The Christmas Goose

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In the Woods

Alarmed, he looked behind him, hoping they were still faintly in the white snowfall, but the only footprints he saw were his own. The snow outside the clump of trees had continued its course and the ground was shiny and smooth. There was no sign nor tracks of life anywhere.

“Oh no, I’m lost.” Alan said. “The snow covered up the footprints.” He looked around for different signs he had marked in the woods. Where was the sapling with the curved trunk? Or the fallen log with a single limb jutting out? Alan struggled out of the clump of trees. Perhaps he could find the hollowed-out birch tree near the start of the trail.

He peered through the falling snow, but it was no use. He had lost all sense of direction and the snow was getting thicker.

“Come on, keep walking,” he told himself. “The cabin has to be here somewhere. I just need to see a light.”

He plodded through the cold white blanket, sometimes ankle-deep. His wound began to burn from the frostbite. Alan paused to rub it, but the sting was only soothed so much. He tried calling for help in the darkness, but the silent snowflakes deadened his cries.

Alan began to feel the seriousness of his position. He would have turned around, hoping to make his way back to the station, but there was no telling whether or not he’d find the station in all this snow.

“Come on.” He said. “The cabin’s got to be here somewhere. These woods didn’t look that big. Where is it?”

He tried to orient himself, tried to think of any possible way he could find his direction, but the cold and pain in his leg were working against his memory and his mind blanked.

The wind started to kick up and Alan found shelter beneath a nearby pine tree. Perhaps if he waited just a little bit, the snow would stop and he would be able to find the path. Alan pulled the tattered jacket more closely around himself. Now he understood how poor Jim must have felt. The jacket would have been better described as a shirt, it was so thin. Alan’s leg was stinging so his rubbed it while he sat. He was so exhausted...

Alan jerked his head up. He must have dozed off. The snow had dissipated, but now it was dark. The blanket of snow dimly illuminated the forest floor. The last thing Alan wanted to do was move, but he knew he couldn’t stay put. At this hour, perhaps the others had begun to search for him. With a sickening feeling, Alan wondered if they had already passed him by as he slept. He determined to get up.

However, Alan forgot he had given away his cane. When he went to rise, he groaned and fell back against the tree trunk.

“Oh, golly!” He gasped. “Did that ever hurt! All this cold must have brought my leg back to square one. Oh, why did I give that old thing away?”

He grunted in amused frustration.

"Which thing?”

With a groan, he grasped the trunk and used it to pull himself up. The process was slow and painful and drew a number of cries. He didn’t try to stifle them, hoping someone would hear. Besides, the cries were not only from his pain. All the cold and eerie solitude was filling Alan’s mind with memories of his days at the front. Bombshells seemed to crack in the distance. Incoherent shouts and discordant screams lingered in the midst of the withered trees. Alan groaned.

“I’m never gonna get away from this war,” he thought desperately. “I’m never gonna get away from this cold. Everything’s cold! Everything’s dead!”

He plodded forward a few steps further, but each step was heavier. Alan brushed away the tears that stung his eyes.

“How can it be Christmas when it’s so cold?”

He fell to his knees, unable to walk another step. His mind urged him to keep walking, moving, anything to prevent his freezing to death; but Alan was too discouraged and worn-out to try any longer. The feeling of numbness was growing inside him, laced with stinging cold. He took shelter beside a fallen tree. The log shielded a greater part of the cold, and Alan rubbed his arms in an effort to warm them.

He had never felt his chances so slim. Sure, he had faced death on the battlefront, but it was along with a few thousand comrades. Now he was completely alone. For all his aloof and distant demeanor, he was afraid to die without a soul near him. The fear was mixed with a deeper feeling of regret. So much had been left undone, so much unsaid. Everything that might have, by some miracle, come to pass would never happen now.

As he lapsed into silent tears, he could hear the wind begin to blow through the woods. Instead of the distant howling of spirits, he heard a different sound. The tender, sweet voice of the little lost girl echoed in the draft.

Don’t you have someone to think about you?"

Alan closed his eyes. He could remember the happy laughter he and Donna shared before he left for France, those cherished moments when they were together. How much that was a bittersweet dream! The first months of his return had been like a blurred nightmare. Even the consolation of Donna’s constant nursing had been painful to him because of his shattered hopes for their future.

Donna had never said a word of the proposal; yet, there had been an unexplainable look of longing in her eyes. Alan recalled snatches of conversation that would abruptly close with a sigh or a quick turning of her head. Had she wanted to speak to him about it? Had she been waiting for him to ask?

“You could have asked her.” He accused himself. “Sure, she’s not hitched to a dead dog now, but—”

You’re not really cold if you’re not alone ...

“I know.” Alan answered, trying to master his emotions. He grit his teeth and sat up against the log. “That’s why I’m cold, why I’ll go that way. She can’t—she doesn’t—she’ll never know—anything I would have told—”

He couldn’t finish. The knowledge cut through him like a knife. He buried his face in his hands, and his groans were the only sound above the murmuring wind. Why hadn’t he told her how he felt? Why couldn’t he let go of his sorrow long enough to admit his greatest agony lay in the question that he could not ask? The union of hearts they could never share because of his lame leg?

As he lamented, he noticed a glow shine ever faintly amidst the fallen white. The breeze blew particles of snow into the air. A warmth gathered between them as the snowflakes swayed and held, delicately creating a mirror before him. Alan watched, half in a daze. He did not know if what he saw was true, but he imagined this vision must be a prelude to death. He struggled to his knees and peered at the snowflakes. Within their shining circle, they reflected a face, but it was not his own.

“Donna!” Alan breathed. Never had her face been such a comfort to him. Never had he yearned for her touch more ardently.

She was not looking at him, but through an open door. Her eyes were tender and yearning. He heard her calling his name, looking out across the snow. Alan choked on a sob. She was worried about him. She wanted him—and he had avoided her. For the first time since he had come back, he understood what she must have suffered.

“Oh, Donna,” he vowed, “if I ever see you again in this life, I won’t hold back. I promise.”

He tried to reach for her, but fell forward onto the snow. He began to crawl along the forest floor, trying to touch the snowflake mirror before it vanished. Regaining his breath, he weakly raised his head, hoping to catch a glimpse of her face one last time.

She was gone.

Still the memory lingered and Alan sank peacefully to the earth.

“I promise...” he whispered weakly. As he closed his eyes, he faintly heard a distant sound.


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