THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
A heavy blanket of snow illuminated the night while cold flakes pecked at her chapped cheeks. As she took another deep breath, her ears winced at the broken silence. Shivering continuously now, she trudged through the drifts, avoiding obscure stumps and black, low-hanging branches. The item she dragged behind her left a noticeable trail but she knew it would be deeply buried by the storm come morning…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
It was getting harder to walk. The wind was a bully, shoving her backwards. The snow, a white whirlwind of a magician, tried to trick her. The mesh bag grew heavier as she dragged it across the hummocks. Her goal was just ahead. Alyssa didn’t have to see it to know that the dying tree was there. She glanced behind her and saw the trail of red; sparkling, in the moon light. She knew it would be covered over by morning. A part of her wanted a few sprinkles to remain, but that wasn’t part of “The Plan.” She had to stick to the rules. She had given her word. She had to keep it. A memory tugged at her, but she tucked it away.
She closed her eyes…step…pull…step…pull…step—
So cold. So tired. So sleepy.
“It’s okay. Let go. Just for a minute.” Fatigue whispered.
She obeyed. The heavy bag dropped. She followed, pillowing her head on it.
She felt herself drifting in that half-awake, half-asleep state.
A scream pierced the air.
She bolted upright. Within seconds her mother’s instinct kicked in, leaving her wide awake and terrified.
She ripped the heavy ski mask off, cupped her hands to her mouth, and screamed back.
“Scotty!” She listened.
The wind wailed.
Her son’s voice was silent.
She waited, hands cupping her ears, straining to hear. If only the wind would calm down.
And then, it did. Suddenly, the world around her was eerily silent. The kind of silence that only comes in winter, when the blanket of snow muffles earthly sounds.
She pursed her lips, released what her son called her “mile high” whistle. It was their security signal. A pre-arranged trilogy of notes. She whistled, he responded with his own trilogy. No matter what. She had taught him the same way parents on the mainland might teach their children a password to protect them from stranger danger.
She turned in a circle, paused, and then turned again.
“Reality check.” She whispered. “It wasn’t Scotty.”
She slipped the ski mask over her face, tucked her fingers into her mittens, and then bent down to pick up the rope. The burden was heavier than ever. She stared ahead. Her goal was in sight. She forced herself to quick-step the rest of the way.
Her destination was their used Christmas tree, “planted” in the ice that covered Lake Michigan between Mackinac Island and St. Ignace. It was one of many trees that functioned as markers along the ice bridge.
Upon hearing about it, the first question most people asked was, “Do you have a death wish?”
It was a valid concern. People had died out here. The ice bridge, like life, held surprises but no guarantees.
Today, the ice was solid underfoot. There were no cracks, no slushy areas, and no holes. The Christmas tree stump was dark, the limbs turning brown. Like all living things, it was dying. Memories flooded her mind.
“Mommy, what is Make-a-Wish?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“At the hospital. Some of the other kids were talking about it.”
Her little boy—one of the kids—a terminally ill eight year old, who would never see his ninth birthday.
“Make-a-Wish is a special group that helps give terminally ill children a last wish.”
“Children like me, right?” His chocolate brown eyes were wide and serious. She brushed her hand over the stubble of blond hair that remained.
“Yes. Is there something you want?”
He told her his wish and together they set up “The Plan.”
Kneeling by the tree she began to fulfill her son’s last wish. The mesh bag had been filled with three items: the first, a mixture of white sand, mixed with red Christmas sugar. It was this combination that had left a trail behind in the snow.
“Not too much sugar, Mommy. We don’t want fat fish.” His eyes sparkled with the idea of fat fish and she could only laugh with him.
“Right. No fat fish.”
Next, a heavy Ziploc bag. She opened it, and scattered the contents under the tree, as instructed.
“I want to be a like a present, under the tree, not a memory buried in the ground.”
She reached into the bag for the final item—a bottle of bubbles.
“No balloons, Mommy. We don’t want to hurt the birds or other animals that might find them.”
She blew bubbles into the cold air. They froze and hovered, then settled on the snow.
It was time for the last rule; the hardest.
Tears built up; a huge iceberg lodged in her throat. She stood up, tucked the empty mesh bag in her pocket.
One last thing to do.
She blew a kiss into the air. “Good-bye baby boy. Mommy loves you.”
A whisper of wind caressed her cheek—a butterfly kiss?