December 1970

I looked back at the mountainside, where Brian had just helped Trixie out of a snow-covered clump of brush.  She looked a bit discombobulated by the inauspicious end to her Jean-Claude Killy imitation, but gamely brushed the powdery white stuff off her ski pants and sweater, and she and Brian set off again to join the rest of us. 

We had all skied before, but at Mead’s Mountain we were getting a chance to learn a new kind of skiing.  Cross-country was turning out to be a vigorous, sustained calisthenics workout.  According to Brian, the future physician, if we could only keep it up every day we’d all be in superb physical condition with enhanced circulatory and respiratory efficiency.  Besides that, it was fun!  The bright, sunny weather and our aerobic enterprises had banished the chill from the snow-blanketed slopes.

As Trixie and Brian rejoined the rest of us, Honey scolded them playfully.  “Hey, where have you two been?  You’re holding us up from crossing no-man’s land.”

“Obstacle on the trail,” Brian replied, pointing to Trixie.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tease her.  “Has our sister been schussbooming again?”

Predictably, Trixie’s face went red and her eyebrows drew together in a scowl as she glared at me.  “I don’t know what that is,” she retorted.  “I was merely knocked over by some bushes.”

“You’re a schussboomer, ipso facto.”  I chortled.  “Case dismissed.”

My sister sighed noisily, but before she could strike back, peacemaker Diana spoke up with a tactful change of subject.  “We dubbed this no-man’s land because it looks as though no one has ever crossed this field before.”

Just then, even though I was perfectly warm, a chill ran all over me—the kind that makes people say someone is walking on your grave.  Both Honey and Diana had called the field no-man’s land.  I wondered if they had read All Quiet on the Western Front.  The dangerous stretch of land between the front lines during the First World War contained miles of barbed wire, hundreds of corpses, and land mines.  It was a place that was safe for no man to cross.  While I tried to shake off the completely illogical feeling, I crouched down to check my ski bindings.  The others kept on talking, ignoring me as Trixie tried to drum up interest in another skier she saw off in the distance.  Naturally, she was convinced the unknown stranger was up to something mysterious and probably sinister.

“Trixie, he obviously didn’t want to socialize,” Brian finally said with a laugh.  “Come on!  Let’s have a race to the other side, instead.” 

He and Honey took off in the lead, Trixie and Jim right behind them.  Diana hesitated for a moment.  Was she waiting for me?  “Hey,” she said softly.  “You coming?”

Unfortunately, I had decided that one of my bindings wasn’t properly fastened and it was taking a bit longer than I’d expected to fix it.  “You go ahead,” I told her.  “I’ll be right behind you.  Go on.”

She started off, and I couldn’t help watching.  Her purple ski ensemble accentuated her coloring and it contrasted beautifully with the white snow.  She had caught on to the cross-country kick-and-glide stride quickly and had already nearly reached Trixie and Jim.  I checked my bindings and took off just as a long, low rumble of thunder came from the direction of the overhanging cliff in the distance behind me.  I glanced back toward the sky but it was just as blue and bright as before.   The thunder rumbled again, louder this time.  Jim looked back and I could just barely hear him shout something, but couldn’t make out what he was saying over the thunder sound.  As its volume increased to a continuous roar, he and Trixie immediately cut away from the open field toward the line of trees, Di right behind them.  Brian and Honey reached the trees and stopped, and I could just make out Honey’s mouth, opened in a round O.

A chunk of icy snow struck the back of my left shoulder, followed by a cascade of snowy debris that rolled down ahead of me.  The thunder was like a freight train behind me and I couldn’t stop myself from glancing back again.  I barely had time to take in the huge slab of snow, pushing a chunky mound of the white stuff ahead of it like a speeding snowplow.  I tried to gauge my distance from the tree line, where the others seemed safe, but I was still smack in the center of the slab’s path.  It would overtake me before I could reach either side.   My only choice was to ski as quickly as possible and hope I could beat the avalanche before it buried me.

How long did it take?  It happened faster than the time it takes to tell about it.  When the barrage of snow struck and encased me, I jerked my arms in front of my face and gripped my ski poles as hard as I could.  Later, the others said I was screaming as I hurtled down the slope, but I don’t remember that.  I know I felt, rather than heard, my right ski snap in two as I tumbled head over heels, and the accretion of frozen vapor turned me into a giant snowball.  My only coherent thought (besides I’m going to die!) was Thank God I didn’t let Diana wait for me

When everything stopped, I couldn’t tell if I was upright or upside down.  Even when I opened my eyes, I could see nothing but white through my ski goggles.  I tried to wiggle my fingers to figure out where my hands had ended up, since they were no longer clamped tightly to my face.  Luckily, my breath seemed to be melting a (very small) space directly in front of my mouth.  My elbows were bent and my hands were balled up at near-shoulder level, but I couldn’t really move them enough to push more snow away from my face.  I also couldn’t feel either of my ski poles, and for a second worried that the resort might want me to pay for the broken skis and lost poles.

“Get ahold of yourself, Belden!  Get out of here first, then worry about replacing equipment,” I told myself.  Next I decided to try to listen for the rest of the Bob-Whites.  Surely I couldn’t have landed too far away from the rest of my friends.  It was eerily silent inside my prison of snow, and with my limited ability to move I wondered how (if!) I could attract their attention.  That is, if I wasn’t buried under six feet of the white stuff.

