Here's the next part of A Very Deuce Christmas Story, chronicling the events of Christmas week in 2000.
You can read Part One right here...
Then you can read Part Two right here...
Tommy stood on a hill.
He glanced down the slight incline where Amy Wible stood, staring off into the distance. He looked farther down the hill and saw Tom and Drew helping to pull down part of a wall from a house which had a large tree in its living room. Still farther down, Shawn and Wookiee were chopping up branches and timber, working with two other guys he didn't know. The tree was lying in the middle of the street, and was by this time in hundreds of pieces, pieces that Stephanie and Leslie were carrying to the large flatbed truck parked in the cul-de-sac. He noticed how the flatbed, empty upon their arrival several hours ago, was a lot more full now. "But where is Michael? Ty? Matt?" he thought for a second, doing a quick scan of the area.
He looked across the hill to his left, seeing Justin and Jennifer working together, both using small hatchets to take out small branches here and there. Tommy thought to himself randomly that he never knew she was so adept with a hatchet.
He glanced back at Amy, who hadn't moved. She once again looked at her watch, then appeared to stare up at the sky. Tommy looked in the same direction and saw the same dark gray clouds. He didn't move, however, as he his ears tuned in to a radio about ten feet away, next to a short guy in overalls who was using a shovel for something.
Amy stood still, and was in fact, worried. One p.m. and still no David, no Michael, no Matt, no Ty, no Ginger, and she was beginning to worry. Looking at those gray clouds, though she was no meteorologist, but she knew it wasn’t going to be a pleasant evening, weather wise.
“Amy, I think we might have a problem,” Tommy said as began walking towards her.
“What’s that?” she asked, not looking at him, still staring at the sky.
“I was just listening some guy’s radio, and the weather isn’t looking too good. That winter storm they were expecting for tonight is moving much faster than expected. If we are here past, say, four o’clock, we might be here all night.”
“Have you seen Michael, or David?”
Tommy paused for a second, surprised. “They still aren’t here yet?”
“No. I’m beginning to worry a bit.”
“I’m sure they are fine, Amy,” Tommy tried his best to sound reassuring, but he also was a bit concerned that an hour drive had lasted almost four hours.
“Alright," she sighed, looking at him finally. "Well, keep listening to the weather, and I’ll make sure we are all out of here by two-thirty or so. I don’t want anyone driving home in that storm.”
“Okay.” Tommy turned and headed back to towards the yard he had emerged from.
Amy sighed again. She put her gloves back on and picked up the branches and wood she had been carrying.
“Where are the others working?” Shawn yelled over the roar of the chainsaw as Amy approached, "Mikey and Dave and the rest?"
“They aren’t here yet, Shawn,” Amy replied, walking past him with her load in her arms.
“What do you mean they aren’t here yet? They were supposed to leave right after we did!” He quickly powered down the chainsaw engine.
“I mean they aren’t here, and no one has heard from them.”
Shawn looked over at Wookiee, who had not heard the conversation and was still continuing to cut the large tree that they had worked on for the last hour.
“Hey Chris!” Shawn yelled. He had to yell it two more times to get Chris’ attention.
“What?” Wookiee turned off his chainsaw. “Dude, man, I was in the zone! I was almost done cutting through this thing!”
“Is your cell phone in your truck?”
“I am going to try to call Michael. They haven’t gotten here yet.”
“Well, the truck is unlocked. They are probably just over the hill working somewhere else. If Michael was giving directions, they probably got lost or something.”
“I hope they are just lost,” Amy said, walking back, arms empty this time.
“What’s the plan?” Michael yelled from the bottom of the hill.
“I don’t know yet. I have your jackets, I’m going to throw them down to you!” I yelled back.
“Good! I’m freezing!” Ginger yelled.
“Here is Ginger’s!” I wrapped it up tightly into a ball, tying it together with the arms. I threw the ball high into the air so it wouldn’t have a chance to hit the wet ground.
Remarkably, it fell close to Ginger, and she was able to snatch it off the ground a mere second or two after it hit. She untied the arms and put the jacket on, then snapped and zipped every button and zipper she could.
“Better?” Michael smiled.
“Not really, but it helps,” she replied.
“Michael! Here comes yours!” I repeated the procedure I had done with Ginger’s jacket, by rolling it up and tying it into a ball. Again, I threw it high, and again, it landed close to the designated person.
Michael grabbed it before it had a chance to soak up hardly any of the wet ground, and untied it.
“Your cell phone is in the pocket!” I yelled to Michael.
He perked up, and reached into the pocket. He put his jacket on quickly, and then began to dial numbers on the cell phone.
