In the still of the night snow accumulated swiftly—a gift from the heavens—undisturbed by adults who did not appreciate its unique beauty, and mischievous children who did not understand that it served as a protective blanket of white Mother Nature lovingly crafted with icy precision, intended to protect the dormant ground beneath it until Spring emerged, reborn, bringing with it welcome warmth, along with a multitude of bright, inviting colors. A new beginning…
* * *
It had already been snowing for several hours when Kevin Wilson yawned, scratched his head, sat up in bed, and looked out his bedroom window, squinting against the blinding glare, an endless sheen, cold yet appealing, full of untapped potential; the backyard had been transformed into an immaculate, white landscape beyond compare. Downy, white flakes continued to fall, accumulating rapidly. He bounded out of bed and went into the living room. “Morning, Mom. Is school canceled?” Kevin crossed his fingers.
Bleary-eyed, his mother, Susan looked up from her MacBook Pro propped on the breakfast nook and yawned. “Yes, you can go back to sleep if you want to, Kevin. I really wish I could crawl back into bed and spend the day snuggled under the covers, safe and warm, binge-watching Netflix on my iPad, but I have work to do.”
She turned her attention back to her laptop, summoned by the never-ending ding of incoming emails. “Clients expect me to meet their deadlines, no matter what the weather…That’s what keeps food on the table and a roof over our heads since Dad died. Remember that.”
“I know, Mom. You remind me all the time, ‘I’ve got the weight of the world on my shoulders.’ I get it—work comes first. .” He sighed.
“That’s my boy.” She went over to the coffee pot for a much-needed refill, ruffling his spiky, brown hair along the way. “I know it’s not ideal, but that’s just the way things are. Thanks for understanding—it really means a lot.”
Kevin nodded eagerly. “But who can sleep when there’s snow on the ground?! Looks like four inches so far. Not great, but it’s a good start. I’d better get out there while the snow’s still perfect—it won’t stay that way forever.” Kevin's dark blue eyes glistened, cold and crisp, a stark contrast to the freshly fallen snow outside.
“You’re sixteen, aren’t you too old to play in the snow? Haven’t you got better things to do, like homework? You could straighten up your room for a change—it’s a total pigsty—there’s so many dirty clothes in there I can’t see the floor.”
“Aw, Mom I already finished my homework, and don’t you think my chores can wait until later? I don’t mean to be so sloppy. Look, I’ll clean my room later. Scout’s honor. Just let me go outside and be a kid in the snow while it’s still pure—it will be ruined when people start walking their dogs.”
Kevin’s mother glanced at her watch. “Deal. It’s only seven-thirty. At least eat something, so you’ll have plenty of energy for your snowy shenanigans…”
“ It’s the best time to go sledding, when everyone else is still asleep and I can have the snow all to myself.” Kevin winked, poured a glass of cold water straight from the tap and grabbed a banana from the counter, nearly overripe, its yellow peel marred by brown spots. And, making an effort, he put his dirty glass in the dishwasher and tossed the banana peel in the trash without being asked.
“You actually cleaned up after yourself for once!” Her voice softened. “Come in for lunch at noon. I’ll have your favorite, cream of tomato soup and a grilled cheese on sourdough waiting.”
He grabbed his jacket, hat and gloves from the hooks hanging on the living room way on his way out the front door. “That sounds great, Mom. I’ll probably be ravenous by then. Don’t work too hard. Try to do something fun.”
“Easier said than done. I’m on a tight deadline. Time is money,” his mother muttered, hunched over her laptop, feverishly updating a client website. “Don’t eat any yellow snow.”
Susan looked up from her screen and realized she was talking to herself.
