Ice Hole

Jimmy sat on the sled as only a child could, lower legs pinned beneath him despite the chill of a day’s play. The woman sitting beside him was underdressed for the crisp January air, but she showed no sign of caring what nature intended. Her eyes were cast down the hill, gaze following the myriad sled trails as they coursed toward the sluggish creek beyond. The collection of neighborhood children lined up on the other side of Jimmy waited still and silent while the pair talked.

“You’re sure?” she asked. “Things could get a little scary.”

Jimmy’s eyes moved from the sled to the creek as he thought it through. Stories had been passed around the neighborhood, tales about the creek having frozen solid and the sleds running clear across to the other side. He doubted the truth of them, but he squinted, trying to pick out the far shore against the falling snow. He’d like to make that ride, but the stories also spoke of someone who had fallen through the ice. The notion of a dark swim under the ice sat heavily on his chest. He wasn’t sure what the fuss was about though. The creek wasn’t even close to frozen. Everyone bailed long before they risked the water, though come spring, there was always a saucer or toboggan found mired in the shallows.

“I’ll be okay,” he said. “I don’t mind a bumpy ride. Sometimes we even make a jump, and that’s the bumpiest it ever gets.”

“Alright then, Jimmy. Stay warm.” She settled the knit hat on his head more firmly and gave him a wink before standing up. “Maybe we’ll talk again some day.”

“Okay,” he said, repositioning on his sled. He thought she was a nice lady, but he didn’t think staying out sledding an hour longer than he promised was such a big deal.

As she walked away, the other children finished arranging themselves, and with a whooping chorus, they began their descent. Hands clasped to arms and feet hooked to feet as the line of sledders gained momentum and spewed laughter.

When the ground lurched and a lower section of the hill fell away into a ragged emptiness, the squeals carried away on the wintry winds were no longer those of delight. But in this forest of snow and speed, no one remained to hear them fall.

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