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The Angels of Spring Mountain Pond
She gripped his weathered, wrinkled hand tightly – or as tight as her weak fingers would allow her. She wanted to hold onto him for as long as she possibly could. Her labored breathing came out in short gasps as another wave of pain washed over her. The old woman looked deep into his milky green eyes searching for the peace and joy she used to see everyday for the last sixty seven years; but it was gone, leaving not a single trace. She didn't realize she'd been crying until he gently wiped away the tear that had rolled down her sunken cheek. She pulled him down beside her on the narrow bed and he wrapped his arms around her. He laid his head on her breasts and let the flood of tears stream from his pale green eyes. She didn't want to die. And even though she'd always claimed she wasn't afraid of death, she really was. She was scared for Harold; what was he going to do after she was gone? He'd be all alone in that cabin where they'd spent the majority of their lives together. Harold's tears soaked through her white hospital gown, wetting her skin, causing her to shiver. She lifted her head from the pillow – a feat in and of itself – and leaned over her love to kiss his thinning, white hair. She fell backwards, her strength used up for the day.
Harold sat up, wiping his red-rimmed eyes and wetting his lips. He gently stroked Winifred’s cheek, a feeling she'd grown to love. He whispered sweet, loving things into her ear as he entangled his old, veiny legs with hers. He wanted to remain against her, listening to the musical beat of her heart and the lolling sound of her breath for eternity.
“Freddy, don't leave me,” he whimpered, searching her face. She took a deep breath and gazed into his melancholy eyes. She laughed silently, grinning at him as much as she could manage. She hadn't spoken a word in the days since her stroke. Harold watched her move her lips as if to speak, but no sound escaped. He was tempted to look away as she tried and tried again to force the words from her throat, but he would never turn away from her, just liked she never did to him.
“H... Harry, I... Lo...ove... ya... you,” she finally whispered, drawing deep breaths, tired from exertion. She kept her eyes closed for a few moments before she forced herself to open them once more. Her heart was beating rapidly, causing several of the machines she was attached to, to beep out of control. Winifred intertwined her fingers with his, enjoying the warmth emanating from his calloused skin.
“I love you too Freddy.” And he did. More than anyone else in the entire world. She was his only reason for living. She was his whole life. Neither of them had any family except each other. They'd been inseparable since they were thirteen, since the day Winifred rescued him.
She hurried down the cold, darkened streets, she wasn't sure where she was headed, the only thing she was sure of was the fact that she could no longer remain under the watchful eyes of Uncle Marv. He always expected more from Winifred than she was able to give to him. A tear fell from her navy blue eye as she slipped into the park. She walked along the path for a long while enjoying the beautiful silence, that is until she heard the loud whimpers and muffled cries for help. The noise startled Winifred at first, triggering her flight response, but when she stepped on a branch, causing a louder than loud sound, the voice called out to her.
“Will you please help?” the voice whispered shyly. Sounding... ashamed. Against her better judgment Winifred stepped beyond the trees, she gasped at what she found.
“Oh my!” she exclaimed, dropping to her knees beside the boy. “How can I help you?” The boy's face was covered with bruises and cuts as was the rest of his body. He wore no shirt despite the freezing temperature and one of his bare feet was trapped underneath a large boulder. He kept trying to pull his foot free, but it would not budge. His entire body was numb from the cold and he had to keep moving around to keep himself from succumbing to the crippling temperature. Winifred removed both of her coats, wrapping them around him. She took off her hat, gloves and scarf, placing them on the boy instead. His eyes followed her every movement gratefully.
“M... my f... foot,” he stuttered as she rubbed his skin, trying her best to warm him. Her face flushed as she ducked her head in embarrassment.
“Oh. Yes of course,” she replied as she moved to his feet. It took every ounce of strength she could muster, to pry the boulder off of him, but she managed. Taking a closer look at the boy, she found that he was all skin and bones. The second the rock was lifted from his body, the boy blacked out, the pain much too overwhelming. Unknowing of what else to do, Winifred slid her hands under his torso and lifted him into her arms. He was surprisingly light. She slowly carried him through the park toward the hospital where her father had stayed for nearly two years before he died. Winifred’s arms were unbelievably tired, but she didn't want to put the boy down until he was safe.
