06 February 2010

When a Snowball truly Had a Chance in Hell

The power went out around 2:30 PM Thursday, 28 January 2010.

It came back on around 2:30 PM Wednesday, 03 Feb 2010.

During that near perfect week of powerlessness, I spent up to 14 hours a day in darkness.

Winter darkness.

Cold winter darkness.

The first couple of days were spent trying to figure out how to spend the remaining unknown number of days without heat and without electricity. The temperature was projected not to get above 32 degrees.

Although the house never got below 45 degrees, the ambient temperature was quit chilly. I could see my breath if I breathed out through my mouth. I've always marveled at being able to see my breath on cold days--it's like viewing my own soul.

When we had the house built, we had an electric oven and stove installed and hooked up even though the contractor had put in a gas outlet for a gas stove along side the electrical outlet.

So, we had no heat as the heater's motor, of course, ran on electricity. And we didn't have an efficient method of heating up water for coffee or tea or any way to cook food.

Until I remembered a propane torch attachment I had bought years earlier and had used to do some minor plumbing at the previous house in which we lived.

No one knew how long we would be without electricity. The local radio station was saying from a few days to possibly two weeks.

By day three day, routine had set in.

--Up around dawn. (The cellphone alarm was helpful.)
--Turn on the radio for the latest news and, hopefully, learn that electricity was just minutes away from being restored.
--Feed the dogs, check their water, make sure they have some warmth.
--Eat breakfast. Despite the coldness outside and in, I still liked a bowl of raisin bran and cold, cold milk. Kept the milk outside because it was very, very cold.
--Sit and think, read, imagine.
--Heat up water to eat Ramen noodles (lunch and dinner) using a propane torch sitting on the stove top.

Cooking Ramen noodles on stove top with a propane torch.

--Realize how much work I'm not getting done because of the lack of electricity.
--Check into buying and installing a natural gas/propane powered house generator ASAP.
--Check into changing electric stove to natural gas stove ASAP.
--Marvel at the ice-covered world all about me.

Yard Ice

Ice Plant

--Watch the day sluff its cold light to reveal its cold dark.
--Stare at the small light from the candles, wishing the blue and yellow flicker would lick some heat into the cold living room air.
--Watch the ice fog roll in night after night.
--Sleep as darkness and cold embraced in a slow 14-hour waltz.

I had candles, which provided some light at night and absolutely no heat. The little light was welcomed. However, the candles did not produce enough light by which to read or to write.

I had a propane torch and bought some propane canisters from Walmart when it got its generator up and running by the third day, and so was able to heat water for coffee or for Ramen noodles.

Until I had remembered the propane torch and had bought the propane canisters, Nadya had used candles to heat up water for her tea or coffee; however, trying to heat even a small amount of water with a candle took a long time.

I had batteries in the portable radio and I kept it tuned to the local radio station, which was running on a generator and which plays only country music.

During those frozen days, I listened to more country music while listening to weather, ice, and electricity updates than I have heard in my entire life. I like country music, especially old, old country music, but I prefer rock or ambiance or classical musical, especially by which to think, write, or just zone out.

I kept warm by wearing several layers of clothes. My new thick bathrobe given to me by Nadya for Christmas was quite comfy. At night, I slept under several layers of blankets and comforters. Once under the covers, my body heat warmed the bed, and I was nice and naturally warm throughout the night.

Sometimes I'd awaken during the night and move my arm out from under the covers. I quickly was reminded about the lack of heat and the near freezing temperature in the house when the chilling dark air twisted and constricted around my skin like a hungry python.

On the second night, Friday, 29 Jan 2010, I had dreams about the lights coming back on. From that night until Wednesday, 03 Feb 2010, I had reoccurring dreams of the lights coming on--always at night. In the dream, I'd awaken and see a sliver of light under the bedroom door. I'd get up, walk to the door, open it slowly and let the dim yellow light seep into the dark bedroom.

On day three, 30 Jan 2010, I wondered out into the icy world at around ten AM to take some pictures. I don't have a good digital camera, but I did what I could.

Ice bending pine tree, 30 Jan 2010

Ice Car Antenna

Small Bent Tree

Across the field behind our house and across the highway sits an abandoned three-gabled farm house with several large trees nearly hiding it. The house and the trees were covered in ice and looked like something out of a horror novel.

And that's when Ice came into existence.

I took out my original laptop--a yellow legal pad and a trusty ballpoint pen--and over the course of the next two hours, I plotted a story about a junior high boy who lives with his grandmother on a farm isolated from the town. Below is a quick abstract of the numerous pages I wrote until it was too dark to see the pages any longer.

