Authors: Al Lamanda
Copyright 2011 by Al Lamanda
Somewhere between midnight and one AM, the ice began to fall. It was a fine mist at first, followed by pea size pellets. It quickly covered the ground and trees in a layer of frozen ice. By one thirty AM, the pellets swelled to golf ball size and anybody who was awake knew they were witnessing something special. A once in a lifetime, winter weather phenomenon, people on the news would later observe and report. Earlier that night, on the weather forecast, those same people called for precipitation, maybe some freezing rain. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
What followed was the storm of the century. From as far south as the Jersey shore, it stretched in an isolated band to Montreal, Canada. It was nature at its most beautiful and most deadly form.
It would be the topic of conversation for weeks. On television, on talk radio and in the newspapers, people could not get enough of the ice storm. They were stunned that the contemporary world in which they lived shut down so quickly and with such ease by a source they could not control. Nature, they seemed to have forgotten, controls the planet in spite of the ego of those who dwell upon it.
Most who experienced it learned a valuable lesion in life. Others never seem to learn anything.
Most people were fortunate and survived just fine. Others did not. Some were not aware the storm even occurred at all.
When Sheriff David Peck opened his eyes, he was not conscious of what woke him from a deep and sound sleep. He lay still for a minute, listening to his own breathing, fine-tuning his senses. He rolled over in his bed to check the time on the alarm clock on the nightstand. It was just a bit past two thirty in the morning. As he lay there in darkness, he slowly became mindful of the sound, which woke him. His eyes moved to the window on the left side of his dresser. There was a soft, plinking noise as if someone on the outside was tossing rice against the glass. It took a moment before he realized the noise was caused by ice crashing against the bedroom window.
Tossing off the covers, Peck stood up and crossed the bedroom to the window to look out. A layer of ice frosted the glass making it impossible to see anything on the other side. Turning away from the window, he clicked on a light and grabbed his robe, then went downstairs to the first floor.
In the living room, Peck picked up his cigarettes from the art deco style coffee table, lit one and walked to the front door where he switched on the outside, floodlight. He was unprepared and totally surprised by the sight that greeted him when he opened the front door.
Hail the size of golf balls crashed to the ground at a furious pace. In the driveway of his small home, Peck’s 1955 police cruiser was already under an inch thick layer of growing ice. The six inches of snow on the ground glistened from its new, frozen blanket as it reflected light from the floodlight. Small trees such as White Birch bent halfway to the ground under the stress of their added, unrelenting, ice-covered burden.
Remarkably, there was little if any wind and the ice fell in a straight line to the ground, which caused it to pile up even more quickly. He did a quick check on his memory, searching for storm bulletins. The best he could remember was a snow warning from the south that was heading north.
Chilled and getting wet, Peck closed the door and entered the kitchen where he turned on a large radio, which rested on the counter near the sink. Being as far north as he was, there was little reception except for emergency, weather broadcasts out of Augusta. He twisted the massive dial until a local station, filled with static, finally came in. An update from the monitoring station in the town of Gray gave details of the pending, winter storm. An advisory was in affect until morning. A thirty-six hour window before the storm actually passed was in effect, but road and travel conditions would make any chance of a normal commute next to impossible. Advice was to stay indoors until the governor lifted the advisory and road crews had the chance to clean up the roads.
Peck turned off the radio, poured a glass of milk from the refrigerator and smoked another cigarette at his green and yellow, kitchen table. Like most committed bachelors, Peck knew how to cook, but spared himself the unpleasant task. He survived mostly on cold cuts and by eating out. Such a lifestyle kept his needs to a minimum and the kitchen was barren of most, domesticated appliances.
He sat for a while, smoked and thought about the storm. If it followed the predicted path, conditions would be harsh and the situation would present his first real challenge as sheriff.
By three fifteen, he was back under the covers. He wasn’t tired, having gotten that second wind which comes from getting out of bed. He listened to his breathing and could feel his heartbeat begin to slow. Then his eyes grew heavy, as he was lulled to sleep by the continuous, rhythmic sound of ice plinking against the window.
Peck awoke for the second time that morning at just before seven AM. He rolled out of bed and glanced at the radio alarm clock on the nightstand. The time had stopped at four ten AM. He clicked on the lamp and nothing happened. Power lines were down from the storm, probably. Not a good way to start the day.
Wearing his robe, Peck went downstairs to the living room where he loaded the woodstove centered in the room with logs and old newspapers and lit a fire. His coffeepot was electric so he filled a pan with ice from the refrigerator and boiled it on the woodstove to make instant coffee. Filling a second pot with ice cubes, Peck used the water to wash his face and brush his teeth.
As he sipped the instant brew, Peck tried to call his office from the kitchen, wall phone, but the phone lines were down as well as the power. Entering the living room, he sat before the warmth of the woodstove, smoked a cigarette and thought for a moment. On his desk in the corner of the room was a large, battery powered civil air defense radio, which was on the same frequency as the radio in his office.
Peck went to the desk, sat down and cranked the handle of the radio. “This is Sheriff David Peck. Is anyone there? Over,” he said into the base held microphone.
There were a few moments of static before Jay Bender, Peck’s lone deputy answered.
“Dave, this is Jay. Over.”
“Jay, what did you do, walk? Over.”
“A tenth of a mile, it took me almost an hour. Over.”
“What does it look like out there? Over.”
“Like Alaska in the wintertime, what did you think? Over.”
Peck lit a cigarette, took a sip of coffee and thought for a moment. “How does it look for driving? Over.”
“Driving? Only a fool or a native of Maine would attempt it. Wait, isn’t that the same thing. I was you I would stay put. Over.”
