An unexpected Christmas Gift

By Christian Martin

Copyright © 2007

Day 1 - December 24th

“Sandy! Robby! Get up! We have to get moving if we are to make it to grandma's place for the Christmas party!” hollers Mrs. Wilkinson from the kitchen.

Mrs. Wilkinson has been raising her two boys, twins, since her husband died four years ago in a trucking accident on road #175, while hauling wood beams for a paper mill. Each year, she drives that same road to visit her mother for Christmas, and, each year she feels the pain of her loss as she passes the cross that marks where her husband's truck capsized when the load he was carrying moved in the steep curve. Life hasn't been easy on her, raising two very romboncous boys alone, in a big city, while working at two and sometimes three jobs to have ends meet. She has a 3 day vacation during Christmas, and a 3 day vacation during New Year, plus the occasional mandatory days off, but that is it. Mrs. Wilkinson has been working an eighteen hours shift and is tired, but she knows her boys would be so sad if they didn't go see their grandma for the Christmas Party and the Midnight Mass, so she lugs on, and puts up a happy face even if she thinks she's near collapsing.

She hears the twins get up and rush to their bathroom for their morning ritual. The boys have been rather subdued lately, but school seems to do them good. They have friends that come visit them regularly, and the neighbors keep an eye on them when she is at work and they are not in school. At nine years of age, they have socialized nicely, are always helping each other and protecting each other from school bullies and defending each other's back. She has all the reasons in the world to be proud of them, but she worries a lot. Her husband's family is a collection of first class jerks that have never accepted her or her boys, and even refused to invite them over for the Holidays, even when her husband was still alive.

She was snobbed at her own husband's funeral, and the boys were even bullied by their older cousins during the ceremony, in plain view of their parents, who turned a blind eye on their actions until the celebrant put his foot down and stopped the celebration to warn them their actions were innapropriate either in or outside church. That didn't sit well with the late husband's family, but it put a stop to the harassment. That event put any possibility of reconciliation on the ice, that's for sure.

On her side, she is an orphaned girl, placed for adoption by her biological mother. She never knew she was orphaned until she married her late husband, and then all hell broke loose on her husband's side. They did not want her in the family, and told her in no uncertain terms that bastards were not welcomed. That angered her husband who loved her deeply; nonetheless, the family cut the boy off his college funds and threw him and her out on the street. Trucking was just about the only job a college dropout student could do to feed his upcoming family.

Sandy and Robby came into the kitchen, still wearing their spiderman pjs, and bunny slippers, and sat quietly at the table, started eating their alphabits cereals while watching their mom as she worked to prepare them a hot breakfeast.

“What are we having” piped Sandy, followed perfectly in sync by Robby's “for breakfeast mom?”

“Pancakes with maple syrup, toasts, eggs and saussage,” replied Mrs. Wilkinson, still amazed at the perfect timing of the two boys after all those years.

“Cooool!” chorused the two, looking at each other with huge grins. That was a rare event indeed, mom usually kept breakfeast to a minimum, because of her rather tight schedule, and the boys were more used to cereals, toasts and peanut butter with jelly than anything else.

“We have to move out fast, boys, there is a storm warning and if we are to reach grandma's house before the night falls it's going to be a long drive! Hurry up and clean yourselves, I'll be packing the car with your toys and the winter emergency kits.”

An hour later, the family was on highway 40, moving out of Montreal towards Quebec City, and all was going fine. The boys were in the back seat, asleep, as always, and Mrs. Wilkinson stopped at Benny's for fuel and resumed her trip north and east. She made good time to Quebec City and took the highway leading to the Laurentide National Park she had to cross to go to Alma. She fueled up at the 'Étape', which is half-way through the park, called her mom to report her progress and then continued on road #175 to the junction that led across the 'Little Park' as it was named, road #169. The road conditions were icy and only partly cleared, leaving only a narrow passage between two high hills of snow on each side. She slowed down to prevent slippage, and continued on.

4:20 PM:

The sun was down, and visibility atrocious; the wind was blowing snow across the road; cars shifted left to right and back on the ice, making driving conditions the worst Mrs. Wilkenson had encountered in years; each passing of a car was a play with death because either could suddenly skid due to ice or wind.

