written by Frances Wosmek

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Chapter One: A First Rate Blizzard

Karla Lindstrom stood by a window watching the snowflakes fall thick and fast. They settled soundlessly on the feathery white blanket that already spread over the towering mountains of northern Vermont. Earlier reports had been of a forty linch packed powder base on the slopes. A new layer of snow on top of that was more than any skier would have dared dream.

She could hear the boys downstairs bringing in armloads of wood, stomping snow from their boots. She could sense the excitement in their voices as they discussed the likelihood of being snowbound, cut off from the outside world for who-knew-how- long.

She glanced over her shoulder at Noelle Hunter, her temporary room-mate, still sleeping in the room's only out-sized bed. The blue corduroy feather quilt was jammed into a cocoon that tapered off under her dimpled chin. Her red hair (. . . or golden, as she was apt to gently remind her friends . . . and Karla, in particular) was carefully rolled on king-size curlers.

Noelle opened her eyes, yawned and sat up. She sized the situation fast developing outside the window, then gave a sudden, small, delighted laugh.

"Snow!" she squealed, flinging back the covers and hopping out onto the cold floor. She slipped her feet into a pair of dainty slippers, then made for the window, threading her arms through the sleeves of a flimsy yellow robe that floated out behind like a sun-struck wisp of fog. "Do you think it will be a monster blizzard . . . roads blocked and the whole works? Wow! We could be here forever!"

Karla, enfolded in a less-than-stylish old brown wrap-around and a pair of floppy fur slippers, turned away feeling slightly annoyed for no reason she was about to admit. "If it is," she replied sourly, "then I'd say we were poised right on the brink of the most boring vacation in recorded history."
She was vaguely aware that, under conditions of the moment, she should have been jumping for joy. But she wasn't . . .not this time, and in spite of the fact that, just the night before, she and her older brother, Geoff, and two of their friends had arrived at the Lindstrom's ski lodge right in the middle of some of the best skiing anywhere.

It was common knowledge that the surrounding ski area had something for everyone . . . right from beginners' Bunny Slopes to Suicide Slide where only the best of skiers dared challenge their skill. Someone had thought up the name long ago and, by now, most people had all but forgotten the mountain's real name - Adam's Peak.

Suicide Slide, familiarly known as "The Slide", was famous among serious skiers as "the ultimate". To tackle and triumph over the toughest of them all was the dream of every one of them within range. Even old pros never quite lost their respect for it.

Now, here they were, the four of them, a free week ahead and the full blessing of all parents concerned . . . or, at least, those with any concern left. But, even so, Karla still felt miserable . . . and that had to be an all time first. Ordinarily, the beginning of a rip-roaring blizzard of the notable New England variety, would have charged her with all the electric energy of a Christmas morning. The thought of everything bogged down and smothered beneath great sculptured mounds of white should have been the maximum delight. But, somehow, it wasn't ... not this time.

She had been glad to get away from Webb's Corner and the cloud that seemed to be gathering over their once happy home. But waiting out a storm, squeezed into one such small piece of the map with all that unresolved uncertainty to think about was not seeming a whole lot better.

"Go easy on the oil," their mother had warned in an uncharacteristically vague and absent-minded kind of way. "You know it is sometimes hard to get oil up there if the weather turns bad. Use the fireplaces. There is plenty of wood. It will be up to Geoff and Pete to keep you supplied."
Obviously, the boys had taken her instructions to heart. There was clearly no heat coming from anywhere. The room was frigid. Shivering, Karla squirmed clumsily into her long-johns and ice-cold ski-pants. She slipped a heavy old green wool turtleneck over her head. Strands of straight, silvery-blonde hair crackled with static electricity and clung softly to the sides of her face.

Noelle bounced from window to window, unpinning curlers and wriggling into her spanking-new garments. "How did you ever get your parents to agree to just the four of us up here in the wilderness - all alone?" she asked.

Karla winced. "We're not exactly alone," she replied. " . . . Consider the neighbors. Up here, it's called 'looking after one another.'"
Noelle frowned. " .. You mean we're being watched?"
"Let me put it this way, if you're planning any orgies .. don't! News, in this neck of the woods, travels faster than a speeding bullet . . . straight back to Connecticut!"


Ordinarily, Karla would simply have let the matter drop. But, this time, for some reason beyond her control, she dragged it on. "Furthermore, it's not just 'the four of us' the way you seem to imply. Good luck with finding any romance in Geoff ! .. and Pete just happens to be Geoff's room-mate. He is Geoff's friend, not mine. . . . and all the snowstorms in the next century wouldn't be enough to change that one basic fact."
With a knowing smile, Noelle unwound the last curler. A strand of kinky, mahogany hair tumbled to one smooth white shoulder. "You say that now," she said. "I think he's cute. I think he likes you. I think he's heavy-duty!"

Karla squirmed with annoyance. "If it isn't clear to you now, it will be soon enough," she snapped " Things like that don't change just because of a snowstorm!"

