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by Deborah Koren © 2005

Headlights from behind lit up the interior of his snowplow and the surrounding terrain with fake brightness. "Too fast," he muttered. "Idiot."

A white sedan shot left and passed him.

Gervase shook his head. Stupid mortals never learned to value life while they had it.

Skid marks in the snow ran straight off the road around the next corner. The white sedan lay flipped on its side, rammed into the berm. He called the accident in, but knew with the bad weather, it might be half an hour before any cops or ambulances showed up. Gervase hesitated, then braked behind the wrecked vehicle, his bright headlights illuminating the entire scene. The snowplow's warning strobes blinked in dandelion yellow.

A woman sat stunned on the snow bank. Blood ran from a cut on her forehead. Gervase jerked his eyes away and swallowed, trying to control the instant salivation.

"You hurt?" he asked. He looked back at her expressionless eyes. Shock, he thought. "You the only one in the car?"

That got a reaction, a tightening of her face as she stood abruptly. Her legs gave beneath her, but she clawed the snow with her fingers, trying to return to the car.

"Easy!" Gervase said. He tugged her off the berm, onto the road side. "Just sit here."

She stared at him now, as if seeing him for the first time, taking in his tee-shirt and shorts and, incongruously, snow boots because he didn't like the sensation of walking in snow. As for the rest, cold had long since ceased to have meaning for him, and shorts and a tee-shirt were more comfortable to work in then bulky snow clothes.

He turned away from her scrutiny and climbed up on the bank to look inside the vehicle. The driver's door had been torn off. No one in the front seat. He bent into the car, trying to see around the head rests to the back. There -- a child's car seat.

He pulled his head out, swung his legs around and dropped inside the car. His boots trod the crushed glass of the front passenger window. He knelt inside the car, reaching around the passenger seat to locate the crumpled car seat and the small body strapped there, the warmth of it already receding.

Gervase closed his eyes. A tremble started in his chest. He would have cried, but his body no longer produced tears. He would have screamed in rage, but age had brought economy, and screaming was a waste of energy, no matter how momentarily satisfying it might have been. You were speeding in the snow with a child in your car? But incriminations meant nothing now. The past could not be altered. How well he knew that.

A shadow fell, and he looked up to see the woman peering down. Her face was transfixed by the harsh light of the snowplow's headlights, the yellow flashers granting moments of color where none existed. Blood dripped from her cuts onto Gervase's upturned face, and then he did cry out and wipe at his cheek in panic. The smell of the blood right there, warm, crying out to him to just taste it. "Get back, get back!" he screamed. He shoved her clear as he jack-in-the-boxed out of the driver's door.

She fell back to the road, and Gervase scrambled up and out of the vehicle, following her. She had sprawled gracelessly onto the snow-covered pavement. His hand accidentally touched the snow bank where her blood had smeared, and he yanked his hand back to his side.

"My son..." she said, reaching her hands out to him.

"Dead," he answered, snarling, all his rage and frustration thrust into that single word.

She cried out, got back to her feet, and threw herself at him. He caught her wrists before she could hit him. His touch stilled her instantly, and she pulled backwards, eyes wide. "Your skin is colder than the snow."

"I doubt that."

She stared at his chest. "You are not breathing!" Her eyes raised to his with a strange hopeful look. "You are an angel, a messenger of death?"

Gervase opened his mouth to say something, anything, but she was already dropping to her knees in the snow before him, her hands clasped and raised towards him.

"Please," she said. "Please take care of my son."

"I'm not...." he began, but stopped. Wasn't he a messenger of death, in a way? "Oh, hell," he said and turned to look back towards the idling snowplow. He shouldn't have been anywhere near the damned machine, but he needed the salary to pay his mortgage. When he'd been young, he hadn't needed to pay for somewhere safe to keep his casket. Now, the snowplow mocked him. He drove it for humans, cleared roads for humans and, sometimes, in doing so, he remembered being human. Even after hundreds of years, the memories remained. Feeling, caring, understanding the difference a small word of comfort made when the world fell apart around you.

He choked back what he wanted to say and said what she wanted to hear: "Your son is safe. He can never be hurt again."

She smiled and began crying, saying, "Thank you, thank you."

Gervase couldn't acknowledge her. Something inside of him felt broken loose. It lay in his belly, ragged-edged. He had to turn away again, to avoid seeing the tears mingling with the blood running down her face.

True comfort would have been to drain her blood and end her life, he thought, but memories of his own sorrows and guilt prevented him. In the wake of this tragedy, he knew she would feel more human than she had at any other time in her life. For a moment, she had let him feel it with her. And that was worth telling her a few comforting lies.

He left her crying in the snow and stumbled towards the snowplow, finally remembering the name for the forgotten broken emotion inside himself.

x x x

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