“No signal!” he gritted to no one in particular. “Son of a…” and then he mumbled something I couldn’t hear and Ginger couldn’t understand. “Freaking’ BellSouth!” Michael then kicked a nearby rock in anger.
“Settle down, Michael,” Ginger said. She looked up, thirty feet higher, at me. “Are we going to just stand here and wait for Matt to come back?”
“No!” I replied loudly. “We are going to walk back to that gas station we stopped at earlier. It’s going to be about a six or seven mile walk, but the walking will keep us warm.”
“Which way? That way?” Ginger asked, pointing west.
“Yes! You guys walk down there, and I’ll walk up here. This hill has to have a starting point, and we’ll meet up there.”
Ginger and Michael both nodded in agreement, and we began to walk. Suddenly, my face felt a bit colder than it had in the hours spent on top of the hill. I touched my cheek and it was wet. I looked up and around, and realized it had begun to snow.
“Alright guys, I don’t know what to do about the others, but it’s past 2:30. You need to get out of here,” Amy said, walking up to where Drew and Tom were still cutting wood.
“Yeah, that storm is coming fast. It’s going to get really cold in a little while,” Tommy added, pulling his gloves off.
“I don’t know about you guys, but its pretty darn cold now,” Justin responded, putting his hatchet into the ground.
“Still nothing from the other guys?” Jenn asked.
“No,” Amy replied. “Now I’m really kind of worried, but if you guys don’t leave in a few minutes, you’ll be here until tomorrow.”
Drew and Tom nodded in agreement, as they began to assemble their tools they had been using. Jenn and Justin both threw the rest of the debris they had gathered into the large flatbed trailer the entire community had been using for just that purpose.
Drew held his hand out and watched as a snowflake landed on his skin.
“Guys, it’s snowing,” he announced. “I would really like to leave now.”
“Oh come on, its just snow,” Jenn laughed. “You should try Chicago right about now.”
“Well, being from Birmingham, I am obliged to lose my ever-lovin’ mind at the thought of snow.”
Amy walked to where Wookiee and Shawn were still cutting the same tree. They had made remarkable progress but she knew they wouldn’t get finished in the next few minutes, as they had to cut the tree trunk into several more pieces before it could be moved. Leslie and Stephanie were working together to roll a rather large, but conveniently circular, piece of the trunk to the debris truck.
“Guys, we have quite a storm on our hands coming, and we need to get out of here,” Amy told Shawn and Wookiee. “There’s still no word on the others.”
“My brother’s not here yet?” Stephanie asked, walking up behind Amy.
“Not yet,” was the reply. “But we still have to get out of here, at least to some sort of warmer climate.”
“Alright,” Wookiee looked at Shawn, “how long do you think it would take for us to finish this trunk?”
“About twenty minutes,” Shawn guessed.
“Cool,” Wookiee revved his chainsaw and then yelled, “Give us ten minutes!” He then drove the blade deep in the wood, grunting with glee.
“Give a Wookiee a chainsaw, he’s happy all the live long day,” Leslie laughed.
“You mean you didn’t know that?” Steph replied.
Drew pulled right up behind where the girls were standing, and then rolled down the window.
Leslie walked over to the passenger side where Tom sat.
“We are outta here,” Tom said. “We are going back to The Deuce, Jenn said she would fix us some hot chocolate, and we’ll have some waiting for you guys when you get back.”
“Drew, you have my cell phone number, right?” Leslie asked, looking past Tom.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Call me when you find out where Dave, Mike, Ty, Matt and Ginger are.”
“Have you tried Ty’s or Michael’s cell phone?” Justin asked, peeking from the backseat.
“Shawn tried it earlier,” Steph answered. “Michael’s just rang and rang, and we got Ty’s voicemail. There was no response from Matt or Ginger’s.”
“Does Dave have one?” Jenn asked.
“Heck no,” Amy said as she walked up. “He always says he refuses to get one.”
“Well, they really aren’t doing much good now,” Tommy replied.
“We’ll keep trying their phones all the way home, and we’ll pay attention to the roadside in case Matt’s truck broke down on the side of the interstate,” Tom said. “We’ll call you if we find anything.”
“Cool,” Amy said. “Thank you guys so much for helping. Now get out of here, it’s starting to snow harder.”
“Your welcome!” was the general statement from Drew and his passengers. Tom rolled up the window as they began to drive away.
Amy turned back to Leslie and Steph, and the three walked back to where Wookiee and Shawn were working hard on the tree trunk they were tackling.
“I’m going to go call them again,” Leslie said, as she turned to Wookiee’s Explorer parked nearby. She opened the passenger side backseat door, and reached into her jacket. To her surprise, it was ringing.
