No one knew why Eberly Fischer had wandered outside on his own that cold day in December, 1998, not even his mother. The truth is that Eberly had Autism, and he couldn’t express the words he wanted to say before he opened-up the door to his quaint little cabin in Soglio, Switzerland, and ventured out onto the snowy, ice-capped landscape. Eberly had turned fourteen that year and wanted to go sledding without a grown-up’s help. He somehow managed to don his blue winter coat with large round buttons, brown boots with zippers, pull-over snow-pants, and the favorite hat, mittens, and scarf his mother had knitted. His mother thought she heard the door shut, but Eberly had never opened-up the door or gone outside alone before that day, so she thought nothing of it.
Eberly’s mother glanced out the front window just in time to see Eberly get on his sled, push-off, and head down the mountainside. “No!” she yelled aloud, “I’ve got to go out after him! Oh God, please keep Eberly safe!” She ran around frantically to grab her boots and coat. She couldn’t locate her hat and gloves so left without them. She was outside in seconds.
“Eberly, Eberly, Where are you?” she yelled, running toward the place where she last saw her precious son. Her mind was frantic. The frigid wind blew icy bits of snow onto her red fingers and ears. She imagined the worst scenarios. She needed to call her husband. It was urgent! She had to organize a search and rescue party. With sub-zero temperatures, and nightfall arriving earlier, it was a matter of life and death on the snowy mountainside of the Val Bregaglia, sitting up over the frigid Maira River. “Eeeberlyy, Eeeberlyy! Come back!” she screamed. She had to find her baby boy! She dashed down the narrow lane, almost stumbling on ancient, grey cobblestones hidden beneath the snow. She surveyed the towering glacial terrain. “Eberly, Eberly, Eberly!” she bellowed with all her might, but Eberly was nowhere in sight!
Eberly’s sled had flown around the bend and crashed into a deep white snow-bank. As the sled emerged on the other side of the white mound, Eberly saw the most glorious place ever. The snow had a bluish glow, and everything sparkled like the diamond ring his Daddy gave his Mama. I must be in Heaven! Mama said it’s a beautiful place. Trees with snow-covered leaves were growing there. Colorful flowers also lined the small lane where Eberly’s sled had landed. He touched a yellow flower. It felt icy through his mittens and smelled like a summer meadow. He touched an orange flower next, and the scent of pumpkin pie spice filled the frosty air. Oh! It smells good! The vibrant flowers were covered with clear ice. Just then, a white snowshoe rabbit with a fluffy tail jumped from behind some rare Blue Star Sea Holly. The rabbit hopped over to Eberly’s sled, allowing him to pet her. Eberly, left-handed, removed the mitten from his left hand and softly stroked the rabbit’s fur. It felt silky-smooth like Mama’s fancy dress sleeves.
The rabbit said, “Tell your mother about this place. She will believe you.” Then, it hopped over a snow-bank and out of sight.
“Okay, I will,” said Eberly aloud. The words just rolled off his tongue like natural golden honey and butter. Eberly laughed at the sound of his voice. He put his mitten back on as the sled started moving again. It zipped around pine trees of many sizes and hues.
Eberly heard a joyful tune. He looked up and saw bright-colored birds that kept circling. Their sounds created a beautiful melody. Eberly loved music, and he knew all the notes from the piano keys (although, nobody knew Eberly understood notes).
Blue birds made the sound of “C” notes. Red birds sounded like the “E” notes that Eberly’s mother played on the piano. Yellow birds made “A” sounds, and green birds sounded like “G” notes. Purple birds made “B” tones. Pink birds made the “D” pitch, and orange birds sounded like “F” notes. Together, they made a magnificent song that did not come from the beaks in their mouths, but rather, from the flapping of their wings through the icy air. That sounds like Mama’s bedtime song – or an angel’s melody.
The sled felt as light as a piece of styrofoam floating in the large brown barrel that his mother used for bathing him. Eberly thought about his mother and how much he missed her. He felt a chill down his thin spine, and tears ran down his cheeks. I shouldn’t have gone out by myself. I want Mama. I want Mama!
Suddenly, frigid white snow blew ferociously around Eberly’s sled. He didn’t know where he was or how he’d get back home. The freezing snow was blowing and blowing everywhere. He was not having fun anymore, and he just wanted to get back home where it was safe and warm and where Mama was. Everything quickly became white – white everywhere! Mama, I’m cold! It’s white; it’s white. Eberly couldn’t even see his sled anymore. Feeling thirsty, he removed his mitten, grabbed some snow, and shoveled it into his mouth. It tasted like pure vanilla ice cream, glasse. Mama, Mama, help me! Eberly slumped down into the sparkling white blanket of snow and closed his eyes to go to sleep. His Mama wasn’t there to tuck him into bed or sing a song that night. He no longer felt the cold, cold icy pain or the red hot feelings in his fingertips. It grew dark – very dark.
Meanwhile, Eberly’s mother had called his father, Urs, in Lugano, Switzerland, which was fifty-seven miles away, to tell him that Eberly was lost. He was a painter, who frequently enjoyed going on business trips. He had wanted to paint Lugano Lake, but now, his trip would be cut short.
“Urs,” said Eberly’s mother. Her breath left a misty film on the cell-phone. “Eberly’s gone!”
“What do you mean gone?” asked the father. The resentment in his voice made Sylvie quiver.
“He went outside, got on the sled, and took off, and I can’t find him anywhere!” said Sylvie.
“I’m gone for two weeks, and you manage to lose Eberly. How in the world could you let that happen, Sylvie? What kind of mother are you?”
“I don’t know how it happened, but I need your help. Please, just hurry! He’s your son too!” Tears streamed down Sylvie’s ice-bitten cheeks.
“You think you’re so good, don’t you, Sylvie? What about Yann?” Urs retorted.
“What? Oh my gosh, Urs, that was almost twenty years ago! Why are you bringing that up right now? You were always gone with other women back then, and I was going to leave you. Don’t forget that part! Please, just come home and help me.” There was a long silence on the other end of the line. “Urs, are you still there?”
“I need you now; you know I’m sorry about the past,” Sylvie whimpered. She started to cry uncontrollably. Then, she added, “Urs, it’s Christmas Eve! If you don’t get back and help me, I’ll leave with Eberly as soon as I find him. We’re going to stay at my parent’s house.”
“Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can,” said Urs. He hung up the phone, and kissed his pretty brunette companion good-bye, rushing to catch a charter flight back home.
Sylvie immediately started a search party, and all the neighbors looked for Eberly. Everyone in town gathered at the Church of San Lorenzo. They prayed for Eberly’s safe return and asked God for a miracle to help the special boy. Eberly’s mother alternated between running outside and yelling for Eberly and praying inside the church. Every so often, she released a bawling sound as a mourner before a funeral. People tried to calm her fears, but nothing helped. The evening grew colder, and the solitary sun sank behind the silvery-white mountains.
In the morning after the blizzard, Eberly woke-up and was awestruck. A huge white elk was next to him, keeping him warm with its gentle white fur – like a very big stuffed animal. The warm, moist breath from its nostrils smelled like Mama’s maroon-colored berry candles. Where’s Mama? Mama, Mama! I want Mama! Eberly cuddled closer to the warm elk and quietly said, “I love you, Walden.” Oh, Mama! Tears flowed down his cheeks. Eberly felt hungry, and he reminisced about home – the scent of his Mama’s warm braided-bread, zopf, mmm, the prickly pine Christmas tree with colorful blinking lights, his soft polar bear stuffed-animal, and his Mama’s comforting voice. Mama, Mama, where did you go? Daddy, are you here?
At the Church of San Lorenzo, in Soglio, many prayers floated in a Heavenly direction.
Sylvie had searched and waited for Eberly all night. As the golden sun rose over the mountains, a child, Jeton, had an idea. He decided to ring the old church bell that was in the bell tower. He found the rope that was hanging down from the steeple and pulled downward with all his strength. The beautiful antique bell rang with a sweet tone, Dooong, dooong, doooooong!” As the boy rang the bell, he sang a little tune that went like this:
“Dong, ding, dong, ding, birds sing, bells ring;
fresh on dove’s wing – hope and peace bring.
Love and joy bloom as the bells dong;
unity and family ties strong.
– Ding-dong, ding-dong, dong-ding, ding-dong!”
Around the same time, Eberly’s father arrived and found his wife, Sylvie, praying at the front of the church. Sylvie lifted-up her head, turned around, and saw Urs, walking down the same aisle as when they had wed, sixteen years prior. She immediately ran to him, and they embraced for a moment. The bell continued to ring, and the prayers continued to fly upward. Some white doves near the steeple flew high into the atmosphere through an opening in the clouds, as rays of morning sunlight shone onto the church steeple and through the stained-glass windows, illuminating the cross, inside the cathedral. A beam of light reflected off Sylvie’s diamond ring and flickered into Urs’s right eye. Their hands were joined, and they felt warmth enfold them. A deep sense of peace flowed throughout their innermost beings. Urs told Sylvie about a terrible snowstorm that had kept his plane from arriving the day before and how he thought he might die. “You’re the North Star that led me home,” Urs said. Then, he added, “I never want to stray away again.” Sylvie nodded and smiled a little.
