General Fiction posted September 27, 2020

This work has reached the exceptional level
Neighbors lend a hand when Melissa goes into labor.

Good Grief

by teols2016

"Good Grief," Melissa muttered. She and most people she knew rarely used this phrase because it was also the name of their town, tucked away up in Boundary County, Idaho. If they were any further north, they'd be in Canada.

But, today was an exception to the unspoken rule of "thou shalt not take thy town's name in vain." Melissa was staring out the kitchen window at what had to be at least six and a half feet of snow. And, it was still coming down, though not at the rate it had during the night. Melissa could see the sun rise and could just make out one of Mr. Harrison's two barns, about half a mile away.

The storm hadn't come as a surprise. Meteorologists had done everything but actually advise how to prevent its arrival to prepare residents for this onslaught. But one citizen of Good Grief hadn't listened. Melissa's daughter was already doing things her own way.

The girl was supposed to have been born four days ago. When she first heard about the approaching storm, Melissa pictured herself, her husband, and their baby safe and warm inside their home, waiting for things to clear. That dream would not come anymore.

Melissa winced as what she thought was her fourth contraction hit. She made it to a chair and sat down, gripping its frame and working to recall her breathing exercises. The contraction passed as Keith entered the kitchen, still dressed in his jacket and boots.

"You doing okay" he asked.

Melissa nodded, relaxing her grip on the chair.

"How's it going?" she asked, hoping to hear good news.

Keith shook his head.

"It's packed down," he reported. "You have to dig from above. I'm not making a dent this way."

Melissa nodded. Their front door faced west and took a direct hit from the storm. By Keith's estimate, more than seven feet had piled up against the house, sealing them in.

"I might try climbing out a second story window," Keith mused.

"All I know is she's not going to wait," Melissa pointed out.

"Yeah. At least we're getting some cell reception out here. Joe Harrison's staying on the phone with his brother, the sheriff, to see what we can do. It'll take time for them to plow out here. They're still working on the major roads and there's more snow to come."

Melissa didn't want to hear this anymore.

"How are Joe's dogs doing?" she asked, wanting a distraction.

Their neighbor raised sled dogs, racing with some of them.

"Joe says they're fine," Keith told her. "That second barn he built could probably withstand an F5 tornado, and the inside's like a Hilton. They're not suffering through this."

Melissa was about to respond when she saw movement outside the kitchen window. Staring, she realized someone was walking past the window. She could only see the lower half of the person's legs, but she could tell they were wearing snowshoes.

"Keith," she said. "There's someone out there."

"What?" Keith asked, having missed the sight.

"There's someone walking around outside."

Melissa paused to think.

"They were heading for the back door.

Keith had already inspected the back door, but he'd been unable to open it. Nevertheless, he walked over, leaving a trail of foot-shaped puddles across the kitchen tiles, to have a look. Melissa eyed the mess, wondering when she'd get a chance to grab the mop.

Keith grunted and pulled and the door finally gave. It swung open, allowing snow to be blown into the kitchen. A slither of light was visible at the top of the white barricade. The wind howled and whistled as it two came in. Melissa was soon shivering.

"Hello?!" Keith called.

"Hey, Mr. Pierce!" someone called back. "It's Henry!"

Keith and Melissa stared at one another. Henry was a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Colorado State, home for the winter break. His parents lived down the road. As they contemplated his reason for standing outside their house in the aftermath of a blizzard, the light above the snow widened.

"Mr. Harrison's been calling around! Henry explained, still shouting to be heard over the wind. "Told everyone your little girl's on her way. We're here to dig you out so you can get to a hospital!"

"We?!" Keith said, retrieving a blanket from the storage closet and wrapping Melissa in it.

"A bunch more guys said they were coming! They'll be here soon!"

The light widened a little more.

* * *

Keith was eventually able to help and, an hour later, he and four teenaged boys had made an opening wide enough for them to help Melissa extract herself from the house. Her own winter clothes not fitting now, she wore Keith's spare jacket, snow pants, and boots and she was wrapped in every blanket her husband could find.

"Easy now," Henry directed as the boys helped guide her up the newly-made snowy slope. "We got you."

As Melissa stood atop the makeshift ramp, another contraction hit and she lurched forward. Henry and another boy grabbed her arms and were able to keep her upright. Their snowshoes probably helping.

"We can't have you faceplanting out here," Henry said.

Melissa hardly heard him as she gritted her teeth and clenched her mittened fists.

The contraction, the longest one yet, passed and she stared ahead of her as Keith scrambled out of the house. Everything was white. She knew there were trees and houses out there, but she couldn't distinguish anything. She looked at Henry.

"What now?" she asked. Sure, she'd made it out of the house, but where was she supposed to go? She couldn't see anyone's car. How would they drive?

To her shock, Henry shrugged.

"Mr. Harrison just said to get you out here and ready to go," the boy explained. "He said he'd take care of the rest."

Melissa wondered what that meant. Then, she heard a new sound. Barking ... and someone yelling. Then, she saw it.

A sled, pulled by seven harnessed Alaskan Huskies, was heading towards her. She couldn't recognize the driver, a blurry, disformed figure clad in every manner of winterwear imaginable, but she didn't have to guess.

The dogs stopped on command, just five feet in front of Melissa. The driver pulled off his hood and ski goggles.

"Morning, neighbors," Joe Harrison said.

