An Original Story by Ned B. Johnson
Where did it come from, thought Jason. SNOW…SSSSNNNNOOOOWWWW… He played with the sound of the word. Onomatopoeia perhaps? SSSS for the wind, NNNN for the silence, OOOOWWWW for the cold. Oh well, not everything is reasonable. The fact was that he had walked out of work into a snowstorm, and that was all that mattered. Besides, he loved the snow. Snow was a healing agent, if one was properly clothed, and there was nothing wrong with that.
Driving in the snow was fun too. It required concentration, coordination, and skill, but if you had those qualities at your disposal, it was certainly a singular pleasure to drive in the white fluff. Jason had been driving in snow since he was 16 and had never had any trouble. Well, he’d never had any trouble that he couldn’t handle, anyway. No “accidents,” no calls for AAA, never had to call for help of any kind. So what’s to worry about? Nothing.
But there was something mysterious about snow, he thought. Something transcendental or supernatural or esoteric. Something magical. Is that why people are fascinated by the proverbial White Christmas? Yes, of course, people yearn for snow at Christmas because the snow itself serves to enhance and augment the magical qualities that are associated with the season itself. Under most circumstances, the mere presence of snow produces a sense of the mystical, an expectancy that pervades the atmosphere, or so it seemed to Jason on that cold December evening.
Jason pulled his car out onto the city street from the parking lot, and the tires slipped ever so slightly as he pressed on the accelerator. He did this intentionally, of course, just to test the traction. He always did his testing as soon as possible in any new and potentially dangerous driving condition, so that if he later needed to know what the limits of traction were, he would already have a good idea. Many times this practice had allowed him to avoid dangerous situations instead of becoming a victim to them.
Driving through town he enjoyed watching the large flakes rushing to meet him in the beam of his headlights. He also thought about his day at work, the family dinner at Mom’s on Christmas Day, and wondered what the New Year would hold in store for him.
When he reached his driveway, he turned in, pulled into the garage, turned off the ignition, and got out. He opened the inside garage door which led directly to the utility room off the kitchen. Before taking off his coat, he stopped. Better get the mail first, he thought. Opening the front door, he reached into the box on the wall just outside. His hand discovered several envelopes and a small package, a little larger than a pack of cigarettes. He grabbed it all and quickly closed the door to shut out the cold night air.
Placing the day’s posts on the kitchen table, he removed his parka and hung it in the hall closet. The mail was momentarily forgotten as he went to the living room to play some music. Once the strains of the Brandenburg Concerto began curling out of the stereo, he set to work building and lighting a fire in the fireplace. Next, he decided that he needed a hot drink to take the chill off before he was ready to settle down and really feel at home. There being no hot coffee available, he decided to re-heat a cup of the morning’s brew in the microwave. When it was done, he added a little Irish Cream and a short shot of Irish whiskey to it. Taking the first sip, he knew that he’d made the right choice. It was delicious and made him feel instantly warmer and the warmth reassured him that he was now indeed home at last.
Rituals and formalities having been dispatched, he returned to the mail left on the table. The letters were all monthly bills except for the Christmas card from his aunt in Atlanta. After reading the card, which was as usual a sweet, not too religious sentiment, he picked up the small package.
What struck Jason first about the package was that the wrapping looked old and a little tattered. Even the post office in their pre-Christmas zeal couldn’t age a package that far beyond its years. It looked at least as old as he had that morning in the aftermath of the office party. Maybe even older. “I wonder who it’s from,” mused Jason as he examined the tiny bundle for a return address. To his surprise, there was none. Nor was there a postmark. It wasn’t just that the postmark was blurred or misshapen, as is so often the case. There was no hint that the US Postal Service had ever had their officious hands on it at all. It was clearly addressed to him, however, even though the penmanship was that of a dimwit or a child. Yet the hand that wrote that address looked vaguely familiar.
It didn’t dawn on him for several moments, where he had seen it before. Not until he had scanned his memory banks and his imagination looking for likely senders. Not until he had exhausted all reasonable possibilities from his present life and had begun to explore his past did it come to him. Only when he had covered all of the acquaintances of his life for the past 20 years and had come up empty did he feel that cold chill that was far beyond anything the weather outside could have inflicted. Then and only then did he recognize that childish scrawl. “My God––it’s MINE!!” he shouted aloud. This was the characteristic chicken scratching that got him through elementary school. It was the one skeleton in his intellectual closet that he had long since come to believe was forever safely behind him. He, himself, had addressed this package! But how? When? And why couldn’t he remember doing so? How did it get here? The suburb he lived in now didn’t even exist when scribbling like this was his custom. It wasn’t possible, but there, sitting right in front of him, was the proof that it had in fact happened.
Jason began to feel queasy. His head throbbed, not like a head ache, but more like the pounding one feels after an out-of-shape three-legged race at a 4th of July picnic. His knees sagged and his mind went flat-line for an indeterminate period of time.
When he finally regained his composure, more or less, he realized that he had two choices: he could open the package or he could quickly toss it in the fireplace and try to pretend that none of this had ever happened. Becoming even more lucid, he knew that he could never let this matter rest no matter how hard he tried. He must open the package and learn, once and for all, what secrets it contained.