“Please let me get out of here,” I prayed.  “If I can just get out, I’ll... I’ll never tease Trixie again.”  That would be a hard promise to keep, but I vowed again to stick to it.  Surely that was a prayer that deserved to be answered.  It was hard to stay positive, though.  There was so very little I could do.  You’d think snow would be softer and more easily moved aside, but it was unyielding to my admittedly puny efforts.  As the minutes ticked by—feeling more like hours—I began to wonder how long it was possible to survive buried inside the slide.  I’d end up like a wooly mammoth, preserved forever in the ice... That kind of thinking was guaranteed to lead straight to unreasoning terror and panic, so I tried to refocus.

“Help, help!” I tried to shout.  The small space in front of my face allowed me to vocalize, but it was impossible to deceive myself that anyone more than a few inches away could hear me.  Then I moved my hands as much as I could, enlarging the space around them a miniscule amount.

After what felt like eons, I could feel the faint vibrations of footsteps trampling overhead, as well as muffled sounds of voices—like the voices of adults in a Peanuts TV special.  At least I must be semi-upright, and my hopes skyrocketed.   Surely the voices belonged to the Bob-Whites. 

“Here I am!” I shouted again.  “I’m here!”  But even to my own ears, my voice was as muffled as the ones above.   Maybe more so.  Then, something struck me right in the shoulder—a ski pole, maybe?  Some kind of stick, at least.  The voices got louder and the space above my head began to let in more light and air.  Strong arms were pulling me up and away from my prison of snow.

Brian and Jim walked me over to the trees, supporting me on each side.  Trixie danced around ahead of us, first on one side and then on the other.  She couldn’t contain her joy—that much was clear.  I had to smile.  It was good—really, really good, to be with my siblings and friends again.   Honey ran ahead to the trees, where Diana was already waiting, and started pulling Sterno fuel and matches out of Jim’s backpack.  I wondered dully why Diana was safely in the trees, rather than with the rest of the Bob-Whites, digging me out.  That hurt a little.  I had hoped she liked me better than that.

But as we reached the trees and Brian and Jim lowered me to the ground, Diana rushed forward to me.  Her face was tear-streaked (although still beautiful!) and she grabbed one of my hands with both of hers.  “Oh, Mart!  I was so scared,” she said, her voice trembling.  “I’m so glad you’re okay.”  She sat down next to me while Trixie started helping Jim make some hot tea with the Sterno.

“Jim told Diana to stay by the trees and keep a lookout for more snow slides,” Honey told me, sitting down on my other side.  “One of us needed to be the lookout so another avalanche wouldn’t catch us all by surprise, because that cliff could have gone at any moment, even from the vibrations of our voices, and then we couldn’t have helped you or ourselves.”  She stopped to catch her breath, and I wondered exactly how she knew what I’d been thinking.  But then again, Honey is pretty perceptive and empathetic.

Brian was doing his doctor routine, checking me out for broken bones and so forth.  My skis and poles were gone, and now that I was able to string a couple of coherent thoughts together, I wondered just how long it would take us to get back to the lodge on foot.  But when Trixie handed me a cup of hot tea, I started to feel like I could make it.  The steaming hot drink was reviving me. 

“I can’t believe I’m here!” I said after a few sips.  “When I realized I wasn’t going to make it, I kept my arms around my face so I’d have some breathing room.  After I was good and buried, I tried to dig my way out, but by that time I wasn’t sure which way was up.”  I drew a breath and took a couple more sips of tea.  “You can’t imagine what it’s like being buried alive.  I thought you guys would never find me.  I—I even said if I could just get out of there, I’d never tease Trixie again.”

“Does anybody have a tape recorder?” Trixie asked.  She tried her best to sound sarcastic, but a beaming grin gave her away.  I know I was pretty happy myself!

I reached into my pocket for my rather battered notebook and pencil. “Well, at least I can make some suggestions to Mr. Wheeler about avalanche control,” I said, trying to sound totally cool, calm, and collected.  

“Jeepers, Mart!”  Honey’s eyes glowed.  “You just about got yourself killed and already you’re cracking jokes!”

I smiled, glad the others couldn’t tell that inside I was quivering like Jell-O.  It was just as well my skis were gone.  I couldn’t have done any more skiing.  All I wanted was to get back to the lodge, eat some hot food, and crawl into a warm bed.  Hopefully, I wouldn’t dream.  I’d already lived a nightmare in No-Man’s Land.

back   next


Author’s Notes

1814 original words

 222 words from The Mystery at Mead’s Mountain

This story was written for CWE #11, Mary's Marvelous Mart Month, in honor of Mary Carey (Mcarey).  Mary was a Jix member who had a deep love for the craft of writing, and a special affinity for writing about Mart Belden.  Mary recently passed away from a sudden, massive stroke, and she is truly missed. Many thanks to the CWE team at Jix for choosing to dedicate CWE #11 in her honor.

A special thank-you to my lovely editors, Ronda, Ryl and Trish.  First, they accepted this editing task at almost the last minute, and second, their eagle eyes and suggestions made it so much better.

I also have to thank Paul Papineau (Steph H’s dad). Recently I read his new book, Not the First Time.  Skiing (including an avalanche scene) plays an important role in it and it inspired me to go back to Mead’s Mountain for my story.

Passages that display in a dark blue font are directly taken from Mystery at Mead's Mountain. The section where Mart crouches down to check his ski bindings isn’t in the book, but I reread the passage carefully, and Mart isn’t mentioned for several paragraphs during the time when Trixie’s attention is caught by the skier in the red and green cap.  So it was the perfect chance for a Mart moment.  I don’t think I wrote anything that conflicts with the original story!

A few references I consulted:

Header image from Wikimedia Commons and used according to the licensing agreement as I understand it.  Author of the original work is Poudou99. Background from Bing Images.

Story and graphics copyright by Mary N., 2015.

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional