Uphill All the Way Home | A Story

//A while back I decided to write a Christmas short story, and I was going to post it on here in two posts. That didn’t happen, because said Short Story got too long. However, I did write a Christmasy flash fiction that I can share with you all. The last installment (probably) of Advent poetry should be coming on Friday. In the meantime, enjoy! (Featured image via)

They reached the bottom laughing and shouting in a flurry of snow. Scarves and knit caps caught the flakes and held them, glistening, like tiny stars in the twilight. Behind the boys the hill stretched up into the deep blue of the eastern sky, the velvety white carpet on the ground unbroken except for the tracks of their two sleds.

Before them, the stream still hurried past; but the edges were hard with sparkling ice, and frozen chunks floated lazily down the middle. Beyond the stream, the trees began. Maples and oaks raised their bare, elegant branches to the sky, while here and there an evergreen nestled among the trunks and darkened the shadow beneath.

It was from just above the trees that the sun sent its fading rays to surround the two boys. The light brushed gently over their tousled hair and the snowflakes caught in the threads of their caps, as they kicked snow into a cloud and hurled snowballs at each other. The glow touched their faces – flushed with pink already from the cold and the long ride down the hill; it lit them, so that they shone with a certain kind of luminous innocence, even as they tilted sleds on their sides and stockpiled snowballs for the siege.

They didn’t know their faces were golden. But one of them saw the sun as it began to dip behind the trees, and he noticed the light that began to creep, ever faster, up the hill and away. The far side of the stream was already in shadow. A snowball burst on his shoulder as he looked up, distracted; he hurled one back at his younger brother, but then he stood. His brother saw the encroaching evening and followed.

They grabbed the ropes attached to the fronts of the sleds and began to pull. It was harder going up than down. The older tried to stay within the tracks they’d left before – the going was easier there – but the younger liked to walk where it was yet undisturbed, his boots crunching through the crisp, new snow.

They had to be home before dark. That was the eternal statute of mothers, and they dared not disobey. The shadow of the trees was across the stream now, reaching out its fingers for the base of the hill, and they hurried on up the hill, towards the house they could just see at the top.

The older flipped a knife out of his pocket to brush his finger against the edge. It needed to be sharpened. It wasn’t a knife to dull quickly, but he’d been using it a lot lately to carve the nativity scene that lay, half-completed, on the mantlepiece at home. Mary and Joseph were there, polished so the firelight would gleam on their bent heads and kneeling bodies. There was a shepherd too, and a lamb with him that lay beside the manger. And one of the wise men (he hadn’t made the other two yet).

He looked up sharply when he realized his brother was no longer with him. He’d lagged behind, fascinated with the sight of his footprints stretching back down the hill between the runners of the sled. He hadn’t noticed the vanguard of evening approaching. The sun had dipped behind the trees and now only its upper half showed, glowing huge and red behind the oaks and the tallest evergreens; a light that was to the star on the Christmas tree what the crucifixion is to the manger. And the younger brother looked up suddenly to find himself engulfed in the shadow of the trees.

He broke into a stumbling run, plowing his way through the thick snow. His brother left his sled lying halfway up the hill and shuffled back down to grab his hand and pull him forward; and then they broke together from the shade into the dying sunlight. They hurried on, but now more urgently.

He felt his pocket to make sure the knife was still there. It was. He wished now that he’d looked for wood while they were at the bottom of the hill. He still had two magi to carve, and maybe another shepherd.

The manger was still empty, too. He hadn’t carved the baby yet, and he didn’t mean to; not until Christmas Eve. Or maybe he should start earlier, have time to get the details right. He shifted his freezing hand in the knit glove so he could get a better grip on the rope. The Christ child should be perfect, shouldn’t He?

But then, after all, the Christ had been a baby, just like the little baby brother up at the house. Not just like, he corrected himself; but still, He may have come into a freezing night just like this one, and He may have screamed at first. Strange, really. That God would become a baby like that.

Beside him, his brother gave a muffled sort of shout and crashed on his knees into the snow. He rolled over and sat there, grimacing, indifferent to the snow piled around him. His brother knelt beside him. What was wrong? He’d twisted his ankle on something hidden under the snow. Yes, it hurt, but it probably wasn’t broken. No, he couldn’t walk on it.

The light was fading fast. Night was imminent, although the sun’s light still reached the top of the hill and just barely found its way to where two brothers rested – one sitting, one kneeling beside him – in the thick snow.

They could see the house clearly now, up above them. The sky behind it had evolved from deep blue to nearly black. A few stars twinkled out, one resting above the grove of evergreens behind the house. Light shone from the windows to greet the constellations and the moon. It beckoned to the two boys, and their minds filled with the smell of pot roast and the creamy taste of hot chocolate.

The elder drew up his sled and pushed and pulled his brother onto it. He grabbed the rope, handed the other rope to his brother, and set his shoulder against the hill and the wind and the evening. He pulled – pulled harder – now it was just his feet, and the snow, and the weight of the sled behind.

Step by step – and the house was closer now than it had been. His thoughts wandered as he pulled, but he kept thinking of the wood by the fireplace; he would carve another of the magi tonight. Its crown would be better than the last one, and the robes would be richer too. His boots crushed the snow beneath him and the wind taught his face the meaning of winter.

The hill was levelling out, finally. He wasn’t pulling uphill so much anymore. They had reached the yard, and the sun was still there – just peeking out above the trees. They paused when they were at the house, and watched it dip below the line of the branches. The sky was dark now, a curtain of dusk looking down at them.

They leaned the sleds against the side of the house and headed for the door. The star above the evergreens winked at them as the one leaned on the other and they stepped inside.

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