About five kilometers off the summit of the park, she noticed a car coming up on her from behind, driving fast. It slowed down behind her than started horning impatiently… then the unthinkable happenned, it tried to pass her in a blind curve and just at that moment, another car came in the opposite direction! The jerk had no choice but to come back on her to prevent a frontal collision, and hit her front, sending the car in a spin that drove it right off the road. It capsized and slid down the embarkment, riding on its roof like a snowboard until it finally came to a stop after hitting some conifers.

The imprudent and irresponsible driver didn't even stop to assist and continued on, unashamed of his actions. The other car had veered off road as well, and entered the snow bank head first, knocking the lone driver unconcious.

Meanwhile the gates at both ends of the park had been closed to normal trafic as per the order of the police due to the degrading road conditions and the trafic had been reduced to a treckle, mostly on the main roadway, and again, mostly park personel patroling the roads. The snow blanketed everything, blinding drivers and masking any trace of the accident.

5:10 PM:

“Mom? I hurt!” sobs Sandy, as he wakes up from the shock. He instantly notices he is hanging down from the seat belt, not seated and sees his twin in a similar situation. “Robby! Robby! Wake up!” as he desperately pushes his brother, provoking a grunt from Robby.

Robby opens his eyes and looks around. He sees his brother sniffing and then that the car is upside down and that snow has entered the car from the broken passenger front window.

“We've been in an accident!” wimpers Robby. “Where's mom?”

Both twins look around and see their mom, bent at the waist and slumped on the front seat. She is still unconcious, and has a huge bump on her head that scare the boys out of their wits.

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOM!” the boys yell at full blast, to no avail. Sandy notices she is making tiny smoke puffs off her lips; “Robby, she's alive, she's breathing, but it's getting cold, we need to keep warm!”

The boys untie their seat belts, falling on the inside of the car's roof, and begin to dig out the emergency kit. Their mom and dad had always insisted from the moment they could understand speech that they learn basic survival in case of an accident, so the boys knew what to do. The first order of the day was to keep mom warm since she couldn't move, and they proceeded with that by covering her with her fur coat and one of the sleeping bags that had been stowed away in their car. One of the boys turned off the ignition key, thus stopping any potential for fuel leaks from the gas pump. They smelled around to see if there was any gas vapor in the car; finding none, they proceeded to light a candle on which they put the sterno and melted ice to make a quick hot chocolate. Then the boys took another sleeping bag and slipped themselves in it, to share body heat. After blowing the candle out, they started talking.

“Should we try to dig ourselves out?” asked Robby.

“NO! It's dark, and we don't know how deep the snow is; it might fill in the entire car if we tried to dig out, and mom would die! Plus, the snow is protecting us from the cold, if we do open a hole, how cold will it get in here?”

“But if we stay in here, we might never be found!”

“We'll look at things when light comes from the outside, my watch says its already 7 PM and we need to conserve energy for tomorrow morning. The best is to sleep and hope that something will help us figure out what to do when the sun's up.”

Robby rallied to his twin's thinking, finding no fault to it, and both boys fell asleep for the night.

7:08 PM:

Meanwhile, their grandma was getting nervous; where was her daughter and her two sons? They should have been in Alma a couple of hours ago, and she was getting worried by the minute. Finally being unable to hold her worries to herself any longer, she decided to call up the Provincial Police:

“Provincial Police, Sargeant Tremblay here, How may I help you?”

“I was expecting my daughter and her two sons for the Christmas supper and they are very late. I have a bad feeling, officer!”

“And what is your name?” enquired the officer

“I'm Mrs. Dion, from Alma”, she answers, between sniffles.

“Where were they coming from?” asked the officer, taking notes as he talked to an apparently very frantic old lady.

“Montreal, sir, she called me at the 'Étape' about 4 hours ago, and since then, no news!”

“OK. Can you give us their name and a description of the car? The Park is closed to trafic and we are evacuating it in convoys, I will get in touch with the persons in charge on the northbound segment.”

“She drives a station wagon, a white Ford. Her name is Johanes Wilkinson, aged 35, and her sons are Sandy and Robby, aged 9. I don't know the licence number.”

“I also need her address in Montreal, please, Mrs. Dion?” asks the sargeant. After noting the address of Mrs. Wilkinson, the sargeant resumes the interrogation.

“Do you know what her plans were in and after the park? She may have stopped along the way, and some phone lines are down due to the wind.”

“Well, she always takes the Little Park on her way here. Other than that, no, I have no idea. But I'm sure she would have tried to at least get a radio call, she has a cb in the car, and I have one here; I did not receive any calls!”

That last bit of information was scribbled down by the officer, who frowned in worry. He knew the Little Park had been closed before the main road, and had been evacuated.

“Can I have your phone number, we'll do the necessary research and find out what happenned to your daughter and her sons?”

“Sure… I'll be sitting near the phone awaiting for your call, officer!” answers Mrs. Dion.

7:30 PM:

Accessing the Motor Vehicule Central computer, the sargeant locates Mrs. Wilkenson's plate number and connects with the guardhouse at the exit to the small park, where all cars involved in convoys were registered on exit.

“Frankie, have you a record of a white Ford station-wagon plate number YUL 310 exiting at your end?” enquires the sargeant.

“Let me check the records, it won't take long, we have about 300 cars that left the park this end since the closure was decreed. I'll call you back.”

Some 30 minutes later, the phone rings at the police station.

“Provincial Police, Sargeant Tremblay here, How may I help you?”

“Frankie here. I did not find any exit record for that plate, sorry. I checked twice. And the last patrol cars just exited the park and saw no stranded cars on their way.”

“OK. When will the next patrol start?”

“It's going to follow the snowblowers tomorrow morning, The cars can't pass in the 2 to 6 feet snow drifts.”

“OK. Keep me posted!”

“I will. Hey, hold it, I got a call from the guys at the southern exit about a missing person from your corner of hell!”

“OK. Holding!”

“Sarge, they have an enquiry from some family in Quebec City about a missing Mr. Beaudoin, that was supposed to be at their home around 6 PM and never materialized. He was living in Metabetchouan.They have been unable to reach him with his cell phone, and the last news was he called them before entering the park at my end. We may have an unreported accident!”

“Oh shit! There is no way to reach them tonight, given the road conditions and the blinding wind and darkness! Anyways, I'll contact the ministry of Transport to request an emergency cleanup crew, but the situation at both ends of the road is going to make them passing a difficult task! There are literally hundreds of cars stuck in snow banks outside the park, and quite a few trucks as well! Talk to you later, Frankie, I got my work cut out for me, and some of it isn't going to be fun!”

“Ok, bye!”

8:11 PM:

The sargeant, true to his word, called the Transport Ministry Depot immediately after hanging up on Frankie.

“Ministery of Transport, Chambord Depot, what can I do for you?”

“This is Sargeant Tremblay, of the Provincial Police; we have all reasons to think there has been a car accident in the Little Park, but we can not patrol due to road conditions. Can you assist?”

“I'm sorry, all our staff is already out, and quite a few are stuck behind car pile-ups. We will assist as soon as we can make our way to the park entrance. For now, one of our snowplows got involved in a frontal colision with a jerk that passed a truck at the top of a hill. We have 2 seriously injured and a dead driver. Our last report states there is a five kilometer long line of cars on both sides of the crash and EMT is unable to reach the site!”

“OK, that was the fuss I was hearing in the background, while taking in the emergency call. Thank you. Keep me posted on any development.”

“I'll do what I can, but the situation is hectic!”

“OK. Thanks.”

The sargeant goes to take a coffee, trying to postpone the dreaded call to Mrs. Dion, but cofee can't last forever…

8:30 PM:

*Now the dreaded call to Mrs. Dion* thinks the sargeant.

“Mrs. Dion? Sargeant Tremblay here.”

“Any news on my daughter, sir?”

“I'm afraid not, Madam. The road situation is hectic at best, we will do our best to locate her and your grandsons.”

“What will you do?” asks Mrs. Dion, getting even more frantic.

“Well, we can't enter the park without the road getting cleaned up, and the police are closing roads from one end of the province to the other as the storm intensifies. All I can do is pray with you that your family is all right, for now.”

“OK. I'll keep praying myself!”

