by ERIK MANN
Umbrella Storm by Viktoria Wigenstam | Flickr
Sean twines his fingers through the shopping cart’s cage and bounces on the balls of his feet. Is this the best angle? Is there any slippage beneath his boots? He thinks he’s good. Yes, he’s ready to be launched at the snowdrift in front of him. He’s ready to spring from this shopping cart moments before impact and race to the top of the drift where he’ll collect the prize.
Or Blake will.
Rock says it's all about visualization. Unfortunately, it’s easy to visualize Blake at the top of the snow drift ahead of him. He can even visualize Gloria standing beside Blake, their hands raised in victory. Gloria is Sean’s old girlfriend. Gloria is now Blake’s current girlfriend.
Blake sits in a shopping cart to Sean’s right. He and his driver, Cody, are dressed for luging in sleek red gear with black markings that symbolize speed. Yes, they look fast before they’ve even started moving. But who the hell even owns luge gear? Sean shakes his head. Then he zips his jacket a little tighter.
Sean feels a beer bottle pressed against his hand. He takes it and drinks from it reflexively. Then Rock, Sean’s driver, snags it back and downs the remainder in a swallow. Rock chucks the bottle high overhead, and Aurora, Rock’s girlfriend, giggles when the bottle shatters on the pavement behind them.
“Dude,” Cody reprimands.
Blake says, “Can we do this already?”
“Totally,” Rock says.
“It’s time!” Aurora yells.
Sean faces forward. He visualizes the race ahead of him.
There’s the clack of heels behind him, and then Aurora shrieks. Sean turns, expecting to see her sprawled on the icy pavement. Instead, Rock has her wrapped in an embrace and they’re tickling each other’s tonsils.
Sean faces forward again. He attempts to visualize the race ahead of him.
Finally, Aurora clicks into view. She navigates the dusting of snow in her heels confidently. “Ready!” she calls out.
“Hey,” says Rock. “You need a flag or a hanky or something to wave.”
She pats her jacket and searches the pockets before giving him a shrug.
“Set!” she says.
An article of clothing flies from Rock to her. She catches it against her chest and holds it out with two hands to examine.
“Rock!” she exclaims.
“Ha,” he titters. “Now start over.”
Aurora clears her throat. Then she raises her hand, pink delicates waving back and forth, and shouts, “Ready!”
Sean tightens his grip on the sides of the cart.
Crisp air burns Sean’s nose and plumes out his mouth. Snow falls thick in the sodium glow of the parking lot lights. The giant snow drift looms in front of him.
The shopping carts shoot forward. Rock yells a warcry. Blake and Cody are silent, focused, and pulling ahead. The carts pass Aurora who is improbably jumping in her pumps and hooting gleefully. The launch point, a line drawn a few feet beyond Aurora, is upon them. Blake reaches it first and his cart shoots forward as Cody gives a powerful shove. A second later, Sean feels a similar boost from Rock. The snowdrift is all Sean can see now. He locates the spot where he’ll aim his leap.
“Aaaaahhh!” Sean hears behind him. Then thud. He doesn’t know if it is Rock or Cody. One of them is on the ground. But there’s no time to look. The drift is here and Sean half jumps, is half thrown, as his cart hits deeper snow and suddenly stops. He reaches the monster drift, but lands face first. There’s snow in his mouth and up his nose. It’s also inside his jacket and creeping down the waist of his pants. It’s so cold.
He spits out snow and clears his eyes. Blake is to the right of him and nearly atop the drift. He’s going to win. Dammit. Sean starts trudging upward, though he’s not sure why. To let Blake gloat when he gets there? To watch Blake take yet one more thing away from him?
He glances toward the launch point and sees Rock helping Cody to his feet. Cody’s face is a grimace and he holds a hand to the small of his back. There’s that at least, Sean guesses. He continues to climb.
And then, seconds from victory, Blake’s gracefulness becomes a scrabble. The snow beneath him crumbles and falls away. His legs pinwheel but find no purchase. The plow driver must not have packed that side firm as it pushed snow into the drift. A moment later, Blake is at the bottom, buried to his waste in newly exposed snow.
Sean surges forward. He takes a path opposite Blake’s--has to do a little more climbing on his hands and knees than he would have otherwise--but then he’s to the top. And there, his prize awaits: A black umbrella planted in the snow.
Sean pulls it free. He opens it and smiles at the glitter of snow that plumes outward. Then he raises the umbrella in victory and yells, “Suck on that, bitches!”
Waving the umbrella over his head, he’s surprised when it catches air and threatens to pull him from his feet. Careful now. But how awesome would it be to step off this perch and glide down to where Blake is currently brushing snow from his ridiculous luge outfit? That would show him. And when Gloria heard about it … Sean takes a tentative step forward. It’s all about visualization. And the scene playing out in his mind is awesome.