When she finally stumbled into the hospital, she felt as though she would collapse at any moment, luckily a nurse hurried to her side and relieved her of the boy. She stayed by his side, after the doctors were through treating him, she wanted him to see a familiar face when he woke up. In all actuality, she wanted to be sure that he would wake up. Winifred watched him sleep, under the care of the doctors and nurses, for hours before his eyes fluttered open. When he glanced at her, she grinned down at him tiredly.
“How did I get here?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. The last thing he remembered was the girl lifting the boulder from his foot.
“I carried you,” Winifred answered, exhausted. Looking at the clock, she saw that it was well passed midnight, meaning she'd been up for nearly twenty four hours. She leaned her head against the back of the chair and immediately fell asleep.
Winifred was startled awake by an obnoxiously loud noise that her half asleep mind couldn't seem to process, but when she opened her eyes she discovered the source of the disruption. A large, round man was shouting at the boy in the bed, gesturing wildly with his fat hands.
“You are worthless!” he shouted. “Completely and utterly worthless! You had to have your life saved by a girl! You godd*** sissy!” The man's words were harsh and hurtful. “You are no son of mine, Harold! You can stay in the hospital for all I care!” Harold cowered away from the man's balled up fists and clenched jaw. “Why can you not be more like my son?” The man trained his cold gray eyes on Winifred, she didn't cower away as Harold had done, instead she jumped from her chair and walked toward him. She stepped a few feet away from his seething being and sat on the edge of Harold's bed. She slipped her fingers through his bony ones and squeezed his cold, thin hand. She smiled down at him before glaring up at the man. Winifred was good at staring contests, she always won, and this time was no exception, she waited for the vile man to avert his cruel eyes before she spoke, turning to Harold.
“Don't worry,” she told him confidently. “You are not worthless. You are relentless and brave. You are a survivor.” Harold's blood red lips were cut and swollen, as was most of his face. A huge black and yellow bruise stained the perimeter of his right eye. His arms and neck were covered in finger-sized marks. Harold's father's face was purple with anger, resentment clear even in the way he stood. He clenched and unclenched his jaw, he tightened his fists, digging his finger nails into his palms and drawing spots of blood.
“You found your own f***ing way here, you can find it home.” The man didn't spare another glance in their direction. He turned his back on the children and walked away, knowing his wife would be sore when she discovered he had left the boy. Harold waited for Winifred to pull her fingers away from his, but she never did. She watched him carefully.
“Who was that Harold?” she asked, surprising him by using his name. He looked away, a flush of embarrassment and shame spreading across his bony cheeks.
“My father,” he answered quietly. His voice was warm and sweet, despite the hollow look in his striking green eyes. His uncut black hair fell into his face, he didn't bother brushing it away. Winifred smiled at him, before remembering for the first time that she had failed to return home the night before. Uncle Marv was sure to be sore with her for shirking her duties. For some reason, she found that she no longer cared.
“When are you getting out of the hospital?” she asked distractedly. Harold gave her a confused look but answered the bizarre girl anyway.
“Tomorrow.” Winifred nodded her head as she gently slipped her hand out form under his, and he instantly missed its presence.
“I have to go. Uncle Marv and Aunt Maria will be angry if I am not home soon. But I will be back in a few hours,” she promised him. Winifred hurried toward the door, stopping briefly to gaze behind her at the bewildered boy. “My name is Winifred. But you can call me Freddy,” she informed him before slipping through the door.
Harold waited for Winifred’s return in silence, speaking to the nurses and doctors only when spoken to. He watched the clock and stared out of the small window. He knew wishing for Winifred to hurry back was irrational, considering he had just met the girl and she had no real reason to keep her promise. However, as soon as the clock struck noon, Winifred slammed through the door, flinging her coat to the side and panting heavily. The hem of her skirt looked frayed and worn out and her shoes were covered in mud. She undid the buckle of her satchel and extracted a few books, drawing paper, pencils and games.
“I did not know what you liked to do, so I brought you quite a bit of stuff to keep you busy,” Winifred explained piling the stuff onto his mattress. Harold's fingers brushed across the cover of the first book and a huge smile broke across his face.
“Did you talk to my mama?” he asked, frown lines creasing his forehead. Winifred laughed loudly, shaking her head as her eyes sparkled in amusement.
“Of course not,” she chuckled. “I do not even know who your mama is.” Harold removed his hand from the book, and ducked his head. He didn't want Winifred to see his watery eyes. His father said men do not cry. Soldiers do not cry. He didn't even cry when his son was killed in the war. Mama had cried and his father became angry. “Hey I did not mean to offend you. I can go get something else if you want. I apologize if you do not like any of this stuff. It is all my favorite stuff.” Winifred’s voice was benevolent and tender. Nobody besides his mother had ever spoken that way to Harold before. She began packing all of the things back up in her hemp satchel, but Harold placed a too skinny hand on her arm, when she glanced at him, he shook his head. Wrapping his fingers around the book, he hugged it to his chest. A Farewell To Arms was his mama's favorite book. Every night when he was little, she read either Ernest Hemingway or Charles Dickens to him before he went to bed.
After Alan was killed, she no longer read to him. His father forbade it, saying his mama was breeding a sissy. His mama and father hardly looked at him after his older brother's death, he just wanted them to love him again. He wanted Alan to tell him jokes and remind him that everything would be alright, there was no going back though. Harold opened the book and skimmed through the well-read pages. His eyes moved quickly across the familiar words, he mouthed them silently.
Winifred was eying him, a curious smile forming on her pale pink lips. She only observed him for a few seconds before she began rummaging through her bag once more. She gently pulled out a small metal tin. It was a light yellow color with tiny, precise white flowers painted painstakingly over the entire thing. Winifred set the tin carefully on Harold's lap, glancing around suspiciously to make sure there were no nurses around to scold her. Non-hospital food was rarely allowed in the hospital. Harold raised an eyebrow as he undid the clasps and lifted off the lid. Inside he found a dozen homemade cookies. He gave her a slight nod.
“Thank you,” he said politely. He reached in hungrily and extracted a cookie. He broke pieces off with his shaking fingers and stuck them in his mouth. He closed his eyes tightly, taking pleasure in the wonderful taste of the desert.
“You are welcome,” Winifred replied, thoroughly satisfied with his response. Winifred spent hours with Harold, ecstatic that she had something to do other than keep an eye on her bratty cousins and clean up after them.
Harold became the best friend she'd been yearning for ever since her father became sick with Polio, leaving her in the care of his brother, Uncle Marv. The two children spent almost every waking moment together. When they were around one another, they would become so absorbed with whatever it was that they were doing, it was almost as if everyone else in the world completely ceased to exist. If they were the last two people on earth, it wouldn't even matter to the two.
They were the perfect pair, rescuing each other from unfavorable circumstances. Though he'd never wanted too, Harold could beat anyone in a fight except for his own father. He preferred to keep silent around everyone, only revealing his true personality, his true self to Winifred. As the years dragged on, he no longer wished and hoped for his parents' love or respect; he dreamed of the day when he could finally escape their hellish tyranny.
His father, Roger, would hit him and whip him every chance he received. Shouting and belittling him. He wanted Harold to fill Alan's shoes. He was to be an athlete and a soldier, not an artist. Roger wanted a son who could make him proud, not a son who could read, write and paint. No matter what Roger said, or how low he made the boy feel, it would all disappear when he met up with Winifred at the fishing hole or one of their other secret hangouts. The malevolent words and vicious beatings would seem inconsequential when Winifred caused him to laugh in a way that nobody else could.
It was Winifred who was the source of the new starry like sparkle in his once hollow, nearly lifeless eyes. She made him feel jubilant and peaceful. Roger noticed the change in his son and his solution was to beat it out of him. “Boy! Women were put on the earth to serve men. Not to fight, or be your friend. They are here to obey and look pretty. They are NOT here to speak freely and openly!” Roger despised Winifred, but she didn't care. She spoke to him in what ever manner she pleased. She was constantly covered from head to toe in dirt, tracking to everywhere she went. She was a horribly wretched girl in Roger Silver's mind. Winifred even had the audacity to laugh every time Roger attempted to insult her.
“If I ever catch you in my house again I'll break your neck!” Roger bellowed, enraged when she insisted that athletes were stupider than scholars and therefore intellectually inferior. Winifred snickered at Roger's reaction which caused his face to turn the lovely shade of Rage Purple that warned everyone to stay away. Despite Harold's constant pleading not to provoke his father, she found amusement in his hatred toward her. It wasn't until Harold's black eyes became more consistent did she refuse to go to his house any longer.
Winifred loved making Harold laugh, she would do or say anything just as long as it put a smile on Harold's normally scrunched up face. It didn't take long for Winifred to figure out how to put a permanent grin on her best friend's lips. They were fifteen when Winifred was finally able to implement her plan.
