Bruce A. Bracken, Ph.D., school psychologist and Professor of Educational Foundations at The College of William & Mary, has recently published a novel, The Hollidaysburg Christmas Miracle. The background for the story originates in the real-life borough of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania – an historic terminus for the Pennsylvania Canal. Hollidaysburg is a quaint town abutting Cresson Mountain at the opposite end of Pleasant Valley from the world renowned Horseshoe Curve. In 1854 the Horseshoe Curve, considered a spectacular engineering feat, was completed and opened freight and passenger travel from the eastern United States over the Allegheny Mountains to the far western states and territories. The Horseshoe Curve was so important as a passageway of troops and material that it was plotted against by both Confederates during the Civil War and the Nazis during World War II. This story combines elements of the Horseshoe Curve, the city of Altoona and its mighty railroad repair shops (the largest in the country), and Hollidaysburg into a meaningful holiday tale.
Professor Bracken currently has two additional novels, Achilles and Invisible, yet to be published. Achilles is an action-packed personal conversion story, where the main character evolves from a rough-and-tumble lost soul to a spiritually-driven person. Invisible is a tale about a subculture of people who are invisible to others – the panhandler on Rodeo Drive or the raving lunatic in Times Square – folks who are not typically seen by others on a day to day basis, but who are among us. This piece of literary fiction is a thoughtful consideration of introverts in an extroverted society.
The Hollidaysburg Christmas Miracle- a Synopsis
Four days before Christmas, 14-year-old Chris Ballentine leaves his parochial school with no intention of going home. Wrapped in a personal blanket of despair, he walks through the historic village of Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, and emerges on the opposite side of town-center. There, he steps over the guardrail separating Highway 220 from the rail yards and heads toward the 180-foot Cresson Trestle. Sitting on a rail, mid-trestle, deep in thought, he is oblivious to an approaching Pittsburgh-bound freight train. Chris has two options: being struck by the oncoming locomotive or leaping from the trestle into the rocky chasm below. Chris accepts the vagaries of chance and dives headlong into the abyss.
Within the shadows below are two of three "kings of the road" drawn inexplicably to Pennsylvania by the mesmerizing allure of the headlamps of passing trains. After a harrowing rescue, Leo, Rex, and Hank care for their ward in their camp within the rugged mountains overlooking Pleasant Valley. Within their encampment, fashioned in the center of five blue spruce trees, the men and Chris spend three harrowing days trying to survive a savage blizzard, a marauding bear seeking a mid-hibernation meal, and a shortage of food and supplies. Chris's personal despair gives way to understanding and compassion as he learns of the men's past, as well as the risks they've taken to rescue and care for their unexpected ward.
In Hollidaysburg, Chris's sister and parents frantically face their worst possible nightmare: the loss of their son. In these dark moments, the Ballentines' parish pastor and the school nuns rally the community and bolster the faith of the despairing parents.
Desperately short of supplies, the men attempt a treacherous Christmas Eve crossing of the trestle in the midst of a whiteout winter storm, pulling Chris in a travois fashioned from an oil drum and stout saplings. After a near-fatal crossing, Chris and his guardians eventually arrive in Hollidaysburg only to find the borough desolate, without power due to the historic snow storm that had blanketed the area. The foursome struggle through deep snow to Chris's home with expectations of reuniting the boy and his family, but discover that the house is vacant.
Chris's father returns home from walking his wife and daughter to Midnight Mass, where they are seeking the continued support of their parish, and finds intruders in his dark home. In self-defense he swings a baseball bat at one of the intruders who turns toward him, his son, and in a brief moment of recognition, Chris's father collapses to the floor of an apparent heart attack. The three men, unable to phone for assistance due to interrupted service, transport Chris and his father on the travois and a toboggan to the Hollidaysburg Regional Hospital.
The story closes with the Ballentine family reunited at the hospital, beleaguered and battered but not broken. The town celebrates Chris's safe return, and the three "wise men," assisted by the Ballentines' pastor, return to their previous lives, enriched and freed from the personal issues that led them to their journeys. As the story reveals, the men's willingness to follow a Light and to gather where that Light called them would set the scene for a real Christmas miracle.