"Then why are you getting so all worked up? If you ask me, I think you like him a lot more than you want to admit. People don't get all hot and bothered when someone they don't care about is just mentioned."
Karla prickled with aggravation, but swallowed a response with her finest effort. Some inner reason warned it might not be prime time for feuding. It was, nonetheless, satisfying to remember that the grim realities of their situation were bound to get through, even to Noelle, sooner or later . . . things like bitter cold and running out of essentials. A few basic lessons in survival might just be looming up in their immediate future. The thought was warmly satisfying . . . even though, on second thought, a little terrifying to realize this time they would be on their own. No parents. Only themselves to grapple with important decisions . . . should there happen to be any.

She glanced over her shoulder at the big old bed that had been, until now, the exclusive property of her parents. It had not been easy for her to agree to Noelle's insistence that they take the master bedroom for themselves. But, then . . . why not? she had asked herself. The view of the mountain from that window was one of the best in the lodge. Furthermore, it was about time she got used to the way things seemed to be shaping up at home. There was no point in hanging onto old memories.

She, along with Geoff and their parents, had been coming to that same lodge in the mountains to ski forever . . . well, almost! Of course, there must have been a time when she and Geoff were beginning skiers, but she could not remember.

"This is your country, just as it is mine," her father had told her from the very start. "No one had to teach you. You were born knowing how to ski, just as a duck is born knowing how to swim."

And so it had seemed. Karla had grown tall and blonde like her father, with the same clear, ice-blue eyes. Their ancestors had been Vikings, an athletic and enduring lot. No question about it, she and her father had come by their love of the outdoors naturally.

She had never claimed to be a scholar, feeling cramped and inhibited in a closed-in classroom. She lived for those clear vacation days, tramping through the woods, diving into the cold water of Vermont lakes, sleeping beneath the stars, or speeding like the wind down snowy mountain slopes, every atom of her being singing with life and joy.

Now, lately, that practically perfect life, the envy of all her less fortunate friends, seemed to be balancing precariously on the very edge of a disastrous free-fall. The Lindstrom home atmosphere was definitely suffering a serious down-swing but, even more disturbing, was the fact that no one (more specifically . . . parents) seemed to have the slightest intention of ever admitting there was anything wrong. What had happened to the old "togetherness" that had meant sharing joys and responsibilities equally and openly?

The very fact of this vacation having been planned and promoted by their mother was enough to confirm Karla's worst suspicions. Such a sudden display of trust that she and Geoff were old enough and dependable enough to manage on their own smacked a little too much of wanting them out of the way. Even putting faith in THE DIRTY SHAME, Pete's old four-wheeled museum piece, to get them there had to be an all time peak in motherly confidence.

"Bring a friend," she had urged, perhaps even a little desperately. "If each of you bring a friend, it can be a real adventure. You should not need looking after at your ages."

Which, of course, was true enough, but it was not what Karla had come to expect from her often overly protective mother. One did not grow up overnight, yet it almost seemed as though she believed they had.

So, here they were, signs becoming increasingly clear that the snowflakes meant business. The mountain had already disappeared along with everything else, blotted out by the swirling, whirling blasts of snow. It was just possible that their mother's newly acquired trust might have to stretch over a lot longer time than had been bargained for. It was common knowledge that big snows in that remote neck of the woods were not always dealt with too promptly.

Karla tossed a quick glance at Noelle, still busy at the mirror - perfecting the perfect. However, despite her faults, Noelle was still one of the best skiers she knew. Though, of course, in issuing the invitation, the possibility of their being stuck together inside four walls for what might be days on end could not have been taken into account.

Geoff and Pete had a roaring fire blazing away in the living room's massive old stone fireplace. The television, spattering and crackling with static, strained to materialize the one local channel within reach. The picture swam helplessly in a blurred sea of blinking lines.
"Awesome!" Geoff greeted the girls delightedly. "The blizzard's hardly even begun, and predictions are already off the chart!"

He paced from window to window, looking as delighted as though he had planned the whole thing himself. Like Karla, Geoff was tall, except that a slightly round-shouldered stoop and a tendency to slouch instead of sit projected less of the athletic image. His features were small and boyish, but the beginning of a beard was shaping up around his smooth, round jaw-line.

Karla dropped into a convenient chair and watched Geoff's restless pacing with increasing annoyance. "You won't be so all fired up when the blizzard ends and the shoveling begins," she said, hating each word. She despised wet blankets .. yet, here she was, competing with the best of them.

Her eyes wandered nostalgically about the room, lingering here and there . . . remembering. It was not so long ago that things had been normal with the family - really normal.

