Friday, May 30, 2008

Ice Crystal by Becca Dale

Crystal woke to the sound of her Newfoundland whining in her ear. Behind the giant dog, distorted sunlight streamed cheerily through frosted windows. Its brightness belied the sub-zero wind howling outside her grandmother's mountain cabin.

She pushed the dog's muzzle away from her face. "Damn it, Jake, it's barely morning. Give me a minute."

Despite her dog's snuffling nudges that urged her to get up and face the day, goose bumps sent her snuggling beneath the quilt. She hated the thought of leaving her cozy cocoon.

"Go lie down, Jake. I don't need a canine alarm clock."

The Newfie responded with a low woof before he caught the bedcovers in his mouth. With a few backward steps, the dog stole Crystal's blankets and rolled her off the bed onto the cold pine floor in an awkward heap.

"Ow! Damn it!"

She tried to be mad at Jake as she sat up and rubbed the pain from her bruised elbow, but as always, she found getting angry with him impossible. Overjoyed with his success, the friendly animal waggled and bounced, spreading drool and love in equal measures until he reduced her to a pile of laughter. Out of breath, Crys leaned against the bed as Jake flopped beside her and rested his massive head on her lap.

"You are a horrid beast, you know that don't you?" she asked as she fondled his floppy ears. "If you move, I'll get up and let you out."

The dog blinked innocently, then leaped onto the bed and settled into a black lump of fur and feet.

"You didn't need to go out. You wanted my spot. Brat." She tossed the blankets and quilt on the bed and admonished her lazy pet. "Don't drool on my pillow."

The wood floor nipped at Crystal's bare feet, making her aware of how cold the one-room cabin had become during the night. Her oversized T-shirt and worn flannel pajama bottoms did nothing to ward off the morning chill. With a shudder, she scampered to start a fire. Working quickly, she stoked the cast iron stove. When she finished, only three pitiful sticks remained in the bottom of the wood box. She would have to venture outside while the weather remained tolerable.

Her cell phone rang as she shut the door to the stove and hurried to pick it up. "Hello, Grandma."

"How did you know it was me, darling?"

Crystal chuckled at the awe in her grandmother's voice. "I have Caller ID on my cell, Grandma. Besides, you're the only person who would call before eight when I'm on vacation."

"So you arrived at the cabin all right?"

"Yeah, I got here yesterday afternoon. It took me a couple days to cross the Norwegian border into Sweden and find the place. My Swedish is rustier than I thought, and my Norwegian is nonexistent. Thank God so many people speak English, or I may never have found your place."

"So everything was in order then?"

"Yes. Why?" Crystal could hear the mischief in her grandmother's voice. "What are you up to, Grandma Ann?"

"Nothing! Why would you think such a thing?"

"Because I know you."

"I called because I was worried about you. A grandmother has that right, you know. Of course, at the cabin your berg ängel will look after you. I really have no need to be concerned."

With a smile, Crystal set a teakettle on the stovetop to boil. Grandma Ann had always insisted mystical beings lived in the mountains surrounding the old cabin. She swore whenever someone in the family needed shelter from a storm, emotional or physical, mountain angels waited close by to help.

"I haven't believed in angels since I was little, Grandma."

"Well, that doesn't mean they're not there. You used to wander the woods looking for them. In fact, you still believed the last year you spent Christmas in Sweden, the year before you met Mark."

With a sigh, Crystal sat cross-legged on the end of the bed and pulled a blanket over her freezing toes. "Let's change the subject, shall we, Grandma? I know all about the time I fell through the ice, and I remember too well the incident in the woods when I was sixteen. There was no angel involved either time, no matter what you tell yourself. Believe me, I could use an angel right now, but they seem conspicuously absent."

As her grandmother obligingly changed topics and began to rattle on about the happenings at the senior center, Crystal wondered if she had made the right decision in leaving Arizona. Snow had fallen the night before, isolating her further from civilization, and the nearest neighbor that she knew of lived five miles away. Her friends back home had insisted she should be at a ski lodge, meeting new people and appreciating the hot bodies of Nordic ski instructors instead of locking herself away with nothing but her dog and her memories. So far, though, the cabin suited her mood better than any bustling tourist retreat filled with snooty Europeans and self-absorbed Americans ever could have.

"Don't you agree, darling?"

Her grandmother's question jerked Crystal out of her musings. Embarrassed, she tried to cover her lapse. "I'm sorry, Grandma. What did you say? The connection isn't very good this morning."

"I told Helen yesterday that there's nothing like the mountains in winter to cure the blues. She was all worried about you being there alone, but I told her you needed to get out of that house. Mark's presence hangs around like an unwanted ghost."

"Don't start, Grandma. I know you never liked Mark, but the man is dead. Cut me some slack for loving my husband. We were married for ten years. The plane crash was nine months ago. It's only right that I miss him."

"Miss him, yes, my darling, but let him go. That's why I encouraged you to leave the country. The cabin does not echo with your memories of him."

"You're probably right, Grandma, but sometimes I miss his guidance. Mark always knew what to do, no matter the situation."

"He knew so much that you forgot how to think for yourself, Crystal Ann."

"Enough, Grandma. Let it go."

"I will when you do, darling."

Crystal flopped back on the bed with a groan. "All right, truce. I came here to get away from Mark's memory. Let's forget it for now, shall we?"

"I'm sorry, Crystal. Now that you're back on the mountain, your berg ängel will take care of everything."

Crystal laughed aloud at her grandmother's persistence. "Grandma, you're crazy."

"That may be true, but remember whatever happens on the mountain is meant to be. Go with the flow and relax, Crystal Ann. That's a direct order."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll keep you posted."