Both Melissa and Keith were speechless.

"My brother says they've got US Route 2 cleared for emergency vehicles," Joe reported. "He's called the Washington State Patrol and they're dispatching a medivac chopper to take you to Newport."

Melissa was still staring at him and then the sled. She then looked around. Everything was still white.

"Get on," Joe insisted.

His plan was coming together in Melissa's mind. She hesitated.

"It's just a few miles to the meeting point," Joe assured her. "The snow's packed down, so it'll be a smooth ride."

Melissa hesitated another second before taking a step towards the sled. Joe took her hand and helped her sit down while Keith lifted her legs on to the sled. They covered her with a blanket and used ropes to secure her to the sled.

"I'll be back for you," Joe told Keith.

He looked down at Melissa as he pulled his hood up again.

"You ready?" he asked.

Melissa did not think she was ready. But, with the baby moving inside her, what choice did she have? She couldn't risk waiting for the situation to improve.

"Okay," she whimpered.

"Hang on tight," Joe instructed. "Hike!"

At that command, the seven dogs began running. Melissa had just enough time to wrap her fingers around the sled's frame on either side of her before it too lurched forward.

Apart from that initial jerk, Joe's prediction of it being a smooth ride soon proved prophetic. The sled seemed to sail across the snow behind the seven dogs. The canines emitted the occasional bark or yip and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Melissa had seen Joe running them from a distance several times and they always seemed ready to follow through on his commands.

"Haw!" Joe called and they made a left turn.

Melissa saw the tops of other neighbors houses and large white mounds which represented completely-buried structures. Some people had made it outside and were assessing the storm's outcome. They turned and waved as the sled sped past. Melissa wondered how many of them knew the purpose of this trip.

Another contraction hit and she cried out, gripping the sled's frame again.

"You okay?" Joe asked.

Melissa nodded as tears streamed down her face.

"Gee!" Joe called and they made a right turn.

The contraction passed and Melissa relaxed her grip on the sled. A new noise reached her ears and she looked up to see a helicopter flying by overhead.

"There's your ride," Joe said. "Almost there."

Melissa looked ahead and saw the county snowplow making a gap in the giant snowbank it had made when clearing the highway. As they approached, it stopped and Sheriff Matt Harrison stuck his head out of the cab's passenger window.

"Pull up over there!" he shouted, pointing towards his right at the snowbank. "The chopper's about to touch down! Ed's directing it! That'll shield you from the windshear!"

Joe directed the dogs to the spot as the roar of the helicopter increased. Melissa covered her ears until it stopped. She felt Joe touch her shoulder.

"Come on," he said. "You gotta walk from here. Can you do that?"

"I think so," Melissa replied.

With Joe helping, she made it to her feet as Sheriff Harrison hurried over. He took her other arm.

"Nice and easy," he said. "We'll take it slow. They're not going anywhere without you."

The two men helped Melissa walk alongside the snowbank. The plow had made a ramp of snow leading down to the highway, which was covered with a thin layer of white powder. Two paramedics dressed in flight gear waited at the bottom of the ramp with a gurney. One came up the snowy ramp to help bring Melissa down. They got her on the gurney and secured her with straps before moving towards the helicopter. Melissa could see county sheriff department and state police cruisers blocking the highway.

"I'll get Keith now!" Joe called, already climbing back up to his dogs. "He'll meet you at the hospital!"

Sheriff Harrison shouted something as well, but Melissa couldn't be sure what he said as she was loaded into the helicopter ... something about having a vehicle ready for the trip. It got warmer once the doors were closed.

One of the paramedics, a woman asked her some questions regarding her identity, her health, and the baby and the labor. Her expressionless face suggested all of Melissa's responses were routine. Melissa wondered how many times this woman picked up a pregnant lady who'd been delivered by a pack of dogs.

"I need to put an IV in your arm," the paramedic said, pulling off Melissa's glove and pushing up the arm of her jacket and sweater. She did this efficiently while her partner fitted a blood pressure cuff and heart rate monitor on Melissa's other finger. Both were quick and efficient.

"We're set," the female paramedic said, turning towards the pilot.

Both paramedics strapped themselves into seats near the gurney's rigging. It seemed to be a well-practiced maneuver as the helicopter began to rise just as the last buckle was fitted into place.

Melissa felt another contraction coming on and one of the paramedics noticed.

"Breathe," she coached, her shouts barely audible over the roar of the aircraft's rotors. "Breathe."

Melissa thought the woman was also timing this.

As the contraction subsided, Melissa thought about everyone who'd helped her. Henry and the other boys who'd dug a way out of the house for her. Joe Harrison and his dogs. Sheriff Harrison and his deputies, plus the state troopers, who'd arranged a way to get her to the hospital. Someone would be taking Keith to Newport as well, a ninety-minute trip in good conditions. Then, there were these paramedics and the pilot up front who, despite doing their jobs, were doing them well under extreme circumstances.

My little girl already owes a lot of people, Melissa mused with a chuckle. Good Grief, indeed.

pregnancy contest entry

This story was inspired by a friend of mine. Living in Baltimore, MD, she was pregnant with her daughter when a blizzard dumped 4+ feet of snow onto eastern Maryland. Her neighbors too dug her out when she went into labor (no sled dogs helped though) and I still joke about my friend having lifetime leverage over her child because of the dramatic labor.
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