Cold

It was the season’s first dip below 32 degrees. And the day’s wind was a harbinger for the months that lay ahead. As it picked away the leaves of fall one by one, and sent so many to their sleep, winter began its long crawl into Sterling Corners.

Chase Hatkins drove down that last mile of 420 before his exit to home. It was dark because it was late, but he reconciled that with the notion that with winter setting in, it would have been dark anyway. He glanced up at the billboard touting “Crazy Low Round Trip Airfares to St. Pete, Orlando and other Locales” and “Round Trip to Miami – $75.” He seemed to catch that one every time, as if it had brighter lights on it which more effectively drew his attention. Just thinking about the cold gave him an uncomfortable shiver in his spine, or perhaps, a touch of nausea.

He didn’t hate winter. It had its charm, in spots, but as he got older, the cold seemed to settle into his bones faster and deeper than he could recall and finding the charm in it all was more o f a struggle each year.

The billboard zipped by, but its message left a subtle impression on him that combined with the slight memories of his past few sightings which seemed to generate some consideration on its message. Chase hated the notion of being manipulated, but damn if the billboard wasn’t doing its job.

It had been over eleven years since he took a vacation. It was a long weekend in Virginia Beach because his feet demanded that they be soaked in the rippling waves of the ocean for a few days. He liked vacations. He liked being away. He was so good at forgetting everything he was responsible for back home that is was almost as if he became a wholly other person. And as he thought about “Crazy Low Round Trip Airfares to St. Pete, Orlando and other Locales” and “Round Trip to Miami – $75,” and balanced that against the pending winter, a tiny ember of longing stirred in his soul.

He could take a vacation, a trip to someplace warm. It would probably be good for him. The airfare seemed right. Then again, he knew those posted airfares were bait meant to lure longing minds like his to dangerous considerations with the promise inexpensive opportunities. A round trip flight to Miami might start at $75, but there would surely be rate windows and limitations, then fees and taxes to make the real cost something higher. Then, there was lodging to consider … and food.

If he tapped out his available savings he could probably spend three economical weeks away soaking up sun rays and forgetting about his frozen existence back home. Work would have no part of it of course. Nobody was allowed more than a week at a time to ensure production quotas. Another consideration was that even after whatever time he could cobble together, he would have to come back. Not only to work, but to the dark and the cold, to his humble abode and to the real life he lead, one far less dramatic and important than the lives he created while away.

He deserved it right? Maybe. Maybe he only deserved what he had because whether by design or by default, that was what he earned.

A burst of wind pushed hard against his car as he left the highway to head up Stiger Road. A neon palm tree flickered in the window of the Southern Heat Tanning Salon. The man on the radio began to talk about the possibility of snow.

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