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They had gotten plenty of snow that year in Glausbury,

the small New Hampshire town where Paul had spent all the boyhood

years he could still remember, and the snowdrift he had chosen was

what they used to call “a doozy”. It was one of the dump sites that they

used for extra snow.


Too much snow on Willow Ave? Snow banks so high they're a

safety hazard? Don't you worry! We'll just send down Mr. Smith and

Mr. Jones, or whomever, with a bucket-loader and a dump-truck to

move some of that snow to the end of Plum Road, the dead-end around

the corner.


The result? Streets like Willow Ave were made safe while Plum

Road wound up with a huge mound of snow. It was snow fort Heaven

for a child.


The thing was, ten-year-old Paul had to sneak by old Mr.

Pratchett's place, last house on Plum Road before the snow storage lot.

Mr. Pratchett, of course, was a mean old man, and not a big fan of

children.


When they played in the lot in the summer Mr. Pratchett's

immaculate lawn was always out of bounds. Pratchett was said to have

eyes like a hawk, and he apparently had little to do but keep a close

watch on the neighborhood kids. Anything that landed on his property,

be it ball, bat, glove or cap, would trigger the old man's explosive

scramble across the grass to snatch the offending object, yell at them

vehemently, then take the item back into his house, never to be seen

again. "If it hits Pratchett's lawn, it's gone!" they used to say on those

summer days.


In the winter he was even worse. All the kids wanted to play in

that lot. Covered with snow mounds, some of them larger than the

houses the children lived in, it was the perfect terrain for snow wars and snow forts. Big ones. Mr. Pratchett would have none of it. As soon

as any enterprising children attempted to lay claim to a building site on

“snow mountain”, out he would come. Hooting and hollering, arms

waving, brown stubs of teeth bared in a fierce if crooked grin, he

would erupt from the house wearing a threadbare red and black flannel

coat with a matching hat jammed hurriedly on his head, ear flaps

bouncing as he ran stiffly down his driveway.


“You thaya!”


The old man's battle-cry: 'You there' in his heavy Maine accent.

The kids didn't know the accent was from just the next state over. To

Paul and the kids he grew up with it was a strange, foreign sound that

only made Mr. Pratchett all the more frightening.


“You thaya! You get outta thaya with your shovels! G'won, you go

play somewhere's else! You thaya, I see you! You can't hide from me!

You git to movin', and you do it right now!”


Terrified children would scatter in all directions, running with the

awkward, no-kneed lumber of the snow suited and bundled-up. They

strained for speed lest Pratchett, chasing behind with his own

stiff-legged gait, actually catch hold of them with his gnarled and

stick-like fingers.


It was like being attacked by a rabid scarecrow.


Young Paul, however, had a plan. He just waited until the old man

went off to the store on Saturday morning, and then he went in solo.

Quietly. No crowd, no crew, no muss, no fuss. He took a Paul-sized

plastic snow shovel his mother had bought for him at the A&P, a

wooden-handled trowel he had “borrowed” from his mother's

gardening shed, and a Sno Blok maker. Really just a cubical plastic

mold, the Blok maker didn't work very well since it was hard to get the

packed in snow to slide back out in a state of snowy brickiness, but he

always had hope.


With this construction equipment in his arms, he checked Mr.

Pratchett's driveway for the old man's wooden-sided station wagon and

found the way clear. Moving with as much alacrity as possible while

suited up for snow-play, he made his way to the back side of the

biggest mound, and started in.


The digging was a little easier than he had anticipated. The snow

was heavy and wet due to a couple of recent warm days, but a little softer than he had thought when he had planned this caper. He made

headway quickly for a kid working alone, cutting a rough tunnel shape

with the trowel to loosen up the snow, before switching to the shovel

to dig and scrape the passage clean. In short order he had a hole almost

a body-length straight into the hill. He had figured on making himself

at least one full room within that hill, and he paused now to catch his

breath and decide what to do next.


To the left, he decided. He'd dig to the left, and start to widen the

tunnel into the room he was looking to make, and then eventually turn

to the right and finish the job properly.


He stabbed the trowel into the wall to his left, then twisted around,

reaching back for the shovel. His questing fingers found the handle,

and pulled it into the passage and up toward his head. It got stuck

about half-way, wedged with the handle against the ground and the

shovel blade stuck in the snowy ceiling.


He gave an impatient yank on the handle and the blade sliced

sideways through the soft, wet snow. As he brought the shovel into

position to be of use, the first chunk of loose snow slapped into his

back.


What the heck? he thought, more annoyed than anything else.

His annoyance only lasted as long as it took for the next three

hunks of snow to land on him, another on his back and two on his legs.

These were bigger, the one on his back almost big enough to knock the

wind out of him. The snow was loose, but wet and heavy, and the

amount on his legs was pinning him down. He reflexively started to

kick free and back out of the tunnel.


Oh no, is this a cave-in?


Suddenly, with nothing more than the slight hiss of snow sliding

on snow, the ceiling came down.