The room looked just the same . . . designed and arranged to accommodate an active family's pleasures and pastimes. Mrs. Lindstrom had spent a lot of busy hours making sure of just that. Unlike many of the neighboring lodges, this one glowed with the warmth of permanency. Everything blended harmoniously throughout the subtle range of earth colors . . . with a surprising dab of persimmon red in just the right places. Two main focal points alternated importance according to the mood of the weather . . . the vast, uncluttered and un-curtained window that faced the mountain at one end, and the rustic stone fireplace at the other.
Karla might have known that concentrating in such dangerous areas would be the one sure way to start a knot developing in her insides. She and Geoff were growing up, with plenty of problems of their own. More than likely, whatever was causing the disturbance at home had nothing to do with them - and, even if the secret were divulged, her interference would probably not be appreciated. . . . besides, she had a lot more immediate things to worry about . . . like breakfast, for instance.
She hurriedly got to her feet and shivered into the kitchen for a quick inventory of the cupboards.

"At least we have food!' she called back to the others .. "enough for at least ten years! . . .. and, with the freezer downstairs, I would say we were pretty well supplied for the rest of our natural lives!" It was a wild shot at cheerfulness, aimed at counteracting her soggy mood.

"It may seem like a lot to you," Geoff sauntered into the kitchen to say, "but with nothing to do but eat, it could go fast."

"If you have a key, lock it up!" Pete smiled, filling the doorway behind Geoff. "With an appetite like your brother's, we'll be lucky to make it through the morning!"

Karla shook the dry cereal into a line of bowls on the counter. With occasional quick glances toward the window and the whirl of descending snowflakes, she began to feel the unexpected weight of a new responsibility. An emergency might well be in the making. Whatever .. it was going to be up to Geoff and herself to keep things going. She eyed her brother, winding his lanky legs into position around one of the kitchen stools. Her confidence in his leadership had become a little too shaky for comfort. A first-rate skier, he might be . . . but, as was common knowledge in the family, he was capable of making some pretty dumb decisions . . . when and if he made any decisions at all.

No one seemed overly concerned that the breakfast consisted mainly of cold cornflakes . . . least of all, Noelle, who had a lot more important things on her mind.

"I'm just SO thankful you guys are here to look after things!" she beamed into Geoff's eyes. "I, for one, don't care how long the storm lasts. I think it's going to be a totally mind-expanding experience!"

"My luck," Geoff responded with a sickening grin, " . . . to find myself stranded on the mountainside with a cool chick like you!"

Karla cast a withering glance at her brother, which he did not catch. Yccht! she groaned inwardly, if we have to put up with that kind of slop, it's going to be an awfully long vacation, whatever the weather!
She glanced at Pete. His solid, pleasant-enough face glowed a healthy pink. He was wearing a new red plaid shirt straight from L.L. Beans' with the crease folds still intact. Just as she had insisted to Noelle, he definitely was not her type. On the other hand, if she had to choose someone for weathering out a storm, then good looks and glamour might not count for a whole lot. Pete, it was comforting to note, looked as sturdy and dependable as a well fed old St. Bernard.

As the gloomy morning hours wore on, each one watched the storm with cautiously rising exhilaration - even though tinged with a nagging unease. The wild wind whistled and howled into every crack and crevice of the lodge. It hurled gusts of snow against the windows. Indistinct grey smears that had been trees came and went like ghostly symbols slipping through from another dimension.

No question about it . . . this was turning out to be a full blown blizzard. They heaped more logs on the fire, then turned their attention back to the window to watch and speculate.

"With a wind like that, there are going to be drifts a mile high," Karla observed.

"We'll be socked in for days!" Geoff added with smug satisfaction.

"Let's all keep diaries!" Noelle took the occasion to chirp. ". . . write everything down, just to prove how well we've coped!"

The shrill ring of the telephone cut sharply into the meditative silence that followed Noelle's proposal. It was a jolting reminder that the real world was still out there somewhere.

"Oh, Karla, I'm so GLAD I was able to get through!" Mrs. Lindstrom's worried voice wavered over the line in varying degrees of stength. "Are you all right?"

"Of course, Mom!" Karla replied, exaggerating her confidence. "Why shouldn't we be? It's going to be a blast!"

"Do be careful. You know how those storms up there can be. You know how impossible those roads can get. Are you sure you will be able to manage by yourselves?"

"It's O.K . . . honest, Mom! Stop worrying. We have all the food and wood we need. We could make it through till spring if we needed to. Put Dad on, please. I'd like to have a word with him too."

The minute it was out, she knew she should not have asked.
Her mother hesitated. "I'm afraid your father is not here just now," she said. "He had to go into the city for a couple of days."

The line buzzed and whistled. Then, abruptly, the noise stopped.
Karla balanced the receiver carefully back in its cradle. "The line went dead," she told the others.

"Well, there you are!" Geoff laughed, turning to Noelle. "You can write that on page one of your diary!"

Nobody else laughed. All eyes turned back to the window. No one felt it necessary to underline the obvious. Their only two-way communication with the rest of humanity had just given out. From then on in, for however the storm chose to last, they were on their own. For all practical purposes, they might as well have been on the moon.


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