It is late and the temperature is dropping fast but he would rather be out walking than be home. No one will notice if he is not home. They will, however, notice if he is there and the key is not to be noticed.

He doesn’t have a winter coat. The teacher asked him about it and he lied. He told her he left it at his father’s house. The teacher is new this year or she would know he hasn’t seen his father in more years than he can remember.

He buries his hands deep in the pockets of the sweatshirt he is wearing. The hood is pulled up over his head but he has just about grown out of the jacket so it is stretched tight and makes his neck feel funny and gives his shoulders a deformed look.

His little brother walks a pace or two behind him. He can hear him sniffling and yells back at him to just wipe is nose on his sleeve already and quit making that sound.

The younger boy grumbles. He just got this jacket and even though it hangs past his hips and the sleeves need to be rolled up so his fingertips can peek out the cuffs, it is the nicest jacket he has ever owned and he doesn’t want snot on it. He inhales hard and swallows.

The older boy’s face fixes in a scowl at the sound, but he says nothing. He just keeps moving forward. It is important, he thinks, to just keep moving, keep walking. The further away he gets from home, the more the constriction he always feels in his chest eases.

It has snowed for the last several days and they have been house bond for too long and if it weren’t for the fact his brother would not be able to keep up, he would run to try to ease the tension he feels in every muscle in his small body.

As they enter the parking lot of the strip mall, he sees a massive pile of snow in the center of the lot. Since the last shop closed, they don’t need to plow the snow to the corners anymore to allow for parking. The maintenance people have gotten lazy and plowed the recent snowfall all to the center and it is the most amazing thing he has ever seen. He wonders if this is what mountains look like.

He takes a running start and begins to climb the snow. He feet slide out from under him and he digs his hands into the snow and ice. Ignoring the pain in his chilled fingers, he pulls himself forward, his feet working to find a hold. All he can think is he has to get to the top.

His brother stands on the pavement, watching, making worried sounds.

He yells for the little boy to stop whining and follow him. He is almost at the top, his breath is coming in ragged gasps and he is sweating. His heart is pounding so hard in his chest that it is the only thing he can hear.

He pulls himself up the last little bit, flips over onto his back, chest heaving. When he can breath again, he sits up. His little brother is struggling up the slippery slope. He tells the boy to follow his tracks, use the holds his hands and feet made.

He stands and surveys the parking lot. His kingdom. He made it to the top; he is king of this mountain. He feels free and lets out a deep sigh of satisfaction.



Des Moines, United States

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