Out With The Cold

Vin and Ezra have their own way to see in the new year

"Do you have any idea how cold it is out here?"

Vin laughed softly. "'Course I do, I'm sitting right here with you."

Ezra huddled closer to the campfire, but looked up at the sky. Dark and clear and full of stars, crossed by a band that had to be the Milky Way. He would never say it out loud, but he was in awe of the majesty and beauty of it.

Vin poked the fire with a long stick and then carefully put several large logs on it. "Did you bring what I asked?"

"Yes, of course. Right here." Ezra patted the pocket of his heavy coat. "And something you didn't ask for." He reached into his saddlebag and drew out a full bottle of whiskey.

"That'll be fine for later, but not yet."

Ezra didn't understand, but he was willing to go along with what Vin wanted, at least until he was so cold he couldn't feel his fingers. He slid the bottle back into his saddlebag and sat still, waiting for Vin to explain what it was they were doing out in the cold, dark night on New Year's Eve, sitting on a bluff overlooking town with nothing to keep them warm but a campfire.

"Didn't you never do special things on the last night of the year?"

"Other than drink too much and eat too much and watch fireworks?" Ezra shook his head. "Not that I can recall."

Vin leaned back, resting on one elbow as he stared into the fire. "After my ma died, I didn't see much worth going on for. It was my grandma, her ma, that tried to show me about looking ahead instead of looking back." He pointed up at the sky. "She talked about how her pa was a sailor, knew where to go by looking at the stars. And that when he was done with the sea, he followed the stars to Texas, where they ran a few cattle and grew some wheat." He let his hand drop. "But the one thing she did that made some sense to me was at the new year."

"And what was that?"

"No matter how bitter the cold, right before the stroke of midnight, she'd open the doors and windows. Not a lot, but enough that they'd stay open on their own." He looked at Ezra. "She said it was to let the old year out so that the new year could come in. And she said that it took all the bad days from the old year with it, leaving things to be good in the new year."

"Your grandma sounds like a very wise woman," Ezra said. "But I don't see what that has to do with sitting out here catching our death of pneumonia."

"That's where these come into it." Vin reached into his pocket and drew out several folded sheets of paper. "Most of the time I didn't have no house, so I couldn't do like she did. Had to make my own way of letting the old year go." He unfolded the papers, pressing them flat against his leg. "I'd make some marks on the paper for the bad things that happened in the old year."

Ezra could see the figures on the paper, some of them were stick people, some were animals, others were buildings. Surprised, he recognized a collection of symbols that were surely a representation of the ranch that burned early last year, one of the tragedies they all remembered. Others were likely more personal to Vin, so Ezra didn't ask what they meant. It didn't really matter.

He reached into his own pocket and pulled out the papers Vin had asked him to prepare. On one, he'd written down events from the past year. On another, he'd written his hopes for the new year. That was the hardest to do, to think of something beyond 'getting filthy rich' to write on the paper, but he'd managed a few things.

"Now, the Indians believed that smoke from the campfire could carry messages to the spirits." Vin crumpled the first of his papers. "So I'd burn the paper about the past year first, to give the old year to them." He tossed the paper on the fire, watching it catch and burn until it was the barest of ash remaining. "You got yours?"

Ezra crumpled up his own paper from the year past. "Right here." He threw it on the fire, and it, too, burned brightly.

Vin nodded. "So, we done let the old year go. And now we can ask the spirits to help us with our wishes for the new year."

The next paper Vin held was filled with both symbols and a few lines of crooked letters, but it felt too much like prying to Ezra to look closely, so he looked at his own paper with his dreams for the new year. In a way, he was glad that it would be burned so that no one else would ever read it.

"Do we wait till after midnight to burn these?"

"I don't guess it really matters," Vin answered. "But I'd like to stay past midnight to see the year in."

Ezra pulled out his watch, which read 11:45. Certainly not too long to wait, especially if it might make the spirits more amenable to their dreams. But the one thing that might make the wait more pleasant was in his saddlebag. He pulled out the whiskey and uncorked the bottle, taking a small swallow before passing it over to Vin.

They passed the few minutes until midnight sharing the whiskey, and when the hour came, it was heralded by gunfire and a few makeshift fireworks in the town.

Once the distant noise from town was over, Vin picked up his paper and crumpled it the same as he had the first one, tossing it on the fire, watching it burn and the ash rise toward the heavens. When it was gone, Ezra did the same with his own paper, wondering if there was any chance in the world that there were truly spirits that would consider their dreams and hopes and perhaps even help them along.