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The Blizzard

I wrote a post [link] about a conversation that lead to my demonstrating “how to write a short story” — this is the story I wrote. I only spent an hour on it, and it was written in-front of a group of people (I projected my computer screen up on a large screen for everyone to see) — read the post to see the particulars.

William turned his mind to the cold drifting snow outside his window. He had no way of knowing how long he had been dreaming, but had been roused by a pop from the fireplace and reminded of the pressing cold without. The sun had long since set, and the dark window returned his reflection, touched occasionally by a single lighted snow­flake.

After marking his place in the hard-backed book on his lap, he carefully set it on the floor at his feet. Another log fell and sent a spray of firefly sparks against the screen. One of the more recently added logs started to whistle and hum as steam forced a path from the heart of the newly charred wood. He stood and poked the fire with one of the ancient fire irons he had found in the barn loft while exploring just after buying the house. For a moment he forgot everything else and simply enjoyed the lazy warmth of the fire.

Wondering again how much snow was falling outside, he walked to the window and pressed the switch for the outside lights. Floodlights illuminated the world with a ghostly blue radiance, revealing drifts of white blowing against the house and onto the porch. He watched the silent piling of snow from the heavens and tried as he had before, to estimate how rapidly it was falling. He thought he saw a flash of light as though a car had driven past, but realized it could only be his imagination because the radio announcer had made a final report before the station had switched off its transmitters that all roads were impassable and could not possible be cleared at all until the storm had passed. He turned abruptly away from the window and switched off the lights. He closed the thick drapes before walking away, partly so as to better to keep in the warmth of the fire, but also to block out the pressing, crushing, incessant storm as much as possible. He turned to the kitchen and contemplated a warm cup of tea, but decided to regress to his childhood and have a cup of hot cocoa. The light had been left on in the kitchen along with the rest of the ground floor lights; the cheerful illumination providing a psychological protection against the bitter-cold darkness surrounding the house.

He poured out a cup of milk and put it onto the stove to warm. Unable to remember where he had last seen a can of cocoa powder, William rummaged through various cupboards. A muffled rumble started to shake the house as the furnace fired up and hot water gurgled through the heating pipes. William finally found an old can of cocoa on one of the bottom shelves of his old-fashioned pantry. It was the same brand that his mother had always used. The can brought back memories of being young and coming in on cold winter days with wool mittens soaked through and ice-crystals melting from eyelashes. He took a teaspoon from the drawer and dropped a heaping spoonful into the pan and then as he was closing the tin remembered to add just a little bit more. Instead of returning the cocoa to the shelf it had been on, he put it on top of his wood stove where he could see it. He returned to the stove, gave the warming cocoa a stir, and then crossed the kitchen to sit at the table. There were a few scattered papers on the surface of the table and one or two on the floor, which he retrieved. The first paper he picked up was one of the many rejection slips he had been going through over the last few days for no particular reason. He carelessly piled them in one corner of the table, but then pulled it back to himself and started aimlessly sorting through them again while waiting for the milk to heat. Some were quite old, but he was surprised to be reminded that some were fairly recent. His had been a quick rise to fame — a stroke of luck and a lot of hype had been his career’s catalyst.

He was still contemplating the piece of paper when he heard what sounded like a light knock at the door. He ignored it and got up to check the cocoa. The knocking sound came again, and this time it lasted longer. Telling himself that it was hail or the power lines vibrating in the wind, he turned the outside light back on and opened the door — just to see if the snow had in fact turned somehow to hail. Before he had pulled the door entirely open, it was pushed from his hands and a small person rushed past into the room. William’s first impulse was to yell in surprise, but something kept him silent, and after slamming the door against the wind, he turned to see who the unfortunate was who had been out in the snow. His first impression of a small person was only partly true, as it was a young boy, and not the small adult he had first perceived. The boy was wrapped in many layers of winter clothing, which showed dedication on the part of the person who had bundled him. In his mind’s eye, William pictured the boy’s mother carefully wrapping coats and scarves around the child, patiently avoiding his struggling arms and legs.

The boy was standing in the middle of kitchen floor without moving anything but his eyes, with which he was inspecting William very carefully. The two stood staring at each other for several minutes until the boy seemed satisfied by what he saw and started to turn away towards the table. The child’s movement unfroze William, who then asked the perhaps slightly overdue question: “What is your name?” The boy did not bother to turn, and while still facing the table, replied, “William”. Before the strangeness of this could sink in, William exclaimed, “Why that’s my name as well. “Oh” stated the boy, seemingly without interest. William, seeing no threat in the child, turned back to the door and slid the bolt across to secure it, as the latch had the tendency to give way under heavy winds. Turning back, he found the boy seated quietly at the table with his coat hanging over the back of the chair. William remembered the cocoa on the stove and turned the burner off. While reaching for the mug he happened to notice the boy watching him with wide eyes, “Would you like some cocoa?” William asked slightly guiltily at his apparent neglect of his guest. “Yes please”, replied the boy gravely. Remembering something from his past, William added, “Do you like marshmallow?” The boy nodded and settled himself more firmly in his chair as though he were readying himself for a long wait.

