Greetings, WYMOP fans!
Okay, it’s July. It's been hot. And humid. And hot. And gross. And did I mention hot?
To kind of get our minds off all that hot humid grossness, I’d like to share an excerpt from one of my stories in the recently released anthology, Insanity Tales III: Seasons of Shadow. We were writing about seasons (hence the subtitle, duh Rob), and I happened to pen a winter tale, called “Tracks in the Snow.”
Snow, get it? No gross, humid, or hot.
So, to place you in this story, some schoolchildren have noticed a set of mysterious sled tracks on the snow-covered hill outside their classroom window, just two days before Christmas. They’ve brought them to the attention of their teacher, Mr. Garabedian—the oldest teacher in their school—and he’s settled in to tell them the story of the tracks in the snow.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
“Back in 1965—yes, ancient history, I know—before the hill even had a name, there was a little boy named Willie. He was eight years old, as I recall, and curious, as are most boys of that age. In his snooping about the house in the week prior to Christmas, he discovered a cache of presents his parents planned to give him on the morning of the holiday, and in among the other toys was a sled: a brand new Flexible Flyer.”
He shook his head at us. “You probably wouldn’t understand, with your sleds of today—flat sheets of soulless plastic—but the sleds of my boyhood were things of beauty, with bright red runners and the wood polished to a high sheen, a red arrow running the length of the deck and the words Flexible Flyer emblazoned across the steering stick in vivid blue. They were the kind of thing to catch the eye and capture the imagination, and for young Willie it certainly did both. Though he didn’t let on to his parents that he knew about his coming prize, it seems to have preyed upon his mind, and lured him into foolishness.”
He gestured toward Bobby. “Just like today, Mr. Urabus, it was two days before Christmas, and snow was expected in the night. I don’t know what’s going to happen this evening, but back in 1965, we got snow.”
“Wait,” I said. “You mean you’re from Willowdale, Mr. Garabedian?”
“Yes, Mr. Acadia,” he confirmed, mildly annoyed at my interruption. “I am. The snow started before Willie would’ve gone to bed, and it is presumed he lay there, awake, watching the world outside disappear beneath its own wintry blanket. The snowfall, combined with the draw of the beautiful sled, proved too much for the boy. One imagines him listening to the house fall silent as first his older brother, and then his parents, went to bed. He gave them enough time to fall soundly asleep, and then he was up and dressing, pulling on snow pants and winter boots, donning his parka, hat, and mittens, and sneaking into the basement to fetch his new sled and take it for a ride.
“He came to the hill you see right outside—it was one he knew, the children all went sledding here, even then—and it was far enough from his house he may have thought not to get caught. And right out there, in the dark of night, little Willie took his new sled for a test drive. And it was dark. I want you to understand that. The school did not look as you see it today: in 1965 there were no floodlights mounted on the building, illuminating the schoolyard and its environs through the night. And the neighborhoods to the far side of the hill, where many of you now live, did not exist. This school stood on the edge of town back then, and where now there are streets and houses, fifty years ago there was nothing but forest for miles. Willowdale has grown in the past five decades, and the forest has shrunk, but there was still quite a wilderness about in my youth.
“There was a great deal of discussion about it afterward, and a great deal of conjecture, but it’s assumed little Willie thought he’d be all right as long as he could see the school; he’d still be able to orient himself and find his way home.
“It was also assumed that, though Willie was aware of the snow, he was thinking of it in the same terms as our Mr. Urabus, here”—he pointed to Bobby—“as nothing more than a day off from school. He was not, we think, paying attention to the actual weather reports. What began as enough snow to sled in rapidly became what would eventually be called ‘The Blizzard of ’65.’”
He paused, staring out at the thin parallel tracks in the snow, and his blue eyes looked unfocused. “It was the worst snowstorm in Willowdale’s history,” he said, almost speaking to himself. Then he looked at the class, as if remembering we were there, and raised his voice again. “Whiteout conditions, the kind of weather where you can’t see your hand before your face. By the time he realized it, Willie must’ve lost the school. Rather than going home, he struck out in the wrong direction, found himself instead in the woods, and then became completely lost. When his family woke on the morning of the twenty-fourth, it was to find Willie’s bed empty and his play clothes and new sled gone.”
Mr. Garabedian paused, eyeballing us.
“He never made it home.”
~ ~ * * ~ ~
And things go downhill from there (ba-dum bum).
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
But you see? Cold, wintry, snowy thoughts. Did it work? Did you feel the chill? Or do you still feel like punching the Heat Miser in the ding-ding?