“Hello?” Leslie answered out of more surprise than a greeting.
“Who is this?” asked the static filled voice on the other end. “Is this Leslie?”
“Matt?” Leslie exclaimed. She held the phone down for a second to yell to the others. “Matt’s calling! It’s Matt Latta!”
Steph and Amy both turned quickly towards Leslie. Shawn and Wookiee both noticed the girl’s quick movements, and shut their chainsaws off.
“Where are you?” Leslie asked.
On the other end, Matt stood in a hospital lobby. He tried to speak slowly because he heard the static between the two lines.
“Leslie! We were in an accident! Ty is hurt, David and Michael and Ginger are stranded about twenty miles outside of town!”
Leslie put one hand over her left ear and pressed the phone hard onto her right, so hard that it hurt. She could only catch bits and pieces of what Matt had said.
“You were in an accident? Where are you?”
“At the hospital!” Matt again tried to speak slowly.
“Wait there! We’ll be there in a minute!”
“But I have to go back for Ginger and the guys!” Matt replied. He was speaking so loudly that a nurse came around the corner to find out what the commotion was.
“No! Wait there! We’ll be there…” Leslie lost reception. “Crap! Stupid Bellsouth!”
She looked over at Amy, Steph, Shawn and Wookiee who all stood anxious at the results of the conversation.
“They were in an accident?” Amy asked.
“Are they okay?” Steph added, frantically.
“I don’t know,” Leslie sighed, “I just know they are at the hospital. We’ve got to get over there!”
“Get in!” Wookiee walked quickly to the driver side of the truck, starting it and ready to leave before Steph and Amy could pile in the backseat with Leslie.
Matt hung up the phone and put his head on the black phone box on the wall. His mind began racing, first to "Go after Ginger and the guys", followed by "What happens when Leslie and the others get here, and no one is here to explain whats happening?" then followed by "Wait for the others, get help" then finally, "And thats wasting valuable time..."
Finally, he just sat down on the end of a row of chairs, waiting for them to find him. He glanced at the clock. It was about ten after three. He decided he would give them until 3:40, thirty minutes, and then he was out of here.
He leaned over rested his forehead in his hands, his elbows on his knees. Silently, he prayed Ty, then for David and Michael, and then Ginger. Aloud, he said to no one in particular--no one tangible, at least--“Please God, let her be safe. Let them all be safe.”
“Holy Slash, it’s snowing!” Drew exclaimed, holding tightly to the wheel as his car crept along the interstate, moving around 10 to 15 miles an hour.
“It’s like a blizzard here,” Justin added, looking out the windows all around him. The wipers on the car were running full speed, but the snow and sleet was piling up as fast as the wipers could knock it off the windshield. "I've never seen this, not here in Alabama."
“Drew,” Tom spoke up, “how long can you drive in this?”
“I dunno, Tom,” Drew answered. “If it doesn’t let up some, not much longer.”
“How far is Birmingham from Tuscaloosa?” Tommy asked.
“About 45 minutes in normal driving conditions. At this rate, it’ll take us about four or five hours to get there,” Drew said. “This is insane.”
“Do we need to pull off somewhere and wait it out?” Jenn suggested, though she had no clue where they would go and stay warm.
“If we pull off anywhere, we are there for the evening,” Justin responded. “The forecast is freezing temperatures when the snow passes, which means the roads will be just about undrivable.”
“Your call, Drew,” Jenn said. “I’d really like to go home tonight, but I don’t want to do it dead, or with hypothermia because we slide off the road into a ditch.”
“Drew, if you can’t drive in it, don’t risk it. We’ll get to an exit and pull off at a rest stop or gas station or something,” Tommy said.
“We could get a hotel or something,” Drew suggested, not really wanting that to be the final answer. Like Jenn, he really wanted to get home. "I mean, not that I have any idea where a motel might be."
“Don't think that matters. We have about 8 dollars between us,” Tom observed. “We’ll just do what Tommy said, and stop somewhere really soon. We’ll wait out the storm, maybe a few hours or so, and then go home. I don’t think the roads will be as bad as everyone says they are.”
“Fine,” Drew sighed. Through the snow, he could make out a large blue sign indicating an upcoming exit. “There is an exit up here. I think I saw a restaurant there, so we can hole up there for a little while.”
The car slowly rolled to the exit, and Drew carefully steered it onto the exit ramp. He had a tight grip on the wheel, as every few feet the car jerked a little due to the slick ice and snow that had built up in the last hour.
Justin looked around out the windows, amazed that they were the only ones on the road. That, he thought, or he just couldn’t see anyone because you couldn’t see very far ahead. He did, however, see a yellow sign that looked very, very familiar. Jennifer saw it too, as he saw her grinning.