William had no trouble finding marshmallows — they were one of the comfort foods he liked to keep handy for midnight snacks. He carefully cleared the table and set the mug of frothy cocoa in front of the boy along with a pyramid of marshmallows on a saucer the way he remembered his mother had arranged them. He then handed the child the all-important spoon, by which the marshmallows could be lowered into the chocolate and slurped most delightfully. The kitchen was filled with a feeling of contentment, and William watched with satisfaction as the boy spooned the chocolaty mix into his mouth.

The fire in the other room fell, and William went to put another log on. He was glad that he had spent so much time that year bringing in wood, for now he had no fears of running out. After adjusting the new log, William reset the fire grate, checked in the kitchen to make sure that the boy was still happy, and headed up the stairs turning on lights as he went.

When looking to make a purchase, William had not intended to buy a particularly old house, but had fallen in love with this one’s similarity to his childhood home. After buying the house, William had made several slight alterations to make the structure even more like the house of his past. The drive to do this was largely unconscious, but quite clearly present. The most exciting part of his first home had been its attic. William’s bedroom had contained a closet with a door at the back that led to a flight of stairs to the attic, and while this door had been kept locked, no lock can stop fear and intrigue. At night there had been monsters behind the door, and on long rainy afternoons there had been a magical land hidden somewhere, and accessible if the key could be found. It had probably been the attic that had finally made up William’s mind to buy the house, for it had almost exactly the same little stairway to the attic, hidden in a closet. It was up these stairs that William climbed after leaving the boy with his drink in the kitchen.

The lights flickered on slowly as they were florescent, and in their dim unnatural glow, William saw the box he had come to retrieve. He brushed his hand across the top to reveal the label through the dust, and then carefully carried it down the stairs, holding it close to him — almost as though it were a small child.

William set the box on the hearth a safe distance from the fire and returned to the kitchen to find the boy just pulling off his down coat. William pulled a clothes rack from the linen cupboard and placed it in front of the wood stove, which had a small fire burning. While the boy was taking of the rest of his winter outerwear, William put the empty cup in the sink and filled it with cold water to keep the remaining chocolate from hardening onto the sides of the mug. He paused for a moment, and then helped the boy hang the rest of his coats and mittens up.

The boy seemed to be waiting for something, and he watched William closely in an expectant silence. They stood and watching each other again the way they had when they had first met. Suddenly William realised that there were many more questions to ask. “Where are you from?” The boy didn’t answer. “How did you get here?” he asked while trying hard to sound friendly, but there was still no answer from the boy. William tried again to get information, feeling a mounting sense of urgency that confused him, as he had not felt it at all earlier. “Who are your parents?” The boy still didn’t answer.

William realized that he hadn’t thought to look outside after the boy had come in, and was gripped by the sudden feeling that the answers to his questions lay in the snow. He pulled aside the drape and switched on another set of outside lights. The snow had been falling hard since the last time he had looked out. It now covered all five of the steps, and the road was invisible, even though it was only fifty feet from the window. He whished that he could somehow stop the falling snow for just a moment so as to be able to see past the thick flakes. Quite suddenly he felt a presence at his side, and looked down to find the boy standing silently staring out the window with a smile on his face. Feeling the older man’s gaze on him, the boy looked up and spoke for the first time without initiation: “It just keeps falling.” The man nodded silently. “It’s very beautiful” said the boy turning back to the window. The man agreed and turned back as well. “But it hides things” remarked the boy after a pause “What?” asked the man turning back to the boy. The boy looked back up at him and said, “It’s just like time — it can even hide you from yourself.”

The fire popped and roused him from his dreams. He got up from his chair after carefully marking his place, and put another log on. He stood, watching the flames lick at the new fuel for a moment longer, and then went back to his book.

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5 Comments
  1. Very, very well done. The story, and the story of how the story came to be, make a great pair. Have you tried feeding it through http://iwl.me yet – you might be in for a nice surprise – very impressive.

    • I am delighted that you enjoyed the story and the post — I appreciate your kind words very much.
      Thanks for the link. I ran both the post and the story through, the post was marked as “Douglas Adams”, and the story was marked “Dan Brown”. I appreciate the former, but am not tickled about the later — I wouldn’t mind being as successful as either though… Maybe I’ll run something else through.

      • It made me wonder whether Dan Brown has knocked something together on an overhead projector in an hour!

    • Haha — sometimes it seems that way — I didn’t think much of his last book…

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  1. So You Want to Write a Short Story « People Watching Inc.

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