Chapter Ten: A Lump in the Snow
It did not take Percy long to realise something had gone horribly wrong.
The saddle tank engine stared at the never ending field of white that surrounded him. He had reached the current end of the Ulfstead extension, where the rails ended dramatically before a river as they waited for the weather to clear before the bridge could be built. A single track went this way, and it was indeed the line Thomas had disappeared down, but there was no sight of the blue engine anywhere. His blue paint would stick out even in the darkness, yet all Percy could see was white.
"Maybe he derailed further up the line and we completely sped past?" Percy's fireman asked, yelling above the wind. His crew stood within Percy's lamp, huddled against the freezing wind and using a simple torch to try and locate where Thomas was, but they had already looked around and there was no sign that the tank engine had been here.
"He can't have derailed, we would have hit whatever he had," Percy's driver replied with a shake of his head. Percy was starting to get concerned, as they all knew there was no way they could have possibly passed Thomas, meaning he must have somehow left the tracks without a single clue of an accident.
Where are you Thomas? Percy thought desperately, glancing around the endless winter around him. You have to be somewhere near, where have you gone? Percy feared that their argument and Thomas' sudden rage had played a role in this, as the blue engine had raced off very quickly in order to get away from his supposed friend, and he had not looked happy. It would have been easy for Thomas to speed down the tracks and not seen something in his way or noticed something hidden beneath the snow…
Maybe if I had not pushed you for answers, this may not have happened, Percy thought sadly. If you get out of this alright, we can have a good chat and fix whatever issues there are rather than just shouting about them! The green engine was feeling terrible about insulting Thomas, and looking back, he knew that Thomas should have been left alone to work things out himself…
A strong gust of wind blew through the empty field, sending snow scattering into Percy's eyes, nearly blinding him. He blinked it away, and noticed something much larger than snow flying through the beam of his lamp.
"What was that?" He gasped, fearing it could have been a broken part of Thomas. His shivering crew looked around and pointed their torch, and Percy could now see a broken bit of orange plastic caught up in the heavy wind.
"It looks like something from the barrier that they put up to block the end of the track," Percy's driver explained, sounding curious. "That's what Thomas was bringing out here, stuff to secure the construction equipment and the line."
"Why is it broken then?" Percy asked, glancing towards the end of the tracks that disappeared into snow.
"I am not sure. We looked over there and we couldn't see Thomas, so we thought that the barrier might have just fallen over," Percy's fireman explained. "But I am not sure about what could have broken it…" Percy stared as far forwards as he could, expecting Thomas to magically appear as if they were playing a game. There was still no sign of him, but Percy was becoming more suspicious.
"What if Thomas is buried there?" He exclaimed, and his crew turned around, intrigued. "Think about it! Thomas got buried that one time he collected the Christmas tree, and Henry did as well when he went through the snow drift –"
"That's the thing Percy, those were all snow drifts and avalanches, they didn't really plough into the snow!" His driver replied.
"But look at all the snow and wind! What if Thomas drove off the tracks and fell over, and than he became buried under all this snow? Maybe his crew got knocked unconscious and they couldn't go for help?" Percy shouted, and he blew his whistle to try and get them to listen. It echoed around the otherwise quiet valley like some ghostly noise, and his crew were shocked into silence. They exchanged looks and they glanced at the field of snow: there was no sign of Thomas or the two trucks, but Percy did have a point.
"We could spread hot coals over the snow to melt it a little bit and then have a nosey around," the fireman suggested, "as if his theory is right, they wouldn't be too far below the snow." Percy lit up with pride at the fact they had accepted his theory, and hoped that it was the right one. We're coming Thomas, just hang in there… we'll save you!
The crew climbed back onboard and rolled Percy forwards another metre so he was closer to the end, giving more light for them to work with, and the fireman jumped down with the spade full of burning coals. The wind was strong, and there was a chance they could have gone out, so the fireman moved quickly with the driver surrounding him as a barrier. Percy watched as they crunched through the snow, sinking slightly, and scattered the coals across a lump in the snow. The coals sank through, quickly turning the snow to water, and Percy could see something revealed in his light.