Just then, the white elk gently nudged Eberly onto his sled and started pulling it. The storm was over, and the snowy paradise had a bluish tint to it. The sky was white and hopeful on the horizon. Eberly’s sled passed a little village with a sign that read: “White Elk Village,” but Eberly couldn’t read it. Beautiful ice-crystals floated in the air and sparkled in the sunshine, and the sled passed some dancing deer and seven squawking squirrels. Next, the sled glided by a little brown log-cabin with a round window where a little girl with shiny blond hair and a long-flowing golden gown was smiling and waving at Eberly. He tried to wave back as best he could. They flew past the flock of bright-colored musical birds, and Eberly hummed the same tune. He laughed as he looked around at all of the glorious bluish scenery of pines and colorful icy-flowers. Maybe it’s just Paradise – or the Garden of Eden. The furry white elk, with the thick warm coat, kept moving faster and faster … until finally, they passed-by the large chestnut forest and the Bergell trail used by hikers. Eberly thought something looked familiar. Then, he saw the steeple on the Church of San Lorenzo and knew he was home. Mama! Eberly heard the beautiful sound of the church bell as it rang, “Dooong, dooong, dooong, dooong, dooong, dooong, doooooong!” It was seven o’clock in the morning on Christmas Day!
It truly was a Christmas miracle! Everyone saw the big beautiful white elk as it pulled Eberly into town. It left him in front of the church, and then, ran out toward the wonderful white wilderness of fluffy stuff. Eberly’s parents walked out of the church, hand-in-hand, in time to hear Eberly say, “Bye, Walden!” to the white elk. They gasped, and quickly ran over to hug and kiss their sweet, special son. He’s bigger than the peaks of the Bregaglia Mountain Range!
Eberly didn’t have to tell his mother about the place and the white rabbit. She suddenly had a memory she had not thought of in decades. It seemed more like a dream of a distant locality, where there were colorful musical birds, pretty icy-flowers, a big white elk, and a talking white rabbit. She experienced it once upon a cold winter’s day on the very same sled when she was a young girl.
With the news that Eberly Fischer was safe, the entire town celebrated with a delicious meal and thanked God for the gracious miracle. Eberly’s mother baked braided-bread, zopf, and decorated the church table with homemade berry candles and a wreath that all the children helped garnish with winter foliage. A gray-haired woman brought Bregaglia cheese made by local farmers. Eberly was especially glad to see the Christmas cookies, chrabeli, Swiss hot chocolate, and his mother’s braided-bread, zopf, because he was hungry after his adventure into the white Winterland. Mmm, I like the warm brown chocolate! The families all went home after a few hours, but it was the best Christmas season that the town had ever celebrated – to this day.
In those fateful days, the white elk saved Eberly’s life, and the Fischer family was forever transformed by the loving-kindness of the townsfolk, the lessons they learned in forgiveness, and the warm memories that surrounded that Christmas Day. Miracles do happen.
Copyright © 2018 Tamara Hawthorne
Tamara Hawthorne Lohman has been married to James for thirty-six years. They have lived around various parts of the U.S., as well as, in Italy and Thailand. They currently live in Northern Michigan and have three wonderful children and three beautiful grandchildren. She is also a Veteran of the U.S. Navy and a freelance writer. She has almost completed her MA degree in English and creative writing with a concentration in poetry at Southern New Hampshire University. As a writer for The Focus, a newspaper along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, she wrote short stories, articles, poetry, and word-finds from 2003-2005. In addition, her poem, “My Free Cat,” won the first place poetry award in the “children’s poetry” category and was published in the Mississippi Poetry Society Journal (1993). She also won the third-place literary prize in Byways, a Journal of Arts and Letters, for Central Texas College for the poem, “Leaves of Crimson,” (2010) as well as, the first place literary prize in Byways for her poem, “A Farewell Taps,” (2011). “Winter Night’s Snowfall,” a photograph, was published in Lines from the Middle of Nowhere, a Literary and Arts journal for Fort Hays State University (2016). “The Brevity of a Body’s Beauty,” a sonnet, and “Beautiful Rocky Pathway with White Blossoms and Spring Greenery,” a photograph, were also published in the Fall/Winter, 2017, Vol. 9, No. 1 issue of The Tower Journal. Her passions are poetry writing and photography.