Midnight:

The storm's intensity doubles and power lines are blown off; the snow's thickness in the mountains of the Park has reached epic proportions, with snow drifts as high as houses. No one can pass until the snow storm abates.

Meanwhile, in Mrs. Wilkinson's car, the boys are having a fitful sleep, enscooned in snow that dampens the wind's noise to a soft murmur. No trace of either car can be seen by passerbys even if one had been foolish enough to venture in the storm.

Day 2 - December 25th

8 AM:

Robby stirs and awakens in the gloom of a snow cave. Remembering last night, he wakes his twin and they look at their mom; she is still breathing, as witnessed by the vapor escaping her mouth with regularity, but she is still unconcious.

The twins first relight the candle, to melt snow and make themselves hot chocolate; then they break an Oh Henry chocolate bar in two and each eat half of it, thus supplying themselves with energy.

“OK, Robbie, we need to find a way out of here”, Sandy says. We can see light, so it's day out, and the snow isn't too thick, at least in that direction.” Sandy is pointing at the rear right window and true to his comments, it seems to be clearer in that direction. The boys put on their winter gear, boots, gloves and all, and Robby rolls down the front right window, at least what's left of it, so they won't cut themselves on it while clearing the snow.

“Hey, why the front window?” asks Sandy.

“Because the rear window doesn't go more than half-way down, dufus!”

“Oh ya… Forgot! Blond moment!”

The boys slowly clear their way out, first digging an horizontal tunnel where they can turn and slowly slope upward, well aware from their days at building snow forts that a straight up thingy would collapse on them fast.

It takes well over 3 hours to dig themselves out from under the snow and they find themselves looking at a white-covered scenery which would be fit for a Christmas card had it not been accompanied by their memory of the car crash and their worry about their mom. They can see the road above them, well what they think is the road, but they can't reach it with all the deep snow. The moment they stand, they sink into it right to their midsection, and walking is impossible.

“Let's go back into the car!” suggests Robby, “It's warmer down there than out here, and the wind is blowing the snow so hard it's hard to breath!”

“Ya, but first, let me put on a ski stick with a piece of cloth tied to it at the entrance so if someone gets by, he will know where to look!”

“Good idea! Let me go back down, I'll pass you what we need.” A few minutes later, Robby returns and hands up a ski pole to Sandy, who firmly sticks it in the snow above the entrance. “Too bad the snow is too dry to make a snowman, that would certainly call attention in this noplace!”

“What to use to atract attention?” muses Sandy loud enough to be heard by Robby.

“I thought of that too: use mom's red and green scarf and tie it around the ski pole, so it wont get blown away!”

No faster said than done, and the boys move back down their hole, to pass time while awaiting for the storm to abate and rescue to come. It's now noon, and the boys are again hungry, so they again melt some more snow, but this time they make themselves a quick stew, using molten snow and dried emergency rations. Warmed up and relatively content at having done what they could, they return to their sleeping bag, and nap on and off.

9 AM:

“Provincial Police, Sargeant Tremblay here, How may I help you?” a very tired sargeant answers for the nth time. The night has been hellish, and there has been hundreds of accidents on the road: people driving drunk from parties, others getting stranded in snow drifts, still others involved in car colisions… The storm is still in full swing, and shows no sign of letting down. The sargeant has, like all his coleagues, been called to stay on duty for the duration, and no one knows when things will improve. The storm now covers the entire eastern coast, from Newfoundland right to Winsor Ontario, and from New York to the edg of James Bay… There are power failures all over the place, phones are down, and emergency staff are stretched to the breaking point.

“Mrs Dion here, Sargeant! Still up?”

“Yes, madam, every single member of the force has been called to duty. It's the worst storm of the century, the meteorologists say!”

“Ya, I heard on my battery-powered radio… I'm out of electricity, but I'm using the fireplace to keep myself and my visitors warm.”

“You are part of the few lucky ones! We are planning on opening emergency shelters!”

“Well, anyways, have you heard anything about my daughter?”

“No, sorry, and we still can not enter the Park, they are hard put removing car after car to be able to pass the snowplows. We are still 50 Km off the edge of the Park, and the Guard station is snowbound. We will be trying to patrol the park with snowmobiles as soon as the storm lets down, but for now, the conditions are such that snowmobiles sink into the fluff and stall in the drifts!”

