It Brought the Snow
by E. H. Young
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Alex opened his eyes to piercing, white sunlight. His curtains were thrown wide, and when he sat up he saw a thick blanket of snow covering the yard, the surrounding houses, the trees. He swung his legs out of bed and went out the front door.
The light blinded him for a moment and, when his eyes adjusted, everything was still a sparkling pure white. He couldn’t tell where the land ended and the sky began. He couldn’t hear anything, as if the heavy white blanket thrown over the land had been thrown over him as well. He called out but the air ate his voice, trapping it in his throat.
His boots sank into the snow. He dragged his feet to the end of the driveway. He blinked, and he could see something in the road, where he knew the road to be under all that snow. It was big; it looked like an animal. It had the hulking outline of a bear or something else. But it stood on two legs and moved like a man. It was dragging something behind it. Big game.
Alex tried to look at it and then at what it was dragging behind it, but he couldn’t. His eyes wouldn’t focus. Whatever it was, it left a solid red line behind it in the snow. He shifted his gaze upwards, just as it turned to look him. Alex felt a panic grip him, and the world shook.
He awoke, someone was shaking him. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, reaching for his phone. 3:35 a.m. “Jesus, Boris, it’s early. What’s going on?”
“Nothing, man, I, uh, just got back, I wanted to say hi.” Boris was crouching next to the bed. In the pale ray of moonlight seeping through the window blinds, Alex could see Boris wearing a familiar smile, as if there were nothing in the world strange about waking your brother up in the middle of the night just to say hello.
And there wasn’t, really, not for Boris. He’d never had a regular circadian rhythm, and of course it didn’t occur to him that anyone else would, either. It wasn’t selfishness, exactly, but it was awfully close. That about summed Boris up. Not selfish, but close.
“Yeah, okay, I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” Alex rolled over to face the wall and said nothing.
Boris sat for a few more seconds before leaving the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Alex shut his eyes but found he couldn’t sleep. He was still shaken from the dream, more than he would have liked to admit. He felt a little sorry. Boris had done him a favor by waking him, but Alex’s reaction had been less than grateful.
Alex lay there for a while, his thoughts edging carefully around the images the dream had left behind his eyelids, trying quietly not to think of any detail too clearly for fear of conjuring it up again.
Sleep must have found him again, because he woke up at eight o’clock to a voicemail from his boss. She had been snowed in and wouldn’t be able to open the store until later. She told him to take the morning off.
Alex shut his eyes, tired from his broken REM cycle, and went back to sleep. An hour later he was awoken by a tapping on the window above his bed. Boris stood looking in, his face ruddy with the cold, grinning widely.
“Dude, come out here! Snow!”
When Alex opened the front door, his heart thudded in a minor panic. It took him a few seconds to convince himself he hadn’t stepped back into the dream. Unlike the dream landscape, though, the scene before him was natural, imperfect.
For one thing, the trees, houses and cars all still had their color, only all half-painted over with white. The road was thick and undefined under its coating of ice, but it was dirty, foot-printed and tire-tracked into a sodden grey, not pristine, as it had been in the dream.
“What a time to come back home, huh?”
Alex nodded and smiled. It was good to see his brother again. If he’d been asked the day before if he’d like to, he’d have said no, but his heart fluttered at the sight of Boris perched on the picnic bench in the front yard, swept clean of snow and dead leaves. He had on his old olive parka from high school and, for a second, he might have been the same older brother Alex remembered from half a decade ago.
But they were both older now, and the patina the years had cast over Alex’ memory of his brother was being cast off. Now Boris’ hair was shaggy, longer than it had ever been when he’d lived at home, and his jaw was shaded with a layer of stubble. He had dark circles under his eyes, and Alex wondered if Boris’ irregular sleeping habits had begun to catch up with him. His smile was still the same, though, a kind of hungry grin that looked a little scary even if he didn’t mean it to.
They sat on the picnic bench for a while and talked. Impossible to pack six years of conversation into half an hour, but they tried. Boris told Alex he was working for a startup company in Juneau. They designed and sold Native Alaskan art and clothing. Boris was visiting Ketchikan to talk to local artists.
“The yuppies like that stuff, huh?”
“I like that stuff, Alex.”
“Sorry.” Boris was nothing if not sincere.
Alex changed the subject. “You still a vegetarian?”
Alex raised his eyebrows.
“But I’m gonna eat whatever Mom cooks. I’m not about to have that argument again.” Boris laughed softly and took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He put one in his mouth and offered the pack to Alex, who shook his head.
Alex watched him as he lit up, cupping his hand around the end, a delicate gesture, almost tender. Boris looked up at Alex, exhaling smoke. “What?”
“Nothing. Just... when did you start smoking?”
Boris chuckled again. “High school. I hid it pretty well though.”
Alex felt again as though he were wiping dust off of the memory of his brother, revealing unexpected angles and imperfections. He thought he should feel disappointment but instead he felt relief.
For years, he had thought about what it would be like to see Boris again, and he had dreamed up countless scenarios, fights, apologies, acceptances, resentments, but now he simply felt happy to see him.
“So you got a girlfriend yet?” asked Boris.
“You’re almost eighteen now, man. What’s the deal?”
“I don’t know, I just have other things to think about, I guess.”
“That never stopped me.”
“So you’re seeing somebody?”
“Does that matter?”
“I guess not.”
* * *
Boris gave him a ride into town before noon. He rode a motorcycle now. Alex was impressed. He sat behind Boris, wearing his spare helmet. Alex was still the taller of the two, but his brother had a solidness Alex lacked. Alex could ride behind him at high speed without anxiety.
