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True Winter Tales

Fissure by Lauren Troneau

To celebrate the holidays and give you inspiration for our current creative nonfiction competition, we are presenting seven of our favourite stories from last year's True Winter Tales challenge. 

In today's story, a group of kids decides to go skating on Lake Minnewanka.

That winter, the lakes froze before the snow came. The wind ripped the breath from our throats and pierced our lungs with an indifferent ferocity, making the walk to school a bigger punishment than the hours spent there. We slouched in the back booth at Smitty's, smoking over coffee, and congregated, morose and restless, in each other's basements. Finally, after weeks that seemed endless, the cold relented and someone told someone else they'd heard Minnewanka was as clear and smooth as a rink. This had never happened.

We clambered into the back of Jimmy McKusker's van, a tangle of sticks and skates and bodies, reckless and eager. The lake was higher up in the valley, past the remains of a mining town that had been abandoned decades ago, its fallen walls now hidden by saplings and underbrush. The mountains reared up around us, like grizzlies catching a scent, silver tipped and deadly still, yet we barely noticed them, and were unafraid here. It was our territory.

Minnewanka was longer than you could walk in a day and deeper than we could imagine, but all we cared about that morning was the ice, glinting crystalline in the sun. We laced up our skates and lobbed a puck into the air. It was caught for a moment against the sky, then hit the ice and skittered away. We were after it, swift and skating hard, taking shots on an imaginary net, reaching for a long pass, chasing the puck as it slid, black and small, along the adamantine brilliance of the frozen water. There was only our laughter and insults, and the rasp of our blades as they carved an indecipherable wilderness of crosscut lines. We scattered like coyotes and circled back and then the puck, in a misdirected ricochet, escaped from us and headed in the direction of Devil's Gap. Jack Thivierge took off after it and we all followed.

The crack was louder than anything we had ever heard, an aching explosion that echoed around us. A fissure, like a vein of coal running through a rock, split the ice behind us. Suddenly, there were breaks appearing everywhere, and a narrow glacial blackness of water opened between us and the too far away shore. I thought of nothing but that shore, and jumpskated over the rift, hearing shouts that seemed impossibly distant and not knowing whose voices they might be. Then I made it over another crack and another, scrambling across the fractured ice until I collapsed on the frozen ground, panting and slowly emerging from my terror. I got up and looked around. We were all there, still holding our sticks.

We didn't know, that morning, where we would end up, or who among us would die too soon. We didn't see the crenellated ridges of the mountains as time made visible, or the edge of the woods as some sort of threshold we would cross. We just stood, silent and breathing hard, marveling at our luck.

Find out more about our creative nonfiction competition.

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