But then a gust of air catches the umbrella and pulls him backwards. Sean lands on his ass.
“You alright there?” Rock calls.
“Fine,” Sean says, climbing to his feet. He chooses the controlled approach, retracing his initial route in ginger descent. But occasionally, he raises the umbrella before hopping to a lower ledge and gravity lessens its grip. Amazing!
Sean reaches the bottom where Rock and Aurora wait for him.
“Incredible!” Rock says.
“Yeah,” Aurora says through chattering teeth. “Nice job.”
“Nice job?” Rock retorts. “He was brilliant! Though the best was seeing the snow go out from under twat-boy. If that’s not the greatest thing I’ve seen in my life. Alright, time to inspect that umbrella!”
“Let’s get to the car first,” Aurora says. “It’s freezing out here.”
Rock ignores her. “C’mon, Sean. Let me have a look.”
“Can we at least start walking?” Aurora asks.
Sean nods and leads the group away from the drift. Then he hands the umbrella to Rock.
“Oh,” Rock says reverently. He holds it over him and Aurora, and Sean sees him lose his balance as the motion catches air. Fortunately Aurora has clung to Rock for warmth and keeps them planted on the ground. “Powerful,” Rock says. “That’ll take some getting used to. Probably a good thing you didn’t launch yourself off the drift first thing.”
“I thought about it,” says Sean.
“Of course you did.”
Glass tinkles as one of them kicks broken beer bottle. The snow falls heavy and the cones of sodium vapor light are thick with the movement of flakes. Then Sean notices more movement. Kids? They’re dressed in white and mostly camouflaged by the snow as they approach. When the first of them steps out of the shadows and positions herself in front of them, Sean is confused. Then the rest appear until there’s a line of six. They’re all middle school aged and all wearing karate gis.
As one, they assume a “ready” stance.
“Oh my god! They’re so cute,” Aurora says.
“Shouldn’t you munchkins be in bed?” from Rock.
There are three boys and three girls. They’re wearing tennis shoes but no coats. They must be freezing. Especially the one on the far right. His gi is too small, and three inches of bare skin show between it and his high top shoes.
“Everything alright?” Sean asks the kids.
The girl who appeared first says, “We’re here for the Poppins.”
“Ha!” Rock replies. “Toss off.”
“Rock, be nice,” says Aurora.
Rock and the kids stare each other down. Then Rock feints forward and yells, “Go home!” The shout startles both Sean and Aurora, but the kids don’t even flinch.
Rock shakes his head. Then he tosses the umbrella to Sean and begins stretching out his arms and rolling his shoulders. “Look, I don’t want to hurt any of ya,” he says to the kids. “But we’re going to our car now, and we’re taking the umbrella with us. So it’s time to step aside.”
The girl smiles. Then she waves a hand for Rock to make the first move. Bring it.
“Oh, Rock,” Aurora says. “Don’t hurt them.”
Rock takes a step forward.
The kid with the too short gi yells and charges. He performs a spin move that is beautiful in the snow and the light, and his foot connects with Rock’s chest. Rock falls backward. Aurora jumps in, swinging her purse at Rock’s assailant, but a sweep kick from another child sends her to the ground. The other four middle-schoolers advance on Sean.
“I’m not giving you this,” Sean says.
Rock charges back into the fray and delivers a headbutt. But then two kids are on him and send him to the ground. They kick him in the back and in the ribs and in the legs. Every attempt to rise results in an additional blow.
And suddenly, the umbrella is gone from Sean’s hand. He swipes for it, but a kick to the back of his knee faceplants him. There’s a sharp flash of pain when his chin hits the pavement, and when he touches the spot, his hand comes away bloody. Broken beer bottle twinkles amongst the snow.
“I’m going to kill you, you little shits,” Rock yells.
Sean looks up and sees the leader holding the umbrella open over her head. When she leaps, she practically flies. And then she hangs in mid air, her body poised to strike. Sean covers his head and waits for the blow.
It doesn’t come.
“Get back here,” Rock moans.
Sean risks a look. The kids are gone. Sean, Rock, and Aurora are alone on the ground. Alone but for the approach of an SUV. Blake’s SUV. Shit.
Blake hangs his head out the open window. “Did I really just watch you get your ass kicked by a middle school karate gang?”
“Fuck off, Blake,” Rock says.
“That. Was. Awesome!” Blake says. “I can’t wait to tell Gloria.”
Then the SUV crunches past, and the snow around them glows red from its tail lights.
Erik Mann is a software developer and aspiring beach bum. He digs spotting sea turtles and dolphins when paddleboarding but admits that time an alligator joined him in the river was a little unnerving.