watched Debi for an undetermined amount of time. She sighed inwardly; the blanket was a reminder, a sort of mental poke.
For the previous four weeks, since the last time Perion saw Lein, she had experienced horrid fatigue and nausea. At first, she thought she had caught a cold or the flu. Lein had the flu when he came out to visit her. She believed she had caught it from him; it was logical to assume so. After all, they slept together, touched each other, kissed each other, and made frequent love. She had asked, in a way, to catch Lein’s bug.
After the first week of symptoms, Perion began to suspect something else. Her period had failed to come when it had never failed before. She had tried to tell herself not to get her hopes up, she had heard somewhere that when a woman had a high fever [such as the case with the flu], her period would fail to come on time. No period ever came for Perion.
Two days previously, Perion sneaked out and bought one of those early pregnancy-testing kits. Constantly looking over her shoulder as if she were committing a crime, she had taken the test like a scared teenager. She didn’t want anyone to know what she was doing in case the test turned out negative. Actually, if the truth were known, she didn’t want her friends to see the disappointment on her face if it turned out negative.
She and Lein had been trying to have a baby for a year, but she had never turned up pregnant. They had both been checked out by a doctor, and were fine, but nothing ever happened. Lately, they had just about given up on the whole idea. Knowing that, Perion went through the testing procedure anyway. The test turned out a positive reading. Still, she didn’t get her hopes up; it might end up being nothing more than a false positive. It happened from time to time. She went to a clinic later that morning and told the physician what she suspected. She received a full examination. There was no false positive, Perion was definitely pregnant, and she cried when she was told.
Perion had yet to tell Lein, she wanted to tell him as soon as she could. She had tried calling him on her cellular, but there was no service available on the dark country road. The band’s coach would not stop until it approached the next city, and that meant being on the road for another four hours, maybe longer.
She missed her husband terribly, and knowing she was unable to tell him about being pregnant enhanced the feeling tenfold. She also felt the utmost desire to share her news. However, she wanted her husband to be the first [or, rather, second] to know. She knew if she didn’t tell Lein soon, she’d burst and blurt it out to the first person willing enough to listen.
The coach skidded a little off the road. Perion came out of her thoughtful reverie and closed her book. “Did you feel that,” she asked Debi.
“I think we slipped.”
“You’re paranoid, Peri, we didn’t slip.”
Perion felt uncomfortable. She hadn’t wanted to go out on the road, not with the threat of a winter storm. She knew what happened to cars and trucks on ice. Living in northeastern Arkansas had taught her all she wanted to know about ice storms. She went back to her reading, and hoped Debi was right.
The tires slipped again. That time, Debi felt it. “We are slipping,” she said.
“God, I knew we should have waited.”
Their tour manager, Rich Moffat, came back to where the girls sat. “You probably felt us slipping a bit, huh? Well, ladies, I’m afraid we’re starting to get a full-fledged ice storm. But don’t panic, we’re going slowly. I’m going to call at the next rest station and cancel tomorrow’s show.”
Perion sighed. “Thank God. I knew this was going to happen. Do you think we can make it to the rest stop? I need to get off this damn thing for a while. I’m getting a little stir crazy.”
Debi laughed a little. “Yeah, right. You just want to call Lein,” she teased.
Perion was in no mood for the teasing, but she smiled a little. “Oh shut up, you’re just jealous because Ronnie won’t pop the question,” she shot back, laughing a little as well.
Rich smiled at them both and acknowledged Perion’s question. “Sure, we can. It’s only a short distance away.” With that, he left them and went back up front.
“I don’t feel a damn bit better,” Perion said, again thinking of Lein and her baby.
“Neither do I. Do you wanna go up front?”
“No way. If I can see it, I’ll feel worse. I’ll stay right here with Mr. King and Christine. You can go up if you want.”
“Nah, I gotta finish this blanket. The kid’s due in a few days.”
For a while, the trip was uneventful. They were unaware of what was about to occur. Only Jack, the driver, and Rich saw it firsthand. A car in front of the crew skidded out of control, blocking the road. The driver of the crew’s coach slammed on the brakes before realizing he made a grave mistake. The crew’s coach plowed into the car and sent it flying. A tractor-trailer slammed into the crew. The big rig jackknifed off the road into a culvert, and the crew’s coach followed suit.
“Goddamn Rich, what am I gonna do,” Jack screamed.
“Slow down, man, slow the fuck down,” Rich screamed himself.
Perion and Debi knew something was wrong. They had heard the crash of the other vehicles. They got down on the floor of the coach and prayed. They also screamed for Randi and Syndi to wake up, to get out of their bunks.
Bitter Wynter’s coach skidded and hit a bridge broadside at about forty miles per hour. The impact forced the bus to roll over once, away from the culvert. Syndi and Randi didn’t have time to respond to their friends’ screams. They died instantly after the coach landed on its side, where they’d been sleeping. Debi didn’t move at all, but a shard of glass, at least a foot long, missed her throat by half an inch. It sliced into her hand, leaving a deep gash. Perion’s body was thrown forward and then slammed against a table where she had just sat down to eat a sandwich. She had landed hard, belly down, and was more than certain there was no longer a baby to tell Lein about. Her body lodged between the table and a cabinet, where she stuck. The shard of glass that had sliced open Debi’s hand flew back and slashed open Perion’s cheek. An unidentified object flew at her and slammed into her head. She screamed in pain and fright. The blow had made her feel extremely foggy.
“Debi? Randi? Syndi,” Perion cried, “can you hear me? Can anybody hear me?” She tried desperately to move, but her body wouldn’t listen to the message her brain had sent. “Oh God, I can’t move! I can’t feel anything! Oh God, oh my baby,” she cried. She thought she was paralyzed, and that was her greatest fear.
“Peri,” Debi’s voice screamed, “I don’t hear the others, I can’t hear them! They were in their bunks; I can see blood on the windows. You don’t think-”
Perion didn’t want to hear it. “Syndi! Randi! Answer me goddamn it! Answer me,” she finished in wailing tears.
“They’re dead, I just know it,” Debi yelled.
“No,” she screamed, she was not going to accept that at all.
Perion tried to force her body out of the wedge it was stuck in, but it was no use. She couldn’t move an inch. Her next greatest fear was that the coach would explode before she could get herself and her friends out. During her attempt to pry herself out, she only managed to wedge herself in more solidly, and then the world went blessedly black.