Oops, Forgot the Prologue

Read this first, then go back to the beginning.


“God, Dad can be such an asshole!” Ian Bacwell grumbled into his helmet. He took his frustration out on the machine, gunning the snowmobile through the rough, family trail. It almost bogged out on a turn that was harboring a gully of deep snow. But Ian compensated quickly. His sled gutted the gully, sending a spray of ice crystals that obscured his headlights for a moment before he broke through the cloud and left the scrubby tree line to hit the open landscape of the pasture.

The open expanse would have been more impressive, but it was pitch black out. In January it wasn’t the time of day that dictated the beginning of the night, rather the tilt of the earth above the 45th parallel. It got dark before supper time. So it was perfectly acceptable for a young man to be driving his sled to his friend’s house to work on a school project, or more importantly, let off some steam.

Ian knew this pasture well… too well. He remembered his father foolishly thinking years ago how this land would make a useful crop field for hay, maybe oats. So the man had set to work plowing up the rough, raw ground only to be thwarted by all the stubborn aggregate the last glacier had left behind. Not to be outwitted by something as frivolous as geology, Ian’s dad used manual labor to deal with the problem, namely Ian and his brothers and sisters.

“Now that you’re not haying anymore,” his father had reasoned, “you can get this field picked clean in a season. I can sow clover in August.”

That spring the Bacwell children had silently rejoiced when their father and uncles had gone in together to buy a round bailer. Round bales were moved with machines, not men. There would be no more taking turns at the front of the hay wagon, waiting to catch the forty pound squares that shot out. No more gritting your teeth as bale twine dug into your fingers, encouraging you to stack the bale as soon as possible.

Instead, his father had replaced one chore with another. Picking rocks required them to be constantly bent over turned ground, gouging at the dirt with their hands, kicking with their feet, whatever it took. Then the glacial sediment was tossed into the recycled hay wagon to be hauled to a discrete corner of the field to sit for another millennium.

It was too dark for Ian to locate the rock pile from his present position. The headlights of his sled cut white stripes through the darkness onto the shallow snow drifts in front of him. The contrast of black and gray on the horizon vaguely revealed when he would approach the next tree line that separated the pastures.

The recollection of the summer of rock picking, only to be told, “Great Uncle Marvin’s retiring, so we can just use his hay field,” spurned Ian to give his sled more gas. He could feel the blades hitting the wind-driven drifts and bucking somewhat in response, sometimes even taking air. He didn’t care.

It was just so typical of his father. The man’s agenda was always more important than what anyone else in the family might want or need.

“It was just one time!” he yelled into his helmet again, recalling the fight he had with his dad right before he left the house. He missed one evening milking to watch his friend play basketball in regionals, and his father wouldn’t let him forget it. “You earn your keep,” was always the go-to with the old man, usually followed by some systematic confiscation of something valuable to Ian. This time it was his phone, the one he’d paid for by spending the previous year working a part-time job on top of his farm chores.

As far as Ian was concerned, that made it HIS phone. Fortunately, he managed to convince his mother that he needed it for this school project. His dad was not happy about his mom giving in, but Dad knew better than to argue with Mom. Dad was so mad that he didn’t even tell Ian goodbye. He just stormed back out to the barn.

So, here Ian was, the only place he felt truly free lately from the world’s responsibilities. He daydreamed about what it would be like to just keep going, skip his friend’s house and ride out the trails until there weren’t any. Would he end up at the border with Minnesota? Maybe he could find a bar and sell his sled for enough money to travel to the Cities. His sister lived there now. He could always sleep on her couch and get his diploma online. He could work construction.

Whether it was the daydreaming or the sheer confidence Ian had in this pasture’s terrain, he hadn’t been paying attention. He would later admit to seeing the large drift in front of him and looking forward to busting through it like that gully he’d left back in the previous tree line.

