Revenge of the Winter God

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(HOST) Commentator Philip Baruth has just returned from a trip to Denver, where he had a couple of extra days to consider what he might have done to anger the Winter God.

(BARUTH) My favorite Twilight Zone episode revolves around the people of Peaksville, Ohio, who live in fear of one of their local children. This boy can read minds and he hates negative thoughts. When he senses bad thoughts, the boy telekinetically transports the offender to a shallow grave in a cornfield. And so, although the townspeople are terrified, they chatter desperately about what a good life it is that they lead.

In an odd way, this reminds me of Vermont in the month of April. April is usually a pretty sweet month, but none of us can come out and say this because, if the Winter God is listening, he needs to know that his power is acknowledged.

I know all of this. But when I left Burlington for Boulder, it was 48 degrees, and it was 58 when I hit Colorado. And wheeling the rental car to the airport with the windows down, I got cocky. I sang aloud to a Don Henley song.

Then came Sunday, my day of return. By six a.m., the highway was sloppy with new snow. I returned my car, but at the terminal they told me all flights were grounded for the day. Now, if they ground all air traffic in Denver, something Biblical is underway. And so, after rebooking my ticket for the next day, I took the shuttle back to the rental place. By then the wind was so thick with snow and freezing rain that I was literally covered with ice just walking to the rental counter. The new car they gave me was in row T, space 15, and the woman apologized for this.

I found out why when I got outside again. The storm had completely blotted out the sun. By the time I passed row G, my windbreaker and my jeans were soaked through; my hands were stinging cold on my bags. I couldn’t walk directly into the wind, so I had to slog sideways through the deep muck. For some reason, after row G there were no more lettered signs, just row after row after row of snow-covered humps. I pushed on to what I thought had to be row T, but when I opened a car door, the key said M12. I staggered back into the white-out, and it dawned on me that it was actually possible to die there, in a rental car parking lot at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, between rows M and P. So I did what any 19th century settler would do: I picked a car at random, and I got in and fired up the heater.

And in that random car, I chafed my fingers in front of the heater, and I begged forgiveness for thinking that the Winter God could not still crush me like a garden snail.

It took me two more random cars and their random heaters before I found my own rental. And the next day United’s computers crashed under the weight of ten thousand stranded passengers, and there was nothing to do but go back again to the rental car place of the damned and book another Chevy Classic from hell and return, in the snow, to the house of my friends, whose faces were not nearly so happy now as they’d been two days before. They took me in and made me warm, but they gave me the look that ancient peoples gave the cursed.

And the next day, when I left the third time for the airport, no one said goodbye. All of us, I guess, thought it was better that way.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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