Saturday, August 22, 2009

Year's Long Night, III

Hannah’s boots found purchase against a ridge of ice on the porch, and she finally scrambled to her feet. She reached down and pulled at Jack’s arm, trying to haul him to his feet as well. But Jack kept slipping, and he pushed his sister away, towards the door as he landed hard on his tailbone.

The ice beneath him gave a sharp ‘crack’ with the impact, and Jack’s teeth rattled. He blinked back tears, and felt them turn to streaks of cold against his cheeks.

The trees tossed and lashed, and another flurry of ice swept through the yard. Jack pushed at the icy porch with tingling feet, scrambling backwards. He felt hands on the back of his jacket, under his arms, and suddenly he was being hoisted back into the house.

The wind howled straight up the porch steps, and Hanna’s eyes widened as she saw the ice slivers swirling towards the open doorway. She shut her eyes, flinching aside as she slammed the front door.

They lay there, panting, for several minutes.

“Up, Jack,” Beth said, helping him to his feet, struggling to work his jacket off. He was shivering.

“We need to get him out of those wet clothes,” Hannah said. “Beth, go find him something warm and dry.”

The girl turned, and padded silently up the stairs.

“Foot up, Jack,” Hannah said, and she started peeling his sodden socks off. “Stupid thing to do, going out there with no boots.”

“Well, if somebody hadn’t tripped her way up the steps, I wouldn’t have had to,” Jack stuttered, through his chattering teeth.

“I didn’t trip! It was like… something grabbed my foot, and then that wind — No, don’t rub them!” Hannah swatted Jack’s hands away from his feet.

Beth returned with a bundle of clothes. Jack took them from her, and limped into the bathroom.

“Sorry,” she said, sitting down next to Hannah.

“What? You didn’t do anything. Smartest one here, staying inside instead of going out in that.” She waved her hand at the door.

“But the… that thing out there, the cold. The ice, and wind. It’s here for me.”

Hannah turned back to the girl. “Beth. Don’t be silly. Weather does not come after people. It just… happens. This is just some weird cold front. Just you watch, it’ll be on the news.” She looked up, around at the living room. “Whenever the power comes back on, that is.”

Beth got up, and went to the kitchen, filling the teakettle and carefully lighting the burner beneath it.

Hannah scowled, then reached into the fridge and took out the carton of milk. She took the kettle off the burner, and replaced it with a saucepan. She emptied the milk into it.

Beth glanced at the pan, and then at the box of tea in her hands.

“Too much caffiiene,” Hannah said, taking the box and putting it back on the shelf. She took down the tin of cocoa. “I’ll make you a deal: You don’t tell mom and dad there was drinking at that party, and I won’t tell them you’re having more hot chocolate.”

“You don’t… sound very drunk any more,” Beth said.

“Funny, what scary things in the dark will do to kill a buzz.”

“If I was at a party, Jack would probably walk me to the door, instead of letting me make it all the way up a snowy driveway in the dark.”

“That’s why I’m not going to any more parties with that guy,” Hannah said. “Good riddance.”

“You need to turn it down a little, or it’ll scald,” Beth said, reaching over and adjusting the flame.

Hannah continued to stir.

“You’re lucky, you know,” Hannah said. “To have found a guy like Jack.”

“No,” Beth said. “It wasn’t luck.”

Hannah glanced over at the girl.

She was staring at the candle, still burning in the windowsill.

“It was fate.”

Hannah stopped stirring. “If anybody else in the whole world said that, it would have sounded corny. Charlotte would be laughing right about now.”

Beth frowned. “Why would she do that? It’s not a joke.”

“You… were serious about that?”

“About Jack? Yes. Always.”

“What about me?”

Jack huddled in the doorway, his teeth no longer chattering, but still shivering.

“You,” Hannah said, “need to go get warm. Walk around the table a few times.”

Jack scowled. “My feet hurt. How many times?”

“Until I tell you to stop. Can you feel all your toes?”

“Yes, and they all hurt.”

“Good. Get moving.”

Grumbling, Jack turned and started limping slowly around the table, leaning on the chairs.

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Beth asked, stirring one of the mugs that Hannah had filled with steaming milk.

“Feeling in his feet means the cold didn’t get any deeper than the surface skin. He needs to keep moving to generate heat. That’s his biggest problem right now. Your hot chocolate will help, too.”

“But if his feet are hurt, and he’s walking on them…”

Hannah sipped at her hot chocolate.

“Well, you could always find a way to generate some heat with him off his feet.”

Beth blushed, and turned to stare intently at the candle again.

No comments: