Exclusive Excerpt from Shambling In A Winter Wonderland
He sat up and leaned toward her, eyes closed, lips puckered.
She gave a little gasp and spun away from him, and he toppled. “Did you hear that?”
He pushed himself up, spitting out pure snow, and saw her hands were empty. “Hey! Where’s that joint?”
She made vague waving motions in his direction as she headed toward an area blocked off with rebar and neon ribbon.
He, too, could hear the moans, but dismissed them as he crawled around, swiping his gloved hands in a messy search pattern. “You lost it in the snow? Jeez, do you know how expensive those have gotten since the government started taxing them? My mom won’t file an insurance claim for them for me, either. Stupid government with their stupid regulations and their stupid taxes… Wish it was illegal like in my dad’s day…”
“Ethan, come here!” Jessica waved him toward the barrier. He grumbled as he rose, slipped, and finally got his footing. She laughed, but not at him. “Come on! You gotta see! This guy’s like the abdominal snowman or something. Abombinable? Obamanble..?”
While she muttered through her search for the right word, he trudged to where she stood leaning against the barrier tape and looking into a ditch, his mind still on his joint. “You know, a good blunt is like a good man. You shouldn’t… Hey, what’s that guy doing?”
A lean, snow-covered guy in a torn ski suit stumbled around the small, deep hole, bumping into the sides. He’d clawed at the frozen walls, but only succeeded at fraying his gloves…and the skin beneath. The walls bore bloody streaks.
Ethan couldn’t take his eyes off the bloody walls. “Whoa, look at the lines. They’re all, like pink. And awesome. Makes me want to paint. Do you want to paint the snow – you know, like Moab, but snow, not rocks? Still, like Moab. The colors, all streaky and pink… Moab in snow, you know?”
Jessica giggled. “Later, maybe. What’s he doing, anyway? Hey, you! Stupid! What are you doing, anyway?”
The man stopped bumping himself against the wall and looked up and moaned, “Braaaiiins!”
“Yeah, you do need brains. How’d you get in there?”
Instead of answering, he began to claw at the snow under Jessica’s feet. Distracted from his visions of Moab in Snow, Ethan laughed. He couldn’t help it; the guy moved so slowly. What a moron!
“How’d you get in the hole?” Jessica kept asking. She stepped closer. The government ribbon strained as it tried to hold her back. She accepted its authority and bent over it instead. “Did you fall? Did you ski?”
“Oh, hey, that’s a good idea! Ethan, be a good blunt and get a ski from the shrine. We can pull him up.”
“Why should I?”
“Please?” She turned to him with big eyes and pouty lips, and for a moment he was mesmerized by how beautiful the red lines in the whites of her eyes were, like the pink lines in the snow. He should paint her, all pink in the snow…
He spun on his heel and almost lost his balance at the edge of the hole. He clutched at the nearest rebar. While it kept him from falling into the pit, he still hit to the ground, pulling the rebar down with him. It pushed out of the snow, causing part of the hole’s wall to collapse.
Jessica shrieked. “You idiot! You’re endangering the earth! Can’t you read? Something horrible is going to happen now, I just know it. Idiot!”
Ethan felt a jolt of fear. Didn’t his mother always tell him, the government was never wrong and he needed to listen to it? Then he remembered he never listened to his mother. “Yeah, whatever. It’s not like I crossed the line, anyway. I just moved it. I’m going to find my joint. Dig him out yourself.”
He tossed the rebar aside, or tried to; the safety tape caught and it flopped to the ground beside him. Jessica grabbed it. “Hey, yeah, we can use that! And then I can stay on this side of the tape. That’s so genius. Ethan, you’re a genius!”
“Whatever.” Ethan sat up, dusting snow off his jacket, and caught a glimpse of ash downslope. He cheered. “My joint!”
While Jessica giggled and called encouragement to the trapped dude, Ethan crawled to his lost treasure. He brushed it off, relit it, and put it to his lips. Then, remembering how Jessica had lost it once already, he turned his back to her to finish his smoke in privacy. “Yeah, that’s good stuff. Hey, that guy out yet?”
Jessica squealed, then screamed, “Help me, Ethan!”
There was a thump.
“You fall in? Klutz. Means you crossed the line! Give me a minute. Almost done.” He took another drag while she screamed and gibbered. The other guy moaned.
“Hey, don’t mess with my Jess!” he hollered without turning around. Yeah, better not to turn around. He could sound heroic and protective, but he didn’t want to fight the guy or anything. He was a lover, not a fighter. Besides, what’d they teach them in school? If someone is being harassed, take decisive action by finding someone in authority. There wasn’t anyone in authority for miles around, so what could he do? Not his fault. Anyway, they’d moved on to slurpy noises. Guess she’d decided she liked it after all. Figures. Women were like joints. Fun for a while, then you had to get a new one. Didn’t his grandma say that? And she’d had her hips replaced and everything…
He heard a rasping hiss and a moan, “Ethaaaan…”
Wait! Was that an…invitation? He nearly choked on his joint. He paused, took another toke and forced his voice into casual agreement.
“Fine. I’ve got an open mind, but save it for a hotel, all right? Come on. I got munchies. Nachos! Don’t nachos sound awesome? Let’s, like, get a room, order some nachos. You guys hungry?”