Even with the heater going full blast, Susan could barely feel her fingers for the cold. Her thick mittens did little to take the bone deep chill of the truck cabin away. The snow fell thickly outside, reflecting the headlights of the truck in odd ways, making the road more treacherous than it already was, the wipers working furiously. The snow danced like ghosts across the stretch of abandoned back road.
Susan hated early mornings, when the sun was still hours away from rising, and absolutely loathed the cold. Despite these certainties, she loved the snow, as it was beautiful in its own way. It was part of the reason she had stayed in North Dakota, despite her hatred of winter. The other reason she had stayed for so many years was why she was up at such an ungodly hour in the first place, driving when it was likely that every weather and news station in the county was advising against even going out your front door.
The trailer she was towing behind the truck pulled along, following in the ruts created by the full ton trucks winter tires. For all Susan knew, she wasn’t even driving on the actual road, since the only markers that made the stretch a road in this weather was her ingrained memory from having come this way countless times before. Hell, she almost missed the turn off indicator as she came up to it, though in reality it was not an official demarcation of destination, just an old oak tree, branches now heavy with snow, the indicated she had reached her turn. With a hard jerk on the wheel, she managed to make the cut, the chains on her tires gripping the snow and the gravel below it to keep her from sliding; the trailer bounces along behind. In this storm, the tree was her only indication that she was at the pasture. The snow was so uniformly white and even that it was all muscle memory and reflex at this point, keeping her calm and steady behind the wheel.
Another five minutes of steady travel into the pasture, and she was actually beginning to be able to feel her fingers, though it could just as easily been the beginnings of frostbite, as she had had a brush or two with that in the past. It would have been glorious to be able to sit in the cabin of the truck, as the warmth began to slowly leach away the battering cold, but she was at her destination and there was no time to dawdle. She was not the only thing that was likely feeling cold, as it was ‘ not fit for man nor beast out there’, as her dad had been want to say when he was alive.
With a deft twist, Susan cut the lights on the truck, and shifted to neutral, letting the truck and trailer roll forward to a slow and steady stop. Reaching up, she made sure her knit cap was pulled down tight over her ears, meeting the edge of the heavy scarf she had wound round and round her neck. Quickly, as if she were removing a band-aid, she threw the truck door open and jumped down, trudging through the near knee-high snow towards the back of the trailer. From inside, these was the distinctive sound of hooves on metal, and puffs of steam rose from the small ventilation windows. The bleating of a handful or tired and upset sheep echoed off the bare trailer walls, as the flock made its protest known. The smell of wet wool and lanolin was just strong enough to cut over the cold and crisp air of the storm, which numbed the nose almost to the point of being useless.
Susan could hardly blame the sheep for being disagreeable, their foul mood was something she could relate to, given the circumstances. Being pulled from warm stocks at herded into a semi warm trailer at 3;00 AM would have that effect on anyone, though some would be able to protest in much more horrendous fashions. Susan lowered her scarf ever so slightly and let loose two short, shrill whistles that cut over the wind, and the sheep settled somewhat in the trailer, letting out a few soft baa’s as back talk.
Despite the thickness of her gloves, the little bit of warmth she had begun to feel was already bleeding away, so Susan made quick work of removing the dual lock and pins that held the back ramp in place. The ramp sank down into the snow, not resting fully level, but angling enough that it would be a short transition of trailer to ground for her charges. The latch that held the rolling door secure was a little bit more tricky, especially as the snow continued to fall and quickly cover every surface it could, but years of repetition made quick work of the obstacle. As the door rolled up the sheep, who had been huddled together near the back of the trailer, began moving forward toward the ramp, more out of habit than from any command, given that this was not their first time being transported. Susan moved away from the back of the trailer, the sheep descending the ramp into the snow one after the other in some bizarre game of follow the leader. Once the last of the flock, seven in total, had founds its way down the ramp and did not look like it would be retreating back into the trailer, Susan made quick work of closing the rolling door and locking the ramp back up, before she slowly worked her way back to the open door of the cabin, making sure none of the sheep tried to follow her. They stayed where the were, huddling together in the snow-covered field, their wool blending in with the snow while their black faces stood in stark contrast, even in the relative darkness.
Putting one foot back into the cabin and hoisting herself up with the door, Susan let loose another shrill series of whistles, which set the sheep into a nervous stomping. Taking a deep breath, the cold cutting her lungs like knives, she raised her voice over the storm, shouting into the darkness;
“Come out and get them, they’re all yours!”
With a quick pull and a dive across the seats, her head down with her arms over it, Susan slammed the door behind her, just as the whoosh of something larger and heavier than a jet engine overtook the pasture, hidden by the snow. Susan did not dare look up, did not dare even breath, until there was nothing left but silence.