With all the dexterity of a virgin at foreplay, he removed the outer wrapper revealing an inner wrapper of yellowed newsprint. The newspaper banner line nearly escaped his notice. Nearly. The date read December 24th, 1968. His blood temperature dropped another 4 degrees.
Unfolding this last shroud, he found a tape cassette. The label said only, “AMPEX”. Jason recognized it as the name of a company that hadn’t made tapes of this kind for 15 years or more. The rabbits already tap dancing on his spine suddenly had the feet of a skid row Eskimo.
The throbbing in his head had now migrated to his whole body. In the absence of a suitable excuse, he zombied over to his cassette player and, after canceling Bach’s ticket, inserted the tape. He held his breath as he pushed the PLAY button and sat down to listen.
The tape hissed rather loudly for a few moments, not unlike the blizzard building outside. Finally, a voice began:
“Hello, Jason. Remember me? I bet you already know who I am. Bet you don’t quite believe it yet either. Right? Well, it’s true. It really is me…er…you…us. This is harder than I thought it would be. It is now December 24th 1968 and I am 9 years old. You must be 29 by now. How does it feel to be so old? I really can’t imagine. Well, I suppose that isn’t entirely true or I wouldn’t even be doing this.”
Jason’s blood began to turn a shade colder than the dancing rabbits’ feet. He listened on…
“Here we are again, or is it still? Whatever. Right now you are probably asking yourself, ‘What in the heck is this?’ Good question. And I have your answer, if you will bear with me. It’s Christmas Eve and I am worried about you. Not for your safety or anything, just about your state of mind. I have noticed, this year in particular, that the older people become, the more they seem to forget the real meaning of Christmas, in fact the real meaning of life itself. I am still young enough that it has not yet been totally brainwashed out of me. So I had the brilliant idea to pass that knowledge forward to myself, that is to you, before it’s too late. This way, you can remember, assuming you have already forgotten, and we can keep the truth intact when most of your friends have lost it forever.
“Which truth? The truth about you and Christmas and everything that I know that you have probably forgotten by now. And that truth is that Christmas is not about presents, though they have their place. The truth is not about ‘Deck the halls with lots of money,’ though that is a popular myth. Nor is it about families getting together to bicker over petty complaints.
It is about other, more enduring, things. It is about love. Not the love between men and women, nor even between parents and children, but the love between people, no matter what their relationship to one another might be. The unconditional love we all feel toward each other right up till that awful moment when we begin to believe that there really is a reason to stop. The awful time when we begin to accept that love must be earned, that there is not enough of it to go around so we must be selective about who we love and who we don’t. Right after that comes hate. Anyone we don’t love, is a candidate for our hatred. You know the rest, probably better than I do. One thing leads to another and pretty soon, there is plenty of un-love, more than enough hatred and precious little love.
I don’t quite understand why or even how this happens, but I have become quite clear on one thing: it happens, like clockwork, to every adult I have ever met. I don’t want it to happen to me, that is to us. So here I am, trying to do what I can to prevent, or at least fix it.
Remember when you, we, knew without thinking, that all people are one. That we are not only one with each other, but with all of the creatures of the Earth and beyond. Remember when you knew that? I sure do. Remember when you cried because the kids in the class ridiculed ‘Loretta, the fat girl’, and ‘Billy, the dummy’? Remember how you just couldn’t bring yourself to participate in that awful kind of play? For you it must seem like a long time ago, but for me it was literally just yesterday. And then again today.
I won’t do it! Not if I lose all of my friends. Not if they start to treat me the same way. I’m not that far gone yet. But I can see that I can’t hold out forever. I will probably give in to it sooner or later. I can only hope that by the time I am your age, I will have found better ways of coping with these pressures. I live in the hope that you are a better man than I am. So that’s about it, my future self. If I have hoped in vain, if I have guessed wrong about us, then this is a total waste of time. But if I am right about me, you and us, then this is one of the best things we will ever do. It’s up to you now. I’ve done the best I could.
You will do what you will do with this reminder. I hope that a grownup who would have known enough, who would have cared enough, to send this tape to himself, is a grownup who will make good use of such a string around his finger after all these years. But in the end, that is up to you, not me. We are to that extent different people. Please, think at least twice before you toss this off as a weird coincidence or worse. Please, please, try to be better than that. I have. Are you willing to be bested by a 9 year old kid? Even if he is yourself. Especially if he is yourself.
Merry Christmas, Big Jason. And to you and all of us, many happy returns.”
Jason sat quietly until the tape had run out and stopped. He was quite still and more than a little dazed. He had no recollection of having made this or any other tape like it. But the voice, the words, the intent were more familiar than the face he shaved in the mirror every morning. He knew it was true, all of it. It wasn’t the message that he had problems with. That imploded in on him word by word as he heard it. What threatened to be beyond his ability to comprehend and assimilate was the medium and the messenger. With these, he had great problems. He felt like a reporter: What? When? Why? How?
As he sat there in silence, one thing was clear to him; he must respond to this extraordinary event as he had been directed to. He must begin again. He must re-discover that innocent place in his heart that still knew the truths he had just been reminded of. He must regain his real humanity. He must cherish this most precious Christmas gift. The gift of his very own love. And from that day forward, that is exactly what he did.