Like many this year, I was introduced to the Pentatonix version of “White Winter Hymnal.” I fell in love with the song and wondered about the story behind it.
What had happened to Michael? Why was everyone wearing red scarves? After much googling around, I found out the original version was by Fleet Foxes, and was excited to know it hadn’t come from an already-existing story….I decided to create my own 🙂 Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
Turn the White Snow
I was following Michael to the schoolyard, sludging through the snow. Little Mary trailed behind when she fell on a patch of ice. It wasn’t too big of a spill, ‘cept her red scarf shuffled to the side and she gasped, froze. “Mary,” I teased, “keep careful or you’ll lose your head.” I knotted the scarf ‘round her neck one more time to calm her. She beamed up at me, and I returned a reassuring smile. The extra knot was all it took for her to sprint ahead of us, though our legs were much longer to catch up.
The schoolyard was covered in packed snow, but Michael took the side route with hills that splashed with powder from less traffic. All the students were bundled up in line for class. We took our spaces in line too, and Michael and I followed our pack to one side of the yard while Mary’s took the other. She was carefree now with that extra knot; she could leap and bound and – well sit still for the lecture as she was told – without a care in the world since her sister had given her that extra security. I reached up to check my own knot in the meantime, tight and unyielding.
Silly superstition, really. Some braver kids, like Michael, would just wrap the scarves haphazardly ‘round their throats of course, but mother was always cautious to check that our scarves were knotted, and sure enough Mary and I were of the more timid type of student that instinctively grabbed it in any bout of uncertainty.
Michael was the daredevil – always finding the highest pile of snow to slide down, always questioning the superstitions, always telling some outlandish tale. The other day he had told me that the ground used to be brown like the logs for our fire, and the brown ground would grow food called strawberries as red as our scarves, and even more colors we had never seen before. Silly notions he came up with from listening to the loons, yet still he dreamed of proving it one day. That was Michael, always wanting to make some life-altering discovery – though he said convincing me would be an acceptable alternative.
Now that I was certain my scarf was secure, I quickly tugged on my hat as well. All the other people were the same, only worried about scarves for security, but I was the odd one who had to check my hat as well. Probably most of the reason Michael kept me around, because I was an enigma. Everyone else’s hair was white like the snow or brown like the coats that swallowed us, but mine was orange as the fire. People didn’t know what to think of that, not with the regimen of structure we all lived under. Though most knew I had wild hair from seeing the tufts peep out at the least opportune moment, I still tried to keep it under the hat at all costs.
Today’s lecturer spoke on the scarves – they always do. Red to stand out above all else, for everyone to take notice and honor the life it allows us to live. A life of continuity, of conformity, going from one task to the next in the pack, never side-stepping, never turning. Just as the snow fell from the sky to hold us up, we in turn reach for the sky it lifts us toward – ever close to the white snow, ever closer to the whitest sun. When the scarf was tied on a newborn, the traditionalists would say, “a scarf of red tied ‘round your throat, to keep your head from falling to snow.” The scarf held our society together, maintained the structure, the uniformity of the pack in growing higher towards the sun. The ditty at every birth reminded us of that. I was just old enough at Mary’s birth to remember, and I felt as proud and tall as ever to be a part of something so grand.
When the lecture ended, it was time for recess, and Michael bolted. I trailed behind him, joining the pack of kids in a snowball fight. The lecturer’s eye was following our movements while we scooped from the hills of snow and slammed it into the bundled pack of scurrying kids. We all danced carelessly through each other’s footsteps while Michael raced to the top of a hill and howled like a wolf in triumph. We watched him pile the snow in a ball as large as our coats and roll it down the hill toward us. Trying to beat his own game, Michael jumped in front of the giant pile. We couldn’t scatter, and we waited for the student in front as we leapt away from the rolling mound.
That’s when the wind burst strong and my hair loosened – I felt it kissing my face like the snow as it fell, and I instinctively turned ‘round to keep the others from seeing me adjust my hat. There was Michael right behind me, waiting, simultaneously admiring my bright fiery hair and grieving that I felt compelled to always cover it.
But the snow was still racing for us, and he was still blocking its path. The same darned gust of wind – as if it were meant to curse the lot of us – tugged at his loose scarf as the snow pile slammed into him. Michael had lost his own game. He caught himself barely, but the scarf lightly drifted to the ground and we soon realized the mistake. His head toppled and landed on the ground and his feet gave way. Liquid as red as our scarves poured out of him, turning the white snow red.
The students were only now turning in unison to see the scarf drifting along by the wind, away from the red snow and the white face that lay in it. The lecturers approached and guided the students away. But they had seen me turn, and I was in trouble I knew.
Michael’s body was taken away for a proper burial, swallowed in the icy sea. A lecturer gave me white bags, and lots of them, to swallow the red snow ’til the incident never happened. My shovel dug deep, ever finding more red snow, until it hit hard bottom. I scooped the snow away and there – I saw brown. Neither a fire log nor a coat, but some ungiving ground of brown. My fingernails scraped it, memorized its texture, and I wondered what strawberries were like.
I tried telling the lecturers, but they brushed it away. The next day someone had covered the brown with snow, so I had no proof. I knew the other kids would laugh, but I told Mary and she gave me a hesitated smile.
“Of course she’d believe his superstitions, trying to revive his memory after such a tragic event.” I heard it whispered by my parents, the lecturers, the doctors they sent me to. No one would believe me, the girl with the wild hair and wild friend and wild stories. But I knew what I saw was true, and every night I would crawl between my brown covers, pull out the little white bag I’d saved, and pinch the red snow, imagining he had finally made strawberries.
If you enjoyed this, check out the Fleet Foxes version of the song as well.
And if you’re a writer, I’d love to hear your version of the tale! Please share!