“Oh ok. Keep me posted!”

“I will, don't worry!”

*Easier said than done, not worrying* thinks Mrs. Dion, as she hangs up.

5 PM:

The storm is slowing down, but the boys are unaware of that, enscooned in their impromtu igloo; they are again eating up some warm food, this time canned soup.

“Robby, we are running out of ways to heat the place; the sterno is about to die on us, and we will be burning the candle one last time for a hot chocolate just before going to bed. We will have to eat cold tomorrow!”

“Ya, I noticed! But I also noticed we were near a collection of broken conifer branches… Tomorrow, we'll try to light a fire if the wind lets us!”

“OK… Let's get ready to spend another night in the sleeping bag. I wish mom would wake up, we could know if all is right with her!”

“Me too, but you know we can not move her, it could worsen her injuries and even kill her!”

“Ya, I know”, mumbles Robby, teary-eyed.

The twins get back into the sleeping bag, taking care to remove their boots and wet clothes and keeping the sleeping bag dry. They know water is a coolant, and it would be really bad for them to wet their sleeping bag.

10:15 PM:

The boys awake to an eerie silence, even the distant rumble of the wind has died down, and the boys light up the candle, boil some water to make hot chocolate, and drink it before going back to sleep, too far gone to realize the storm has finally lulled in their region.

Day 3 - December 26th

1:05 AM:

An animal furrets into the car, and starts licking the boys' face, waking them up. All they see in the darkness is a gray furry animal.

“Sandy, look, a doggy! We're saved!” mumbles Robbie. He pets the doggy's head and gives it a piece of chocolate which it accepts, after sniffing it for a while.

“Ya, it's a big doggy, for sure!” answers Sandy, looking at the animal, that seems to sense the boys are friendly. It lays between them, keeping them company for the night, and warming them with its body heat. The boys are lulled back to sleep by th comforting presence of the doggy, wondering when its master will come to search for it.

10 AM:

The boys wake up, and notice the doggy has already left; the car is full of white fur and paw marks, and smells of wet dog. The boys exit the car after putting on their winter gear and notice the doggy tracks all over the place, but no human tracks whatsoever.

Finding some broken conifer branches, they manage to start a fire behind a rock outcropping a few meters from their hideout, and cook some hot breakfeast, their last dry foods.

The whole process has taken them well close to midday, and they are worried, because there is still no sign of trafic on the road above. They decide to try and make some form of smoke signal, which is not that hard given the wetness of the wood they are using for the fire.

Noon:

The snowblowers, graders and snowplows have begun their long trek along the road, while the snowmobiles go forward on the road, trying to locate the accident that has been reported two days ago. They pass often above the boys, who hear nothing because they have retreated to their car hideout. The police and staff of the park are desperate, because they now have two missing car reports, which clearly indicate there has been an accident. However finding them will not be a piece of cake!

6:35 PM:

A snowblower colides with a car body, and grinds to a halt. The driver immediately backs, gets off his mastodon, and walks to the front to see what has created the crunch… he immediately noticed the car bumper and notifies the park service of his discovey. The EMT are dispatched as well as the Provincial Police.

7:30 PM:

The police and EMT begin to dig out the car. The police radio the plate number and get a swift reply:

“It's Mr. Beaudoin's car! Can you state his condition?”

“We're getting him out of the car, he is comatose. Request emergency airlift!”

“No go, the storm is still going too strong for heli-service! Bring him using the ambulance!”

“OK.”

“No sign of the other accident?”

“No, not yet!”

“OK!”

8:31 PM, Alma General Hospital:

“Incoming accident victim, comatose!”

9:05 PM:

“Comotion, broken ribs, and broken legs, loss of blood. Prepare for surgery!”

“Patient agitated! Calm down Mr. Beaudoin, you are in the hospital, you will be safe!”

“What about the other car?” stutters Mr. Beaudoin, looking wide-eyed at the nurse.

“What other car?” asks the concerned nurse, “You were the only one found!”

“Went over embarkment across the road… Saw it fall!” mumbles Mr Beaudoin, before fainting.

“OH! My God!” the nurse yells! She runs to the Emergency station and immediately intercepts the leaving EMT personnel.

