Snippet Saturday is the brainchild of author Lauren Dane, wherein a group of authors selects thematic excerpts from their work and shares them on Saturday mornings. This Saturday’s snippet is setting as character. I had a number of stories where the setting plays such a vital role in the story it might as well be a character, but perhaps the one in which the setting practically DRIVES the entire story is CLAUSTROPHOBIC CHRISTMAS and its ice-induced traffic jam on the interstate. Here’s the moment where our heroine realizes the traffic jam is, indeed, a jam:
The truck in front of her groaned and cranked. Its taillights and brakes flickered off with a long, exhausted hiss. All around her, vehicles followed his example, headlights disappearing from her rearview mirrors.
They were giving up? But they’d only been here a few minutes! They could break free any second. Darcy tap-tap-tapped the steering wheel, faster and faster, until she caved to peer pressure and flicked off her headlamps. It was probably a mistake. She needed to be ready. If they idled much longer, it could get nasty. It was cold out there, and getting colder. Snow covered the cars, the road, the fields. Was James stuck? She reached for her phone, charging in the console, to text him, but he might not welcome any personal back and forth.
When she heard a door slam, just as he’d predicted, she twisted around to see what was going on.
There were still enough headlights for her to make out the man from the SUV tugging a large, shaggy dog on a leash. They cut in front of her to the roadside. The human hunched miserably against the wind as the dog cavorted in the possibly record snowfall.
So many tires to pee on, so little time.
Darcy had half a tank of gas, ice on the windshield despite the defrost, and cars, trucks, families and dogs all around her in the same predicament. She was hemmed in by vehicles, by snow, by circumstance. Trapped in one spot with no way out. The sky had darkened, the stars invisible through precipitation and clouds.
Pop was going to have a cow.
She was going to have a coronary.
She could take a pill. Should she? Better not. Any minute now, they’d be driving.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Ice and sleet. Snowing and blowing.
What could she do? The lifeless fields on either side were unbroken by exits or secondary roads. The man and dog got back into the SUV. Exhaust fumes puffed from tailpipes all around, but her tips for stranded travelers—yep, she’d researched this too—advised erring on the side of caution. How long would she be marooned if she ran out of gas?
She didn’t have babies to keep warm. She shut off the motor and thought of James again. Thanks to him, she hadn’t had a drop to drink since the rest area. She was doing well on that front. Yet as soon as she thought of it, the need to wet her whistle smacked into her like the need to admire James’s backside earlier, too fierce to ignore.
An hour of blasting the heater into her face came to a crux, and she could swear she felt her lips crack. Droplets of melt water trickled down the windshield. All that icy goodness going to waste. Darcy licked her lips and gazed at the tasty rivulets. The cola she’d purchased at the rest area beckoned from the small cooler in the floor of the passenger’s seat.
Candy. James had said to suck on hard candy. Her homemade peppermint bark was in the trunk, but if she were parked here in five, no, ten minutes, she’d open the jelly beans she’d purchased for Pop’s stocking. She could always claim Santa got noshy.
Two arid minutes later, she flicked on the interior light and leaned through the bucket seats to paw through the gifts in back. Jelly beans, jelly beans, jelly beans. Gotcha! She unwrapped the flat box, saving the paper, and opened the lid. A smorgasbord of colors and flavors met her eyes.
Cantaloupe. Kiwi fruit. Cappuccino. She squinted at the tiny labels. Was there a water flavor? How about a wide open spaces flavor? Doors slammed nearby, but the jellies were more compelling than whoever had braved the blizzard to pee.
Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
Something rapped her window, and it wasn’t ice.
Darcy shrieked and tossed the box into the air. Candies flew all over the car; a few stuck in her frizzy hair and rolled down the front of her raggedy sweatshirt.
It was James Jones, bending down to peer into the window at Darcy and her lapful of jelly beans.
Hey, maybe it’s no longer strictly in season, but it’s still a fun story! You can find the rest of Claustrophobic Christmas here:
Here are some more excerpts in which the setting takes on a life of its own: