by David Knox
Artwork, “Gorilla” by Alexa Gaffaney
A slivering scarf of the most plump candy-apple red trailed in the sharpest of contrasts down a blinding white bank of snow. And it was the pulsing neck of one Jake Coffee that was doing the pulling. For he was a bolting fugitive, a lone soldier mere blocks away from his post.
But alas, a bloodthirsty search party was hot on his cold, white trail.
Jake surfed down the snow covered hill clumsily and battle-weary. He reached the bottom and fell to his knees for a swig of momentary breath, the snow crunching sharply in the process. He panned left and right nervously as he panted. He closed his eyes, finally catching his breath that felt like frozen fire in his lungs. He thought of his mother. By God what he’d do for a steaming hot bowl of her tomato soup right then and there. But home seemed a lifetime away.
No! He thought. Can’t get distracted.
Jake hoisted himself back up to his tattered boots and re-secured his red scarf. He cocked his head slightly in the cold, listless wind.
They’re close, he thought.
The impending mixture of frantic chatter and dog barks was coming to its crescendo as the hunting party neared.
Jake looked left.
A white, barren forest.
A frozen, slithering creek that glinted in the late winter afternoon.
And straight ahead, just around the bend of that forest, and just a mere two blocks over was Jake Coffee’s post, his safe haven.
His boots sank six inches deep at every step. He hobbled over a stump and leapt for further clearance. He was approaching the bend in the barren wood.
“There! He’s over there!!!” someone screamed.
Jake reared back, still sprinting. The hunting party had reached the snow bank. They quickly began surfing down the white waves of frost.
Jake kept running, but before he could turn and face forward he clipped the corner of a rusty old chain-link fence.
“Ahhh!” he cried.
But he didn’t have time to check for blood. He kept running. He could feel his body shutting down as he finally rounded the corner of the forest.
Jake gazed down the old, snow-blanketed street that stretched as far as the eye could see. Tiny, humble homes of subtle tones lined both sides all the way down.
Almost there, Jake thought wildly.
He bolted down the street until he came to the old green house on the left. It was a shortcut known by few in wartime.
He grabbed an old tin top of a trash can lid by the garage and crept around the house as fast as someone hunched could manage, his new shield in hand.
He zipped through the back yard past the tarp-covered fishing boat that was dormant upon a trailer. He hopped the back-fence. And when he landed, he saw it. It was just past the adjacent house on the corner of the other street. It was his post. It was home base.
Finally, Jake thought, inhaling the sharp, dry air.
He counted to three in his head and ran. And oh, how he ran past that other tiny house. He stepped onto the next snowy street, mere seconds away from base when…
“Hold it right there!”
Jake stopped as best as he could, his boots skidding and sliding down the slippery asphalt. He turned his head the right.
Five hunters, armed and poised to fire were standing ten feet away from him with three hunched bloodhounds ready and waiting at their sides.
“Any last words, Coffee?”
Jake surveyed his nemesis, his rival warlord, Nick Hodges. A cold wind shrilled and gusted though the street. Scarves and coats swayed obediently. Jake looked at the mob before him. He’d been bested, no matter how hard he had toiled. Jake thought of his mother’s soup one last time and stood upright towards his assassins. He spoke with the resolve of a seasoned preacher at an overcast eulogy.
“Just do it.”
And before he could even raise his shield, Jake Coffee’s body was pummeled, round after unrelenting round with the lashing of a dozen shots. His head jerked right and left, his arms and legs flailed in all directions. His face scrunched in the barrage.
Jake fell to the cold, uncaring street, six inches deep in the snow. His red scarf lay curled and elongated like a lifeless, red serpent. He laid stiff, his arms and legs dead and doornail-like, unable to create any snow-angel to carry him away.
And when the snowballs that had battered him began to slowly disintegrate, his nemesis looked down at him beneath the dimming day of winter.
“All right Jake, swap time,” said Nick.
He and the others lifted Jake to his wobbly legs. “But remember, you gotta count to a hundred instead of fifty this time since it’s all of us hiding.”
“Yep. I know,” said Jake, a strange, hungry smile creeping over his face.
“Alright. Touch the pole and start counting out loud. And I bet you one of my Hershiser rookie cards for your misprinted Glavine that says Smoltz on it that you can’t nab us all. Let’s go guys! Come on pups, you too!”
Nick Hodges and the rest of the Cripple Creek kids, along with the three eager dogs all ran away as Jake Coffee started to count out loud. His hand was on the cold, metallic limb of the street lamp in front of his house.
He kept counting but knelt down to the fresh, plump blanket of snow. It was a blank canvas for a battle anew.
“Seventy-two, seventy-three, seventy-four…”
One by one he began to mold and shape each clump of snow into a finely tuned ball of eager ammunition, just as a master sculptor might. He loaded as many as he could into his coat pockets and even stuffed a few inside the hood of his sweatshirt that protruded from within his bundled frame.
“Ninety-eight, ninety-nine…one hundred! Ready or not, here I come!!!”
And high in the frigid air, the frozen, glazed over bulb awoke and lit the street to life in the fresh December evening. Jake Coffee, the new hunter, bolted down the block, his red scarf desperately trying to keep close behind.