Every winter break, Marcia Richards took her son, Oliver, and his little sister Willow camping on the anniversary of their father's disappearance. Their campsites were always chosen to be near where he was last seen. Over the past ten years it had grown from a frantic search into a family tradition.
It was four days before Christmas, and the family was driving home to get the house ready for the inevitable invasion of distant relatives and family friends, descending on their home like a swarm of locusts.
Oliver was in the front seat, Willow was sandwiched between snow camping gear in the back wearing her dorky time travel T-shirt. "C'mon, mom, let me drive. You're looking tired. Besides, I need the practice."
"Absolutely not, Ollie!" His mother blinked sleep out of her eyes.
"Don't let him, Mom! Remember what happened last time?"
"It was ONE mistake, dork!"
Willow rolled her eyes. "A mistake that had us shoveling the car out of the snowbank for hours!" She cranked up the music on her headphones to drown out any rebuttal Oliver could make.
Undeterred by his sister, Oliver continued. "I still have my permit! I need to learn. How am I ever going to get better if you don't let me try?"
They drove by a sign, 'Rest Stop Ahead.' His mother yawned, and then sighed.
"You know what, Ollie? You're right. We'll switch places at the rest stop."
The wind began to pick up as they switched seats, and snow started falling as Oliver backed out of the parking space, and pulled onto the highway. Eventually, Oliver couldn't even see the road - he just kept up with the mile markers.
Oliver didn't notice it when it started; he thought it was just the ice on the road. His sister pulled her headphones out of her ears and said, "What's going on?" Then the ground started shaking and there was a bright light in front of them, almost like they were going head-on into a semi truck. The world felt like it was twisting, and distorting. Even all that didn't manage to wake their mother. The stop that happened next was as abrupt as a crash into a semi-truck.
Their mother woke up, as she was slammed against the glove compartment; her impact caused it to pop open. "Oliver! What did you do?" She put her nose between her fingers, her face wincing in pain.
"I didn't do anything," he said, peering out the window. It had stopped snowing, and the frost was beginning to melt, revealing the world outside. "Mom..."
"Not now, Ollie."
Willow was looking out the windows. "Mom!"
Willow recoiled, her voice softening almost to a whisper. "Where are we?"