Here’s a wintry episode from my novel Lucky Portbraddon.
Ismène and her hew boyfriend James are travelling to his grandmother’s house up on the moors to spend Christmas with his family. The weather is atrocious, snowing so hard there is almost no visibility; they have just turned into the long drive heading up to the remote house when the car skids off the road. They are sliding down a bank towards a large pond when fortunately the car stalls. They decide to abandon it and climb up to the track and walk to the house.
James was shouting something but the wind swallowed his words. On hands and feet they slipped and scrambled up the bank. Creeping along the main roads, Ismène had described it as a white-out, now it was a grey-out, the light leaving what had been the day.
James pulled her upright and for a moment they clung together. He started to say something, but there was a sudden tremendous buffeting gust and they tumbled into a drift. She floundered in the snow, blinded and lost, screaming his name. Her mouth was full of snow but she knew he must have slid down towards the pond! The pond!
Afterwards she wondered how she’d had the courage, but it was pure instinct. She stumbled after him, past the mound that was the car, its door open, the light on.
He was lying face down, arms outstretched above his head as if he’d been trying to save himself as he slithered down the bank. Only his top half was visible, his legs were under the smashed ice of the water.
She grasped him under the arms and tried to heave him out but she only succeeded in nearly toppling herself in. Shouting his name she tried to rouse him; he thrashed his legs as if trying to swim and she heaved again and pulled him a foot from the water.
Later she couldn’t remember how long she’d struggled, it seemed like one long recurring nightmare…
In this bitter cold and in their light clothes there was a real danger of something serious happening, something as serious as… death. Hysteria took hold and she began to giggle uncontrollably – something as serious as death! She was shaking with laughter and James seemed to be laughing too but of course he wasn’t, he was shivering with cold.
Ismène shouted at him, hitting his shoulders, trying to wake him to make more effort to help himself. She struggled and pulled, moving him by mere inches.
“James, I can’t do this! I’m going to the house to get help!”
She didn’t know how far away it was but she began to crawl up towards the road. She glanced back and James was gone. She slithered down and straight into the water; it was only knee deep and warm and he was floating face down. She grabbed him, adrenalin kicking in and she heaved him onto his back and hauled him up the bank.
She began to cry… She couldn’t leave him, he was unconscious, he’d die, freeze or drown… But if she stayed she’d die too. She lost track of time… a few minutes… hours? It was completely dark now…
In a rage she began to hit him, thumping him with her fists, yelling at him. This is ridiculous! I don’t want to die! It’s Christmas!
“Help!! Someone!! Help!!” she screamed.
She pulled at James again and moved him a few inches but she could no longer feel her hands and feet, her limbs seemed strange attachments no longer belonging to her. Her thoughts were slowing and she couldn’t think of what to do. She tried to be logical, snow piling thickly on her shoulders and head… soon she’d be invisible. The light from the car veiled in snow was fading… Someone passing wouldn’t even see them, see the small mounds in the snow.
If I stay here I’m going to die. James is going to die anyway, but I’ll die with him… If only I can get to the house …
Tears began to trickle, warm, then cold, then icy…
She pulled at James again; if she could just get him out of the water, wedge him safely somehow… but it was hopeless. Ismène stood and immediately fell over, got to her feet and screamed for help… then sunk back to James who had slipped again.
They’d met on a night out with mutual friends… Instant attraction, instant relationship, instant love? Did she love James? No, actually, but maybe one day…
She was very weak now and becoming sleepy. She tried to take James beneath the arms with the blocks of wood she knew were her hands… She pulled him but could no longer tell whether she was shifting him. The ice on the surface of the pond was covered with snow falling relentlessly in feathery lumps.
Ismène yelled again but her voice was tiny… There was a rabbit in a clown’s costume. But it was a dream, a delusion… A dog wandered around looking for its head, glasses perched on the end of its curly tail.
People were singing… People… There were people.
“Help! Help me!!”
And there were snowmen walking across the pond, they were playing music or maybe they were just singing ‘Last Christmas’… It would be her last Christmas….
Ismène was hallucinating, and she knew it. She bent her face to James but couldn’t feel his skin against hers, her cheeks and nose and mouth numb. Was he unconscious? Was he dead? How could it happen so quickly?
Oh for fuck’s sake if I’m going to die let me die now, don’t drag out this misery! She shouted, or maybe the words were only in her head. If she slid into the water… She was no longer cold, there was no pain… James slipped an inch and somehow she dragged him back.
The snowmen were back, walking through the night towards her, still singing…
One of the snowmen was bending down, brushing snow from her face, lifting her into his arms… But it wasn’t a snowman, it was Orson Welles.
Then more people were with her and lifting her and carrying her up to a warm car. She tried to say something about James, tell them about James, but her voice was frozen in her throat.
If you want to know what happens next, here’s a link: