‘Twas the Night Before: Chapters 14-16: The Crash, Giant Earthworms, and the Elves

Hang on to something, folks, things are about to get weird!

But first, a bit more on the crash, because of the questions in the comments:

Tom starts out at the Stuttgart Airport.  Given the number of airlines at that airport, why he takes a chartered, rickety four-seater across the Black Forest is anyone’s guess.

As to the cause of the crash, that is also anyone’s guess, and probably why Tom slept through most of it.

The engine is a two-engine, and the trip on it is only supposed to take ONE HOUR.  So Tom’s concern when he comes to after the crash seems more than a bit unwarranted.  I mean, I get that Tom is panicked and quite possibly in shock, but…

Look, I’m no survival expert, but Tom just seems to do EVERYTHING wrong.

He knows the pilot got off a Mayday, and he knows the flight was short.  Surely it will only be a matter of (very little) time until searchers find him.

He’s in the forest, in the snowy winter.  He has no knowledge of the area.  Why would he not just STAY PUT?  Especially since he has some injuries.  Considering he’s the only survivor, he’s pretty lucky, but he does have a possibly-broken ankle, wrecked knee, cracked ribs and collarbone, and assorted cuts and bruises. 


The biggest danger is hypothermia.  But you know what Tom has?  A wrecked plane for shelter, his own and everyone else’s luggage for warmth (and possibly fuel).

His first priorities should be to gather the supplies together and get a fire going.  The fire would signal rescuers, keep him warm, and melt snow for drinking water.  (Tom whines in his head about there being no food onboard, but this is really the least of his worries.  He could survive weeks without food.)

And I know, I know.  It’s spooky and ghoulish to hang out there with dead bodies.  Plus there is the very human impulse to do something, to move.

Tom is supposed to be smart.  But he spends his energy retrieving personal items from the bodies of the pilot and passengers, and dragging his injured body across the snow.  He wears himself out, makes himself dizzy, and worsens his pain.

I would accept this if this was Tom being panicked and stupid because of it.  But we are repeatedly told that he is being “pragmatic” and has “no other choice.”

So, off he goes.  No map, no knowledge of German, only one working foot.  He gets a few hundred yards in ONE HOUR.

I hate to repeat myself, but this is SO STUPID.  Tom is using up precious reserves of strength, making himself colder and wetter, and greatly reducing his chances of being found.

On top of it all, he eats snow.  THIS IS A BIG NO-NO.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Noella briefly toys with the idea of letting go of the Jesus Santa thing.

It had been the only issue between them.  Could she renege?  Could she mean it?

She fingered the medallion.


That’s our Noella!

In the forest, Tom is hungry.  Sadly, the snow presumably makes it impossible for him to locate one of the MASSIVE FRAKKING EARTHWORMS that live in the Black Forest, and which I’m sure would feed an army.

I’m serious.  There are these huge-ass earthworms, and they only live in the Black Forest.


Picture from Naturpark Sudschwarzwald

But Tom is about to discover something better than HUMONGOUS EARTHWORMS:



I take that back.  Actually, they’re just that kind.

Tom slips in and out of consciousness: elves, Noella, and a bit I kinda like about snow:

Was he dreaming?  Hallucinating?  Remembering the snowstorm that hit Chicago?  It would be just like Mother Nature to pelt him with the same flakes.  No two alike?  They were probably all duplicates!

Okay, never say I don’t give credit where it’s due.  That’s pretty clever and funny and very much like the thought process of a person who’s semi-conscious.

Tom decides (albeit in the throes of his hallucinations) to lie about Santa forever if it means he can marry Noella.

Simultaneously, in Chicago, Noella decides that she should discuss Santa again with Tom:

If nothing else, that would give her an excuse to see Tom.  She would not hold him or kiss him or tell him she loved him.  But she could see him.

Stay classy, Noella.  Withhold that affection!  It’s the only way to have things the way YOU WANT THEM, and that’s the most important thing of all, isn’t it?

Back in the worm-infested Black Forest (I am NEVER getting over this!), Tom blacks out, and the elves save his ass!  They drag him back to their home and their little beds.

They change his clothes (saaaaay…) and tend to his wounds with Magic (TM), then they load him onto a sled and drag him up to the Claus residence.

Guys, I am not even joking about ANY of this.

Tomorrow, Tom meats the Clauses!


Posted on December 20, 2011, in Books, Christmas, Twas the Night Before. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Elves…? Well, at least this isn’t the British Isles. Faeries there can be downright NASTY (q.v. powries, dullahans, caoineags, aughiskys, hags, spriggans, etc.).

    But even German elves can be problematic. Nixies: territorial (although they hang out near rivers, so Tom’s safe from THEM.). Kobolds: temperamental? Wichtlein: RUN. Goblins: Need I say more?

    And just because I’m in a hair-splitting mood, Santa’s “elves” are really more like duergar–the original dwarves. Although looking at etymology shows that even they have potentially unpleasant origins (duergar-dwarf-derro-drow-trow-troll). Nonetheless, duergar are the original hard fae workers, albeit kind of territorial.

    • There’s one problem: you’re assuming Jenkins would actually care enough to read up about the world’s fair folk to know a kelpie from a kappa, much less what kind of faeries might exist in the Black Forest.

  2. I suppose the Black Forest is actually one of the more reasonable places to meet Elves of the Keebler variety, but, uh, this is all a hallucination, right?

    Anyways, I’m reminded of two survival game-things I had to do. One was in Scouts and one was at school. They were both pretty much identical: Your plane has crashed with only you and your group as survivors. You have to debate with each other and rank all the objects in the plane from most-to-least useful.

    So you all sit down and decide if a compass is more useful than a cello, or whatever,

    There was a twist, though. See, most people assume that after such a crash you’d want to go find help, and so all the groups ranked things in that order (compass = very useful. King-sized mattress = less so). However, the scenario writer pointed out that most of you’d probably be in shock and injured, and that moving around is the worst thing you can do in terms of getting yourself found: Your best hope is to set up camp with the downed plane and wait for rescuers to locate it.

    So, armed with that knowledge from the Scouts one when I was asked to do it again in school I took command of the group: I told them what the twist was and we all cleverly ranked things in the correct order…

    …Save that the teacher got the copy of it without the twist, so we did worst ’cause we didn’t rank a map as all that useful. When we pointed out the whole in-shock-and-injured part we were waved off with the fact that since the scenario didn’t specifically mention any such thing we must’ve been fine.

    I made many enemies that day. 😦

    • Ha! I’ve done that very team-building exercise. Although we were told that the correct answer was ABSOLUTELY to stay put.

      My mother, who actually does have some outdoorsy experience, backs the exercise up on this. Which is good, since I was never so much as a Brownie. 😉

      One fascinating thing I learned from the exercises is that even an empty cigarette lighter will produce sparks that can start a fire. Plus, if I ever might be stranded in snowy woods, I know to take a can of Crisco!

      • The version I’ve done is that your team has crashed a spacecraft on the moon. But, yeah, in real-life all of the survival guides say you have a much better chance of being rescued if you stay put.

        For wilderness survival after a plane crash, Gary Paulsen did it better in “Hatchet.” I loved that book as a kid.

        And I think Tom is hallucinating as he dies due to a combination of hypothermia, shock and internal injuries. Kind of like in “The Giver.” (Hope I didn’t spoil that for anyone.)

        • And the compass is useless because the moon, not having a spinning core, lacks a strong polar magnetic field. (For a compass to work you’d want the magnetic field to be both, the moon’s magnetic field is neither.) The lighter doesn’t work because there’s no air. And the gun might be useful as a form of propulsion.

          I have done the stranded on the moon exercise, quite a while ago. Mostly what I remember is that whoever made it was apparently imagining people jumping up, firing the gun in the direction they didn’t want to go, and using the kick to move themselves.

  3. Now I’m imagining a Santa who has a workshop full of giant worms making toys for him. Naughty, nice, pretty much all the kids just get fifty-pound bags of compost now.

  4. *headdesk*

    Can we read “A Very Dune Christmas” instead? It’s got to be better than this. (And I didn’t even like Dune.)

    Not only is Tom too stupid to live (except for elves), but his travel planning makes no sense. Where in the Black Forest was he going? Why do I suspect his choice of small twin engine charter (but big enough for a printing press) makes absolutely no sense beyond Jenkins having a rare moment of not wanting to kill off large numbers of extras (probably because that ruins the Christmas mood).

    (And I’m still having trouble with the crash. The mayday makes my earlier controlled flight into terrain not so likely, and suggests a problem with the plane. Why couldn’t Jenkins be bothered to research his gholishness? Or just have the guy drive off a road. That’s ever so much simpler.)

    Oh! I can’t forget. Tom’s mind bending foolishness includes forgetting (or not knowing) that planes have emergency transponders. Good job crawling away from the signal your rescuers are following. (Yes, the do sometimes fail, but still.)

    • Everything after the first Dune seemed to take the form of:
      We have to avert this horrible thing.
      Wait! Something worse will happen if we avert this horrible thing. Ok, lets do the horrible thing so we can avert the worse thing.
      Wait! Something doubly worse will happen if we avert the original worse thing. Fine, we’ll do the original worse thing to avert the singly worse thing.

      In the end I think it turned out that they had to do everything they wanted to prevent because the only viable alternative was the utter destruction of humanity, which is the only thing they ever did avert, but it was never a prophecy in the first place, it was the alternative to the prophecies.

      It wasn’t the thing looming in the distance they wanted to avoid, it was what the realized they’d crash into if they tried to swerve around the looming thing.

      Not sure where I’m going with that because it seems like that kind of a thing would fit better in Left Behind, constantly trying to avert the prophecies only to find out that they’re come true for good reasons (the alternative is the end of everyone and everything) would give the Trib Force something to do. They’d still utterly fail to accomplish much (the prophecies would tick by unhindered) but they’d be trying and in the course of that trying they might be vaguely human.

      Dune tended to run on highly concentrated, “The alternative is worse.” The other side is composed of complete monsters, not doing what the precognitive person says you should do will result in an outcome even worse than the horrible thing precognitive person is about to do.

      Which is a very weird thing to run on, but based on some of his comments Herbert knew that’s what he was doing. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it.

      I wonder if I should remind Ana that she once said she was tempted to do a Dune deconstruction.

      That’s way off topic so I’ll close with this:

      So Tom’s plane just crashed in the Black Forest and he knows that the sound will have called a worm. He tries to crawl without rhythm, but it’s difficult injured as he is and the important thing is to get away from the crash site. Bloody and freezing he loses consciousness just as the ground begins to shake with wormsign. He is rescued by the Forest Fremen.

      Fremen, it should be noted, are descendants of Zensunni wanderers. You read that right. Zen-Sunni. Tom’s been rescued by the forces of (Buddhist) Islam. And rumor has it that the founder of the Zensunni faith wasn’t Ali Ben Ohashi, but his second wife, Nisai.

      Tom has just been rescued from otherwise certain death at the mouths of the forest worms of Germany by a group that follows a form of Islam founded by a woman. What happens next?

      (Other than Jerry Jenkins’ mind exploding.)

      • Tom has just been rescued from otherwise certain death at the mouths of the forest worms of Germany by a group that follows a form of Islam founded by a woman. What happens next?

        Now that sounds like a Helluva good story!!!

        Pity that’s not what this one is about….

  5. Having only four seats but two engines is actually quite rare. Even your basic Cessna Skylane has four seats plus a bit of baggage space. Anything big enough to carry a “printing press” (let’s be generous and say it’s an Espresso Book Machine, but that’s still 3-4 people’s worth of weight) is likely to have more seats than that. Maybe a Cessna 414 or a Beech King Air? I’d be doubtful about getting the load into a 310. But in any case we’re talking about a long metal tube, not the sort of semi-open cabin that’s more usual for this kind of thing. (Lose the printing press and we can do this whole scene with a single-engine 208, much more plausible for a short trip to the middle of nowhere. And if it’s not the middle of nowhere, you drive or take a train.)

    The problem is, having a big plane means it’s probably not a single engine failure that forced it down. A light twin, like a 310 or a Beech Bonanza, has two engines basically to be reassuring – when one of them fails, the other just slightly widens your list of places where you can crash. But the bigger twins can actually fly single-engine for a while.

    Possibly icing, if the pilot doesn’t know what he’s doing? Or a fuel contamination problem that affects both engines?

    OK, here’s another problem. If it’s a big plane, it’s doing 250-300mph, and an hour’s flight… would put it closer to another major airport, from which it would have made more sense to start. You don’t use the big planes for short flights. 300 miles from Stuttgart gets you nearly to Hamburg! So again we’re looking at something like a 208 or smaller, that does 150-200 mph, which is much more plausible for an hour’s flight and a destination in the Black Forest.

    Dragging the dead guys across the snow, and making some sort of basic grave for them, would be a much more productive use of Tom’s time… and would leave the wreck less-unpleasant.

    Tom has submitted to Magic! That’s EBIL! Tom is permanently tainted with DEBILTRY!

    • What do you mean you don’t use big planes for short flights? Airlines do it all the time. When I lived in the midwest I flew back to visit people in Arizona several times. The trip from Omaha to Denver was a little over an hour (if I remember correctly) and the trip from Denver to Phoenix was so short one arrived before one left, thanks to Arizona not using daylight savings time. The problem isn’t the short flight, the problem is the bizarre tiny plane trip with printing press in a heavily populated area with plenty of airline flights (even if some might be on commuter planes) to choose from.

      Though I do think that Jenkins got the Black Forest area of Germany mixed up with the far reaches of Alaska, because it really sounds like he was thinking of a bush trip.

      • Yes, I kept thinking, how could Santa have a hidden home in the Black Forest? Isn’t it full of tourists and hiking paths and ski trails and major highways? Maybe nobody except for our Tim is silly enough to be hiking across its mountains in the middle of a snowy winter night, but surely one of the 90.000 members of the Schwarzwaldverein, would have stumbled across Santa by now during some routing trail-maintenance expedition. Or at least an elf or two.

        Why not the more deserted northerly reaches of Sweden or Finland or Norway? Or are we just going to get all south-German Christmas-kitschy here?

        (Nothing against south-German Christmas-kitsch, my own house is covered with it right now.)

        • “Why not the more deserted northerly reaches of Sweden or Finland or Norway?”

          Yeah, everyone knows Santa lives in Finland. What better way to show what a har-har-disillusioned cynical guy Tom is than have him cover the horrible touristy Santa’s office at the polar circle, complete with 10 000 japanese tourists, topped with a visit to Korvatunturi where Santa supposedly lives for a “hah, nothing real here, you see?” setting that would be just begging for an accident to take him down a peg rekindle warmth and doormattery in his cold, cynical, non-parent-loving heart?

          On the other hand, I am glad Jenkins chose not to meddle with my country. Probably has never heard of it.

      • Yes, it really does sound like he was thinking of Germany as Australia or Alaska. In fact, the country is, as you say, quite heavily populated, with excellent road and rail networks. Sure, there are parts that are difficult to get to, but for those you just get yourself a four-wheel drive vehicle, winter gear, some sandwiches and a couple of cans of something.
        Really, having Tom drive there* from the nearest airport would have been far better. There would have lots of opportunities for him to crash off the road, with no need to kill anybody.

        *Just where in the Black Forest was Tom actually trying to get to anyway? And why?

  6. Lose the printing press and we can do this whole scene with a single-engine 208, much more plausible for a short trip to the middle of nowhere.

    I’m imagining this war going on in Jenkins head. He so desperately wants to include pointless massive destruction of human life so he can blithely ignore it like in his other great novels, but his wife and editor insist that people don’t like massive loss of life in their light holiday fare. So this is his compromise – “Come on, only 3 people died and they don’t even have names, and their Foreigners”.