"What is it?" He yelled ecstatically as his driver bent down to examine it.
"It is a box… small, but a heavy one at that," his driver replied. "There is a picture on it… of a whistle!" He exclaimed. "This is the truck for Crovan's Gate!" Percy blew his own whistle excitedly as the fireman scattered the rest of the coals and dug his spade into the ground, trying to find more boxes, and a dull thud came across on his fifth go.
"It's the truck!" He yelled joyously as he wiped away the snow, and Percy's face lit up, unable to believe it had worked. "I can't believe we missed this!"
"Go get some more coals, I will try and scoop this all out," the driver yelled, and he went and grabbed the broken piece of the barrier to use as a makeshift spade. The fireman rushed back to Percy and grabbed more coals, and by the time he was back the driver had cleared away the snow covering the side of the truck and found more supplies that had been scatted by the crash.
Crash… Percy thought, and fear began to fill him once more. His delight at their discovery had disguised the fact that this was a crash site his crew were stumbling around, and it was becoming more obvious that Thomas and his train had separated as he had flown off the rails. Percy began to worry for his friend and his safety, and he followed his crew more intently as they dug and burnt away.
"Find Thomas, quickly please!" He yelled pleadingly.
"We'll do the best we can," the fireman cried as he scattered the coals across a wider area before beating at the snow to find something underneath. "But remember Percy, there is nothing we can do straight away even if we find Thomas. We can save his crew, but Thomas would be stuck here for the night." Percy was visibly shocked, and his fireman noticed as he came back for more coal. "How are we supposed to dig him out and get him back on the rails ourselves?" Percy was shaken by this, and had a terrifying image of Thomas laying buried beneath the snow for days, missing Christmas and New Year's, eventually disappearing into the never ending white…
What we need is a true Christmas miracle! Percy thought. Someone needs to come to our rescue… someone kind, sweet, caring, that will help us in our time of need… a loving guardian angel!
Elizabeth was not in a good mood.
The lorry tore down the open road, managing to avoid any more accidents as the way to Ulfstead was clear of anything to strike and no other cars at this time of night, allowing Elizabeth to travel at dangerous speeds. There was snow and ice that crunched beneath her wheels, and she would occasionally bounce over a particularly big lump, but the lorry didn't care. Elizabeth had been on the road for hours now, she was tired and cold, and wanted nothing more than to finish this journey and make it home before the weather got worse.
I must finish this delivery, this is the reason why I am up this late after being up for hours, Elizabeth thought aggressively. There would be no point to all of this to just stop here and resume in the morning, I would have wasted all this time for nothing. And what would I do with the little one? She glanced back at Mike, who was still frightened but was at least not flailing all over the place now, and the lorry briefly felt a pang of guilt, knowing that she was putting him through most of these dramas. At least it will soon be over…
A whistle suddenly sounded somewhere in the distance, and Elizabeth and Mike both looked up, wondering where it was coming from. The lorry's headlamps were struggling to illuminate anything with the snow constantly falling past them, so it was another minute before Elizabeth began to see a bit of green alongside her.
"Percy!" She exclaimed, and her driver quickly slammed on the brakes. Elizabeth skidded on the snow, causing her to turn and Mike's flatbed to slide off the road, but now she was able to face Percy and point her lights towards the snow before him. "Where's Thomas? I was told he had taken my trucks."
"He's had an accident," Percy said in a depressing tone, and Elizabeth was taken aback. "He must have driven off the tracks and now he is buried beneath the snow. My crew had found his trucks, including the one with your deliveries, and now they are starting to rescue him." Elizabeth was stunned silent by the news and she looked at the snowy field before her, a sloped surface leading to the frosty river below. Percy's crew were digging away, spreading hot coals by the look of it across the snow, and a blue glint shone in the light from Percy and Elizabeth. Her driver raced across to help out, and Elizabeth, Percy and Mike could only watch as they dug away using a spade and broken bits of plastic, clearing away the snow covering Thomas' side.
