Andy glanced in the mirror and smiled; his brand new winter hat on his head. His grandmother had gifted it and it would be his first day wearing it. The hat woven into the head of a lion, complete with a mane that covered his ears; the mittens knitted claws.
“Ready for the first snowball fight, Hercules?” Daddy leaned under the door smiling, “He wore headgear like that.”
“Really?” Andy gazed wide-eyed at Daddy, who knew everything.
“Yep, you know why he was famous?”
Andy shook his head.
“His supernatural strength; he killed a mean lion and used his hide as a cloak because it was impenetrable. Nothing could pierce it.”
“Wow! Do you think I’ll have supernatural strength now?”
Andy growled and swiped at Daddy, who picked him up and kissed his forehead. Andy rushed outside into the new fluffy snow and ran down the sidewalk to his friends.
They played in Ollie’s yard, throwing snowballs and racing one another. Soon, snow angels covered the yard and left room for none. Ollie suggested sledding, and the boys spent the next half hour asking permission and collecting the sleds.
“Be careful,” Daddy called after Andy as he pulled the sled behind him.
During winter, the kids slid down the slopes of the public golf course nearby. It was hard work pulling the sled up the hill, but Andy didn’t feel it today because with the lion hat on he was strong like Hercules.
Up and down they slid until the sun dipped low in the horizon and the cold bit their cheeks. One by one they went home, save for Andy and Ollie, who lived closest and didn’t need to hurry. They climbed the hill as snowflakes fell.
“One more time!” Ollie said and climbed on behind Andy.
They flew down the hill in cheerful giggles. Andy tried to steer away from a snow bank, but grazed it and, with a bump, Ollie fell off the sled. Andy lost control and slammed into a snow-covered bush; white ice showered the lion mane. He shook himself off and scanned the snowy hill. Flakes danced around him. Evening had fallen, and the world was turning black. Andy wiped the flakes from his face and spotted Ollie’s red jacket in the snow.
“Ollie!” He trudged to his friend.
“Are you okay?” Andy panted. Ollie was crying and his foot sat at a strange angle.
“I think my ankle’s broken!” He sniffed and wiped tears and snow from his eyes.
“Can you stand?”
Ollie shook his head.
Andy looked around, hoping someone had seen them, but there was no one, only snow and the encroaching blue light of evening. Andy feared they would lose their way in the darkness and the bitter cold chilled him.
“I’ll give you a piggyback ride home,” Andy positioned himself in front of Ollie, and with great effort, hoisted Ollie onto his back.
“There they are!” Daddy called when he spotted the slow-moving mass in the snow. He recognized Andy’s lion head bent under Ollie’s red jacket. He rushed to them and lifted Ollie off Andy’s back. Ollie’s parents caught up and amidst kisses and hugs carried Ollie home. They would take Ollie straight to the hospital, they said.
“It gave me superpowers,” Andy touched his hat, his claw mitten holding Daddy’s hand.
“Yes, you were very strong and brave. I’m very proud of you.”
* * *
“Just like twenty years ago, buddy,” Andy’s thick low voice rumbled, “hold on, we’ll make it.”
Andy struggled through the mud, bent under Ollie’s weight. He wished for his lion hat, loved and now worn to rags. Bombs exploded around him. He remembered the snow fell hard that day. Andy gazed down at his combat boots and toiled on, Ollie on his back.