Dan Conradt: Don’t say ‘uncle’ until the snowballs are gone
I pushed myself deeper into the shadows and tried to slow my breathing. The wall was cold against my back.
He was out there somewhere. Stalking. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t hear him. But I could feel him.
I had size on my side. He had stealth.
A train whistled for the crossing on the edge of town. The sound was unusually loud in the cold, still air, loud enough to mask the sound of footsteps.
The sky was dotted with stars, a thin pink line the only color remaining on the horizon.
Should I risk looking over the wall? Should I crawl to the doorway? The last attack had come swiftly and silently … one minute, all was quiet, the next minute I was under fire. By the time I was in a position to retaliate, he had vanished.
He was a wily and formidable opponent.
I pushed away from the wall, lay flat on the ground and used my elbows to pull myself toward the doorway.
I stopped before reaching the opening and paused to listen to the night; the echo of the train was receding in the distance as a car rolled over the rumble strips on the highway … ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump.
Faintly and somewhere nearby, the rustle of fabric was little more than a whisper, and a tiny voice floated on the winter air: “Daa-aad. Oh, Daaaa-aaaad …”
I crawled to the doorway … my head barely through the opening … and peeked to the left. Bare trees were silhouetted against the snow-white landscape, but nothing moved.
I kept my body flattened against the ground and turned my head to the right.
It took a moment for my mind to register the snow boots six inches in front of my face, each displaying the googly-eyed face of Cookie Monster.
It was the moment I realized that the battle had been lost.
“I got you!” he yelled triumphantly.
I had just enough time to hunch my shoulders and use my gloved hands to cover the back of my head before the snowball barrage began.
He didn’t throw hard, but his aim was good. The assault wasn’t much more than a muffled thumping on the thick fill of my parka. Despite my prone position, wet snow — bushels of it, it seemed — found its way into the narrow gap between my stocking cap and my collar and slid down my neck.
I pulled back into the shelter of the snow fort and curled into a fetal position in the corner. Steven followed me, and the onslaught continued. He was laughing such a genuine 5-year-old’s laugh that I was inclined to play along, just to hear it.
“Uncle!” I said. With my face on the ground and gloves covering the back of my head, the word was muffled: “UNCLE!”
“Dad, you can’t say ‘uncle,’” Steven said. “I still have some snowballs left!”
Whump whump whump.
And then the attack was over.
“NOW you can say ‘uncle,’” he said. “They’re all gone.”
I looked up cautiously. He was standing over me looking impenetrable in snow pants, a kid-sized parka, an Elmo stocking cap and Power Ranger mittens.
Cookie Monster was staring maniacally.
I rolled into a sitting position and snow avalanched off me.
“That was fun!” he said. “Go hide again … I’ll count to 10, then come looking for you.”
“It’s almost bedtime,” I said. “And I’m cold. Let’s go in the house and have some hot chocolate; we’ll have another snowball fight tomorrow night.”
His face turned serious. “What if all the snow melts?”
Experience told me we had another four months before that happened.
“It won’t,” I said.
“Can I put some little marshmallows in my hot chocolate?” he asked as we headed for the house.
“I’m going to put some in mine!”
We stopped at the front door and stomped our feet on the sidewalk to try to keep as much snow as possible outside.
“Hey, Dad?” he said as I was brushing snow off my jeans.
That’s when the snowball hit me in the middle of the back.
I turned, and he was wearing an ear-to-ear grin: “I had one left!”
He was a wily and formidable opponent.
But I gave him some of those little marshmallows anyway.