"Call an ambulance, his crew will need medical attention!" Percy's driver yelled as they began to remove the snow that had built up around the cab. Elizabeth and the engines could only see the men working above the cab, so it not clear how deep Thomas' crew was stuck. Elizabeth's driver moved to the side as he dialled a number on his mobile phone, making sure to avoid the snow that Percy's crew were flinging out from the cab.
"We've got them!" Percy's fireman exclaimed after a few moments.
"Here we go, come on, out you go!" Percy's driver said as he and the fireman pulled someone out from Thomas' cab, and they lowered him quickly to the ground before going back for the other crew member. Elizabeth felt helpless as there was nothing she could do except provide light and watch, though her driver did rush over, took her tarpaulin and shook off the snow before rushing back to the men.
"I called the ambulance, it's on its way now," he said. Thomas' crew were stirring and shivering, the blue on their lips visible even from a far, though not as bright as the sheen coming from their engine.
"Have you called for the breakdown crane?" Elizabeth cried out. "Thomas will need to get out of there soon as well, as well as my supplies." No one gave her answer though as they tended to the needs of the potentially hypothermic railway crew and Elizabeth quickly got both impatient and worried, snow already been blown back across Thomas.
"They are not going to send for anyone," Percy explained mournfully. While he was glad that Thomas' crew had been rescued, his driver had gone into more detail about why Thomas could not be rescued, and the saddle tank could not help but fear for his buried friend. "It would be too difficult to get a crane here at this time of night and in this weather, especially with the wind blowing the snow across the scene and making it risky to lift an engine up. Even if I went back to get a crane, it would take too long, and my crew cannot stay awake much longer – regulations and that…" Percy trialled off, feeling sad and ashamed as he stared at his trapped friend, unable to do anything to help him due to all the rules and laws that made up the railway. Elizabeth was shocked and she stared down at her delivery that was scatted across the snow: she was had finally made it, she had come so close to completing this part of her journey, but now the lorry had to leave it all behind. All her speeding, all the danger she had put Mike in… it had all been for nothing. Normally, Elizabeth would have felt annoyed, but right now she just felt sad. She had wanted to prove herself, and in the end she had failed…
"What if we rescued him?" Mike said suddenly, and Elizabeth and Percy glanced towards the little red engine. "I am not sure how though… maybe there are ropes or something that could be used? But if you two could lift him up out of the snow then at least he would not be trapped under the snow all night?" Elizabeth was surprised by Mike's idea, as she had always heard of him being the smug, rash one that was always getting into trouble, a fan of being centre of attention. She was fairly impressed, and could actually see his idea working.
"What brought this up?" The lorry asked, and Mike's face blushed, standing out even in the snowy darkness.
"It just seems a bit unfair that everyone won't be able to spend the holidays with their friends…," he mumbled awkwardly, and Elizabeth decided not to push the subject further, though things were beginning to click into place.
"What do you think driver?" Elizabeth called out. He looked a bit uncertain and glanced at Percy's crew for advice, and the three men paused, thinking things over.
"It might actually be good if we can get these two near something to warm them up, and Percy's fire would do just that," the fireman said.
"I saw you unearth some rope and wires earlier!" Percy exclaimed excitedly, bubbling with joy at the thought of saving his friend. Percy's driver glanced over to the upended truck of works supplies and saw exactly what Percy was talking about.
"I guess it is worth a shot," he said, and Percy excitedly whistled while Elizabeth and Mike exchanged beaming smiles for the first time that night.
Everything happened quickly after that. The fireman moved Thomas' crew into Percy's bunker while the two drivers got the ropes out and began to secure them. Thomas had rolled far away from the tracks, so Percy was given the longest length of rope while Elizabeth was moved further down the road to be closer, and then turned around as the rope had to be tied to her trailer. The two lengths of rope were tied around Thomas' boiler and through a slit in his bunker, leading back towards Percy and Elizabeth respectively. Metal wire was used to help secure the knots at both ends, and within ten minutes, the rescue operation was ready.
