here's a story someone requested I post. Hope you enjoy it. DeborahB
Trapped By An Angel
All I can see are stark, dark trees against a wall of gray in the forest dusk. Dim shadows lie like ghosts across the snow. Of course I don’t believe in ghosts. Don’t believe in anything except that the world is a tough place and you have to be tough to survive.
“Hold on Janie. Another hour and we’ll be at the barn,” I say. “Need to finish the trapline, stow the game.” My sister Janie’ll never make it alone in this world. She believes in everything good, and never even sees the bad. So, I have the extra burden of watching over her. Carry it like I’m carrying her, nothing I need, but something I’m tough enough to handle. I try to teach her, but… “Your fault you got hurt.”
“Is not,” she says with a giggle. “My Mickey, Mickey, Michael.” One of her red mittens pats the top of my head, while the other grabs my collar. She's always so damn cheerful.
“Humph.” I shift my shoulders, toss her abruptly upwards, and will myself to keep moving. Janie is six, a real, sweet as carnival cotton candy brat. Can’t do a darn thing by herself. Mom treats her like a baby. Took care of myself by the time I was her age. She should too. Does nothing but cause harm spoiling her like this.
My legs tremble and my arms feel as if someone’s pulling the muscles apart strip by strip. I’m strong for fourteen, but she’s like a pack full of empty traps, nothing but dead weight. The burden numbs me to the sights and sounds of the forest. I trudge on through the cold, wet woods.
Janie’s hands clutch my jacket, her legs twine with my arms and I feel her breath against my neck. The only sound is the crunch my boots make as they break through the ice that borders the stream. I stare at the ground looking for tracks, don’t see the glittering world she chatters about in my ear.
“Michael, my ankle hurts so bad.” Janie’s tone changes as we near my game line. I close my mind, like the steel trap that swings from my belt. Her arms tighten around my neck.
“Loosen up. You’re choking me.”
I look down at her ankle. Appears normal, hard to tell through the red boot she wears. Probably another one of her tricks.
“Ain’t gonna keep me from collecting pelts. You should’ve stayed home.” I stop, drop her on the snow.
She scowls. “Didn’t have to dump me!” Her voice changes to a whine. “Please no more traps.”
Then, being cotton candy Janie, she lies back, smiles and flutters her arms and legs.
“What’re you doin’?” My hands clench, my jaw muscles jump. Can’t the kid tell I’m aggravated?
“Making angels.” She rolls back into a sitting position. “It’s almost Christmas.” Her cheeks are bright red and her eyes gleam with excitement.
The ice thickens around my heart. “Ain’t nobody giving you nothing. Quit trying to slow me down. I’m getting my traps.” I kick out, spraying snow in Janie’s face, then start down the trail.
She’s followed me everywhere this year and Mom makes me take her. That’s all right if I’m going fishing, it’s kinda funny watching her squirm when I put a worm on the hook, but not when I’m trapping. She cries over every animal I catch. She doesn’t understand that the pelts mean money. I crash through the underbrush.
“I don’t have time for fairytales and Santa ain’t visited me, ever.” The words come from my mouth on large bursts of steam. I mean for Janie to hear them. Branches shower white flakes on top of my parka and against my neck. My shoulder blades jump toward each other as icy wetness runs down my spine. I wish I had a muffler. Can’t afford one. As I draw my head into my coat, I admit Janie’s arms sheltered me from the icy bath as I carried her.
“Still ain’t worth the trouble you cause!” I holler.
Reaching into my pocket, I pull out a piece of gum, hesitate, tear it in two, and put half in my mouth. The brat will want some. It smells like winter and tastes like wild mint. My eyes scan the bushes. Janie’s voice fades into the distance. She can sit there all night for all I care. She knows the way home. She’s no more hurt than I am. I’m filled with the righteous bitterness of a misused soul.
There should be a trap here somewhere. I drop to my knees and dig through the snow. My hand hits against something hard. I grasp it and drag it to the surface. Chain clanks. The trap appears, crusted with whiteness, its jaws pressed together like a demon’s fangs.
“Damn.” I throw it down. Empty, just like the others. Someone’s triggering my traps. “Janie, did you do this?” My voice is loud. “Answer me!” I wait, beating the trap against my leg, thinking of what I’ll do when I see her. No sound comes from up the trail.
Limbs snap against my thrusting arms as I trudge back. I’m out of breath when I reach the spot where I dumped Janie in the snow. She’s gone. The imprint of the angel is clear, makes me uneasy. I look around for tracks. There they are, small waffle boot prints leading off to the deep woods, headed not quite towards the house. I turn to head back to my trap line and then hesitate. Mom will kill me if I leave her little angel out here alone. I sniff the air. It smells like more snow coming. The sky is a somber, ugly gray. I better find her and get home.
“So much for the sprained ankle,” I mumble to myself as I examine the evenly spaced footprints. “God, why’s she always messing up my life?” I glare at the menacing sky and follow her trail.
Janie’s crouched in a group of holly bushes, one finger held to her lips. She crooks the finger, luring me to her.
Thirsty, I pull a glove off as I approach and scoop up a handful of snow. It tastes like pine. I spit it out and wipe my hand on my pants. The cold bites at my fingers. When I reach Janie, I squat behind her.
“What is it?” My words no more than a soft breath.
“Santa’s reindeer.” Her voice high, yet a whisper.
I blow against my hand to warm it. It’s red and rough from work. I tuck it under my armpit as I peer over her shoulder. A huge buck stands not fifteen feet away, next to a doe. He paws the ground by her head. With her front feet spread, neck stretched, nose to the ground, the doe quivers, but doesn’t move. Strange, they aren’t running. My fingers twitch. I wish I had my rifle. The buck’s rack of horn must span eight feet.
A metallic clank fills the air. The doe stumbles back as if released from a tether, then lifts her head, her nose red with blood. My trap. She had her nose caught in one of my traps. The buck’s pawing must have released her.
Janie gasps. I try to cover her eyes. She jerks away. The sudden movement startles the deer. In great leaps they disappear into the deep woods. Janie turns to me. I brace and watch for her accusing eyes. Steal myself against the words I expect she’ll say.
“Michael, Michael did you see them?” Her voice bounces off the trees. “The reindeer, even Rudolf, right here in our woods. Did you see his red nose? Santa must be near. He’ll come this year. I know he will. You knew, didn’t you? I love you.” Her eyes shimmer with excitement. She falls back into the snow laughing and begins to make another angel. There’s a hole in the sole of her red rubber boot.
I look at her and wonder when I lost the magic of believing. I feel so old. Seen through her eyes the woods are a fairyland, reindeer are possible and traps are always empty. I pick her up and nestle my nose in her hair. She smells of soap and things I’d buried deep, under a layer of ice.
My baby sister believes. Emotion freezes my throat.
“Santa’ll come,” I mumble. I don’t know how, but he’ll come. Cold seeps through my coat. I ignore it as I set Janie back on her feet.
Then I fall into the snow, trusting. It feels awkward this trusting, as my body pummels toward the earth, still I’m determined. The snow engulfs me like a soft winter comforter. My arms and legs struggle to make an angel. The sky no longer looks gray. I see it through the shining light of Janie’s eyes. I stand up and my feelings burst forth in a great laugh. It sounds strange, but good.
“Let’s go home.” I unfasten the trap attached to my belt and let it drop to the ground. “No more trapping this year. My gift to you.”
She grins broadly and then frowns. “But I don’t have anything for you.”
“You alone is enough. Climb up and keep my back warm.”
She giggles as she climbs on my back and then becomes still, her arms strong as my traps and warm as a muffler around my neck.
“Trapped by an angel,” she whispers.
I nod my head and turn toward the barn and home. My legs swing easily, for I come bearing gifts. I carry a snow angel on my back. The only sound I hear is ice as it cracks around my heart. I swipe at moisture in my eyes. The world sparkles and I watch with care for reindeer in the woods.