Winter Boot: Chapter 2
I shouldn’t have told Auntie.
“Your mother would bore me to tears with such nonsense. Don’t you mention it again.” She was so mad, I thought she would hit me. But she hasn’t done that in years. I’m a really good girl now. Except that I talk to animals. Who talk back.
Even if Auntie hates it, I promise myself I’ll look for Rabbit and Frog again today. If my Mother could do this, too, she’s given me a great gift.
When I bring scraps out this time, they’re waiting for me, Frog on Rabbit’s back on top of the frozen snow. I try to bring something that’s still warm but the toast crusts and stew veggies are nearly cold by the time I reach them.
“I saw someone who looked like you.” Frog said, leaning forward on Rabbit’s head. “Over in the lake.”
“IN the lake?”
“If you got time, kid, we’ll show you.” Rabbit flicks her ears to shake Frog off as she bites into some carrots.
I look back at the door, shut tight in front of the dogs. I can see them bounding in the window for me to come back. “Auntie is already mad at me because I can talk to you.”
“So let her be mad.” Frog smiles at me and it’s a little scary with no teeth. He’s right. Auntie is always mad.
The lake isn’t too far and Auntie went to bed hours ago. The dogs would never scratch at the door loud enough to wake her, the fires are all down, and all the food is put away. I’ve got on plenty of warm clothes so I won’t freeze and I know to be careful around the lake. It’s frozen real firm but I could still fall and break a bone. If I hurry, I could see this someone and be back before Auntie ever knew.
“Ok. But let’s go fast. I don’t want Auntie to catch me.”
Rabbit looks at me with one ear flopped down to her cheek. “You humans have names. What’s yours.”
Frog laughs so hard, he nearly falls into the snow. “Well those sure are important these days! Bet you’re just as important as they are!”
“You hush yourself and hold on tight.” Rabbit turns towards the front yard. “I hope you can run fast, kid.”
I keep up pretty good with two huge Huskies, so I point to the furry heads bounding in the window. “If I can follow them, I can follow you.”
Following a rabbit with a frog on her back is much harder than two high-strung dogs. Auntie’s dogs couldn’t hide in the snow if their lives depended on it, insisting on bounding though the drifts like they were wrecking balls. Fur and snow would fly everywhere, telegraphing where they are. Rabbit may be brown but she slips smoothly into the piles of snow and I can’t find where she’s gone till she pops back up again. It’s like a game of whack a mole. Only no whacking.
Just like the game, it’s fun to watch. Rabbit dives into the icy powder with an energetic puff and comes up with a burst of glittering flakes. Each time, I’m able to catch up a few steps. All those walks with the dogs prove to be good practice in keeping sure feet on the slippery snow.
The twisted, frost covered trees come into view first, frozen in stasis by a motionless river. The only life here is myself, a frog, and an impatient rabbit tapping on the riverbank. The fish either froze or escaped to warmer waters.
“Over here, Boot!” Frog calls to me, hopping off of Rabbit’s back and pointing down into the ice. When I reach him, I pick Frog up and cup him between my mittens to keep him warm. “He’s down there.”
“Ok.” I put Frog in my pocket where he’ll be safe and crawl to where he pointed. The ice is solid, not making a single creek, but I’m more worried about slipping on it than falling through it.
The snow sticks to my mittens as I brush the ice clean and I see the face of a man. His skin isn’t blue like you’d expect a frozen man to be. Even with the ice reflecting blue all around him, his face is bright and healthy under the motionless water. I expect him to blink up at me and tell me little girls shouldn’t play on the ice just like any other adult.
And he’s got my face. Just like Frog said.
Rabbit pads carefully to my side. “Boot, do you know this man?”
I squint like it could remove the layers of ice between me and him. It doesn’t bring him any closer or spark any recognition of him in my life. “No. How’d he get in there?”
“Marsalla might know. None of the animals can remember; even the ones who remember Summer.” Frog croaked from my pocket.
Rabbit’s ears fly up, her brown eyes wide and looking to the riverbank. “No time for Marsalla. You should get back home before your aunt notices you’re gone.”
“Yeah!” Frog leaps from my pocket and right onto Rabbit’s back. “We’ll lead you back so you don’t get lost. He’ll keep till tomorrow.”
I nod and crawl to land before I stand up. I feel colder now and run fast to warm myself up. All I can think of is how to get to this Marsalla without Auntie knowing about it.