The worst ice storm in the area's history enshrouds them in ice an inch thick. The boy must leave his grandma at their isolated farm house to get help for her when she slips on the ice while walking to the barn to feed the cows. Her feet literally flip out from under her, and she hits the hard ice covered ground. The crack in the air is not the cracking of the ice but the breaking of her hip.

Against his grandma's wishes and despite her threats to "get a switch", the boy sets out in the cold and the ice to make the three-mile trek to town. The boy leaves enough water and food within his grandma's reach and positions her by the gas-burning stove.

Along the way he comes across a small SUV in an icy ditch. He discovers a family in the SUV--father, mother, young teenage daughter, and whiny young boy. The father runs the engine for ten minutes every hour to warm up the car, and they have bottled water and some snacks. They are optimistic someone will soon come by and pull them out or rescue them. The family is new to the area and was looking at rental property when the storm hit. The boy stays to warm up but leaves, much against the father's wishes (as well as his 12-year-old daughter).

Another ice storm hits, and he seeks shelter in an old pump shed. He decides to wait the storm out there, but he is soon confronted by a vicious dog, who is also seeking shelter--and food.

The boy knows this dog: junior high rumors claim the dog is the cross between a rabid wolf and a German shepherd, which had been trained for combat and had served in the Iraq war. Rumors said the German shepherd was particularly good about killing terrorists by ripping their throats out.

The combination of the rabid wolf and the terrorist-killing German shepherd produced a mad monster ghost dog which kills and devours the largest of the bulls within minutes.

The mad wild dog was said to have been the reason that several children had gone missing over the years. The mad wild dog had attacked them as the children had walked home or had rode their bikes along the country roads around Junebug. Various pieces of gnawed bones found around the area were evidence that the wild dog had indeed eaten the missing children.

The storm has hit and night has come, and the boy must find a way to share the night with a hungry vicious wild dog.

Mad Wild Dog

The next day, he is taken in for a few hours by Virgil Joe Dante, a recluse with the reputation for hating people, especially children. Again, junior high rumors have it that Dante had made a deal with the Devil for riches and had secluded himself hoping the Devil would never find him.

The boy "escapes" from Dante's run-down hellish home.

He continues his freezing journey towards Junebug. He worries about his grandma, about the pain her broken hip is causing her. He looks ahead as far as he can, hoping to see something of the outline of the Junebug city limits in the blinding whiteness of the ice.

The cold has entered his bones. He thinks, "If this were Hell, a snowball really would have a chance here."

When he finally makes it to Junebug, just after dark on the third day, the entire town is without electricity and an icy mist enshrouds it.

To the boy, Junebug looks like a picture on the cover of a Christmas card from Hell.

Hell Frozen Over

He makes it to his Uncle Walt's house. Uncle Walt hasn't spoken to his mother in twenty years and doesn't see how the ice storm makes any difference in the feud between the two. The boy must convince Uncle Walt, who works for the city's street department, to use his front-end loader to rescue the old woman.

I learned a long time ago that inspired ideas don't always translate into completed works. As with many writers, I have many, many great inspired ideas with enthusiastic beginnings that have yet to be finished with enthusiastic middles and enthusiastic endings.

So, Ice is very roughly plotted with a few dramatic scenes as they popped into my head and some characters.

For now, however, I put Ice aside while I work on my present novel projects.

If the enthusiasm is still there when I finish this project, then Ice will be thoroughly plotted, populated with lively and interesting characters, and ended with a cathartic conclusion.

Until such time, I will finish my two present novel projects.

On the third night of the ice storm and the blackout, I drove from our house to Walmart. The ice fog had waltzed in again. The entire town was enshrouded in misty white darkness that gave just enough light to see.

Altus was a ghost town, literally: no lights, only spectral images of homes and businesses and cars and signs--visible only because enough of the moon's light wafted through the icy fog to give not a real look at the things around town but a suggestive look, a look of things of remembrance past, as though these images were being projected through a foggy dream or a misty nightmare.

This is how the boy sees Junebug when he finally makes it into the small southwest Oklahoma town three days after starting on his journey to bring help to his grandma.

Funny, the boy hasn't told me his name yet. Probably why I can easily lay the story aside until I finish my present projects.

When the time is right, he will tell me his name, and he will tell me more of his journey into the great ice storm that nearly killed his grandma and him.

Reminiscence about the Great Ice Storm of 2010 and the days of cold winter darkness and gallons of Ramen noodles and pythonic cold and the story that emerged from those seven days has already set in.

I smile and marvel about those seven days and the images that wafted through my head about Ice; however, I don't wish to be so inspired in such a manner again.

I prefer a more subtle inspiration.

And less dramatic.

With something to eat other than Ramen noodles.

With light to burn away the cold winter darkness.

And warmth. Wonderful warmth.

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