“Did you find the other car?” she asks to the leaving EMT team.

“What other car?”

“Mr. Beaudoin regained conciousness a few minutes and asked about the other car that went over the embarkment!”

“Oh shit! NO, we didn't. Albert, get on the radio and ask they send another team were we were, kilometer 56! The other missing car slid down the embarkment on the other side of the road. No wonder we didn't see anything!”

10:30 PM:

“I see nothing, damn it!” hollers a frustrated EMT as he runs his powerful search beam light across the snow field below the road.

“Don't give up, that's probably the missing lady and her two kids we're searching for!”

“OK. Let me check near these trees… Hey, what's that red thing over there?”

“Red? Let me check with the binoculars! That looks like a piece of cloth! We need to go check closer!”

10:40 PM:

Using the snowshoes so as not to sink in the deep snow drifts, one of the EMT walks slowly towards the red piece of cloth…

“It's a scrarf tied to a ski pole!” he yells on his two-way radio. “At least one is alive!”

“10-4 Notifying park services, calling in for further assistance!”

11:20 PM:

A couple of fire trucks manage to get to kilometer 56. The firemen use sleds to move their gear to where the ski pole now sticks like a nose in the face, as it is flooded with lights.

“Where are they, where are they!” asks the EMT manager on site as he knows quite well the risk of hypothermia. Walking around, he suddenly falls right through the roof of the tunnel the boys have painfully dug and hollers “Eureka! Here they are!”

All the noise caused by the EMT guy falling through their tunnel entrance wakes up the boys suddenly… The two boys, having been well tired, had taken to a deep sleep, and were unaware of all the activity going right above their head.

“That's voices I hear!” says Sandy. “Wake up Robby, rescue is here!”

Both boys start hollering “We're here! We're here!” at the top of their lungs.

The cries of the boys immediately guide the now very motivated rescue teams, who promptly dig a bigger hole following the boys' preexisting passageway, that had the advantage of having iced up from repeated melt-colds as the boys heated their food.

The boys finally exited the car, and while the firemen use their extraction tools to get their mom out on a backboard, they are put on sleds and pulled up to the road to be comforted and fed. As soon as their mom is taken into the ambulance it wisks away to the nearest hospital, carrying both the boys and her to safety.

Midnight:

“Mrs. Dion? Good news, we have recovered your daughter and your grandsons. A police car is on it's way to pick you up and bring you to the ER. Road conditions are still too harsh for you to drive to the hospital on your own!”

“Thank God!” and Mrs Dion starts crying, letting all the tension get washed away by the tears.

A month later:

At the coroner's office, Alma, a very agitated coronner is on the phone with Sargeant Tremblay.

“You know I did the debreifing of the boys after the accident?” asks the coroner.

“Ya, a remarkable pair, these two… Very level-headed!”

“Except for their insisting there was a dog that visited them during the night before the rescue…”

“Ya, I find that insistance very strange. It's a natural park. The nearest house is well over 100 km away, and the owner doesn't have a dog.”

“Well, I did some expertise on the car… I found two very interesting things…”

“What are they?”

“Well, first, the front of the car was hit by a red Nissan, and there was no red Nissan on the accident site.”

“That means a third car got involved?”

“It seems so! And I found something else… Remember the car that colided with the snow plow that night and whose driver died? Well, sit down! It was a red Nissan. I'm willing to bet a month's salary it's the same drunkard that got involved in both accidents!”

“Well, well, at least justice was swift for once, he didn't make it.”

“True, but are you sitting down?”

“What else are you going to pull out of your hat, uncle of mine?”

“Well, I collected hair in the car…white hair…”

”Stop playing… what does that tell me, that Mrs. Wilkinson didn't dye her hair?”

“No, you are off, way, way off! They aren't human hair…”

“Not human? I don't get it!”

“Well, genetic test show they aren't dog hairs either! So the kids didn't see a dog, but they did see an animal!”

“An animal!? What kind?”

“A white WOLF! Had it not been there that last night, the boys and their mom would have probably died of exposure to cold! The thermometer dropped to -60 Celcius in Alma, can you imagine how cold it got in the mountains? Call this an unexpected Christmas Gift for the boys!”

Index