“Right, right. I forgot. You’re one of them writer types. Makin’ up stories and stuff. Yeah.” His lips purse in distaste at my chosen career. “Well, I was wondering when you might start clearing out your driveway and your section of the sidewalk. Storm’s passed, and it’s looking a little messy over here. Can’t have our neighborhood looking poorly, you understand.” He gives me a big grin, as though he isn’t trying to tell me what to do. “Just being neighborly, you understand.” His head bobs as he studies my snow covered driveway, sidewalk, and path. He bobs in my direction again, trying once more to see into my home. What on earth is he looking for, I wonder.” –excerpt from Colder Than Ice, 2013.
Two years ago I wrote a short story called Colder Than Ice about a writer with a terrible headache and a bad case of writer’s block. This writer also had a nosy neighbor who didn’t appreciate personal boundaries of any kind. The headache eventually goes away, as does the case of writer’s block, while the neighbor’s fate is left a bit more ambiguous. It was submitted for consideration to a great anthology produced annually by Level Best Books (New England’s Best Crime Fiction), and while the story wasn’t published, it was a lot of fun to write.
The story came to me during another of those crazy New England winter storms, the kind that leave you wondering, not if the power will go out, but when and for how long; the ones that leave the grocery stores barren, lacking all but the most unloved choices of bread, no-brand bottled water, and perhaps the lone half-gallon of whole milk just past the expiration date, and even the gas stations run low on fuel. Where I grew up, if we lost power, it was gone for days and days (occasionally, even a week or more). We weren’t located near a hospital, police station, or commerce of any kind, so returning power to our area was at the bottom of the priority list. No power meant filling the bathtub with water to flush toilets, dusting off the Coleman lanterns (and hoping the wicks were intact), and snuggling up in sleeping bags and blankets. As a kid, it was fun, at least for the first couple of days. After that, it got old to go to bed soon after the sun went down, and even an 8-year-old wants a hot shower eventually. There were only so many puzzles to assemble and card games to play!
I live somewhere slightly less rural now, so the power is usually back within a day, two-three if it’s a particularly bad storm. But the cabin fever that descends, swiftly, abruptly, is no less unpleasant here. There’s something about the post-storm eerie silence outside, broken only by the occasional gust of wind, snapping of snow-laden branches, or crackle of ice crust that’s just creepy. I’ve got goosebumps just imagining it! Slippery roads, snowy walkways, cold houses, and an overwhelming loneliness send the imagination into interesting places.
Being cut off from civilization back when I was a child meant no phone and no TV (horrors!). Today, being cut off is a bit different, but even cell phones eventually run out of charge, and we’re used to a constant, high level of stimulation and entertainment. Why is it that we humans feel so darn lost when we can’t make a phone call? I don’t even like to make phone calls! Yet, when I can’t, when that choice is taken away, I get cranky. (Scenes from The Shining come to mind about now, in all its psychological thriller glory.)
It’s December and New England has felt the first serious wallop of snow. 200,000+ NH, 104,000+ Maine, and 20,000+ Massachusetts residents lost power for 1-3 days, while the stalwart PSNH, Unitil, and CMP lines-people (and others borrowed from Canadian utility companies) labored day and night to restore it. Slyly peeking out from between all the news stories about outages are ideas for twisty-turny mysteries, goosebump-inducing thrillers, and gritty police procedurals galore!
I wonder what fantastic, winter-borne ideas are in store for us this year…tell me readers, what’s your favorite, frosty story? How do you get through any crazy power outages?