Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Winter (the season) (08/13/09)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Kevin Flaherty padded across the room in fleece-lined slippers to hang the wrought-iron fireplace poker on its horseshoe nail beside the fireplace. Then he shuffled backward and plopped into his favorite overstuffed chair. While sipping a boiling hot cup of strong coffee laced with four teaspoons of sugar, his feet sought their usual spot on a three-legged footstool.
Meanwhile, sub-zero, wintry winds whipped his house with razor-sharp sleet. The drafty, double-hung windows rattled with each blast, their weights-behind-the-walls banging with eerie clonks and knocks reminiscent of ghostly visitors demanding entrance.
“Whatcha want, Mr. Winter?” He cradled the cherished, if imperfect, ceramic mug and addressed the nearest frosty-etched window. “So - ya wanna come in here?”
Steam from the coffee wafted upward, as if attempting to hypnotize Mr. Flaherty with its swerving cobra-dance. The roaring fire in the river-rock fireplace spit sprays of red embers onto the hearth, and hissed with mock-dragon zeal.
“Winter,” he warned, “You’d prob’ly hafta fight this fire if ya came inside.” He focused over the tops of his smudged, crooked glasses at drifts on the sill. “Could be quite a battle. Not sure you’re up to it tonight.”
With that, he set his coffee mug on a newspaper-strewn end table and smoothed a hand-crocheted afghan over his legs. “Dana’d not let ‘cha inside if she was here.” He fondly stroked the red, orange, and yellow zigzags covering his knees with his right hand while clutching the mug she’d made him in his left.
“But she’s not here.” He pictured snow covering her grave marker. “This conversation’s between you and me.” His disheveled head of stringy white hair tilted backwards; he stared at the fire’s reflection on the cobwebby, soot-stained ceiling.
“I hear ya. Sorry. No visitors tonight.”
Winter whined and clamored for entrance. The fire popped and shot more fireworks as if to challenge its potential opponent to a duel. Mr. Flaherty closed his eyes and sighed.
There was a crash followed by an eerie tinkling of broken glass as a tree branch shattered the nearby window. A monstrous whoosh of frigid cold slashed through the room, raking icy fingers over every surface. Dana’s eyelet-trimmed curtains thrashed uncontrollably like wild animals semi-paralyzed by ill-aimed gunshot.
Jolted by winter’s sudden aggression, Mr. Flaherty’s hands involuntarily jumped, sloshing splotches of hot coffee across the afghan. “Drat it, Winter! Cain’t an old man be left alone with his pain?”
Mr. Flaherty shakily pushed the stained afghan aside and rose from his chair to survey damage. Turbulent rivers of swirling snow, eager to find refuge, gushed inside.
“Kevin, Kevin!” Winter’s insistent wind half-groaned, half-howled his name in an attempt to extinguish the fire, but the hefty billow-puffs only encouraged it instead. “Kev-KEV-KEEEEEVIN!”
He glanced furtively, helplessly, a disoriented man consumed by despair. Deafened by the roar, he stumbled toward the window. Snow-specked wind tore at his hair. A framed picture of Dana clattered to the floor in the background.
His eyes squinted as he faced the onslaught.
Then in a split second, the wind’s snarl transformed into Odysseus’ alluring Sirens: “Kevin Flaherty – your name means ‘beloved and noble of character.’ Don’t lose heart. Let suffering transform you. Let Winter teach you to hope.” It was Dana’s voice.
Stunned, Mr. Flaherty scratched his head. He mumbled, “Musta been hallucinatin’,” lumbered to the garage, and returned carrying a folding card table, several unused horseshoe nails and a hammer. Working quickly, he pounded the table’s face to the wall, covering the open window. “THERE! That should keep you out for tonight, Winter.” Mr. Flaherty’s gnarled hands unfolded the table’s two top legs. HE snapped and secured them in the open position and draped the afghan there to dry.
Like a string-less marionette, an exhausted Mr. Flaherty crumpled into his chair. He dreamed Dana swirled through time and space, wrapped him in the long train of her white wedding gown, and swept away his anguish with a single cool swish of her flowing, snow-spangled, diamond-studded veil.
When he awoke, all was quiet. The card table hung like a freak work of art, impaled to the wall where it covered the window, its legs proudly displaying Dana’s afghan like a banner. Coals glowed in the fireplace, remnants of the earlier blaze.
Mr. Flaherty opened the door to confront thigh-high drifts. The world was redefined and washed clean. Millions of tiny, sparkly prisms glowed in every direction.
He squinted in the presence of Winter’s brilliance. “Dana Flaherty, you are too beautiful for words.”
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