"I will scatter some more coals and see if that helps," Percy's fireman yelled to the group as the driver's went back to their respective modes of transport. The red hot coals shone brightly against the snow before sinking through, melting the flakes that had built up around Thomas. Percy and Elizabeth glanced at each other, both ready and determined for this to succeed, and they knew it was time to start.
"NOW!" Percy's fireman yelled. Percy's driver released the brakes and set Percy into reverse, while Elizabeth's driver slammed onto the accelerator. The two vehicles jerked forwards before coming to a stop as the ropes tightened, straining as they were pulled between the two. Elizabeth's tyres slid through sleet that covered the road, and Percy struggled to maintain a constant speed, his wheels spinning just as helplessly, and there was no sign yet that the plan was working.
"Come on Elizabeth, you can do this!" Mike shouted encouragingly from the flatbed, and Elizabeth pulled with all the strength she could muster. She began to move forwards a few inches, and noticed Percy sliding back as well.
"The snow's moving, it's working!" Percy's fireman yelled. "Keep going you two, you can do this!" Percy shut his eyes in determination, putting the very last of his energy into rescuing his friend. He was tired and sore, desperate to get back to the shed, but he was not leaving without Thomas. He is my oldest and best friend, I will not leave him trapped beneath the snow! He told himself. Come on Percy, save him…SAVE HIM!
The wires were straining with the weight of the engine, and as Thomas was lifted up from the melting snow, his blue paint and red stripes glowing from in Percy's lamp, the saddle tank noticed something changing around his couplings.
"The rope is coming loose!" Percy exclaimed.
"Go faster then!" Elizabeth yelled, and she stifled a grunt as she roared forwards with all her might. Percy's driver shovelled more coal in to keep him going, and the green engine became shrouded in dark grey smoke and steam. Elizabeth began to roll forwards, but could feel the trailer pulling on her back bumper like it was trying to tear it off. Thomas was moving, but snow was slipping beneath him, making it more and more difficult even though they were making progress.
I have to do this, Elizabeth told herself. I have not come all this way to fail now! I am the best, I am not going to let snow or anything else get in my way!
I must save Thomas, I must, I must! Percy thought as the loosening rope strained against his coupling. Thomas has always been there for me… we may have argued and fought at times, but that is nothing compared to decades of happy memories… I am not going to lose my best friend now!
"He's nearly there!" The fireman shouted.
"COME ON ELIZABETH!" Percy yelled, and with a last groan and a grunt, the saddle tank and the lorry surged forwards. Their ropes both snapped at the same moment, sending the two rolling away from the scene until their drivers stopped them. There was silence except for the howling wind, and for a moment they thought all had failed. Percy opened his eyes, staring nervously forwards, unsure of what to see, and found his light had hit something blue…
"THOMAS!" He yelled in delight, and Thomas glanced around, looking weary and confused, but quickly look relieved. Percy's fireman rushed forwards with the spade once he was sure Thomas was no longer in order to shovel snow into the hole and around his wheels to keep him in place. Sirens had suddenly begun to sound, and Percy briefly looked over to see red and blue lights flashing in the distance, but he was not fussed about any of that: he could only think of his friend…
"You did it Elizabeth, you saved him!" Mike yelled. Elizabeth's driver turned her around so she could face Thomas, and the lorry smiled brightly as she saw the delight on Percy and Thomas' faces. I did, didn't I? Elizabeth thought, and she realised she was smiling as well. Mike was at an angle, and the two exchanged a look that neither would have expected when their journey had begun at Arlesburgh, one of complete happiness.
The ambulance came roaring onto the scene, siren going and lights flashing, and Percy's crew raced across to see them. The driver and paramedics looked confused as the tank engine sitting in the middle of a snow covered field, but it was left to the humans to explain. As they raced across to get Thomas' crew, Percy, Elizabeth, Mike and Thomas remained silent, all of them struggling to contain their beams as they thought about what had just happened, and none of them could deny the little Christmas miracle that they had performed.
They were so distracted that none of them noticed that it had stopped snowing.