His legs and back were pinned, the weight pressing him down, flat

on his belly. It had been dim in the hill, his own body blocking most of

the light coming in through his tunnel. Now the light was completely

cut off by at least two feet of snow. He flailed about in the icy dark,

searching for the shovel, the trowel, anything that might help. He

heard someone calling, and for a split second he thought someone was

coming to help, telling him to hold on. The voice he was hearing was his own, he realized. Garbled cries of panic, not an actual word among

them. 


His hands found the shovel and pulled it toward him, but he found

he couldn't use it. With the great weight of snow pressing his chest flat

to the tunnel floor, his arms were thrust straight up from his shoulders,

and there wasn't room in the narrow passage for him to spread his

elbows, never mind spin the shovel about to aim at the snow above

him. He twisted and turned the tool, but no matter what he tried the

handle would gouge into one wall as the blade fetched up against the

other.


His cries shortened to gasps.


In desperation he began to stab over his head and backward,

thrusting the shovel's handle into the snow pinning him to the Earth.

All he could hear were his short explosive breaths rasping in his throat.

In the darkness his eyes widened as he realized he couldn't take a deep

breath. Not even a full one. Just shallow, terrified panting.


The snow! He thought. So heavy...


His lungs worked faster as individual breaths got shorter. He

stabbed wildly with the handle. The straight piece of blown plastic

poked hole after hole in the mass of snow resting on the back of his

shoulders and neck. He tried to yell, to scream for help, but just

couldn't get enough air into his lungs to add any volume to that

horrible whistling rasp. Tears ran down his face, mixing with snow

falling from his jabbing shovel as he kept thrusting, trying desperately

to relieve the massive pressure bearing him to earth and allow himself

just one full breath!


That was when he rest of the ceiling, weakened by his thrashing

shovel, collapsed. He managed to turn his face to the side, but the

snow came down all around his head, pressing it down, crushing his

ear to the ground. Covering his face. His lungs pulled, straining for air.

His open mouth filled with snow, ice crystals stippling his throat with

each attempted inhalation, the cold thrusting shards of glass into his

lungs.


Bursts of light sprayed across his vision like fireworks. At first

they made him afraid, but as he saw more of them, red, green, the

brilliant blue of an electric spark, he found them beautiful. They were

beautiful! The cold was gone. He'd forgotten about the cold until it wasgone, but now that it was he was filled with a wonderful, comfortable

warmth. A warmth that made him sleepy.


So sleepy...


Hands grasped his legs, iron fingers wrapping around his shins

and lower calves, and someone pulled! The Paul-sized shovel slipped

from unfeeling fingers as he was dragged through the wall of snow.

A second pull, and all that weight that had been on his back was

now on his head, but his lower back felt strangely light. A third pull

and Paul was in the light and air, eyes and mouth still full of snow.

Someone shoved him rudely onto his side and something whacked

him in the middle of the back, hard.


Once. Twice. Thrice.


On the fourth slap it was as if Paul's body suddenly remembered

what it was supposed to do. He began coughing the snow from his

mouth and throat, but at the same time his lungs kicked in, pulling for

air harder than ever. He choked and coughed, gagging out chunks of

snow. But he started to get air. He cleared his throat of those burning

crystal shards of ice and got one good breath.


Then he threw up.


This set him to choking again, his lungs trying to make up for lost

time and not caring what they were pulling in as long as there was

some air in the mix. A hand on his shoulder kept him from thrashing

over onto his back and making things worse. A second hand

occasionally pummeled his middle or upper back whenever it looked

to like Paul's choking was getting out of control again. Eventually the

choking subsided, and his breathing became more regular. Tears

washed the snow and ice from his eyes, so he could finally see clearly

when the hands rolled him onto his back, and his rescuer came into

view.


Old Mr. Pratchett loomed over him, eyes bright with fear, brown,

ruined teeth still locked in a fierce grimace. His gnarled and knobbly

fingers gripped Paul's shoulders, squeezing so hard Paul felt his collar

bones creak. Those hands began to shake Paul up and down, thudding

him none-too-gently against the ground as Mr. Pratchett, white flecks

of spittle flying off of his dry, cracked lips, shouted into Paul's face.


“I done told you nawt to play heah! Din't I tell you? Din't I tell you to git on home? Why in hell won't you kids listen?”


~ ~ * * ~ ~

The remainder of Snowbirds is available, along with two other stories of snow and cold and spirits, all bound up in one book: Dead of Winter.


Three stories, one book. 


Check it out!


Announcing the release of: 

Dead of Winter


The first book in the Seasons of the Dead quartet. Ghosts and spirits manifest for various reasons and in many different ways.


An invisible intruder.

 An invading memory.

 A soft voice in the snow. 


“The Dead of Winter” is a collection of three very different ghost stories. a novella and two novellettes, each taking place during one of the months of Winter.

The dead of winter: The coldest part of winter.

 ~The Oxford English Dictionary

Dead of Winter: A trio of ghostly tales to chill your blood on those cold winter nights. 

~Rob Smales