But the drift didn’t give. It didn’t burst into a cloudy mass of icy snow crystals. What it did do was stop Ian’s snowmobile in an instant.

Before Ian could register the passage of time, he found himself lying on the hard ground, looking up at the darkness of the inside of his helmet.

The rush of cold air passed over his bare hand and up the small gap in his sleeve. It forced him out of his stupor. He became aware of his limbs, and his first thought was, Shit! Am I paralyzed?! He moved his arms instinctively in response, and the arm that still had a glove seared with burning pain.

Ian sucked in a breath through his teeth. He used the cold arm to brace himself and carefully tried to sit up. He was able to do so with surprising ease. Encouraged, Ian pulled his legs up slowly until his knees were elevated. One boot scraped oddly. He bent forward and felt with his cold hand. The boot was twisted at a weird angle. Ian began to pant again with panic until he realized the boot had slipped partway off of his foot from the fall. He yanked it back on.

Slowly he drew himself up on his knees. Ian flipped up his helmet visor and proceeded to take stock. Considering, Ian knew he was lucky he had only hurt his arm. That didn’t make him any less angry, though. He got up, holding the bum arm to his chest and walked the ten paces back to his busted sled.

The sled was dead. Ian guessed the crash had caused the fail-safe to kill the engine. The impact probably knocked the connections off the battery too.

It was really dark now. Clouds had lain low all day and into the night. There were no heavens to behold, only empty black silence.

“See, this is why you need a phone, DAD!” Ian yelled into the darkness. He unzipped the inside of his suit and fished around. It was a struggle. His hurt arm smarted with all the commotion, but he finally was able to retrieve his phone. He left his cold hand inside his suit for a bit, letting it warm back up.

Understanding the irony of fighting to keep his phone only to drop it on the frozen ground, Ian gingerly cradled the phone in his palm while he used his thumb to power it on.

The light was comforting. The phone screen displayed a with a picture of Ian’s buddies doing a goofy pose. He smiled for a moment before he switched on his flashlight app. He turned the phone around to examine the damage. He figured he might be able to kick off whatever his blades hit. He knew it wasn’t a boulder. Perhaps a tree chunk had been blown in from one of the storms? Way out here? Unlikely.

Again, upon later reflection, Ian didn’t remember screaming, dropping his phone, or running then tripping several yards away. The pain in his arm brought him back to reality. He sat on his butt, holding the sore arm and staring back at the phone. It was upside down, but the app was still on, so the light was spilling out from its plastic edges. The light seemed so bright in the utter darkness. Even from this distance, he could see the face, the pale white forehead, the bridge of a nose, the sprig of graying hair.

Ian no longer wanted freedom. Now he wanted security. He wanted comfort. Ian was sitting in the middle of a frozen pasture in the dead of winter with a dead guy, and he was scared shitless.

At least, I think he’s dead. Oh, Christ! What if he’s not dead? For a few frantic moments, Ian’s debilitating fear did battle with his conscience. His conscience got reinforcements from common sense and won out. It was just too damn cold and dark to walk back home. If nothing else, Ian would at least have to retrieve his phone.

He got to his feet, but he felt like he was in slow motion. Step by tentative step, he approached the terrible scene. The person wasn’t moving, as far as he could tell. “Hey, you all right?” Ian spoke, but he felt like the cold night air sucked all the volume out of his request. He detected no response.

Oh God, I’m gonna have to touch him.  Ian shakily went down on a knee. He could hear his breathing increasing. Soon the vacuum of the night was replaced with the beating of his heart. With his bare hand, he reached out. It was shaking. His trembling pinky glanced the forehead. Even with the cold of the environment affecting his hand, he knew this person was much much colder. This person was frozen solid. This person was no longer a person. This was a meat popsicle

The situation was becoming overwhelming. Ian knew that was the case when he began to cry. So, he picked up his phone, grateful it wasn’t broken, and called the only person who could make it all better. His voice cracked when the line picked up.


Comments are closed.