She was going to rescue Harold once and for all. She wanted to cry every time he came climbing through her window in the middle of the night with new cuts, bruises and broken bones. She'd been planning the escape for months. She bravely led him away from their troubles, not once looking back. Winifred didn't care for Uncle Marv and Aunt Maria or her cousins. They were leeches in her eyes, living off of the money her beloved father had left for her. She took all of the money she could get her hands on and gave away almost all of her possessions.
Neither Winifred nor Harold ever returned to their town, even after Winifred’s mother was finally released from the psychiatric hospital. Not even to attend funerals of family. They were all each other desired or required. Harold was her rock, he was the constant in her life that she'd always thirsted for. He protected her, he shielded her. He was the calm voice of reason in any stormy situation. But he unfortunately he could not protect his delicate, stubborn, beautiful Freddy from everything.
Winifred was a dreamer. She imagined a house full of children; she wanted to be a mother and care for, nurture and love a child the right way. She wanted to love a child like neither she nor Harold ever were. But the future held a bleak reality that Harold was not able to predict or protect her from.
Their daughter, Julia, was born on July 27th, 1944. The baby was the epitome of perfection. Julia was radiant. She had bouncy brown curls just like her mother and she received her father's piercing green eyes. Her cheeks were round and rosy. She was an angel. Winifred was born to be a mother, she was filled with extreme amounts of love and caring, which she lavished upon her daughter.
Julia had become the center of their world, they taught her to read and write by the time she was four, she was an intelligent child, destined for a majestic future. By the time she was six, she had the vocabulary of someone twice her age.
“Mama?” Julia asked one breezy Sunday afternoon in May of 1950. Winifred gazed up at her daughter lovingly.
“Yes my dear?” Winifred answered, pausing her work on the new dress she was nearly finished making for the cherubic child.
“May I go play outside?” she inquired, enunciating her words perfectly. Winifred gazed out the large window that looked over the big front yard. Other children around Julia's age were outside, taking advantage of the sunny, Spring afternoon.
“You may. But please stay where I can see you,” Winifred replied with an illuminating smile. Julia returned her mother's grin. She hurried to the woman's side, kissing her soft cheek gently. Julia skipped outside, waving up at the window, before running to play in the sandbox Harold had made for her. Winifred smiled at the little girl brightly, before returning to the child's new dress. Every few minutes the young mother would glance out the window and check on her daughter. When she looked up at little while later, she was alarmed to find that Julia was no longer in her line of sight. She set the fabric aside and hurried outside, hoping to just be feeling over protective. A frown appeared on Winifred’s face as rash thoughts poured through her mind. What if someone kidnapped the child, or she'd fallen down the neighbor's well? A number of horrible pictures flooded Winifred’s brain as she desperately searched both inside and outside of the house. The girl was nowhere to be found. The mother felt an awful foreboding feeling. Julia was in trouble, but she had no idea where she was. A sharp, burning pain filled her chest and stomach. She hurried through the neighborhood feeling the pain worsen and worsen as she neared the pond.
A gasp escaped Winifred’s mouth when she saw the frantic splashing just down the hill in the deep, muddy water. “Julia!” Winifred cried, hiking up her skirt and racing toward her baby. When she was half way down the hill, the splashing subsided, the water becoming calm. Many of the neighbor children who'd been playing with Julia watched the traumatizing sight, from the edge of the pond, all frozen unknowing of what to do.
Winifred, feeling helpless, guilty and sorrowful, dove into the murky water and pulled the baby girl from the pond. She swam back to shore and cradled the girl in her arms. She apologized to the lifeless child profusely as she stared down at her. Julia's brown curls were wet and full of sticks and leaves. It was plastered to her cold, pale skin. The blush in her cheeks had disappeared, and her pink lips were a dark purple color, looking unnatural compared to the whiteness of her face. Winifred tucked a strand of soaking wet hair behind the girl's ear as her tears dripped onto the child's exposed skin. Her favorite blue dress, was stained with the muddy water. Winifred clutched her daughter to her chest, kissing her cold forehead.
Harold found Winifred a few minutes later, still rocking the girl in her arms. He leaned down and kissed his daughter goodbye, before wrapping his arms around the shivering woman. He lifted the youngest of Julia's four young friends into his arms, leading them all up the long hill. Hearing of the tragic events, the children's parents collected their crying, frightened kids as police sirens rang through the windy May evening.
Winifred spent the first few days after Julia's death focusing all of her attention on finishing her daughter's dress. Harold watched her in silence, each of them grieving in their own way. The couple buried Julia a week later in the new pink gown Winifred had made for her. It was the same rosy pink color Julia's cheeks had been.
Harold and Winifred spoke constantly of their baby girl. They mourned together, imagining what she would have grown up to succeed at. Julia was forever in their thoughts. Instead of tearing them apart, the death of their only child caused them to grow even closer. But Harold could no longer bear to live in the same house. He didn't want to look at his neighbors and see the sympathy and pain in their eyes. Without saying goodbye to friends and neighbors, they packed their house and moved to the cabin on the mountain where they lived the remainder of their lives. A small community lay in the valley just below them.
Winifred loved making and creating things from scratch. It was the only thing she truly excelled at. She and Harold built the cabin with their bare hands, they also built a studio a little higher up on the ridge of the mountain. The studio looked down over the town, into the valley. About a decade later, they decided to build a tiny building that resembled a miniature library for all of the books they'd acquired over the years. Winifred often went down into town to leave gifts she'd made for the towns people. One year, when the economy was particularly bad, she left sweaters on the doorstep of the Rochester family who couldn't afford to go out and buy any without sacrificing a week of groceries. The town was soon plagued with random acts of kindness, nobody realizing that it was Winifred and Harold Silver of Tawney Mountain Pass who were acting as the guardian angels for Spring Mountain Valley. In fact, almost nobody spoke with either Winifred or Harold. Winifred wandered through the town, in and out of shops, listening for anybody who she could possibly help in some anonymous way.
Harold and Winifred were always on the town's mind. No one knew anything about the couple. Rumors were constantly circulating the town, but barely anyone actually bothered speaking with the mysterious people. The only thing the town knew for certain was that they always made a trip to the pond at the edge of town. They would eat a beautiful picnic and walked around the small body of fresh water.
One afternoon when the couple were well into their fifties, they were taking their monthly stroll around the pond when they heard the sound of a screaming child. “Help me! H...heblp mbe!” the shrill voice screeched. Both Winifred and Harold ran toward the sound. A familiar splashing noise rang through the otherwise silent are. A small boy that looked to be only about six years old, was writhing around, trying to keep his head above water. The couple dove into the pond, just as the boy sank under. He was only under water for a few seconds before The Angels of Spring Mountain Pond dragged him out sputtering and coughing. The child choked and coughed the muddy water onto the long grass beside him. He kept his eyes closed, falling asleep in Winifred’s motherly arms. She and Harold carried the boy away from the pond, all the way to the hospital. They handed the boy to a nurse who'd never seen the couple before in her life.
“He was drowning in Spring Mountain Pond, I am not quite sure why he was there all alone in the first place,” Harold explained as Winifred slid the child into the nurse's arms. She turned away from only a second, but when she whirled around to ask them a few more questions, they'd disappeared. When the child was later asked about what happened, he said two angels had saved him.
The Angels of Spring Mountain Pond were forever leaving gifts for people, bringing a smile to everyone's face. Others began following their example; each person committing one random act of kindness everyday. It caused the people of the town to become happier and friendlier towards one another. The child Winifred and Harold saved from falling victim to the same fate as their daughter, grew up to win the Nobel Literary Prize. When receiving the award he acknowledged his family and friends, and he also thanked The Angels of Spring Mountain Pond for saving his life at six and a half years old.
Thinking back over the last sixty seven years with Winifred by his side, Harold gripped her hand even tighter. He witnessed as she silently slipped into death, a smile on her thin, pale pink lips. Her breathing had slowly faded and her heart beat dimmed until she had peacefully left the earth, causing her machines to go haywire, and then they stopped. The flatline being the only sound to fill the room until finally, that ended too. Leaving only Harold, holding his Winifred, his oldest and best friend, his lifelong partner. A crippling pain filled him. It was a type of pain he'd never felt before.
“Mr. Silver, it's time,” the head nurse informed him softly as she led the old man out to his car. He looked so empty – he felt empty. A small piece of him died with his six year old daughter fifty four years earlier, but it seemed as though Winifred’s passing took nearly all of him with her. He had nothing left. He drove up the long mountain up to their cabin. What was he to do without Winifred? She was his everything.
The next morning, Harold left his car in the driveway and began his daily hike down the mountain toward the valley. He barely reached the pond before his heart could no longer take it. Harold was incapable of living in a world without Winifred. He collapsed beside the pond, only to be discovered a few minutes later. Harold Silver joined his Winifred in death, the cause of which is thought to be a broken heart.