There were way too many noises inside Ned’s head. He felt the sound of his own mind slowly being cornered at the back of his skull, threatened by the relentless pesterings, the pounding reminders, the blaring naggings, and whispering pleas. Acknowledging the distress, Ned shut the document he had been trying to work on and decided it would be more efficient to come back and look at it again later rather than trying to push through this thought mob. He thought if he took a couple moments to himself maybe the noises would quiet down like they always did and come back at a more convenient time when he could actually diplomatically sort things out. These were his thoughts after all; he did not want to just throw them away. After promising his mother to come back before his father came home from work, Ned opened the shoe closet and grabbed his coat and his familiar Chuck Taylors. Even with their ragged, grey grass stained canvas, worn and split rubber edges, and equally tattered limp laces, Ned never felt the need to get a new pair. These were comfortable and felt like another layer of skin over his feet after so many wears. Down two blocks to Main Street and around the corner of Locke, the young teen walked across the remains of the last snowfall to a more isolated area of the town park. Although he felt guilty wishing to avoid anyone he knew, Ned discerned the need for an independent moment to breathe from the desire’s selfish implication and decided to enjoy this time he had allowed to himself. With a dull sensation of ice crunching through the thin fabric of his sneakers, Ned sat himself down a bench’s flaking green painted planks. Then for a moment, he relished in this suspension of motionlessness and the murmurs of the moving silver air. But after the few seemingly perfect seconds of silence, it felt oddly flat, so he tried to take in his surroundings to add some stimulation to his mind. Ned tried to hear the faint sounds of the naked trees swaying and their branches quivering in the wintertime draft. He tried to feel the same dry air go through him but he found himself feeling an environment devoid of movement, as if the air and the sounds were avoiding him, going around him, then eventually relaxing back into their own path. Then he felt, one by one, the mass of questions and voices in his head slowly go to sleep like the frogs in the pond until spring and thought this one dimensional feeling was not too bad and gave up trying to stimulate his mind to something more than this muffled radio wave. The ice beneath his feet had once been the blanket of down feathers that put the excitement on the faces of small children when they looked outside the window while bundling themselves with scarves and hats. Now all that survived through the harsher night temperatures were lonely fragments of dirty stone ice that had even lost its sense of coldness and was just… numb. From a distance, Ned heard a rhythm of scuttling patters on the brick-lined sidewalk. He looked at the winding path and, from around the corner, marked by a handsome evergreen, a petite individual appeared: a small girl. She looked equally as surprised by Ned’s presence as he was with hers but soon turned her head to a curious angle and shyly walked towards the park bench. “Are you okay?” she asked, as if trying to imitate the tone of her Mom’s voice. “Hmm?” Ned took a moment to process the simple question and politely smiled, “Yeah. I’m alright. Thank you.” “Can I sit here?” She pointed to a spot of lifting paint next to Ned. “Of course.” The girl cautiously used her arms to pull herself up onto the bench. There was a reason why she had asked that question to the boy as soon as she saw him. Mom always seemed to say it when something was wrong, even though there was not any mention of that something. There was some magic in that question that seemed to solve everything. Even she could see that something was upsetting this boy, but maybe he did not even know for himself. She looked at him to see if maybe she could figure it out. He was taller and bigger than she was, his hair and eyes a more tired, darker shade of brown, kind of like her father’s when he came home from work. He turned to her, sensing her staring, and she turned away a little too quickly. That’s when she noticed. The rubber edging of the boy’s grey sneakers had started to rip and peel back like the old paint of the bench she was sitting on, leaving a widening slit for the snow and the cold to get inside! Perhaps that was what was wrong! Cold wet socks were never comfortable. She needed to tell him and maybe he would be better. “You have a hole in your shoe!” She gasped concerned. “Sorry?” Ned looked down and flexed his toes, and indeed there was a hole in the side of his left shoe, “Oh…. I didn’t notice that. Thanks.” He smiled again. Ned looked towards the small child. Although initially he had wanted to avoid people, her company did not seem to bother him all too much. He began to think maybe he should help this girl find her parents; they were probably worried because the sun was starting to start its burn out descent to the evening. “Hey. I’m Ned. What’s your name?” He got off the bench and crouched in front of her and looked at her eye level. “Charlie.” Her eyes brightened with interest. Before Ned had time to think of what else could help him find her parents, she asked, “Hey, how did you not notice the hole in your shoe?” “Errh… I don’t know… I guess…I never felt it?” Ned replied hesitantly. “But it’s so cold!” Charlie demonstratively shivered, “Aren’t you cold? “No? Not really… Say, Charlie, if you’re cold, do you want to go home? Let’s go look for your mom.” Ned offered his hand to the younger child. Eagerly Charlie’s mint green mitten took Ned’s cold hand and the both of them got up from the bench. They travelled across the park towards where Charlie said was the last place she was with her mother: in front of the stone fountain that was drained for the colder months. The minerals of the hard water had precipitated on the edges leaving a sad green tinge crusted onto the grey stone. After scouting the surrounding area for a couple minutes and not finding Charlie’s mother, Ned and Charlie both sat at the foot of the fountain trying to think of what to do next. While the younger was fiddling with a pebble on the ground with a concentrated look on her face, the older boy took a moment to look at his shoes. It slightly surprised him that he had never seen it before because, in fact, the hole was more on the large side and he practically wore these shoes every day. Ned’s eyes wandered over to Charlie’s shoes, tucked beneath her legs and chin in the position she was sitting. They were considerably smaller, about half his size, with the still shiny yellow material with patterns of small white flowers and a distinct strip of new Velcro. “Look Ned! You can hear the birds louder here than from where the bench was!” Charlie pointed out. Ned bounced out of his thoughts, raised his head and listened. Indeed there were birds calling back and forth to each other in the evergreen trees. He heard the birds now, but he did not remember hearing them when he was alone before. “Yeah… You’re right.” He shivered. The air was getting chilly. For a moment they both stayed still, listening to the rare songs of winter, until they heard a worried female voice distantly calling out, “Charlie? Charlie where are you?” Charlie?” Without a word, the two of them scurried to the source of the sound. Charlie called out for her mother, and they were reunited a few meters away from the fountain. “Charlie!? Where did you go? I told you to stay where you could see me while I finished up my phone call!” The mother’s nimble hands fluttered down to her child. Charlie’s mother did not even perceive Ned standing there until several moments after; then she proceeded to thank him multiple times. It left him feeling unnatural like the pathway they were standing on cutting through the trees in the park. “Don’t forget your shoe has a hole in it, okay?” Charlie turned around. “I won’t. Thanks, Charlie. I’ll see you around,” Ned said with a twinkle in his eye. He waved as he saw Charlie and her mother walk off a good distance until he turned around to walk home, as well. Ned never noticed that he could not hear the birds anymore or that he no longer felt cold. He prodded along home, in the silver winter wind stained with the ribbons of the sun, setting on top of the stone cold ice.