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The Wrong Turn

The storm began to die down and the severe howling of the Arctic wind was soon replaced by the almost gentle breeze that caressed the icicles still hanging from the branches, thus creating sounds more mesmerizing than the mermaids’ song. A long curved line of a steep road was framed by thick pine tree forests, now completely white, and high majestic mountains in the distance. Murky skies and dim lights were in perfect unison with the whiteness that spread as far as the eye could see. The enchanting peace and quiet, which took the reign over the wilderness, could easily trick an inexperienced traveler. But not Sasha. He knew it so very well – one wrong turn and the thawing ice of Dalton Highway would most certainly drag one into death. Beads of sweat slid down his forehead, but Sasha didn’t try to wipe them. His frozen fingers firmly clenched the steering wheel of a rented SUV. He would die for a smoke right now. Ironic.

Sasha tried to look around. How did he end up here? His mouth drooped a bit – yes, gambling debts had to be paid off. One wrong turn; he remembered the warnings. One wrong turn. When did he take the first one? In the 7th grade when he stole Mrs. Jackson’s cabinet key, trying to sell the final tests and earn some money for the smokes, but was caught and instead spent the whole summer in detention? Or when he held the kitchen knife under his neighbor’s chin that night when he broke into his house looking for some liquor and some money? The old man wet his pants. Sasha wanted to impress his friends. But then again, that poor bastard actually deserved it, he never was kind to anyone. Or was it that night, he was barely 17, on the back seat of a stolen car, when he was a bit rough and kind of made his date have sex with him although she cried and begged? Did she beg? Anyway, what did she expect to happen, going out with a troublesome kid like him? Or when he hooked up with Martinez’s gang and they robbed that jeweler’s and killed the owner because he wouldn’t open the safe. Or when his girlfriend got pregnant and he made her get rid of the baby. He didn't want kids. Nor family. He had more important things in life. There were people to be conned, scams to be pulled, petty thefts, blackmails, threats, anything that could bring money for his one true passion – gambling. The sheer enjoyment he felt when he looked into the players’ eyes, watching out for a nervous twitch or a sudden shiver. That`s when he knew he had them. His lucky star never failed him. He would carefully lay down the cards and slowly collect the money, gloating after his victory. It gave him the sheer satisfaction that no woman ever could.

His appetites grew, his luck changed, but Sasha wasn't worried. There was nothing he couldn’t change in his favor. That’s why he agreed to do this job – drive the goods from one place to the other and settle the scores. Yes, it was the Arctic and yes, it was that time of the year when the long nights quickly bring oblivion, but everything in life is taking risks. And he did take the risks. Cautiously this time. He took the dangerous road and everything was going well for some time. Turn left, take the second turning on the right and then straight on, just like in a video game. Only this time, there were no bonus lives. A storm that came out of nowhere, a bump on the road and suddenly a flat tire made the car skid, the ice pulled the car, impulsively he took to the brakes only to completely lose control and… the rest of it, he wasn't so sure. He must've bumped his head really hard, ‘cause, when he woke up, the car was upside-down, he was trapped between the steering wheel and a huge branch that came right through the windshield. The cold air was luring him into sleep as his frozen fingers firmly clenched the steering wheel and warm blood slowly slid down his forehead.

Poetic justice some might call it. Fate, the others. Chance, maybe. But Sasha didn’t care. He grinned reluctantly. He remembered the 20.000 $ cheque in his pocket. The cheque he would never cash in. Or gamble away. His eyelids grew heavier and heavier and Sasha was five again with his mum in the park swinging higher and higher and higher… And he was happy, happier than ever before.

Outside, the magnificent Aurora Borealis began its entrancing dance in the sky – vivid colors painted dazzling images, and shooting rays lit up the sky with an incredible glow. Dazzling images only some lucky people were allowed to witness. But not Sasha. Today, he’s run out of luck.

Photo: Jan Curtis / Wikimedia Commons


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