I've discovered that collaborating with other writers is sometimes a lot more fun than writing on my own. (Ain't We Got Fun, anyone?)

My friend, Andrew, is a writer. He is, however, a writer of screenplays. So awhile ago, when he asked to take my character, Jeremiah Frost, and attempt a short story on him, I was partly excited and partly worried about handing over my dear Frost to him. (Any other writer ought to understand this. Our characters are our children.)

Well, Andrew took my character and scribbled out a pretty intriguing story. And quite accidentally, it took on a more script-like form. Because of this, I then asked to take my character back, along with his story idea, and I twisted it to fit a flash fiction style.

So without further ado, I give you Frostbite. 

Well, this was a nice piece of luck. I kicked the tire of my motorcycle, growling. The air was cold on the mountainside, and the woods thick. I could barely see pass the bend in the road ahead as it disappeared into a fog of pines.

Unsure of what to do, I sat down on the side of the road to think. A snowflake fluttered down from the dark sky, sizzling as it dropped onto the warm engine of my beastly bike. I pulled my leather jacket closer, biting my lip as I considered walking to the next town. How far was it? I hadn’t passed a road sign in miles. Running away seemed like a good idea at first, I thought. Now it seemed to be the end of me.

Suddenly a mournful hum filled the air. I froze. It wasn’t the eeriest sound I had heard that day, but it sounded like the absence of hope itself. On the contrary, however, it sent a surge of hope through me, and I leapt to my feet as the sputtering jeep rounded the bend and into sight. I waved my arms above my head, slightly crestfallen at the sorry picture. This was to be my rescue?

I bound forward as the jeep ground to a halt next to me. The door was pushed open, and the shadowy figure of a man stepped into light. I blinked, finding myself staring up at a tall, thin fellow. I guessed he could be called an average man at first glance, but something about his eyes caught me off guard. They weren’t shady by any means. No, they were sad. Very, very sad.

I almost thought I recognized him.

“Can I help you?” the man asked, his gravelly voice quickly fading in the thick woods.

“Yeah, my darn bike ran out of gas,” I said, shoving my hands in my pockets and ignoring the burning embarrassment that seethed in my head. It was the bike’s fault, I tried to convince myself, however silly that was. Not mine.

The man merely stared at me. Was he … was he teasing me for my ignorance? I shifted uncomfortably, trying to avoid his gaze. He was searching me, I decided. Did he think I was planning to rob him? Finally I said, “I know I’m the one stranded here, but you seem to be the one lost, mister.”

The man shook his head, giving me a half-hearted smile. “No.”

I waited for an explanation, but that was all he said. He continued to stand there, outside his jeep, with his hands in his jean pockets. I tried again. “I’m Dawson,” I said. “And you are …?”

“Jeremiah Frost.” He held out his hand, and, relieved, I shook it. “It’s good to see you, Dawson.”

He said it like he knew me, and that sent a strange haunting sensation up my spine. More so, I felt I knew him. His name niggled my mind. But I still couldn’t place that face. I was certain I had never met him in my life.

“Well,” I said, after a moment, “could you give me a lift to town, Mr. Frost? My bike isn’t doing me a lick of good, and it’s getting dark.” Already the orange streaks above the trees had vanished, and the purple haze of dusk was settling in. The darkness among the forest seemed darker now than before. I squinted, trying to see deep into it as I went to grab my knapsack from the back of the motorcycle. “Could you give me a lift to the next town?” I asked again, as he hadn’t replied before.

“No,” came the surprising answer. Frost turned, walking to the back of his jeep.

I blinked and then lunged forward, swinging the knapsack over my back. “Please,” I begged, just as I used to beg Dad when he refused something to me. He always refused me. “Take me to town. I’ll pay you. I’ll …” I noticed him pulling a gasoline can from the back of the jeep.

“I always take this with me, in case of emergencies,” Frost explained, handing it to me. I swallowed, breathing again, as I took the rusty can from him. I fingered the handle, looking down. “I’d consider this an emergency.”

“Thank you,” I said. And I meant it.

He nodded. I didn’t see him nod, but I knew he did. I turned back to my bike, setting the can on the ground as I strapped my knapsack again to the back. I heard Frost’s jeep rev up, choking and sputtering as if it wouldn’t keep going. But it did.

I turned, watching him climb back into the beat-up vehicle. He turned his head toward me, and in the darkness, I saw tears glinting on his cheeks. I fought back the choking sensation that unexpectedly welled up in my throat, and I called, “Goodbye. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Dawson.” Then the jeep sputtered and carried him around the bend.

I turned, pouring the gasoline into the tank on my bike. I frowned as the feeling that I had met this man before grew stronger in my mind. Then I dropped the can as it suddenly rushed back to me.

Hurriedly, I tore open my knapsack and pulled out the book. I squinted, trying to see in the thin light. Its cover and pages were worn; I must’ve read it a dozen times. And now, as I looked at the author’s biography, I saw the face. He wasn’t smiling. He didn’t seem to know how to smile. He looked younger, for there weren’t as many years of toil and care etched into his skin then. But there was great wisdom in his blue eyes, and sorrow. Much sorrow. And there was no denying it was the same man in the jeep.

Surely that fact should have shocked me enough, but as I read the dedication in the front, a chill crept into my very soul. “To all those lost and worn, with no way forward and no way backward. To those stranded, and to those with no hope. May these stories help you find your way.” — Jeremiah Frost