The snow was coming down in thicker flakes, and much more heavy than a mere thirty minutes ago. I was freezing. I made my hands into fists in my jacket pockets, moving my fingers every few seconds to make sure I still had some movement in them.
I kept watch over Michael and Ginger who were still walking below me, both tightly wrapped up in their jackets as well. Ginger had a hood on, but I kept mine off so that I could hear Michael in case he yelled.
As we were approaching a bridge, I breathed a sigh of relief. I remembered this bridge being close to the interstate, so I knew we were very close to I-59, which would put us only two miles or so from the gas station where we were supposed to meet up with Matt. I hoped he wasn’t there waiting on us, in the cold. And I hoped that Ty was all right.
I had started to walk across the bridge, when I looked down and saw water. I turned around and looked back, and saw Michael and Ginger standing on the bank, Michael with his hands out, giving me the “what do we do now?” signal.
I held my hand up, motioning for him to hold on. I peered out over the edge, studying the bridge. It was only about 15 yards long, with the water below it not more than 5 yards wide. On the other side of the bridge, the embankment rose up to the roadside. I knew if Michael and Ginger could get to the other side, they could come up to where I was, where it was safer and more level ground.
“I’m going to the other side of the bridge!” I yelled down to Michael. I quickly walked across the bridge, stepped over the low metal barricade and looked at the hill leading down to the water.
I began to work my way down the hill, one foot after the other, sideways. There were rocks embedded all the way down, so I had solid footing, but the ice and snow made the trek down very slow. Finally I stood on the other side of the creek, facing Michael and Ginger. We were about 15 feet apart, closer than we had been in about four hours.
“How are we going to come across this water?” Michael asked.
“I have no idea,” I replied, looking around. There were small sheets of ice beginning to form on top of the water along the sides of the bank, but nothing substantial that would hold up either Michael or Ginger.
“Hey!” Ginger exclaimed, pointing to a small sandbar jutting through the water down the creek. “We cross right over there.”
We walked down the bank about ten yards until the sandbar was directly between us. It was just a small patch of wet sand about four feet long and two feet wide, and I would guess five feet from me. That would put it about ten feet from them.
“What do we do, jump?” Michael looked at Ginger. She looked around at a small patch of ice formed from the bank, jutting out about four feet into the water. She looked around again, this time spotting a thick branch on the snow. She walked over and picked it up, then walked to the ice.
She speared the ice with the stick, and then was pleasantly smiled when the ice was only scraped and not cracked.
“Okay, Michael, here’s the deal,” Ginger instructed. “Jump on the ice, to the sandbar, then the sandbar to the other side.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, Ginger,” he replied. “That ice won’t hold either one of us.”
“Don’t stand on it, silly. You use it like a… well, a launching pad.”
I watched Ginger carefully, not hearing their conversation, but as she took a few steps back and turned, I could guess what she was doing.
“Oh boy,” I sighed, putting myself in a position to catch her when, and if, she came across.
“Can’t we talk about this?” Michael asked, as Ginger readied herself to run.
“I’m cold. The sooner we get to that station, the sooner I can be in the warm arms of my boyfriend.”
“Whatever. To do that, we have to cross this creek. And that’s what I’m going to do.” Ginger paused for a second and then added, “When you run, plant your heel with each step for traction. It’s slippery.”
She stepped quickly to the bank, being careful with each step as so not to slip. When she reached the end of the bank, she planted her right foot on the ice and leapt two feet onto the sandbar, then in one continuous motion, thrusted herself up with her left foot and over the remaining four feet of water.
I caught her as she hit the other side of the bank, and kept her from falling over.
“Nice jump,” I said.
“Thanks for the catch,” she smiled.
“Don’t tell Matt,” I replied, looking back across the creek. “Your turn, there, Mikey.”
“I know, I know,” he called back. “I’m harnessing my chi.”
“Shut up and jump,” I laughed. “It’s cold out here.”
Michael started where Ginger did, and then three steps later he planted his left foot on the ice. As he made the jump to the sandbar, the ice fell beneath the water, splashing water on his foot and in his shoe. He leapt again off of the sandbar, landing on the bank, catching himself before he fell over.
“Dude, how come you didn’t catch me?” he stammered, brushing himself off.
“Mikey in my arms, Ginger in my arms, which do I choose?” I mockingly moved my hands up and down as to weigh my options.
“Good point,” he said, as he looked down at the dark, damp stain on the cuff of his pants. “Crap! My left foot is wet, and its cold!”
“Come on, we are thirty minutes from Matt’s truck and a heater,” I said.
PARTS 13 - 15