“I’d like to make it in and keep an eye on things. I can always sleep in the office. Over.”
“Good luck. I’ll keep a fire burning and the coffee hot. Over.”
“Just don’t burn the office down before I get there. Over.”
“I was a boy scout, remember? Over.”
“Maybe you could scout us up some breakfast. Out.”
Wearing a yellow slicker over his winter, uniform jacket, Peck carried a pot of boiling water to his black and white patrol car where he used it to melt enough ice to open the driver’s side door. He returned to the house for another pot of hit water to melt the thick layer of ice on the windshield and rear window. He started the engine, and then let it run for fifteen minutes. He used the time to boil more water to fill a thermos with instant coffee. Returning to the cruiser, he inspected the heavy chains around the snow tires before entering and putting the car into gear.
Even with the chains, the heavy car skidded along the ice-covered road as he turned out of the driveway. Within minutes, a coverlet of ice blocked the rear window making rear visibility impossible. The front windshield fared only slightly better. Peck had to run the defroster and wiper blades on high to maintain any visibility at all. Then, cautiously, he crept along.
One hour and five minutes later, Peck drove the cruiser across the lone paved road, which led to the center of town. A sign the size of a stop sign and mounted on the curb off Maine Street, read, WELCOME TO DUNSTON FALLS, MAINE, est.1889. Pop.311. Stretched across Main Street, a large banner read, Happy New Year 1959. The banner was rigid and covered in a sheet of ice.
As Peck approached the municipal building, he passed the town’s only drugstore, library, church, diner, gas station and hospital. As he expected, nothing was open for business. The place was a ghost town.
Parking nearly on the curb, Peck exited the cruiser and dashed into the municipal building. The building was the only two-story, red brick structure that was not a private home within the boundaries of the forty-seven square mile town. The first floor contained his office, a small holding cell and a tiny office for the part time, tax assessor. The second floor housed the office of the town manager, Ed Kranston. Void of working light bulbs, the hallway was dark and cast in shadows.
Removing his ice soaked, yellow slicker, Peck entered his office. There were two green metal desks, his and the one belonging to his deputy, Jay Bender, who was stroking the fire in the woodstove when Peck walked in. Otherwise, furnishing were sparse, just the bare necessities to run the office.
“I see you made it,” Bender said as he shoved a log into the woodstove.
Peck removed his jacket and tossed it on the chair behind his desk. “Is there any news out of Augusta?”
Bender stood up, closed the door to the woodstove and stretched his back. He was a young man of thirty, tall and lanky, with a baby face that appeared never to need shaving. “The report out of Gray says the storm might go a week. I can’t reach Augusta.”
“A week of this and we’ll all be living in igloos.”
“It’s not just us. All of New England, parts of Canada.”
Peck sat behind his desk, feeling the wet from ice residue behind his shirt collar. “We need to get in touch with Ed and…”
“He’s here, in his office.”
Peck was surprised. “He walked?”
Bender reached for the stainless steel camp style coffeepot, which was boiling on top of the woodstove and poured himself a cup. “Just because we are in the sticks doesn’t mean we have to live in the sticks, Dave.”
Peck picked up the mug on his desk and held it out for Bender to fill.
“Sorry, Dave, no donuts,” Bender said.
Peck lit a cigarette with a match, blew smoke and looked at Bender. “The phone lines are down. I thought they were on separate power lines.”
Bender grinned as he carried a mug of coffee to his desk. “Amazing how a few million tons of ice fucks up the works, isn’t it.”
“What does the governor’s office have to say?”
“Officially, that they’re doing all they can. Unofficially, pretty much that we’re fucked until otherwise notified.”
Peck and Bender turned their heads as the office door opened and Ed Kranston stepped in. He paused to look around. “Well, this is cozy. A nice fire, hot coffee.”
Bender grinned. “Want some?”
“You have donuts?”
Ed Kranston was a large man of sixty, who never wore anything but a well-tailored suit. He had thinning, brown hair and wore rimless glasses His blue eyes were piercing when angry and aimed in your direction. His smile was equally as powerful and could charm the scales off a snake. As was his custom, he was chewing a stick of gum.
“Got a Hershey bar,” Bender said, opening his desk drawer. “And a stale pack of cookies.”
Peck set the cigarette in an ashtray as he sipped from his mug. “Is there anything new out of Augusta, Ed?”
Kranston lowered his bulk onto the chair opposite Peck’s desk. It creaked under his weight. “I reached the state police on the shortwave in my office. Power is out as far south as Rhode Island, as far north as Canada. They figure at least a week, maybe ten days. Phone lines, too.”
Peck picked up his cigarette and took a puff. He blew a smoke ring as he mulled over the situation in his mind. “What do we got, three hundred plus living in town?”
“Three eleven, according to last years tax assessment,” Kranston said. “Probably a couple more now. Hard to say.”
“Every home has at least a woodstove for heat and possibly cooking, but people won’t be able to last ten days without fresh food and hygiene,” Peck said.
“Or medicine,” Bender added.
“Especially medicine,” Peck said as he crushed the cigarette in a tin ashtray on his desk.
“What are you suggesting?” Kranston asked.
“An emergency alert is out unless power is restored,” Peck said. “Right?”
“No chance of that,” Kranston said. “Not for at least a week. And even if we could broadcast on the emergency alert system, how many radios would pick it up?”
“What do they have for rooms in the hospital?” Peck said.
“Twenty six,” Kranston said. His eyes brightened. “But the basement can hold another fifty, not to mention the waiting room and lobby. That’s at least a hundred people, maybe more.”