SUMMARY: The day the blizzard started, no one knew that it was going to keep snowing for a week. That for those in its path, it would become not just a matter of keeping warm, but of staying alive.... Scotty and his friends Pete and Jason are among the last seven kids at their high school waiting to get picked up that day, and they soon realize that no one is coming for them. Still, it doesn't seem so bad to spend the night at school, especially when distractingly hot Krista and Julie are sleeping just down the hall. But then the power goes out, then the heat. The pipes freeze, and the roof shudders. As the days add up, the snow piles higher, and the empty halls grow colder and darker, the mounting pressure forces a devastating decision. (Publishes on February 1, 2011.)
Winter Wonder-(how I survived)-land
I had a lot of jobs growing up. The second-, third-, and possibly fourth-worst ones were summer jobs, but the absolute worst one—the King of Crap Hill—was a winter job. I operated the rope tow at a little ski hill in my hometown. My high school history teacher offered me the job. That should have been a red flag right there, but I was dazzled by the slightly better than awful pay and accepted instantly. I had never operated a rope tow before, but I remember thinking: How hard could it be? The answer: Very, very hard. It was also hazardous, harrowing, and literally numbing. My job was to sit on a log in a little shack at the base of the hill and start and stop the tow. The shack had a roof and sides but no front or back, making it, essentially, a primitive wind tunnel.
My hometown is in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in New England. The winters are generally cold and snowy, and that one was, in particular. The wind would whip down the hill and funnel through the open-ended shack. Sometimes it would literally whistle. I wore a massive parka and huge, nylon-covered wool mittens, but it didn’t matter. The minute I sat down, I would feel myself start to go numb. Meanwhile, I would squint up the hill, my eyes watering from the wind and cold, and watch the children carefully grip the little plastic handles attached to the rope. Once they all had a good grip and their skis carefully positioned beneath them, I would yell “OK!” and push the lever forward to start the tow. This would, almost invariably, cause several of the children to fall over. They’d get back up, and grab the nearest handle. I’d yell something encouraging like, “Hold on tight now!” Or “Ready?” Or “I am dying of cold!” Then I would push the lever forward and they would fall down again, like tiny fainting goats. After a few tries, everyone would make it past the initial lurch and commence their slow drag up the slope.
Technically, this was a triumphant moment, but it was short-lived. Almost immediately, the first kid would be nearing the top of the hill. That’s where the massive metal wheel for the rope was. If a child didn’t let go in time—and sometimes they were afraid to—they would get pulled into the wheel and, well, it would not be good. More than getting the kids up the hill, my job was to make sure they were not, for example, decapitated. This required intense staring at the distant wheel, howling wind, watering eyes, and all. It was extremely stressful. If a kid hesitated to let go for even a few seconds, I had to yank the lever back immediately. This, of course, caused all of the other kids to fall down.
Adding to the fun, the engine’s exhaust pipe was right next to me and so hot that my nylon parka would melt if it got within three or four inches of it. Midway through my first morning, I found myself sitting in the tiny, one-room “ski lodge,” shivering uncontrollably in front of the wood stove. I was entirely numb, utterly shellshocked, and had two half-moon-shaped bites melted out of my sleeve.
I sat there for about 15 minutes while one of the parents took a brief, merciful turn at the rope tow. The feeling began to return to my extremities in a process no more than 17 or 18 times as painful as going numb had been. On the plus side, I only had half a day and the rest of the winter to go, and I hadn’t maimed myself of anyone else. Not yet, anyway.
FIND MICHAEL ONLINE: Website | Facebook | Twitter