Monday, December 06, 2010

Zanter Klauzen

Stranded in a cabin deep in a Minnesota wood, a woman and her two children face an uncertain Christmas. With their supplies dwindling she began to pray that they would survive to see the new year. Then he appeared, a strange man lurking in the shadows of the snow covered firs. How long would he watch them before making his move?

M arilee Cohen tore the top page away from the calendar pad. Another day gone and alas, another day closer to Christmas she thought.

It was supposed to be a festive time of the year, a time to celebrate with family and loved ones. For her, however, it was anything but festive. In the presence of her two children she'd been wearing a thin veil of holiday spirit, but she knew they had seen through the guise.

The loss of her husband to a brain aneurysm two months before had turned their idyllic family life upside down. Because neither one of them had gotten around to purchasing life insurance, his funeral and burial had all but wiped out their meager savings.

Her salary as a check out clerk at the local grocery store had been serving as extra income while her husband was alive, but now she had to struggle just to makes ends meet. Then there was the crash of the economy. It wasn't long before her employer was forced to halve the hours of the staff or to resort to layoffs.

Bill paying had become a virtual exercise in futility. She'd had no choice but to resort to a Rob-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul method of budgeting and it wasn't working. Her credit had been shot to hell. The car dealership was threatening to repossess her minivan. Her banker had hinted at the possibility of foreclosure on the house.

The label of 'single welfare mother' appalled her, but it was exactly what she'd become. She, her five-year-old daughter and four-year-old son were facing an impoverished life unless they were to be blessed with some unforeseen miracle.

M iracles sometimes present themselves in unexpected ways and from unexpected sources. This miracle had been provided by her estranged mother. She glanced at her two children asleep in the seats next to her. She smiled at their peaceful repose, Rebecca's head resting upon Jon's shoulder. They were finally going to meet their maternal grandmother for the first time.

Only two days earlier while poring through the mail, mostly bills, she'd been surprised to find an envelope which had been postmarked from the small Minnesota town of New Ulm. The serif-flourished handwriting had been unmistakably that of her mother.

Accompanying a single sheet of stationery were three airline tickets to the airport serving Mankato, a prepaid voucher for a rental vehicle, and a map with a high-lighted route to the small town of Nicollet located halfway between Mankato and New Ulm. The words written by her mother were brief and to the point.
The time to mourn has passed. The time to celebrate as a family is now. Please, I need to see my daughter and my grandchildren while there is still time.
There was a slight jolt as the plane hit a small air pocket as it passed high above Lake Michigan. The children stirred but did not awaken. While they had been excited about flying for the first time, being awakened at four in the morning had caught up to them and they had succumbed to sleep after only a half hour off the ground.

Three times she had tossed the envelope and its contents into the trash can, and three times she'd retrieved them. It had been eleven years since she and her mother had seen each other. Ten years had passed since they'd last spoken.

She had experienced much trepidation about accepting her mother's peace offering, but it was much too late to be second guessing herself. Both intrigued and concerned, she couldn't help but wonder about the implications of her mother's written words. Was she dying? Was she reaching out to make peace before she closed her eyes forever?

P ostage stamp sized snowflakes were beginning to stick to the tarmac as the plane touched down upon the runway at the Mankato Municipal Airport. Awakened by the thump of the plane's wheels upon the ground, Rebecca sat up and looked out the window.

"It's snowing!" she squealed. "Wake up, Jon. Wake up!"

Marilee smiled at her kids' excitement over the falling flakes. It was the first time they'd ever seen snow. There was a time when she too would have been so happy to see the fluffy crystals, but alas, that was a long time ago. At that moment however, she was filled with dread because she was going to be driving in the stuff for the first time.

Thankful that they were able to retrieve their luggage so quickly, she hustled the kids to the car rental stand at the far end of the terminal. Within minutes the young man at the counter was handing her the keys to a four-wheel drive vehicle which was parked just outside the door.

Not only did he carry their luggage outside to the vehicle but he also stowed it for them. He then took the time to activate a talking GPS device mounted on the dashboard and showed her how to use it. The programmed instructions would take them northwest on Rt. 14 to the town of Nicollet. The address of their destination was the first right after the town and near Swan Lake.

She started the engine and glanced at her wristwatch. She let out a sigh of relief, for from the moment the plane had landed and she had placed the key in the ignition switch, only a half hour had passed. She peered through the windshield and saw that the snow was falling heavier and a strong wind was directing the flakes sideways.

Ten minutes later Mankato was in the rear view mirror. Ahead of her was a landscape that was quickly becoming a winter wonderland. She had to admit that it was a beautiful sight. Her fear of driving in snow was abating. According the soft female voice of the GPS they were fifteen miles away from their destination and as such, she had to remind herself not to get too complacent.

It happened so fast. It just seemed to appear out of nowhere. The large deer, frozen in the beacon of the headlights was directly in her path. By reflex she braked and swerved in the same instant. When the vehicle plunged from the road into the ravine, her scream became lodged in her throat.

To be continued ... Part 2



Hale McKay said...

This short story written for the Christmas holiday, will be posted in three or four installments in its entirety before Christmas day.

It will run concurrent with "Butterfly Dreams," the next installment of which will appear on Friday 12/10.

Sandee said...

Oh this is already a great story. Looking forward to each installment. I'm hoping for a happy ending.

Have a terrific day. :)

Jack K. said...

Merry Christmas!

Hale McKay said...


I can assure you that there will indeed be a happy ending.

Hale McKay said...


.. and to you as well.