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The Darkest Evening of the Year
A tiny snowflake drifted through the trees, alighting on the nose of a German Shepard trotting beside his master. The woods were beautiful this time of year, in early winter when the snow muffles all noise save the crunch of ice beneath boots. The dog’s breath quickly froze, forming a cloud that drifted upward towards the chickadees calling in the trees; the sound was peaceful.
To the man, though, it was discordant noise. Usually, the forest was the greatest medicine, a healing potion that couldn’t be found elsewhere; today, though, it had no effect. The man trudged onward, paying no mind to where he was walking; he’d left a note on the door explaining the hunting trip, but he harbored no intention of causing more death – he’d lost everything.
His parents and friends were long gone, and his wife and baby girl died in a collision with a logging truck a week ago. The family car had been crushed; try as he might, he could do nothing to save them. As the gut-wrenching memories returned, he thought he felt his heart splinter under the burden. It was worse than any physical pain; he wanted it to end. The man never heard the tree splinter. He never heard the wood groan beneath its burden or his dog’s bark. He never heard the scream.
He came to hours later, lying face down in the snow. A chilling wind hurled bits of ice against his face; he tried to shield himself, but couldn’t move. With a sickening feeling, he glanced back.
And there was the tree, massive in its repose, unmovable by a single man. It had fallen across his back, trapping him against the frozen ground, his final resting place. As he lost all hope, long forgotten poetry ran through his mind, read by his father:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farm house near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
The words were a comfort, a memory of kinder days. There must be more, he thought; it cannot end this way. But then, I never thought I’d end this way… As the final remnants of his strength vanished, the man’s head dropped to the ground. It seemed softer, furrier even.
Furry? Snow wasn’t furry: it was unyielding... slowly, it began to shift. In a flurry of fuzz, the dog leapt from the snow and shook vigorously. He began licking his master’s face, urging him up. The man raised his head a fraction and spoke,
“I can’t boy, it’s too late. Go on, go home. There’s nothing you can do.”
The dog didn’t listen. He kept licking and began to paw at his master’s shoulder.
“I said go home boy!” the man shouted. “Leave me. I’m no good to anyone now.”
Still, the dog didn’t listen; he began excavating. Another few lines crossed the man’s mind.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
He felt himself sink down an inch or two as the dog’s frenzied digging wore on. Suddenly, the man was hit by a revelation; after his family died he’d thought he was alone - that wasn’t quite true. As the man turned to face his dog, The Shepherd seemed to sense his gaze. For the first time, He stopped digging and stared into his master’s eyes with a new intensity. The man could almost hear His thoughts.
“I won’t leave you here to die. You saved me long ago; I’ll do the same for you. You aren’t alone.”
New strength flooded the man’s body. The dog dug further beneath his human, who sank enough so the weight of the tree no longer rested on his back. With gentle jaws, He pulled his master to safety. The moment he was free, the dog began to bark in jubilation.
“Its ok boy, I’m safe now. You saved me.” the man said as he hugged him. “I’m safe now.”
As his dog curled against his side, he remembered the final lines of his father’s verse:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.