    • I just can’t see why the printing press is important. Without it, the situation is still three people dying in an air crash, in the sort of small plane that I think is what’s being talked about here. It just doesn’t add anything. If Our Hero were awake, we could have the thing breaking loose from its tie-downs and smashing through the cabin, just barely missing him… but he isn’t.

      • Maybe Tom was originally transporting the printing press in a half-hearted attempt to explain why he wasn’t on a regular flight or in a car (or bus or train)?

        Why he’d be transporting a printing press, I don’t know, but he does work for a newspaper. It was some kind of internewspaper thingie.

  7. Have I missed something? WHY a freaking printing press??? In a light aircraft?? Where was it being delivered to, that couldn’t be reached by a delivery truck? If you’re running a printing firm big enough to need a proper printing press (something like this rather than, say, an office laser printer) then you’ll be running it from urban/semi-urban premises with good road access. After all, you’ll be getting tons of supplies in all the time and needing to send out tons of the finished product.
    Something makes me think that Jenkins had just seen Cast Away when he wrote this bit. I wonder if he’ll get Tom printing out notes to Noella on the printing press….

    And Santa does NOT live in the Black Forest! He lives in Lapland – everybody knows that!

  8. What does Santa doing in Black Forest at all? I see “Schwarzwald”, I don’t think “Santa”, I think “the small man whose clothes are made of glass and the giant Evil Foreigner specialising in personality-changing heart transplants who might or might not be some kind of devil”.

  9. While Tom was sleeping, the other characters, knowing the author’s eyes weren’t on them, took a vote and decided to crash the plane. “I don’t mind going down as long as I can take the protagonist with me and maybe turn this into a better book,” the black box records the pilot as saying. . .

    • WIN!!!!! So much win!

      And sadly, they showed a thousand times more initiative than all of the Tribbles put together in all twelve Wastes-of-Paper that comprised the Left Behind series.

  10. I don’t suppose there’s a chance this story’s headed in a Misery direction from here, is there? With Kathy Bates as Mrs. Kringle, for instance?

  11. Um, Ruby? What do you mean by “things are about to GET weird”? This is Jenkins writing; things are ALWAYS weird! But no, I understand — including Really Truly Elves and Really Truly Santa Claus is a bit left field, even for him.

    Ok, let me see if I understand what Jenkins doing here . . . Santa is Jesus!allegory and all the little elves are angel!allegories. The angel!allegories rescue Tom the Sinning Cynic from his (idiotically self-inflicted) near-death experience, bring him to Jesus!allegory who kindly shows Sinning Cynic the error of his ways, and return him to his world so that he may go out and proclaim the good news of . . . Santa Claus.

    Oh, God. My brain. It’s trying to commit suicide.

    Forever and a tree!

  12. It’s been said before, but where the hell was he going, and why did he decide on a frigging plane? He wanted to go ‘to’ the black forest? Well, Stuttgart lies right at the edge of it by the looks of things, and I doubt there’s a single larger city with any kind of airport. Even if he went to a small one, te whole forest is not even 100 miles long. I’ve traveled longer distances than that on my bycicle, and I’m a wuss. Hell, the forest only 3 times longer than the Manhattan Island Buck walked across. Why the hell would you ever take a plane there?

    And the printing press is even more hillarious. That thing sounds both fragile, heavy and not urgent. It’s the least likely thing you’d have transported by air, especially over such a puny distance. But I guess this is what you get when the writer is barely able to acknowledge any other nations than his own U.S. And the U.S. is big, people fly there in the wilderness. So how different can Europe be/

  13. In the forest, Tom is hungry. Sadly, the snow presumably makes it impossible for him to locate one of the MASSIVE FRAKKING EARTHWORMS that live in the Black Forest, and which I’m sure would feed an army.

    Actually, I hear that Black Forest worms are quite tasty, if you’re into that sort of thing.

    I prefer bears, myself.

  14. Okay, never say I don’t give credit where it’s due. That’s pretty clever and funny and very much like the thought process of a person who’s semi-conscious.

    Jenkins’ most realistic and sympathetic portrayal so far is of a semi-conscious person….

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