As you may recall, when the first part of this tale ended, the author lay sprawled spread-eagle on the icy brink of disaster. A wrong move—any movement at all—seemed destined to be his last.
I dare not move for fear of taking the same path I’d already seen my briefcase travel some minutes earlier. As I hit the ice, my bags flew out of my hands. I had watched helplessly as my satchel slalomed down past the fruit trees, bounced over the moguls in the yard, swooshed past the garden fence and ski-jumped over the lip of the stone wall, airborne into the dark ice-encased forest and out of sight. I didn’t want to go there. Oh Lord, make me a bird, so I can fly far; far, far away.
But I dare not just lay there. It had started to rain again. The longer I was still, the wetter I became. My body heat drained away and the internal gears were grinding slower, weaker every moment. All at once, from want of food, from the delusions that come from a chilling brain and from the sheer absurdity of it all, I began to laugh out loud. Surely soon I would wake up from this preposterous winter dream. But no. The quakes of laughter were all it took to break what little traction my wet body held against the lubricated ledge, and I began my spinning, spread-eagle slide down the rest of the slippery slope. A sorry tangle of arms and legs came to rest just short of the rock wall ski jump. I was, at least, spared the agony of that particular defeat.
At the edge of the woods beyond the garden where I came to rest, there were trees to clutch. I managed to grab a small ice-coated trunk and pull myself unsteadily to my knees. The silhouette of the cabin roof was barely visible against a foreboding, gray-pink sky. I winched my way tree to tree over the ice, back up through the woods and onto the road, exhausted and drenched with sweat even in the frigid cold. At last, I reached the cabin, but my heart sank: the steps had become impassable—an eight-tiered waterfall of ice.
My mental and physical resources were exhausted and there was no humor left. My first impulse was to shake my fist angrily at the heavens. My second thought was to simply sit right down in the ice at the foot of the steps to see if it was true that freezing to death was actually not so bad once you became numb all over and your metabolism reached the point where thought and pain were merely faint shadows. A brilliant white tunnel of light would point to a place warm and safe, with hot vegetable soup waiting in a golden bowl.
In a last twilight of consciousness before total indifference consented to defeat, I was able to reach an old shovel under the steps. I busted through the ice enough to expose enough wood to give a little traction. At the top of the steps, my numb fingers fumbled in the dark with the key in the door lock. It occurred to me in my growing stupor that maybe I was even at the wrong house. The world had obviously been under a New Order for the last few hours, possibly under control of the White Witch of Narnia. I wouldn’t know for sure until I got inside this door.
The lock turned in slow motion and the cabin door opened. I entered a dark womb of relative warmth, and began to reinhabit my former limbs digit by digit. About that time, the phone rang. It was Ann in Carolina. She asked casually what I was up to.
“Oh, I had a little trouble getting home today” I slurred. “Listen: how ’bout if I call you back after I’ve had me a little soup? I can’t tell you how badly I need a hot meal.” If I had, she wouldn’t have believed me.
I kindled the fire in the stove and soon it cast warm flickering light into the cold shadows. With the cat in my lap, I ate my soup cupped in my hands in my favorite bowl. The last thing I remember is crawling under the covers alone, slipping down, down peacefully into a long dreamless winter sleep.By Fred First [email protected]