Gabrielle Noel

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Gabrielle Noel

by Maddy Bell

“I wish Gabs was here,” Juliette sniffled.

“We all do luv.” Jen pulled her eldest closer, Dave in turn gripping his wife’s shoulder in support.

They hadn’t used the car, it wasn’t worth the hassle, and the memorial after all was less than a kilometre from Bond Acres, near the junction with the main valley road. They weren’t the only ones headed there, the events of that night nearly a year ago affected a lot of folk in Dernau and round about, the memorial being unveiled today a physical reminder of that. So it was that they joined the subdued procession of townsfolk heading to the ceremony.

Almost a year earlier, Christmas Eve, 6.00pm Altenahr

“You not changing?” Pia asked the tiny blonde bundling stuff into a backpack.

“Nah, its only twenty minutes home and Mum’s done goose for dinner.”

“You and your stomach Gaby Bond, you do realise its started snowing? You’ll freeze to death.”

“So I’ll ride quicker, it was good tonight.” Gab observed as he pulled his new down jacket on, why Mum bought a white one he’d never know.

“Yeah and for someone who doesn’t dance you did a great Christmas fairy.”

“Strong legs?”

“I don’t think that old chap in the front row was looking at your legs!”

Gab rolled her eyes, “everyone seemed to enjoy it anyhow.”

The Ahr Alle Stern Weihnachtsconzert was a popular annual event held in the community hall in Altenahr. It gave the members a focus in the ‘off season’ and raised funds for the volunteer fire service at the same time. A combination of seasonal skits and dance recital, Gab pulled the short straw of lead in the closing number, which meant a crash course in the ballet moves required.

Of course playing the Christmas fairy meant a costume to match, in this case a corseted bodice over a voluminous knee length net and tulle skirt and white tights. A mean fairy but not exactly cycling attire.

“Sure you don’t want a lift, papa will be here soon,” Pia mentioned.

“Nah,” Gab confirmed zipping the jacket up to her neck.

“You off, Gab?”

“Yep, I’d best make tracks in case this snow decides to settle. Have a good Christmas, Hannah.”

“And you,” the Garde director offered.

“I’ll ring tomorrow P, Frohes Weihnacht!”

“Frohes Weihnacht, Gab!”

He gave a shiver when the cold air hit his thinly covered legs, the snow wasn’t falling fast but the saddle of his trusty Schauff had received an unwelcome covering.

“Shitza!” he complained brushing the seat clear, “I’m gonna get a wet bum.”

That would become the least of his problems.

Present, 2.30 pm Blizzard Memorial, Dernau

Dave looked around the crowd, exchanging nods with a few people he knew, Herr Thesing, Wilhelm and Gloria von Strechau, Gloria Pilsen there with her daughter. Of course the rest of Gab’s friends were all present as well as a lot of unfamiliar faces. At a guess he’d reckon there were about two hundred people present waiting for the Mayor to start things off, why couldn’t Gab be here? The daft little bugger.

“Here,” Jen passed her hubby a handkerchief.

“Thanks, Jen.” He took the hanky and wiped the damp from his eyes.

A bit of feedback from the mobile PA attracted their attention.

“Good afternoon everyone, its nice to see so many of you here for such a solemn occasion. We are here of course to mark the sad events of Weihnachts eve last year, a night which claimed several young lives and I know affected many of you deeply.”

The crowd weren’t impatient even if the Mayor did go on a bit and more than a few started to cry as he told the story of the evening of 24.12.2006.

Christmas Eve, 6.10pm MayschoáŸ

‘Geez I shoulda put my jeans on.’ Drew mused as the snow laden air found its way to places that are not talked of in polite company. At least his new jacket was warm even if his fundament was fast freezing off.

What had been a few gentle but persistent flakes further up the valley was now a swirling mass that was starting to coat the road with a layer of white. Traffic was light; at this time of night most households were getting ready for the big Weihnachts meal. So intent on his riding that when the car horn sounded behind him, Drew nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Nice bike, girly!” a voice called over the loud club music blaring out of the cars interior.

“Not much meat on it!” a second voice added.

‘Piss off.’ Drew mumbled to himself.

“Gis a blow.” The first voice suggested.

‘This is all I need.’ Drew started to tense up, a car full of drunk teen lads could be trouble.

Before things could develop further a police car appeared heading towards them.

“Polizei!” someone in the car observed.

“Hasta la vista, baby!” voice one stated before the driver gunned the metal box, an ageing but souped up Corsa.

‘Tit heads!’

As soon as the cycle track appeared he steered the lumbering Schauff off the road, without other traffic it would be safer even if it took a little longer. The flickering dynamo light reflected now off of a white surface previously untouched by man, beast or bike. Rather than push hard on the pedals — which had already induced some wheel spin on the snow, he eased back a little, better late than broken.

Lech passed in a snowy blur, the lights in the Sebenschuh Weinstube offering a little glimmer of warmth. Only a couple of kilometres to go.

When it came, it came with a vengeance, huge flakes pouring from the sky, whipped by the wind and settling at an alarming rate. Although the moon was almost full the only light now came from Drew’s vaguely dodgy headlight, ‘have to get Dad to sort that’. Within a minute it was a whiteout and the rider just hoped he was headed right.

Present, 2.45 pm Blizzard Memorial, Dernau

“And so I pass you over to Father Linzerhof for the blessing.”

The Mayor’s telling of the tale really brought last year’s events back to life for the Bonds, all three were sniffling by the end along with their friends and neighbours.

“Let us pray,” the pastor started, “dear Lord, we are gathered here today to honour those who lost their lives in the blizzard on the eve of your Son’s birth last year.”

Christmas Eve, 6.20pm Bond Acres, Dernau

“Where’s that sister of yours, she’s supposed to be helping.” Jen asked her eldest.

“Have you ever known her miss food?” Jules sniggered, “they probably over ran.”

“You should’ve gone to fetch her Dave,” Jen fretted.

“We’ve been through this already,” Dave noted.

“Hey it’s snowing!” Jules exclaimed.

“She should be here anytime.” Dave told the others with more confidence than he felt.

Christmas Eve, 6.20pm near Lech

“Oof!”

He hadn’t been moving quickly, he couldn’t but the impact had nevertheless catapulted him over the bars to land on his back in the snow. Everything seemed to be working so he clambered to his feet before using the remaining light from the bike to find his dislodged hat. The bike however had fared less well, the front wheel suffering enough to stop it rotating.

“Sugar.”

If the wheel won’t go around he couldn’t even push it home, the stand light chose that moment to light its last. He cast around for his bag, which had been in the basket, but wherever it was now it wasn’t where it should be. The snow was coming down like er snow but snow on steroids. It took a moment to work out which way to walk then he set off for home.

At least he had his boots on, he hadn’t wanted to wear them tonight but Mum had insisted, her words prophetic — ‘what if it snows?’ Somehow the snow was already a good 15cm deep making the going quite difficult. Although he was close to the road the last vehicle he’d seen had been parked in Lech, maybe just as well with this snow.

He struggled on, the eerie outline of the trees to his right the only guide but even they were often lost to sight. The lights when he spotted them didn’t seem to be where he would’ve expected; perhaps he’d missed the turn. He was almost on them before he realised that it wasn’t a building at all but rather a car and by where the headlights were directed one that wasn’t on the road either.

Christmas Eve, 6.40pm Bond Acres, Dernau

“Dave?”

“I know I’ll go look.”

“It’s a blizzard out there Dad, I can’t see anything.” Jules advised.

“Ring Hannah Jen, her numbers in the book under ‘Garde’, no point in me going out if she’s safe somewhere.”

Dave pulled his snow boots out of the cupboard and started layering up.

“She left at six?” Jen confirmed.

“Maybe a couple after, she not home?”

“No and its snowing hard down here.”

“Shitza, there’s only a few flakes here, I wouldn’t’ve let her go if I’d known.”

“Guess we need to go looking,” Jen’s heart sank.

“Have you contacted the Polizei?”

“Not yet, I guess we need to.”

“Do that, I’ll get Hans to head down towards you.”

“Thanks, Hannah.”

“So?” Dave enquired.

“Nope she left just after six.”

“Bum!”

The storm outside was getting more vocal, Dave when he was finally ready barely got out of the door before heading back.

“If I go out in this there’ll be two of us lost in a blizzard.”

“My poor baby!” Jen collapsed into her husband’s arms.

Christmas Eve, 6.45pm near Dernau

Drew slipped and slid his way to the source of the lights, indeed it was a car — that flippin’ Corsa from earlier, on its roof in the ditch, oh shit. There didn’t appear to be anyone inside, they must have got out and gone for help. The way the snow was coming down he needed shelter and even a car wreck could offer that.

He crawled inside where a door should have been, there was an eerie glow from the instruments, hmm power, could be dangerous, he’d seen that on some TV programme. He found the key and turned things off and finally allowed himself to relax a bit. Snow was still making its way inside but the intensity was reduced and the wind was less, not comfortable but less uncomfortable.

“Hello?” a faint voice broke into his musing as he pulled his coat around his knees to get a bit warmer.

“Kurt? Freddie? Georg? You there?” the voice, a girl’s enquired hoarsely.

“Just me, Gaby er Gabrielle.” I allowed peering into the back.

“Where are the lads?”

“There wasn’t anyone here, I guess they’ve gone for help?”

“I hope so, I think I’ve broken something, I can’t feel my legs.”

Doesn’t sound good.

“So how come you’re here, Gabrielle?”

“I was on my way home then I got caught in this whiteout, I saw the lights, I thought maybe it was the dairy but it was your car instead.”

“Sugar, I think my waters broke.”

“You’re pregnant?”

“Well duh!”

“Its about seven by my reckoning so you must have been here like thirty minutes so it shouldn’t be long before your friends bring some help.”

“I hope so, aaargh!”

“Breathe, short and sharp.” I instructed.

Outside the snow was piling ever deeper concealing the bodies of Kurt, Freddie and Georg lying where they landed after being flung from the car in the crash.

Christmas Eve, 7.45pm Schloss Bond

“The police say that one of their patrols saw a girl on a bike at Mayscho០about an hour ago.” Dave informed his family.

“You rang Max?” Jen asked.

“Max and Wilhelm will be out as soon as it eases.”

“It’s not looking good is it Dad?” Jules sniffed, she might pick on her sibling a bit but that’s what older sisters do, behind that she’d kill for her sister.

“It’s not love, let’s be positive though eh?” he pulled his daughter and wife into a hug. “All we can do is wait.”

Christmas Eve, 11.50pm near Dernau

Trying to deliver a baby inside an overturned car with a blizzard blowing outside isn’t a job for a professional let alone an almost sixteen-year-old girl.

“Push, push, its nearly here, Fabe.”

“I hope so, where have the lads got to?”

“Dunno, maybe the snow…” a thought occurred to the teen. That crash up near Adenau in the summer, the kids were thrown out by the impact and killed, what if Fabien’s friends were dead not gone for help?

“What?”

“Er nothing, thought I heard something is all.”

The contractions were close now, the baby’s head clearly visible when Drew flicked the cars lights on for a moment.

“Aaargh!”

Another couple of rounds and the baby arrived.

“Why’s it not crying?”

“I dunno,” hang on I remember Gloria showing us that film when I went to antenatal with Bern, “hang on.”

I found Fabien’s nail scissors and quickly cut the umbilical, tying it off with a granny knot. That allowed me to manoeuvre the newborn more easily; a couple of slaps and the car was filled with the sound of crying baby. After passing Fabe her new baby I looked at the clock, 00.01, Christmas Day.

Christmas Day, 07.55am near Dernau

“Over here!” officer Jorge Stevens called out as his dog started feverishly digging.

“What’ve you got Jorge?” his colleague Christina Oberplatz enquired.

“Looks like an RTA, must’ve happened during the blizzard.”

Dave Bonds shoulders sagged; he’d joined the searchers as soon as the blizzard dropped to mere heavy snow two hours ago. Without the snow falling you’d be able to see the Bond house from here. It was difficult keeping upbeat, inside his emotions were running riot, Drew — Gaby had been missing for over twelve hours in one of the worst blizzards anyone could remember, indeed he was stood on over a metre of snow, snow that was still falling.

Present, 3.00 pm Blizzard Memorial, Dernau

The squawking of a baby at the back of the crowd broke the sombre atmosphere.

“I told you we’d make it Fabe.” A familiar voice crowed.

Dave Bond let a grin cross his face.

“You knew they were coming.” Jen accused her hubby.

“I thought she was staying another week.” An equally confused Juliette added.

“She rang from Ká¶ln about eleven, the connections were tight and the baby has a touch of colic.”

“Just you wait, Dave Bond!”

There was a slight delay in proceedings as the two girls and the babe made their way to the front much to the delight of the crowd.

The Mayor’s face lit up seeing them.

“A small change of plans ladies and gentlemen, I think it would be appropriate if these two young ladies did the unveiling.”

And so it was that Gaby and Fabien revealed the small memorial and plaque erected to remember those that lost their lives on that Christmas night and those that by a miracle survived.

Christmas Day, 08.05am near Dernau

“Get the medics, Chris,“ Jorge shouted excitedly, “we’ve got two live ones, there’s a baby too, looks new born.”

“Shitza!” Christina allowed before getting on her two way.

Dave joined the other searchers at the car and started clearing the snow from the car. He chanced a look inside.

“Gaby!”

Her clothing now grubby and soiled from the birth she was blue with cold, the other occupant wrapped in her equally filthy new down jacket.

“Daddy.”

It was a Christmas the Bonds wouldn’t soon forget, Drew recovered quickly but was still kept in hospital into the New Year. The missing lads' bodies were found late Christmas day amongst them the baby’s father.

Fabien fared less well, the paralysis turned out to be temporary but it caused complications none the less. It was Easter before she was allowed home, back to her parents place in Kassel. Having shared such an experience Gab and Fabien became firm friends, staying in close contact, which is how Gab nearly missed the unveiling.

The baby, why of course the little darling got stuck with the moniker Gabrielle Noel — not good for a boy!



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