Last week I published ‘Lucky Portbraddon’, a story which starts with a family gathering at Christmas to celebrate the holiday together in their grandmother’s house up on a remote moor. The snow comes down, and as James, the last of the cousins arrives with his new girlfriend Ismène, their car skids off the road and slides down a bank to a pond. They get out of the car into a fearful blizzard and James slips and goes into the pond. Risking her own life, Ismène saves him before rescue comes from the house where he family saw their headlights vanish down the bank. As the rescuers arrive, Ismène hallucinates that they are snowmen and Orson Welles
This is an extract from the second chapter, when Ismène begins to meet the family as they look after her after her terrifying ordeal:
Afterwards Ismène was barely able to work out what had happened. She’d been carried up the snowy bank by Orson Welles, his warm face pressed against hers. Wrapped in blankets and stowed in the back of a large car, there was a bleating voice asking piteously for James and she shut up when she realised it was her own.
Now, bathed and warm and dressed in other people’s clothes, she was elated and alive! She’d been taken into the house, frozen and no doubt filthy, but alive!
“How are you feeling? Another cup of tea?” the woman with blond hair asked. There’d been names but Ismène was seeing the warm candle-lit world through a haze, barely able to distinguish faces, voices, or even what was said to her.
“No thanks, I’m awash with tea,” her voice was rough and gravelly as if snow had burned her throat and lodged there.
Even without her contact lenses and eyes sore from cold, she could see that the woman was very beautiful, her golden hair held back with a blue Alice band and falling over her shoulders, tumbling down her breast.
“I can’t give you anything stronger; Phil said you shouldn’t have any alcohol.”
“How mean of Phil,” rasped Ismène.
“What would you like to do, Ismène?” she had an attractive voice, a young friendly voice. “Do you want to go to bed? Or would you prefer to come down and join us for dinner, you could find a quiet corner?”
She would come down, she needed people. “I want to say thanks to my rescuers, I kept hallucinating that they were snowmen… I can’t really remember what happened and I’m sorry but I can’t remember your name.”
“I’m Alison, Ally, I’m Alex’s wife.” Like Alice in Wonderland, the blond hair, the blue hairband.
Alex was a cousin, had he been among the rescuers? It was a blur of snowmen and Orson Welles. She’d only stopped hallucinating when she was upstairs with the kind women, undressing, bathing and drying her, wrapping her in their own warm clothes, jogging pants, sweatshirt, dressing gown, thick soft socks.
She asked again if James was really alright, and then managed to laugh because she was repeating herself, but she just wanted to see him, see he was alive.
The door opened to the other two women and their names came to her, Ruby and Carla. Ruby was in a high-necked red sweater with auburn hair, easy to remember Ruby in red and even with her blurry vision Ismène could see her ready smile, an easy person to like.
Carla was in jeans and a check shirt, her cropped hair and slim figure gave her a boyish look so the name had stuck, Carl/Carla; she announced that dinner was ready… A cousin, or a cousin’s wife?
Ismène shed the dressing gown… she didn’t want to look a complete mess meeting James’s family for the first time. She apologised for not knowing who anyone was, James hadn’t told her – typical James, Ally said.
They took her to see him first, in ‘the ‘boys’ room’ where Phil, Ruby’s eldest son and a doctor at Strand Royal, was looking after him. Ismène was alarmed to be told James had hypothermia, but as part of a mountain rescue team, Phil was the best person to look after him… Which was just as well as they were cut off by the weather.
There was a blizzard raging outside and the power was off, hence the candles and lanterns everywhere.
“You saved James’ life,” said Ally quietly. “You saved his life.”
“I couldn’t leave him,” Ismène replied.
You can find Lucky Portbraddon here: