A blizzard hits Billy Fletcher hard
|Billy Fletcher’s mother seemed determined to throttle him, despite his protests. “I’m twelve years old, ma, I can tie my own scarf.”
“Don’t smother the boy, Martha.” His father stood in the doorway, tall and broad chested, putting on his gloves.
“My chores are done. Why do we have to go to the stables?” The smells coming from the kitchen made his stomach growl. There might even be pie tonight.
His mother yanked the scarf tight with a scowl. “You boys may not have noticed, but there’s a wild blizzard blowing out there. We’re low on coal again, Michael.” Billy had never been anywhere but Nebraska, but he couldn’t imagine anywhere with snow this bad.
They trudged to the stables, leaning into the wind. His father lifted the heavy bar keeping the doors shut and swung them open. The stale smell of horse hide, leather, hay and manure welcomed Billy. The horses stuck their heads out to get an affectionate pat and to see what was going on. His father walked to the empty stalls and waved him over.
One stall wasn’t empty. Billy’s jaw dropped. “We got a new pony?” he asked, awestruck.
“A loan? How long are we keeping it? Can I ride it?”
“We didn’t get a pony.” His father afforded Billy a rare smile. “You got a pony.”
“Merry Christmas, son.”
Billy opened the stall, slipped in and wrapped his arms around the pony’s neck. Wind buffeted the barn.
“Time to get back, Billy.”
“Can I stay with him a while longer?”
“Not too long. We can’t let mother eat up all the turkey. What are you going to call him?”
“Champion.” He didn’t have to think about it at all.
“Like Gene Autrey’s horse?”
Billy checked his water, cleaned up the stall and got some fresh bedding. He never wanted to leave him, but his stomach begged him to get his dinner. He shut the stable door and struggled to get the bar back into its brackets.
Billy couldn’t sleep, even though the house was still. It must be the second day of 1949 by now, he thought. This was going to be the best year ever. He looked out his bedroom. The stables looked blue in the moonlight.
It wasn’t that far away. He could go see Champion now, if he wanted. He must be lonely. His desire burned hot. I’m old enough, he thought. I’m sick of being treated like a baby. His resolve hardened. He could dash out and dash back. No one would ever know.
In a moment, he had his jeans and threadbare shirt over his pyjamas. He tiptoed downstairs, got his boots on, and fled out the back door. He got to the stable doors, hoisted the bar, and bolted to his pony’s stall.
Champion was fast asleep, like Billy was supposed to be. He felt foolish. He looked back to his room that now seemed warm and cosy and safe.
A light came on upstairs. His heart stopped in his chest. He was going to get a whipping for sure. He ran to the doors and dragged them shut. He scampered back to the house, stepping into his footprints. They pointed to the stables in an accusing arrow.
He waited at the back door for an eternity, shaking, working up his nerve to open the door. Rain fell, light at first, and then heavy, soaking him to the bone. It sounded like cannons going off when he went inside. He crept up the stairs one at a time, every creak shouting his presence.
He slipped into his room and shucked off his clothes. He lay in bed, heart hammering, while rain pelted the window.
A thump woke him in the morning. He looked out the window. Thick snow shot by in horizontal lines. A fierce wind tugged at the window and roof.
They stayed inside all day. Drifts of snow piled up in the downstairs windows.
They burned the last of the coal that night.
The power went out the second day. Billy’s mother lit candles. They spent the day huddling under blankets. Billy was bored witless. All he could think of was riding his horse and how lonely Champion must be.
On the third day, he helped his father chop up the kitchen table. They burned it in the fireplace while his mother cried.
On the fourth day, the blizzard let up. After his father dug out the front door, the three of them stepped out of the house, half blinded by the towering mounds of glaring snow.
Billy ran ahead of his parents, happy as a lark, so glad to be out in the fresh air for the first time after their prolonged activity.
“Dad, can we saddle up Champion and the grey mare and ride out to the Johnson’s? I bet they have some extra coal we could borrow.”
They stopped in front of the stables. One door hung at a crazy angle. The other was gone completely.
The stalls were inside stuffed with snow and silence. It was like the storm had reached into Billy’s chest and scooped out his heart. He went to check Champion, but his father held him back in an iron grasp.
“It’s my fault.”
His mother blanched. “Don’t talk like that, Billy.”
“Martha.” His father put his hand over his wife’s. “Let him speak.”
“I snuck out to see Champion. I didn’t shut the stable right.” His eyes blurred, but he would be roped and tied and dragged through town naked before he would cry in front of his father.
“I killed the horses,” Billy gasped. “I killed Champion.”