When they got to town, Boris dropped Alex off at work and headed southeast on Tongass to talk to Mike Avery, an artist who lived in the neighboring town of Saxman.
Julia, Alex’s boss, had told him she was on her way, but she wasn’t there when they got to the shop. Alex didn’t have a key. He wandered across the street to the waterfront and sat on one of the floats low down, close to the water where the local boats were moored, bobbing gently.
Translucent moon jellyfish floated idly near the surface. Alex watched them for a while and, as he watched, more of them appeared, deeper down, paler spots against the deep green-black of the water. He let his mind go blank.
“Excuse me,” said a voice behind him. He turned, startled, to see a blond man and a brown-haired woman standing above him at the top of the little gangway connecting the street to the float. They wore identical neon-green raincoats and greyish cargo pants.
“Do you live around here?” asked the woman, leaning over the railing. He hoped she wouldn’t lean too hard, in case the railing was worn out. He nodded, dumbly.
“We want to go hiking. Can you tell us a good spot?” She looked at the man beside her, as if for affirmation.
“Uh,” said Alex, thinking, “you could take the Carlanna trail up to the lake. If you follow Tongass up that way you’ll hit Carlanna. Follow it away from the water and make a right... no, a left on Baranof. Follow that for like a mile, then make a right on Canyon and follow it all the way to the end.”
The man nodded. “Carlanna, Baranof, Canyon. Got it.” The woman typed something into her phone. She turned and spoke quietly to the man, who shook his head. Alex didn’t hear what she said but he saw her roll her eyes and put her phone away.
“And we had snow yesterday, so watch out for ice on the road.”
“Thanks,” said the woman. She followed her companion until they were out of sight. Alex hoped he had given them the right directions. If they needed help they could ask someone in town.
Alex watched the jellyfish for a while longer, until a blue Ford 4x4 pulled up to the sidewalk above him. A grey-haired woman stepped out. “Morning, Alex.”
It was Julia. They walked to the store together, and Alex waited while she unlocked the door. The store was freezing inside, and they kept their jackets on until the heating kicked in.
Alex bustled around, dusting and straightening the displays of clothing, cultural artifacts, stuffed dead animals, more trying to warm himself than anything. He reorganized the front window displays, arranging pottery, jewelry, figurines and ornamental weapons according to culture: Inuit here, Tlingit there, etc.
When he was finished and Julia had opened the register, he flipped over the open/closed sign on the door. There was no flood of customers; in fact no one came in for the first half an hour or so. No cruise ships came in in the winter because, even if it was warm enough for them to get to Ketchikan, the water would be icy and impassable farther up the coast. Julia made hot cocoa and a pot of tea for Alex. They sat and talked for a while while Julia went over the books
Around one-thirty, Mike Avery, the artist from Saxman whom Boris had said he wanted to talk to, came in with a collection of seascapes he wanted to sell at the store. Alex sat at the register while Mike and Julia went to the back gallery.
Five minutes later, the bell tinkled and a large figure appeared at the door, silhouetted. Alex greeted the newcomer on instinct, but when he stepped into the overhead light Alex’s “good afternoon” died in his throat. It was the stranger from the night before.
If the man recognized Alex, he didn’t let on. He sidled between the displays with unexpected grace, inspected some watercolors, then some pottery animal figurines, and eventually stopped in front of the display of Native American weaponry on the back wall of the shop, across from the register.
Alex looked down at his phone but watched the stranger out of the corner of his eye. What’s taking Julia and Mr. Avery so long?
“What’s this made of, silver?” The stranger had taken a knife down from the wall. There was a Do Not Touch sign hanging nearby, but Alex decided not to say anything.
“Yeah. It’s decorative. You can’t, uh, hunt with it.”
There was a pause. Alex held his breath, waiting for the inevitable tide of complaints. He would patiently explain about living expenses for artists and the scarcity of jobs and the cost of keeping a store open, culminating in the stranger leaving the knife on the counter and leaving the store.
But the guy had his wallet open already. He counted some bills and tossed four twenties onto the counter. Alex handed him his change and watched him leave, his hulking figure momentarily blocking the light from the door, throwing the store into relative darkness. Alex hadn’t given him a bag or his receipt.
Mr. Avery and Julia came back into the storefront, and Alex heaved a sigh.
“Who was that?” said Julia, leaning on the register.
Alex shrugged, feigning nonchalance, though his heart was pounding unaccountably. “Dunno. He said he was a hunter.”
“He buy anything?”
“Yeah, the silver knife. With the horn handle.”
She shrugged and went back into the gallery. Alex and Mike were left alone. Alex remembered what Boris had said to him that morning.
“Mr. Avery,” he said, a little louder than was necessary. A normal speaking voice could be heard across the small store, but the encounter had made him jumpy. “Did you see Boris today?”
The older man’s brow furrowed. “Boris is back in town?”
“Uh, yeah. He said he wanted to talk to you. You didn’t see him?”
He shook his head. “You got his number?”
Alex hesitated, and realized he didn’t. Boris hadn’t had a cellphone when he’d left home. He surely had one now, but it hadn’t occurred to Alex to ask. He told Mr. Avery about the startup, and why his brother had come back. “I think he’s staying for a couple more days. I’ll call you if he comes back to the store today. I’ll give him your number.”
But Boris did not come back to the store. At two-thirty they decided it was time to close up. Julia offered Alex a ride home, but it was clear out, no more than a light drizzle, and Alex preferred to walk.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by E. H. Young