MONDAY: Sledding on the Wendigo

BY LESLIE WAKEMAN

Copyright is held by the author.

THE THROTTLE wide open. Nose down then up over the icy drifts. Tossed in the air then slammed down onto the vinyl seat. Arms, squeezed too tightly around the man-boy steering, forced open on impact, throwing him into the backrest, the night air pulling his breath from him in a crazed half-laugh. Jerking forward, his lungs gasp in fresh cold air. Again. Do it again.

They were older than him. So cool. An evening that began in the late afternoon along the shores of the Wendigo River. A bonfire out of sight of the townspeople. The trees a windbreak, the frozen river tanning their faces in the dying sunlight. They called him Precious, shared their alcohol, shared their weed. Quelling storms, soothing old brokenness. They laughed when he said, “The night is bedazzled with stars”, flipping thin hands toward the sky, the small gesture pulling in the light for everyone to see.

He noticed their eyes, pools of knowing, seeing themselves in him too late. The booze and drugs and life keeping them from fully remembering what it was like to be young, to hope, although they never really had been young, had hoped. Howling together as the moon rose with these demigods leaning in, smiling, laughing, forgetting about the shithole life they’d been born into. The afternoon a triumph over a life of grief and disappointment. Above them a night sky lit with compassion. Beneath them snow and ice holding them up with a gravity they did not understand.

The expanse of snow in blue and mauve swept out onto the river. Distant shorelines were lit by houses and farmyards, trees silhouetted against a navy sky. The skidoo lights a beacon, the frozen river a whispered invitation to ride, set free by motion and air, overcoming the friction of the planet. They all clambered onto sleds, boots and heavy jackets, the heat from soft and thread-bare jeans an encouragement to bodies yearning for attachment.

He eagerly climbed on the back of the sled behind the older boy. The vibration of the engines starting, revving. The laughter and screams of the others. The liquid fire flowing through him. The breath of the night on his bare face as they moved faster across the river. Drifts tossing them lightly in the air. The thrill of being airborne. The anesthesia of momentary suspension, weightless, without feeling, a sensation he only achieved in dance classes. The one privilege he’d been allowed at his last foster home. He had entered the mirrored studio and, upon seeing the expanse of bright space for the first time, leaped and leaped across the room, arms flung out from his sides, toes pointed. Breathing, breathing in deeply, eyes closed with each leap. “Chase!” the instructor had called his name repeatedly and finally had to put his hands on his shoulders to get his attention, to get him to stop, to bring him back down, down to reality.

On the sled, eyes wide open, arms and legs flailing, rising into the night sky and down again. Surging into the body in front of him, warm and wider than his own. A longing uncovered and rewarded as the night sent sheets of stars out all around them. Freedom. With each drift, the roar of the engines, their hollers, drowning out the world. Laughter spilling from them with each heavy landing, accelerating into the next lift off.

The other sleds veered off toward the lights on the town dock. A drift higher and longer launched him and his man-boy pilot as though they were riding into the stars. A slight roll, the sled slipped out from under him and continued into the dark. Splashing. Silence. Chase flew through the night air, an impossible Grand Jeté, an impossible leap. From the corners of his eyes he noticed the shift from blue and mauve to the jagged black and white moving under the sliver of moonlight. He didn’t feel when he hit the hardpack, the tumbling of his body, the perfect pirouette. Hip over hip, shoulder over shoulder, head snapping to catch up after each rotation. His dance instructor had told him focusing his eyes during turns would keep him from getting dizzy. But his eyes strained, intent on a single point somewhere on the horizon. Snow, stars, snow, stars, snow, stars, water . . . he came to rest, left cheek on the snow, smiling at his perfect dance. Water lapping up over the edge. His torso and arms frozen into place while his legs, pulled from him in the darkness, floated up and down. Digging fingers through mitts stuck to the surface, wetness encroached without temperature. Tears welled in his eyes. He felt the tug between the ice and the Great Wendigo. There had always been a tugging, fighting. A fight over what real love looked like. A fight between what was expected and what he really wanted to be. Always fighting. Always a tug of war.

He opened his hands, his jacket in the grip of the ice. No need to hold on. To the haunting pain of the burn scars on his back. To his best friend Lacy and her coveted long, dark hair, flowing all around her. To the endless river of bodies in the high school hallways. To the small room kept in a stranger’s house filled with someone else’s toys and bedding for which he felt no gratitude because it was only for him to borrow.

No need to hold on, not even to Ms. Musey. Beautiful Ms. Musey, with her lovely strawberry blond hair and green eyes. Whose long, elegant arms, like a maestro conducting the universe and him within it, getting him to do any schoolwork she wanted. Ms. Musey, who he’d wished was his mom and who he wanted to be when he grew up. No need to hold onto her or his impossible future. No need for any of it anymore.

His last effort to set his sight on the horizon, to still the dizziness, to hold the perfect pose at the end of the perfect dance. Snow on the ground, stars in the sky. The Wendigo licking at him. The ice holding him in a grasp that would last only minutes and bright lights in the distance, buoyant, getting closer. Then darkness.

5 comments
  1. A great poetic ride, well imagined. Kept me in suspense.

  2. Wow! Terrific story.

  3. I see everything through the senses of the character, “Chase.” The same clarity, the same confusion. Powerful, transportive writing.

  4. Superb, imaginative writing propelling this reader into a dance straight out of her comfort zone!

  5. One of the best stories on CommuterLit I have read in a long tine.

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