Kevin went around to the side of the house, opened the heavy garage door, which wobbled and squeaked on its tracks—I really need to fix that for Mom with some WD-40 later—and struggled to retrieve his rickety Flexible Flyer from the corner crammed grappling with an unruly heap of gardening equipment: rakes, shovels, gardening hoes, a broken lawn mower, a bright red snow blower, and two half-empty plastic jugs of gasoline; everything came tumbling down with a spectacular clatter, luckily nothing broke, a veritable deathtrap, despite his efforts to keep things organized. Messes seemed to follow him everywhere, unavoidable, like his shadow. Stepping carefully over the carnage, he walked up the driveway, pulling the sled behind him, it bounced across the snow beneath his feet, and down to the end of his block, with a spring in his step, whistling “Let it Snow” as he went.
Out the window Mrs. Wilson saw her son bundled up in a light blue, down jacket, well-worn jeans with holes at the knees, a matching hat, gloves, and Moon Boots. She watched him trudge through the snowy backyard—getting smaller and smaller—until he seemed to fade away, dwindling down to a microscopic spec, an unwelcome blemish on an otherwise pristine landscape.
* * *
The whipping, winter wind smacked Kevin in the face like an invisible punch from a formidable, illusive opponent. Stunned, he shook his head, squinted to protect his eyes from the punishing, near white-out conditions, blinked, and surveyed his sparse surroundings: cars parked in driveways, cloaked in white; tiny paw-prints from a cat or a small dog on the snow-covered road sullying hallowed ground; morning papers wrapped in red plastic by a dutiful paperboy, so they wouldn’t be overlooked later by groggy customers hastily clearing the snow with shovels or snow blowers on their way to work; everything looked new shrouded in white. Kevin still had the solitary snowscape to himself, and it beckoned with dire urgency, as if sensing its fleeting existence. He marveled at the sheer beauty of it all. He brushed large, heavy flakes from his face for a clear boy’s-eye view.
The neighbors were just starting their day—taking advantage of the storm to have a leisurely breakfast with their better half and kids—before braving the elements to earn their keep. The lights on in surrounding homes made that obvious—and that was fine with him. Kevin inhaled the crisp air as snowflakes tickled his nose. Snow fell silently around him, accumulating quickly, like sand through an hourglass. He felt like a boy caught in a snow globe—alone but not lonely—free to explore the treacherous terrain at his own perilous pace. There were no clear boundaries, a regular free-for-all. He bounced on the balls of his feet, excited as a little boy on Christmas morning greeted by the stunning sight of all the Christmas presents nestled under the tree, his for the taking.
The snow crunched under foot like broken glass; it gave way easily, a silent sudden collapse that caught him off guard, he lost his balance for a moment, but managed to get a firm foothold on the solid ground underneath. He walked over to a chain link fence that surrounded Sunken Meadow State Park. A white metal sign bolted to the fence will dark green lettering proclaimed: Welcome to Sunken Meadow State Park. Hours of operation: 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM. A huge padlock secured the front gate—that’s what he got for being an early riser. Out of the corner of his eye he spied a crude opening further down in the fence.
Kevin loved a challenge. He shoved the sled in first and made his way through the haphazard hole, made by a stray dog or raccoon, no doubt.
Slightly startled by the ordeal yet still fearless, he paused at the top of a steep hill and surveyed the rugged terrain, plotting the best route. He had the hill all to himself. Nothing could be finer.
Barren, crooked branches rattled like bones in the whipping winter wind overhead.
Kevin hoisted the sled upright and tested the steering mechanism; it was a little rusty, herky-jerky at best, not as flexible as it used to be; he hoped it would do the trick. He hopped on, grabbed the piece of wood in front that resembled the wing of the Wright Brothers’ plane, and leaned forward. The Flexible Flyer flew downhill at its usual brisk pace, giving him a taste of the wind as he watched the desolate nature preserve speed by in one big blur. The snowbank at the bottom that stopped the sled and broke his fall was the only part of the ride Kevin saw clearly. The rusty blades sliced through the snow, leaving a crude, maroon trail in their wake, an indelible mark. Tainted tracks that blazed a trail to the mischievous, meddling boy making a mountain out of a molehill. The wind howled in protest. Sleet pelted his rosy cheeks. Kevin yelped in pain and wiped his face with the back of a gloved hand to stop the burning sensation, but he refused to heed Mother Nature’s harsh warning. That’s when his face began to sting and then become numb.
Slightly bruised, he got up and dusted himself off before pulling the Flexible Flyer by the double-knotted string tied to both ends of the steering mechanism for the treacherous trek uphill. He paused halfway to catch his breath. He stared at the trademark tracks in the snow and grinned, not realizing that he destroyed what Mother Nature worked hard to protect.
Kevin continued his journey to the top—King of the Mountain—paused to kick a pile of snow that seemed to be piling up faster than the rest. Curious, he bent down for a closer look and noticed a snowball the size of a quarter on the ground. The boy stomped on it without giving it much thought.
He set his Flexible Flyer on the ground and sped towards the snowbank, like an arrow locked on a target. Afterward, Kevin picked up his sled, brushed the snow off his jeans, and headed uphill again. He paused at the top to examine the spot where he had squashed the snowball. The snowball was now as big as a baseball on the rebound. Kevin blinked, shook his head, and saw that it had vanished. Poof! He shrugged it off.
Kevin hopped on the sled again and sped down the hill at record speed; he hit the bank hard. It took him a couple of minutes to get his bearings…When Kevin looked down, astounded, he saw a snowball as big as a basketball in front of him. Watching. Waiting. He blinked, and it disappeared.
Why do I keep seeing a snowball? He scratched his head, confused but not the least bit concerned. My mind must be playing tricks on me…
Determined to ignore the rematerializing snowball, Kevin re-packed the snowbank so he wouldn’t crash smack-dab into the unforgiving metal fence beyond.
Mother Nature’s initial warning clearly wasn’t forceful enough: Kevin looked up and noticed that the white sphere he was trying so hard to ignore had somehow grown again, like a beach ball being inflated by an unseen pump and was now the size of a small child. Kevin pulled off a glove and touched it tentatively. The snowball felt very wet, with the slightly sticky texture of cholate chip cookie dough; tasted exactly like the Sno Cones he’d had at the Fireman’s Fair last July, without the fruit flavoring, light, fluffy, refreshing. His curiosity satisfied, Kevin wiped his wet fingers on his jacket and shoved his gloves back on.
He looked at the sky and saw that the snow had turned into rain. Damn! This means I'll have to stop soon! I can still get a few runs in if I hurry! Kevin sped through the rapidly evolving mess of snow and slush as fast as his Flexible Flyer would allow, which wasn’t very fast at all; the sled came to a screeching halt before he hit the snowbank. He felt cheated. Kevin looked up five minutes later and saw snow falling. Awesome! Maybe the rain that fell will freeze so the hill will be twice as fast! Ice is nice!
Kevin trudged uphill, testing the snow as he went. He almost slipped on a patch of fresh ice at the top, but he caught himself at the last second.
He set his Flexible Flyer down, got on, and prepared for another run. Kevin paused to check behind him. The snowball had returned; now it was the size of a Honda.
Mother Nature was seething: She sent a snowball after him. It knocked him off his Flexible Flyer. He hit the ground, hard. When he came to, Kevin was aware of three things: His neck was soaked, ; it was after him. The snowball was after him though he had no idea why; and he wouldn’t be able to go too far without being threatened by it.
Kevin decided to tackle the hill one last time.
Mother Nature refused to let this unruly boy inflict anymore damage. Enough was enough. When he checked behind him for a snowball, he was not disappointed; now, the sphere had grown to the size of a house. It seemed to be glaring at him. He screamed, jumped on the sled, and flew down the hill at breakneck speed. The snowball gave chase, rapidly gaining momentum, gathering snow and jagged ice shards along the way. Seconds later, Kevin's muffled scream came from the confines of the great white sphere consumed by the blinding glare—an endless sheen—frozen in time, but no one was around to hear it.