"Who's up first?" Dad asked. It was a mere formality, kinda like playing the National Anthem before a sporting event (and if any of them were good at singing, they might have done that too). Everyone already knew who was going first, of course.
All of them.
With much shouting, pushing, and crowding, the four kids piled on. Radar sat up front; the thirteen-year-old had as much concern for his safety as your average inebriated adult--which is to say, not much. His younger siblings didn't mind, of course; with him up front, they were less likely to catch a facefull of snow. He was crouched on his knees, gloved hands gripping the chain, eyes squinting into the brightness. His eyes, incidentally enough, where the only uncovered part of him. (Not a novice, this one.)
His brother, Nemesis, sat right behind him. Four years Radar's younger, he had long since learned that the safest place was either three miles away or right behind his over-eager, accident-prone elder. Hat on but face exposed to the elements, he was mimicking Radar's posture but had his hands threaded through the ropes by his knees instead; he was slightly less competitive, but just as determined to stay on.
Quill was second to last, and was opting for the path of comfort; grasping the ropes, she sat cross-legged behind Nemesis and was attired similarly. She didn't mind bailing out, but was certainly not a coward about the whole affair.
The youngest, Squirrel, was perched on the back, the rationale being that when she fell off (as she inevitably did), she a) wouldn't take everyone with her and b) could hold on to Quill's shoulders, so her departure would be noticed and relayed up the line. (Quill cared a bit more about sudden losses of siblings than did her brothers.)
It was time.
Dad half-turned. "All set?" he yelled.
"Ready!" everyone chorused.
"Here we go, then!" he yelled, firing up the ATV and slowly starting to drive down the snow-covered drive.
Everyone cheered as he started accelerating into the turn--until Quill started yelling. "Squirrel down! Squirrel down!"
"Already?" Radar complained, dutifully relaying the message to their driver.
It was an undisputed fact that he had the strongest set of lungs.
Squirrel hopped back on the toboggan and they started off again. Everyone managed to stay on until turn two, down by the front pasture, at which point Squirrel fell off again.
"Why don't you sit behind her?" Dad suggested to Quill. "Maybe help hold her on?"
"Okay," Quill said agreeably. The new positions were quickly taken up, and the party took off again. They made it almost through one lap around the farm before their dad took a corner a little wide and sent the toboggan side-on into a drift. Radar and Nemesis each ended up with a lapfull of snow, which they hurled at each other while waiting for the girls to catch up. (They hadn't even noticed their siblings' departure--it was their wise father who caught on to the fact that there was 50% less shrieking post-drift than pre-drift).
Squirrel, by this point, was cold and tired, so she retired to the house to change and raid the marshmallows set aside for post-sledding hot chocolate. That meant it was time for the real fun to begin. Radar and Nemesis had an argument about who would be up first, almost coming to blows before their dad intervened and let Quill go. She graciously invited Nemesis on board; he accepted with grace and took the front position. Radar climbed on the back of the four-wheeler in "lookout" position and prepared to heckle. (He wasn't put out about Quill choosing Nemesis over him--it was a widely known fact that he preferred to ride solo. More fun--or injuries--could result.)
Dad set off, this time at a much higher rate of speed and deliberately swerving back and forth over the path to let the toboggan ride up the sides of the drifts. Quill and Nemesis hung on, cheering and yelling, while Radar tried to get them to fall off by snagging handfulls of snow of the tops of drifts and hurling it at them. Their dog, Max, even tried to get on the action by running alongside the toboggan and making playful snaps at the tassels on Quill's hat. It took two laps around the farm before Dad managed to swing the toboggan through a drift, instead of over it, and dumped the two riders.
"My turn! My turn!" Radar yelled, pulling out his secret weapon as he ran towards the sled. An inventor even at such a tender age, his ideas usually convulsed his family--and this time was no exception.
"What are you doing?" his dad demanded.
Radar grinned. "I cut the toes off of these socks!" Sliding them over his gloves and coat sleeves, he held out his hands for inspection. "See? Now I won't get snow shoved up my wrists!"
Dad and Quill both broke out laughing. Nemesis, who was in fact trying to shake snow out of his coat sleeves, tried to join in, but the strange wisdom of his brother was too overwhelming for him to get out more than a few chuckles. Enviously, he climbed on the back of the ATV with his sister.
Radar stretched out on his stomach on the toboggan, hands clutching the chains and head just high enough to see over the curved front. It was his preferred position--from here, he could see oncoming obstacles and twist his body to (occasionally) avoid them, and if a drift came up, he could duck his head and let the spray go over him instead of into him. This also let him maintain a death grip on the chains without losing his balance.
Dad set off, even faster than he had with Quill and Nemesis. Radar was not expecting that and was thus not prepared to adjust his weight to the first drift. The toboggan raced up the side and flipped, Radar getting dragged along underneath. He refused to let go of the chains, though, doggedly hanging on and trying to wiggle his body enough to flip the sled. Without other large drifts, though, it proved futile. He only spared a few moments to wonder why the ride wasn't stopping; but after almost a full quarter turn, it finally did. Crawling out, he found his siblings crying with laughter, Dad laughing uproariously as well. "Radar, you're supposed to ride the toboggan, not let the toboggan ride you!" he teased.
Radar stuck his tongue out. "At least I stayed with it," he pointed out. "It's still my turn!"
"I don't think they're in any shape to go again anyway," he affirmed, glancing at the still-guffawing siblings. "Hey, guys, next time--tell me he's upside-down, huh?"
The command only made Nemesis and Quill laugh harder. Radar giggled too, threw a few handfuls of snow at them, and resumed his original position on top of the sled. "I'm ready!"
With a roar from the ATV, they were off again. Radar almost flipped twice, but managed to stick the landing both times. Suddenly, he felt an odd tug on his head as the second lap started. Twisting, he found himself looking at a long, furry nose.
"Maxie! Quit it!" Radar yelled.
"Get him, Maxie!" Nemesis called out.
Quill laughed. "Pull his hat off!"
"Don't you dare, you--YAAH! OOF!"
Not paying attention to the path, Radar received a facefull of snow, courtesy of the latest drift collision. Max, attention full on the hat, slipped in the sudden change in elevation, fell sideways, and landed on Radar's back.
One hundred pounds of flailing dog was not something easily ignored. Radar decided that, between being blind and now sat on, bailing was probably the smarter option. He let go--
And continued traveling. Apparently, his wet gloves were currently frozen to the chains.
Maxie was flailing around on his back (on top of Radar), trying to get his feet back under him. Radar gauged the dog's weight shifts and suddenly threw his body sideways. That did the trick--Max fell off the boy's back, off the toboggan and into the nearest drift just as the sled began slowing down.
Needless to say, Dad had finally looked back to find out why Nemesis and Quill were practically choking and had seen the dog's little dance on top of Radar. Now he, too, was no longer fit to do his job and hung over the handlebars, roaring with laughter again. Radar ripped his gloves free, sat up, and tried to glare at them before the hilarity of the situation struck him too and he fell over, laughing as well. It was a full two minutes before anybody could speak.
"Still going?" Dad finally wheezed.
Radar gasped for air. "Sure, I didn't--hahahaha!--didn't get all the way around twice yet!"
"Should we put Max inside?" Quill asked, enjoyment over her brother's fate not completely blinding her to the predicaments he kept finding himself in.
"Nah. He's all wet, and I'm guessing he learned his lesson," Dad chuckled, looking over at the golden retriever. Maxie gave an open-mouthed smile as if he understood and enjoyed the joke. "Ready, Radar?"
"Sure," Radar said eagerly, resuming his position.
One lap later, Max stole his hat.