It happened on a winters day, mid-January, late in the afternoon, much like any other day.
Cold enough out to dress warm but nothing too deep Arctic. Toby and Austin, a couple of rough ‘n tumble grade sixers with inclinations of making life harder for those around them had been friends forever. Inseparable and misguided, and thrown in to up their responsible game was Austin’s younger brother Beau. Austin’s parents rarely let him leave their house without his sibling, one who was in general more mature than Austin himself, in Beau’s mind anyway. And most teachers. And their parents.
Sledding was the agenda today and what a spot they discovered. A “mini-mountain of sorts” Toby termed it upon first glance and though a baby foothill might be more accurate, the truth wasn’t usable today. A vast slope, some may say with a sharp ninety degree incline and not a tree in sight. Today, records would be broken. Today, sunburns would flourish. This would be an afternoon that would never end and nothing could be closer to that truth.
Toby was first in his black sled and half-way down the hill before Austin and Beau even sat their butts in their two seater mini-toboggan. Toby’s grip was like a vice as his ice rocket wielded its way straight down, plummeting faster and faster with each frozen breath. Bracing for impact, he sideswiped to the right and tumbled off his ride, eating fresh snow and loving it. Within a second of sitting up and wiping his wintered eyes, Austin’s bobsled whizzed right past where he sat, a good five or more feet out. Their landing was perfect; the kind of thing kids talk up and brag about for years after.
Upon getting to their feet, the boys realized they had gone such a sweet distance that they stood on the frozen lake that spread out before them, a sprawling circumference that went beyond what the eye could see. Solid to the bounce, as they all jumped to test its strength, crashing down with all their body weight.
Austin spoke up. “Let’s race this time. I figure we can get much further with a running start.”
“You’ll n-nnno doubt beat me everytime! You have m-mmore weight.” What Toby lacked in delivery, he knew his aerodynamics.
Beau, with his profiscient lisp, pulled his toque back and scratched his head. “Guys, should we even be going farther than we already are? This is ice. I mean, how do we know how frozen it actually is, right?”
Toby looked at Austin and they both burst into laughter. “It’s January, man. J-jjjjanuary! C’mon!”
As fast as they could, the three ran back up the hill, puffing and wheezing and perspiring the entire trek. When they reached the snow dusted summit, with sleds pointed downward, the three boys sat, in perfect formation. Thoughts of speed and glory raced through their minds. Without words and four hands on the snow, both drivers, Austin and Toby, did the one-two-three back ‘n forth pump motion, gearing up for a fluid takeoff.
And they were off. Like greasy bats out of hell, they dashed downward, careening and cruising at speeds unknown to children everywhere. The pairing of Austin and Beau took an early lead, catapulting them to a distance further than their first unholy attempt. With a finish that seemed like a blink of two eyes, they turned around to see if Toby had wiped out or just plain fallen short. And with the sound of a thousand swarming honeybees, Toby whizzed right past them. But as he was victoriously passing Beau and Austin, the front of Toby’s sled cracked the ice and in one fall swoop, with him attached, he plunged beneath the surface, fully emerged and still moving, trapped under the unforgiving ice.
It was like a dream. Everything happened so fast, there was nothing anyone could do or have done. The world stood still and there was no sound.. until reality caught up to them.
The boys moved to where Toby was, standing directly over him. His hands were reached out towards Austin and Beau, and his face contorted in a silent scream. Frozen in absolute horror, the boys just stood there, their own hands reaching down to their friend encased in ice.
And in the blink of an eye, in fact, so fast that if you had looked away or shut your eyes, you would have missed the two giant white hands reaching up below Toby and grabbing his drowning face. In another fleeting second, he was gone. Pulled under!
The two brothers slowly brought their glances up from the ice to look at each other’s face, aghast at the terror that just went down. And without time for another breath, the ice gave way beneath their feet and they fell into the numbing, frigid water below….