Written by -M. Taggart
Short Story. Non Fiction.
A Winter Crust
It was cold. The snow was deep and had a crust covered top. If I wanted, I could stand on the top layer because I was small and light. I was eight years old. We stood on the side of the road, waiting for our school bus. I waited with my older brother. Sometimes, we’d stomp through the crust and make foot paths. Creating paths a few feet wide and ten feet in any direction was an activity we enjoyed. If we had time we’d make a path to the ravine.
The ravine was deep and very steep. In many places it was well over one hundred feet to the bottom where the brook was. We constantly played in the ravine during the spring, summer, and fall. The winter weather made it treacherous to reach the bottom.
I wore a winter coat, hat, gloves, and boots. My brother, Chris, wore nearly the same outfit. Our jeans were caked with snow. We’d be wet once we were on the bus and the snow melted. We didn’t mind. During spring melt, we’d crack through ice, and wade waist deep in an ice water gully which was located in a piece of farmland next to our house. We’d slosh around and wave at the people driving in cars when they slowed down to get a better look at us. We’d go home soaked and try to hide our clothes from our mother.
The bus wasn’t within ear shot yet. We’d stomped a foot path to the very edge of the ravine. “Do you think the bus will be here soon?” I asked.
“It will be here. It always is.” My brother replied. We were under strict orders to always get on the bus and to always go to school. Skipping school wasn’t an option.
I, standing in our self made foot path, wanted to get an even closer glimpse to look over edge. I stepped up and onto the crusty snow. I slid my boots carefully over the surface and peered down into our heaven. “I can’t wait until all of this melts and we can watch the spring run off come rushing through. The brook is huge then.”
“I know it! Remember when there was so much water that it was dangerous to be near because it was running too fast?”
“I remember,” I said while trying to look back at my older brother. I lost my footing and fell onto my side. I started to slide down the ravine. Feeling a flash of fear I reached out with both hands, desperately trying to grasp anything that I could. I picked up speed and found myself sliding on my stomach. I felt a small tree that had somehow peeked through the crusted snow and held on as tightly as I could with my right hand. Looking up the ravine’s banking at my brother, I croaked “I need some help.”
The small tree snapped in two. Once again sliding, and picking up speed, my body crashed into an oak tree which spun me around and I disappeared out of view. “Matt!” I heard Chris yelling after me. It was too late. I was on top of the crusted snow and sliding down the ever steepening banking. I continued to reach for trees, low hanging branches, vines, anything at all.
I felt my body life into the air, I had come to a large lip in the banking, just above the brook and slammed through the ice and into the water. For a moment I was completely submerged and could taste the cold brook water. Luckily, the water wasn’t over my head. I found my footing and stood. Chris was yelling something to me from up above. I was trying to shout back that I was OK and to wait for me. I wasn’t shivering but I was wet and cold. I now needed to get out of the brook and find a way back up the steep ravine wall. I needed to go to school.
I heard Chris yelling something from above and I could hear the school bus engine and the sound of the door opening. “Wait for me! Wait for me!” I was trying to stomp a foot hold in the snow.
The bus pulled away. Chris had done as he was told and gone to school. I was frustrated and angry and wet and alone. I kicked and punched into the snow to gain footholds and grip and after some time found myself again at the top of the ravine. I didn’t feel the cold. I didn’t care that I was wet. I knew I had to go into my house, pick up the phone, and dial the number that would lead to my undoing. I had to tell on myself to my mother.
To this day my brother and I have a running joke concerning his abandonment of his little brother. I’ll say something like, “Yea, just like the time you left me at the bottom of that ravine in the winter!” And he’ll counter while smirking, “I did what I was told. I got on that bus and I went to school.” Which is funny because Chris is very successful and works in education. This takes place in the mid 80’s and near the VT and NH line.