This story is suitable for children from 10 to teenage.
The Skiing Accident
The day I fell and broke my leg was one I will never forget. It is etched in my mind in the same way that the skis scored into the surface of that soft ice on the mountain pass. I was crossing it at a difficult time of year and contrary to my parent’s advice I had gone alone. ‘Never ski by yourself,’ they had drummed into me since I was a boy. ‘If you have an accident, you may be lost forever. No one will know about you and you may freeze to death.’
I had always followed their good advice on this matter. Always there were friends or my brother or father who would go with me. But this occasion was different. I had wanted to keep my journey secret. I was going to visit a girl in the next village, just over the mountain. My parents disapproved of her but I was madly in love. I felt I really needed to see her. I told my mother I was going to stay with my friend Tod over night. He lived only a quarter of a mile away. My mother would think it would not be a problem if I encountered trouble. Tod would come looking for me, whereas in fact I would be three miles away over the ridge, on a rendezvous with this girlfriend, a meeting I had arranged two weeks previously, before the snow had fallen.
I put on my skis and warm clothes, a hat, gloves and heavy boots. I would be all right. I set off early shortly after sunrise to make sure that I had plenty of daylight, just in case I encountered trouble. That was my only precaution, and thank heavens, it was the one that saved me, but only just.
I made tracks towards Tod’s home for a few hundred yards, and then I branched off into the forest, took my skis off and started to climb to the ridge. It was heavy going; the snow was quite deep. I began to think with irritation and puzzlement about why my mother didn’t approve of Sally. She was such a lovely girl, The problem didn’t seem to be about her, but was something to do with her family. I could never get my mother to explain it to me, she would just get cross and change the subject. A knot of annoyance grew in my stomach as I struggled around boulders three quarters buried in snow.
Finally I reached the summit of the ridge. I looked down at the settlement in the distance. Smoke was rising from several of the log cabins. The one my girlfriend lived in was the furthest away, beyond the settlement. I could only just see it in the distance. My heart began to beat faster as I caught sight of her fathers place, distinguished by it’s two chimneys, one at each end of the wooden house. I imagined her face at my arrival, how she would blush and tremble with the pleasure of seeing me. As I caught my breath again after the difficult climb I started to survey my probable route. It was quite straight forward, through the trees, around two rocky outcrops and on down to the village. The snow was about a foot deep and had a crisp layer of ice on the surface, as this side of the ridge faced the sun and the top layer of snow had melted. If I put my skis on I would just glide my way down there and be with her in ten, maybe fifteen minutes. I carefully strapped on my skis. I noticed the leather on one of the buckles was looking a little worn, but it seemed strong enough to me.
I pushed off down the hill guiding myself with my poles. Down I went, my heart starting to race again as I imagined Sally, her pretty face all aglow. I rounded the first outcrop of rocks moving faster than was advisable for the terrain, my excitement mounting. I saw a large boulder coming up rapidly towards me. Quickly I wrenched my foot around to change the angle of the skis. The leather strap holding my boot on snapped and my ski smashed onto the boulder. I twisted round and was flung in the air. There was a horrible crack just before I took flight and landed on my back in the snow. I felt no pain but was winded and shaken, angry at myself for having sped so fast with a strap which was obviously wearing thin. Regaining my breath I tried to stand up. As soon as I took my weight on my ski-less leg, it buckled beneath me at a strange angle. A sickening pain shot through my lower leg. I realised that I had broken it. The words that issued from my mouth are not fit to be written on paper. I was so angry with myself. I was livid. What to do now? It would be very unlikely indeed that anyone would come by, this being a forested slope some distance away from any track.
As I realised of the implications of my dishonesty and stupidity I began to feel a more continuous throbbing pain in my broken, useless leg. I could not crawl, the snow was too deep, and one of my poles had flown high up into a tree and hung hopelessly in the branches clearly in sight, but well out of reach. Then I remembered something. I should have a whistle with me to alert someone. Painfully I searched my pockets. No whistle. What an idiot I was! All I could find was a penknife and a skewer. I always kept it down the side of my ski boot to scrape out mud from the deep treads, as I used them for hiking in the spring and autumn.
In despair I half sat and half lay in the snow. I was beginning to get cold. What to do? I had to do something, but what? Shouting would be a waste of energy. As I lay there becoming more and more anxious and despondent about my situation, there came a soft plop, the sound that a lump of snow makes when it falls from a tree. I looked up and noticed that the bare branches of some sort of tree were shedding their accumulated snow. The branches were rough and coarse looking, with pale raised areas. The words, which had been going through my mind, seemed to get more insistent.
‘I wish I had a whistle! I wish I had a whistle!’
I stared at the straight, fragile looking branches and twigs, then I remembered the toy whistles I learnt to make with my grandfather. They were made from elder branches, and this was an elder tree! If only I could reach up and break off a length of one of the branches. I had my knife, I could make a whistle. It was a long hard struggle to reach a branch, but finally with the help of my remaining ski pole, I managed to bend one down. I carefully selected a section that would be wide enough to create a suitably loud whistle.
The sun was moving across the sky, soon I would be in shadow. I had to move fast and accurately to make my whistle and then attract attention before I froze to death. I tried to remember exactly how it was done. It had been many years ago since I had made an elder whistle. Cutting fast I whittled a mouthpiece and a wedge shaped hole about an inch above it. The twig was full of soft pith, characteristic of elder. How could I clean it out to allow the air to flow through it? My knife was too broad. I looked up at the sun anxiously noting its progress behind the peaks. I had only about half an hour of warmth left. The shafts of light spiking behind the branches of the trees reminded me of the long pointed skewer I had in my boot. I dug out the pith frantically and blew. And blew and blew. At first I didn’t think about sending a message, just a noise. Then I remembered about the S.O.S. that my father had told me about. I turned the Morse code into blasts on my whistle, three short, three long and three short. Again and again I repeated it. I had started to shiver violently. It was all I could do to hold the whistle in my mouth. The sun had disappeared, I started to feel very tired.
‘Mustn’t go to sleep,’ I said to myself, ‘Must keep whistling.’ In my half dreaming state I thought I heard a dog barking. I blew my whistle just in case. Yes, there was a dog. I blew again, S.O.S, S.O.S. Then I remember nothing more.
I woke up in a hospital bed, my mother holding my hand, looking anxiously over me. My girlfriend and her mother were there too. Hazily I recalled what had happened.
‘I’m sorry Mum, ‘ I said sheepishly.
‘No, Peter, it’s I who am sorry, ‘ replied my tearful mother. ‘Sally’s mother and I quarrelled years ago over such a stupid thing and I have refused to speak to her ever since. I feel so ashamed of myself. I nearly lost you because of it. I am truly sorry. I know you are not a deceitful boy. If I had agreed to let you see Sally, this would never have happened. Thank goodness their neighbour heard you whistling. Your grandfather always said it is better to forgive and forget, but I’m afraid I didn’t listen to his good advice.’
‘Well, it was grandfathers whistle that saved my life, so let’s be thankful that I listened to him at least.’
Sally stepped forward to squeeze my hand.
‘I’m so glad you’re OK, and that we don’t have to be secretive any more.’
So was I!