Ides of March

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A CRUEL, unavoidable empathy has overcome me today.

It had been an otherwise typical day in the middle of March. Spring was coming in like a lamb, and I had the radio deejay repeatedly reminding me of it all morning. Repetitive as his ramblings were, the fact that I was sitting at my desk in the front window and was thus witness to the weather made it all the more redundant.

But I needed the deejay's company; to keep me sane.

I'd been there at the desk near the window all morning on self-appointed sick leave. No, I wasn't ill, but I did have to fill out the tax forms for my wife and I, and if neither of us got on the ball, they'd never get done. On second thought, maybe I was sick. Why else would I volunteer for such a task?

So I sat there, playing with numbers, feeling the warm sun on my face with the easy listening radio station filtering old top 40 tunes to my mind. The temperature outside was just above zero, I could tell, for the previously icy sidewalks were now infested with puddles.

The warm temperature left the remaining snow wet and sticky. The neighbor's eight year old boy, Charlie Fung, was putting the finishing touches on what would probably be his last snowman of the year.

Everything was normal. Everything was fine. And except for the grueling hours and triplicate form headaches that lay ahead of me, it was a pleasant day.

Then this black truck, a Range Rover, I believe, appeared from around the corner of our street and Fifth Avenue and swerved dramatically, taking a long wide turn into the double driveway that we shared with the Fungs.

Two figures sat in the cab, but it was hard to see them through the glare of the sun on the windshield. I was certain that they were drunk, or at least the driver was, the way he'd maneuvered the vehicle. That upset me. I mean, it was barely noon, and already drunk drivers were on the road, endangering lives. I'd never seen this truck before and wondered what connection these yahoos might have with the Fungs, who were very conservative, peaceful and quiet neighbors.

Both figures stumbled out of the truck and confirmed my suspicions about their drunkenness. Their fashion sense wasn't much better. They were large, overweight, and dressed in similar beige full length overcoats, blue baggy ski pants and wool hats with long, floppy brims that kept their faces in shadow.

Together, they lurched toward Charlie, who was looking up at them from his recently created masterpiece. The driver was the first to reach the boy and as he approached, he grabbed Charlie by the shoulder and threw him to the snow.

I sprang from my desk and ran back through the living room, into the kitchen and down the steps to the front door. When I burst into the front yard, Charlie was sitting in the snow, crying silently, and the two men were carrying away the snowman.

When Charlie saw me he started to wail out loud, and I rushed over to see if he was all right.

"The pushed me!" He bawled. "They pushed me! They pushed me!" He continually repeated this phrase, louder and louder. For an obscure moment I wondered if he held any relation to the deejay who'd been keeping me company all morning with his repetitive and redundant words.

Assured that Charlie wasn't hurt, just scared, I looked up to see that the two strangers were putting Charlie's snowman into the back of the truck where five other snowman sat.

I wouldn't be surprised if my jaw hit the snow as I stood there watching.

Stealing snowmen from children? What kind of mentally unbalanced people was I dealing with here? Our world was getting more and more stupid each passing day.

I walked over to the strangers. "Hey buddy," I said, putting my hand on the driver's shoulder from behind. "What's the big ide . . ."

I stopped.

His shoulder was cold and soft, and my hand mashed down into it easily.

He turned to face me, staring at me with big black eyes. Chunks of coal. And his flesh was pale white, nothing more than snow. He was sweating profusely. No, not sweating. Melting. His face was melting, and it continued to change its shape before me, the melting water running down his slushy face, the carrot nose beginning to sag.

He said something to me. Or at least he tried to, for his melting face seemed without a mouth. It came out as a mumbled warning of some kind.

Then he pushed me - hard. In the face. His hand was wet and slushy. There was an immediate bitter-cold sensation in my mouth and on my tongue - not unlike a shot of Novocain from the dentist - and I realized I must have eaten a couple of his fingers. The numbing sensation immediately dribbled down the back of my throat.

I stumbled, back, numb, dumbfounded, and fell on my ass.

I sat there in the snow, quiet and wide eyed the way Charlie had been when I first came out of the house, and watched them clamber into the cab again. The truck pulled out of the driveway, backed into a telephone post across the street and then went forward, down to the end of the street, and disappeared around the corner.

I'm not sure where these twisted snowmen came from.

But I certainly know where they're heading.

North.

Although I couldn't at first make out the mumbled word the driver had said to me, I think I've figured it out. It was a desperate, guttural moan, a warning, spoken the same rushed way that way Chicken Little must have bleated, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" in the classic Henny Penny tale.

The word I believe the snowman was trying to utter was: Spring.

Spring.

Nothing more than a season to us. But to a snowman, it was the end of the world.

Whoever they were, however they came to exist, Frosty and his friend were heading north and taking as many of their own kind with them as they could gather, the way that birds migrate south for the winter. They were running from the apocalyptic season of spring.

I wondered if they would make it.

Then, shortly after I escorted Charlie to his home and explained the situation to his parents - leaving out the fact that the thieves were snowmen themselves - I came back inside and took my place at the window.

Sitting here in the window again, the sunlight on my face, sweat running down my brow, I begin to wonder something else.

Spring is coming in like a lamb, a soft mild day. But ever since I swallowed the snow flesh of the animate snowman, the numbness has continued to spread throughout my insides. And I've become more and more uncomfortable in the heat. I keep checking the temperature because it feels like one hundred degrees - but it's really only plus three.

I look down at my sweat, at the pools of thick fleshy sweat that has dripped onto my desk, onto the tax forms.

And I wonder if I would be able to find them again.

I wonder if they'd take me with them.

The taxes, Charlie, my wife, none of them seem important to me now.

I'd just like to head north, find a deserted field, and spend the rest of my days standing there, basking in the freezing arctic temperatures.


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