This 3rd Christmas tale was downright nightmarish. Again we headed to our vacation log home in the Nantahala National Forest in Highlands, NC, the setting for my 1st mystery, The Puzzle. All the ornaments were packed in the trunk (this time) of our diesel sedan, and as usual, we were packed to the hilt. But after arriving in Highlands the winter weather wasn’t very conducive for a snowy, wintry Christmas. The day of Christmas Eve the weather ventured all the way to 70 degrees! So we went for a hike in the valley only to see the weather turn on a dime sooner than was warned. The temps plummeted like a stone in water. We couldn’t get back to the house fast enough as it began to thunder, lightening with heavy downpours just as we shut the door to our cabin. A cold blast swooped in and the rain changed to chunks of hail bouncing off the driveway, then it turned back to a downpour. Now picture our electricity abruptly went out, which included our well water (The pump needs electric to get water). Our mainline phone went dead and we had no cell service when the storm hit. With travel impossible, we hunkered down and started both of our fireplaces, one in the kitchen and one in the living room, and lit several candles so we could see our way around.
Let me share with you a slice from one chapter to give you an idea of what some of those dicey conditions were like. In my mystery, my protagonist, Samantha Jamison was in Highlands to find out who killed her husband. She’s alone, inexperienced in situations such as this, and not sure what to expect when everything goes south. A sample from that storm chapter:
Resolutely, I set off for the front door, opened it, and clung to the frame, as an arctic blast assaulted my body and face. Its unexpected force stung on impact, whipping my hair wildly about, while I weighed my odds for escape.
Bewildered at first, I stared further out, stunned. Solid ice was everywhere. The trees had grown grotesque frozen fingers that swayed heavily back and forth. I stepped forward and lost my footing. I barely managed to grab hold of the doorknob to get upright. I found myself staring directly at my car. My car! I turned and tore a heavy jacket from the coat rack, grabbed my car keys and gingerly made my way to the car. The wind propelled me backward as I tugged hard on the handle, finally opening it, and jumped inside. Shivering, I jammed the key in the ignition and turned it. Nothing. I tried again. Dead. How could that be? I pounded the dashboard.
With my fingers going numb, I ditched the car, inched back to the house, slammed the door behind me and slid the lock back in place. I stood there, shaking from the cold and rock-solid fear. Sneakers (my cat) anxiously ran around my ankles. I tried to catch my breath, feeling my world closing in. I knew I couldn’t walk up the ice-coated steep driveway and I couldn’t escape through the woods. I might get disoriented in the dark and freeze to death. Besides, even if I did make it to the road, who in their right mind would be out there at this hour and in this weather?
I scanned the interior of the house. The candles were barely flickering and my flashlight was dead. I could wing the rest, but I needed heat if I were to survive. I quickly threw the last scrap of wood into the fireplaces, frantically taking a quick look around. What else could I possibly do? I came up short and stood absolutely still when it finally hit me. … I was trapped.
The actual story for us was: Having already bundled up in layered sweaters, socks, pants, and gloves, (I could not feel my fingertips) what I never mentioned in my book was that the water froze in our toilets just before they cracked. We were using Dixie cups lined up on the back of the toilet. (Too frigid and icy to step outside to go) Being Christmas Eve, I decided we should open up our gifts, and then we burned the wrapping paper and boxes in the fireplaces after running out of firewood to keep us warm. We wrapped the boys in blankets by the burning fireplace.
The trees did have grotesque frozen fingers that swayed heavily back and forth. A coating of that thick ice covered our car door lock, so my husband ran to the fire, placed the fire tongs holding the car key in the fire then ran outside to slip it into the door locks to get in the car to try to start it. The diesel engine was too cold and would not turn over. Trying repeatedly had killed the battery. As we began to have sporadic electricity, he hooked up a battery charger to an extension cord from the house to jumper cables attached to the car battery. But it was so frigid the diesel fuel had turned to gel. (Diesel fuel gelling occurs when the paraffin usually present in diesel fuel begins to solidify when the temperature drops. At 32 degrees the wax in liquid form begins to crystalize, leaving the fuel tank clouded. At 10-15 degrees it begins to gel clogging the tank.) It was well below that. We had to wait it out for higher temps. The driveway was a steep sheet of ice, along with recurrent freezing rain/hail with high winds and a low wind-chill factor.
Every thirty minutes my husband would run outside to try to jumpstart our car, as the temps began to rise slowly to try to start the diesel engine. Finally, it came to life. Afraid to turn it off, he left it running, cranked up the heater, raced into the house and told us to get packed up. We were driving back home, rather than risk freezing to death. In thirty minutes the tree was stripped and thrown over the cliff into the woods to decompose, we were packed and loaded, and by daylight we slipped and slid up our steep driveway and made it to the main road, cheering as we slowly headed down the icy mountain roads toward home from that colder, higher elevation.
Back then there was an old cafeteria just outside of Atlanta that was somehow miraculously open that Christmas day on our trip back home. We pulled in starving to death. Inside it was toasty. We were the only ones there. We grabbed a table, tray, and food from the Christmas Brunch buffet that was set up, the steam and savory smells tempting our palates. When we were settled with our food at our table, and after giving thanks for surviving our dangerous ordeal, I turned to my family (who were wolfing down their food) and smiled. We were safe. We (and I might add, my childhood ornaments) had survived an inconceivable nightmare.
“Merry Christmas,” I said, feeling grateful and truly blessed.
I hope you enjoyed my 3 true Christmas tales: ‘Ah, Christmases: some good, some bad, some downright nightmarish.’ One was a bit humorous, one upsetting, and one downright scary.
There was also another one about when I packed a small, decorated tree in our luggage for our ski vacation in Switzerland. I can imagine what the luggage handlers were thinking when they scanned our bags. The kids had no idea it was in there. We surprised them Christmas morning, saying Santa found us all the way over there, leaving a few wrapped gifts for them under it too. In Book 6, Death Knell In The Alps, Samantha experienced some true incidents that actually happened to me on one of those Swiss trips we took.
Oh, the stories I could tell… Hey, wait a minute! Come to think of it, I do…chuckle.
Remember, everyday is a blessing. Don’t take any of them for granted.